Quiet your mind with ink! Learn how I mark my watercolour paintings with ink and how it can be meditative..

Watercolour on paper is my favourite way to make art. It's easy to experiment with watercolours without placing too much of a financial burden and it's a little harder to waste paint as long as you let it dry separate from other wet paint since its perfectly reusable after its dry - just wet it again to activate it. After I do the watercolour portion of a painting I often add black ink in a specific manner. It is my signature style - the use of thick and thin lines to mark different shapes I see.

It's meditative for me (and also quite addictive :) ) to do it this way. No wonder when I started this process back in 2020.....I simply couldn't stop since it felt so damn good. My art has evolved quite a bit since then but I've kept at this style because of how soothing it feels to my mind. It's a great way to relax or de-stress.

Some of you have asked how I do this process and so I decided to finally write it all down. Here's what I came up with. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you try this. Also, just so you aren't worried about copying my style - this is an official permission slip to copy it. :) Copy away!

YOU WILL NEED

I've listed ideal materials as well as some relatively less priced alternatives. If you don't want to read through the whole explanation...head to the bottom of the blogpost. There's a list without any of my babbling. ;) Art materials are expensive and I don't want you to feel any shame in buying the cheaper alternatives if you aren't sure about something. Better yet....if you can reuse any materials you already have...thats the best.

That's exactly how I started. That's exactly how all of us who are curious about art and art making start. :) 

Paper

Arches Hot Press Paper

If you are wanting to spend some money on good quality art materials, then get some good paper of all the things you buy. It will be money well spent. Watercolour paper is made differently. It's made to hold enough water...without the paper getting totally soaked, destroyed or warped. Most beginners get put off with watercolour painting because they start with the wrong type of paper....and then it warps and the colours look all wrong because the layers don't layer well. And they give up! 

There's three things to think of -
the thickness of the paper,
the bumpiness
& what it is made of.


Thicker paper is better...but thicker paper also means that it will be expensive. I recommend starting with 140lb at least. Typical thickness options are 90lb, 140lb, 300lb. 300lb paper is lovely to paint on...but super expensive. The bumpier the paper - the rougher it will feel to your fingers and likewise. And, you will be limited in how fine of a mark you can make on that paper. There's hot press which is super smooth, cold press which is a little more bumpy and rough which is the bumpiest.

I say go for cold press (bumpy) if you are buying a wood pulp paper and hot press (not bumpy) if you are buying cotton paper. But, there's also the rough type and only mostly available as cotton. What the paper is made from will typically dictate the cost. There's cotton and wood pulp. Cotton is typically more pleasurable to paint on and is able to withstand more abuse aka more layers & more water. It is also more easily possible to lift off paint from cotton paper. With wood pulp you are a bit limited to how much you can drench the paper....but for what we will be doing....a well made acid free wood pulp paper is more than sufficient. So, don't feel pressured to buy the most expensive paper. :) 

So, we want to use 140 lb cold press wood pulp paper (cost effective) or 140lb hot press cotton paper (a tad more expensive). You can also get cold press 140 lb cotton paper, but I have noticed that it can take some practice for this particular method I will show...and plus the cotton cold press paper is bumpier than wood pulp one so its a little harder to trace lines on it. The links above have examples of what you can get. There are however many other good brands too.

I use a 140lb weight hot or cold press cotton paper for my original artwork but for the purpose of this lesson, I've used a cold press 25% cotton - wood pulp blend by Fabriano

When you go to the art store you will also see mix-media paper which is also quite smooth, but also much thinner (80lb is common) than we want it. Mixed media paper being thinner, typically cannot handle the multiple washes we will be applying and it will most definitely buckle or warp. 

Paint

We will use watercolour. Watercolours allow for that beautiful transparent layering which is what we will be using to create odd shapes to trace. I use watercolours by Daniel Smith, however, there's many different options you can pick from. Something like this by Winsor and Newton will also work. These are good entry level ones.

 

But, if you are wanting to spend a little more then get these by Sennelier. Good quality watercolour simply means that the density of the pigment in the material will be higher...so the good quality ones tend to appear more vibrant. This is what makes them more expensive - the amount of pigment in them. But, this is not a deal breaker for what we will be doing. 

The only thing to watch for with paint is that you don't want something that is opaque. Gouache is a type of opaque paint and you get it as a watercolour too. Gouache is too thick for this particular technique and I find that if I thin it enough where its transparent...I still have trouble since it ends up clogging my micron pens. Sadly...clogging is the death of a micron pen. So no gouache unless you plan on leaving an area unmarked.

Brushes

I like using flat brushes because of the ease of layering and the kind of shapes they make...so that is the kind of brush I would recommend...but if you already have a set of other brushes use them. Just make sure they are for watercolors or for acrylics at the very least. Watercolour brushes are made to hold water and are typically super smooth to feel and the brush hair is fine. This is because smoother brushes create lesser friction with the underlying layers...which is typically desired.

Aqualon Royal & Langnickel Flat Shader Brush set

Ink pens 

Micron pens work well if you want ink that dries super quickly. This set of Micron pens comes in varying sizes of tips which is what creates that interesting pattern you see in my work.

If not the micron pens, then you can also use a thin black gel pen...or even a pencil for that matter. When I started, I used the Pilot Precise V5 black gel pen to mark my paintings. It can smear a little, but it worked for me at the time.

I also use black Indian ink with a calligraphy pen sometimes. It takes a while to dry and it's harder to maneuver the calligraphy pen, but the intense black of the Indian ink is irreplaceable with anything else and it dries shiny which to me feels like an interesting look against the non-shiny dry watercolour paint.

Miscellaneous Materials

  • A dirty hand towel or paper towels to wipe off excess paint or water
  • A cup or container to place water in. Opt for a relatively larger container. Water tends to get muddy with paint quickly and more water will mean you can use it for longer without dirtying it all up!
  • (Optional) A water spray bottle. I rely quite heavily on my spray bottle. To wet paint without wetting my brush....to wet the paper...to wet a layer to lift it up...to create interesting marks on the painting. The applications are endless!
  • (Optional) A masking tape if you want clean lines at the edge of the paper. Only useful if you plan on using the full sheet of paper. Another thing to watch for.....with wood pulp paper it almost always tears off a bit when the tape is pulled off so unless you use cotton paper, I wouldn't use a masking tape.
  • (Optional) A hairdryer if you don't have the patience to let the watercolour dry naturally between washes. A fan might also work. I don't have that much patience so I rely on a hair dryer to dry the layers quickly. Depending on how much water you use...it can take a while to dry and drying between washes is essential for this technique.
  • (Optional) A palette to squeeze paint on to. You can just as easily use a small dinner plate too. The paint is water soluble so it can be washed off...however be careful of what pigments might be in it and so use an old plate that you don't use anymore.

COLOURS

Where can you start? It can be intimidating to select the first colour to paint with for a beginner. Believe me, making that first mark on a blank canvas can be intimidating for seasoned artists as well. A blank page is scary. There is a lot to lose and mess up...but fear not. With what we are doing there's little you can do that will mess it all up.

Let's talk a little bit about basic colour theory. Colour theory is a vast topic and one that takes practice to master. There is no way to cover it all in a post like this one. We will briefly touch upon why you are going to select certain colours vs other.

To begin with, stick with paint colours that "are neighbors". What do I mean? Look at the colour wheel below. Stick with relatively adjacent colours and you'll be good. Mixing opposite colours like blue and orange (or yellow and purple or red and green) makes mud or a brown. This colour can be pretty sometimes....but only if its intentional. If you are not intending for that brown to be there then it looks off putting and dull.

But, yellow and green for example mixed in any proportion will only ever make a greenish yellow or a yellowish green. Or.....lets say you pick blue and yellow. Mixing these two colours alone in varying proportions is only ever going to make some sort of bluish or greenish colour. Never mud. There's no way to make mud with just those two colours. Get it? This logic applies to all adjacent colours. 

BUT - There are no rules in art making. Any rules I tell you are meant to be broken. But, as you get familiar with using colours they will help keep things clean in the beginning. 

I usually like to start with a super thinned yellow as my first layer. Then I can either go towards oranges, reds and pinks if I’m wanting to make a warm painting or the greens and blues if I’m wanting to make a quieter, calmer, cooler painting. For today I’m gonna go with the yellows, greens, and blues. Feel free to pick the warm colors too! 

On your palette, squish out some yellow and up to 2 more adjacent colours in a small quantity. Remember to pick either warm or cool shades. Spray them with water -  only a little water. 

1. Warmer: Depending on whether you want an orangey yellow, orange, reddish orange or red – you go on mixing red in that yellow.

2. Cooler: greenish yellow, yellowish green, green, greenish blue, blue – you would mix varying amounts of blue in the yellow to get that variation.

LAYERING

We will create a base painting and then add ink lines to it later. Here's what it will look like when we are done.


1. Create a base painting

Layer 0 – A super thin layer of yellow in whatever shape you feel like. It doesn't have to be even or look like anything at all. Wilder the better. Or it can be just a light yellow blob like mine. :)

Dry – If you don’t dry between layers you will not get those clean lines to trace later on and you might disturb the layers beneath more heavily since watercolour is not waterproof ones it dries. Which is entirely ok, your forms will be more organic in that case. 


Layer 1 – Wet your brush with more yellow or some green mixed in yellow. But not super saturated. Add some structure...this time only go over some of the painted areas with your brush...leaving some parts fainter than other. With every layer we are creating "differences" to mark later. 
Dry - Always dry between layers


Layer 2 – Add darker or more saturated layer of green to emphasize interesting areas...what areas is entirely your choice and there is no wrong way to do this. But, don't cover the whole painting. We want there to be areas of different saturation & colours.
Dry - Always dry between layers


Layer 3 or more – Keep adding as many layers as you like. I added layer 4 & 5 as well. Let it dry completely.

 

The base painting is done when you think there’s enough detail to mark. You can continue to add more and more layers if you like. Fewer layers equal fewer details. Also, the level of detailing will depend on the size of your brush. My flat brush allows me to have larger coverage. Due to the width of the brush, I can vary the line width to some extent. Next we will add ink! But, only after the base painting is completely dry.

2. Add ink on the base painting

Depending on what sort of a medium you are using, ink pen / brush / gel pen / ball point pen / pencil / whatever you are using to add the lines, your end result will be different compared to mine. If you have pens or options to add lines of varying widths, start with your thickest lines first. Start by adding the thick lines to the sections of the painting that are not too close together.

You will notice I am trying to mark areas where there is a difference in:

1. Saturation of color – how pure/dense/full a shade of red, green, blue, etc. is.

2. Difference in hue – red, yellow, blue, etc.

3. Differences in lightness and darkness or contrast – light red – dark red, light yellow – dark yellow, etc.

By adding these thick lines (mine are Sakura Micron pen size 08) first we create a guide for us on where the next lines will be. You never really know how your end result will look like.

Ok, so let’s pick up our next pen size (mine is Sakura Micron pen size 03) – one size lower – or whatever you have available. If you are only using a single size, that’s totally fine too. Continue to add lines with respect to the prior ones. Going from thick to thin and then switching between sizes every couple of lines. Also - I do this but you don't have to - I turn my page a lot to better access different areas of the painting - and it results in lines turning every which way. Looks pretty! 

Follow your intuition on where the next line will be. There is no rule on what “difference” you will trace. The only rule is that for the majority of the time you would trace the differences. And when you make a mistake - make a little circle around it or simply thicken that line. 

Ofcourse, you can also go totally wild and doodle wherever you like too. It's really up to you and your preferences. Do what feels natural to you. Do what feels good. Follow that feeling. There is no right or wrong way. Art is all about freedom of expression....your individual choices will be different than mine and that is what makes art awesome and fun. :)

We will continue to add ink till we have marked all possible differences....and then we are done! Tada! Here's how mine ended up looking. Yours will look entirely different. :) 

How did that feel? Does your mind feel quieter? Relaxed? Like you just went on a tiny vacation without leaving the house? I always feel energized after I do this process. It improves my mood. I feel more generous towards my family afterwards. I feel more compassionate towards myself. All in all....a little paint on paper is a good deal to me for taking care of my self. 

 

MISTAKES

Feel FREE to make them. Mistakes can be beautiful when it comes to art. Most times when I make a mistake, I add a line around it or add a little circle near it. Each mistake makes the painting prettier if you ask me. Each is a sign that we are human and humans make mistakes. And like we add these circles, we are not erasing our mistakes or covering them up, it’s just that we are making the best of that mistake and learning from it. As best as we can. 

Isn't that what makes life beautiful and meaningful? 

If you tried this...tell me below about your experience. If you are feeling generous...I'd like to see what you created too. I love getting mail from people who find beauty in little things that life has to offer. People like you!

Email me at hello@snehakm.com

Choosing to stay curious,

Sneha

 

MATERIALS LIST:

1) Paper:

Cost effective: 140 lb cold press wood pulp paper 

Ideal: 140 lb hot press cotton paper

I've used: 140 lb cold press 25% cotton and wood pulp blend by Fabriano

2) Paint: 

Cost effective: Winsor & Newton Cotman Set of 12 Colors

Ideal: Sennelier Watercolour Set of 12 Colors

I've used: Daniel Smith Tubes - I didn't find a good set. I just buy individual tubes.

3) Brushes

Cost effective: Aqualon Royal & Langnickel 8 piece Set

Ideal: Princeton Neptune brushes are pretty awesome. 

I've used: Princeton - Neptune (size 100) & VelvetTouch size 8 flat shader

4) Ink pens

Cost effective: Pilot black gel pen, pencils, a thin black sharpie, ball point pen - literally anything black you can write with. Depending on the type of paper you use - the ink can smear but its good enough as a starting point.

Ideal: Sakura Micron Black Ink Pens

I've used: Sakura Micron pens

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