Ink and Bleach

For many students, the simple yet stunning bright neon reaction between fountain pen ink and bleach is enough to stir their curiosity. The process is so simple that anyone can achieve a visual result with simple patterning and handwriting with bleach on fountain pen ink.

On a fundamental level this simple process is a perfect bridge to link science, art and literature together in a visually impactive bond. This is where chemistry and chromatography could become an art form and who knows… possibly a recognised genre of its own?

Swatch Testing (chromatography with bleach)

Chromatography explores the properties of fountain pen inks. By saturating an area of heavy rough textured water colour paper, usually a Bockingford 200lb, and then adding a drop of ink into the wetted area, the ink blends with the water and reduces in concentration as it spreads away from the point of entry. As the ink comes out of solution the dyes that make up the ink can be observed in different areas as the paper dries. It’s taking chromatography into an art context.

And once dry, you can write or paint on top of the swatch with bleach which reacts at a different intensity depending upon the density of the ink underneath. The reactions can vary from a dull gold over dense ink areas to a vibrant neon effect over less dense areas. But what is of key importance is that it is only with fountain pen inks that this bizarre reaction happens.

Each fountain pen ink is unique. There are many brands with many inks available from those brands. Some inks don’t react while others reveal a whole range of unexpected behaviours, colours, reactions and creative possibilities. To-date I have subjected over 1,000 individual inks to my bleach swatch testing process and discovered some real gems, all of which could be of great value to creatives of all abilities in all fields of practice.

Water Based Techniques – Chromatography

By employing water based techniques, one can achieve a convincing watercolour style painting by simply letting the inks do what they do. In the illustrations below, the sky and foregrounds created themselves. The details in the foreground were achieved using simple marks applied with a dip pen.

The wonderful thing is that this simple wet in wet technique is actually easier and quicker than watercolour painting! Without even touching upon the word ‘serendipity’ I think this would appeal to all amateur artists for this one reason alone.

Harking back to my mantra of ‘less is more’, the illustration has been created with 2 inks although at first glance one might assume that 4 or 5 colours have been employed.

For enthusiasts of art journaling, diary keeping and sketching, this simple and natural process enables a simple and seamless visual continuity and a medium continuity between image and the written word.

What is also of interest is that all ink ranges are made differently. Each ink maker has their own and recipes and processes. So, one range of inks may suit a particular subject matter better than another. Robert Oster Signature inks are ideal for bright conditions. KWZ inks are more suited to soft focus. Diamine are great for more graphic use. Noodler’s are more experimental and abstract.

Bleed, Resist and Bleach Techniques

I have recently been testing document inks, which are bleach resistant, and this has thrown up a whole new area of experimentation and techniques when used together with non document inks!

The final effect is visually pleasing in many ways as not only has the outcome been achieved using only two inks, adhering to my ethos of ‘less is more’, but because of the limited colour palette, the complex final image looks fresh and not overworked. The mottled gold areas where the bleach hasn’t obliterated the background colour add those magical serendipity effects unique to this process.

Taking inspiration from historical woodblock prints and incorporating a circular concept to evoke a sense of infinity, I have employed one of my own art techniques. I chose Diamine Teal ink not just for its colour. It bleeds easily with water on a Bockingford watercolour paper giving a range of mottled greeny blues at the breakdown of the wash and responds dramatically when subjected to bleach, revealing in some areas a pale salmon pink colour. The linework was applied once the background washes were dry, and was achieved using the same dark Teal ink with a brush and dip pen with a Zebra G nib.

Bleed and Bleach Techniques

It’s this unique combination of dyes and bleach that makes what I’m investigating different. It would appear to be a niche genre – immediate, different and visually impactive – but more than anything else, it’s captivating and inspiring through its inherent serendipity.

Bleed, Blend and Bleach Techniques

The blending qualities of Diamine fountain pen inks are unique. Adding pink on top a dark colour for example one would expect the dark colour to absorb the pink – not here! The pink comes to front! Using bleach as a highlighter is both more immediate and more vivid than using a white paint. The depth and tone of the colours are another special attribute. The degree of visual complexity is up to the artist.

Four Colour (CMYK) Mixing

Another aspect of fountain pen ink art, is creating colours out of the four base colours: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Once a colour has been created it can be used for handwriting with a fountain pen. As well as for writing, these four colours can be used like watercolour paints for illustration and painting in the studio or plein air, plus, they all react with bleach, which can be used for erasing, highlighting and as a colour catalyst.


Spot the difference? The top 2 illustrations were created with individual inks. The bottom 3 illustrations were achieved making colours with the CMYK kit and bleach!

Abstract Marks

Fountain pens are the obvious tool for employing fountain pen inks but this doesn’t have to be the case any longer. Applying the inks is another area of investigation which the workshops can cover and involves looking at pens and brushes which may deviate in concept and design from the accepted norms and can involve personal customisation.

NOTE: There is also the opportunity to abstract the processes further by adding metallic dusts to the art while wet.

Eager to know more? Why not check out my workshops or my online course?

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