On April 11, 2021
Alchemy of Ink making
Right now ceanothus or California Lilac is in full bloom in my neighborhood. The abundant deep azure blue is radiating from these shrubs. They are beautifully versatile plants that can grow both as groundcovers or large shrubs providing a good source of food for the honeybees.
I recently asked my homebound family if they wanted to venture out and gather the flowers in an effort to see if I had another source of blue ink. Currently I have been playing around with indigo ink and copper blue ink. Both have beautiful blue tones and intensities to them but it’s a wonderful adventure to explore other possibilities. So my daughters ventured out in the rain and came back with a pound of flowers to experiment with.
The moment the flowers hit the boiling water a deep beautiful azure blue began to emerge in the pot. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance to visit Lake Tahoe or see the bumper stickers around that say keep Tahoe blue well there is a good reason for that. When taking a boat out into the deeper waters of the lake you find yourself emerged within this radiant deep blue emanating from the waters. The blue that came from the ceanothus was intense and deeply saturated in similar blue tones.
I had a panel already to experiment on. So I quickly rushed down after the girls were asleep and poured the ink on to the surface, the deep blue began to shine through as it spread over. But within moments maybe 80 seconds the ink began to change from blue to teal to a deep emerald green. After 5 minutes the entire piece transformed and I walked away. I am not a chemist by any means but I guessed that the process of oxidation was causing the change.
As I woke the next morning I went down to the studio to find overnight as the ink dried onto the surface the color oxidized into a light amber brown. Though it was beautiful, I have to admit to being light-heartedly disappointed as I have been here before. This is where I usually walk away in my process to be with it, the disappointment, the uncontrolled change and lack of control.
A few days later with some distance I walked by thinking, I have half a jar left, why not pour it on and see what happens! So I prepared myself to pour the ceanothus ink and again, I watched the beautiful azure blue quickly change to emerald green and then to my surprise it stopped there. I thought, walk away and wait overnight, it may still turn amber brown. The next day I stood there and enjoyed the surprise, it was not the blue I had intended but it was an alchemical surprise that took the piece further than I would have been able to with complete control.