We use the term brilliant to describe many wonderful things in life, from unique cultural events and remarkable abilities to enchanting natural phenomena and of course the uplifting intensity of colors. By allowing just the first word of Anna Sokolova’s Brilliant Inks art book title to surge like a multi-hued tidal wave throughout our minds, we begin to grasp the vast creative potential of the aqueous artistic medium that she writes about. Akin to an art store endorphin state of mind, our shimmering, glimmering, soul-elevating high may even be accompanied by physical symptoms such as light-headedness, sweaty palms, or an irregular heartbeat, since all the best color crushes often are.
During our previous interview with Anna Sokolova, we couldn’t help but admire the many feathers that were already adorning her artfully jaunty cap. Teaming up with Quarto – one of the most recognizable publishers of illustrated creative guides – to release her very first art-themed instructional book, Brilliant Inks, has only deepened our great respect for the multi-award-winning fine artist and illustrator. Focusing solely on one of the unsung art medium heroes available to contemporary creatives, Anna’s thoroughly-researched colored ink resource quite brilliantly demystifies the material while also casting it in an irresistibly appealing new light. The celebration commemorating her latest, greatest creative achievement is already underway – please give a round of applause to newly crowned author Anna Sokolova!
Creating several online workshops and masterclasses has reminded me that we all encounter similar art-making challenges. Getting feedback from my students provided me with invaluable insight that helped me to make my Brilliant Inks book a reality.
Exclusive Interview With Anna Sokolova, Author of Brilliant Inks
Since the onset of your art career roughly a decade ago, you’ve used myriad types of artistic mediums, but colored inks have always held a special place in your heart. Are they enchanting to you because they’re like liquified jewels or is there a specific property that makes them so appealing?
Oh, I love the metaphor of colored inks being like liquified jewels – that really captures the allure and alchemy involved! The medium is really well-suited for so many different fine art, illustration, and graphic design applications as well as print, reproduction, and fun art community challenges like Inktober. Most of all, though, I admire how versatile just one tiny bottle of ink can be, from creating subtle color washes to very sharp, extra fines lines.
Inks aren’t as forgiving as watercolors. You definitely need to develop the necessary skills to use them. However, if you practice consistently, you’ll be rewarded because they’re so satisfying to use and yield such wonderful visual results.
In your daily artistic practice, do you reach for inks just as regularly as you do your many other favored supplies?
Interestingly, the very core of fine art often begins with inks. I initially chose to work with that medium since it’s versatile and affordable, but even legendary artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Raphael, Paul Klee, Sandro Botticelli, Henri Matisse, Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh often used it for their large canvas studies and final artworks. My art generally begins with ink layers that end up being barely visible because I then apply tempera, gouache, or watercolor on top. Nonetheless, illustrations and graphic fine art really shine due to the opaque and permanent qualities of ink.
Did you become so proficient with inks by obtaining formal training or simply through trial and error?
When I initially launched my artistic practice, I learned everything through trial and error. I also had a few old-school, pre-Russian Revolution classical drawing/architecture books that taught me how to use pen and ink.
This book is as much for me as much as it is for my audience. Since it’s such an inspiring topic – one that I’m passionate about – it’s easy for me to discuss it for hours on end! My greatest challenge was fitting all of the fascinating information that I wanted to share with my readers onto each page.
At what point did you feel as though you had finally mastered the medium?
Creative evolution tends to be a non-linear process, so it’s hard to pinpoint how long it took before I truly felt like a pro. However, one of my first commissions was for a poetry magazine. When you need to deliver a lot of illustrations quickly, you inevitably grow.
In the past few years, I’ve reached the point where I feel really comfortable sharing my knowledge. Creating several online workshops and masterclasses has reminded me that we all encounter similar art-making challenges. Getting feedback from my students provided me with invaluable insight that helped me to make my Brilliant Inks book a reality.
Has publishing a book always been one of your art bucket list goals?
Yes! The tangibility and timelessness of a book makes it seem a little more valuable and special to me than other mediums. We tend to overlook the fact that a lot of people are responsible for creating the final paper treasure that we hold in our hands. A really impressive chain of events must happen, from finding an editor all the way to the end game, when a bookseller decides where to place it on a shelf.
How did your book project with Quarto actually happen? Did you contact them with your book idea or did they reach out to you?
For quite some time, I was dreaming about publishing a book. I even recall asking a few colleagues what I would need for a book proposal. Remarkably, Quarto contacted me after seeing my various colored inks courses online, which was a very pleasant surprise. They said that they appreciate the unique nature of my teaching approach and wanted to collaborate with me on a printed step-by-step guide.
These days, what do creatives have to do to attract a reputable publisher like Quarto?
The creative economy is thriving right now, so it’s the perfect time to create a book proposal on your topic. Publishers are generally looking for how-to books that are geared for beginners since they are more easily marketable. They want to work with artists who have unique niche expertise, so it really helps if you’ve already created articles, workshops, online courses, etc. They also appreciate seeing evidence of the ‘measured’ results of your creative career, such as the number of artworks you’ve created, a strong social media following, art prizes, etc.
Legendary artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Raphael, Paul Klee, Sandro Botticelli, Henri Matisse, Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh often used ink for their large canvas studies and final artworks.
The thoroughness of your teaching approach is evident in the lessons that you included in your book. You really did think of everything that someone entirely new to the medium would want to learn! While deciding how to structure each chapter and what projects to include, did your knowledge base expand even further?
Prior to working on my book, I already created three Skillshare courses dedicated solely to ink – plus I am currently offering a colored ink class on My Modern Met Academy – so I feel fully prepared! To be honest, though, yes – I was inspired to conduct deeper research on the chemical properties of different types of inks (such as acrylic, shellac, Chinese and India inks, metallic inks, alcohol inks, and calligraphy inks) so that my book would be an even greater resource to readers.
No matter the subject, creating an entire book from start to finish generally requires a lot more thought and energy than one might imagine. When you look back on the experience of compiling Brilliant Inks, what took you by surprise?
It’s a lot of work! As is so often the case with creative projects, I was too optimistic about the time frame. It took me around five months to write the book, create the art, work on edits, etc. etc. I also realized that I could maintain better control of my subject and the steps required to complete each project by taking photos of all the work myself.
Was conceiving/producing all of the art projects in your book, photographing them, and then writing the accompanying text as difficult as it sounds?
It was more difficult, indeed, but well worth it because of the creative freedom that was extended to me. Brilliant Inks – which is a part of Quarto’s ongoing series, Art for Modern Makers – contains lessons as well as very special creative projects, such as an illustrated accordion book version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland! What could be more inspiring than that?
Prior to working on my book, I already created three Skillshare courses dedicated solely to ink – plus I am currently offering a colored ink class on My Modern Met Academy – so I feel fully prepared!
How did you even know where to begin with this project, and how to make everything seem so logical and organized?
This book is as much for me as much as it is for my audience. Since it’s such an inspiring topic – one that I’m passionate about – it’s easy for me to discuss it for hours on end! My greatest challenge was fitting all of the fascinating information that I wanted to share with my readers onto each page. There are so many aspects to colored inks that tend to be overlooked!
What inspired you to write parts of your book in Hallstatt, Austria?
The place is so mystical. It’s a real escape from the crazy times that we’re living in, which go well beyond the pandemic and into the even more horrific reality of war.
It may seem like there are more chic mediums to use (such as oils) or mediums that are easier to use (such as watercolors), but most artists would be amazed to learn how many diverse effects can be created with colored inks!
Do you think that the fairy tale vibe of Hallstatt resulted in more magical art ideas than if you just stayed in Berlin while working on this book?
Hallstatt is located between picturesque high mountains and a mystical lake. The serenity and visual drama fluctuate every few minutes! Not surprisingly, it was a favorite place for Agatha Christie to work. I do believe, however, that magical ideas are in our heads. I know some artists who rarely travel outside their daily environments but the art worlds they conjure with paint and words are absolutely mesmerizing.
What type of audience would benefit the most from your book and why?
Everyone who loves art, drawing, painting, design, illustration, craft, and photography. Regardless of the artistic style that a person gravitates toward, their level of creative skill, or even their budget, inks are a universal medium that can be used in so many creative ways.
My biggest hope is that my book will help foster artistic individuality—that’s what the art world really needs!
What do you want fine artists to know about using inks?
It may seem like there are more chic mediums to use (such as oils) or mediums that are easier to use (such as watercolors), but most artists would be amazed to learn how many diverse effects can be created with colored inks! For example, I share a fine art Monotype technique in my book that results in such a unique outcome. Even those without previous experience can emulate it within a few minutes.
Which of your favorite contemporary artists regularly use ink in their art practice?
I love Tran Nguyen’s artworks – which frequently incorporate acrylic ink along with diluted ink washes – and Annie Stegg Gerard and James Jean’s unique aesthetics are also so recognizable due thanks to that medium. Even Christoph Niemann uses colored inks in his gallery and illustration work, which is also really interesting to look at.
Can artists make their own ink? Do you know how to do that?
Absolutely! I love the Kremer Pigmente brand so much, especially since they sell a convenient do-it-yourself kit that includes all the raw materials necessary to create various different colored inks.
Yes, I’ve been dreaming of publishing a book for a while! The tangibility and timelessness of a book makes it seem a little more valuable and special to me than other mediums.
For those who are using colored inks for the very first time, is it ‘good enough’ to purchase entry-level materials, or is there a benefit to investing more money right out of the gates?
Inks are a super affordable and long-lasting medium if you use a high-quality product. I recommend choosing a few professional-grade bottles. You won’t need a lot, they’ll last a long time, and you can continuously refresh them by adding more water.
Which brands are worth the price tag?
It really depends on your artistic goal. There are quite a few options, including dye-based inks that will look much brighter but will fade over time, and very long-lasting pigment-based inks.
I personally love Sennelier’s shellac inks due to their brilliant tints and painterly feel, but Jacques Herbin’s inks – with their very fluid-like consistency – are also really appealing (and they’re sold in wonderful, jewelry-like bottles). As for acrylic inks, my absolute favorite brand is Schmincke Aero Color Professional Airbrush Colors, which are highly-pigmented. There are some convenient colored ink tools like Tombow ABT PRO Alcohol-Based Markers and metallic pigment markers from Sakura and Molotow that are also really good, too.
Most of all, I admire how versatile just one tiny bottle of ink can be, from creating subtle color washes to very sharp, extra fines lines.
Those who pre-order your new book “Brilliant Inks” from any retailer will automatically receive free access to your Botanical Lettering workshop. What can they expect to learn?
As with most of my courses, it’s aimed at all levels. Beginners will receive an excellent overview of the many unique things they can create with inks and artistic professionals will add another dimension to their creative practice!
Which art project in your new book is your favorite and why?
The entire book! My biggest hope is that it will help foster artistic individuality—that’s what the art world really needs!
Of all the torrid artistic love affairs you’ve engaged in, which shade of ink never fails to make you feel utterly besotted?
Burgundy…and sometimes emerald green.