I have missed my subway stop, lost sleep as I read into the wee hours of the morning, surfed multiple websites and dashed off to the Toronto Public Library to follow up sources the author mentions. This book has had an impact on my life. It encouraged me to boldly walk into “fine writing instrument” shops to look at pens that cost a small fortune. It kindled a quirky fascination with 19 cent pens* that claim to contain enough ink to write for 2 km, and are languishing in my junk drawer. It has made me “pay attention.”
As a student artist, I quickly learned that the quality of the materials I use influences both my process and my work. The longer I look at a scene or an object to sketch or paint, the more detail I see. So I was intrigued and hooked from the opening sentences: “Ink binds us. We are surrounded by ink, immersed in ink, a substance so common it is invisible.” University of Alberta Professor and author, Ted Bishop, invites us to look more closely at something we see so often that we don’t see it at all. He sets out to write a book about the history of ink, but it turns into so much more. The Social Life of Ink is part history, part sociology, part travel log, part memoir, and an altogether humorous adventure. He travels all over the world in search of ink recipes, writing instruments and the people who invented them. This book is packed with facts and references.
The author asserts that the invention of ink was as significant as the wheel. Ink recipes the world over have been highly protected trade secrets for centuries. In the 1950s, the advent of the disposable ballpoint pen was revolutionary technology, and its introduction was surrounded by the hoopla equivalent to the introduction of the smartphone.
Ink is commonly used to write or to draw, but it has also been used as medicine, as object d’art (inksticks of China), and as currency. You can find many websites dedicated to ink as well as to ballpoint pen art.
Ink, like good art, has the ability to incite strong emotions. Ink can invoke creativity, fascination, jealousy, joy, spirituality and awe, just to mention a few emotions that the author writes about in fascinating detail. I will never again take ink for granted.
Review by Jan Kraus
*Bic crystal ball point pen ($2.39 CAD for a pack of 12) advertises ink to write for over 2 km.
LUNA artist Alan Li has instructions on his website for making your own ink from walnuts.
Please follow this link: Making Black Walnut Ink