Introduction: Ink Pen and Watercolour Drawing
I do a lot of drawing with a combination of ink pens and watercolour. The technique of combining pens and paints allows me to achieve a high level of control and detail in conjunction with the aesthetic of colour washes. I work primarily with natural subject matter and I enjoy representing my subjects in delicate but dynamic compositions. I first started drawing with this method to emulate the aesthetic of hand coloured etchings and engravings of the 18th and 19th century and the style has developed from there. The drawing is made is several stages. The first stage is a pencil sketch, secondly the pen lines are added and the pencil guide lines are erased from underneath. The final stage involves the addition of many thin watercolour washes which add colour to the image. Attached to this post there are several videos of varying subject matter that all demonstrate this technique.
For more examples of my work including pen and watercolour drawings, graphite drawings and a variety of printmaking including etching and relief prints please visit my website listed below. The website also has a variety of free teaching material as well as links to a number of videos demonstrating my working methods.
Step 1: Choose Your Equipment
The first step to creating a drawing like this is to select your equipment.
Because I use watercolour paints to apply colour to the image at the end I need to use a good quality watercolour paper for the drawing. I normally work with papers such as 'Arches' watercolour. Choose a smooth textured watercolour paper, if your paper has too much texture it is very hard to achieve high levels of detail and the pens will quickly be worn out.
Pencil and Eraser:
The drawing is started as a sketch with a 2b pencil which is not too hard and easy to rub out later. I sketch lightly and avoid focusing on tonal work too much. When I am happy with my sketch I will go over the top with a pen and then erase the pencil guide lines.
It is very important that the pens used for this method of drawing must be waterproof. If the pens are not waterproof they will smudge when I begin painting over them with watercolour paints. Pens will say whether they are waterproof along the side of the pen, I generally use an 'Artline' or a 'Pigma Micron' pen. These pens have many different sizes, I generally use 0.2 for drawings like this.
You will also need some watercolour paints to apply colour to the image over the top of your pen work. There are many brands out there, I have a good set of 'Winsor and Newton' paints that does just fine for this kind of drawing.
You will of course also need some subject matter to work from. I work almost entirely with natural subject matter. It is always best to work with a real subject not a photo. If your subject is perishable, such as a cut flower, it is a good idea to take photos in case it withers or changes colour over time. Museums and universities are great places to find natural subject matter that is easy to work from such as taxidermied animals.
Step 2: Sketch Your Subject
I work almost entirely with natural subject matter. When finding subject matter to work from it is always best to work with a real subject not a photo. If your subject is perishable, such as a cut flower, it is a good idea to take photos in case it withers or changes colour over time. Museums and universities are great places to find natural subject matter that is good to work from such as taxidermied animals.
Once the appropriate sized paper has been sourced I try to arrange my subject with a strong light source that will not change over time. Where possible I try to work in life size on the paper. To sketch the image I generally use a 2B pencil. At this point I sketch roughly and commonly use the eraser to shift and tweak incorrect lines. I try to concentrate on line work not tone. In the next step working with the pen I will focus more on tonal variations. Once I am happy with the sketch, the composition seems pleasing and the line work is accurate I feel comfortable moving onto the second stage working with the pen. Even after I have started working with the pen I often find myself going back to re sketch certain sections with the pencil.
Step 3: Adding Pen Lines Over the Sketch
This stage of the drawing is perhaps the most difficult and certainly the most time consuming. Using a black fine liner pen such as an 'Artline' or 'Pigma Micron' I begin to go over the pencil lines first simply and then with more and more detail. The pens I used are sized anywhere from 0.1 to 0.4 these sizes are written down the side of the pen. It is vital that the pens I use are waterproof. This information should also be written on the side of the pen. If the pen is not waterproof it will bleed when the water colour paint is added over the top which will ruin the drawing.
When using fine line pens I employ various techniques to achieve tone and definition in the drawing. Techniques include stippling which involves building up tone with a dotting method. This technique is very time consuming but has a wonderful look when complete. More simple line work can also be employed following the contours of the subjects form along with hatching and cross-hatching. The main principal behind all pen drawing techniques I use is that the tones are blended optically. A black pen can only make a black mark on a piece of white paper. It is the density of the marks that will create areas of tone in the artwork. I try to build up most of the tone on the picture during this stage while working with the pens. Once I am happy with the pen work and have left it to dry for at least 30mins I gently erase all the underlying pencil work.
Step 4: Applying Colour With Watercolour Washes
When I have completed the pen elements of the picture and am left with a black and white drawing of my subject with the underlying pencil drawing erased I am ready to add colour to the image. I generally use 'Winsor and Newton' watercolour paints but there are many good brands on the market. I try to avoid, where possible, using any opaque colours as they will dim the effect of the pen underneath. The opaque rating of each particular colour should be marked on the side of the paint tube or on a colour chart distributed by the manufacturer.
I work from colour to colour mixing the paints down heavily with water. I use a sheet of paper to practice and test the strength of the colour before applying it to the image. The more water I add to the watercolour paints the lighter the colour of the wash will be. It is better to work up to strong colours by overlaying wash over wash. You must wait until the initial wash is dry but this technique is worthwhile as it gives me far more control and delicacy. Colours are best mixed in a pallet but can easily be blended and mixed on the actual drawing. Sometimes if I have added many washes to a drawing the paper may start to warp and buckle. If this occurs I wait for the image to completely dry and then use a household iron to iron the image flat. If using this method I use a second piece of paper as a cover sheet as to not damage the surface of the drawing.
I hope this guide was helpful. This drawing technique has quite a unique aesthetic and has many advantages. Thanks for having a look.
For more information, drawing and printmaking galleries, teaching resources, sales and contact details please visit my website: