Author Topic: The Absurd Joy Of Grinding Ink  (Read 433 times)

Offline Chessie

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The Absurd Joy Of Grinding Ink
« on: March 25, 2023, 11:23:23 PM »
How on Earth did I get here? 

I truly don't know.  One of my partners pointed out to me the other day that I'd been grinding an ink stick for a solid hour in slow circles on my favorite ink stone, listening to the Ramones having existential angst about 70s Britain.  He wandered in, sniffed at the air, and asked what I'd been doing since I took out the garbage. 

The clock had moved.  Why hadn't I?  Had it really been so pleasant to just sit there slowly moving a stick of sooty glue in a circle on what is more or less a rock?

I've had a suspicion for awhile that there are just some things we do as human beings that're more or less essential to being human.  You can't get a whole bunch these things from sitting in an office or working in a shopping mall.  You get them from the tiniest of actions and when they appear it's almost shocking to find yourself reconnected with what it means to be a person after a day of slightly grim activities in pursuit of enough money to pay rent and eat dinner.  Grinding ink is a 3000 year old activity and maybe one that's more valuable than most people in the West suspect.

Grinding ink is beautiful. 

Nice, perfumed Japanese or Chinese inks can fill a room with a subtle scent of sandalwood or herbs or burning spices.  There's a whole universe in sitting to fill your ink well and prepare for your practice.  You might find yourself in prayer or meditation, just listening to your own heart-beat beside the sensation of the ink stick scratching at the bottom of your stone.  Even the satisfaction of the ink forming, like a black pool of hypnotic not-quite-water that seems to move slower than everything around it feels like a sacrament.

If you haven't had the chance to grind ink for calligraphy, yet, I heartily encourage it. There are the practical reasons, of course ; you get to determine how dark, light, thick, or thin you want your letters to be.  At the same time, you also get to see a glimpse into a quiet, gentle world where time trickles by like droplets of rain coursing slowly down a window pane as a cat sits purring on your lap. 
« Last Edit: March 25, 2023, 11:26:50 PM by Chessie »

Offline Zivio

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Re: The Absurd Joy Of Grinding Ink
« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2023, 12:13:41 AM »
I have heard of this thing [grinding ink] before, but never in such marvelous prose! I'm guessing your knife sharpening activities may be similarly meditative for you?

As a relative beginner to pointed pen practice, I have been chary about changing up too many variables at a time. I am very analytical and methodical to my approach, and once I found a nib/ink/paper combo that produced reasonable lines, I wanted to spend time developing my writing technique with it. It seemed to me that any technical issues I'd had were "PIPNIN" problems -- "Problem In Penman Not In Nib" -- due to my inexperience with the new tools.

I am only recently learning that I'm now able to control certain nibs that didn't work well for me upon first introduction. In a similar way, I'm expanding practice just a bit with inks I'd long abandoned. For me, it did serve well to stay with the combo that worked in order to stabilize things and keep my practice consistent.

I'm still reluctant to go full bore on the ink grinding for fear that playing around with ink will cut into time I'd rather devote to writing practice. Just yesterday I tried Dr. Ph. Martin's Bleed Proof White for the first time, and it took me a lot of experimentation in thinning it out to get it to work. But I am intrigued and look forward to others' comments on this!
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Offline K-2

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Re: The Absurd Joy Of Grinding Ink
« Reply #2 on: March 26, 2023, 02:59:06 PM »
@Chessie - you'll find another ink stick enthusiast in @jeanwilson for whom they are a real "desert island" ink (per our thread about our favorite inks some time ago: https://theflourishforum.com/forum/index.php?topic=7330.0), and the great Donald Jackson and his team used vintage ink sticks for their work on the Saint John's Bible. I agree that for control, there's nothing like it. @Zivio - you should try it sometime! (and if you don't use it much - well, it won't go bad or anything; I have a few ink sticks from my dad's stash that are well over 50 years old).

Your post brought me right back to my childhood, sitting in my dad's workshop for endless hours, grinding the ink. I remember the day he thought I was worthy to grind the ink (because my basic sketch work was finally good enough). But then I spent months and months just grinding the ink, before he thought I was ready to use any of it or that any of it was good enough to use. He actually threw away most of the ink I prepared, because it wasn't up to his standards - and I'd get a smack on the back of the hands with a stick, if he caught me grinding in the wrong direction!

My grandfather never let me grind the ink for him, but he made let me watch him while he prepared it for this piece. My recollections is that he painted it in the mid-1970s as a present to my father; I eventually inherited it.

Alas, that my kids never took up the craft (breaking with a family tradition spanning generations, going back to the 12th century) - although my oldest is now in an introductory art/drawing class (a general education requirement at his university!), and he is starting to appreciate what he missed out on.

Offline Chessie

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Re: The Absurd Joy Of Grinding Ink
« Reply #3 on: March 26, 2023, 03:36:17 PM »

Your post brought me right back to my childhood, sitting in my dad's workshop for endless hours, grinding the ink. I remember the day he thought I was worthy to grind the ink (because my basic sketch work was finally good enough). But then I spent months and months just grinding the ink, before he thought I was ready to use any of it or that any of it was good enough to use. He actually threw away most of the ink I prepared, because it wasn't up to his standards - and I'd get a smack on the back of the hands with a stick, if he caught me grinding in the wrong direction!

My grandfather never let me grind the ink for him, but he made let me watch him while he prepared it for this piece. My recollections is that he painted it in the mid-1970s as a present to my father; I eventually inherited it.

Alas, that my kids never took up the craft (breaking with a family tradition spanning generations, going back to the 12th century) - although my oldest is now in an introductory art/drawing class (a general education requirement at his university!), and he is starting to appreciate what he missed out on.

Goodness that picture is...stunning. 

I feel a tad foolish not realizing that ink grinding was also a skill that had to be developed.  No surprise, I guess - every art that's had so long to develop becomes a skill and people iterate upon it generation after generation.  Knife sharpening has centuries of compounded knowledge behind it and 2/3 of it only applied for one area at one time because of one particular type of steel that was available (or not available as the case sometimes was). 

Are there any specific elements of ink grinding that I should improve upon?  I am mostly doing Western Calligraphy with my inks and I know Eastern and Arabic Calligraphy involve an entirely different ethos where the consistency of an ink is concerned. 

Offline AnasaziWrites

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Re: The Absurd Joy Of Grinding Ink
« Reply #4 on: March 26, 2023, 04:13:09 PM »
My grandfather never let me grind the ink for him, but he made let me watch him while he prepared it for this piece. My recollections is that he painted it in the mid-1970s as a present to my father; I eventually inherited it.
@K-2
Beautiful.
Can you read the prose, or have had it translated?
Quote
Alas, that my kids never took up the craft (breaking with a family tradition spanning generations, going back to the 12th century) - although my oldest is now in an introductory art/drawing class (a general education requirement at his university!), and he is starting to appreciate what he missed out on.
Perhaps it's not too late to continue the tradition.

Offline K-2

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Re: The Absurd Joy Of Grinding Ink
« Reply #5 on: March 26, 2023, 07:08:10 PM »
Thank you for your kind thoughts about that painting, Chessie & Mike.

My grandfather was a highly regarded calligrapher, and did tiger, horse, pine, and bamboo paintings. My dad was a bird & flower guy, and landscapes too, but he wasn't a calligrapher. I wonder if my boys will ever want to pick up art as a hobby later in life, even though they didn't have the training early (despite my best efforts to get them interested).

@Chessie - Don't worry about the ink grinding technique. I always suspected my dad was just being kind of extra about it (although many of my Korean. Chinese, and Japanese colleagues of a similar age to me have similar memories of their childhood calligraphy practice). As long as you're going in circles rather than back and forth, you're doing fine - especially for loading onto a broad edge nib for western style calligraphy.  Having the pigment ground very very finely and evenly is more of an issue when you're painting or doing calligraphy with a brush.

@AnasaziWrites - The writing block to the right is a classical Chinese poem about leaving home; the block to the left is a message to my father and his youngest brother (the only two of the seven siblings to live to adulthood) about them coming to America.

I'll put my "ponytail" picture from Inktober here - because I did it with bottled sumi, and the ghosts of my ancestors are probably really upset about it. It is a moderately successful painting though, because I didn't learn nothing, after all.

Offline Chessie

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Re: The Absurd Joy Of Grinding Ink
« Reply #6 on: March 26, 2023, 07:31:53 PM »
Thank you for your kind thoughts about that painting, Chessie & Mike.

My grandfather was a highly regarded calligrapher, and did tiger, horse, pine, and bamboo paintings. My dad was a bird & flower guy, and landscapes too, but he wasn't a calligrapher. I wonder if my boys will ever want to pick up art as a hobby later in life, even though they didn't have the training early (despite my best efforts to get them interested).

@Chessie - Don't worry about the ink grinding technique. I always suspected my dad was just being kind of extra about it (although many of my Korean. Chinese, and Japanese colleagues of a similar age to me have similar memories of their childhood calligraphy practice). As long as you're going in circles rather than back and forth, you're doing fine - especially for loading onto a broad edge nib for western style calligraphy.  Having the pigment ground very very finely and evenly is more of an issue when you're painting or doing calligraphy with a brush.

@AnasaziWrites - The writing block to the right is a classical Chinese poem about leaving home; the block to the left is a message to my father and his youngest brother (the only two of the seven siblings to live to adulthood) about them coming to America.

I'll put my "ponytail" picture from Inktober here - because I did it with bottled sumi, and the ghosts of my ancestors are probably really upset about it. It is a moderately successful painting though, because I didn't learn nothing, after all.

That is a lovely horse.  I think your ancestors would be pleased to know you're still out there and able.

Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: The Absurd Joy Of Grinding Ink
« Reply #7 on: March 27, 2023, 01:22:32 AM »
@Chessie - I thought I was reading the opening page to a fabulous novel with a calligrapher protagonist. I wish I was because your prose is enthralling!  :-*
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Offline Chessie

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Re: The Absurd Joy Of Grinding Ink
« Reply #8 on: April 03, 2023, 12:14:34 PM »
@Erica McPhee Awwww, thank you.  Writing is a passion and writing my own works then illuminating them would be neat.