Let’s get the obvious misnomer out of the way: Walnut Ink is not made of walnuts. Instead, it aims to look like the walnut inks of antiquity, without some of those ink’s shortfalls. Before synthetic and India inks were widely available, lots of people made inks from walnut husks, people like Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt. Walnuts are plentiful, naturally occurring and it is actually fairly easy to make, but you don’t really want to boil walnut husks every time you want to ink something up. One of the side effects of walnut inks is that they are not completely acid free, so they slowly eat away paper as time marches on and would also lighten from the original dark or near black to the brown hues we associate with older illustrations. What is unique about Tom Norton Walnut Drawing Ink is that it aims to ape the aged look of walnut inks, with the added benefit of being acid free and easy to use and manipulate.
To show my bias early, I usually lean towards India inks. They dry fast, are waterproof and have a pleasant thickness to them. So when I inked up a brush with Walnut Ink I was surprised how light you could go with it. One dip of a brush can get you a wide variety of tones, largely dependent on how much of it you lay down at a time. The closest analogy I can think of is watercolors, which is not a bad thing. This comparison is double apt since this ink is not waterproof, so you can blend line work that has dried when you are laying in fills or shading. You can even go in with just water to spread out what you already have on the page. Working with an ink that was not waterproof threw me for a loop at first, but once I knew what to expect I really got into it and found it more forgiving that previously expected.
Brown can be a problematic color. Brown is one of those weird colors that can vary wildly yet always fall under the same header of “brown.” The problem is the way most of us make brown, by mixing the three primary colors or, in some cases, red, yellow and black. There is no brown in a rainbow, and the “B” in “ROYGBIV” sure ain’t “Brown.” Instead of a mix of two colors, you need three. That added variability adds an unwieldy aspect to this nondescript color. Despite the many pitfalls surrounding this moody hue, Walnut nails it with their pigment. It is a warm, inviting sepia tone that has a fantastic range, especially when you vary how you apply it. When using a nib, this can reach almost black depths. Brushes will give you everything from “strong coffee stain” to “old paper patina.” The overall look of this ink is vintage, imbibing everything on the page with a look of lost years. The first thing I drew with it was not a great drawing, but the look of the ink and the wash of sepia made up for any lack of skill on my part.
On another drawing, I went in with nibs first to get the rich dark browns for line work, and then went back with brushes to do the dark shading with pure ink. Once all of that dried, I washed up light areas with a mix of ink and water. I really like the end product and was very happy with the variety of tones I got with this one ink.
If you have ever enjoyed a good inkwash or watercolor, this is right up your alley and I can’t recommend it enough. If you are looking for a way to make a project you are working on look “aged” or “antique,” look no further. If you are looking for the next great fountain pen ink or a waterproof ink, look elsewhere. It is a versatile ink that is fun to use and would be a strong tool for any artist to have around. You can find more info about Walnut Ink at their website or check out a dealer near you.
(Disclaimer: This product was provided for me free of cost but I am not otherwise being compensated for this review. The opinions contained are my own.)