01 July 2019

Urban Pigment Foraging

 Make Ink: A Forager's Guide to Natural Inkmaking
 Jason Logan; conversation with Michael Ondaatje
 Abrams, 2018
 191 pages

With a background in chemistry and a love of both colorful arts and crafts and fountain pen inks, this book reached out and grabbed me from the start. It's a combination of a coffee-table book with gorgeous pictures, an ink-making recipe book, and a study of the culture of inks and colors.

The forward is by Michael Ondaatje, the Sri Lanka-born Canadian author of "The English Patient" and other works. As someone who even now writes all his first drafts with pen and ink, he felt compelled to meet the ink maker. He writes of their meeting:
We sat down in his kitchen and it felt like being introduced to someone with the skills of some lost medieval craft. What he did seemed a blend of alchemy with foraging and some possibly illegal art of cooking.
At the end is a transcription of a conversation between Logan and Ondaatje. They talk of foraging, the relationship between words and drawings, strange old techniques of ink making, and ink making around the world.

The publisher's description of the book:
The Toronto Ink Company was founded in 2014 by designer and artist Jason Logan as a citizen science experiment to make eco-friendly, urban ink from street-harvested pigments. In "Make Ink", Logan delves into the history of inkmaking and the science of distilling pigment from the natural world. Readers will learn how to forage for materials such as soot, rust, cigarette butts, peach pits, and black walnut, then how to mix, test, and transform these ingredients into rich, vibrant inks that are sensitive to both place and environment. Organized by color, and featuring lovely minimalist photography throughout, "Make Ink" combines science, art, and craft to instill the basics of ink making and demonstrate the beauty and necessity of engaging with one of mankind's oldest tools of communication.
Having read about producing black walnut ink before, I was expecting natural ink making to involve plant parts and maybe a few chemical stabilizers. What I didn't expect was that urban detritus could turn into ink as well. But Logan see possibilities everywhere in the urban environments around him. From pieces of rusty metal to copper wires to pieces of drywall, he is willing to try them all. Of course, most of the pigments in the recipes do come from nature - acorns, oak galls, pokeberries, and grape vines all contribute their colors, often in surprising ways. Dark purple buckthorn berries result in green ink!

The last section presents images created with his inks by many artists and writers to whom he sent samples. In addition, throughout the book there are stunning full-page pictures of his ink testings and paintings. There are some examples of writing, but note that this type of ink is not for use in fountain pens, only with dip pens or brushes.

This is a fascinating book, even if you don't plan on harvesting rusty bedsprings from beside the roadways in your town. After reading it, the produce at the farmers' market and the herbs and spices in my kitchen cupboards began to look like ink ingredients to me. And I'm sure there will be plenty of acorns and black walnuts around this fall. Some experimenting of my own is coming soon!

Further Reading

The publisher, Abrams, has images from the book here:

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