Ink & Watercolour Styles To Experiment With Right Now


In this post, we are going to explore 3 different ways you can experiment with the line and wash technique. By the end of this post, you will be inspired to try all 3 ways yourself, I’m sure of it! 

Combining ink lines with watercolour in one sketch is also known as ‘line and wash’. It is my favourite technique for urban sketching as it can be as quick or involved as you want it to be.

Sketching a quick scene with a pen and then splashing a few colours on top in watercolour is one of the speediest methods of capturing a scene in front of you.

Many people wonder whether you have to draw in ink first and then apply the watercolour on top, or whether you can paint first and then draw on top with ink.

The answer is you can do either.

In fact, you can keep layering one on top of another moving back and forward between the two mediums until you are satisfied with your sketch. That tends to be what I do. There are no rules!

Traditionally, ‘line and wash’ is thought of as an ink drawing and then adding, or ‘tinting’ the drawing with watercolour. However, there are so many other ways you can play around with ink and watercolour. You absolutely do not have to limit yourself to this one way of doing things.

In this post, I am going to show you 3 ways you may not have considered before when sitting down to do a line and wash sketch.

If you would like to watch me demonstrate these 3 ink and watercolour techniques you may have never thought about or played with before, then check out my Youtube video below:

If you would like some more information about the art supplies I recommend, you can check them out here.

Ink and Watercolour Techniques

In this demonstration of 3 different ink and watercolour (or line and wash) techniques, I am using a very simple reference photo of a house I found on Pinterest. 

If you would like to use the same reference photo for your experiments, you can find it on my Sketching Reference board here.

I decided on a simple subject matter so that it would not take too long sketching something fairly detailed 3 times over. However, each of these sketches did take about 1 to 1.5 hours so be prepared to put some time in!

Method #1: Watercolour Background

I method 1, I start with a mop brush and paint in very loosely and wet in wet the shapes and colours I can see in the photograph.

Keep it very loose and don’t be afraid of letting the colours bleed into each other. Due to the amount of water used these colours will dry quite light so don’t panic! 

Once you are happy with your background layer, leave it to dry. This step is extremely important for obvious reasons. There is nothing further you can do without the paint drying (unless you want to make a huge mess)!

If you have very little patience for watching paint dry (which most of us do) then you can do one of two things:

  1. Dry the paint carefully with a hairdryer. Handle this with care, you end up blowing your paint in streaks everywhere!
  1. Start another sketch while this one is drying, i.e. start on method 2 below…

Once the paint is dry you can start drawing over the top in waterproof ink.

You can use fineliners with waterproof ink such as Pigma Microns, Copic Multiliners or Uni Pin pens. Or you can use a fountain pen filled with a waterproof ink such as Platinum Carbon ink (you can see my various recommendations here). Or you could use a dip pen with waterproof ink…whatever floats your boat!

I like to stop drawing wherever the plaint splashes stop. This is entirely a stylistic choice but I just love how it looks.

Once you have drawn your line drawing you can start to add depth by painting the shadow areas, or if you prefer you could use grey markers to indicate the shadows (or a mixture of the two).

You can also add more vibrant colours in some parts if you wish.

To make the blackest parts of my sketch really pop, I like to use a black brush pen.

This is my final result from method 1.

Method #2: Sketching Directly in Watercolour

This method was kind of, sort of inspired by Liz Steel. Only in terms of sketching first directly in watercolour.

I used my Rosemary & Co Dagger brush to sketch the main big shapes of the house. Liz Steel is also a fan of using her dagger brush 99% of the time I believe. It’s a very convenient style of brush, especially to sketch with.

There was a bit less water and paint on the page than in method 1 so it didn’t take quite as long to dry. While it was drying I decided to draw the cobblestones at the bottom of the page as the ink didn’t touch any of the wet painted areas.

Once the paint is dry you can go ahead and complete your line drawing as you see fit, followed by adding more colour in areas you want and then putting in the shadow areas. If things aren’t looking as bold or emphatic as you want them to, don’t be scared to go in and layer things up to make them darker.

As you can see the result wasn’t too vastly different, however, I felt the colours are a little cleaner in this second sketch.

My final sketch following method 2

Method #3: Er… Going Wild!

I call this method, “The Ian Fennelly…”. While I was not copying Ian’s style, this process was inspired a little by his techniques of mixing ink and watercolour.

I start off by mapping out the big shapes in a light grey marker. This tends to be what Ian does. 

I then applied bright colours straight from the pan or tube (as Ian would do) and let them mix on the page a little.

Ian tends to use very little in the way of realistic or ‘local’ colour, preferring to use ‘emotional’ colour as he calls it.

I then blocked in the windows with the marker as well as the bike. Ian doesn’t do a line drawing of the whole scene. He also bounces between shapes, producing them in grey markers or watercolour and tends to add details with line more towards the end.

He also uses fine hatching lines here and there to indicate shadows or texture.

The key to this method is to not be afraid to splash paint around, use colours that aren’t there and build up tone with grey markers. Go check out Ian’s work on Instagram to see what I mean!

My result from following method 3!

Final Thoughts

I really hope this post has inspired you to try some new variations of line and wash. Don’t worry about the result, just have loads of fun!

Which is your favourite process? 

Don’t forget, if you try any of these methods out and you happen to have Instagram, tag @urbansketchingworld so I can see!

Or, if you prefer, email me! I always reply 🙂 taria@urbansketchingworld.com

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