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Water Soluble Ink: The Ultimate Sketching Kit?

June 9, 2014

14Apr20_Botanical Garden_02

Earlier this spring, a bit before drawing on the street was seasonable here in Montreal, I spent an afternoon sketching in the greenhouse at the MTL Botanical Garden.

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Looking back in time, my location drawing has been a fairly steady transition from black and white line drawing, through line and wash, and towards painting on location.  Mostly I see this as a natural progression. An ‘improvement’ from drawing towards painting. I think most people would feel that paintings are somehow more challenging. A ‘higher art’ than drawing?

There’s some biological reason behind it I’m sure. A painting, being tonal, can tap into the eye-to-brain function and convince us we’re looking at reality. But, oddly, that’s why I love line work. Because it’s not such a straightforward illusion of reality. There’s something about an ‘unfinished’ sketch that really appeals to me. It’s partially the speed of execution (they are more fun for the artist – no labor, just free-flowing seeing), and partially the way line is both specific about detail yet an abstraction at the same time. A line drawing conveys so much, so compactly. I can’t get over the joy of that magic trick.  How does it work? That a drawing can make us see an object in our mind?

That’s why I’m currently hooked on washable ink.

It really is the best of both worlds. I’m convinced that this approach is the ultimate sketching tool. The Lamy fountain pen, (or washable dipping inks – Lamy in a bottle, or Private Reserve) I’m using these days, combined with watercolor. It’s so much fun. Melting your drawings, into paintings. (Yes, yes, I’ve said it all before - but I love this so much, it’s a mini-obsession right now). I’ve recently discovered that the paper matters a great deal. I’m getting nice results with coated stock, such as this 8×8″ watercolor book by Hand Book.

Here’s another before and after showing the drawing, the melting with color, and the results.

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All this being said – I am still on that path, walking from drawings toward painting. In a future post I’ll show you more of that transition. I’ve been getting some nice stuff recently. Things are piled up on the scanner waiting for you.

29 Comments leave one →
  1. Marko E. permalink
    June 9, 2014 11:20 AM

    Sooo cool, I can’t wait to see more from the pile!

  2. June 9, 2014 11:28 AM

    Beautiful paintings! I love them!

  3. June 9, 2014 11:33 AM

    Reblogged this on Martha Keim-St. Louis' blog and commented:
    thanks for sharing your work and your methods. I like it very much

  4. June 9, 2014 11:47 AM

    Beautiful sketches!

  5. Mit permalink
    June 9, 2014 11:47 AM

    Love your art work!!!

  6. June 9, 2014 11:56 AM

    Your attitude is so refreshing and encouraging! Isn’t it amazing that a few lines can transport us, make us laugh or cry? LOVE water soluble ink. Used to make me nervous, but now it is exciting. Like holding a wild bird. Well, sort of…

  7. June 9, 2014 12:38 PM

    And sometimes we can skip the color and just melt the ink for another way to see a scene. Your work is so pretty.

  8. June 9, 2014 1:05 PM

    Your work is beautiful. I am going to look into washable ink, I use a water soluble pen, maybe this is a similar thing? :-)

    • June 9, 2014 1:23 PM

      Probably very similar – washable is term from fountain pen ink makers – if the lines melt and tint the color, that’s the main thing.

  9. June 9, 2014 1:37 PM

    Marc this is a great post. Thanks so much for so generously sharing, it is very inspiring for me and I am sure many, many others. I love line drawings and now I am getting out the washable ink. I have a bottle of black Quink from Staples that works. Thanks for taking the time and effort to do your posts here.

    • June 9, 2014 3:58 PM

      No worries Don! And I hope to get out there someday do sketch with you guys again!

  10. June 9, 2014 1:57 PM

    Lovely work!

  11. June 9, 2014 3:52 PM

    I love what you say about unfinished sketches. I too have always been attracted to them even those of the masters in museums. For me it’s about being able to see process. Almost linke seeing thinking in action, yet captured on paper.

  12. Jean-Pierre Riel permalink
    June 9, 2014 4:45 PM

    Very nice Marc, as always,
    Very expressive way of drawing. I am using Waterman black ink when drawing with water soluble ink in a fountain pen.I like the greyish look it has when it diffuses. i have heard that Higgins makes a lightfast water soluble ink. I have tried it but my lightfastness test are too recent to know if it is archival proof.

    • June 9, 2014 8:19 PM

      I was trying a bunch of inks, and having so so luck – it’s funny – seems like the ink makers don’t even know we do this with it :) Re, the light fastness. I guess I scan everything, so I have a digital archive if I needed it. But otherwise, the sketchbooks don’t really see a lot of light :) So far I haven’t been thinking too much about that aspect. I suppose when I think about hanging originals I’m more thinking about watercolors and oils. I like the drawings in a book better than on the wall – you need to be up close to appreciate line work I think.

  13. Rooi permalink
    June 9, 2014 6:45 PM

    when are you gonna visit and do workshops in australia?

    • June 9, 2014 8:20 PM

      That’s a good question! I dunno what I’ll do about getting there :) Maybe you guys can host the 2015 USK symposium!

  14. Chantal permalink
    June 9, 2014 9:00 PM

    Very beautiful work Marc. You make it seem these botanical gardens are made to be painted just this way. Wonderful photos too – love seeing that watercolour ‘action’ shot of the cactus. I’ll second Rooi’s vote for a workshop in Australia!

  15. June 10, 2014 3:19 AM

    These are fabulous drawings/paintings Marc. Like you, I love line, and I love unfinished work, so much more suggestive (But colour is irresistible too!). I discovered accidentally that Rotring inks will bleed, and interesting colours come from black ink. I love the serendipity of unplanned marks and have used it in abstract drawings.

  16. June 11, 2014 2:52 AM

    Hi… Been following your work for a while and not said anything yet, but these are great… I really like them! They make me want to try it! Cheers.

    • June 11, 2014 10:53 AM

      Hey Darrell – great to meet you!

  17. pegjuanita permalink
    June 11, 2014 11:08 AM

    Exquisitely beautiful work,Marc!! So much life and vitality in these botanicals!! I like this direction you’re traveling in right now!

  18. June 12, 2014 7:24 AM

    I love the effect of all that white space around your subjects, and the variations of green — fantastic!. I’ve just started using Staedtler 0.3mm marker pens, and have enjoyed the way the black ink moves with water, and then how watercolor adds yet another dimension. I also like the way you’ve reserved whites even in your subjects, something I plan to try/steal :-) I’m relatively new to all this (I don’t have an art background, I’m a cardiac nurse), so I can’t quite appreciate the difference between the watercolors and the washable inks… it appears that you still draw your subjects in black line? or do you use a colored ink that blends? or a mixture of both?… Eric

    • June 12, 2014 6:53 PM

      Yes, Eric, in these washable ink drawings, there is a fairly complete black line drawing at first. That (and some black brushwork in ink) is the only ink. All the color is then done in fairly pure washes. The watercolor that come second melts the line. In some places pushing it back to a faint trace. The black ink that lifts up, mixes with the watercolor, neutralizing the tints. In effect it’s both selective erasing of the drawing, and ‘brakes’ on the brightness of color at the same time. Something I really enjoy. That, and it’s about 50/50 if you’re still in control of the washes – which I also enjoy :)

  19. June 12, 2014 5:19 PM

    Gorgeous sketches!!! I always thought that having the ink bleed into the painting got really nice results. This is proof!

  20. June 16, 2014 9:07 AM

    Bonjour, merci pour ces beaux dessins! ;-) And i really like those sketchbooks. I folloewd your link and ended up on hglobalartmaterials.com/ in Kansas City. Where and how can I buy these. Merci!

    • June 16, 2014 9:30 AM

      Here in Montreal, you can get them at Avenue Des Arts on Victoria in Westmount. There may be other places, that’s just the one I know.

  21. June 16, 2014 9:10 AM

    Oups! Forgot the “?” at the end. ;-)

  22. Randall Laue permalink
    June 21, 2014 12:56 PM

    Great resource!!’

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