Inktober 2: A Study in Water Soluble Indian Ink

“Red Squirrel at the Water’s Edge”


I am planning a colour illustration of a red squirrel, so I thought I would do a few studies first, to get to know the creature a wee bit better. This study was created entirely with Winsor & Newton’s Liquid Indian Ink, which (as I mentioned in my last post) is a suspension of traditional Chinese stick ink in water, so it has lots of texture and a tendency to granulate at the slightest provocation – which I like very much, though did not really exploit to any extent in this drawing.

I used the Arches Aquarelle cold pressed 140lb paper again, but on a smaller block, just 7″ by 10″. This paper is suprisingly yellow compared with a typical white piece of paper (as you can see in the final scan above), and it blends very well with the warm tone of this black ink. The study was drawn entirely with brushes, as I prefer to work that way when using ink. I have recently started using very lightweight (and cheap!) aluminium palettes for working with inks, and this has proved most successful. I reserve my ceramic palettes for watercolour paints, and the plastic palettes I used to use with ink never really came clean.

As I don’t happen to have a pet red squirrel who would be willing to pose motionless for several hours, I had to work from a photograph of course. This is never entirely satisfactory, but it’s more or less inevitable when drawing wildlife. The study got off to a fairly bold start, but there were lots of errors in proportion and form:


It doesn’t look too bad if you only glance quickly (except for the missing legs!) but there’s quite a lot wrong. At this stage the unfortunate creature looks rather more like a chipmunk with a bushy tail than a red squirrel. Luckily this robust paper withstands almost anything, so it was possible to make plenty of corrections. For general reworking I use a combination of washing out with a clean paintbrush, lifting with a piece of moistened magic sponge (you can see small pieces to the right of the drawing in these photos), and, when absolutely necessary, scraping back with a scalpel blade.

I completed the legs and feet, using a scalpel blade to correct the toe nails where they were not sufficiently well defined by the actual drawing, and did some more work on the face, ears, and general structure of the squirrel’s body. Eventually, after a great deal more reworking each time I made a mistake, I achieved something resembling the representation of the squirrel in the source photograph. It still wasn’t quite right though:


When I stood back I could plenty of errors, and so continued to fiddle with it for a while, until it got to the point where it was time to stop. The final result is shown (unaltered, straight off the scan) at the top of this blog post.

Although I would love to have such a light and accurate touch that I could convey an animal like this with just a few elegant strokes, one of the advantages of working into the drawing – and then reworking time and again – is that the layering process does build up an impression of depth and structure which a lighter, more elegant drawing would lack. This only succeeds if the paper has plenty of texture itself and is strong enough to withstand the treatment, of course… You can get some idea of the process and result in the detail below, where you can see stroked overlaid on strokes overlaid on strokes, and some of the granularity of the ink. Genuine Indian (or Chinese) ink, with its substantial body and texture, is ideal for achieving this kind of effect, whereas a lighter weight, dye-based ink would be no use.


The final result is fairly dark, and may need brightening up a wee bit if it’s going to be used for reproductions on greetings cards, etc., but personally I like the naturally rich tones of this ink, and it’s a pleasure to work with – and an entirely different experience from working with the coloured inks discussed in my last blog post, although admittedly the result is much less colourful 😀

Inktober 1: An Illustration in Ecoline Liquid Watercolour Inks and Indian Ink


“The Watcher” New Moon over Loch Sunart at Twilight

It’s quite a while since I last did any work with coloured inks (as opposed to black water soluble Indian ink for monochrome sketches), but as it is “Inktober” it seemed like an appropriate time to try them again, so I took advantage of the discounts offered by the art suppliers for “Inktober” 🙂

We were driving home along the shores of Loch Sunart on a calm autumn evening a couple of years ago when we saw this lovely scene. The setting new moon was reflected in the sea loch as it sank down towards the hills of Morvern, with the deep purple shadows of twilight stealing across the water while the sky was still lit up with the glowing colours of an autumn sunset. I photographed it as well as I could, although the light faded rapidly, and I have been trying to paint it ever since. I don’t suppose this will be the last attempt…

As it has a simple but glowing palette of sunset and twilight colours, it seemed like an ideal subject for coloured inks, whose transparency and saturated dyes are well suited to bright illustrative work. Compared with watercolour paints, the Ecoline liquid watercolour inks are brash and lacking in subtlety; they are also entirely lacking in body and texture, as I re-discovered.

I decided to use top quality watercolour paper, to give the inks the best possible chance, and chose Arches Aquarelle 140lb (300gsm) hot pressed paper, on a block, as the inks are very wet…

For the first stage, I masked out the new moon and its reflection with standard masking fluid, then laid down some basic colour washes with a little detail in the water. The result was certainly bright, but brutal.


I left the work to dry overnight and pondered how best to proceed.

Unlike many other drawing inks, the Ecoline liquid watercolour Inks are water soluble, meaning that they are not waterproof when dry, and in principle you can re-wet them, blend them and to some extent wash them out. This is why I chose them, as I don’t like using materials which cannot be re-worked. However, they are made with dyes, not with pigments, and the extent to which they can be removed from the paper is limited as they are highly staining. I worked at the image for some time, adding in the silhouetted land masses with Winsor & Newton liquid Indian ink. This deep black, water soluble ink is quite different from the coloured inks (and from Winsor and Newton’s waterproof black ink), being a suspension of traditional Chinese stick ink in water and not a dye. (This means that it has far more body, and a fascinating tendency to granulation when used diluted, which I exploit when sketching, but not in this image, although you can see a hint of the effect in the lower right.) Once the details of the land were established, I proceeded to wash out and blend in the areas of sky and water until I was reasonably satisfied with them. It was lucky I had chosen such a good paper, as I doubt that an inferior paper would have stood up to this process.


The inks are nothing like as sophisticated a medium as watercolour paint, and their lack of body is disconcerting at first. (When working habitually with watercolour paints it’s tempting to think that watercolours are the lightest and most insubstantial of the painting media, but in comparison to these coloured inks, watercolours paints seem relatively heavy!) However, these inks do impart a nice glow to the work, and providing it is scanned quickly and used for reproduction, they are quite useful for illustration work. They are also extremely cheap compared with professional quality watercolours…

(Coloured inks are NOT lightfast and should never be used for original art work intended for sale. The colours can degrade surprisingly rapidly.)

So this image will be used mainly for giclée prints, which can be obtained from “The Watcher” collection in my Folksy shop, including very small prints mounted in aperture greetings cards:


The image above is from a photograh, not a scan, and the colours are not true. You can get a better idea of the colours achieved in the giclée prints (including the one in the aperture card) in this scan of a mounted giclée print, below: