A warm welcome to the world of fountain pen inks and bleach, a visually impactive illustration and lettering investigation that is starting to catch the imagination of an international audience. This is a personal project that re-imagines an existing product originally intended for a now increasingly obsolete purpose and seeing if it’s possible to enhance and explore it’s potential for other uses within the visual arts. A project where taking risks and making mistakes is positively encouraged and where serendipity plays a key role in the creation of unique and visually stunning imagery.

By way of introduction, my name is Nick Stewart. Much of my working life has been spent honing my skills in service to many of London’s top creative agencies and studios and also as an educator – eight years at the University for the Creative Arts as a sessional tutor. I am currently a Creative Designer at Stewart2, a branding and communications agency, based in Rochester, UK.

It was at Brighton University, where I was tutored by the renowned calligrapher Miriam Stribley, that I was introduced to an abstract world of lettering and illustration – a world that still continues to intrigue and fascinate.

Fountain pen inks are made up of dyes and when applied to kitchen paper towel or blotting paper, the dyes are released and the colours spread outwards (chromatography) – imagine a drop of petrol on a wet tarmac surface. I have found a way of achieving and utilising this effect on a multitude differing paper surfaces. The chromatic process is very much serendipity led and the beauty of the final outcomes are invariably dictated by this. Because they are natural and non contrived, the viewer is naturally drawn to them – like watching clouds or a sunset. The project also champions the concept of alchemy or in this case, creating a gold effect through subjecting fountain pen inks to the destructive behaviour of bleach. Ongoing experimentation, regularly reveals new and visually exciting painting, illustration and lettering techniques as well as being able to create all colours through mixing together the four base fountain pen inks of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.

As well as the fascinating outcomes of the ink exploration, the concept of ink and bleach offers up a number of other interesting and creative points for consideration:

  • One would assume that the destructive nature of household bleach would obliterate the delicate composition of the dyes. Instead, that destructive chemical process reveals a stunning neon celestial visual effect that is totally unique to this medium. Discuss.
  • Through this unique product relationship an artist can now work this new medium not only ‘dark into light’ but also ‘light into dark’. Discuss.
  • Through this unique relationship, could the visual processes and techniques delivered be considered a new art medium/genre? Discuss.
  • Re-imagining a stationery product intended purely for handwriting and repositioning it in an art environment as an art medium could take some time to convince and alter market perceptions. Discuss.
  • This fascinating, dramatic and fast acting medium is an ideal vehicle to help illustrate the creative process. Discuss.
  • The concept of ink and bleach works so well on a lyrical level that representing opposites (good/bad, light/dark) can be perfectly and dramatically visualised through the medium. Discuss.
  • The concept of putting these two unlikely products together is about ‘thinking outside of the box’. This helps people to think in more abstract and creative ways; to take chances; to tune into serendipity; to not be afraid of making mistakes; and, to help people recognise and react to new opportunities and change perceptions. Discuss.


The human mind is arguably the ultimate ideas machine – but it often takes an inspirational creative experience to get that machine to function effectively. I hope you find the content of this website to be of interest and that we’ll meet at a workshop in the not too distant future.

Nick Stewart (updated August 2018)

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