Walnut ink drawing

Walnut ink drawing

Walnut ink drawing

Here is a drawing made with homemade walnut ink – 9X12 on Arches hot press watercolor paper, cropped a bit. Once again a Steve McCurry photo provided the reference. I sketch in ink pretty regularly, as a way to practice and keep my hand in on an everyday basis, but normally I sketch with a ballpoint pen if I’m out and about. (My bosses know that sketching is the best way to keep myself awake and focused during a meeting!) When I’m at home, I like to use crow quill or brush, and a bottle of ink, preferably one of the inks I’ve made. Walnut is a favorite of mine.

I love ink drawings, but I don’t care for how tight mine normally are – I tried to force myself to loosen up with this one, with some success. Instead of drawing flat on a table, I put the watercolor pad on an easel and leaned it back, and held the pen as I would a paintbrush. I think it will be a good method for me, and I’m happy with how it came out. Ink drawing without making a pencil sketch first also helps.

There are instructions elsewhere for making walnut ink directly from rotten husks dropped by a black walnut tree – for instance here or here – and if you live in a part of the country with a lot of black walnut trees around, it is something that’s easy to do. I don’t live in such an area, so I bought my walnut husks dried from a dye company. (Actually, there is a “Southern California black walnut” (listed as threatened, naturally) and of course I’m eager to try it out when I happen upon one of them – but it isn’t the kind of black walnut normally associated with making ink. When I find some and try them out I will of course post the results here. I’m all about using local materials when possible.)

Filtering walnut ink

Filtering walnut ink

Anyway, if you go the same route I did, making walnut ink is about as easy as it could be. Simply cover the dried husks with distilled water and simmer them for an hour or three until you’ve got a nice thick dark liquid, adding more distilled water if necessary, then drain through a coffee filter as with the iris green. You’ve got a pretty ink! If you keep it for a while it will mold, and then you just filter it again. I add a bit of clove oil to mine as a natural preservative, it helps a bit. I understand that another ink can be made with pecan shells, and so of course I’ve got to try that as well.

Iris green – fin.

Iris blue?

Iris blue?

Incidentally, regarding the two previous posts: I have resurrected an old mystery surrounding iris ink. According to numerous medieval sources, it is possible to obtain a blue color from iris by “leaving out the yellow parts.” Thompson and others assumed that the “yellow parts” meant the pollen, but were confused that following the instructions doesn’t seem to work at all. I myself thought at one point that it may have been a bit of a medieval joke, based on green normally being derived as a mixture of blue and yellow. However, through experimentation I’ve discovered that the iris juice, or at least the juice from my more violet blue irises, will indeed paint blue, if one adds only a very small amount of alum. Perhaps that is what was meant? I don’t know why alum would be referred to as “yellow parts,” but then I’m not privy to the various inner meanings in medieval alchemy, puns, or insider codes. Anyway, it might be a possibility.

As the year progresses, the iris plants are producing fewer flowers – and those that are produced seem to have less color in them. Today’s little batch of ink is probably the last of the year, and it won’t be the best. I may not be able to really test my idea properly until next year. Iris green is definitely a springtime color…

Other medieval inks I’ve made besides walnut and iris green: brazilwood red, buckthorn yellow, saffron, folium red and turnsole blue (the color from which Sunsikell derives its name). All beautiful colors, which I’ll show and discuss in later posts. Medieval inks I have yet to make: iron gall, poppy and cornflower. The fun never stops around here!


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9 Responses to “Walnut ink drawing”

  1. Erik Says:

    Impressive drawing Louis, I really like the hashmarks in the hair and the delicate treatment of eyes and mouth.

  2. sunsikell Says:

    Thank you for the compliment, Erik, I appreciate it.

    Readers can take a look at Erik’s blog: http://erikvanelven.blogspot.com/ – he’s got some great oil paintings and experiments with limited palettes.

  3. Robot Geisha Says:

    Always beautiful work. Thanks for leaving a post on my blog. You were probably the most talented artist in the building at Coleman, a great teacher as well. I continue to do a lot of work in Illustrator creating my geisha art and cartoon work. It has come in handy having the crossover. I will follow your blog. Lisa

  4. sunsikell Says:

    Thanks Lisa! I was happy to see you as an award winner at the Southwest Art show in San Diego, and happy to see that you’re still making art. That’s quite a good drawing you’re working on. All the best…

  5. Christmas card sketch, walnut ink « Sunsikell Says:

    […] purchase walnut hulls from a natural dyes shop and simply follow the process described in my post here. Or you can do a hunt for walnut ink to purchase online – just beware, not all of them are […]

  6. Announcement: blue iris rhizomes available « Sunsikell Says:

    […] irises I’ve used to create the iris green ink, which you can read about here, here, here and here. I don’t know exactly how many I’ve got, but it must be several dozen at least. I only […]

  7. Andrew Says:

    homemade walnut ink — how clever and resourceful.

  8. Old Flemish Technique « Sunsikell Says:

    […] been working on. The ink drawing has been in homemade natural walnut ink, the same as I used here, but this time on a traditional gessoed panel. It’s nice to draw in ink on gesso, as […]

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