Rembrandt launched my ventures in the homebrewing of ink. I live in a city that offers vast riches of art, but I personally came to draw and paint late in life. As someone who learns by doing, I wanted to reproduce Rembrandt’s rich combination of line and washes in his brown ink drawings, and wanted to go so far as to use the same materials he did.
|Homebrew black walnut ink sketch on Lanaquerelle by Robert Haslach, 2013.|
We don’t know now what tones and hues Rembrandt produced with his iron gall ink, Europe’s standard from the 5th through the 19th centuries. Nowadays it cannot be easily found and it is not in most art stores. Few oak galls are even available where most of us live. Commercial “sepia” inks vary in color from reddish to dark brown. For a time, I used Pitt dark sepia #175 from Faber Castell to get close to the look of Rembrandt’s drawings.
My homebrewing opportunity arrived this autumn. While walking our standard poodle, my first model, I nearly tripped on the litter of light green balls in our park. Not oak galls, this was the fruit of the Eastern Black Walnut (juglans nigra).
Cypresses in Assisi by Robert Haslach, 2012, pen and ink drawing.
This native species grows in riparian zones east of the Atlantic, from southern Ontario to Georgia and Florida and west of the Mississippi. Pick up one of its round brownish-green fruits and your stained hands will testify to its use as a natural dye, wood stain, and ink.
|Boiling walnut fruits for ink.
Gather a pail of those fruits that have turned brown. The darker the outer layer the better. That drupe is the source of the dye. Cover the fruit with water and bring to a boil in a stainless steel pot. Simmer adding water as needed for 4-6 hours. Pour off the brown water through a cheesecloth. Cool. Strain again. Add a little ethyl alcohol to combat mold and fungus growth. Add a little gum arabic as binder.
You have just made rich brown natural walnut ink. I experimented with the ink with a dip pen and watercolor brush on watercolor paper. Let me know if you have any questions about my version of Rembrandt’s brown ink.