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Ink recipes

Posted: Mon Sep 09, 2013 3:17 pm
by Cecilia
I have been looking on the internet for ink recipes even vaguely appropriate for the time period 900~1200 approx. AD but i have had limited success as i have only really found one or two that aren't overly clear (beyond the use of oak galls and gum arabic, which seem universal). I was wondering if anyone had any i could use. Depending on the ease of making i may make some on the wic or just use the ink to illuminate manuscripts.
If anyone could give it i would particularly like a number of different coloured ink recipes as this would be useful to make the illuminations rather more interesting.
As an aside, if anyone has any interesting bits of history on writing in the early medieval period, particularly for women, they would be appreciated as i would like to showcase this at shows but don't know much about it.
Oh, final question, what sort of bottles would is store the ink in authentically speaking?
Thanks in advance,

Re: Ink recipes

Posted: Mon Sep 09, 2013 6:43 pm
by Langley
Suggest you contact Steve via the Scriptorium web site.

Re: Ink recipes

Posted: Mon Sep 09, 2013 10:52 pm
by guthrie
I have a short post on oak gall ink: ... -gall-ink/

It's simple to make, there's plenty of room for manouvre in making it and lots of recipes online.

Theophilus, a German monk writing circa 1122 (In "On Divers arts" translated by Hawthorne and Smith) , says to cut hawthorn before it grows blossoms or leaves, in April or May, let them dry for a few weeks, then when drier, pound them with a wooden mallet in a piece of wood until you have removed the bark. Take the bark, put it into a barrel of water, let it stand for a while, he says 8 days but I got a nice brown solution after boiling it for a wee while on a fire. You should take the water, boil it down until it grows black and begins to thicken, when it does so add a third part of pure wine and put into two or threenew pots and boil until it develops a skin on top. Then take the pots off the fire, put them in the sun until the black ink purges itself from the red dregs. Then pour it into bladders and dry in the sun until it is completely dry.
To use, dampen with wine, add a little green vitriol and write.

Black ink would also be made by lampblack, and the book "INtroduction to Manuscriopts" by Clements and Graham says that one of the earliest inks used was lamp black, made by putting cold iron into the flame of a candle, scraping it off then adding it to gum arabic and water.
I'm sure I have read that this was common in the early medieval period, but much less used in the high medieval period, after all Theophilus doesn't mention it and we know oak gall ink was in use by his time too. As for storage, in your time period I don't know, have you checked for pictures of scribes in the 12th century?
Bladders for dried ink, seashells to make the ink up with wine etc, as also used for holding pigments even in later scriptoriums, or else for liquid, leather bottles sealed with pitch or even glass bottles or turned horn bottles.

Re: Ink recipes

Posted: Tue Sep 10, 2013 8:10 am
by Brother Ranulf
On the subject of bottles for ink storage, this idea is probably a result of our modern concepts and is very unlikely in the period you mentioned. Even by the late 12th century glass was a very high status commodity used for very expensive tableware and the newly-devised lead-backed mirrors; there is no mention of bottles at this time.

Inkhorns have a long history going back to the earliest Saxon manuscripts and were still in use at the end of the 12th century, fitted with a tight cover so they might be carried at the belt. They were made of cowhorn and we know that these were generally smaller than modern equivalents; desks were pierced with round holes for the inkhorns to sit securely without fear of spilling. Sometimes the horn was fitted into the arm of the scribe's chair rather than the desk.The material used for the cover is not specified but I have had some success with rawhide fitted while still wet, which shrinks as it dries and creates a tight (but not entirely leak proof) seal. Alternatives might include hardwood plugs carved to fit tightly - cork was not yet available.

Female scribes certainly existed but they were a tiny minority. The reason is that very few women had the opportunity to receive an education; those that did were either nuns or nobility - but even among these groups very few actually did any writing. People like Hildegard von Bingen and Marie de France were exceptionally rare; scribing was mainly a male occupation. There is an interesting take on this here, but it perhaps magnifies the role and number of female scribes: ... l-of-2010/

This is a well-known image of St Dunstan writing at a desk, produced at Canterbury in around 1170. The inkhorn can be seen below the book and the desk is covered with a linen cloth. Notice that both hands are needed for writing - one to hold the pen and the other holds down the page with the penknife, which also serves to steady the pen hand. Vellum has a tendency to "bounce" as you write so it must be held down in this way to avoid ink blots:

Re: Ink recipes

Posted: Tue Sep 10, 2013 8:22 pm
by gregory23b
The oak gall ink or tannin/iron inks are the ones to use for your time frame, they are almost ubiquitous for about 2000 years until the turn of the 20th century in slightly different forms.

Guthrie is right to point you to the Divers Arts, his recipe is hawthorn bark but still relies on the chemical reaction between the tannin and iron, you can use wine instead.

Oak gall ink is really easy to make, plenty of on-line recipes, a great excuse for winter walk in oak woodland, ferrous sulphate is easily available in garden centres, gum arabic from art shops.

This thread has a range of useful recipes and tips from the forum.


As for coloured inks: verdigris, light azurite - lower quality for fine flourishes, ultramarine, red lead, vermillion, brazil purples, ground metals (gold, silver, brass)

The list is long and specific to time frames, not all colours were used at all times in the middle ages as the price, availability and styles changed over time, that is what will make your work right for the period or not. You need to look at a collection of MSS covering a wider time frame, you could look at late Saxon to Norman work the styles there are very different to later - the Brother is the man for that.

BR is spot on re ink horns, much easier to make.

Re: Ink recipes

Posted: Tue Sep 10, 2013 9:21 pm
by guthrie
That reminds me, I must try making red ink with brazil wood, I have it waiting and ready, and green from copper stuff.

Re: Ink recipes

Posted: Sun Oct 27, 2013 10:55 pm
by Karen Larsdatter
Cecilia wrote:Oh, final question, what sort of bottles would is store the ink in authentically speaking?

There's not a lot of extant Western examples from c. 900-1200, but there's this inkhorn and this stoneware inkwell, for example.

As an illuminator, you may find the tools & techniques illustrated at to be interesting & useful as well.

Re: Ink recipes

Posted: Mon Oct 28, 2013 4:38 am
by Grymm
Pretty stoneware, very German looking and more prob'ly toward the end of the date range they give, late 15th mebbe even later, into the16thC.

Re: Ink recipes

Posted: Mon Oct 28, 2013 7:59 am
by Brother Ranulf
If we are including German sources (I am always extremely reluctant to apply any continental sources to what was happening in England at any point in history), then brother Rufillus is a prime candidate for the last quarter of the 12th century. He conveniently includes himself in one of his illuminations, complete with his writing and painting gear and a table holding four inkhorns filled with prepared pigment. He also has what may be shallow pottery bowls for washes of colour (one is in his hand):
brother rufillus 1.jpg
brother rufillus 1.jpg (89.03 KiB) Viewed 7901 times
His name is appropriate for a redhead; rufillus is a medieval Latin name equivalent to "ginger" as a colour (not the root).

Re: Ink recipes

Posted: Mon Oct 28, 2013 4:18 pm
by Grymm
Sorry,The stoneware bottle was from the National Museum of Scotland in the link that Karen put up, NMS date on it of 1300-1500 but I would date it 1450+ and it's imported German/Raeren ware.

Re: Ink recipes

Posted: Mon Nov 04, 2013 8:16 pm
by guthrie
Grymm wrote:Sorry,The stoneware bottle was from the National Museum of Scotland in the link that Karen put up, NMS date on it of 1300-1500 but I would date it 1450+ and it's imported German/Raeren ware.
Is that not a variety of salt glaze on it?
THe NMS is famously a bit iffy on some topics, especially their display explanations in the museum.

Re: Ink recipes

Posted: Sat Mar 08, 2014 10:13 pm
by Cecilia
Thanks for the information - I apologise for taking so long to get back, I'd got busy and forgot about the forum for a while.
Anyway, on the subject of Iron Gall/lampblack ink, thanks for then name, I'd been searching 'medieval ink' which wasn't really very successful. Iron gall and lamp black produce rather better results.
I've since been looking at coloured inks since my plan has been to make illuminated manuscripts and am in the process of trying to make ink with lapis lazuli - main problem seeming to be that when we hit it (well, dad does - since the whole exercise is for his benefit i think it fair he does the 'hitting stones with a hammer' bit for me) the stones shard and the shard go flying everywhere, even when wrapped in a cloth since it just cuts through the cloth.
For the sake of practice I'm using inks from my local art shop which are approximately the right colour, water soluble etc. (though i intend to use inauthentic vermilion in a authentic pot for shows since, according to my research, the real stuff is ridiculously poisonous). Interestingly enough my local art shop sells real gold ink/paint (ground gold in water) in little bottles for an affordable price which i was also thinking of using for shows.
For doing illuminations at shows I intend to do it as a very high status lady in 12/13th century - that is to say in tapered sleeve dress in burgundy (a regia dyer who saw the fabric reckoned it would involve saff flower in the dying thus very expensive) with blue sleeve lining and silk head gear so i presume high enough status to be one of the few girls to learn to write outside the monastery. I will only be doing this once I've got all the materials and practice to do it properly.
Also for note my Dad is the group monk and, for shows the 'story' in case people notice the 'he actually is my dad' thing, he's supposed to have gone into the monastery late in life after my mother died and, being literate, taught his daughter the art. Not sure this is particularly relevant but I thought it might be worth mentioning just in case this isn't a plausible back story for the period (I admit to replying on my mother who is a religious scholar specialising in monotheism and who studied the history of the monotheistic religions but isn't a re-enactor).

Anyway, sorry for the rambling response and many thank you'for your help, it has proved very useful.