Category Archives: art

Making ink from oak galls

By Jean Duncan

Oak galls are small spherical growths that form on oak trees where the gall wasp lays its eggs in the buds of the tree. The tree grows tissue around the egg which protects the wasp until it hatches, leaving a hole. Watch out for a hole in the gall before harvesting.

The end of the summer is a good time to harvest, I find the galls are easier to spot once the leaves have fallen. If you can’t find them, you can buy oak gall powder/whole oak galls online [1].

Drawing Ink

With the addition of iron, oak galls make a permanent ink. The method involves a reaction between tannic acid extracted from the galls and ferrous sulphate. The ink would once have been used with a quill and later a dipping pen.

Oak gall ink can still be seen on early manuscripts, though many are damaged due to the acidity of the tannic acid, which eats away at the natural fibres of paper, parchment or vellum [2]. To avoid such damage, recipes now use less ferrous sulphate.

Wet oat gall ink on paper (Jean Duncan)

Recipe This makes 250 ml of ink.

To make a permanent oak gall ink you will need ;

  • 30 g of whole oak galls or oak gall powder.
  • Pestle and mortar
  • Scales
  • Rain water
  • Muslin
  • 15 g ferrous sulphate powder *
  • 7 g gum arabic solution
  • Glass jar for storage.

*Can be purchased as blue green crystals or white powder.

Colour from oak galls can be used alone, but the addition of ferrous sulphate makes the ink permanent and black (Jean Duncan)

Method

  1. Crush the oak galls with a pestle and mortar or put them in a bag and mash them with a hammer.
  2. Add 30 g oak gall powder to 25 ml of water and leave to soak for 24 hrs.
  3. Strain the liquid through the muslin.
  4. Mix the ferrous sulphate into the strained solution.
  5. Add the gum arabic and stir well
  6. Add oil of cloves or any other essential oil to help it keep for longer and store in the fridge. 
  7. Try using the ink with a pen and a brush to see that it flows well, if the ink has a dusty surface add more gum arabic.

It is worth experimenting with washes of ink, as it turns blacker when it reacts with oxygen from the air.

Oak gall ink reacting with barley ink made from orzo coffee grounds (Jean Duncan)

I wanted to make my own inks and watercolours to help create a sense of place in my drawings through botanical colours from my local environment, while consciously moving away from synthetic printing colours which are often unpleasant to use, toxic and harmful to people and the environment.

The photograph above shows a blend of colours produced on paper by oak gall ink and barley ink, the latter from orzo, a caffeine-free drink made from barley.

Colours from oak gall, onion skin and coreopsis – drawing by Jean Duncan

There are many artists and artisans working in this way and small businesses are leading the way in using locally sourced materials and natural dyes to make cloth that at the end of it’s life can be put back into the earth as a biological nutrient rather than a pollutant. I have given links below to two Fibreshed businesses working in this way [3, 4] and to an article on making ink from up-cycled coffee grounds [5].

Hand-bound sketchbook with oak gall, indigo and ochre cover

[1] To buy oak gall ink: George Weil fine art and craft supplies.

[2] Sakura Tohma (2015) Making and testing Iron Gall ink. West Dean College web site.

[3] Bristol Cloth – wool and botanical inks: South West England Fibreshed.

[4] More Fibreshed – Wool from the border between the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbria, : Laura’s Loom.

[5] European Horizon magazine: Eco espressso and upcycled inks set to make coffee greener. Some interesting facts in this article: black printing ink is more expensive than Chanel No 5, and the daily ‘waste’ in coffee grounds is equal to the weight of three Eiffel Towers!

Jean Duncan is based in Fife. See her web site at JeanDuncanArtist. Jean has worked with the Living Field on many projects, exhibitions and events – her work is profiled at this Living Field page.

The photographs below are of an oak gall and oak leaf from the Living Field collection

Oak gall in late June (www.livingfield.co.uk))
Oak leaf (www.livingfield.co.uk)

Ghost Calls

This remarkable, unique exhibition is open at Dundee Contemporary Arts from 28 April 2021 to 8 August [1].

Main works include Ghost Calls (2020), a large painting in acrylic on silk (parts shown in the photos below), the mesmerising Keening Songs (2020) – an animation of over 14 mins (hard to describe) and A Crash in Fast and Slow Motion (2020), again acrylic on silk.

In Ghost Calls female forms occupy and move through a landscape. Intense colour contrasts with the greys of the figures and with shapes containing words describing how things are and where we might go.

Perhaps in relation to A Crash … , the author writes [2] “Against the backdrop of the ecological disasters of our age, I feel increasingly like we were passengers in a vehicle being driven recklessly round a blind corner, headed for some massive smash up.’

Those of us who see ecological destruction and human misery can’t help but connect with what we see here. Yet the artist offers a way forward. First, it helps to grieve, to keen.

Then to imagine. From the book of the exhibition [2]: “Talbot imagines future environments where humankind has been flung out of a capitalist-driven society of digital technologies and must look towards more ancient and holistic ways of crafting, making and belonging”

And then to act – at the end of Ghost Calls are the words: ‘This is not the end | let’s use the time we have together | embracing | a forward movement without fear’.

Britain’s environment has been irreversibly changed. The rainforest has almost gone, soils are being lost, rivers are still polluted, so much life has been made extinct. Yet there is still the need to re-group and re-form, to make the best of the land, soil and living things, those remaining and those introduced. Where’s the alternative.

You must see this exhibition.

From a Living Field correspondent visiting the exhibition on 19 May 2021.

Further

[1] Exhibition Notes: Ghost Calls by Emma Talbot. Dundee Contemporary Arts, 152 Nethergate Dundee DD1 4DY

[2] Ghost Calls. Emma Talbot. 2021. Artist and various authors. Book published as part of the exhibition. Dundee Contemporary Arts. 

[3] DCA What’s On web page for Ghost Calls.

Tina Scopa Edaphic Plant Artist

This year, as a 3rd year Contemporary Art Practice student at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (Djcad), Dundee and with the support and encouragement of Geoff Squire & Gladys Wright (& Pete Iannetta who pointed me in the right direction) I was introduced to the Living Field at the James Hutton Institute, Invergowrie and ran my plant-printing workshop as part of the Open Farm Sunday event.

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Studio and exhibition space

My work concerns wild plants (and those often considered to be weeds) and the soil in which they grow. I currently work mostly in printing where I have developed a number of plant printing techniques. I also make ‘earth’ paintings, and work in ceramics, photography, and laser cutting. I would be very interested to hear from any scientists who might be interested in this work, have comments, or who might want to collaborate with me, particularly in context of the blue pigment; in making the prints lightfast; or the possibility of employing these printing techniques as a scientific tool.

Edaphic Plant Art

In my most recent work I coined the term, Edaphic Plant Art. This body of work was concerned with a small patch of grass on campus. I was interested in the variety of wild plants growing on this patch and also in the soil in which they were growing. I focused on 5 plant varieties and attended soil science lectures. I documented these plants by using 3 different plant-printing techniques that I have termed, the Pigment Print; the Graphite Print; and the Ink Print.

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These prints were presented on the wall in a grid format together with digital print photographs of the plants. Porcelain tiles were also prepared for each plant. In addition ‘earth paintings’ were made using soil taken from the site and ‘healthier’ soil taken from another site. Besides each painting a soil sample was presented in a hand made porcelain cup.

Weeds

This body of work began with the initial desire to get plants to ‘draw’ themselves. The plants used were those largely considered to be ‘weeds’. The method used to develop this idea has primarily been experimental printing. Experimental photography techniques were also been employed to a lesser extent, as were small sculptural works.lf_tsepa_img4_1100

 

lf_tsepa_img6aThrough the process of experimentation and subsequent development the goal was considered to have been accomplished.

The resulting plant ‘drawings’ were able to convey the inherent beauty of these weed forms and the individual ‘character’ of each plant. In addition, the body of work was presented as a metaphor for our own human condition, commenting on different aspects of ourselves.

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The Blue Pigment

Over the course of developing my Pigment Prints I have often noticed a very blue pigment located just where the stem meets the roots in certain grasses. If anyone can shed light on this I would be very grateful and would love to extract this in the lab.

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More from Tina to follow ….

Contact

http://tinascopa.wixsite.com/website

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Maize paper

Most of our paper comes from plants, but the process by which leaves and stems are converted to sheets that we can write on or wrap things in is unknown to most of us.

As part of her work with the Living Field, Jean Duncan has been making paper from plants grown in the garden.

She started with some maize, which is a tropical and sub-tropical species originally from the Americas. Some types can now grow in our climate, and it was one of these that was grown in the garden for its cobs (corn on the cob).

Jean used the maize plants to make the paper. Here is a description of what she did.

Step 1 is to collect maize leaves and stems when they are in good condition, still green.

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Step 2 is to cut the leaves and stems into small pieces. Leaf pieces should be about the size of those in the white bowl. The tough stems were cut into larger pieces (right  below).

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Step 3 – put the cut material into an enamel bowl or pot (above left). Add soda ash to the material, 1 teaspoon for a 10 litre pot, and mix.

Step 4 – cook the plants for 3 hours, or more if the material is tough. At this point you will need pH indicator strips (litmus paper) to check that the cooking is going according to plan. (Litmus can be bought on-line or at some gardening shops.) The pH of the mixture should be around 8, but if it drops to 7 or 6 then add a little more soda ash. When cooked, the fibre should be soft and easy to tear.

Step 5 – rinse the fibre thoroughly in water; when fully rinsed the pH or the water should be neutral (i.e. about 7).

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Step 6 – the fibre now needs to be beaten to a pulp. The traditional way is to beat it with a mallet for a few hours. (Craft-workers in some countries still use this method).  An alternative, if you have electricity, is a kitchen blender working in short bursts so as not to burn out the motor. Jean uses a machine called a Hollander beater.

Step 7 – the fibres are now ready to be transformed into sheets of paper. The pulp is suspended in water. A ‘mould and deckle’ is lowered into the water (image above) and brought out slowly with a flat layer of fibre on it, or else the pulp is poured into the mould and deckle until there is a flat layer of the right thickness for the type of pulp (which you work out by trial and error); the water drains out through holes leaving the moist fibre.

Step 8 – the moist sheet of fibre is  turned onto an absorbent fabric  or board or something similar for drying and pressing, a procedure that takes about 3 days (top right in images below).

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Maize paper: lighter sheet (top left) is from the husk round the cobs, the darker sheet from stems; etchings below of root cross sections (Jean Duncan)

 

And that’s it – a sheet of paper!

Info, links

Khadi papers India. Web site: khadi.com. Youtube: Papermaking at Khadi Papers India

Jean’s recent work on an exhibition of etchings using her own-made paper: The Beauty of Roots and Root art.

[Update with minor amendments 10 June and 27 July 2017]