Subscribe to Oh She Paints

Be the first to receive news & Special offers!
Sign up now.
Email address

India Ink Painting Tutorial

A step-by-step Ink-Wash Painting Tutorial on the Oh She Paints Blog. Learn to paint at ohshepaints.com
Share

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.

Ink drawing of a woman by Richard Diebenkorn
Untitled ink-wash painting/drawing of a woman by Richard Diebenkorn
Still life ink-wash drawing by Richard Diebenkorn
Still life ink-wash drawing by Richard Diebenkorn
Ink drawing of a woman by Richard Diebenkorn
Ink drawing of a woman by Richard Diebenkorn
An ink-wash drawing of a chair and floral still life by Richard Diebenkorn
An ink-wash drawing of a chair and floral still life by Richard Diebenkorn

Artists Joan Brown, Elmer Bischoff and Elizabeth Peyton also have beautiful ink drawings, many of them of life models.

A gorgeous ink drawing of a model by Joan Brown (1959)
A gorgeous ink drawing of a model by Joan Brown (1959) which combines linear elements with bold washes.
An Untitled ink drawing of a woman by Elmer Bischoff
An untitled ink drawing of a woman by Elmer Bischoff
"Oscar and Bosie" by Elizabeth Peyton (1988)
“Oscar and Bosie” by Elizabeth Peyton (1988)

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)
Materials for the ink wash painting
Materials for the ink wash painting: india ink (I have a giant bottle but a small one is fine – it is powerful so it lasts a long time), brushes (I have an inexpensive bamboo brush made explicitly for india ink), water containers, and something to mix your ink in (I have an plastic tea tray, but you could use small yogurt containers).

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.

My set-up for the ink-wash painting
My set-up for the ink-wash painting: my sheet of paper is taped to a board (it is best to tape it on all sides to minimize warping) and my table with the materials is next to me (my drawing box is also there with my pencils in it).

Step 3: Prepare your Mixtures of Ink (optional)

Prepare different dilutions of ink in preparation for painting.
Prepare different dilutions of ink in preparation for painting. Mix up 3 to 5 shades of gray by diluting your ink with varying quantities of water in your small yogurt pots or painting. White will be the color of the paper and black will be the undiluted india ink. Test your mixtures on a scrap of paper.

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.

My set-up with model for the charcoal painting.
Set up a still-life or get someone to pose with you. I have a model for this painting. Remember to set up a lamp angled at 45 degrees above and to one side of your subject matter.

Step 5: Compose

Do a few thumbnail sketches to get a composition that you’re satisfied with. Try different angles and cropping.

Do a thumbnail sketch
Draw out a small rectangle (the proportions of your piece of paper) for your thumbnail sketch (a quick compositional plan for your painting).
Here's my quick thumbnail sketch
Here’s my quick thumbnail sketch for this painting.

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!

Do your initial sketch lightly in pencil on your sheet of paper. Mine is difficult to see clearly in this photo since it is only a faint sketch.
Do your initial sketch lightly in pencil on your sheet of paper (mine is difficult to see in this photo since it is pretty faint).

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.

Work from dark to light. Start by blocking in washes of the lightest tones.
Work from dark to light. Start by blocking in washes of the lightest tones. You can build up layers of washes gradually.

Step 8: Lay in your Mid-Tone Washes

Lay in mid-tone washes using your prepared ink mixes and/or by building up layers.

I have a range of light and mid-tone values in place at this stage of the painting.
I have a range of light and mid-tone values in place at this stage of the painting.

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.

Go in with some pure blacks or very dark darks to make sure that you have a full value range. I've deepened the shadows in his pants and in the area behind him.
Go in with some pure blacks or very dark darks to make sure that you have a full value range. I’ve deepened the shadows in his pants and in the area behind him.

Final Thoughts

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!

An example of a still-life ink study
An example of a still-life ink study

Have fun and let me know how it turns out!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

GET AMAZING ART STORIES

Sign up to get our newsletter with useful tips and techniques, recent articles and upcoming events. Receive an amazing free eBook as a thank you gift from Oh She Paints!
Email address

Leave a Reply

Share
css.php

GET YOUR FREE EBOOK!

Subscribe now to Oh She Paints for the latest posts delivered straight to your inbox! Receive an E-book copy of The 7 Habits of Successful Artists as a thank you!

Email address
Secure and Spam free...