What does it mean to have all the colours available to you as an artist?  We just can click and order, browse wondrous shops full of pigments or go onto our devices and swipe, touch and tap our way to glorious spectacular techni-colour.  Trained as a printmaker, my world started in mono-chrome until I was allowed to rummage the pigment cupboards of the Royal College of Art.  It started as a financial benefit – to make your own inks from pigment was free at the college and I could not afford to purchase the expensive tubes of pre-made ink.  Thus I started on a journey of making my own ink.  It kind of fitted with the general toil of a print-room, where physical exertion seems to be part of the soul of printmaking.  Grinding and making ink is a therapeutic, but still arduous task.  However, and importantly, it introduced me to printing inks that were not BLACK.  Hurrah.

And to this day I still like to make my own ink.  However, with my recent role as Artist in Residence of a magical conservation woodland in Hampshire, Hollybank Woods, I have begun to question some of the environmental and ethical morals behind some artistic practices.  In the case of pigments, using toxic lead white, or chemically processed cadmiums, or even rare lapis lazuli mined and shipped from the other side of the globe, a truly responsible action?  I am realising that as an artist we have a huge voice and, I feel responsibility, to the younger generation to showcase a more respectful and sensitive operation in our creative practices.  This does not mean we need quash creativity in itself, more so the opposite.  As soon as you face challenges as a creative practitioner, you often find that you rise to find the most inspiring and original approaches to express.

With this in mind, I wondered if I could start to research and create a range of UK sourced pigments, with the aim of turning them into inks to use in my own works.  I will not have the luxury of using ultramarine blue, but will have to find creative alternatives to this valuable blue pigment.  If I can.  My aim is to create, as best I can, a full spectrum of inks, which I have foraged and researched.  Of course, the ethical dilemmas remain – for instance, if the pigment is mined, to what extent can we justify that?  However, it is all about small steps.  The first is to keep it UK only, ideally South Downs based so it cuts out excess travel.  The second step is to find and process the pigment myself responsibly, if not myself, work with those who have knowledge of pigment and also collect in a responsible manner.  The third step is to process these pigments on a small scale in my own studio by hand using vegetable oils and no chemicals.  And finally, the grand fourth step is to produce a series of works where the colour is solely derived from these pigments.

For an artist who revels in colour, in particular the luminous variety, this is a huge challenge.  A-N are kindly supporting me through a Professional Development Bursary, so that gives me incentive to realise this is worth while, and of value not just to myself but to others.  It is a long-term project, that starts small scale and starts with the individual making a change.

 


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And so the first ink making has started.

It seemed sensible to start creating a stock of black as this is used readily across a variety of print media.  Black, as I have been finding out, can be made from numerous sources: bone, vine, root, charcoal, mineral, to name a few.  Having collected samples in bone, mineral and charcoal, I have decided to make my stock black from charcoal.  Practically, charcoal is the most readily available raw material I can obtain from the woodland, as well as the fact it is also a bi-product from fires, which in my mind makes it far more sustainable.

Charcoal I have found is a very powdery pigment to grind, but does make a lovely velvety soft black, and in the quantities I need.

Making and grinding the ink was a simple affair since the raw material broke down very readily and did not require much processing.  Which is brilliant.  It is just a case of producing the quantity I need to print the pieces I have in mind for this particular ink.

Charcoal is also a hugely powerful remedy across the world for stomach upsets and its healing properties make the ink a perfect choice for a series of large wall hangings to form the walls of an installation based upon UK deforestation.  The charcoal from Hollybank will offer a symbolic pointer towards a healing process for the forests and land we have already destroyed in this country.  It will be interesting to see how it prints on such a large scale.

Speaking of which, I have a tin of ink to make….

 


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