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.

Angle grinding | tree time

images_sanding process_cropped
I start to apply the angle grinder on C-6 to reveal its rings, its history, its tree time.

When I apply the dense matrix of the grinding head, I feel its tight pull against the wood grain. The deep furrows of this mature part of the tree tug the grinder unevenly, threaten to pull me out of the diameter of the chalked outline I have drawn—like my head in size, but evenly circular. When a woodpecker penetrates the bark of a tree, it has chosen a thin-barked tree, or the younger upper reaches of a mature one. Its strikes are repetitive, accurate: a hole is cast. My work on the tree looks haphazard at first, bumbling, of little skill or grace. It is by a law of averages, an evening out of increasingly smooth passes, that the bowl hollows and incrementally takes form. My mental ambition is to scoop. The grinder wants to take off in a nefarious line, grind a deep burning wedge, fall to kick in circles at my feet. 

IMG_4398The rings come up quickly, like interstate signs in the rain, postings of new information that arrive and pass as I whip by them. The scale of the grinding action is too much to control a relationship to the rings, this fast intrusion more a break-in than a neighborly visit. Then, the quick smell of vinegar, and the heartwood is shredding wetly under the grinding head beneath my hands.

Tag and measure, measure and tag

Spencer Finch, Walden Pond (surface/depth), 2013 mixed media installation

IN this work, Finch has re-recorded the 102′ depth of Walden Pond (first and last recorded by Henry David Thoreau), correlating its latitude and longitude with aqueous colors in 700 readings along a mariner’s sounding line, complete with terminal lead plummet. The tied red marks here designate every foot—instead of the traditional order of 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 13, 15, 17, and 20 fathoms. (Intriguingly, mariners’ lines were shaped so that they could be read by eye, or by touch in the dark of night.

“Neither entirely documentation nor sculpture, the long line may best be considered a drawing of Walden Pond.” -James Cohan Gallery

As Rob has posted previously, is our drawing the root, the trench, or the displaced soil itself? The root we’ve uncovered may itself be thought of as a record of that soil—with all of its stones, pockets of air, and patches of nutrients, invisible to our sight and evasive of the touch of our hands. Scientific tools could help us correlate the root depth to porosity/compaction, to soil nutrients and fertilizers and competition. What would the tool be for measuring depth when it comes to ground—a plumb bob? A forester’s dbh tape, then, for the diameter of the root compared to the last measurement. An accounting of the number of branching moves and their direction relative to the tree, or to true north by means of a compass. Soil color at horizon depths could be measured as well as depth and trend—as Margot has noted, we are as designers drawn to correlates of color and their potential for variation. Curiously, there are no means to measure the passage of time in root growth. Is the map of root time in its corresponding branches above, their terminal bud scars from the year before yielding proportional information?

Or could our soundings be the points of variation from a lateral, level expectation: trend reversals from thick to thin to thick again; the doubling-back, the circling, and the backwards-forking, thwarting our lateral anticipations? The rooting behavior is more akin to creation of a networked mat with socialist tendencies than a set of hierarchical root structures. Would further abstraction make this more explicit? Would circuits and nodes rather than lines come to inform our understanding?

Like Finch’s drawing, ours might combine the visible and measurable, the analog and the digital, art and science. Our rendering(s) might reveal what underground truths we are separated from and create correlates to our sensory experience, thereby mitigating, at least in part, our soil blindness to the underneath.

Listening to a Tree

Provoked by questions surrounding the nature of sound in/through/among trees, we completed our first auditory exploration on tree C7 in the allee. Carefully working through the layers of bark until we encountered the living matter of the tree, we carved a 4 inch square hollow in which to place our listening device. This device is an ElectroVoice Model 805 Crystal Contact Microphone, circa 1950 (incidentally and coincidentally,this exact model of microphone has apparently been used on trees before to record beetle movement!).


The first tests frame the tree as a resonator, planting the microphone within the hollow and recording the output with a zoom mic. Using a mallet on the bark we circumscribed the tree with a series of taps moving first away from the mic and returning to it from the other side. This exercise produces a few new ways in which to draw/diagram the tree. The recorded audio itself (with some simple noise reduction applied) places us in the sonic space of the tree. The spectral frequency of this recording also allows us to understand the tree in a new way.

C7_spectral frequency

What does the attack, decay, sustain, release profile of these mallet strikes tell us? Can the heartwood be read from the signal? Or does the variation simply indicate the difficulty in maintaining a consistent signal from point to point? Thirdly, the dance around the tree with the mallet serves as a diagram. Certainly much more can be mined from this first test. The next step will be to frame the tree as an articulator, listening for the sounds the tree itself produces, especially as it begins to wake from it’s winter slumber.

consider the tree


Bruno Munari

has taught many thousands of people how to look at and draw trees more closely.

How would he interpret our OneTree (because we reserve the right to be fickle, B-5 for now)? How can drawing it help us see more closely?

The basic pattern of dividing, tapering branches remains the same among all trees. In our tree, the branches spread upward and become more narrow. Our tree has been exposed to the weather and to changing conditions, and so it has adapted, reaching for light, the branches more on one side, and more at the top. Munari asks us to consider the mad branches, “like there are in any family.” Each tree in the allee a variation on the same genetic branching structure, varied by circumstances.

Digging Drinking and Droning

Allow me to introduce B-5. That is the name of our tree, perhaps not our One Tree, but the tree we are most interested in for now. Its tall and sturdy above ground, but the unseen  – whats below the bark and underneath the soil has been a mystery. By following the root, from root flare at the base of the tree trunk out until we reach the end of the root, we can observe the extent to which tree canopy has any correlation to root spread.  This is an experience of slowing down time – many hands and many hours later, the one tree root is still not exposed. Could you imagine the entire allée coming down by man power only? No machines, just simple hand tools and shovels to relieve the trees from their medium. This is a process of upheaval. While we are engaging with these trees as a living laboratory, we are also participating in the unhurried disassociation of a tree and its environment. Every hole, every accidental slice of a root, every footstep that increases soil compaction affects this tree’s next calculated measure to prepare for its steady future. Does it know it does not have a future?



Root brain

Lyford & Wilson. Harvard Forest Paper No. 10. (1964)

Trees are in constant, foraging exploration through their roots. Darwin’s was a “root brain” hypothesis—a human metaphor that yet acknowledges a sort of decentralized command via the root’s tip. Or imagine instead “every organ of intentionality [in a tree] playing the role of a parallel processor.” The foraging root is thereby a device of the tree, independently cued by feedback to seek out nutrient-rich environments.

Roots are hypersensitive to context,  hyper specific to place. Soil hardness, stones, light penetration, temperature, invertebrates, distribution of water, minerals, gases…all play a role in stimulating the root tip to develop structures to recover its optimal conditions.

A tree’s placement of roots is non-random and deliberate: intentionality expressed by its growth movement toward optimal patches of nutrients, in turn expressed by “modular growth and phenotypic plasticity.” Shortening and intensification of branching structure when resources are abundant, lengthening and moderation when they are not.

Its tree intelligence becomes clear.

(Reference:  Marder, Michael. “Plant Intentionality and the Phenomenological Framework of Plant Intelligence.” Plant Signaling & Behavior 7, no. 11 (November 1, 2012): 1365–72. doi:10.4161/psb.21954.)


Yesterday and today

Pierre Huyghe, Timekeeper, 1999
A highly site-specific work by Pierre Huyghe, who we’ve admired in class in other contexts. It’s a wall sanding through layers of paint to the wall surface…thereby providing a window to read the passage of time–and from a flat surface! But isn’t it strange to think that if you perform this operation on a tree, rings are exposed that reveal the same passage of time as from a cross-cut section, if you were able to go all the way to the center…? (Although right,  not the whole ring as it was formed) An ongoing consideration is how our conventions and tools dictate the kinds of information we receive, and how we receive it. This is an inversion, or a 90-degree turn, in any case, that challenges what we think we know about how to know and measure a tree–if you know what I mean…