As an individual who is constantly carrying around a notebook and pen, I must admit I never gave much thought to where ink comes from. Despite its wide-ranging use the world, my association with it has been from a practical you write something down to remember it approach. Ink is much more than that though, as director Brian D. Johnson’s striking documentary The Colour of Ink highlights it is a tool that binds humans, history, cultures, and the environment together in fascinating ways.
Johnson’s guide into the expansive and compelling world of ink is Jason Logan, a master inkmaker who creates unique inks for a whose who of famous artists and writers. Founder of the Toronto Ink Company, Logan forages unconventional materials, everything from acorns to rust to berries and more, to create one-of-a-kind colours for his clients. A creative mad scientist of sort, he will go above and beyond to meet his clients specific ink request, even if means incorporating magnetic materials or animal blood.
Logan’s materials may be unconventional, but the results they produce are remarkable. Watching the inkmaker testing his creations on a piece of paper, hoping to see what textures and patterns it will produce are just as mesmerizing as listening to him explain how he sourced the ingredients. Propelled by the wonderful cinematography of Nicholas de Pencier, each new ink that is shown feels like a new revelation. It allows one to embody the same sense of wonderment and unpredictability that has fueled Logan’s passion for ink.
Similar to an artist who is unsure of how the blank canvas in front of them will be transformed, it is the sense of discovery and in ability to explain the unknown that makes his products so popular. In one sequence, when speaking to famed writer Margaret Atwood, Logan admits that he does not know if the red ink he gave her will fade away or changer change colour over time. While this instability might give some heart attacks, it poses an intriguing challenge for some of his clients. There is an equally humorous and tense scene in the film where famed Japanese calligraphy artist Koji Kakinuma is testing a special black ink he requested from Logan, only to find that the mixture keeps turning red. How he tackles this issue is just as compelling to observe as the human size paint brush he is planning to use for his next project.
Traveling the globe to speak with various artists, such as New Yorker cartoonist Liana Finck, and fellow inkmakers (including tattoo artist Roxx), The Colour of Ink offers in-depth historical context of ink and the human connection it forges. By giving each colour and shade in the film its own segment, Johnson dives deeply into the history and various cultural significances attached in intriguing ways. This includes the healing powers that some inks are said to provide and the health risks that others have posed when certain chemicals are incorporated.
Overflowing with a wealth of information to consume, one of the most surprising things about Johnson’s film is the genuine sense of community it stirs. Whether charting Logan’s upbring, exploring other inkmakers’ processes, or focusing on a particular artist’s health issues, the human element is always present. These connections help to emphasize the importance and longevity of ink to our past, present, and future. The Colour of Ink is a captivating and eye-opening work that will have you looking at ink in a colourful new light.