Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fruit with Grisaille

2/4/14 Platinum Carbon ink, India ink grisaille, Van Gogh watercolors,
Stillman & Birn Delta sketchbook
In Steve Reddy’s workshop over the weekend, we applied varying dilutions of India ink to our drawings as a grisaille underpainting before glazing with watercolor. We put the diluted India ink in small jars, which I knew wouldn’t work for me in the field because I often sketch standing up. I decided I’d try putting diluted ink in a waterbrush to see if it could be applied that way, since that’s the only way I could see myself using it on location.

I didn’t have time to go out for a sketch today, but I had 20 minutes for a still life (that’s my kind of still life – unlike the ones I spent hours on over the weekend). As we did in class, I applied a light dilution of India ink with a waterbrush, allowing it to dry between applications (it dried quickly in my well-heated studio). The synthetic waterbrush fibers weren’t quite as easy to control as the sable brush I was using in the workshop, but I use that mediocre waterbrush 98 percent of the time in the field, so I’m used to it. I was actually pleased with the results from that mediocre but hardworking waterbrush!

The only thing I’m not sure about with this technique is that the watercolor hues change when applied over the India ink grisaille. I know I have difficulty getting the values right with watercolors alone, so if the values of a sketch “read” more accurately with grisaille, then maybe that’s a good thing. But maybe if I just got better at painting watercolor values more accurately, I wouldn’t need the grisaille.

Of course, “just get better at” is easier said than done!


  1. I was thinking about this method and wondering if you could use the ink in a water brush and have it work...obviously you can. I like the look of these with the grisaille. This one came out great! I think it is hard to get dark values with the waterbrush alone when working outdoors. I find that I need to keep a regular brush handy too. The darks are never dark enough otherwise. Thanks for sharing your experiments with this.

  2. Tina, I've been carrying two waterbrushes filled with very dilute (few drops of ink for a full, medium waterbrush), one of the with Lexington Gray and the other Polar Brown. I use these mostly for shading/toning quick sketches but multiple layers of the Lex Gray pen work very similar to the india ink method and I can put watecolor over it.

    I tried Steven's little bottle approach and while it worked ok, I have the same sort of practical problems you describe. A pretty no-nonsense substitute is to get a Derwent Graphitone pencil (I use 8B). I took a short hunk of that and stuffed it into a half-pan and it becomes part of my palette. Used just like watercolor but with the twist that when it dries its waterproof so you can use it exactly the way Steven uses india ink, but without the bottles.

    Cheers --- Larry

    1. Hmmm, Derwent Graphitone. . . I have a couple of those! Very interesting, Larry -- I didn't realize they dry waterproof. Thanks for the idea -- I will definitely give this a try.


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