My name is Nick Stewart and I’m from Rochester, Kent, England. Much of my working life has been spent in service to London’s advertising agencies and design studios as well as a part time tutor at the University for the Creative Arts. I am currently the creative lead at Stewart2, a branding and design team.
My art journey began early. As the offspring of a father in the armed services it was the norm ‘back in the day’ to be sent away to school to offset the disruption of relocation every 2 years. In the boarding communities I found myself, it was important to play to your strengths in order to survive. Art happened to be something I excelled at and since the age of eight have developed it as a skill for both career and personal practice.
Four years ago, I was in an extremely frustrating and anxious place. The creative driven analogue industry that I love and cherish finally morphed into the digital behemoth it was destined to become. Now led by programmers and account managers utilising keywords, templates and digital visual content. I desperately needed to find something analogue to satisfy my inner creative cravings and that’s where the fountain pen ink art project began.
I had already been introduced to an abstract use for Parker Quink Ink and bleach mainly for lettering and design while at Brighton University, where I was tutored by the renowned calligrapher Miriam Stribley. So, this seemed like an opportunity to revisit those investigations from thirty years ago and take them further into uncharted territories.
For the uninitiated, fountain pen inks are made up of dyes that when introduced to a wetted paper surface, the colours that make up those dyes are released from solution, so although you are dealing with one colour it appears that you could be using several. This chromatic process is totally unique to fountain pen inks with the stunning visual outcomes very much serendipity led. Add to that a touch of alchemy (bleach), and the art goes to a whole new level with stunning neon gold effects, textures and new colours created!
So, first off, I got hold of ink samples from all over the world to swatch test. And the potential for fountain pen ink use, aside from handwriting, was jaw dropping. I uploaded my swatch cards, ink reviews and fountain pen ink art to a dedicated website and shared them to social media and discussion forums that I thought may gain some attention. And what quickly became apparent, is that there is a big international audience out there who are eager to know more and to learn how to use their fountain inks in their own art.
I found that each fountain pen ink is unique. Some inks are just one trick ponies while others reveal a whole range of unexpected behaviours, colours, reactions and creative possibilities. To-date I have swatch tested over 1,800 individual inks and discovered some real delights, all of which, once recognised, will be of great value to creatives in all fields of art practice.
For readers of this forum who are into sketching and watercolour painting, you can achieve some easy and stunning watercolour effects by simply letting the chromatography just do its thing. In the illustrations shown above, the ‘chromo’ skies and foregrounds created themselves with the details added afterwards with a dip pen. For enthusiasts of art journaling and sketching, this simple and natural process allows for a seamless visual and medium continuity between image and handwritten word.
For the travelling artist, illustrator and journal keeper, using a limited palette of four fountain pen inks similar to cyan, magenta, yellow and black, will easily mix and blend together to give all the colours needed to create great art with the addition of those unique chromatic effects and reactions to bleach included – all from the one medium.
What is also of interest is that all ink ranges are made differently. Each ink maker has their own and recipes and processes. So, one range of inks may suit a particular subject matter better than another.
But it doesn’t stop there. Fountain pen sheening and shimmer inks can also be used for art and to stunning effects when used for painting, calligraphy and illustration. And for creatives who like working light into dark, using bleach into an ink background is not only unique to this medium but visually impactive too.
I hope that this ‘snapshot’ of my investigations shows that a lot of unique, exciting and diverse art can be created using fountain pen ink. However, as with anything that ‘looks good’, there is scrutiny and rightly so. There are 2 main areas of negative discussion – the effect of bleach on paper and the history of ink dyes being prone to fading. These are real issues but are certainly not terminal. Some inks are fugitive. Not all!
I create my art on good quality paper and protect it with a matte UV resistant spray. This works very well, and the good news is that ink creators are starting to add UV inhibitors into their products. Thick bleach will destroy paper. I don’t use concentrated bleach I use a very mild solution with water and as I’m using heavy paper the damage is invisible.
And the future? Well, the last four years has been a real pleasure. Not only has fountain pen ink art satisfied my analogue creative needs, but I think I’ve actually found a unique niche where my art is developing into a recognisable style of its own and that’s fundamental for any artist. I have also made hundreds of new friends: painters, illustrators, calligraphers, writers, ink makers, pen makers, paper manufacturers and others who are just curious, all wanting to find out what’s going on.
I have delivered numerous fountain pen ink art workshops, sharing the processes and techniques and for the many who can’t attend a workshop I have produced an online tutorial course – details on my website.
My real hopes are that I can help share and promote this unique medium as a bonafide art material and genre. As technology slowly erodes the use for handwriting, this reimagined purpose will hopefully see fountain pen ink appreciated for new creative alternatives. Why not give it a try?
If you’d like to find out more, there are links below. Thank you.Recommended6 recommendationsPublished in