Making Iron Gall Ink

Iron gall ink is prepared by adding iron salts to tannic acids that from oak galls. These are pictures of bleaching process of pin oak galls that gathered from our trees. The steps are listed below:

1. measure 2Ozs of raw galls from the tree

2. crush and dice them into small piecesThe

3. bake the gall pieces in oven so that we can grind the pieces into smaller parts

4. grind them

5. put the materials in a jar and add 8Ozs of hot water and seal the jar

The final product is after 4 days of soaking and on the 4th day night I boiled the mixture and waited for another day. The color is pretty stable after 2 days of soaking, and it didn’t change a lot after the boiling.


Adding 0.5Ozs of Iron Sulfate and Gum Arabic into the solution is the last step of Ink Making. The color of the solution would change immediately after adding the Iron Sulfate in.

add iron sulfate

Gum Arabic serves as a binding material for the ink.

Tree Root Chandeliers

Humus_photo_Aad Hogendoorn
photo credit: Aad Hogendoorn

Italian artist Giuseppe Licari displayed his site-specific art installation named “Humus” at Tent Rotterdam museum in 2012. These Hanging roots made the central place of the museum become a “mysterious underworld”.

Humus - foto Job Janssen & Jan Adriaans_LR
photo credit: Job Janssen & Jan Adriaans

This landscape changed our view of the materiality of the trees and to start using it as a medium of creativity. In the meantime, it changed the way we see the space that we occupy and the space we couldn’t have occupied.

photo credit: Aad Hogendoorn



Iron Gall Ink

Iron gall (also called oak gall) ink had been the standard writing and drawing ink in Europe for around 1500 years. It has a color of blue-black when freshly made and become rusty brown when degraded. Iron gall ink was very popular because it is very durable that could not be wiped off from the paper or any other porous materials unless you scape the material off. Therefore, a lot of important manuscripts have been written using iron gall ink including the United States Constitution, the oldest, most complete Bible currently known to exist. Meanwhile, iron gall ink was not used exclusively for writing, some well-known artists such as Van Gogh and Victor Hugo used the ink for drawing.

davinci_drawingiron gall ink drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci                                                          image credit:

The galls used to make iron gall ink are rich in tannic acid. Galls are abnormal outgrowths of plant tissue on certain trees like benign tumors in animals, which are usually found on foliage or twigs. Some galls form where insects or mites feed or lay eggs. They may also develop as a response to infections by several kinds of fungi, bacteria, and viruses.

Traditional iron gall ink are homemade for dip pens because the ferrogallic deposit would clog the fountain pen’s ink passages and corrode metal pen parts since the ink is highly acidic. The acidity could be a problem of the ink because over time the ink may corrode the material applied especially paper.

image credit:

Currently, there are hundreds of recipes of the ink. They are all based on for basic ingredients:

—water or wine(red or white)
—powdered galls
—binding material(commonly gum arabic)
—iron donor(commonly iron sulfate)

We’ll use the galls from our pin oak trees to make “Brookings” iron gall ink.

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