A Recipe for the Old Master’s Signature Ink
The love of Rembrandt’s signature iron gall brown ink led artist Robert Haslach to experiment with homebrewing his own inks to see how close he could get to the Old Master’s original recipe.
Enjoy Robert’s story, and if you have oak galls in your neck of the woods and make ink for yourself, bring back the details of what you learn! We want to hear!
And whether you make your own inks or not, if you love holding a pen in your hand, hand-lettering might be where your creativity wants to take you next. Start exploring this lovely and easy-to-learn calligraphy approach now and create tons of mementos in all forms with Jen Wagner’s Happy Hand Lettering.
A Love of Rembrandt
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.
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.
Fruits Falling at My Feet
My homebrewing opportunity arrived in the 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).
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.
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.
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.
Another of Rembrandt’s Inks
Rembrandt also made drawings using bistre ink. Bistre ink is made by combining wood soot, which was commonplace during his lifetime and was often sourced directly from wood-burning chimneys, with water.
The mixture was boiled down slowly over several hours until it reached the right consistency and the soot and water were fully combined. The end result is a yellow-brown, transparent ink that was not favored for writing, but is well suited to drawings with washes.
A Year of Pencils
In celebration of National Pencil Day, Derwent is sponsoring A Year of Pencils Giveaway! Fill pages and paged with beautiful drawings and sketches in homage to Rembrandt. Enter now for a chance to win your Year of Pencils!