Obelisk Art History
Mediums

Ink
From 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.

Reed Enger, "Ink, From the caves to the desktop," in Obelisk Art History, Published February 05, 2015; last modified July 20, 2019, http://64.111.117.174/mediums/ink/.

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Kufic Script from a Qur'an, Islamic Dynastic Art

Kufic Script from a Qur'an

900 CE
Qur'an leaf in Kufic script, Islamic Dynastic Art

Qur'an leaf in Kufic script

900 CE
Poem Written in a Boat on the Wu River, Song Dynasty

Poem Written in a Boat on the Wu River

1100
Summer Mountains, Song Dynasty

Summer Mountains

1127
Scivias 2.1: The Redeemer, Hildegard von Bingen

Scivias 2.1: The Redeemer

Hildegard von Bingen, 1150
Scivias I.6: Humanity and Life, Hildegard von Bingen

Scivias I.6: Humanity and Life

Hildegard von Bingen, 1150
Scivias I.6: The Choirs of Angels, Hildegard von Bingen

Scivias I.6: The Choirs of Angels

Hildegard von Bingen, 1150
Scivias I.3: God, Cosmos, and Humanity, Hildegard von Bingen

Scivias I.3: God, Cosmos, and Humanity

Hildegard von Bingen, 1165
Hortus Deliciarum — Philosophy and the Seven Liberal Arts, Herrad of Landsberg

Hortus Deliciarum — Philosophy and the Seven Liberal Arts

Herrad of Landsberg, 1180
Hortus Deliciarum — The Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles, Herrad of Landsberg

Hortus Deliciarum — The Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles

Herrad of Landsberg, 1180
Autumn Colors on the Qiao and Hua Mountains, Zhao Mengfu

Autumn Colors on the Qiao and Hua Mountains

Zhao Mengfu, 1295
A Sheep and Goat, Zhao Mengfu

A Sheep and Goat

Zhao Mengfu, c. 1300
Bathing Horses, Zhao Mengfu

Bathing Horses

Zhao Mengfu, c. 1300
Elegant Rocks and Sparse Trees, 秀石疏林, Zhao Mengfu

Elegant Rocks and Sparse Trees, 秀石疏林

Zhao Mengfu, c. 1300
Ode on the Red Cliff and Portrait of Su Shi, Zhao Mengfu

Ode on the Red Cliff and Portrait of Su Shi

Zhao Mengfu, c. 1300
Twin Pines, Level Distance, Zhao Mengfu

Twin Pines, Level Distance

Zhao Mengfu, 1310
Dwelling in the Qingbian Mountains, Wang Meng

Dwelling in the Qingbian Mountains

Wang Meng, 1366
Mount Taibai, 太白山圖, Wang Meng

Mount Taibai, 太白山圖

Wang Meng, 1271-1368
Fishing in Reclusion at Cha-hsi, Wang Meng

Fishing in Reclusion at Cha-hsi

Wang Meng, 1370
Forest Grotto in Juqu, Wang Meng

Forest Grotto in Juqu

Wang Meng, 1370
Ge Zhichuan Moving to the Mountains, Wang Meng

Ge Zhichuan Moving to the Mountains

Wang Meng, 1370
The Simple Retreat, Wang Meng

The Simple Retreat

Wang Meng, 1370
The Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci

The Vitruvian Man

Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1490
Triumph of Jupiter, Bernardo Parentino

Triumph of Jupiter

Bernardo Parentino, c. 1490
Triumphal Procession with Elephant, Bernardo Parentino

Triumphal Procession with Elephant

Bernardo Parentino, c. 1490
A bird's-eye map of western Tuscany, Leonardo da Vinci

A bird's-eye map of western Tuscany

Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1504
A map of the Arno valley and surrounding areas, Leonardo da Vinci

A map of the Arno valley and surrounding areas

Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1504
Notes on reproduction, Leonardo da Vinci

Notes on reproduction

Leonardo da Vinci, 1511
The bones of the foot, and the shoulder, Leonardo da Vinci

The bones of the foot, and the shoulder

Leonardo da Vinci, 1510-1511
The foetus in the womb, Leonardo da Vinci

The foetus in the womb

Leonardo da Vinci, 1511
The muscles of the shoulder, Leonardo da Vinci

The muscles of the shoulder

Leonardo da Vinci, 1510-1511
The superficial anatomy of the shoulder and neck, Leonardo da Vinci

The superficial anatomy of the shoulder and neck

Leonardo da Vinci, 1510-1511
The veins and muscles of the arm, Leonardo da Vinci

The veins and muscles of the arm

Leonardo da Vinci, 1510-1511
A map of the Pontine marshes, Leonardo da Vinci

A map of the Pontine marshes

Leonardo da Vinci, 1515
Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings, Bichitr

Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings

Bichitr, 1615-1618
Shah Jahan with Asaf Khan, Bichitr

Shah Jahan with Asaf Khan

Bichitr, 1640
Shah-Jahan receives his three eldest sons and Asaf Khan during his accession ceremonies, Bichitr

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

Clearing after Rain over Streams and Mountains

Wang Hui 王翚, 1662
Buddhist Temple on a Clear Evening, after Oubo Laoren, Wang Hui 王翚

Buddhist Temple on a Clear Evening, after Oubo Laoren

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677
Landscapes 10, 仿古山水圖, Wang Hui 王翚

Landscapes 10, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677
Sand Banks and Rocks, after Chiweng, Wang Hui 王翚

Sand Banks and Rocks, after Chiweng

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677
Shady Summer Woods, after Shuming, Wang Hui 王翚

Shady Summer Woods, after Shuming

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677
Landscapes 4, 仿古山水圖, Wang Hui 王翚

Landscapes 4, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677
Landscapes 5, 仿古山水圖, Wang Hui 王翚

Landscapes 5, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677
Landscapes 6, 仿古山水圖, Wang Hui 王翚

Landscapes 6, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677
Landscapes 7, 仿古山水圖, Wang Hui 王翚

Landscapes 7, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677
Landscapes 8, 仿古山水圖, Wang Hui 王翚

Landscapes 8, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677
Landscapes 9, 仿古山水圖, Wang Hui 王翚

Landscapes 9, 仿古山水圖

Wang Hui 王翚, 1674-1677
Black Tegu Lizard, Maria Sibylla Merian

Black Tegu Lizard

Maria Sibylla Merian, 1700
Emperor Guan, Qing Dynasty

Emperor Guan

1700
More Art Mediums
Pencil, Mediums

Pencil

Terracotta, Mediums

Terracotta

Charcoal, Mediums

Charcoal

The quickest way to make a mark

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