Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ink-Mixing Revelation

10/2/13 Blue-black waterproof/water-soluble mix, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
It’s obvious from my sketches that I love using water-soluble ink, especially when sketching people. A small touch of water to wash the ink line enables me to get subtle shading on faces that would be difficult (for me) to achieve with other media. But sometimes if I wash the line too vigorously, it loses its crispness.

I also love waterproof ink for, well, its waterproofedness, which enables me to add watercolor and other water-soluble media after I’ve drawn the sketch without dulling the hue or softening the initial ink line.

But I’ve always thought of these two types of inks as unmixable – as if the unique properties of each would cancel the other out, resulting in an ink mix that was neither sufficiently water-soluble nor fully waterproof.

At least I thought that until I saw some interesting sketches on Flickr by Joel Winstead, an urban sketcher I met in Barcelona. His sketches have a subtle brown wash while retaining a strong line. I asked him what kind of ink he was using, and his reply astounded me: A mix of a water-soluble ink and a waterproof ink! It was my V-8 moment: Why hadn’t that ever occurred to me? Is this a trick everyone knows, and I’ve been in the dark? Or did Joel just share his best-kept secret ink formula? Well, who cares – now that I knew, I had to try it myself immediately.

10/3/13 Blue-black waterproof/water-soluble mix
Canson XL 140 lb. paper
My first mix was an approximately 50/50 blend of Platinum Carbon Black (waterproof) and Private Reserve Naples Blue (water soluble). The blue turned out to be a bit garish (see sketch above), but I liked the way the lines stayed sharp. I added a bit more Carbon Black and some Private Reserve Velvet Black (water soluble), and I liked that blue blend better (at right).

I wanted to try a warm blend too, so I started with a 50/50 blend of Platinum Pigmented Sepia (waterproof) and Diamine Rustic Brown (water soluble). Even used alone, Platinum Sepia can be rather pale, and that was true when mixed too, so I added a few drops of Platinum Carbon Black to darken it. This time the line stayed crisp and dark, but I didn’t really care for the pinkish hue of the wash (below). I’m going to keep experimenting with that one. (I love mixing inks in the small plastic vials I get from It brings out my inner mad scientist. And yay for Goulet for selling ink samples in small quantities so I can play mad scientist economically!)

10/3/13 Brown-black waterproof/water-soluble
mix, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
I gave the ink blends a try yesterday and today. I think I have to use a lighter touch on the lines because I can’t blur them out with a wash as I had been used to doing. (And sometimes I really want the lines to blur.) But I do like the way the lines stay sharp even with vigorous washing.

“Bwaa-haa-haa,” says my inner mad scientist as I look forward to how I’m going to occupy the cold and rainy winter months ahead (which have already started – September was a record-breaking wet month in Seattle). Thanks for the (no-longer-secret) formula, Joel!

See the next post for more sketches I did with these ink blends.

Edited 10/25/13: I've discovered that, unlike plain water-soluble inks, a blend of inks including waterproof ink has to be washed fairly quickly  probably before it dries completely  to wash it easily. In the field, I tend to put in shading almost immediately, because I'm afraid my "models" will leave at any moment, so I hadn't noticed this. But yesterday in a life-drawing studio, I knew I had plenty of time, so I dawdled, and I found the ink became nearly waterproof after a while. In other words, its water-soluble properties started to diminish (which doesn't happen with pure water-soluble inks). Now that I know that, I might be able to use a blend to my advantage (draw an outline, make washes while the water-soluble properties are still active, wait longer, and then paint with watercolors? Hmmm. . .).


  1. What an interesting concept of mixing the inks! It amazes me that you can get such a dark line and it softens to such nice colors. I don't have enough inks (or pens) to experiment with mixing them, but I'll have to remember this idea.

  2. White ink: Is there a good one that is opaque enough to cover copic inks?

    1. I don't use Copic markers, so I haven't tried using white ink with them. But in general, I haven't found a white ink that is truly opaque, though some are better than others. Here's a comparison I did among a few white pens:


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