Homemade Black Walnut Ink

This fall I’ve really gotten into walnut ink – I just fell in love with how gorgeously luminous it is, and the inky and watercolor-y effects that can be achieved with it. So, I decided to try to make my own batch of it.

I found a recipe on The Fountain Network (it’s the most niche nerdy forum website ever – love it) by the user Fiberdunk – I included it in my previous post. Luckily for me, I have an abundant source of walnuts at my boyfriend Garrett’s dad’s house, a gorgeous old farmhouse with an awesome yard and vegetable garden in upstate New York. Richie has lived there for almost 30 years, and knows everything there is to know about the environment around him.

The pigment for the ink resides in the softer outer husk of the walnuts, not in the nut itself. There’s two ways to make walnut ink – cooking it for several hours, or cold fermenting it for a few months. In this post I’m making the cooked version.

We collected more than 15 gallons of nuts – 4 buckets full, which is much more than I really needed to make a test batch of walnut ink. For the cooked batch, I ended up using about 5 gallons of nuts – one of the buckets in the picture below. The other three buckets I set aside in the cellar with lids on, to start a cold-fermentation batch.


fresh american black walnuts

Raw Material – 15 gallons of american black walnuts, still in the husk

The next step was to boil them. We set up a portable gas range out on the porch (an incredibly useful relic from the 70’s Rich had kicking around!), filled a non-reactive enamel pot 4/5 with walnuts, and covered them with water, with an inch or two of water above the walnuts. It’s important to use a non-reactive pot like enamel or steel – the aluminum in a regular pot can interact with the ink and cause discoloration. The pot was brought up to a boil, and then set to simmer for 10 hours straight. Every other hour or so, I dipped a brush in the juice and tested it on paper to see how concentrated it was. It was pretty late in the evening when I turned off the range, so I left the pot out overnight.

Walnuts cooking away - pretty gross looking!

Walnuts cooking away – pretty gross looking!

The next morning I had to strain the walnut gunk to get the lovely walnut juice, which would then become the walnut ink. Rich found a gallon jug for me, and I set up a funnel into which I squeezed with my hands the walnut mush with a piece of cheese cloth. I had to wear thick rubber gloves up to my elbows to do this – it stains like crazy! This was actually pretty hard work, the most labor-intensive part in the whole process.

Straining the walnut sludge by hand - messy work! Richie surveys the scene

Straining the walnut sludge by hand – messy work! Richie surveys the scene

Garrett squeezing away... and the leftovers from STRAIIINING HAARD (not on the toilet)

Garrett squeezing away… and the leftovers from STRAIIINING HAARD (not on the toilet)

We ended up with a gallon of walnut juice, and a bunch of black walnut nuggets – in the picture above artfully arranged as a pile of exotic animal dung.

Richie with the finished ink

Richie with the filtered walnut juice

We ended up with almost a gallon of walnut juice. It wasn’t quite ready yet, as it had to be reduced further to become dark enough to use as ink. But the ink was off to a great start!

More to come…


About Charlotte G

Swedish/Icelandic Illustrator in Brooklyn
This entry was posted in Illustration, Walnut Ink and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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