From birth, until the end of our days, we are dependent upon water. Besides fueling life, water has also served to be one of Mother Nature’s artists by sculpting some of the planets most miraculous geological masterpieces. The vast networks of running water and rivers also serve as the earth’s circulatory system for sustaining life on the planet. Confucius once said, “Time flows away like the water in the river.” Good or bad—eventually, all events move on.
The island of Taiwan, where ASUS headquarters is located, is a small island known for its magnificent geography, most of which can be attributed to the hundreds of rivers that flow through it. Each river has contributed to the island’s growth, supporting its agriculture, and carving out its beautiful geological structures. Many of the rivers, in the folklore of the various native tribes throughout the country, are associated with prosperity. A prominent Taiwanese writer, Zhen Jian (簡媜), once described the river system in Taiwan as originally developing from one small stream. From that one stream, it expanded into a large complex system that prosperously fuels the entire island’s ecosystem. For Taiwanese, the rivers can be viewed as a parental figure that keeps all the memories of the islands history and development.
In recent years, people have drifted away from caring about the rivers, allowing them to become polluted.
Taiwan River Writing Ink, a Taiwanese brand, is researching and developing new types of calligraphy inks based on the largest rivers in Taiwan. Their initiative draws attention to the gap that continues to grow between society and nature, and wants to bring people back to cherishing rivers, “the pulse of the island”. Each one of the inks takes on the unique characteristics of each of the rivers, in terms of colors and traits. Every ink involves understanding the development of each river’s color and the stories behind it.
Every half year, the group travels the entire island—a 1,500 kilometers journey, and every week, the group goes into the mountains once or twice, too. The purpose is not only to admire the majesty of the island’s natural beauty, but to also collect samples from each of the different riverbeds. These trips are not easy, and often run into a variety of obstacles and challenges, from being chased by wildlife to falling down on challenging trails. Every time the memories of these excursions tend to be another highlight.
There are many common characteristics shared between river water and traditional inks, and that was the origin of the quest. The origin of ink being connected to knowledge is important. At one time, students, who did poorly, may have heard that their encouragement, or punishment, would be to drink ink, but today, it is common to use a more accepted saying, “Drink ink to get educated.” It is important to note that the words for ink and knowledge are entwined in the fabric of learning. Another saying of Chinese origin may strengthen this connection: “The palest ink is better than the most capricious memory.”
For the folks at Taiwan River Writing Ink, inks symbolize a well-educated/cultured individual, and parallels the rivers’ connection to culture and development. So, it made sense for them to create their unique inks from rivers, and with their inspiration.
Every bottle captures a river’s attributes with a different background story. The designers used these different stories to categorize the inks, which fall into three categories: food, history and nature. The food category represents the rivers that have contributed significantly to agriculture, and helped Taiwan flourish its own bread basket. History reflects the inks that come from the rivers that have contributed to the island’s culture, and have become legends passed down through generations. Finally, the nature category encompasses the rivers that have raged through forests, and carved out stone canyons, in mountains, to sculpt the geographical landscape of the island.
Wondering how these inks are actually made from riverbed samples?
Many folks often think that the different colors of the rivers reflect different levels of pollution, but that is a false assumption. The fact is that most of the rivers have different colors because of their geographic location, and their paths throughout the island, especially due to the different types of soils and clays they carry. However, most water samples, if left alone, eventually clear, because all the color sediments float to the bottom. The challenge is to recreate ink colors that reflect the same color of the river samples. Ink rarely has a documented recipe to follow, so not only did the team have to figure out how to make an ink from scratch, but also had to match the exact river colors.
As a side note, this isn’t the first time that natural materials have been used in art supplies. In fact, the very first forms of traditional paints came from grinding down minerals to make oil paints, water colors, etc.
The original goal, and intent, was to connect rivers to everyday life. In order for these inks to be successful in everyday life, they needed to be simple and easy to use, just traditional inks. These inks needed to have the same feel and usability, so that regular users wouldn’t notice difference.
When soil for the inks was collected, various types of floating debris, such as tree branches and sticks were gathered, too. That debris helped fabricate paint and calligraphy brushes. Additionally, water samples from each of the rivers helped create the paper pulp to make paper. Each water sample added a unique color and effect to the paper, making them specific to each river. The project’s message is that even though Taiwan is a small island, its rivers have contributed to a very rich and diverse geography and culture—and continue to do so.
In this regard, the inks can help contribute to the efforts in changing people’s minds regarding nature and river preservation. It is necessary for future generations to be able to enjoy the beauty of rivers, and protect their existence, so rivers continue to impact our culture and environment.
“It would be pure happiness and great fortune if you could float through space and find that one river from your childhood, and sit by the bank and listen to its flowing melody one more time. It would be even better if it was in the early morning just when the sun’s rays have first hit the surface of the water, reflecting the deep love that exists between you and the river at that specific moment. It’s that moment that can plant a seed in your heart that will blossom into an everlasting passion for the river’s natural beauty.” – Zhen Jian