Just before Christmas I wrote about my experiment making ink from oak galls. Read it here. I tried using the mixture as an ink fairly early on in the experiment, using recipes found on the internet, with disappointing results. It came out very pale and did not darken with exposure to light as I had read that it would. That could be for many reasons. I maybe didn’t use enough galls, or fresh ones, or I hadn’t left it all to soak enough; maybe the mixture was insufficiently concentrated; maybe I hadn’t added enough iron. I also learned that ink would flow better with the addition of gum arabic. I couldn’t find my stock of gum arabic, so I sent off for some (in powder form).
When the gum arabic arrived I decanted some of the gall liquid, added an iron mixture (made from rusty nails and vinegar) and allowed it to reduce naturally by leaving the jar in a warm dry place. I hoped to concentrate the pigment. I then added a small quantity of powdered gum arabic and made some drawings and scribbles using sharpened twigs: a proper quill pen would have been great, but I was short of a goose. The second ink result was somewhat better than the first, but having looked at some manuscripts written in gall ink, I think it could be a more intense brown/black. I’m leaving the galls to continue soaking and will try again later in the year – as well as looking for more samples in late summer when they will be fresh.
Time will tell if I have used too much iron and my ink rots through the paper – definitely a problem with ‘over-ironed’ dyes of the past which ate their way through wools and silk.
I spent my childhood in the New Forest and have enjoyed following artist Stephen Turner’s blog about his year in the ‘Exbury Egg’. I know the area he is writing about intimately. Coincidentally, Stephen has undertaken a similar experiment with gall ink and you might like to look at two of his posts. He describes collecting galls here, and his ink results here. Stephen’s observations on the Turkey oak (Quercus cerris) were completely new to me: apparently this species was reintroduced into the British Isles in the eighteenth century and there were concerns that acorn production, vital for the local feeding of pigs, was affected by the arrival of the Turkey oak and its attendant galls. The Oak Marble Gall Wasp (Andricus kollari), for which a Turkey oak is vital, is responsible for the marble galls Stephen used.
The galls I collected in Devon are not the same thing as Stephen’s New Forest marble galls. They were found on a different type of oak and produced by a different wasp. But as far as I know all galls are tannin-rich and can be used to produce ink. So I’ll keep try-ink. Sorry, couldn’t resist that one.
Breaking news.. extra course at West Dean: Brilliant with Pattern
Because my West Dean course in March has a waiting list double the size of the course itself, the organisers have scheduled an extra course from 9th – 11th May. See the West Dean programme here. You can also download the full West Dean College Course programme here.
February 24, 2014 at 4:04 pm
Walnut and gall ink mixed together is interesting
February 24, 2014 at 4:34 pm
Hi – do you mean blending a walnut dye with the gall ink? I have some 2 year old walnut dye lurking..
February 24, 2014 at 4:45 pm
It would be galling if it didn’t work, or maybe it would be galling if it did..? Idly wondering where that expression comes from. I see it comes from rubbing or chaffing, very irritating or upsetting. And of course in the body it’s where bile is stored. They all seem to have some sort of common etymology.
February 24, 2014 at 7:53 pm
Interesting word, isn’t it? I suppose galls might have been given their name as it would (eventually) have been realised they were not fruits, but a kind of irritation on the tree.
February 25, 2014 at 7:21 pm
I’m sure that must be right.