Earth Tones

I am covetous of a small black self-compiled swatch book in which Steven Holloway, a fellow artist-in-residence at Kala, has recorded each and every one of his hand-mixed printmaking inks. There are no blues in this book, because every pigment is a genuine earth tone – no synthetics or pharmaceutically-derived hues – but the range of rusts and greens is vast and subtle.


To make an ink, one needs the pigment itself – crushed to a fine powder, and a binder of some sort. The binder for watercolor, for example, is gum arabic, while oils are most commonly made sticky with linseed oil (though other lubricants, like walnut oil, can be and are used commercially). Printmakers require burnt plate oil, a form of linseed oil which has been set on fire to eliminate the elements that make traditional oils non-archival for works on paper. It is thick and gooey and honey colored, and what gives a finished print that very specific smell that will linger in the flat files for ages.

Steven uses pigments from Sinopia, but powdered pigment can be found readily at many art stores; they can also be found in one’s own backyard, as the article on Melvin Edward Nelson in this month’s issue of Art on Paper shows so wonderfully.