line and wash

Line and Wash: Tips for Creating Ink and Watercolour Artworks

Creating line and wash paintings by using watercolour and ink together can create beautiful, vibrant artworks. The two mediums work well together because the ink adds a sense of precision and the watercolour adds a sense of expression and vibrancy. This technique is especially popular for illustrations, as it helps to create crisp lines paired with vibrant washes.

In this guide, discover tips and techniques for how to create line and wash paintings and get some ideas for art projects that use ink and watercolour in conjunction. This mixed media combination really is a match made in heaven, read on to find out why…

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Step by step process: line and wash technique

To layer ink over watercolour:

  1. Create a pencil sketch first to map out the different elements of the drawing.
  2. Use a waterproof ink pen to outline the contours and details of the drawing. Fountain pens work well, as do fine liners!
  3. Vary the line thickness by using a fountain pen and applying slightly more pressure where you want a thicker line. This can bring variety to your line drawing.
  4. Wait for the ink to dry, which may take around 5 minutes. Then dilute your watercolours of choice to start creating washes over the ink.
  5. Use any assortment of watercolour techniques you like—such as washes, wet-on-wet, dry brush and more!
  6. Paint light to dark with watercolour, gradually layering shadows to increase the contrast and leaving the white of the paper to show through to represent highlights.
  7. Add the deepest shadows with watercolour.
  8. If you need to add any more highlights, paint small amounts of white gouache for the brightest reflections.
  9. When you’re happy with your watercolour layers, wait for them to dry.
  10. You can optionally use an ink pen to add more crisp details on top of the watercolour.

Ideas for using the line and wash technique

Utilising the line and wash technique can open up a plethora of creative possibilities for your artwork. This method is highly versatile and can be applied to a variety of subjects and styles. For instance, if you’re captivated by nature, you might choose to depict a vibrant sunset, using watercolours for the sky’s hues and ink for the silhouettes of trees or wildlife. Alternatively, if architecture is your muse, you might paint a cityscape with watercolours and apply ink to capture the detail and complexity of the buildings. This technique is also ideal for creating beautiful maps, detailed botanical illustrations, or expressive portraiture. The possibilities are only as limited as your imagination.

Here are a few ideas for painting projects you can make:

  • Paint a vibrant landscape scene using a combination of watercolour and ink. Use an ink pen to establish the horizon line, the trees and birds flying in the distance. Then create a wash of watercolour to form the backdrop, use vivid colours to represent a sunset.
  • Create a cityscape scene by painting the buildings in watercolour, using ink for outlining building edges and adding details like windows and brickwork.
  • Paint a sunflower. Start by outlining the flower, detailing the petals and the spiralling pattern of seeds. Then paint a bright, sunny yellow wash over the petals with watercolour. Use a deeper yellow, like yellow ochre and burnt umber mixed together for the shadows.

The benefits of using ink and watercolour together

Jean-Francois Millet: Orchard Fence near Vichy

Watercolour is a medium that naturally flows, whereas ink is a medium used to depict precise contour lines. With the watercolour medium, it’s tricky to create hard edges, unless you use the masking technique, as colours blend into one another. By using ink with watercolour, artists can create a contrast between the delicate, soft, hazy washes of the watercolour medium and the stark hard lines of ink.

Watercolour is transparent in nature, so the ink will show through the washes perfectly. This makes it easy to produce fine, intricate details that will show up clearly through the vivid colours of the watercolour washes. It also helps to add a sense of texture and depth to the work.

How to layer line and wash paintings

If you anticipate that you will be adding lots of watery washes to the paper, consider stretching the paper first. This will prevent it from buckling.

Start with the ink, in order to establish the details of the piece. Then wait until the ink layer has fully dried, to prevent the ink from bleeding into the wash.

The next step is to add colour. Start filling the paper with washes of watercolour, using a small watercolour brush for details and a larger brush for backgrounds and skies. Layer the watercolour wet on dry, or use the wet on wet technique to create blended colours.

The best supplies for line and wash

Perhaps the best paper option for the line and wash technique is hot-pressed paper. This is because the paper is absorbent enough to handle washes of watercolour, but smooth enough to prevent ink pen details from being obscured by the tooth of the paper.

Professional quality watercolour paint makes all the difference to the appearance and longevity of the finished artwork. Brands such as Daniel Smith and Schmincke use a higher proportion of pigments in their paint, that are more lightfast compared to student-quality brands. This means that your watercolour washes will appear more vibrant for longer.

Finally, by using a pen that resists fading, your lines of ink will remain crisp and vivid for years to come. For best results, use a professional quality pigment ink pen that is completely waterproof like the Sakura Pigma Micron pens.

Alternatively, fountain pens are an excellent choice for line and wash paintings. This is because you can vary the thickness of the line with a flexible nib pen. The ink also flows more freely, enabling artists to create more fluid, expressive marks. Just make sure to get waterproof ink to go with it and you will be on your way to creating beautiful line and wash artworks!