-By Howard Lyon

A friend of mine, Stephen Haws, showed me his sketchbook that he took to Italy and it was full of beautiful dark brown ink drawings.  I asked him where he purchased the ink and he said he made it! (he made the sketchbook too, maybe that can be a future post)
I asked him if he would teach me how to make the ink.  He did and gave me some of his ink as well.  The great thing about making this ink is that if you are going to make a little, you might as well make a lot!  It makes a wonderful gift for artist friends.
The ink is very easy to make.
  • Whole black walnuts in the husk
  • Water
  • Salt or rubbing alcohol or white vinegar

  • Gas burner or camp stove
  • Stainless steel or enameled pot
  • Glass bottles
  • Cheese cloth or a fine sieve or old nylon stockings
  • Rubber gloves
  • Large cloth for squeezing out pigment

1. Collect 40-50 black walnuts that are still green or juicy black in the husk.
image from http://www.nemahaweb.com/
2. Let the walnuts sit in the pot until they all turn black.
3. Cover the walnuts with water.
4. Boil for 6-8 hours.  Add more water as needed to make sure it doesn’t all steam off.
5. Once cool, remove the husks from the nuts (use rubber gloves).

6. Boil again for a few hours and let sit overnight.  The more you reduce it down, the darker your ink will be.
7. Place the large cloth over a clean container and pour the ink through it to strain out the solids.  Once you have all the solids in the cloth, you can close up the ends and twist the cloth to force out as much pigment and liquid from the husks.  You can now throw out the solids.  I read they contain a bit of poison that inhibits plant growth, so don’t mulch them into your garden or flower bed.
8. Now you can pour the liquid through the cheese cloth or fine sieve to remove and remaining solids.
At this point if you let the ink sit it will develop a gnarly looking mold.  Click on this image to enlarge and look at all the amazing color and texture in this mold! 
I have read a couple tips to prevent mold.  Once site recommended adding some rubbing alcohol and another said they added white vinegar and salt into the mix as a preservative.  I went the rubbing alcohol route with this batch.  I have also heard of adding cloves or spices to give it a nice smell.  
If you should get mold on your ink, it comes off easily.  It forms a satusfying pudding skin type surface and you just scoop it out with a spoon.  In the photo above, that whole layer of mold came off in one piece.
9. Bottle the ink.  I ended up with 96 oz. or three quarts!
10. Draw with a dip pen or brush (don’t use a fountain pen).
Drawn with a Tachikawa mapping nib on cold pressed watercolor paper
11. Make a nifty label for your ink.

12.  Draw some more!
Drawn with a Tachikawa G-nib on hot pressed watercolor paper
Thanks for giving this a read.  Let me know if you make some ink of your own!
Howard Lyon