Welcome to a 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 project that re-imagines an already 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 communication sector. A project where taking risks and making mistakes is positively encouraged to create stunning visual outcomes.

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 other chemicals that control flow through the fountain pen feed mechanism, prevent ink drying within the pen and speed up the process of drying and when the ink is applied to a paper surface. We dont know exactly what the inks are composed of as the chemists who create them keep their recipes secret. When the ink is applied to water on watercolour paper, the coloured dyes that make up the ink are released from solution (chromatography). The chromatic process is very much serendipity led and the beauty of the final visual outcomes are invariably dictated by this. 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.

As well as the fascinating outcomes of the ink exploration, the project also offers up other interesting points:

Creation through destruction – through deconstructing the ink with water and bleach a new diverse art medium is created for – watercolours, lettering, calligraphy, illustration, fine art, doodling journal keeping and the unique medium specific swatch painting.

A 360 medium – through using fountain pen inks and bleach, an artist can work this medium ‘dark into light’ and ‘light into dark’ and across several disciplines.

Re-invention and repositioning – re-imagining a stationery product intended purely for handwriting – which is in usage decline – and repositioning it as an art medium.

Lyrical visualisation – fountain pen ink and bleach works well on a lyrical level – good/bad, light/dark, destruction/creation – and can be perfectly and dramatically visualised through the medium.

Alchemy, chromatography and serendipity – fountain pen ink art workshops help 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.

Audience types and reactions – workshops have been delivered to: families and children (min 7 years of age), 5th form students, 6th form students, Foundation students, Degree students, Excluded pupils, Senior citizens, Artists, Hobbyists and the Inquisitive.

In feedback surveys, top words used: Fascinating, Inspiring, Absorbing, Relaxing, Fun

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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