In this digital age the use of ink is ever restricted, putting aside that used in Biro’s and the like. By ink I mean that liquid which is put into a fountain pen, or, as described by M. Therese Fisher (The Calligrapher’s Handbook, Faber and Faber, 1983): ‘It must be freely flowing, and be even in colour. It should have a grittiness rather than a stickiness. It should be non-corrosive, non-posinious, not easily erased and non-fermentable’.
According to Fisher there are two ways to make ink. Firstly, mix gum with lamp-black; secondly, treat salts of iron with tannic acid. The latter fades to brown, the former is permanent and does not change in colour.
The Chinese had a method for the preparation of lamp-black. They used distilled water, or rainwater, which was poured over the lamp-black made from the ‘incomplete combustion of oils’. Apparently kept for three years is ideal, rubbing frequently with the hand to preserve the polish.
For Indian ink try this 1825 recipe: ‘Put six lighted wicks in a dish of oil, hang an iron or tin concave cover over it so as to receive all the smoke; when there is a sufficient quantity of soot settled to the cover, then take it off gently with a feather upon a sheet of paper, and mix it with gum tragacanth to a proper consistency. Note: the dearest oil makes the finest soot, consequently the best ink.’