The vast selection of calligraphy ink available to order online can be overwhelming, especially if you’re just starting out! In the next couple of blog posts here on TPK, I’d like to talk about a few of the inks that I like to use. Granted, I’ve probably only tried a small percentage of what’s available out there; but the inks I am going to tell you about are the ones that work for me, and I’m dually comfortable recommending them to you! In today’s post, you’ll learn about a handful of different earthy hues you can use. I am personally drawn to neutral tones, so I really appreciate the inks outlined below; and I use them for a variety of projects!
Iron Gall Calligraphy Ink
Iron gall ink was the ink of choice for scribes from the fourth century up through the 20th century. Many significant manuscripts have been written using iron gall ink, including the Codex Sinaiticus (the oldest, most complete Bible in existence). In contemporary times, however, we appreciate iron gall ink not for its ability to power us through writing a manuscript for our royal patrons, but for its ability to help us transform pointed pen calligraphy styles into masterpieces. Iron gall ink can create über-thin, elegant upstrokes and thick downstrokes as shown in the Janet Style wedding envelopes below.
You may be thinking, “OK, that just looks like a regular black India ink to me — what’s the difference?” The main difference lies in the consistency. Iron gall ink has a very watery, thin consistency that makes it a joy to work with when you are trying to create extraordinarily thin hairlines. As you’re using it, you’ll notice that while the ink is still wet, it’s a very light gray color. Just as you’re starting to panic that no one will be able to see anything you’ve written, it dries into a deep, matte black!
I love iron gall ink because of its color, its viscosity, and the fact that it is water-resistant. However, there are a couple of cons to using iron gall ink. First of all, I wouldn’t recommend it to complete beginners because it is so watery: it may prove difficult to work with if you have not reached an intermediate level (that said, it’s always worth a try!). Secondly, iron gall ink is very acidic as far as inks go. That means that it may wear down your nibs quicker than any given non-acidic calligraphy ink will.
All things considered, iron gall ink is a concoction worth adding to your calligraphy ink collection! If you’re in the US, you can purchase it at Paper and Ink Arts; UK/EU residents can find it at Scribblers. For all other locations, you can look into making your own iron gall ink if you cannot find it locally! It doesn’t look incredibly easy to whip up, but if you can find the ingredients, it’s worth a shot.
Walnut Calligraphy Ink
If you’re interested in using walnut ink, you’re in good company: Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt both favored it! Walnut ink is made from the green husk surrounding the nut of walnuts; it’s a very simple formula that has been used for centuries. In modern times, you can use it to create dip pen calligraphy that features a myriad of different brown hues ranging from very light to deep and rich. You can see these different hues in the Kaitlin Style calligraphy recipe below — which, in fact, was written on the back of an envelope as part of a mail art theme!
Like iron gall ink, walnut ink has the capability to make thin upstrokes and thick downstrokes due to its watery consistency. Though that’s a perk, walnut ink’s main asset is that stunning color!
If you’re planning on writing with walnut ink, you’ll want to make sure you have non-absorbent, high-quality paper (for example, watercolor paper or a Rhodia pad) to use it on. Otherwise, the ink will bleed because it’s so watery. Walnut ink is available in both liquid and crystal form; if you purchase the crystals, you’ll just add water to make ink! In the US, you can buy it at Paper and Ink Arts. In the UK/EU, a walnut-like ink is available through Penman Direct. You can also find it in Malaysia! If you want to make your own walnut ink, the ingredients are much less esoteric than those required for iron gall ink. All you need are some black walnuts and vodka!
McCaffery’s Colored Calligraphy Ink
McCaffery’s inks are actually brewed up by a Kansas man named Neil McCaffery in his basement. From what I have read, I believe that Mr. McCaffery uses an iron gall formula to create his colored inks, which explains why they make such beautiful thin hairlines!
Like traditional black iron gall ink, McCaffery’s colored inks are a very light color while they are still wet. Once they dry, all of a sudden the color is vivid and beautiful with slight variations in hue. The effect is absolutely stunning, as you can see on the lace bird birthday card below featuring Amy Style calligraphy!
You’ll want to take into consideration while using these inks that they are created using an iron gall formula, so they are probably more acidic than most inks. Like traditional iron gall ink, McCaffery’s ink may not be beginner-friendly due to its watery consistency; it’s best to try it out once you’ve practiced a bit with other, more substantial inks (such as sumi or India ink). Unfortunately, I do not believe McCaffery’s inks are available outside the US (I’m sorry!); however, Paper and Ink Arts is able to ship them internationally if you are not a US resident.
As part of this ink-focused series of blog posts, I’d like to give you the chance to win a set of the inks that I write about in each post! So, this post’s giveaway is for the earthy inks you just learned about: iron gall ink, walnut ink, and McCaffery’s green and brown colored inks (a $40.00 value plus shipping). Anyone is eligible to win; I’m glad to ship internationally! You may enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Just as a side note, you don’t have to utilize all of the entry options; even if you just enter using one (e.g. the “Answer a Question” option), you’re still eligible to win.
This is a short giveaway that ends Tuesday, February 9th, at 11:59 PM MST (Denver, CO, USA timezone). On Wednesday, the winner will be contacted and his or her name will be displayed on the Rafflecopter widget in this blog post!
If you have any questions about any of the inks outlined in today’s post, please feel free to ask in the comments! Also, if you have any recommendations for your own favorite natural inks, I’m all ears — I love discovering new calligraphy supplies. 🙂 Finally, if you live in the Denver area, I’ll be teaching a modern calligraphy workshop at The Machine Shop in Colorado Springs on Saturday, March 19th! All supplies are included, and I would love to see you there! You can find more information and instructions on how to register at the AIGA Colorado website.
Thank you so much, as always, for reading the TPK blog! It’s a true pleasure to have you here, and I hope you enjoyed today’s post.