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Sumi Ink Sticks For Dip Pens


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#1 Cynomys

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 20:07

I have been learning Spencerian script using Higgins Eternal ink with my pointed pen nibs. While I have been very happy with this ink, I have also taken an interest in Sumi ink in stick form. I have a number of questions concerning the use of Sumi ink sticks with dip pens.

1) the only such ink I know of is Kecseg's available from John Neal Books. Are there other types available and what are the pros / cons of the various types?

2) the two ink stones I possess have pretty shallow wells - too shallow for dipping the nib in far enough to cover the eye. In using ink sticks, are you supposed to make some ink and then (somehow) transfer it to a bottle for dipping? Or should I just get another stone with a deeper well?

3) the books I have on brush calligraphy recommend discarding any unused ink following a drawing session. Should the dip pen ink also be discarded after each use, or can it be saved from one writing session to another and just topped off periodically? If saving it over, should it maybe be refrigerated? And should it be shaken before usage?
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#2 ticoun

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 20:13

ink made in stick form is made for brushes, not dip pens, so that's why the ink stone is too shallow. it wiss still be good to use with dip pens, but you'll have to transfer it into a bottle.

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#3 jbb

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 20:44

For what it's worth, I mix up my metallic dip pen inks in shallow salt cellars or ashtrays and find the depth works very well.

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#4 Mickey

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 22:32

Or you could save yourself a lot of work and get Moon Palace or one of the other bottled Sumi inks (which are made from stick ink).

BTW, good old Noodler's Bullet Proof Black is pretty good with dip pens. I just tried it with a Nikko G nib and was very pleasantly surprised.

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#5 professionaldilettante

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 00:14

They sell the ink in bottles... I can find it relatively easily. The stuff in sticks takes a lot of work to grind well, and more expensive. It's the poor man's version, but the bottled, preground ink is just about the same, and less work.
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#6 Rena

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Posted 21 April 2011 - 11:55

Hi Cynomys. I've purchased ink sticks through Paper and Ink Arts, both Japanese and Chinese. I load the pen with a small brush. Here is a link to a thread that contains some discussion on ink sticks, and an excellent old video of Hermann Zapf. Around 6:00 minutes into the video, he demonstrates this method of loading the pen. I dump any unused ink when I'm done with a session and thoroughly clean and dry my ink stone. I use the word "dump," but there is never a large quantity remaining, so it's really just cleaning up.
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#7 Cynomys

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Posted 22 April 2011 - 15:08

Yesterday, I ground some ink from a Yasutomo ink stick. Since I was going to use it for a dip pen, I had to make enough to fill a Testor's bottle (7 ml capacity), but it didn't take all that long (about 10 to 15 minutes at most). The result was at least usable for making the letterforms (Spencerian script), but not the shades as the ink was too runny. I probably could have made it a bit darker, with more pigmentation, but even then it would likely have not been viscous enough. Maybe some gum Arabic would help. Unfortunately, I don't have any so couldn't test that.

The ink stick which I used was about 15 years old and previously unused, so at least I found out that Sumi ink in stick form has a long lifetime. John Neal Books sells a version of ink stick (Kecseg's) which they claim is formulated for dip pen use I will try that now that I have a good basis for comparison. I actually like the ink sticks. Even though they may not be as convenient as the bottled form, I don't mind the small amount of time it would take to grind the stick if you're just topping off your supply.
Jim

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#8 bluemagister

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Posted 23 April 2011 - 04:10

Good sumi is made from soot and gum binder. The best sticks SMELL good, too. I prefer a pine-scented brand I can't get here in the US. However, the ink is not treated with antifungals, as far as I know, so I am not sure about the shelf life. The particles will also not stay suspended in water indefinitely, so you might need to shake the bottle. I'd grind just enough ink to last a week or so and do it that way.

#9 fiberdrunk

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Posted 23 April 2011 - 05:01

I use a brush to load the nib or quill with the ink, directly from the ink stone. No need to pour into a bottle. You mix up what you need for immediate use.
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#10 caligulakant

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Posted 07 December 2011 - 05:01

I've been using Moon Palace Sumi ink (the bottled version) I pour an ounce into a 2 ounce shot glass and add5 or 6 drops of gum arabic and a little distilled water to make up for evaporation.....as far as I'm concerned for dip pens it cannot be beat.

It does not feather worth a damn, even with huge, broad stokes that when looked at from the side can be seen to be convex and shiny upon the paper. I cover the glass with aluminum foil, and even days after, with a stir of the end of my nib, holder it works just fine.

The blackness I would compare to Noodler's Manhatten Black, the blackest FP ink I can find. The only drawback is that it dries with a slight sheen. But for super fine to super broad strokes that do not feather...I've yet to see anything close.

#11 USMCMom

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Posted 07 December 2011 - 05:47

For what it's worth, I mix up my metallic dip pen inks in shallow salt cellars or ashtrays and find the depth works very well.

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What ink do you use ... sticks or bottles?
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#12 Chevalier

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Posted 07 December 2011 - 13:01

Oh, I haven't noticed this thread yet.

Don't get bottled ink, it's made for sumi-e training sessions, not for real sumi-e work or dip-pen writing (bottled ink and some cheap ink sticks are made with shellac serving as a binding agent instead of animal glue). There are some bottled inks that might work, but you'll search for them a long time and they won't be as good as a decent stick ink. The old letter artists, like Herman Zapf, didn't use Japanese ink but Chinese. I think the reason was that most ink imported from Japan was drying up waterproof, while Chinese ink was easier to use. I don't see another reason. I use Japanese and Chinese ink now, they are just a little different. It's sometimes hard to get what you want without comprehensive Japanese and Mandarin knowledge, but the selection available to us is already pretty nice. Most people in the west won't notice the differences between the different blacks anyway. Sure, it's a little different for sumi-e work, but I understood that you only want to use ink sticks for western calligraphy anyway.

There are two main kinds of stick ink, one is wood soot (pine most common) and one is made of oils. It's important to get a good sumi ink, because the lower grades (and most bottled ink) will have a big particle size. You don't need to buy the highest sumi-e master grade ink sticks, but don't buy the tourist quality either.

Getting a decent ink stone is important too, the quality of the stone and the stick ink should be on the same level, or you'll end up with a lesser quality ink than the stick is able to produce (you might even ruin the ink stick). You don't need to buy the precious stones meant as collectibles, especially if you don't want to draw sumi-e, but a decent quality is pretty mandatory.

I could write hours about ink sticks, but I think it would be an overkill. Just don't try to preserve the old ink, even for dip-pens. I tried to store ink I already made but it's impossible to keep the pigments in a fine solution (they clump together first creating bigger pigments). It might easily ruin your artistic experience. That's nothing tragic, because the meditative process of creating ink is perfect to enhance the focus on your work. Simply make a small fresh batch and load your dip-pen with a brush, like our dear fiberdrunk suggested.


One warning advice: Be careful with higher grade "color" ink sticks. They contain natural pigments that might be toxic (like vermilion red for example) and require a little care (never grind them on a surface not entirely wet).

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