Why ink?

Guest post by Schmoo from @nibsidedown on the beauty of writing and sketching with ink

It’s absolutely no secret that I love ink and have been writing exclusively with a fountain pen for years now. In addition to the allure of colors and characteristics you find in inks today, the wonderfully tactile and visual experience of using ink feeds both the writer and the creative within.

Fountain pen ink art. © Schmoo http://nibsidedown.com
© Schmoo 2020, http://schmoo.co

Ease of Writing / Non-Resistance

There have been recent articles about ballpoint pens and how the mass-manufacture of them have ruined penmanship around the world — not to mention wrists and hands. While the industrial production of disposable ballpoint pens is an inarguable fact, my world totally changed the day a colleague of mine handed me her gold-nibbed Kaweco Sport. I was sold.

Fountain pen lying on a handwritten page. © Schmoo http://nibsidedown.com

With ballpoint pens, your hand pushes the tip directly downwards and with considerable pressure to get the ball rolling — literally! Not to mention that there’s inevitably a 50% chance (at best) that the pen is gunked up, so you have to scribble a bit in the margin to get things going.

On the other hand, a fountain pen nib has such a wonderfully soft touch. The shape of the nib allows you to “paint” the ink on the paper. It’s a luxurious feeling and without the need for extra force, words just pour out on the page.

Detail of nibs of two fountain pens. © Schmoo http://nibsidedown.com

I keep a daily practice of morning writing, the one habit I stick to religiously no matter where in the world I am. A cup of coffee (or strong tea), a good notebook and a pen are essential for processing yesterday’s anxiety and sorting my priorities for the coming day. As this practice is sacred to me – and essential for my personal and professional health – I need my thoughts and my hand to be connected as one. No difficulties, no resistance.

Fluidity & Shading

The availability of inks are one thing, but it’s the shading property that really got me hooked on collecting them. “Shading” is the variation of color that you see in certain inks on good paper. When the liquid pools and then dries on a non-absorbent surface, this leaves a dramatic color variation. You see this effect most noticeably in watercolor art. It’s so beautiful when it happens in normal handwriting, lending an organic, unpredictable quality to the page that is completely unique every time.

Handwritten page with fountain pen ink. © Schmoo http://nibsidedown.com

Of course, not all inks shade equally: Some hardly do this at all and some are real showstoppers with not just saturation but also color variation. There are some super calligraphers out there that can make beautiful letters from such inks, and sketch artists, too.

Learning to Let Go: Trust

Ink is about surprise. There’s something wonderful about the randomness of fluid dynamics that is particularly alluring about ink, especially in comparison to oil or acrylic paint, marker, or pixels. I’ve come to see it as simply a metaphor for life and how to approach the challenges that happen each day. In my first year of experimenting with inks I was so frustrated – why doesn’t this look like theirs? Why can’t I make it do that? etc etc. But this was forcing something that I didn’t yet know couldn’t be controlled.

Fountain pen ink art on paper. © Schmoo 2020 http://nibsidedown.com

This is true for both commercially-made inks and naturally-derived inks. I spent a couple of years brewing colors from nature for my ​border project​, using foraged plants and minerals from different geographic points in Europe. I was immensely frustrated because everything seemed to come out the same shade of brown. But this was also another type of force: expecting a specific result and being unwilling to accept anything else.

Now when I step back from the page, let the ink do its thing, and marvel at the magic and wonder of what happens on its own, I am a million times happier. After all, the ink does need me to do my part; it couldn’t get there on its own and I’ve got to guide it as far as I can. After that it’s all about trust and letting the rest happen.

Fountain pen in art on paper. © Schmoo http://nibsidedown.com

People have asked me why I don’t sketch digitally, and this is why. Until the algorithms can really, truly replicate the delightful randomness of the ink with paper and all those teeny micro-possibilities of what might happen every moment that’s never the same as what happened before, I’ll be at my desk making a mess!

Ink in Art / Ink is Art

I use inks today mainly for my daily writing, and for my illustrations. I cannot live without a good waterproof black ink line to hold my loose watercolors together. I’ve also made tonal drawings with water-soluble fountain pen inks by using a simple water brush to add shading to a sketch. Chromatography is another beautiful element of color and surprise to inks, and some artists use this property particularly well. There are so many possibilities out there and I can’t list them all, nor can I even think of all the incredible creatives I see each day online who are doing new and beautiful things that go beyond the dip pen and calligraphy.

Fountin pen ink drawing of the Freemason Hall in London. © Schmoo http://nibsidedown.com

On the other side of it, there’s something super special about the modern ink market. I admit that I’m one of the first people to seek out boutique and limited edition inks that were created in honor of poems, galaxies, or a favorite song. In my opinion, it’s a wonderfully accessible way to experience someone else’s creative passion. Inks usually run only ~€15 a bottle, and you get something that is not only beautiful and full of creative possibilities but something that was very likely a labor of love with a story behind it. It’s an honor to think about it then becoming a part of your own art or your words, and I think of it as a collaboration of sorts.

Go forth and create in whatever medium you choose. But I’m convinced that a simple bottle of ink might teach you a little something more about yourself, your craft, and our world.

Text & Images: © Schmoo 2020


Portrait of Schmoo. © Schmoo http://nibsidedown.com

Schmoo is an internationally-published photographer and visual artist with a background in biotech and marketing. As an independent creative she focuses on projects that nurture creative communities and conversations on identity and inclusion.

@schmooglehttp://schmoo.co
@nibsidedownhttp://nibsidedown.com

Discover the original fountain pen ink series from Berlin Notebook:

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