Sunday, February 27, 2011

Inkblots: Materials Test (2 of 2)

Breakfast of Champion Losers

Here's documentation of an epic sampling of seven different papers using two new brands of inks and two different nibs that I just received in the mail. As was sagely observed over my kitchen clutter, that's a lotta beaver... but a surprising revelation ensued after some experimentation. This a follow-up to my previous post on the continuing saga of feathering ink lines bleeding out on Bristol board (in part inspired by this Daily Cartoonist comment thread and my own frustrations with this issue), which I now believe is being erroneously blamed on the declining quality of Strathmore brand papers, in particular the standard 300 series.

(More after the jump)

One of the consistent problems most artists face is where to get good supplies, and unless one is living in a major urban area and are lucky enough to have an actual art supply store around, the internet is pretty much the only way to stock up on decent materials. For a long time I managed to crib together from a few sources in Fairbanks, mostly between the Walmart/Sams Club/Target-esque offerings of crappy craft chainstores. Here in this neck of the woods there is a surprising dearth of options (especially odd given the reputation Maine has for harboring the artsy-fartsy).

Also a side-note here on switching back and forth between using Speedball dip-pen drawing nibs 513 EF (extra-fine) and the 512 standard. Having a somewhat heavy hand I have generally used the 512 when inking, but the EF seems to have a much livelier line being a lot more flexible. I've ranted elsewhere here before about giving up on the insanely frustrating crow-quill experience, which I've subsequently sworn off of in favor of the infinitely easier Micron or Pitt options.

Also I had ordered a replacement set of pen-holders, which one's selection is pretty much limited to either the standard Speedball black plastic one or a General's #204B wooden one with the cork grip. The Speedball for some weird reason will eventually begin to degrade and basically melt around the nib end with long-term exposure to some India inks, which presumably might be on account of the solvents.

The criteria one looks for in a good India ink, specifically India ink, is for it to be waterproof (indelible), permanent and opaque. A great comparison/contrast between some india inks is here; and as an aside, a good tutorial on technique - mostly brush - here; and a damn fine statement of purpose for pen & ink here.
To my understanding, India ink is comprised of two different primary elements: 1) the pigment itself, which provides the color (in this case carbon); 2) the vehicle for said pigment to be suspended in (ex: water, gelatin and/or most commonly use today, a shellac or varnish), which also serves as a binding agent for the ink to the paper; and any additives, which may include surfactants or solvents for drying/hastening evaporation, plus possible preservatives.
Note that there are some brands of ink that do not contain shellac as a binding agent: Winsor & Newton "Liquid India" and "Pen & Ink" are two, of which the second I wound up buying for the nice, heavy bottle for reuse and dumping the ink, as it promptly hemorrhaged all over any paper it touched. Hard-core purist often make their own inks by grinding their own pigment. I save that effort for crafting my coffee.

An additional factor to consider is how well the ink holds up to erasing (I primarily use a Sanford Magic Rub or a Staedtler Mars, both vinyl, as opposed to gum erasers) without lifting off, lightening the spot blacks and affecting line opacity and/or smearing. Lastly, how the paper takes adding a light wash and if the ink holds up without bleeding will weigh in on the final choice for my purposes.
The color here in these samples was applied quick & dirty, with one little secondary followup patch added to see how pushing the value for a slight shadow/gradient worked. Keeping in mind that, with the exception of the watercolor paper, Bristol isn't geared to wet media and will start to fall apart with repeated scrubbing, and will reach the point of saturation quicker. 
Used here are Derwent Inktense water soluble ink pencils + Derwent Sketching wash (8B dark) pencils on the gray versions.

These posted demoed doodles are all drawn up with both Winsor & Newton's "Black India Ink/Encre de Chine Noire" and Sennelier's "Encre de Chine a la Pagode."
Sennelier is around $8 for a an ounce bottle, Winsor & Newton is around a buck less, and the Higgins is half of that. It seems like much in Life, you will get what you pay for. Another selling point is the volume of the bottles: some brands can be purchased in pints or quarts: this depends on how much work you produce, or how much of a slob artist you might be as far as frequent spills. To this end I decant all my inks into a nice, solid and squat glass jar salvaged from the aforementioned purchase of worthless ink.
Dick Blick's Black Cat and Speedball Super Black are popular brands that also have decent reputations, and Dr. Phil Martin's Bombay, Pelikan and Kor-I-Noor (the last two also owned by Chartpak along with Higgins) all have their fans as well. 

Now, my personal favorite for many years had always been Higgins Black Magic, but that's in the past tense for a damn good reason: after all the previous posting's testing of different papers in an effort to track down and resolve the bleeding out and feathering issues that have been plaguing me as of late, as it turns out IT AIN'T THE PAPER. 

Sure enough, after inking up a sample on each and every different kind of paper, using both the new brands of inks, and meticulously cleaning the nibs after each use, I went back and reapplied the Higgins just to be sure and the same exact results occurred: feathering and bleeding out of the linework in every case (with the exception of watercolor paper and Strathmore 400). Additionally, with the same amount of drying time - overnight - the Higgins bled out into the wash; Winsor & Newton, very little/not so much; and the Sennelier, not at all.

Final judgment was that the different kinds of paper were at cross-purposes for this experiment: the best surface for inking was conversely the worst for wash, and vice-versa. A happy medium is achieved with either vellum surface Bristol or heavyweight hot press watercolor - an irony being that the prime suspect in earlier tests was a second-best choice in paper, the 300 series. The recycled stocks were the worst at absorbing the wash (probably given the pulp treatment process) followed by the 400 Bristol - which would account for how much the India ink dried set up on top of the surface as opposed to soaking into the fibers. However much economics come into play, it's second only to results: depending on what I want to ultimately do with the originals, my first choice is dictated by ease of drawing the line, or how well the color wash does. I'll need to experiment further on some higher-end hot-press watercolor paper and also take the Strathmore 500 series out for a test run. Having established the preferred inks and nibs at this point nails down two outta the three interrelated factors, simplifying and streamlining the whole process.

One of the reasons I like the Winsor & Newton and especially the Sennelier brand India inks is how much they physically leave behind on the page. An aesthetic attraction for me in inking is how the living line glistens as one draws a bead across the surface of the paper, and how it dries to a braille-like texture that I love running my fingertips across afterward. It is an intimate, tactile experience as well as a visual one, to speak nothing - fetishism aside -  of the verb, the act, the power in creating the drawing.

I waste spend countless hours lurking around tool talks to see what's being touted or
dissed on various forums by inquiring inkers and learning what there is on the series of tubes on the history of India ink: by far and away the most geeky award has to go towards the obsessive fountain pen cliques who will endlessly and impressively parse the subject down to the molecular level. However, at some point there's just too much information out there on the series of tubes, and it gets overwhelming if not confusing: best thing is to hunker down and demo out everything for yourself to see what works best and why. That said it's worth the time and expense to take other people's experiences into consideration whenever possible.

And as a final aside to the inevitable "I don't consume Earth's precious resources by using paper" digital users, that's a nice idea, but try Googling "e-waste" sometime. I use paper and computer, which is the moral equivalent to using paper and plastic at the grocery store (that is, whenever we forget to bring the "green" bags along, which are printed up with comparatively toxic inks). 
And as far as the argument that a computer represents a one-time investment as opposed to constantly having to repurchase materials: a pad of Bristol ($4), pen/nib ($2), and ink (another couple bucks) - approximately/at the most ten dollars a pop a few times a year (not counting brushes and other studio equipment). That compared to at least several grand for a computer + software, which inherently has planned obsolescence as part of it's design regardless of how fast it runs. 
I think recyclable and renewable materials are worth promoting, even if, in theory, one's precious artwork will last forever.


  1. Definitely the more watery inks will feather on the 300 Series Strathmore cheapo bristol and I ran into this too. Didn't realize it was due to what ink you're using, so thanks for pointing that out. I did a quick test on some 300 "Smooth," and Winsor Newton's black india bled pretty bad. Speedball Supper black less. The best was Dr. Martin's HiCarb which didn't bleed noticeably at all. They also make 14W which is great ink too. Another real shocker is I have a batch of Daler Rowney test ink that recaptures the original Steig FW formula, which was blacker and no bleed at all, and the nicest to ink with. I've been working with DR to convince them to recreate the original Steig FW formula which in my day was famous for not clogging Rapidographs or artist fountain pens, dense black and totally waterproof. There's never been an ink of its equal, and they are trying to bring it back. I wrote an article about my efforts in the upcoming Stay Tooned Magazine. I am praying they are successful in their efforts. Dr. Martins inks are maybe not as well known, expensive, but worth trying. You should also try DR's current FW acrylic ink and see how that works for you as well, I know that comic book inkers and illustrators like it a lot, just NEVER put it in any fountain pen or Rapidograph, or almost instant death to the pen.

  2. Yummy - thanks for the input: Dr. Martin's is the one that I haven't yet tried and it's on my next order! Still been using the Sennelier mostly + W&N on Strathmore 400 series with consistent results. None of which makes me funnier or a better drawer, but I'll still blame the materials as much as possible.