11 March 2017


I use Winsor & Newton calligraphers’ ink for most purposes. This ink is pigment-based, and more lightfast than dye-based ink. I also have some black Japanese sumi ink that I use occasionally.

Years ago, I would mix colors from different bottled inks in spoons for each drawing, using Pasteur pipettes to move drops of particluar colors into the mix. This was a terribly inefficient way to work; I needed to finish applying a particular color to the drawing before the ink dried, or store it somehow. If I ran out, I would need to remember how I mixed it the first time.

Later I realized that I tend to favor the same colors in all my drawings, so I switched to mixing a set of standard colors, and keeping on hand a bottle of each. This takes much less time. I also like having a signature palette to my work. I like my usual red to be a bit darker than what comes new in the bottle; I like my usual blue to be a bit closer to green than to purple. I have a fondness for a light cool green, the color of oxidized copper.

If I need something else, I usually mix a small amount of it and store it in a contact lens case. Occasionally I promote one of these to a standard color if I find myself using it often, or retire a standard color if it goes unused for a long time.

When I draw with a dip pen, the ink is much more thickly applied than when I draw with a paintbrush. The colors are therefore darker. I used to mix special dark colors (sanguine, indigo, sepia), but now consider these unnecessary; regular red, blue and brown applied with a dip pen have the same effect.

These are my twenty current standard ink colors. I will write more about the reasons I selected these particular ones, and about the symbolism of color - in liturgical, heraldic, optical and gemmological tradition - in later essays.

0. Ivory

1. Black (Sable)
2. Green (Vert)
3. Blue (Azure)
4. Purple (Purpure)
5. Red (Gules)
6. Brown
7. Yellow / Orpiment

1a. Warm Gray
1b. Gray
1c. Cool Gray

2a. Light Warm Green
2c. Light Cool Green / Verdigris

3b. Sky Blue

4b. Light Purple / Lavender

5a. Warm Pink / Carnation
5c. Cool Pink / Rose

6b. Light Brown

7a. Yellowy Brown
7c. Yellowy Green

Generally, I try to keep in mind the so-called Rule of Tincture in my own artwork: metal should not be put on metal, nor color on color. In heraldic tradition, the metals are Or (which is either Gold or Yellow) and Argent (which is either Silver of White); the usual colors are Sable, Vert, Gules, Azure and Purpure. In my own artwork, I consider ink colors 0, 7 (for Gold), 1c (for Silver) and 2c to be metals, and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 to be colors.