Thursday, January 31, 2013

Roses Are Red.... (Tools of the Trade #6)

red may not be the first ink that comes to mind for image-making, but it can offer the artist a number 
of very interesting creative options (J. Herbin Rouge Hematite and opaque white on toned paper) 

This week I'm taking a look at 11 of the "warm" fountain pen inks -- ranging from red (5), to orange (2), to the earth tones (4). The list is by no means exhaustive but, hopefully, it will introduce you to some new choices and maybe even treat you to a few new facts about some old friends.

oops! despite a quick blotting of the heavily sized watercolor paper an 
accidental spill of a few drops of Pelikan Red left an indelible stain

Red -- the color of love, of heat, of passion, of blood. In politics red is the color of both communism and, in the U.S.A., state that vote predominantly for the Republican Party. (I know, I can't quite figure that one out either.) It's the color of Christmas. And in February red is the color of Saint Valentine's Day and love.

Among the colors available to fountain pen users red has the greatest reputation for staining, creeping and other cantankerous behavior -- and it may offer the widest range of color options.

I began my selection with the red that has been in my collection the longest, Levenger Cardinal -- a dark, very intense red with distinct magenta undertones. I find it a marvelous red to use -- but decidedly high maintenance. By that I mean this ink creeps (so expect to wipe your nibs clean frequently), it can permanently stain nibs, it crystalizes, and (if allowed to dry out in a pen) can be highly corrosive. (I learned the latter lesson a few years ago when I allowed a load of Cardinal Red to dry up in my Pelikan 200 Red Demonstrator and the results can be seen in the illustration below.)

the blue arrows point out the 3 largest areas of corrosion - the lowest one clear through the gold plated steel nib!

The second red in this review is what many consider the benchmark for this group and the "truest" red available -- Sheaffer Red. (Note: As mentioned earlier, you will frequently hear fountain pen users say that red inks tend to be the most staining, and that reds often demonstrate a great deal of nib creep. Sheaffer's vintage red definitely falls into this category. After a week I had visible crystal buildup in the area where the feed entered the collar on my Pelikan 200. And it took the better part of two days -- alternating between cold water and Koh-I-Noor Rapido-Eze cleaning solution -- to flush the last remnants of pink from the system.)

after week 1 -- no noticeable change

The third ink in this review is Pelikan Red -- more of a red-orange, intense, with strong staining power (as can be seen from what wouldn't blot up after my ink syringe hiccuped), and (as I discovered while cleaning up my mess) apparently consisting of a bright red die and an even brighter pink that seemed to glow! Warm and upbeat -- this is my first choice for Christmastime correspondence.

after week 2 -- the first signs of fading

the very thinnest areas of ink -- drips of Pelikan Red that had been 
blotted up (identified by blue arrows) -- begin to bleach out

Noodler's Widow Maker is (as the name implies) dark and bloody (although maybe if I didn't know the name I might describe it as a very pleasant, deep burgundy.

after week 3

J. Herbin Rouge Hematite is what I would call a compound color. If used in a pen than flows wet it will shade red in the thinner areas and shift to a yellow ochre in the thicker, wetter areas -- a real eye catcher in, say, a flex- or stub-nibbed pen. (It is also one of two colors specially formulated to celebrate the company's anniversary and, therefor, fetches a modestly higher price than most inks.) The earth tone in this ink tends to settle as sediment in the bottle (and maybe in the pen) if it sets for long and I'm not all together certain whether this is a pigment or a dye that behaves like a pigment. It seems to remix readily enough when shaken, and I have heard of no nib/feed fouling. However, I flush my pen after each filling is consumed and I would not leave the ink in any pen for more than a week (just to play it safe).

after week 4

Diamine Ancient Copper is another ink I chose to add to this review expressly for its shading qualities -- bright burnt Sienna with a distinctly orangey tone when thin, and a warm, dark brick red when thick.

trying out some holiday pen and ink options -- practice, practice, practice
I was surprised by how long the Widow Maker stayed wet. (see arrow) 

Noodler's Golden Brown is indeed golden or yellowish when thin and a neutral, darker brown in thicker applications. As can be seen from the color chart, this brown also offers remarkable shading potential.

J. Herbin Orange Indien is a remarkable orange with slightly earthy yellow undertones. Slightly more orange than the Pelikan Red, this might be just the thing for correspondence during Halloween and the fall season to reflect the turning foliage. (It could also add a nice warmth or feeling of antiquity to sketches.)

Caron d'Ache Safron is, hands down, the most intense of the colors in this selection; this is decidedly orange and is the most transparent of the test batch. Interestingly, this ink seems to shift toward red en masse and looks rather like concentrated cherry kool-aid (a marvelous eye-catcher in my clear TWSBI Mini). I've also seen some wonderful things done with this ink when mixed with a hint of Noodler's Golden Brown.

Levenger Cocoa looks just like a rich milk chocolate, full of warmth and flavor (metaphorically speaking, I don't recommend ingesting ink). This is a great choice for Celtic, Gothic, or Roundhand calligraphy and handles flawlessly.

Sheaffer Brown is low in intensity when applied thin, dark (with some shading) when applied more heavily, and it possesses a strong olive or green cast. Although not a hue I would normally select, this color was part of a sampling of vintage Sheaffer inks I obtained and rounds out the brown range nicely.

I will update this test in future weeks with additional writing/drawing samples, and will report any additional shifts in the lightfastness test. I hope you'll stay tuned.



A February Challenge for Fountain Pen Lovers --

You say you really love using your collection of fountain pens? You say you'd like to use them every day but can't think of what to write or who to write to? 

Well, the fellas over at Fountain Pen Geeks may have just the thing for you: InCoWriMo 1. The First International Correspondence Writing (and drawing) Month is "the first annual group effort to write one letter (or note or postcard) each day for one full month." And this year it will run during February. For details check out the InCoWriMo site at 

You say there aren't enough addresses to write for a month (and you don't have enough to say to write the same person more than once)? Not a problem! Check out the pen pal forum (letters or postcards) at the Fountain Pen Network or Postcrossing (the free international postcard pen pal organization). 

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