The ingredients of an Ink Poem

inkstickinkstoneThe ink - Hand-grinding ink is a process that has been used in China for thousands of years. A small amount of water is placed on an inkstone and the inkstick is rubbed against the stone, slowly wearing down the inkstick and mixing it with the water to form a deep black ink. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to prepare the ink in this way. The inkstick is made from the soot of burned oil or wood and natural glues. For paintings on paper made after 1850 I use 20 year old Pine Soot inksticks. For work on older, higher quality rag paper I use a 40 year old Pure Tong Tree Oil Soot inkstick. Why bother with such a time consuming process just to get a small puddle of ink? Because this method produces a deep black permanent pigment that modern factory-made inks cannot equal. And because I'm weird.

wolf's hair bristle brushThe brushes - If you're going to go to the trouble of grinding your ink by hand, you may as well use Chinese brushes and keep it all in the family, right? I am currently using inexpensive 3 Rabbit brand brushes made of wolf hair with bamboo handles. They hold a point very well when you want to make a thin line, yet you can also load them up with ink for thick, bold lines. Don't ask me how they get the wolf hair. I don't think I want to know. Maybe they shear them like sheep...yeah, that's it...

book pageThe paper - All the paper I use for these paintings comes from books that are 100 to 385 years old (really). Surprisingly, the older the paper, the more stable and durable it is. After the mid 1800's, most book paper was made from wood pulp. The neat browning of the edges of the paper from this era is caused by acids that are byproducts of the paper's manufacture. So it looks cool, but eventually it destroys the paper. All of the paper that I paint on from this era goes through a Magnesium Oxide "de-acidification" process to neutralize the acids in the paper. The process is non-toxic and odor free. It halts deterioration and adds hundreds of years to the useful life of old wood-pulp paper. The older, rag-based papers do not require "de-acidification".

old bookA note on the books - I know that some of you reading this are appalled at the idea of ripping up fine old books just to paint pictures on the paper. As a writer and collector, I have the utmost respect for the art of bookmaking and the preservation of old books. But the books used for these paintings are not rare or sought-after volumes. Most were broken, falling apart, incomplete, unwanted, or in otherwise generally terrible condition by the time I got my hands on them. I still feel weird about dissecting them sometimes, so I pour a little whiskey into a glass and drink it. After that, I don't feel so bad about the books. In fact, I feel quite good about them. We all have our own unfortunate - sometimes ugly - demise. Even the books among us.