Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spilling Ink, part one

Writing ink. Such a commonplace item, a ubiquitous fluid in history for transmitting ideas and information. Made out of a variety of ingredients around the world and throughout time. And yet, when I took up the pursuit of portraying a clerk, finding an ink suitable to the task was amazing difficult.

First of all, writing ink, nowadays, is the purview of an art supplies store. One does not simply walk into a Target, department store, or even a business supply outlet to purchase a bottle of ink. The ballpoint pen has removed the necessity (and truth be told, the potential mess).

So, second, a journey to the art supply store. But the range there, too, is limited. Calligraphy ink (in various shades) and India ink (which its nib encrusting varnishy coat). Early on, the choice of calligraphy ink as the best of a limited sample was dissatisfying.

The basic problem to my mind, apart from the incorrectness for an 18th century period, was that the ink ran terribly if it got wet. Looking at original period documents, especially journals, many of which definitely seemed to have survived a perilous journey and an assortment of abuses, I was struck by the fact: the ink did not smear or run, even when assaulted by liquids post inscription!

Thus, I found myself on the trail of another piece of knowledge, another skill (among the many seemingly useless in our contemporary setting--like "where did the pencil come from", the saga of which in a later posting), to be gained.

All of which seems a long way of saying: to be authentic in my portrayal I felt I needed to be using an authentic (or as close to authentic as I could get) ink, or possibly produce my own using period ingredients.

There are quite a number of books and websites that document the history and making of ink. But the real knowledge came in actually seeking out the ingredients and preparing them myself. In part two, I'll detail some of my experiments and findings. I've produced a significant quantity of ink, far more than I can use at present, and have been giving it away.

Once I can figure out a way to cost effectively and safely ship it, I would like to sell it if there is an audience. So far, I'm not pleased with the quality of reconstituted ink; plus, I think it's more of a pain than just having a bottle ready to go.

I've also investigated "ink sellers", itinerant "criers", who wandered the streets of town selling ink from a barrel on their back to individuals and businesses. Might be a entertaining personna at an event . . .

Best reference: "Manuscript Inks", Jack Thompson, The Caber Press, Portland OR. To check it out or order: Mr. Thompson's site is quite extensive and worth the look.

Next time: Spilling ink, part two: it really works and it's less mess than roasting coffee beans on the stove. Really!

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