We have five black walnut trees in our backyard. We’d have to pick up the walnuts and throw them out because they were destroying the lawn; we’d get this ink all over our hands and clothes ad sneakers, and somebody from around here said walnuts make great ink! So we went online and found websites that tell you how to harvest ink.
Instead of throwing them out, I put them all in a big garbage can in the garage and left them there for a year. They rotted and all the liquid seeped to the bottom, so I had this vat of black liquid. When I went online, I read how to do it; it’s pretty simple.
You boil the mixture of walnuts and then add distilled water and boil all the gum. Then it’s a matter of straining it through stockings or screens until you get this purified, beautiful black liquid. There are different ways of keeping it. Some people add arsenic to it, but I didn’t want to get into that. We kept it in vats out in the back yard and put it into canning jars. We added gum Arabic and vinegar as a preservative to the mixture, because otherwise it starts to rot and gets this terrible smell. We got empty ink bottles, hand bottled it, made labels and started selling it locally. Although now we’ve sort of run out of steam, it was definitely a novel experience for us.
George Thompson, who recently showed more than 30 paintings at the New Jersey State Museum at Ellarslie Mansion, is now the director of drawing services at Mixed Media in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and continues to run weekly life drawing and painting sessions. He is represented by Sabine Rose Gallery in Doylestown.
To see some of George Thompson’s work and hear his story, see the November issue of The Artist’s Magazine, available on newsstands and online October 9. To take a look at the bottles of black walnut ink, visit www.georgethompsongallery.com. To see Emily Thompson’s work, go to www.ethompsonstudio.com.