Saturday, April 25, 2015

Blurring the Edges

4/25/15 Sailor Doyou and other water-soluble inks, watercolor, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils, Canson XL 140 lb.

For a long time, my favorite way to make delicate shading on faces has been to draw the contour with water-soluble ink and then use a waterbrush to dissolve the ink slightly. When I know I’m going to use watercolor, though, my usual choice is to draw first with waterproof ink. (The latter is probably one of the most popular techniques among sketchers.)

Today’s sketch (above) is an experiment I’m going to try more often: Instead of using waterproof ink, I drew the outlines of these trees and branches with water-soluble Sailor Doyou ink. I had to remember to save the power lines till the very end, or they would have blurred away when I sprayed the page with water, but otherwise, my process wasn’t very different from when I draw first with waterproof ink. I really like the way the tree branches diffused with the sprayed water and watercolor application. In the case of these particular trees, which had pale brownish-green foliage, cool, dark gray Doyou makes a good complement. The ink probably would have muddied the paint if I’d used a bright yellow-green.

10/29/14 water-soluble and waterproof inks, watercolor
The last time I remember doing a similar experiment was last October, when I used my long-time favorite Diamine Chocolate Brown ink with watercolors to sketch turning maple trees (at right and below). Chocolate Brown is much warmer than Doyou, so it coordinated well with orange and red leaves.

I think using water-soluble inks works best with organic subject matter that is conducive to a softer, blurry look. It’s harder to pull off with objects that require hard edges, like buildings (although I’ve certainly seen sketches of architecture done by an artist in this way to stunning effect; I wish I could remember who that was). I’m not trying to avoid waterproof inks altogether, as there are many times when I really want clean, sharp lines and distinct colors. But sometimes it’s fun to let the edges go soft and fuzzy.

10/22/14 water-soluble ink, watercolor, colored pencils
In addition, there’s a physical (chemical?) reason why I often reach for my pens containing water-soluble inks (containing dyes) instead of the one with waterproof ink (containing pigment): The former are almost always “wetter” than the latter, and I always prefer the easier flow of those wetter inks, which seem to make me draw more loosely.

Interestingly, Liz Steel has recently been blogging about using waterproof inks to draw into watercolor while it is still wet, making the ink lines blur a bit before they dry permanently. It’s a different way to get a similar effect.


  1. It is always fun to see how the ink and the water react. It does work nicely to diffuse colors for foliage. You did a nice job on these, especially the newest one on top.

  2. I like that effect, too. So far I have only used Diamine Grey and J. Herbin Lie de Thé (a brown washing out to sort of yellow-brown which works great for my golden retriever). Before, i had only used waterproof ink but I am branching out.

  3. The sketches are great, Tina. Maybe you could combine water-soluble with waterproof to achieve what you want (eg - draw the power lines with waterproof ink while drawing the trees with water-soluble. You mentioned "before I sprayed..." Are you talking about wetting the paper or something else and if the former, are you spraying before you use your water-color pencils? Inquiring minds and all that :-)

    1. I generally use the sprayer on the top half of the paper -- for the sky and trees -- and tend to use watercolor pencils on dry paper only (sometimes wetting the scribbles afterwards). Thanks for asking -- you gave me an idea for a future blog post. ;-)


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