The Social Life of Ink

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The Social Life of Ink:  Culture, Wonder, and Our Relationship with the Written Word by Ted Bishop has been on my must-read list since it was published a few years ago. I really wanted to like this book as it was written by a local author and it is about a topic I am truly interested in. Unfortunately, his meandering style just didn’t appeal to me. The book seemed an excuse for his travels (funded by his Social Sciences and Humanities Research council grant and aided by having a sabbatical from his job as a professor at the University of Alberta). Often I just give up on books I can’t find any enthusiasm for but I did learn a few things that kept me going. The book is divided into four sections and, to spare you from the dull parts, I will give you an overview of the highlights.

Part 1. The Craft of Ink

In this section, Bishop tells the story of the invention and promotion of the ballpoint pen and, in an only tangentially related episode, an account of his attempt to make printers’ ink. He manages to visit Hungary, Argentina, France, Switzerland, as well as Texas and Utah in the United States to “research” this. It may be that my prior knowledge of this slice of history lessened my interest in reading about it but James Ward managed to tell the story of the ballpoint pen much more succinctly in just one chapter of his book, The Perfection of the Paper Clip, and with considerably more flare. I did learn that Argentina claims the inventor, Lazlo Bíró, as their own (they celebrate his birthday on September 29 as Inventors’ Day) while he is virtually unknown in his country of birth, Hungary. Argentina reminds me of Canada in that way; both countries embrace immigrants that succeed.

Part 2. The Art of Ink

Bishop travels to China and Tibet for this section. Again, it covered a fair bit of ground that I am already familiar with. I did learn something about how Chinese inksticks are made though (the soot mixture is pounded, pressed into molds, dried and then carved).

Part 3. The Spirit of Ink

Uzbekistan is his destination in this section where he saw the world’s oldest Qur’an and discusses Arabic ink and calligraphy. This is the shortest part of the book and the part I know least about. I think Arabic calligraphy is truly beautiful and I would like to learn more about it.

Part 4. A Renaissance of Ink

The travel grant must have run out by this point as he seems to have researched this section by phone. It covered a grab bag of topics including the renewed popularity of fountain pens, specialty inks, tattoos, and teaching cursive writing. One person he interviews is Nathan Tardif of Noodler’s Ink. He came across as a real character. I didn’t know that Noodler’s Ink was as controversial as it seems to be. I have been having problems with the fountain pen I purchased in Mexico earlier this year and thought that was what I got for buying an inexpensive, no-name pen. Now I am wondering if it is the Noodler’s Ink that I use in it that is causing the problems. I gave the pen a thorough washing out before I filled it the last time and it seems to have helped so maybe the ink was clogging it.

If you knew nothing about ink and were looking for a travel memoir through the eyes of a middle-aged white man, The Social Life of Ink might appeal to you. I just wish it had been more about ink and less about the author.

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Psyanky

I think I first learned about pysanky when I worked as a student at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village. Pysanky are Ukrainian Easter eggs and word pysanka means egg-writing in Ukrainian. The “writing” is done in beeswax with a stylus called a kistka which creates a wax resist for the dye.

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Supplies needed (dye not included)

Traditionally, the motifs and patterns used on the eggs are highly symbolic and are chosen to send a message to the recipient.  

My sister and I watched a demonstration of psyanky being written by Oksana Zhelisko at the Paint Spot earlier this month. This egg was a fairly simple example because it was just two colours, green and black.

  1. The kistka is warmed in a candle flame melting the beeswax in it. This is applied to the egg.20170402_130927
  2. Once all the areas to be left white are covered with beeswax, the egg is dipped in dye (in this example it was green) and then beeswax is applied to all areas that will be green. 20170402_132948
  3. Then the egg is dipped in the next dye bath (this time it is black dye).20170402_133832
  4. To remove the beeswax, the egg is gently heated with the candle.20170402_134709
  5. Finally the wax is wiped off with a paper towel (or cloth).20170402_134851

I have tried it myself and know it is not easy so I have a lot of respect for those who can do this well. I thought it would be cute to take a picture of my pysanka with the cat when he promptly knocked it onto the floor and broke it. As my daughter said “How could you not see that was going to happen?”

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While it is usually considered to be a folk art, a local artist, Neil Lazaruk, elevated it to fine art in his exhibit at the Alberta Craft Council, Neo-Ovo: New Directions in Egg Design. These fascinating eggs still use symbolic motifs but go beyond traditional Ukrainian designs.

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If I was to write an egg for the readers of my blog it would say have a very happy Easter with health and good fortune to come.

Noodler’s Creaper Flex Nib Pen

I have been using Noodler’s Standard Creaper Flex Nib pen for several years now. It is my first (and only) fountain pen and has a nicely tapered body which is a more comfortable size for my hand than the Ahab. I don’t make the most of the flex nib (#2) but it doesn’t cause any problems for me when I write. It can take a moment to get the flow going when you first start to write and makes a slight scritchy sound as it moves over the paper. I love the way the ink reservoir fills with a twisting mechanism. It works well but I always seem to end up with ink on my hands. This may be more a problem with my technique than the pen.

My pen was a gift from my daughter and she choose the panther pink for me but there are many other colours to choose from. At the same time, she thoughtfully gave me a bottle of blue-black Noodler’s ink with it. This is a very dark ink. Personally I would describe it more as black-blue. The blue tones mainly show up when I am trying to wash it off my fingers after filling the pen.

Like all Noodler’s products, both the pen and the ink are good value for what you get and don’t come over packaged.

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If this pen was a person it would be fun and unpretentious with a colourful style gleaned mainly from vintage stores and craft sales. It definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Coming next week: wood paper.