Indian ink and watercolor look best in my opinion when there is an accidental look to them. If you like to be precise, like me, that accidental look can be difficult to achieve, especially when painting over a drawing. I tend to stay in between the lines 🙂
You might also be interested in: Painting with India Ink over life drawings
I am now using a technique that “forces” me to loosen up, it is a lot of fun and can be applied to a variety of subjects. I am showing it here with a series of dramatic portraits but you can use it for still life or landscapes as well. You could also try it with watercolor instead of India ink
To paint loose portraits with India ink, you will need:
- watercolor or mixed media paper
- a selection of brushes ( I like the angled brushes but you can use your favourite brushes)
- India ink
- a few containers
- waterproof markers or dipping pen and ink
- white acrylic (optional)
- stiff brush (optional)
- tissue paper
- a few reference pictures- black and white is easier
I have been painting with watercolors and ink for many years now and I always started with a graphite or marker drawing. Recently I have been trying to do things backwards : Start with the wash and then make the drawing.
It might sound counter intuitive but it allows you to start with wide, loose strokes and finish with details.
Here is how to paint loose line and wash portraits with India ink
Start by painting a very loose India ink wash
Gather all your materials. For this series I went on Wikimedia commons and looked for actresses portraits and then printed them as a reference. I prepared 2 containers of India ink : One full strength and one diluted to a light/medium grey.
Select a picture and start painting quickly with a medium size brush what areas you see as light grey with the light grey wash and some areas you see dark with the undiluted India ink wash. Leave the light area unpainted as the white of your paper will correspond to the highlights of your picture. Basically you are just painting the shadows on the figure.
Try to paint fast so the Ink doesn’t have time to dry and make too many hard edges.
You are looking for a bit of a basic placement of light and shade at this stage so go fast and use a lot of water.
Let go of control and let the ink move the way it wants to move. Let accidents like blooms happen.
Ideally you want to see some irregularities in your washes. Going fast also won’t allow you to fiddle too much with details.
You actually want blooms and irregularities in your washes to happen at this stage.
Once you are done you should have a painting that looks something like this. Don’t worry if it is not perfect, you will have opportunities to make corrections later.
You can work on series of these portraits, that way you don’t have to wait for the ink to dry while you are working on the next one.
Working in series also allows you to loosen up and not be too invested in one painting as they might not all work out. That way you can select the ones you like the best and throw away the ones that did not work. Working that way relieves a bit of the pressure of having to make a successful painting every time. You can also work faster that way.
Add details with a marker
Once your painting had time to dry, you can go back to the painting and draw more details with a marker. You don’t need to add too many details as you want the painting to keep its free and loose feel.
The contrast between the loose washes and the sharp lines is always interesting to look at. You can draw elements like the features with the marker, you can also do a bit of cross hatching to add shading.
Once you are done with the marker, you can go over with ink on top of the markers. If they are waterproof and had time to dry, they should not bleed.
Portraits made with this technique are not exact, most of them look a bit weird, but I like that look. Sometimes still, you might want to make corrections and lighten up an area of the painting.
You can try brushing off India ink with a stiff brush and a bit of water. As long as it is not damaging the paper, you will be able to lighten up significantly an area.
If you want to clean up the background, you can also paint a layer of white acrylic paint to make it all white again.
Here I am cleaning up the background with a layer of white acrylic, I am leaving a bit of space around the edges of the figure to keep the marker line intact.