Monday, July 20, 2009

Cook'n up some Ink


Who wants to lick the bowl?
This weekend I set about making the ink I had planned for the Limulus print. I had scooped out some nice brown mud from the bottom of our hill and let it decompose in a jar in the sun for a few months. I was hoping that it would keep its nice chocolate brown color for this print but I am at the mercy of organic chemistry so we'll see what comes out. I had a large mason jar that I let sit out for a few months hoping to decompose any leaves and sticks that may be in there. It was gross when I rapped it on the porch. Gas bubbles from just under the surface of the mud would belch up and I was apprehensive about taking the lid off.
I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when I took the lid off and drained the top layer of water. I was expecting the smell to reek ungodly but there was no smell save an earthy must when you really stuck your nose in the jar.

All my utensils were lined up on the porch railing ready to go to work. The top layer of the mud was silty and still full of pine needles and bits of leaves. I ran it all through a sieve that I had purchased many moons ago for oil painting. It has been one of the best tools! After the top layer of silt came the grainier layers. I knew it was sand and gravel but the noise sounded like I was grinding glass shards into paste.

I know that much of the soil around my area is high in clay and even though there was a lot of glassy sounding sand and shards of stone in the mix, it all kept gluing itself together into rounded lumps as I spun the pestle against the sieve. I kept adding small amounts of water hoping to unlock the clay from the mass but it didn't seem to want to give. My efforts still yielded a large jar of silt that I hope will be suitable for printing but I worry about the amount of ink I will need to print my enormous wood block with. There was some mud still left in the bottom of the jar by the time I had filled my ink jar to the top so at least I have some reserve if I run low.

I couldn't have asked for a more perfect day to do this and my light green hydrangea tossed its new blooms happily in the breeze as I ground paste. It made me feel like I was a gourmet chef cooking a delectable meal for my most ardent fan. "Why yes ma'am. We use only the most fine ingredients and organic deer poop in this dish."
The final product really did have the consistency of watercolor paint. Here it is at the bottom of my mortar.

I noticed afterwards that the droplets of mud that accidentally got mashed over the side of the mortar kept their shape when they dried so I'm confident that there wasn't too much water and that there was plenty of pigment (clay) in the mix. I am worried though because they color dried out to be an ashy tan and I was really hoping for the retention of the chocolate color. I will not really know what to expect until I run proofs. I am hoping that the nori paste will help with some color retention. My faithful jam company Bonne Maman never fails me. I can't say that I'd buy strawberry jelly if it looked like that. Can you see the trilobites swimming and dancing around in there, waiting to come out?

7 comments:

Daniel L. Dew said...

So cool!

Diane Cutter said...

What a wonderful 'back to the roots of art' venture... and such patience. The only suggestion I have is change the label on that 'strawberry' jar...

d. moll, l.ac. said...

Some adventurous ink, can't hardly wait to see how it prints.

Sharri said...

You and Ed Rushka - I think it was he who printed using food for ink? Well, it was someone well known, anyway, so you are in good company making ink out of mud. Can't wait to see the print!

Annie B said...

Wow, quite a labor and a very exciting experiment.

Ursula Hitz said...

hello, after extracting the 'pigment' how do you make ink out of it that doesn't crumble?

Pistoles Press said...

Hi Ursula,

Sorry for the delayed response. I guess I don't understand your response. Naturally, a dry pigment is going to be "crumbly." Grinding and milling will reduce the bits to a powder. For the purposes of moku hanga, I suspend this in alcohol and then mix it with the nori binder as I print. If I wanted, I could mix it with gum arabic and use it as a watercolor or linseed oil and use it as an oil paint.