by Kim Nickens

Walnut ink is a wonderful way to create fabulous background papers for all of your stamping and paper arts projects. To get started, the basic supplies that you need are paper (printmaking paper is best—try Arches or Rives brands, both of which come in a variety of weights), walnut ink (it can be purchased as a liquid or as crystals which you dissolve in hot (not boiling) water ), a wide paint brush (I like to use a 2 inch brush) and a spray bottle filled with water. Optional supplies include: watercolors (I like to use the Peerless dry palette for the intensity of the colors), bleach, calligraphy inks, a calligraphy nib, a stick (or you can use a skewer or the back of the calligraphy nib), soft pastels and pearl-ex (to name just a few).

Working with walnut ink is a simple process. You will probably want to work on several sheets at once so that different effects can be achieved. If using the crystals, first dissolve them in hot (not boiling) water. The solution should be fairly concentrated, for example, one part crystals to 4 parts water . Start with a small amount until you get the hang of it. Keep in mind that the solution can always be diluted if it is darker than you like but reserve judgement on this until after you have applied water.

Using a wide paintbrush, paint a wash of walnut ink onto the paper, covering the entire surface. It’s okay if the paint shows some streaks—you will try various techniques to add depth and texture to the paper so any streaks at this point will just add to the effect. While the ink is still wet, try making random marks with a stick or skewer. This will create darker lines when dry. 

Next spritz the paper with water. Notice how the water causes the ink to move, creating lighter areas. You can then go back over any areas that you like with a thinner brush, painting on more walnut ink (to create darker lines and marks) and spritz again. Try sprinkling the crystals on any pools of water that you have created. This will also add darker spots to your paper.

Walnut inked paper with calligraphy

To achieve the effect shown above, I first used a calligraphy pen with black Calli ink to draw random symbols. I let this dry thoroughly. After the calligraphy ink was dry, I painted over the symbols with a wash of walnut ink. I had a bowl of water nearby, and without waiting for the ink to dry, I splashed water on the painted page. Where the water droplets were, it becomes much lighter and the walnut ink moves around quite a bit. (If you want a less pronounced pattern, try using a spray bottle)

Brown walnut inked paper with red Calli ink

This sample was done on 300# watercolor paper. I found that it was more difficult to get the ink to move on such an absorbent paper. I first painted some random marks on the paper with red Calli ink (this did not dry completely). I painted over the Calli ink with a concentrated solution of walnut ink. Applying water either by hand or by spray bottle resulted in very little movement of ink. While the walnut ink was still wet, I took the back of a calligraphy nib (you could also use the wrong end of a paint brush or a stick) to draw a random design into the wet ink. When the paper dries, these will become dark lines (see sample). Once the sample had dried completely, I used fresh bleach to paint some swirled designs on the paper. These dried as the much lighter marks that you see in the sample above. Use of a heat gun in the process of drying the bleach seemed to result in even lighter areas.

Walnut inked paper with symbols and soft pastel colors

I'm not sure of the paper that I used here but it was much lighter weight. This time I painted on a wash of walnut ink first, applied water via a spray bottle and also by hand-splashing water onto the paper. Symbols were drawn with brown Calli ink after the paper dried and then soft pastels were used to enhance certain patterns in the paper. I could have continued to work this paper by applying bleach, re-applying walnut ink and water, etc.

Other techniques to try include underpainting with acrylics (I’m told that gold is nice), under painting with watercolors, watercolor crayons or oil pastels, try also stamping on the paper directly or using the walnut ink paper to make an accordion book, a mail art envelope or layered for a special card. Here’s a valentine’s day card that I did using the walnut ink. Above all, be experimental and try lots of different media. I’m sure that you will love to experiment with walnut ink as much as I do!