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InkFrom the caves to the desktop

It's easy to take a medium like ink for granted, until a pen runs dry of course. But ink as an art medium has been around since humans painted cave walls. Early ink mixed soot with water or oil, but in 2500 BCE the Egyptians took it to the next level, grinding down charcoal into a fine carbon powder called 'lamp black' and using gum or glue as a bonding agent. 200 years later ancient Chinese cultures would independently invent inks based on plant dyes.

Ink took new life again in the 6th century CE with the invention of the quill pen, becoming the primary method of recording written language in the Western world. Gutenberg invented an oil-based ink to work with his printing press, and ink continued to evolve all the way to 1988, when Hewlett-Packard's consumer-grade Inkjet printers put the power of the press into the home office.

From the caves to the Inkjet, ink has been used by artists the world over for drafting maps, sketching anatomy, ornate calligraphy and capturing ideas of all kinds. For our money, ink may be the most versatile art medium in history.

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Kufic Script from a Qur'an

900 CE

Qur'an leaf in Kufic script

900 CE

Poem Written in a Boat on the Wu River

1100

Summer Mountains

1127

Scivias I.6: The Choirs of Angels

Hildegard von Bingen, 1150

Scivias I.6: Humanity and Life

Hildegard von Bingen, 1150

Scivias 2.1: The Redeemer

Hildegard von Bingen, 1150

Scivias I.3: God, Cosmos, and Humanity

Hildegard von Bingen, 1165

Hortus Deliciarum — Philosophy and the Seven Liberal Arts

Herrad of Landsberg, 1180

Hortus Deliciarum — The Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles

Herrad of Landsberg, 1180

Autumn Colors on the Qiao and Hua Mountains

Zhao Mengfu, 1295

Ode on the Red Cliff and Portrait of Su Shi

Zhao Mengfu, 1300

A Sheep and Goat

Zhao Mengfu, 1300

Bathing Horses

Zhao Mengfu, 1300

Elegant Rocks and Sparse Trees, 秀石疏林

Zhao Mengfu, 1300

Twin Pines, Level Distance

Zhao Mengfu, 1310

Dwelling in the Qingbian Mountains

Wang Meng, 1366

Mount Taibai, 太白山圖

Wang Meng, 1271-1368

The Simple Retreat

Wang Meng, 1370

Ge Zhichuan Moving to the Mountains

Wang Meng, 1370

Fishing in Reclusion at Cha-hsi

Wang Meng, 1370

Forest Grotto in Juqu

Wang Meng, 1370

A map of the Arno valley and surrounding areas

Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1504

A bird's-eye map of western Tuscany

Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1504

Notes on reproduction

Leonardo da Vinci, 1511

The superficial anatomy of the shoulder and neck

Leonardo da Vinci, 1510-1511

The muscles of the shoulder

Leonardo da Vinci, 1510-1511

The bones of the foot, and the shoulder

Leonardo da Vinci, 1510-1511

The veins and muscles of the arm

Leonardo da Vinci, 1510-1511

The foetus in the womb

Leonardo da Vinci, 1511

A map of the Pontine marshes

Leonardo da Vinci, 1515

Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings

Bichitr, 1615-1618

Shah Jahan with Asaf Khan

Bichitr, 1640

Shah-Jahan receives his three eldest sons and Asaf Khan during his accession ceremonies

Bichitr, 1630-1657

Clearing after Rain over Streams and Mountains

Wang Hui 王翚, 1662

Landscapes 8, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677

Landscapes 9, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677

Landscapes 10, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677

Landscapes 1, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677

Landscapes 2, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677

Landscapes 3, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677

Landscapes 4, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677

Landscapes 5, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677

Landscapes 6, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677

Landscapes 7, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677

Emperor Guan

1700

Heron Encircled by a Snake

Maria Sibylla Merian, 1700

Black Tegu Lizard

Maria Sibylla Merian, 1700

One Hundred Horses

Giuseppe Castiglione, 郎世寧, 1728

One Hundred Horses — Detail 1

Giuseppe Castiglione, 郎世寧, 1728

More Art Mediums

Etching

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Marble

Terracotta

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