I live in North West Italy, in the Susa Valley just at the foot of the Alps. We are used to having wildfires, especially during hot summers and dry winters, but in the fall of 2017 we had one of the worst fires in decades. On October 22nd the fires started and helped by the strong wind and a very long summer drought, went on for weeks burning more that 4000 hectares of woods and meadows.
I decided to focus on a particular area which is at an altitude of 1500 meters, portraying trees from that area only and making ink from the bark from silver fir and pine trees collected there and using water from a source nearby.
While I was working on the design for the prints I started to run some tests on making the ink and after a few trials I came up with a recipe that is quite good for printing.
First I scraped the soot from the bark, using a wire brush, and sifted the collected soot through a colander. I then used an electric coffee grinder to grind the powder as finely as possible: at this point the powder was ready to be made into ink.
Since I only use water-based inks for my prints, I decided to use a watercolour recipe. I regenerated Arabic gum with water sourced from the mountains, and mixed it with the soot and a bit of honey to help with fluidity and also with preservation and to avoid the ink developing mould.
After a thorough mixing I used a wide glass pestle to ground this mixture by hand: this is a long process and I had the best results by grinding for at least 1 hour.
At this point the ink was ready to be used for painting or printing.
I choose the title “Memento 45.1611,7.0283” for this project, from the latin word memento that means “remember” because I believe we need to always remember tragedies like this to avoid as much as possible for them to happen again. The numbers are the coordinates of the exact place where I draw the very first tree that started this series.
This June I went back to the burned mountains and while I was there I started sketching some of the broken trees, and once back at home I decided to make a series of prints as portraits of some of the most badly affected ones. I also decided pretty soon that I wanted the prints to be black and white and almost organically I chose to try to make some ink myself, using pieces of charred bark that I had picked up.
You can also watch this video presenting the project here: