Black Walnut Ink

I live in the lovely city of Graz in Austria. Every morning I go for a run or ride along the river Mur, which flows through the centre of Graz. I had never noticed the diversity of flora and fauna alongside the river until I adapted to my new avatar as an artist a couple of years ago. Even though I have always loved being in nature its only when I started sketching outdoors that I began to observe and connect to the natural environment more intensely. My field sketches are more than study notes or ways to learn the facts of nature. They are a means for opening a gateway to observing things differently.

Benefits of running in nature

I was running along the Mur recently and noticed the walnut trees loaded with walnuts looking almost like little green apples. There were plenty fallen on the ground as well. I realised during my run that despite the prevalence of ink, we have become so disconnected from it, much like we are from our food. It’s like when you have food that is grown by you not only do you find it tastes better, but it also has a depth of the story. So by making your own art supplies from foraged materials you will always have that special story to remember! In fact, there are all kinds of things in a city that are just ignored unless you are looking at them with a kind of curious eyes.  So, I collected a few of them to be made into ink for my sketches.

I usually think and get ideas while running in nature :-)!

The golden brown walnut ink has a beautiful warmth and timeless appeal. Black walnuts have been a staple in the making of ink for centuries.  Following is my recipe for making ink from black walnuts!

Method

Step 1:  Find a walnut tree and collect the fallen fruit. I collected about 7 or 8 walnuts as I wanted to make just a small batch of ink. For larger volumes simply collect more walnuts. The green hulls that encase the nuts are what you’ll be using to make the ink.  Several recipes recommend that you wait until the skin starts to blacken before proceeding further, but my curiosity and impatience led me to use the green hulls straight away.

Green walnuts

Step 2: After removing and collecting the outer green layer add enough water to cover the shells and put in a pot that is designated for doing all your creative experiments.  Wear gloves when removing the hulls as they will stain your hands. The walnuts are not part of the ink making process so you could share them with birds or squirrels.

Sliced green walnuts with hulls intact and nuts removed.

Step 3: Bring the pot to a gentle boil, then turn down the heat to low. I boiled the hulls for about 5 minutes and let the pot sit on the electric stove after switching it off for about an hour. To speed up the process I also added baking soda which helps to break down the hull and release the tannin. Walnut ink can be made without the addition of baking soda, in which case you will have to let the solution simmer for a very long time!

Tannin rich cooked green walnuts

Choose the strength and consistency of the ink according to your preference. Test it with a brush on paper to see if you need to cook it down more. I strained the liquid using a sieve but you could also use a pantyhose which will remove all sorts of organic sludge from your ink.

The colour of the ink should be golden brown. It is water-soluble, lightfast, acid free, non-toxic and natural. You could also add rusted iron to darken the colour. I didn’t have any rusted iron pieces so I will leave it to experiment with some time in the future. For now, I am quite satisfied with the current batch of my walnut ink. I also added a bit of 70% ethanol as a preservative.

Finished glowing brown walnut ink

As you can see, making walnut ink is not rocket science! There is no measuring required and nothing can go wrong in making this ink. If it gets too diluted just boil to reduce the volume or leave the pot outside for the ink to reduce in volume naturally.

A word of caution:

Walnut tree produces a substance known as juglone (5-hydroxy-alpha-napthaquinone) which is highly toxic to many other plants and some animals. Juglone is the source of dark colour in walnut hulls.  Do not discard the leftover black hulls into your garden or in the compost pit as the presence of juglone will inhibit plant growth.

 

Handmade watercolours and walnut ink illustration

I hope that this article inspires you to make your own ink from natural resources as it costs nothing, more importantly, it is eco-friendly!

 

 

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER:  Kindly take necessary safety precautions during the ink making process. The author will not be held responsible to any adverse reaction that you may have in handling a nut bearing fruit. The author may change the contents of this document at any time, either in whole or in part.

A safe pair of hands

This is a guest blog featuring Elma Hogeboom

 

My name is Elma Hogeboom, a sustainable artist from the Netherlands. I strive towards a sustainable lifestyle in every walk of my life. Art is a huge passion of mine and I apply sustainability to my passion too. After a long painstaking research, I found out that sustainable materials to create pieces of art were either very scarce or non-existent! It got me thinking: in this day and age, how in the world can we not transition to sustainable alternatives in art? Connecting art and sustainability requires creativity and unconventional approaches, a challenge that I love! So I started my journey in sustainable art.

 

A few weeks ago I discovered something called eco glitter, it sparkles in all colors and is completely biodegradable and eco-friendly. All those pictures of sparkling hands and eyelids… – yes, it seems perfect for make-up too! – Now I’m not really the ‘over-the-top makeup’ kind of gal, but if I were, I would definitely stock up big time!

While searching Instagram for my daily dose of inspiration a while back – honestly, I sometimes feel like a coffee addict looking for their next cup… – I suddenly found myself flabbergasted. I saw a movie clip, you may have seen it yourself, of an artist having some sort of liquid metal in the palm of their hands. The first thing that popped into my mind was ‘mercury poisoning’, and since I didn’t see a caption of what the metal was, I started reading the comments. People were amazed and horrified at the same time. Some stated that it could be gallium, which they claimed was less big of a deal. Nevertheless, I clearly saw the grayish stain the metal left on the hands, which didn’t seem all that appealing to me and I quickly decided I definitely wouldn’t try this one at home…

After this incident, I started thinking: what else did I see on Instagram that might not be such a good idea to try myself? I knew that I had painted with my bare hands in the past, inspired by intuitive artists and their beautifully captivating pictures of bare hands covered in paint. I stopped doing this because I thought it might have a negative impact on my health. However, as this seems to be some sort of trend nowadays, it seemed like a good idea to share why I quit painting with my bare hands myself.

As a sustainable artist, I spend lots time researching the materials I use in my art practice. I read about pros en cons for the materials I use, with regard to their eco-friendliness, impact on life on this planet and the circumstances under which it has been produced; talking about light reading! But sustainability also includes thinking about my own health, especially when I’m in direct contact with chemicals like paints.

Now, many (professional) paints contain heavy metals, like cadmium, cobalt, manganese, zinc and lead, that not only have beautiful colors, but which can be very toxic too! And these metals can cause severe health issues, like cancer and metal poisoning, when we fail to handle them with the proper precautions. For example: inhaling cadmium may cause lung cancer. Boy! I was I glad to have read about this before even considering using my spray bottles with cadmium-based paints!

But while diving deep into the product safety data sheets of the major paint manufacturers – honestly, it can really feel like reading Chinese sometimes- I also found out that they warn about prolonged or repeated skin-contact with their paints. This really got me thinking: is it safe to frequently use my hands as painting tools? Especially when I’m not 100% sure the paints I use are safe? My conclusion?

1) I’ll try to avoid some paints/pigments I’m not comfortable with using and

2) I’d rather stick to that good old paintbrush

Better to be safe than sorry, right? And if I do feel the urge to let the child in me indulge from time to time, I’ll go with some non-toxic alternatives like eco- and child-friendly finger paints, or better yet, make them myself with some natural ingredients. ‘Cause, hey, we all need a spark of childhood memories from time to time, right?

That’s it for now. Safe painting my friends! And if you liked this post, please check out my blog on www.elmahogeboom.nl/blog or follow me on Instagram (@elmahogeboom). Talk to you soon!

 

DISCLAIMER: This article concerns itself with the common sense safety aspects of art materials and art safety in general. The intent of this article is merely to raise individual awareness of some of the issues involved and to encourage the reader to take steps in learning more about the factors involved with the hazards associated with artist’s materials. The author may change the contents of this document at any time, either in whole or in part.