Ink and Pigments

Why India Ink?

To re-create the black ink used in the Gospel Book of Durrow we carefully selected non-waterproof India ink. We used it to create the outlines of the decoration and lettering, just as it appears in the actual codex. Black ink in the medieval period was made either from iron salts or a fine carbon soot called lampblack in a mixture of gall and vegetable gum and water (Glossary of Terms). In our modern days the closet we can get to this solution is to use the non-waterproof India ink, which today, follows a similar (if not close to the same) recipe used for hundreds of years (Dreisbach 2010). This is a mixture of lampblack, water and vegetable gum. I must be persistent in saying non-waterproof India ink for the soul reason that water resistant inks will often use a modern acrylic binder or glue, not available in the medieval era.


Dreisbach, E 2010, India Ink Ingredients, viewed 7 July, 2011, <>.

Glossary of Terms, viewed 7 July, 2011, <>.

The Pigments

Through a visual examination of the Book of Durrow any viewer will quickly recognize that the colours used in its illuminations consist of yellow, red and brown.

But, what was used to make those colours in 7th century Ireland?

According to Clarke (2004), Anglo-saxon’s have a long history of manipulating their environment, including many different plants and ochre to make different paints with an egg white binder called glair.

Thus, the decision was made to use only naturally occurring pigments to create our paints. This however, is much easier said then done. Most paints and pigments today are made from a combination of natural and artificial indigents. Which is made only more difficult by the fact that they do not have to list their ingredients on their products. Furthermore, there is little market demand for naturally occurring pigment products that have not been mixed and packaged with a modern binder. Finally, after much searching, purchased at great expense were yellow ochre, red sienna and green oxidized chrome. While all of these are correct to our period in that they are all naturally occurring and could have been obtained through trade or local harvesting, the green would have been more accurate if it was an oxidized copper. These will be mixed with water to create a coloured mud that will be furthered mixed with the egg binder to create tempura paint.


Clarke, M 2004, ‘Anglo-saxon manuscript pigments’, Studies in Conservation, vol. 49, no. 4, pp. 231-244, viewed 7 July 2011,

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