Buying inks can be deceptive. On many art supply websites the similar bottles all come under the banner of ‘ink’ and some are actual Indian ink, but others are acrylic ink, and others diluted watercolour. In addition there is calligraphic and fountain pen ink. So easy to get confused and misled.
My first dip into inks (sorry, unintended) was a multipack of Windsor & Newton’s. Excellent and reliable, if only the bottles lasted longer. Well, I say that – I bought a Black, a Violet and a Crimson in the mid-1990’s at art college and I still had half a bottle of crimson left when I began this lark back in April. My very first attempts were via squeezed contents of old fountain pen refill cartridges (yes, my fingers were black for a week) combined with the 15 year-old crimson, which in 2019 I discovered had ‘matured’ to a vibrant neon pink.
BRANDS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE
Other brands and products I have used since are Daler Rowney Acrylic Ink, Dr Ph Martin’s Bombay India Ink, Chinese Black Calligraphy Ink (from the Manuscript Pen Company), and Ecoline Liquid Water Colour, as well as a cheap Liquid Watercolour I found in high street shop Tiger (Flying Tiger), which not only was surprisingly vivid – though in limited colours – the black also produces exciting effects and blue-edged tints when it runs into the other inks. Since it appears to be discontinued I’m using it sparingly – ironic seeing as it’s the cheapest one I’ve so far found! I’m thinking of trying a bottle of Parker Quink or other fountain ink and see if I get a similar result. [continued]
One satisfying but more expensive discovery has been a range of metallics by C Roberson called ‘Liquid Metal’. My first try was with Scarlett Pearl which I bought looking for a bright neon-ish magenta (because I got a bit attached to that ancient bottle of W&N crimson!). The metallic doesn’t do so well in the pipette or spread easily with water because of the particles, but it does make a gorgeous colour with a thick defined shape and line. Ideal for calligraphy, which I’m guessing is its primary use. I am about to stock up on some more, though they are difficult to find in retail shops, I’ve had to hunt for them online.
The funny thing is, I didn’t fully appreciate the final results after my first attempts with Scarlett Pearl, as a) I produce my works in low light /candlelight/ blindfold; b) the full effect doesn’t reveal itself until the work properly dries; and c) it wasn’t until showing the paintings to someone under LED lights a week later that I saw the true magic.
I have to say the vividness of colours are exceptional across all brands mentioned, in ink, watercolour and acrylic. My only quibble is with the reds. I am seeking a bright, brilliant red that stays that shade when dry and doesn’t turn muddy or a ruby, and also the magentas, which fade to more of a pinkish red.
One point to make is that acrylic ink doesn’t mix as well: a bottle of golden yellow repels the others rather than joins in. I’m using it to its advantage rather than dismiss it, but I will be swayed to choose non-acrylic in future for this reason.
INKS ON VARIOUS SURFACES
Of course, surface has an effect on the media. Whiter papers will always allow colours to sing out but thankfully these days you can buy plenty of acid-free and FSC sourced papers that don’t compromise on that. If you choose to scan your work for digital reproductions then this isn't an issue, you can always amend the contrast later. My own experimentations are encouraging me to try different papers, though good old 300gsm watercolour is a reliable base for the wet technique and for layering drips of ink. The texture also encourages some brushes to flow and others to ‘drag’, which gives a gloriously varied response. I am about to try a Chinese rice paper; we’ll see where that leads.
My advice in using ink if you’re dabbling with it would be to start small, with just two or three colours and a limited range of brushes. Experiment until you find the marks that appeal. With any newly acquired interest or hobby I’m not a believer in rushing out to buy a full set of gadgets and equipment. By easing yourself in you have fewer expectations for yourself. Less expenditure means less pressure to produce something ‘worthwhile’: it encourages play, the make-do, and curiosity to thrive.