Ink wash painting is a process (similar to watercolor painting) that uses black India ink to create greyscale works of art. If you are new to ink washing, you can begin by practicing color gradation, mixing different amounts of water with your ink to achieve varied shades. Next, you can experiment with different line techniques. Finally, when you feel a bit more comfortable with the ink, you can move on to creating your own ink wash painting.
EditPracticing Color Variations
- Gather materials. In order to begin this process, you will need to gather some items. All of these products can be found at art supplies stores, most craft stores, and online. You need:
- Paper (watercolor paper is a great choice)
- Water (in a cup)
- India ink
- Paper towels (for clean up or spills)
- Prepare your palette. Before you can jump into ink wash painting, you must spend some time experimenting with color gradation. You can begin by preparing a gradient palette. Use one of your brushes to transfer a bit of ink into the first pocket of your palette. Then, dab your brush into your cup of water (being not careful not to rinse too much of the ink off the brush) and then transfer some diluted ink into the next pocket. Dab your brush back into the water, and transfer some even more diluted ink into the third pocket.
- Continue this until you have about six different shades.
- Prepare your paper. In order to complete this gradation practice, you’ll need two strips of paper approximately 3 inches (7.62 cm) long and 6 inches (15.24 cm) wide. After you’ve cut your paper to these specifications, create lines on one of these strips. Using your ruler as a guide, draw pencil lines (moving from top to bottom) 1 inch (2.54 cm) apart. This will give you six, 1-inch (2.54 cm) wide rectangles.
- Practice gradation in each box. On the strip of lined paper, fill in each of the rectangles, moving from the lightest gradation (at the left) to the darkest (at the right). In the first box, use your inky water to create a light grey hue. In the second box, select a slightly darker shade from your palette, and paint this box a little darker. Continue this process in each box.
- Start light and add color as needed to achieve darker and darker transitions.
- Your final box should be colored in with pure ink.
- Set this strip of paper aside and allow it to dry. It will be a good reference for when you create your ink wash painting.
- Try a smooth, gradual gradation. On your unlined strip of paper, create a smooth color gradient. First, saturate your strip of paper with water, creating a light grey tint throughout. Then, use pure ink to lightly saturate the far right edge. Use your wet paintbrush to gradually stretch the ink across (from right to left) to achieve a gradient.
- Continue adding ink to the right edge, and using water to stretch it, in order to darken your gradient.
- Add water to the left edge, and use your wet paintbrush to stretch it, in order to soften your shades.
- Set this strip of paper aside and allow it to dry. Once again, it will be a good reference for when you create your ink wash painting.
EditExperimenting with Lines and Techniques
- Practice different levels of pressure. One of the benefits of working with India ink is that you can create different kinds of lines (thicker/thinner or darker/lighter) within one stroke, by pressing down with variable pressure (also called “weight”). Dip your paintbrush ⅔ of the way into your India ink, and practice drawing lines. Experiment with how hard you press. Try making squiggly lines or loops to get a sense of how weight works.
- You can also practice this technique with a dip pen, instead of a paintbrush.
- Try cross-hatching. A useful technique in ink wash painting is known as cross-hatching. Cross-hatching–which refers to the practice of drawing small straight lines–can be used for shading or to add dimension to a painting. Experiment with different cross-hatch methods.
- Draw many straight lines close together.
- Draw straight lines farther apart.
- Draw criss-cross lines (either at right angles, or diagonals).
- Use sloppy brush strokes.
- Experiment with stipple or splatter. Another technique used to create depth involves making little dots, or “stipple.” Or if you feel like getting a little messy, you can achieve a similar effect (though less controlled) by loading your brush with ink, and tapping it with your finger to create “splatter.” Try working with stipple and splatter.
- Stipple can done with small dots or large ones. Dots can be spread out or close together.
- Play with bleeds. Another element of ink wash painting has to do with the use of water. One technique you can play around with is to saturate an area of your paper with quite a bit of water. Then, dip your brush in some India ink, and dab it onto the wet area of your paper. You will notice the ink bleeding and moving around. Push the ink around with your brush to experiment with different effects.
EditCreating an Ink Wash Painting
- Start with a pencil sketch. Once you feel comfortable working with ink, you can begin the process of creating an ink wash painting. When you are first starting out, it can be especially helpful to begin with a pencil sketch. Lightly sketch an outline of the image you would like to paint.
- It can be helpful to start with a still-life image, such as a bowl of fruit.
- This allows you to look at the object, and mimic the look of shades and shadows.
- Color the image with very light washes. In ink wash painting, you will always move from your lightest shade to your darkest. Once you have your pencil sketch, add a light grey wash to your image.
- Allow this layer to dry before moving on.
- Use slightly darker tones to add dimension. Add a bit more ink to your brush, and gradually, build up layers of progressively darker values. Remember, you can always make something darker, but once the ink is on the paper, you cannot make it lighter.
- Use water to smooth out transitions. As you continue to add darker values to your painting, you can use water to makes your transitions look natural. Simply rinse your brush in water, and run the wet brush over places where your gradation seems choppy.
- Finish with your darkest lines. The darkest lines of your painting–deep shadows or sharp outlines–will be the last thing you add. When your painting is finished, allow it some time to dry. Wash your brushes and palette with soap and water.