Top Tips for Painting with Ink

Modern inks are a far more versatile medium than you might imagine. The intense colours, transparency and fluidity make them well worth a try, especially if you already enjoy watercolours.

The marvel of the media is how an artist can skillfully use ink to create an image of great immediacy and life, balancing brightness and darkness, density and light, line and tone. Manufacturers advocate the use of ink for both clearly defined line work or broad washes of subtle colour, but I prefer the latter.

Inks undoubtedly stand as a medium on their own, but are also great in mixed media pieces, used as washes to unify areas in drawing, collage and pastel. When choosing which type of inks to get, the main considerations are what you are going to use to apply them (be it brush, nib or pen) and whether you need a finish which is rated permanent. The major development in inks over recent years has been the increasing use of pigments and acrylic resins. The main difference between dye-based inks and pigmented acrylic inks are colour intensity (stronger in dye-based inks) and resistance to fading (an advantage of acrylic-based inks).

1. Be Prepared

Have lots of water on hand for wetting the paper, diluting colours, and using in washes. Have plenty of kitchen towel too – great for wiping excess water off, drying brushes and controlling the spread of the ink solution.

2. Don’t Always use Straight from the Bottle

Pre-mix your colours, very much in the same way you would with paints. Less is more too – a few well-mixed colours used in a range of transparencies and intensities will work to great effect. All inks are intermixable.

3. Experiment with Application

Try pens, nibs and even twigs; traditional and Chinese brushes, pipettes and sprayers can all be used too. I would recommend starting with a very soft brush.

4. Make it Dilute

By diluting the inks a lot, you can push each colour to a whole range of subtleties by varying the amount of water you use.

5. Keep the Work Simple

Let the transparent veils of colour and subtleties of tone speak for themselves without too much over-working and touching up.

6. Experiment with Papers

Hot-pressed watercolour papers are ideal for letting colour flow. You can also try heavyweight paper with a rougher surface or, at the other extreme, traditional Chinese rice papers are fabulously responsive to the subtleties of ink.