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Using Watercolor With Pen And Ink Sketching Techniques To Create Beautiful Artwork
One of the most rewarding hobbies ever - Pen & Ink sketching. Well, it started as a hobby, but by the time I had finished my first few drawings, I was hooked. Not only that, but after I offered to teach a few friends the technique, it quickly became my second "job".
Creating beautiful, frame-able art is not as difficult as many think. Having taught pen & ink sketching and watercolor techniques for many years has shown me that any student, given the right tools and instruction, can create beautiful pictures that will truly astonish them.
Creating the pen & ink base for the final artwork takes some time and concentration, but the right tools make the end results so much better.
Start With the Right Paper
I usually start with watercolor paper. Any good quality 300lb. cold press sheet will do. Arches makes a decent product, but even a leaf from a relatively inexpensive pad of watercolor paper will be of sufficient quality to begin with.
Hot press has a very slick surface. The cold press paper has a great "tooth" and "grabs" the pen nib. This quality adds an interesting texture to the finished picture.
Graphite paper and tracing paper are also required. I have adopted the tracing and transfer technique used by most tole painting instructors. This method of tracing the basic outline onto plain paper and then transferring the image to the watercolor sheet using the graphite paper saves the student both time and effort. Rather than have the student try to reproduce the image free-hand, the student has the option of choosing from many basic "patterns", while the instructor is able to concentrate on teaching painting, and pen & ink techniques, rather than laboring over getting the basic image down correctly.
It never ceases to amaze my classes how different each finished work will be even though each student start with the same "set of bones" as the underpinning for their work.
Several Types of Paper
Pens and Techniques
Good pens are an absolute must, but here again, expense need not be the issue. I have had students obtain equally good results with drafting pens, non-refillable sketch pens, and a simple crow quill dip-pen. The dip pens can be difficult to control because of their tendency to blot, but they can't be beaten for the beautifully fine lines they produce.
The only caveat, of course, is that waterproof ink is used. The inexpensive, non-refillable pens I use and recommend to my students are located in the scrap-booking section of most craft stores, and contain waterproof ink.
Also, check the bottled ink products that are available to ensure the bottled ink is waterproof. It would be a shame to lose all those hours of work, should your ink run when you apply the watercolor.
- Trace the original sketch as you would for a tole-painting subject. Once you have completed the tracing, compare it to the original, and make any adjustments
- Transfer the image to the watercolor paper using a medium to medium-soft graphite pencil. Too hard a pencil may puncture or tear the tracing paper. Check the transferred image is complete - no missing lines or areas.
- Once the image has been transferred, the careful work begins of building up the composition. A large image can take many hours to complete, and is usually accomplished over several classes.
- Use a gentle, almost flicking stroke that releases the pressure of the nib towards the end of the stroke. This gives a feathered look to each stroke. If you try to maintain an even pressure through to the end of the stroke, it will result in a heavy, solid line with little lightness or texture.
- Build the image up in layers, holding the pen almost straight up and down, rather than in a writing position. This will give more even weight or pressure to the pen strokes, and turning the nib decreases uneven wear.
- Build up the image in successive layers of strokes to achieve the final gradation from light to dark.
- Once the pen & ink drawing is completed, let it dry completely. If the sketch is completely dry, there is less chance the ink will run, and often, if the watercolor washes are kept light, there is no problem with the ink running, but better safe than sorry.
I offer each student the option of adding watercolor, or retaining the drawing in its original black and white. Often, students will complete two sketches during class, one to keep in black and white, and one to use as a base for the watercolor.
Tips and Tricks
- One of the tricks I teach my students is too try to hold the pen almost straight up and down, and turn the nib often, using short strokes, and a gentle flicking motion.
- It's easy to get focused on a particular area, for example, the eyes. We think that because they are dark in the finished drawing, we need to concentrate on them. I encourage my students to work on the whole drawing at once, rather than concentrate on one area. The image should be built up in layers. More layers = darker parts in the image. Otherwise, you may end up with certain areas far too dark for the overall picture.
- The students always have the completed sketch to refer to, but each element is covered separately. We will often use another scrap piece of watercolor paper to practice each element on before attempting it on the working drawing.
- One common mistake is to try and achieve a dark area by pressing too hard or concentrating on that area. The best result is always obtained by building up the dark areas with layers of texture, rather than heavier strokes. This will also prevent an area from looking overworked or having too much contrast.
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Paints and Brushes
Any student quality watercolors can be used, from simple and inexpensive pan sets, to the vastly more expensive tubes. The quality of the color and the mediums is far superior in the tubes, but some of the colors in the more expensive pan sets are quite "yummy" and make mixing colors unecessary - a plus for some beginners.
Good quality brushes can range from a few dollars per brush to over fifty or sixty dollars for a single brush. I encourage my students to buy the best brushes they can for the amount they are willing to spend.
Any decent brush will carry the water and pigment to the paper. The added cost comes from durability, better materials, and brand names. It is easy to be swept in in our enthusiasm for a new hobby, or to believe you must buy a particular brand to achieve good results. That simply is not true.
To illustrate that point, I often bring a package of brushes to class and give one to each student to use. At the end of the class I ask how they liked the brush. They are always surprised to find out the whole package cost 97 cents.
While I do not recommend using cheap equipment on a regular basis, you have to balance the cost of any tool against what you will use it for, and how much use you will get out of it. I have a set of Kolinsky Red Sables that I dearly love, but they require special care. I use them often, but you will never catch me dipping one of them into the masking medium!
I remember being quite annoyed at one drawing prof who would never suggest which brush to use for any given task except to use a large, flat brush for washes. Aside from that, he would only ever say we must pick the tool that makes the mark we wish to make - frustrating words for a beginner to hear.
His point, of course, was that we experiment with various sizes and shapes of brushes to find out what kinds of marks and brush strokes we could make with them. We dutifully experimented with every tool we could lay hands on.
I am sure that nowadays, with the interest in painting and painting classes, there must be a special brush for almost any brush stroke you could ever dream of making.
For the class I taught, though, the only brushes required were a 1/2 inch flat for small area washes, and two or three fine tipped round brushes for adding detail tints in very confined areas.
The Final Steps
Once the inking of the drawing is complete, we are ready to add the final touches - the watercolor washes that would bring the finished sketch to life.
You Will Need:
- Your finished, completely dry sketch
- Paper towel
- A container of clean water for painting
- A second container of water for rinsing our brush between colors
- A plain white china plate or water color palette
- Dip your brush in the watercolor paint and mix the desired shade for the sky, grass, or whichever area you are starting with.
- Add the wash to your sketch, building up the color a layer at a time, using the original picture as a guide.
- You may need to let the sketch dry between layers of wash so the paper doesn't become overworked and start to break down. You can also use a hair dryer to speed things along, but take care the concentrated heat can cause your paper to curl irretrievably.
The trick is to always have a Q-tip or paper towel ready to lift out a wash that is too saturated, or intense. As the weight of any area depends more on the darkness or intensity of the pen work, it is only necessary to add bare tints of color to bring out the best in the drawing. Sometimes several layers of tinting are required to achieve the desired tone, but generally a light hand is needed to keep from overpowering the sketch.
The lighthouse, shown below, is one such hand-tinted Pen & Ink drawing.