Pen and Ink with Watercolor Wash Techniques

Pen and Ink with Watercolor Wash Techniques

Combining artistic styles is always a load of fun, especially when adding pen and ink to watercolor drawings. You'll also want to know what works and what might end up being a dismal failure, so here are the best tricks with this style you'll need to know.

Creating a Pen and Ink Drawing

One of the first steps for creating pen and ink with watercolor techniques is to create negative spaces where color can go. It should be evident if you've ever seen a kid's coloring book and have been told time and time again to stay within the lines.

It's not going to be too hard to create open areas where you imagine color to go, but the distinction between black and white should be obvious.

No matter which medium you use, you might prefer using various pens or drawing with ink. This will require a fine brush or a quill tip pen for better control of your ink. Besides that little fact, you need to have something traced beforehand to get your drawing ready to be lined with ink.

After that, you can add light or dark lines to allow any number of colors to be added later when it's dried.

Creating Watercolor Washes:

After you have an outlined drawing, the next step is to start adding washes that will give you softer depth within your black lines. Washes can be controlled using just the right amount of watercolor on your brush. It takes practice to get to this point.

Which is often by the appearance of the color on your brush. Or by how many times you swab a watercolor with water. Ideally, you want to have a brush that isn't soaking but is enough to wet these colors just enough.

After this, you can go back with regular water by dipping your brush and shaking or tapping it to remove excess water droplets. Over-soaking can cause colors to bleed, which is why wash techniques can be tricky at first. It's best to follow these additional pointers and tips.

• Watercolor Paper

Watercolor paper is designed to act like a sponge and draw as much water to color any section you're painting. For this reason, the standard weight for watercolor paper starts at 140 Lb paper, with heavier weights going up toward 300 lb paper for extra rough painting abuse.

You'll also see that this paper is rated by GSM, which is grams per square meter. So anything with 120-200 GSM is perfect for watercolor.

By the time you get up to 170 GSM, this paper is practically like a stiff board since it will be much thicker than 120 GSM. Don't go overboard your first time around, and stick with inexpensive watercolor paper that's affordable.

It's also better to buy this paper in sets peeled from a binder or have spiral binding inside a book of 25 to 50 pages. The best deals are when you can find these sold on clearance, or you can get a decent art discount.

• Wet-on-Dry Watercolor Technique

This is the easiest way to control your colors since you only apply wet watercolor to your paper as you need. Since the paper is dry, it will absorb the color quickly and make it possible to keep crisp lines. If you have more paint on your brush than you can handle, remove the excess with a paper towel and return to your coloring spot.

Often, there's enough on the brush that gets onto your paper so you can drag it to the edges.

Put your watercolor away from any edge. Start from an area close to your edge to get a clean line. The rest of the area you're coloring is done using this method, and the excess is moved around to finish off the area your want to paint.

• Dry-on-Dry Watercolor Technique

This method is also called dry brushing, which has the least amount of water on your brush to activate your watercolor. You need a steady hand while doing this and a paper towel to remove excess water from the bristles.

The resulting color will be sharper and less diluted, so you get more paint onto your paper as you like. You have to be careful doing this since you'll only have one or two passes before this starts to look muddy.

This is also part of adding detail after an area has dried when you want to make highlights or shadows that have high contrast. It needs to be dry, so you don't start to reactivate the colors underneath and get unwanted mixing of your watercolors that have already been added.



• Dry-on-Wet Watercolor Technique

Adding detail with dry-on-wet paintings will give you a totally different appearance to the details that are added. Since your paper surface will already have moisture on it, the dry brushing technique leaves lines or brush texture looking softer or blurry.

This is also another great technique when you want to add detail while your paper is still damp. Unlike wet on dry, you can switch to dry on wet to add subtle lines such as wrinkles and softer surface textures.

Using the dry-on-dry method might otherwise look too harsh unless that's the effect you want to achieve. The advantage to this is you can start adding detail using dry on wet right after you've colored a previously painted section after a few minutes.

• Flat Wash Watercolor Technique

A flat wash is simply a solid color that's used on your watercolor paper. This color combination is mixed beforehand and will have a continuous flow wherever it's applied, including background colors, skies, and selected spots in your drawing that require a solid color.

If there are spots that need to be protected from a flat wash so you can allow broad strokes to cover your surface, you'll need to add masking tape.

Using Scotch brand #2020, this is sticky enough to mask over spots you want to keep clean. It might take a little bit of time to use small cuticle scissors to cover spots you want to keep masked, but this will prevent flat washed of color from seeping through a masked area. It won't damage your paper and peels up easily after your color has dried.

• Graduated Wash Watercolor Technique

This technique is also called graded and is best for creating the illusion of a sky or background where the color goes from light to dark or dark to light. You still need to mask off areas where you want this effect to go before painting anything. The premise is nearly the same as a flat wash, except you dip your brush in clean water to keep the upper or lower portion of your drawing from getting saturated with color.

Watercolor Wash Landscape
Watercolor Wash Landscape

This is how you achieve the graduated colors that fade darker or lighter within your picture. Additional water helps to prevent watercolor from soaking in, so you're dragging increasingly lighter amounts of watercolor down to the bottom of your picture. This is done in reverse if you're going from the bottom of the page and painting to the top. This isn't limited to making graded spots that come from the left or right side either.

• Variegated Wash Watercolor Technique

This is a combination that allows two or more colors that are applied wet to your paper. These colors are allowed to merge or mix, giving a subtle blend as they meet. They will still have a respected color that's seen on your paper, but the blending when they meet at these edges will produce exciting effects. This is because the water and watercolor mixing can create a new shade or hue you didn't expect.

It's great for combining colors to create rainbow-like effects to a sunset or sunrise. When applying these colors, you need to have two sets of paintbrushes with colors ready to go right away to get the best results. If you need to mask off anything beforehand, this is better to put your masking tape firmly around characters or objects you want to keep from getting watercolor onto.

Do You Ink Before or After Watercolor?

This is an excellent question that many new artists will ask, but not limited to experimentation by seasoned artists. Many artists prefer drawing with ink beforehand, but small details may be left out on purpose. This is so they can add better detail based on how the watercolor has done its job. Either way, you can have the best of both worlds by doing outlines that give you enough to work with when adding watercolor.

Then once your picture has dried, you can add more ink and detail to fill up spots that might get muddied by watercolor or details you want to keep crisp. No rule says you have to do all of your lines beforehand. Save some fun for later by adding detail after you've done your coloring.

• Drawing Edges with Ink

Any outer edges that you want to outline first will be a dead giveaway in your initial sketch. These help you get the base detail of your drawing onto paper so you can start planning which colors to add later with the watercolor. They can be light edges if you want to fill them in with darker lines later. Sketching these lines with a light pencil can be easier if you don't want to start with ink right away.

Then once you have the lines you like, you can add these lines with ink from all types of pens that aren't affected by the watercolor. You may also want to mask partial areas on your paper to prevent watercolor from soaking onto details you want to keep nice and white. Alternatively, you can create masks around background detail separated by ink lines to avoid ruin flat washed, graded, or variegated sections.

• Drawing Textures with Ink

When it comes time to add detail to areas that have outlines or not, you still need to add details and texture. I recommend that you wait until you have all of your watercolors finished before adding textures. This way, you can play with the colors already put down if you need to enhance textures and surfaces. If you add detail too early, it's too easy to ruin a picture with texture before you didn't know if your colors are too dark.

This is all because adding details with ink might not need to be as heavy until you see shapes and forms now colored on your white paper. It might also ruin a potential light source that you add to your drawing before knowing where it's coming from.

• Drawing with Black Ink

Black ink is fine for making any drawing; however, many artists also like to experiment with graded black colors, grey colors, and even colored inks. Not everything in life has a black line attached to it, so why should you use black ink all the time.

There are benefits to using grey ink which is much lighter than black and gives you a chance to create subtle highlight and shadow within your pictures.

There's nothing wrong with lighter shades if you're going for realism. Just remember that black lines often leave the harshest edge on any drawing that might not meet your expectations. Try buying a set of pens that give you better control over darker edges and lines with grades that start at black and end with light grey.

• Drawing Lines with Pens

Depending on your style, you can use many types of pens, but the best for fine art is always the fine line pens. You'll always have better contour control and adding details later. The plus side to pens is that they come in all sorts of colors that you can trace over lighter lines to get realistic effects. If you're using ink, these lines will be more opaque, so they'll show up better when they dry.

I don't recommend using sharpies for drawing since they can be temperamental in how your watercolor paper soaks up the ink. Use ink pens that are less likely to bleed, including felt pens or anything with more liquid in ink.

Fine liner pens work well since they aren't releasing so much ink when you draw with them on any type of paper.

• Dip Pen Techniques

You need to have some experience before fooling around with dip pens. These are also called quill pens that are often used for calligraphy and hold a certain amount of ink within the tip of the pen. The ink is deposited onto the paper through capillary action with is tricky to control.

It's also not such an easy task using metal tips since these feel scratchy on your paper.

You can try using a glass dip pen that is different from the standard dip pens, and it might be better if you like using colored inks. The ink goes onto your paper a bit more uniformly but still relies on capillary action to transfer the ink to your paper.

The only downside is being careful dipping your pen and getting the right amount you need to use.

Lines and Washes Techniques

When you're ready to add special washes of color or detail lines, you'll want to know precisely what your paintbrush can do and what it can't do. Here are pen and ink with watercolor wash techniques that are used together to create cool effects.

• Combining Ink and Watercolor

Don't use ink that will become a problem for you while you're painting your picture. There are watercolor pens that work fine for those who like to make watercolor shades.

But if you draw a line that's supposed to remain constant, use a permanent ink that stays put when you lay it down. Many cheap felt tip pens will be reactivated with water and ruin your lines.

Stick with ink that dries and doesn't reactivate with water at all. Alcohol pens will be good for this, and artist ink is also perfect if it's meant for watercolors. If you have runny ink, it will ruin your picture as soon as it gets wet.

• Creating Loose Watercolor Washes

Creating Watercolor Washes
Creating Watercolor Washes

For lack of a better explanation, a loose watercolor drawing captures the image of what you're drawing without going into fine detail. This is not your average drawing by all means and is more like a tribute to whatever you're going to portray.

The essence is there but is so general in how it's painted, but just the image alone is what conveys the idea of your attempt. I like to think of this style as almost but no cigar' if you get my point.

You don't need to focus on how perfect the image has to be. It can simply look close enough if you keep the lines, colors, and details constant.

Your brain brings the rest of the image together and fills in these gaps. As for backgrounds, these images are fuzzy and random, following an out-of-focus concept that only needs a few lines of colors to make it work.

• Adding Splash of Watercolor

The beauty of this trick is to make it so apparent that you're adding random splashes of color to an image to enhance the value of your drawing. It's meant to look as if you added splashes of color next to an image, within your image, or around your image.

This technique is also meant to look more artistic, so you can add rainbow effects by splashing and washing spots and streaks together.

Fleck drips and angles your brush to create slashed splotches. If you ever spilled coffee on a piece of paper, you'll know where this is going. This trick is dreamy and whimsical, and it works for many simple reasons.

You're drawing a dream-like image that is never meant to be part of reality, but the splashes and drips tell you this is what art is all about.

• Combining Different Colors

The best secret to mixing watercolors together is to learn which colors appear appealing when next to each other. If you have two contrasting colors that clash, this is hard to look at, like when you put green and red side by side.

But if you place yellow and green side by side, you suddenly get harmony. Using a standard color wheel, you can see right away which colors fit the best side by side.

Even if you're making a landscape portrait, your colors must have a place that goes side by side and doesn't look out of place. Try to find the right balance when adding colors together or creating new colors by mixing them.

For this reason, you should have a watercolor kit that has several premixed colors in a palette, so you don't need to mix a new color from scratch.

Combining artistic styles is always a load of fun, especially when adding pen and ink to watercolor drawings. You'll also want to know what works and what might end up being a dismal failure, so here are the best tricks with this style you'll need to know.

Create Art With My Favourite Drawing Resources

General Drawing Courses. I like Udemy if you want to develop your knowledge of drawing techniques. Udemy is an excellent choice due to its wide range of creative courses and excellent refund policy. They often have monthly discounts for new customers, which you can check here. Use my link.

Sketching and Collage. Take a look at this sketching resource I have created. Use this link.

Proko. Is one of my favorite teachers who surpasses in the teaching of Anatomy and Figure drawing. Prokos course breaks down the drawing of the human body into easy-to-follow components aiding the beginner to make rapid progress. For this, I really like Proko.

Art Easels. One of my favorite ways to draw is by using a drawing easel, which develops the skill of drawing on a vertical surface. The H frame easel is an excellent vertical way to add variety to the style and type of marks you create when using a drawing board.

To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you.


Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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