Pen And Ink Drawing With Watercolor Wash

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This type of art focuses on drawing skills, and as such takes time in learning the basics of illustration.

Color is secondary to form in a pen and ink drawing, and simply reinforces and fills out the inked in portion of the work.

Simply put, you really need to know how to draw to pull off this type of art.


A student artist will probably draw long before he ever takes brush in hand. A pencil and a notepad are all that is needed to practice and develop this skill. There are many fine books and magazines devoted to drawing, as well as countless web pages and articles.

Once a student has developed a little self-confidence in creating a pleasing drawing, he is most anxious to embellish it in some way. That is usually color. To keep things simple and inexpensive, the artist may choose to do pen and ink drawings and illuminate them with watercolor. Artists also use this technique to expand on ideas they have for future, more heroic works. However, a good pen and ink drawing can stand on it is own as a final output with no apologies needed.

Regardless of how competent the artist is, he will most likely begin the work with a light graphite sketch. Using a soft lead pencil will allow the artist to erase easily and will not engrave pencil marks into the relatively soft paper. The ink will completely cover the pencil marks and any graphite in the watercolor can be erased or will barely be noticeable.


The artist will use heavy watercolor stock for this type of creation. A paper with little or no tooth is preferable if the drawing will be delicate or detailed, as rough tooth paper will limit the control the artist has over the ink.

Likewise, the paper should be thick enough to stand up to the water that will be applied to it. Just as in any watercolor painting, the paper will buckle when wetted. If there will be only minor dry brush gestures to indicate areas of color, the paper can be used lightly tacked to the drawing surface. However, if the artist intends on doing wet in wet or large applications of paint, the paper should be stretched onto the drawing board, just as a watercolorist does.


Ink and a pen are most commonly used for this type of artwork. The Eastern oriental style similar to this type of painting uses a bamboo paintbrush for applying the ink. It really is a form of calligraphy. However, Western art, using a pen to apply the ink, is the more modern method, and requires less advanced painting skill.

The artist will use a good quality, permanent India ink, which will not bleed when exposed to water. There is something painterly about a quill pen. It allows the student to vary the thickness of line with just a slight change in pressure. It definitely is more time consuming and takes more practice, but it has a quality of its own. There are many sizes of nibs and holders available and a nice assortment of these tools is not a costly investment. The more modern artist may consider using permanent markers for ease and speed. They are available in a number of thicknesses, but make sure they are permanent, not water-soluble.


When doing this type of painting, it is very loose, but done in a thoughtful manner. The paint highlights or accentuates an area of the work, and is not meant to be used throughout the entire painting. When the artist has completed the inked drawing, it is time to apply color. This is one of those cases where less can be more. If the student adds too much color, his piece may end up looking like a cartoon. Let the picture set a little while before painting it. Come back to it with fresh eyes and make an objective appraisal of the piece. Determine where color would heighten the viewer’s experience, which areas would benefit from the addition of paint and what strokes are strong enough to stand on their own.

Watercolor is best suited for this style of painting. With its transparency, the artist’s pen work will show through any color. Watercolor can also be used with very little water for rich, vibrant hues. There is no need for wishy-washy appearances here. A strong-penned drawing can handle bright tones. If the artist has developed a delicate drawing, small touches of bright color is ample, and should be primarily lighter tones to accent the composition.

The student may choose to use dry brush technique for this type of painting, if there are small areas that call for a textured, wispy look. However, if there are large areas that require the paper be wetted with water before painting, care should be taken that the paper is thick, watercolor stock. Ripples in paper too thin for watercolor is not considered texture.

This technique is a great way to expand and refine a student’s sketching skills, and may possibly be considered as preliminary for more detailed or larger paintings. A good watercolor pen and ink drawing also stands on its own as a work of art, which an aspiring artist can certainly show with pride.

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