Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Walnut Ink making party

We have a massive black walnut tree in our backyard that drops all kinds of annoying bits and pieces at different times of the year. The lovely canopy and home to numerous birds and animals has made it something that we tolerate for the most part. This year was a super crazy crop of walnuts and our small backyard was a very popular place for the squirrels of downtown Guelph.  I read something about making your own walnut ink and decided to do some research and give it a try. This meant hoarding hundreds of walnuts and hiding them from the squirrels, which was no simple task.  Here are a couple of good links that I found with information on making ink. (there are lots)
This is Homemade Inks by Teri "fiber drunk"
Homemade black walnut ink by Mark Tabler 
Ink: short history and how to prepare it by Varenya 
We soaked the walnuts in buckets of water, just covering the nuts. Some went a bit moldy but we figured it would be boiled off later and did not worry about it. When they were black and rotten we rented some propane tanks and burners with pots to boil the nuts in. 
unfortunately it was raining the morning of our ink making so Chris rigged up a tent and wind shields
Bruce and Monica were the first to join in after work. They said they could smell the pong as they walked up our street.

The hull of the nut is all you really want to use but we did not want to go through the mess of taking all the outside off of the nut. If you do decide to do this, and I might next time when the hull is still green, make sure you wear rubber gloves as each stage of the ink making is messy and will stain almost everything. Surprisingly the pots we used did wash out nicely (phew! rented).  We boiled the whole nut and hull in water for over 6 hours- this smells disgusting and I am so relieved that we set everything up outside because I would not be able to take it.   My husband decided that it would be a good event to make into a staff party for the lovely people who work with him at his art supply store.  The extra help and company throughout the process was much appreciated and with the volume of ink we were making, everyone could take home a jar from the fruits of their labour.  Chris pounded down the nuts and mash, working to soften the hulls and get as much pigment into the liquid as possible.  After the first boiling, they strained each pot using a piece of wire screen.
The remaining liquid was boiled again to reduce and concentrate a bit.  I did read that if you put a piece of clean steel wool into the liquid for the second boil, it will make your ink darker and a bit more black than brown or sepia. We did put a couple of rusty nails into the initial boil because of something I had read about it helping with the colour.  (We might have to experiment with a few different tips.) After four or more hours of this, the liquid was strained again through the leg of a pair of pantyhose.  This second straining was not so easy and we found that there was quite a bit of sediment still in the liquid. We tested the ink and found it to be quite lovely, especially after adding 5% denatured alcohol (to inhibit bacteria growth) and some gum arabic (for flow).
Jay and Blaire doing the first strain with some wire mesh
After everything I did find a very informative site of an artist who has made numerous inks out of all kinds of vegetable matter and their experimentation showed that it is possible to make a more reddish brown ink with the green hulls soaked in cold water and mashed and strained without the hours of boiling... will definitely want to try this next time.  Without the boiling, I am sure my neighbourhood will be happy to not have the bad smells wafting around.
a long time later. checking the mash


  1. Sign me up for next year!! I would gladly horde nuts from my hood.

    1. that would be great! you have to be very serious about hiding them from the squirrels though. that is hard work : )