India Ink Painting Tutorial
Studies done in ink-wash are a fantastic way to learn about using value and composing on the page. This is a direct form of mark-making that allows you to work quickly. The characteristics of ink are such that you inevitably lose some control. The ink drips, splatters, bleeds. But this is a good thing.
Working with ink allows you to:
✓ learn more about value
✓ play with different kinds of composition
✓ practice various forms of mark-making
✓ loosen up your paint handling
✓ plus it’s inexpensive to work with!
Below are a few examples of artists who have used ink to do studies for paintings or as a medium in itself. I particularly love Richard Diebenkorn’s ink drawings which bring a strong element of abstraction into figurative subject matter.
Artists Joan Brown, Elmer Bischoff and Elizabeth Peyton also have beautiful ink drawings, many of them of life models.
Preparing for your Ink-Wash Painting
Step 1: Gather your materials.
Materials You Will Need:
- india ink
- a brush (a bamboo brush or even a watercolor mop brush) – one that will hold a lot of water!
- a container of water
- containers for ink mixtures (small yogurt containers) or some kind of tray
- a sheet of paper (watercolor paper is great because it is meant to absorb water) but you can use any paper. I often use mayfair paper or pads of newsprint. Larger size is preferable (at least 18×24 inches).
- a pencil for your initial sketch (optional)
Step 2: Set Up for Your Painting
Your board needs to be inclined. I am using an easel to paint (so my paper is completely vertical), and I recommend this. If you do choose to sit for the painting, making sure that you prop the far end of your board up with books or pieces of wood to create an adequate inclination. Your painting materials should be readily accessible.
Step 3: Prepare your Mixtures of Ink (optional)
Mix 3-5 gray tones by diluting the ink to differing degrees. Your white is the paper and your black is the undiluted india ink. You are aiming to get about 5-7 values in total. Pre-preparing your mixtures saves a lot of time. Just make sure that you clean your brush each time before changing value while painting.
Step 4: Set up your subject
You can use absolutely anything for this painting, but do paint from observation for this study if possible. Set up a simple still-life or ask a family member to pose for you. For my painting I have a model who has kindly agreed to pose for me.
Step 5: Compose
Do a few thumbnail sketches to get a composition that you’re satisfied with. Try different angles and cropping.
Beginning Your Ink-Wash Painting
Step 6: Do a Pencil Sketch on your Paper (optional)
I like to do a quick sketch in pencil on my large sheet of paper just to give me some initial guidelines for getting started with the ink. You can also just jump right in!
Step 7: Lay in light washes
Work from light to dark. Lay in some light washes to begin. You can build them up gradually. As such, feel free to put light washes down in a general manner, blocking in large areas into which you can go back with darker tones.
Step 8: Lay in your Mid-Tone Washes
Lay in mid-tone washes using your prepared ink mixes and/or by building up layers.
Step 9: Finish with your Darkest Washes
I suggest that you save your darkest washes until the end. That way you’ll be less likely to go too dark too soon. For your first painting, make sure that you have a full value range for maximum impact. Later you can experiment with high- or low-key paintings and varying degrees of contrast to achieve different effects.
While this tutorial suggests a step-by-step approach, feel free to be more spontaneous as well! The fun thing about ink is that there is nothing to lose! Another great method is to work only in three tones (white, middle gray and black). You can also cut out and collage your paintings. Or try going back in with charcoal to add a stronger drawing element to your image. Experiment!
Have fun and let me know how it turns out!