What does an empty ink bottle look like?
I watched in amazement in 2018 as people on my Instagram feed actually finished bottles of ink. The #emptyinkbottlechallenge seemed to me as crazy, admirable and impossible as running an ultramarathon.
As of today, I have 166 full-size bottles of ink (excluding sample vials and duplicates), and I have never finished a single one. Barely got below half full, in fact. And some of my bottles are pushing a decade old.
I know that if I picked one bottle to work through in 2019, like the aforementioned challenge, I would soon grow bored of it. I never ink multiple pens up with the same ink, so I fear I would put that one pen aside and reach for others instead, craving variety.
At the same time, I’ve had readers ask me which inks are my favourites. I know there are some bottles out of those 166 that I ease into like an old sweater. I like their colours, their properties. I tire of them more slowly than others. But they may sit idle for months at a time as I try out new arrivals.
My mind started whirring for a solution.
Here’s what I’m going to try:
- 12 months of the year, so 12 bottles to pick.
- Whenever a pen runs dry, I’ll fill it from one of those 12 bottles.
- If I happen to empty one of those bottles, I can pick a new bottle from my other 154 to take its place!
- I’ll use other inks for reviews and swatches only.
- And, as a gesture to my sanity, I’ll bestow myself with three golden tickets to swap a bottle, in case I find that one of my choices doesn’t work for me in the end (after all, this is a challenge, not a punishment).
Here’s the selection I chose. It would all fit in a shoebox… how refreshing.
Purples and reds
- Herbin — Poussiere de Lune
- Iroshizuku — Yama-Budo
- Herbin — Rouge Grenat
- Graf von Faber-Castell — Burned Orange
- Edelstein — Topaz
- KWZ — Azure #5
- Montblanc — Homer Greek Blue
- Iroshizuku — Tsuki-Yo
- Birmingham — Allegheny Observatory Celestial Blue
- Herbin — Vert de Gris
Blacks and browns
- Bungubox — Ink of Witch
- Montblanc — Swan Illusion
Time for some beanplating
It took me over an hour of agonised chin-scratching before I managed to settle on these colours, but actually there was very little shuffling around once I’d made my first selection.
Rules of engagement
I went looking first by colour, since that matters most to me.
I decided quickly that I’m not enough of a fan of browns, yellows and greens to include them in my limited slots (goodbye, Smoky Quartz, SBRE, Meadow and Alt-Goldgrun). I am partial to a grey every now and again, but greys perform so differently across narrow and broad nibs, and besides I already had a taupe and a black covered. So goodbye Jeff Goldblum, Fuyu-Syogun and Gris Nuage.
I pondered over Graf Electric Pink and Lamy Vibrant Pink for a while, but decided they were too bright for extended use — my palette is pretty muted, hence the avoidance of a bright orange and true bright turquoise, too (goodbye Kin-Mokusei, Unicef, Supernova, and Ama-Iro).
Picking the brands
I left out those inks that I would call “high maintenance”: those that smudge, take ages to dry, stain, or write dry. Nowadays I prefer inks that flow well, dry moderately quickly and shade, rather than massive saturation, sheen or shimmer.
This had a sweeping effect on my choice of brands. It knocked on the head Noodlers (although I really like Air Corps and Tianenmen), KWZ (with the exception of Azure), and Colorverse. Oh, and Organics Studio, obviously.
I was surprised that only one Birmingham ink made the cut, since I would say with confidence that (along with Montblanc) it’s my favourite manufacturer — perhaps it’s that I have about eight Birmingham blues, and I have no shortage of blues vying for limited space.
Not a single Diamine either, despite knockout inks like Ancient Copper, Oxblood, Earl Grey and Imperial Purple in my collection. Conversely, I was surprised that three Herbin inks made it in. But they’re such good performers, and such interesting colours, that they stood a hair ahead of rivals.
In fact, eight of the 12 choices came from European manufacturers. This mirrors a gradual shift in my own pen collection — to the extent that I only have a Nakaya and Opus 88 to represent Asia.
Some of my favourite colours found themselves culled due to overlap. I picked one red, and I wanted it to be a saturated one for use in fine nibs — so I had to knock out Montblanc Red Fox (and Cadwaladr, which is too close to Rouge Grenat but that bit darker).
I’m very partial to a good purple, but Poussiere de Lune is so usable that brighter (Montblanc Beatles), darker (Diamine Imperial, Sailor Shigure) and doppelganger (Montblanc Lavender) purples got left by the wayside.
Ink of Witch knocked out Kobe #51 and Birmingham Alternator Crimson, among other so-dark-they’re-nearly-black shades.
You’ll no doubt notice a lot of blues on the list, too. Depending on where you put Vert de Gris, half of my allocation went to blues. I guess I’m old-fashioned, because I like blues — they’re readable, shade well, and I tire of them less quickly.
Let’s see what happens…
So that’s the rationale. There was plenty of thought behind the decision, but a good amount of gut feel, too.
I have a feeling that this challenge will be difficult for me. I’m a complete magpie and I get bored easily.
But I’m looking ahead to next December and having the satisfaction of actually finishing a bottle of ink for the first time ever. I’m also hoping my bank balance will be that bit happier, and my storage no more constrained than it is today.
This exercise is for me, first and foremost. I also hope it also provides a simple “starter kit” for those in need of some recommendations!