August 1, 2020
Why Ink and wash and not line and wash? I had thought of calling this short course line and wash, but what about all those little marks, dots and splatters that so often add to the character of an ink and watercolour drawing? And what about the decision to paint an area of ink instead of a line?
I’ve also been asked two other interesting questions recently:
Can you put down the wash before the line/ink?
Can you use pastel as a wash?
Of course you can. See first image!
I often think of the line element in a drawing as the narrative of a story. It finds out the main players and arranges them. This may be sufficient in itself. Look at line drawings by Matisse. At the other end of the scale look at the amazing reed pen drawings of Van Gogh, full of beautifully arranged groups of marks.
Washes of dilute ink, watercolour or “dry” washes of pastel add tone and atmosphere, and all the little marks can add further descriptions of the main players and introduce smaller ones. These little marks may suggest the ageing process whether in a face or a piece of driftwood. Shells and stones carry the marks of their history, growth lines or pits made by burrowing worms etc. Likewise the barks of trees can bear growth marks, further enriched by the growth of lichens.and fungi; the minor characters.
First of all we are going to consider mark making as it’s a good way to get used to using ink and different pens and tools, and go on to making drawings of natural forms and adding washes. Those of you who are already used to making drawings with a variety of tools, pens and inks may like to go straight to the drawing challenge for this week.
Marks can be patterns in the shape of the objects they depict; e.g. leaf forms or can be more anonymous, adding a texture rather than being ‘in the shape of’. Although it is easy to think of a system of dots or a series of short strokes as being marks and long thin strokes of a pen describing the profile of a face, a figure or undulating hills as being lines, there is a grey area in between where the definitions break down.
Materials and equipment
Waterproof India Ink or an Acrylic black ink; these inks are made of carbon (historically soot) suspended in water with a shellac or acrylic binder which makes them waterproof when dry. Non-waterproof India Ink can also be purchased but you can gain very similar effects with waterproof ink by adding washes before it has dried. The carbon particles could not be ground fine enough for fountain pens and unless labelled as suitable India Inks should not be used in fountain pens as they will clog the nibs.
Fountain pen inks are generally dye based, often of more than one dye and are solutions of the dyes in water rather than suspensions of tiny particles. They are very beautiful to work with and readily split into there component dyes. Sadly most are not at all light fast, so though useful for sketchbooks are not suitable for showing on a wall. Most reputable ink manufacturers will give lightfast ratings for their products but if your ink is not labelled as lightfast it probably isn’t. This is a particular sadness for people who like to use Black Quink.
Dip pen, twig or reed pen plus any other pen with water based ink that you have but not solvent based marker pens as these will bleed through the paper.
Watercolour brushes; round and if you have one; a rigger, an oriental, a flat brush (all can make different marks)
Deep welled palette for washes.
Cartridge paper or other smooth heavy weight paper
Masking or Magic tape.
Pen, brush and ink care.
There are a few guidelines you should follow when using a pen or brush with ink and they are especially important when using waterproof inks because of the shellac or an acrylic binder they contain. These binders dry on nibs and brushes and cannot be removed once dry.
Dip your pen in water then wipe with a paper towel before dipping in the ink. Touch the side of the nib on the ink jar side to allow excess ink to drip into the container (avoids blots when drawing). Every few strokes clean your nib by swirling in water and wiping again with a paper towel. This keeps the nib clean and prevents dilution of the ink. When you have finished using the pen wash well with water and wipe carefully both outside and inside the nib and clean again till no ink colours the paper towel when it is wiped.
When using a bamboo or other reed pen NEVER leave the pen in water other than dipping in to clean it, as described above. The wood will swell and the pen will crack and be useless.
Use a similar procedure with brushes. Dipping your brush into water before just blotting on some paper towel before dipping in the ink will help to prevent staining and build up of ink. It is just as important to clean your brush at intervals by swirling in water and even more important to blot before dipping into the ink again to prevent diluting the ink, especially if using a large brush. After you have finished using your brush swirl in water and clean under the tap gently with soap before rinsing and allowing to dry.
Ink When not using your ink even for a tea break put the lid on; it will evaporate over time. Store diluted ink in a small lidded container; individual jam or marmalade jars are ideal for this.
Examples of some of the artists referenced can be found on my “Ink and Wash” Pinterest board at
Van Gogh was a master at mark making with a reed pen and I am going to suggest you make some patterns of marks that suggest different kinds of vegetation as in his drawing “A Garden with Flowers” Arles 1888.
Warm up exercises
1.Van Gogh’s reed pen drawings of wheat fields and waves wonderfully suggest movement so try to create your own marks to suggest the way grasses or waves are blown by the wind. Any sort of dip pen will work for this but do try a bamboo (reed) pen or twig if you have one.
2. After that try series of tiny circles, ovals, lines of little dashes, curls and spirals or just random marks letting your pen move swiftly over the paper and letting it touch the paper briefly and at the same time changing direction as you go. Invent your own marks to suggest textures or massed leaves/plants.
3. Mix up some dilute ink or some watercolour washes and test their strength before making some more marks and lines suggesting a piece of driftwood or tree bark. Make two small drawings in this way then add some wash to one before the ink has dried. Let the other dry completely before adding a wash with a medium round brush depending on the area of wash. Medium size 5 to 8.
Use a smaller brush for small areas and larger one if working at a large scale.
4. Make a watercolour wash and make ink marks into the wash while it is still damp. Leave to dry then add further marks and lines.
5. Have fun with lines from your pen; try making slow smooth lines, try making rapidly drawn lines, try making lines that start and stop hesitantly, leaving the pen in contact with the paper while you change direction and move on.
6. See what happens if you spritz water at some India Ink before it dries.
The Drawing Challenge
7. The challenge now is to produce a drawing with ink and washes of dilute ink and/or watercolour. Choose a natural form with an abundance of marks to inspire you. Your drawing can be as abstract or representational as you like but it should have some sort of centre of interest. A stone or weathered oyster shell with loads of pits, a piece of driftwood, a tree bark encrusted with lichen, a tree trunk with gnarled exposed roots or a frilly kale leaf would all be excellent subjects.
You could even make a large drawing of a small object like a walnut shell.
Think about whether you want to let your ink dry before adding a wash of ink or watercolour. Think about the lightest areas you do not wish to cover with wash and either reserve them by painting round them or apply a little candle wax to act as a resist to the wash. When this has dried you may feel you wish to strengthen certain lines or add more marks till your drawing is finished. You can add marks and washes in layers but proceed with caution as once added marks cannot be taken away. Watercolour washes can however be lifted out but only successfully on watercolour paper, as cartridge paper has a much more delicate surface which is easily damaged.
How do you feel about using a brush to make some of the marks and lines for a second drawing?
Again practice mark making on a separate piece of paper and get used to the amount of ink to load on your brush. Try a round brush, making thicker lines by pressing down more and thinner lines by lightly touching the paper. As well as small circular marks with the brush you can also make ’printed’ marks by laying the side of the brush directly on the paper; pressure on the heel(part furthest from the tip) of the brush as you remove the brush from the paper will make the mark broader there.
If you have time try other brushes, flat brushes, worn out brushes, rigger brushes and oriental brushes are all great for making different lines and marks.
I would like you to send your favourite “experimental sheet” and one finished drawing for the review session, with details of the ink and colours used and a little about your reference material.
Artists for reference
Van Gogh; especially mark making
Samuel Palmer; line and markmaking
Ch’ng Kiah Kiean; line, wash, marks
Wyona Legg; ink and pastel