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The Magic Of Fountain Pen Ink Art


NickiStew
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This is a an article recently published on Doodlewash.com. Slowly getting the word out to the wider art community that there's a lot more to fountain pens and inks that just handwriting...
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Robert Oster Barossa Grape

My name is Nick Stewart and I’m from Rochester, Kent, England. Much of my working life has been spent in service to London’s advertising agencies and design studios as well as a part time tutor at the University for the Creative Arts. I am currently the creative lead at Stewart2, a branding and design team.

oster03.jpg?w=664&h=664&crop=1&ssl=1Sheaffer-Black-and-bleach.jpg?w=528&h=66
Left: Robert Oster Inks Right: Shaeffer Black

My art journey began early. As the offspring of a father in the armed services it was the norm ‘back in the day’ to be sent away to school to offset the disruption of relocation every 2 years. In the boarding communities I found myself, it was important to play to your strengths in order to survive. Art happened to be something I excelled at and since the age of eight have developed it as a skill for both career and personal practice.

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Quink-and-bleach.jpg?w=395&h=398&ssl=1Herbin-inks.jpg?w=395&h=395&crop=1&ssl=1
Top: Nick Stewart's 4 colour mix set inks Bottom Left: Parker Quink black and bleach Right: J Herbin Inks
Four years ago, I was in an extremely frustrating and anxious place. The creative driven analogue industry that I love and cherish finally morphed into the digital behemoth it was destined to become. Now led by programmers and account managers utilising keywords, templates and digital visual content. I desperately needed to find something analogue to satisfy my inner creative cravings and that’s where the fountain pen ink art project began.

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Mild bleach on Parker Quink black background

I had already been introduced to an abstract use for Parker Quink Ink and bleach mainly for lettering and design while at Brighton University, where I was tutored by the renowned calligrapher Miriam Stribley. So, this seemed like an opportunity to revisit those investigations from thirty years ago and take them further into uncharted territories.

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Mild bleach on Waterman ink backgrounds

For the uninitiated, fountain pen inks are made up of dyes that when introduced to a wetted paper surface, the colours that make up those dyes are released from solution, so although you are dealing with one colour it appears that you could be using several. This chromatic process is totally unique to fountain pen inks with the stunning visual outcomes very much serendipity led. Add to that a touch of alchemy (bleach), and the art goes to a whole new level with stunning neon gold effects, textures and new colours created!

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12 swatch test cards of various ink brands

So, first off, I got hold of ink samples from all over the world to swatch test. And the potential for fountain pen ink use, aside from handwriting, was jaw dropping. I uploaded my swatch cards, ink reviews and fountain pen ink art to a dedicated website and shared them to social media and discussion forums that I thought may gain some attention. And what quickly became apparent, is that there is a big international audience out there who are eager to know more and to learn how to use their fountain inks in their own art.

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Nick Stewart Randall ink

I found that each fountain pen ink is unique. Some inks are just one trick ponies while others reveal a whole range of unexpected behaviours, colours, reactions and creative possibilities. To-date I have swatch tested over 1,800 individual inks and discovered some real delights, all of which, once recognised, will be of great value to creatives in all fields of art practice.

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Troublemaker Abalone and Petrichor inks

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Left: Noodler’s Rome Burning and Walnut Brown inks. Right: Krishna Graphite ink

For readers of this forum who are into sketching and watercolour painting, you can achieve some easy and stunning watercolour effects by simply letting the chromatography just do its thing. In the illustrations shown above, the ‘chromo’ skies and foregrounds created themselves with the details added afterwards with a dip pen. For enthusiasts of art journaling and sketching, this simple and natural process allows for a seamless visual and medium continuity between image and handwritten word.

For the travelling artist, illustrator and journal keeper, using a limited palette of four fountain pen inks similar to cyan, magenta, yellow and black, will easily mix and blend together to give all the colours needed to create great art with the addition of those unique chromatic effects and reactions to bleach included – all from the one medium.
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Left and Right: Nick Stewart's 4 colour mix set inks

What is also of interest is that all ink ranges are made differently. Each ink maker has their own and recipes and processes. So, one range of inks may suit a particular subject matter better than another.

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Various Diamine standard, sheening and shimmer inks

But it doesn’t stop there. Fountain pen sheening and shimmer inks can also be used for art and to stunning effects when used for painting, calligraphy and illustration. And for creatives who like working light into dark, using bleach into an ink background is not only unique to this medium but visually impactive too.

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Cult Pens Robert and Maureen inks with mild bleach

I hope that this ‘snapshot’ of my investigations shows that a lot of unique, exciting and diverse art can be created using fountain pen ink. However, as with anything that ‘looks good’, there is scrutiny and rightly so. There are 2 main areas of negative discussion – the effect of bleach on paper and the history of ink dyes being prone to fading. These are real issues but are certainly not terminal. Some inks are fugitive. Not all!

I create my art on good quality paper and protect it with a matte UV resistant spray. This works very well, and the good news is that ink creators are starting to add UV inhibitors into their products. Thick bleach will destroy paper. I don’t use concentrated bleach I use a very mild solution with water and as I’m using heavy paper the damage is invisible.

Mandala-Design-Fountain-Pen-013.jpg?resi

Mild bleach on Parker Quink ink black background

And the future? Well, the last four years has been a real pleasure. Not only has fountain pen ink art satisfied my analogue creative needs, but I think I’ve actually found a unique niche where my art is developing into a recognisable style of its own and that’s fundamental for any artist. I have also made hundreds of new friends: painters, illustrators, calligraphers, writers, ink makers, pen makers, paper manufacturers and others who are just curious, all wanting to find out what’s going on.

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Diamine Teal ink

I have delivered numerous fountain pen ink art workshops, sharing the processes and techniques and for the many who can’t attend a workshop I have produced an online tutorial course.

My real hopes are that I can help share and promote this unique medium as a bonafide art material and genre. As technology slowly erodes the use for handwriting, this reimagined purpose will hopefully see fountain pen ink appreciated for new creative alternatives. Why not give it a try?

Edited by NickiStew

To view the full article and images please visit my blog: **** WWW.NICKSTEWART.INK ****

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I love, love, love your work. Everything you do is just so beautiful. What talent. Thank you. And thanks for sharing your story too.

www.lettermatters.com

P.O. Box 196 Kingsburg, CA 93631

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Your work is outstanding, thank you for sharing it with us. The way you did the shadowing on the windmill is awesome!!

http://mark.intervex.net/fpn/images/LetterExchange.png

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+1 to what everyone else has said. I'm completely in awe of your talent (and also totally jealous because I'm a draftsman, not an illustrator).

You have really found your niche in the art world. And the pen world, too.

Ruth Morrisson aka inkstainedruth

"It's very nice, but frankly, when I signed that list for a P-51, what I had in mind was a fountain pen."

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OUTSTANDING! Nick, you are such an inspiration to me. Thank you such a great post!

"Today will be gone in less than 24 hours. When it is gone, it is gone. Be wise, but enjoy! - anonymous today

 

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks to all of you for your kind words. I meant every word in the write up. Fountain pen inks really are magical. We just need to spread the word.

As usual gorgeous work, Nick. Keep up the good work.

Brad

"Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind" - Rudyard Kipling
"None of us can have as many virtues as the fountain-pen, or half its cussedness; but we can try." - Mark Twain

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  • 3 weeks later...

Not a very useful post from me, but I have to say it! WOW! Just WOW!

 

I am speechless!

 

What a talent!

 

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Nick, I really hope you post some more of your art. In your hand fountain pen ink is indeed "magical."

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  • 3 weeks later...

~ NickiStew:

 

Thank you for posting so many images.

It's wonderful to see pen and ink put to such good use.

Tom K.

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I just came across this thread... WOW! What wouldn't I give to be able to do something remotely resembling this! Last summer I attended some drawing lessons hoping to learn to use some drawing inks I'd got, but I ended up doing watercolour instead, as the teacher said he had almost no experience with ink. And calling my output "indifferent" would be an understatement.

 

I intend to return to the painting school again next summer (no free time until then), but I might do your online course instead. Or besides. Of course, not hoping to learn any art: just being able to do those great swatch cards would be enough for me.

 

Thanks a lot for sharing your work.

It isn't true that you live only once. You only die once. You live lots of times, if you know how. (Bobby Darin)

 

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go. (Oscar Wilde)

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just being able to do those great swatch cards would be enough for me.

 

~ Cassotto:

 

Yes, the swatch cards are impressive.

Being adequately skilled to make them would be satisfying.

I'm glad to know that someone else noticed them.

Tom K.

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I have no idea how do do this type of art, but I took your class, Nick, and I’m taking baby steps. I’ve made several sloppy yet decent swatch cards, done some bleach drawing onto ink, and a 5 min portrait loosely based on your examples. Every time I un-ink a pen it is into a junk journal of mixed media pad so I can use it later. Thank you so much for the class. I’m still learning how to resize and post images here so I’ll update in this thread when I make some progress on that.

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I would love the sailboat and light house for my father. His mother was a painter, he's a photographer.

 

I do some photography and am learning to draw.

Peace and Understanding

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I have no idea how do do this type of art, but I took your class, Nick, and I’m taking baby steps. I’ve made several sloppy yet decent swatch cards, done some bleach drawing onto ink, and a 5 min portrait loosely based on your examples. Every time I un-ink a pen it is into a junk journal of mixed media pad so I can use it later. Thank you so much for the class. I’m still learning how to resize and post images here so I’ll update in this thread when I make some progress on that.

I'd love to see what you've been doing. Seeing the student's output may be encouraging, because it may help setting more approachable goals. I suppose you did the online course, didn't you? I'd like to know, is it possible to take it for as long as you need, or is a definite time slot where you must finish it because you'll lose access to it? How long did it take for you to finish it?

 

If you've managed to make several "sloppy yet decent swatch cards", that's more than I can say. I tried to do a couple of them, and the result (even though, I must admit it, was slightly better than I expected), was awful:

 

fpn_1578396012__img_4578.jpg

 

In the first one I kept the paper horizontal, and the ink didn't spread enough, in the second one vertical, and it spread too much (afterwards, I dropped some water to the right, to see what happened, and that's what I like most about all this mess).

 

Anyway, if I've decided to upload these pitiable efforts, it's not tomake a laughingstock of myself (though, of course, you can laugh at it), but because I'm puzzled by how different the two smudges look, when they were made with the same ink (Diamine Grape). I suppose it has something to do with the "thickness" of the ink on the paper. I thought it curious.

It isn't true that you live only once. You only die once. You live lots of times, if you know how. (Bobby Darin)

 

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go. (Oscar Wilde)

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