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Inks for French Lines


Nov 17, 2004
Richmond, VA
Hey everybody!

I am looking for a source for inks for doing fench lines. We used to get Mat Magic inks through United but were told they were no longer available. Any suggestions?

Acrylic paint can be thinned down to make a good
line ink. It has the advantage of being waterproof, which means that the wash can go in

For lines, try mixing watercolors with a dash of white tempera. If you don't need the waterproof quality of acrylics or if you put in your watercolor wash first and clean it up with your lines, this works well. The tempera gives a bit of body to the paint and the line has a matte quality.

For golds and silvers, Windsor & Newton inks are nice. I like to mix in a little gold or silver acrylic and some water to make them flow bettter. For some reason the inks on their own tend to clog the pen.

In general, if you have clogging problems, a drop of Ox Gall helps.
Traditionally done with a good quality tube type watercolor, Windsor Newton, etc. Thin your color down to an ink consistency and load your ruling pen.

Winsor Newton Inks are the best (It is Winsor not Windsor) in gold and silver. Ox gall increases the viscosity and allows them to flow off a ruling pen much easier. Do not put them into any self feeding pen such as technical pen or clogging will happen almost immediately. This is due both to the heaviness of the pigments used and the shellac base.

Do not smell the ox gall...repeat...do not smell the oxs gall... it may send you running to the porcelain god as it is one of the most obnoxious smells known to man.

I knew you couldn't resist... feel better now?

Dave Makielski
Thinned acrylic paint should ONLY be used with
a ruling pen, since it would clog a technical
pen. The ruling pen was used to make these lines
in antiquity and it gives an appropriately varied
look. Traditionally, iron gall ink, an organic
acid made from iron and tannic acid, was used in making decorative borders. This ink is initially
dark gray and it becomes warm brown as it ages.
It is so acidic that it eats the paper it is applied to, so it should not be used in modern

Welcom to the forum OwieO. Don't forget to check out the Search section, and you will get a lot more information about doing ink lines.

I use a few different types of "Ink", for drawing lines.
1) I srill have some Mat Magic ink.
2) Acrylic ink (comes in a nice veriety of colors)
3) Acrylic paint (Talk about colors to choose from!)
4) Watercolor paints
I thought I started a thread about this but I may have not published it.

On a recent trip to Canada I purchased some inks from Tri-Art (their web page) The Inks work wonderful. I think they are better than MatMagic Inks. Now the trick is to find them in the USA.

I just wrote the company about getting them in the states and will post any answers.

I have been using Daler Rowney (Jamesburg NJ USA) for some time now in Rotring Rapidograph 'technical' pens with no problems whatsover. They state on the jar (1 US oz-29,5ml) that they are 'non clogging,water resistant,pigmented'.The jars have a pippet style top with a rubber bulb rather like an eye dropper.
Having used them on several thousand mounts I can recommend them in every way. The key thing is to keep the pens in good order. I use them down to a size .35mm line. They are clean in use,do not clog if you maintain your pens.
What I like most about this combination is that you do not have to pencil in any guide lines but you can get straight on with your combination of lines.They dry very quickly and by the time you have your watercolour ready for the wash you can lay in your clean water wash into your panel, then follow on straight away with the colour,and the lines resist (to a good degree) any over-runs that you might make.
With lines in the English manner you may choose to dilute the ink; less so if you are working in the French style and possibly neat in the Italian way.

Not wishing to show my ignorance in such a public forum (but, I guess, that ship sailed long ago) …

What is the difference between French, English and Italian lines?
The difference in English,French and Italian approach to mount decoration is well reflected in their often perceived national characteristics.
ENGLISH Quiet,reserved,determined.
FRENCH Positive,cultured,proud.
ITALIAN Loud,sunny,enthusiastic.

If we consider the last 200 years of painting on paper in these countries, obviously styles have changed but interestingly, if you look at the artwork produced in the 100 years 1775 - 1875,which roughly covers the main developement of painting on paper in Europe it is clear to see how these differences occur from one country to the next. Examples of lines drawn around works on paper, as opposed to the borders used by print-makers from the earliest times, were made on the paper on which the drawings were made or ot the paper onto which the drawing had been mounted ie stuck.
With the appearance of the mount with a cut opening through which the piece could be viewed came as an aid to allow collectors to stack their prints or drawings one ontop of another and so seperate them and thus avoid potential damage.

In,ENGLAND, with line decoration (coming later in the 19th century than elsewhere) at first vying with and then superceding the wide gilded slips of earler days,the decorative element was very subdued. It has developed a 'tradition' similar to the drawings themselves where watercolour was used in conjunction with the paper colour which was often allowed to show though and 'mix' with the paint and where the highlights were achieved by leaving the paper exposed completely.
The designs were simple and understated generally 4 lines in pale colours with a paler wash between the middle two.In the 20th century a gold paper line was introduced to some mounts but not universally so.
In FRANCE artists had a very similar approach to landscape and architectural subjects but their approach was a much stonger one with body colour added to give more positive and solid appearance.
Consequently their framers applied a similar attitude to the decoration of their passepartouts.
The earliest that I have seen were often made on a thin card with a laid paper suface with strong bands of lines,often in sepia,together with a gold paper band used and with the border outside of the lines also coloured. More recently these same mounts have been laid onto a very thick bottom mount.

Lunch calls.... to be continued ITALY next
In ITALY works on paper have been traditionally been less like the watercolours in England or France and more like gouaches. Painted,like most oils,and other works by their great masters from the distant past,artists have worked from dark to light with the highlights being applied last. The colours are dense and often have a smooth appearance.The light is usually brighter and warmer the further south one travels and this is reflected in the strong, more colourful works on paper that therir artists produce. Consequently mounting these pictures is as much a matter of containment as it is of decoration.
A stronger and more simple approach to all decoration is my approach. A Line or two close to the mount opening, sometimes with the bevel coloured in a neutral but strong way,with the rest of the mount border colour washed,even sometimes very lightly rubbed with the finest of fine glass paper (Rub two pices together to reduce the roughness even futher) to just take the tops off the board.
In all mount decoration, my rule is to work with the picture not against it, not to beat it into submission.Rather,I prefer to try to put it into a setting, as jewellers do with their pieces. For me the picture is the jewel in the crown and it is our job to set it off to its best advantage. A simpatheic approach rather than the decorators "This is going to be a FEATURE!"
I know,I Know,this has to be done,but not EVERY time,surely?
Whatever the decor,whatever the client wants, whatever the cost,in my book,the picture comes first AND last.
I just got off the phone with Ben Woolfitt of TriArt. He looking for a distributor in the USA and will keep us informed when this happens. I hoping that United Mfrs will consider this product and take them on. I also discussed the packaging of the inks to picture framers. I've been very pleased with the results using their metallic inks.