Fountain Pen Inks and Bleach – Nick Stewart

nick-stewart-headerMy name is Nick Stewart and I am a creative director based in Rochester, UK. Since June this year, I have been on a mission to swab test fountain pen inks using water and bleach. Why? Because I believe that fountain pen inks have qualities that can be exploited for purposes other than just handwriting.

My test process is very simple: I saturate an area of heavy rough textured water colour paper and then add a drop of ink into that wet area. The ink blends with the water and reduces in concentration as is spreads away from the point of entry. As the ink comes out of solution the dyes that make up the ink can be observed in different areas as the paper dries. And once dry I can write or paint on top with bleach which reacts at a different intensity depending upon the density of the ink underneath. The reactions can vary from a dull gold over dense ink areas to a vibrant neon effect over less dense areas. But what is of key importance is that it is only with fountain pen inks that this bizarre reaction happens.


Pilot inks

This process is very much serendipity-led and the beauty of the final outcome is invariably dictated by this. Not only do I find the final images beautiful to look at, I get a great feeling of satisfaction creating them too. I’m also a firm believer in the concept of ‘less is more’ and I love the idea of alchemy, or, in this case, changing fountain pen inks into gold!


Parker Quink Black, water and bleach


Quink black, water and bleach

With over 600 inks that I’m aware of and 150 samples tested so far, the results have been diverse and fascinating. Some inks don’t react at all while others reveal a whole range of unexpected behaviours, colours and reactions to bleach.


Some inks reveal stunning characteristics that would otherwise be unknown – De Atramentis Ebony swab tested with water on watercolour paper – no bleach

The investigations also reveal some interesting possibilities. For example, I have recently been testing document inks, which are bleach resistant, and this has thrown up a whole new area of experimentation and technique when used together with non-document inks!

What I have done here is to lay down a background of Diamine Sunset onto a heavy Bockingford water colour paper, which washes out a gorgeous range of dark and mid tone reddy browns with pinky reds and yellows. Then, using a Daedalus pen with a Zebra G flex nib I have rendered the illustration and type with the agent resistant Noodlers Lexington Gray. Once dried thoroughly I applied mid strength bleach washes over the illustration which only reacted with the background underneath. The final effect is visually pleasing in many ways as not only has the outcome been achieved using only two inks, adhering to my ethos of ‘less is more’, BUT because of the limited colour palette, the complex final image looks fresh and not overworked. The mottled gold areas where the bleach hasn’t obliterated the background colour add those magical serendipity effects unique to fountain pen inks.


A possible new technique just for fountain pen inks

I am hoping that through my tests this example may be one of several new art techniques I’m exploring, that are unique only to fountain pen inks. Looking ahead, I am hoping that fountain pen inks and bleach could have an exciting future in the creative scene and maybe, just maybe, could become a genre of its own?

The project has only really just got going and interesting outcomes are happening all the time. And who knows where this project could lead? Could it help start a handwriting revival? Inspire people to illustrate their journals? Or simply encourage people to look deeper into the simple things and discover something new? Here’s hoping.

By way of a sign off, the most important thing that I have learned from all this is not to be afraid to go into areas of the unknown. The biggest mistake one could make is to make no mistakes at all, and as Friedrich Nietzsche once said: ‘From out of chaos will come a dancing star!’ I hope that in some way, this article gets your creative juices flowing.

Wishing you all a happy and creative 2016!

Should anyone want to follow Nick’s progress and/or donate fountain pen ink samples, drop a note to Nick via his blog and social media contacts as follows:
Twitter: @NickiStew
Lettering site:
Design site:
Instagram: nickistewpot

3 Responses

  1. David 10 February 2016 / 1:31 AM

    Great post. I’d love to know the unique quality of fountain pen inks that makes them susceptible to bleaching in this way.

  2. AMW 26 December 2015 / 10:36 PM

    Really interesting techniques being used here and quite wonderful results. Your artwork seems to be moving in exciting directions. Good luck with everything.

  3. Catherine 26 December 2015 / 10:09 PM

    Super post ! I hope you can infect a lot of people with this new art form.

I would love to hear your thoughts!