Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ink + Waterbrush: The Dynamic Duo

7/9/14 A sketch made with five inks plus water-soluble colored pencils.
If you ever read the captions under my sketch images where I list all the media used, you might be wondering about all those inks, especially the ones with long-winded Japanese names. (My post last weekend about the Obon festival is a good example; listed in the caption are Pilot Iroshizuku Asa-gao, Fuyu-syogun, Take-sumi and Tsuyu-kusa inks. I admit, that’s a mouthful.) Aside from revealing my apparent AR compulsion to track every medium used, what’s up with all the inks?

This summer I’ve been having a lot of fun mixing up the media. In addition to my usual watercolors and Zig markers, I’ve also been using water-soluble colored pencils to lend sketches both hue and texture.

Even more fun has been my recently discovered dynamic duo of waterbrushes filled with water-soluble fountain pen inks. For a while now I’ve been using a dark gray ink (especially Diamine Grey or Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-syogun) in a waterbrush to apply shadows to a sketch quickly, so that concept is not new. But I’ve extended it to include a diluted blue ink for sky (Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa is my favorite) and two shades of green for trees and other foliage (currently I’m trying Pilot Iroshizuku Chiku-rin and Private Reserve Avocado).  
7/18/14 A sketch made with four inks: two applied
with waterbrushes, two applied with fountain pens.
Inks applied with waterbrushes are essentially DIY reservoir markers similar to Pentel Color Brush Pens and Kuretake Brush Writers that I experimented with quite a bit a couple of years ago. But unlike those overpriced markers, my DIY versions are more flexible because I can dilute the inks to varying degrees, mix inks as desired, and refill as needed. My self-made markers are also an ongoing trial-and-error experiment, as I find some brands clog waterbrushes more than others. Diamine and Pilot Iroshizuku are two brands I’ve had consistent success with (not surprisingly, I’ve had the same results with fountain pens and these ink brands – they almost never clog).

While the ink-and-waterbrush duo can’t give me the range of hues that I can get with watercolors, it has two significant advantages: Speed and convenience. If I have the time and seated space to pull out my watercolors, I will. But oftentimes the desire to simply capture the sketch quickly and easily trumps the full palette. (Each of the sketches shown here was done in about five to 10 minutes.) An ulterior (but important) benefit is that I find myself focusing more on value when I have a limited palette and am therefore less distracted by trying to achieve an accurate color match with watercolors.

7/17/14 A sketch made with two contrasting
fountain pen inks to indicate the foreground
and background.
In a more conventional manner, I’ve also been occasionally using bright colored inks in fountain pens to draw with. These are especially handy in cases when I don’t intend to paint or add color at all (a typical example is when I sketch people in action, and I know I won’t have time to paint). I enjoy using a bright color to contrast with a neutral color to indicate depth or change in texture.

One important caveat: As I’ve discussed before, the archival quality of materials I use in my sketchbooks (which stay closed most of the time) is not a primary concern of mine. But if you’re concerned about lightfastness and other factors that affect longevity, I’d test these and other fountain pen inks before using them in sketches. (Jamie Williams Grossman has done extensive lightfastness testing of fountain pen inks on her blog, and many do not test well. The Fountain Pen Physicist is also testing inks.)

Incidentally, despite my prior experience with reservoir markers, my ability to learn from that experience is apparently limited. The first time I traveled with Kuretake Brush Writers to the high altitudes of Utah canyons, I learned the hard way that the reservoirs are likely to suddenly release pressure – and therefore ink – when the cap is opened. When I flew to L.A. earlier this month, I had several waterbrushes filled with ink in my bag. Upon landing, I discovered that at least one of them had had a similar incident (thankfully, the mess was well contained). Let’s see if my ability to learn will last until my next flight.


  1. Lots of good information here, Tina. Thanks!

  2. Now I gotta buy one of them expensive Pilot inks. Great post, Tina. I've been carrying a gray and a brown waterbrush for more than a year but your blue examples seal the deal - I need me some a dat!

    Cheers --- Larry

  3. Tina! I finally have come perusing your blog. Why didn't I sooner?

    I'm commenting on this one because I'm all too aware of your problem with changing altitude and water brushes .... and some pens. Probably twice a week I have to deal with changes in elevation, so now I keep my water brush and fountain pens in a pouch that either hangs around my neck or on a knob in the car.

    1. Thanks for visiting my blog, Elva! And thanks for the tip. . . I was trying to keep my waterbrushes upright, but obviously I didn't succeed all the time.


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