Exploring Ink

Ink is weird. When I started playing with it, I thought ink was made to put in fountain pens and stored in bottles. Well, it does come in bottles, but there is acrylic ink, watercolor inks, shellac inks,  alcohol inks, and sparkly inks. There are inks you can put in airbrushes but not in a technical pen, and inks you can put in a dip pen but not a fountain pen. It’s amazing, and my head is spinning. There are inks you thin with water and those made with shellac that don’t like water.

Because I’m experimenting with inks for a new class, I’m making a wonderful mess in the studio–different papers, gel medium, water, alcohol–and blends. Which ink likes what? I take notes and eventually I will create the Frankenstein monster in ink and every time I say “Frau Blücher!” a horse will snort ink over my desk.

Walnut ink crystals didn't dissolve on gel medium, and brown Higgins ink won't dry.

In this project, I was trying to eliminate warping in the paper substrate. The usual way to do that is to spray both sides of the paper with water before working on it. What would happen if I painted over an inked sheet with gel medium and continue to ink it. Would it quit warping? It does quit warping, but other odd things happen. I let the gel medium layer dry and sprinkled walnut ink crystals over two spots. The crystals can’t be scraped off the sheet once they dry.

Brown Higgins ink, which I thought was water-based, must be shellac based because it won’t dry on the gel medium. At least not in 12 hours. I stood the paper upright and left it alone, and the ink continued to spread. The red-orange dried in about 8 hours. When I went back to re-work it, I could see a figure in a red dress in the ink.

I began to work with the figure, but watercolor pencils and Pitt Pens both picked up the tacky brown ink. I finally used India Ink to get the effect. The piece may never dry, but it taught me some interesting facts:

–you can spray or drop ink on watercolor paper and get interesting effects.

India ink can be used on damp gel medium and shellac ink, but it's very difficult to work on wet ink.

—If you let the ink dry, you can add more ink without blurring the first coat.

–If you spray alcohol on ink, you get interesting effects, but it also doesn’t evaporate completely from the paper, and subsequent layers will behave differently, even if you let the paper dry.

–Spritzing on Tattered Angels Glimmer Mist on the first layer acts as a mild fixative. When you re-spray with water, the tiny mica particles shift and flow, even if the page was completely dry.

These experiments are teaching me a lot. It won’t be long till I’m ready to teach painting backgrounds with ink–if it turns out to be a bit more predictable.

Quinn McDonald loves experimenting in the studio. Both her hands are now heavily inked in brown and red. The checker at the grocery store asked her if she had been in an accident. “No,” she replied, “this was an on-purpose.”

Inks in Art Journaling

On my way home from JournalFest, I flew over the mountains North and East of Phoenix. For a moment, I thought I could see large petroglyph, or sand carving.

A new road being scraped into a mountainside. Taken through an airplane window.

It was neither. It was the beginning of a road, scraped into the earth, against a mountain. I looked at the wrinkles and color, as if ink had been applied on a paper bag, then scrunched up. Inks. . .so interesting. They can work like watercolors or dyes. They are so much more than just fluid to write with.

This weekend, I spent some time working with inks in the studio. Found some interesting techniques with ink. Here’s a wash done with ink:

Ink wash on watercolor paper

Once the wash is dry, you can continue to work on it. Below, I sprayed the wash and dropped ink on it, for a double-layer effect:

Ink on watercolor paper.

It would make a good background for a journal page. Here’s one I did in a different color, then wrote on it with Pitt pens and watercolor pencils.

Pitt pen and watercolor pencil on inked watercolor paper.

My favorite discovery was that some inks won’t bleed when re-wet, and you can add several different colors in layers:

The one above is done in browns and orange and indigo. I see seedheads and flowers in it, but that’s for later. Below is one done in Payne’s gray, black and orange.

Ink on watercolor paper.

Inks are also effective on black paper. Of course, irridescents work best for black paper.

Shimmer black and gold ink on Strathmore's Artagain black paper.

Taken one step further, you can use the inks to create figurative work. Here’s the first step:

And here is the same image re-imagined into a stormy wind cloud behind a tree scene, sort of Grimm-fairy tale-ish,  where someone just vanished.

"He Was Never Seen Again" Ink, watercolor pencil on watercolor paper.

It’s a wonderful medium, with both deep and pale color, and the opportunity to use washes as well as splashes of ink. There will certainly be more.

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling. She is spending time making meaning in new ways.