Wendy Woolfson


When I was a little girl, I remember seeing the Windsor and Newton ink bottle on my mother’s writing desk. I don’t think I ever saw her use it but I remember the image from the box with the smiling spider in a top hat creeping across the box weaving his web as he went. There’s always been something wonderful to me about ink, the depth of the colour black, the viscosity and texture of it and the way it could flow from a nib. I often wondered how it was made and was fascinated to learn of different methods of gathering the colour black from things like charcoal and lamp smoke.

My mother used to sit at her writing desk late into the night tapping at her Imperial typewriter, until she upgraded and got a fancy new electric one, and then the tapping got faster. Decades later she gave me the Imperial typewriter and I use it in my art. It had been a gift to her from her father for achieving something, I forget what. I don’t know why she gave it to me. Ink and typewriters, purveyors of the written word and inky loveliness, the typewriter ribbon rich with ink when it’s first placed on the spindles and over time fading with all the words pressed from it onto the paper.

In Primary four we were transitioning from only using pencils to write with, and started practicing writing with pens. The teacher, Mrs Ferguson, had asked us to complete a piece of writing using pen and then present it to her for inspection on completion. I sat at the back of that class, so I had an intimidating distance to walk up to her desk from the back of the long classroom to have her critique of my work. Once I reached her desk, I tentatively held the pages open for her to scrutinise. Two full pages of writing, I was pleased with my work although I can’t remember now what I wrote about. She took the jotter from me, glanced over the writing, and without hesitation she looked over the top rims of her glasses and said, “Wendy, it looks like a spider has dipped its legs in black ink and walked across the page.” She then handed my jotter back to me with a nod to my desk and a raise of her eyebrows, indicating I could now return to my desk, the inference being that I should try again.

It was my birthday today, and one of the gifts I received was a bottle of Windsor and Newton black ink with that same image of the spider on the box and the memory came back to me as it has done before, and I wondered, did my teacher have a bottle of the same ink at her writing desk, and is that how she arrived at that metaphor? Resting my head back on my pillow this memory drifts in and back out of my mind and I’m considering what I’m going to do with this delicious, fresh bottle of ink. Using a dipping pen, I’ll explore making marks as well as trying my hand at writing beautifully and creatively. To be honest, I don’t think my handwriting will ever be called beautiful, that spirited spider never seems to have left my side but I will lean into the flow of ink and words to see what occurs, and if it looks like a spider has walked across the page, then I’ll still be happy with that.