New York artists Susan Rostow and William Jung set out to create
that kind of healthy environment when they began planning for a baby.
They wanted materials that met their creative needs, while also making
a safe environment where a child could play as they worked. They
knew immediately that etching acids, petroleum solvents, and oil-based
inks would have to be removed from the studio.
After much experimentation, research, and application, Rostow and
Jung not only invented art supplies for themselves, but also established
a small business selling their Akua-Kolor water-based inks, which
are now among a growing list of nontoxic materials that are available.
Jung has been a full-time high school art teacher with the New York
City Board of Education of 15 years. He is also an accomplished printmaker,
sculptor and oil painter. In 1988, he applied for a project grant
to work at the Lower East Side Printshop, where Rostow was the artistic
director and master printer. She was also part of the jury that accepted
Their first collaborative work between artist and printer was a
traditional etching made with nitric acid and oil-based inks. Rostow
recalls that neither of them was particularly concerned with possible
toxic health hazards. Her specialty was making photo-etched plates
with toxic KPR developer. Her workspace was often filled with the
fumes from acids, solvents, oil inks, and photo-developing solutions
because she was not aware of safer methods and materials. At the
same time, Jungs neighbors complained the fumes from his oil
painting were creeping into their spaces. His apartment and studio
were in a Lower East Side building purchased cooperatively with other
tenants in the early 1980s. Jung and Rostows relationship
developed in the three years after they met. In 1991, they were married,
and Rostow moved into Jungs apartment and studio. As their
awareness of health issues grew, they gradually turned the studio
into the Water-based Printshop. In 1993, Rostow left the Lower East
Side Printshop to devote her full attention to the couples
First they looked for water-based inks that would answer their needs.
They wanted them to behave similarly to the way oil inks would when
rolled out on a plate, staying moist while the image was developed
and the plate was printed. They found that most of the water-based
inks available commercially were formulated to dry quickly.
Their next step was to research how watercolors and inks are manufactured.
After Rostow and Jung consulted with chemists and read all the available
literature, they realized that the fillers added to most inks imparted
a chalky appearance. They then started mixing raw ingredients that
might work better.
The couple chose the finest pigments and mixed them with gum arabic,
the chief binder in watercolors, also using several other vegetable
gums and other natural ingredients. They added benzoic acid, a safe
preservative used in food, as an ingredient stabilizer. Because there
were no fillers in the mixture, it was necessary to shake the bottle
before using the inks. Rostow and Jung felt that inconvenience was
a small price to pay for color consistency without a plastic or chalky
The artists used these new inks in their printmaking classes. Students
who used them wanted to purchase the inks, so initially Rostow & Jung
simply charged the price of the ingredients. As demand for their
inks grew, the artists realized they had a new business.
Rostow and Jung came up with the name Akua-Kolor for their ins after
someone inadvertently typed a "k" instead of "q" in
the word "aqua." When they discovered the word "akua" means, "spirit" in
Hawaiian, they decided this was their correct label.
To launch the business, Rostow and Jung consulted the Small Business
and Development Center and Monona Rossol, the director of Arts, Crafts
and Theater Safety, who provided valuable safety information and
put them in touch with a toxicologist, Dr Rudolf Jaeger. Jaeger certified
their labeling as an approved nontoxic product.
Jarrett Jung was born in January 1996. Before he could crawl, he
as placed on blankets by Rostows side as she worked. As he
became mobile, his space was fenced to keep him from teething on
ink bottles. Today he has freedom to print and play in the entire
studio, but is restricted to using the safest pigments: yellow ochre,
red oxide, ultramarine blue, white and black.
Rostow wrote this about the safety of the colors. "We like
to take additional measures to ensure safety. Pigments (with the
exception of earth colors and ultramarine blue) are considered chronic
health hazards. This means that if you are exposed again and again
over a period of time you may develop reactive health problems. Although
there are no hazardous fumes inhaled with water-based colors, as
there are with oil-based colors, pigments can enter your body by
skin absorption. It is an accumulation process that may harm you
over years of use. In that case, if hands are kept clean and the
ink is kept off your skin there are absolutely no health risks. We
do not eat or drink in the studio. Because Jarrett has a hard time
keeping the ink off his body, we limit his colors to the safer pigments."
In addition to the inks, Rostow and Jung developed a carborundum
mixture that can be applied to a plastic plate using a stencil and
screen. The carborundum catches the ink as it is wiped across the
plate. The carborundum area produces intense results and may be used
for additional prints. Some artists thin the mixture with acrylic
medium and apply it with a brush to create more varied applications.
While Rostow and Jung are pleased with their small art-supply business,
they remain dedicated to creating art, and a good portion of their
time is devoted to making monotypes. That process begins with rolling
colors on a printing plate and sometimes adding another layer of
color by rolling ink on top to deepen the color intensity. Simple
tools, such as wooden sticks, rags, and tissues, are used to wipe
lights from this dark field. The image is then printed on paper.
The artists often repeat the process and print additional plates
to further develop the image. Because Akua-Kolors stays moist, they
may be printed on dry paper. Registering and printing the additional
plate drops ins simpler than having to handle moist paper that changes
While working, Rostow also applies color with a brush. In order
to draw fine lines, she uses a needle applicator with a refillable
bottle that she and Jung invented. This new product is a refillable,
foam-tipped Monotype Pen.
This pen is only one of the new products Rostow and Jung are developing.
They are also working on a line of liquid watercolors, and they are
developing water-based etching inks.
Happily, the menu of reliable, safe, effective colors and inks is
growing, and Rostow and Jung are a significant part of this development.