By Simon Rous (Owner of Scribblers)
I first met Brian at a CLAS Regional day over 20 years ago. I was fascinated watching Brian demonstrate Spencerian. His control of the nib, applying and releasing pressure effortlessly was amazing.
Following this, we kept in touch and I found Brian to be a very generous man, who would willingly share his knowledge and expertise. Over the years I was fortunate to receive lots of bits and pieces including samples of Brian’s work and a few original examples from some of the famous Ornamental Penman masters like E. A. Lupfer.
Brian was a perfectionist and because he had not found an ink that had the right characteristics for Spencerian, he decided to develop his own. It took him many attempts and lots of research before he developed his signature ‘Walker’s Copperplate Ink’.
After selling Walker’s Copperplate Ink for several years on our website, we reached the point where because the ink making process was slow, Brian was taking up quite a lot of his time making batches of ink for us. I think the final straw was when we received a batch of ink that had been damaged in transit. Bottles had got broken and there was ink everywhere!
Over the years we discussed the ink making process and the tweaks Brian had made to the recipe. Brian asked my opinion on whether the ink should be sold to other suppliers. There was particular interest from the US, due to the Spencerian Script connection and Brian being an IAMPETH Master Penman. These conversations led to who could take over manufacturing the ink. Brian was anxious that the ink had to be made to the same high standards he had set. After several phone calls and emails, it was agreed that Scribblers would take over the ink production.
We travelled up to Yorkshire to learn how to make Walker’s Copperplate Ink. I was surprised to discover a recipe did not exist! Brian had not written anything down. Each batch started the same way, but Brian would then fine-tune the ink through testing until it met his exact requirements. When Ann and I arrived, we met Brian and we all had coffee and biscuits. As I have said, there was no recipe and this ‘shocked’ me. The conversation went something like this: “We’ll need some boiling water, so get the kettle on first. Now, we’ll measure out the Tannin”. “How much of that do we need?” I asked. Holding a spoon with some Tannin on it, Brian replied “Oh, about 4 of these”. Ann and I looked at each other!. After this we took photos of the ‘measured’ amounts! After we had completed the first stage, we stopped for lunch and then moved onto stage 2, which was more of the same, “Just a little of that” said Brian. “I normally stir for 5 minutes”.
Whilst waiting for the ink to cool, Brian showed us his studio. This was very interesting, and his depth of knowledge was amazing. We were shown so much including his work, vintage tools, and examples from Master Penman.
While in the Studio, Brian showed us how to produce the labels for the ink. This involved printing a sheet of labels on quality paper and cutting them up and gluing on to the jar (we still do it this way). Finally, Brian explained how he smudge tests the ink; A few pen marks are made on the paper and then left to dry. Then you rub over the marks with your finger to see if it smudges. If needs be, more ingredients are added and the smudge test is repeated. It normally takes a few tests to get it right.
At the end of the day, the batch of ink we had made from scratch was discarded down the kitchen sink, because the whole manufacturing process had been ‘condensed’ in to one day and “We can’t be sure of the quality” said Brian. It normally takes 3-5 days to make the ink and it is only made in small 1-2 pint batches to guarantee the quality.
Whilst we were visiting Brian showed us some of his work including his IAMPETH Master Penman certificate which was amazing and took 6 weeks to complete.
Back home, a sample of ink from each batch made was sent to Brian for feedback. We sent 2 samples for the first two or three batches. We kept fine tuning and updating our notes until eventually a sample was perfect first time! Even then, Brian requested a sample a couple of times a year.
Brian was a real perfectionist, caring, generous and a great loss to the world of calligraphy.
If you corresponded with or were mentored by Brian Walker, or if you would like to comment on his work or post a written tribute on the site, please get in touch. The Walker Family would love to hear from you.