3 Tips for Ink & Watercolor Sketching with Technical Pens

Inktober starts today, and the excitement is growing. Few pieces thump my drums quite like ink and wash. If you like the look of ink and watercolor sketching, too; try these three “edge” tips to add a little oom-pa-pa to your watercolor washes with technical pens.  Once the lining is completed, add additional ink shading or go straight to watercolor — the choice is up to you.

Inktober 2018 Day 1 - Technical Pens - Doodlewash
A few of the tools I use when sketching with technical pens.
Books on drawing with pen and ink and watercolor - Doodlewash
Pen & watercolor instruction can be found in books, videos, and even blog posts.  Claudia Nice is my favorite instructor for technical pens.

I’ll be tracing off from Wendy Tait’s Watercolour Flowers in the pictures below, a great resource for those just starting out. While sketching with technical pens uses them in a different way than the manufacturer intended, I haven’t had any difficulty with pens skipping or wearing down before they run out of ink.

Starting With A Pencil Sketch - Doodlewash

Tip #1: Underdraw with a pencil…or don’t!

Use an underdrawing to provide anything from placement dots to a rough lay-in to a traced-off image depending on your aesthetic. Or go right in with pen. Or ink after you watercolor. Don’t be ashamed for using or omitting an underdrawing – technique is unique to each artist.

Inktober Day 1 - Micron Pens on Paper - Doodlewash
I’m about halfway through inking this piece.  Notice the broken lines in lit areas and solid lines for areas with local color.  I still need to strengthen lines in shadow and add shading to keep this piece from looking like a coloring book.

Tip #2 Line your shapes with variety.

Draw the contour (arabesque, outline) of the outside and interior shapes with different line quality to introduce the light.

1. Use broken lines for areas hit by your light source or far away.

2. Use thin solid lines with just a few breaks in areas of the shape that have local color.

3. Use thicker solid lines for area in shadow or shapes closer to the viewer.

Adding watercolor to ink sketches tips - Doodlewash
Notice the difference in line quality between the prickly stems and edges of flower petals.

Tip #3 Suggest texture & details in ink.

Suggest, don’t SHOUT! Sketches use a short hand form of drawing to render detail and texture.

• Use the outline to hint at the surface texture of your subject. Only use perfectly smooth lines if the surface is perfectly smooth. A fur bauble for a handbag, a golf ball, and a glass marble should have different line qualities.

• Draw a few hints of the surface texture inside shapes only along the line where the lit side of the shape goes into shade, not all over. As you get better at seeing, the shadow shape will become as important to you as the subject’s shape and this will make more sense.

• Try putting ink details only at the focal point. Use watercolor for less important details, or omit them completely.

Ink and wash allows me to work dramatically faster than watercolor or ink alone so I can paint every day. These three tips are simple to remember and easy for me to implement to create my vision when working with technical pens.

Ink and Watercolor Sample images - Doodlewash

Do you ink your watercolor sketches with technical pens? Have any more important tips you’d like to add to these? Talk with me in the comments, and visit me on Instagram to view dozens of ink and wash pieces.

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I’m a science and math educator who has been creating since childhood. I picked up watercolor four years ago and have been on a grand exploration discovering its playful and enigmatic personality.  Follow my adventure on Instagram!

25 Comments
  1. Julia Proulx 3 weeks ago

    Thanks for the tips Bekki! I love the look of ink and wash, and practicing your ideas will definitely improve my work too.

    • Author
      Bekki Page 3 weeks ago

      Thanks, Julia! I hope you have fun with ink this month.

  2. Walter F Pierluissi 3 weeks ago

    Thanks for the tips, and by the way I like a lot your stile….

  3. Rod Fletcher 3 weeks ago

    Nice one Bekki

  4. June Hadaway 3 weeks ago

    Great tips. I am just starting to use a pen. These tips will be very helpful in learning. Thank you for sharing. .

    • Author
      Bekki Page 3 weeks ago

      Thanks, June! Have fun adding ink–glad these could help😊

  5. Lovely sketches, great tips! Watercolor is my go-to painting medium but for the simplest sketch kit, I carry water-soluble Pentel Hybrid Technical .8 mm pens and a Pentel medium water brush for shading. No pencil lay-ins, just direct sketching with ink. The ink in the Hybrid Technica is great because it doesn’t melt completely under a wash…so ink lines are maintained but you get a nice shading effect. And the ink seems much less soluble after it is washed over once and dries. I haven’t tried washing over a second time with watercolor but it’s on my list of things to do.

    • Author
      Bekki Page 3 weeks ago

      I’m glad you brought up water soluble! I like the ability to pull shading and then add watercolor. I’ve never met an ink that ran twice when hit with water, but be sure to comment your results here.

  6. Jill Gustavis 3 weeks ago

    I love having an Ah-Ha! moment with art technique. Reading that you put the ink detail at the juxtaposition point of light-to-shadow was definitely one of them. I feel like I might done this a handful of times, but between those and the ones I didn’t, I couldn’t put together the words to describe what I did right! Thank you, now I can intently try it out and see if that makes ink sketching just an ounce less effort, and a ton more fun!

    • Author
      Bekki Page 3 weeks ago

      That was an aha! moment for me, too. Thank you John Muir Laws for explaining the liminal edge/detail connection 😊

  7. Sandra Strait 3 weeks ago

    Oh yes! I use line and wash almost daily. I like to use my pens for a grisaille effect. Thank you for some great tips!

    • Author
      Bekki Page 3 weeks ago

      Thanks, Sandra. I love your pen and watercolor work!

  8. Eve McHugh "Sqwiffy" 3 weeks ago

    Thanks Bekki. I’m giving Inktober 2018 a try if I can work out how to post! I’m a bit embarrased to say I don’t actually know what hashtags are/do? Anyway I’ve put my first drawing on my own facebook page with the things at the end, and I have requested being a member on what I hope is the genuine page as there are loads! I shall try uour tips.

  9. Anita Sinha 3 weeks ago

    Thank you Bekki for shaing such helpful tips just before inktober2018 !

    • Author
      Bekki Page 3 weeks ago

      Thanks, Anita! Are you doing Inktober?

      • Anita Sinha 3 weeks ago

        Yes, Bekki I am doing Inktober2018 for the first time. In your post there is a photo of an opened book (Pumpkin Latte…). Which book is that ?

        • Author
          Bekki Page 3 weeks ago

          Will Freeborn’s “Learn to Paint in Watercolor with 50 Paintings.”. My review is on Amazon.

  10. Sharon Nolfi 3 weeks ago

    Great tips! Thanks.

    • Author
      Bekki Page 3 weeks ago

      Thanks, Sharing, you’re very welcome 🙂

  11. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 3 weeks ago

    Bekki, this is such a fabulous lesson – so many ways to use ink and watercolor – there’s something to appeal to everyone, no matter their skill level. The examples are inspiring and it all looks like such fun. What a great way to motivate people to try something new – by removing the scary.

  12. SnehLata Maheshwari 3 weeks ago

    I loved your tips,the t are good to improve the quality of art . thanks for sharing.

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