Wonderful Water: Mimic Watercolors Using Pen and Wash Painting

Do you love watercolor painting? What about drawing with a pen? Well, get excited because I’m about to show you a technique that combines these two things. It’s so simple and produces some great results.

This tutorial will show you how to mimic the effects of watercolors using pen and wash painting.

Finished pen drawing

I first learned this technique with a specific brand of pens and haven’t deviated since. While I’m certain that other pens will work with this technique, I personally haven’t tried them. So, I have here my trusty Pilot Fineliner pen and watercolor paper. I’ll eventually need a brush and clean water, too.

tools for pen drawing

Before we dive into our drawing, it’s helpful to let yourself experiment on a scrap piece of paper.

To give you an idea of what this technique looks like, here’s a before and after:

water and pen
drawing exercise pen and ink

See what just a little bit of water does? The result depends on what kind of paper you’re using, too. I’m using cold press watercolor paper, which tends to suck up the water quickly. If you want to be able to play with your pigment and edges, I’d go for a piece of hot press paper.

1. Create a drawing with pen

pencil drawing
pen drawing

To begin, start by drawing whatever you like. It can be a still life, something from your imagination, or even a portrait. I’m drawing a beloved potted cactus and a small ceramic object.

I’m someone who always favors a quick pencil sketch. As you probably know, felt-tip pens are not forgiving. So, I’m just laying down a few outlines — no shading necessary. I now have a general idea of the spatial relationship between my subjects. Using the pen, I’m going to outline and color in dark areas. I’m using hatching and cross-hatching techniques to shade everything.

2. Add a painterly effect with water

adding water to the ink
phase 1 of water/ink drawing

Now that you’ve drawn an image you love, it’s time for the fun part. Find your favorite brush or brushes and grab a dish of clean water. First dip your brush in the water and voila! The ink starts to spread. Go over all of the parts where you want the pigment to move and transform them from lines to washes. It might not be everywhere, but it’ll add a nice accent to parts of your work.

Take this technique even further:

ink drawing
Ink drawing
completed ink drawing

One of the fun things you can do after your ink has dried is go back into the image. You can add color, more lines or even some mixed media elements like paper. The possibilities are really endless, and when you’re done you’ll have a visually rich work of art. You can see that I’ve used the same pen and drawn on top of the wash.

You can even use your favorite watercolor techniques to create gorgeous textures. Think about it — how would the wet-on-wet approach look in your piece? Try it by wetting an area of the paper and then drawing on top of the moistened paper.

What techniques do you want to try with pen and wash painting?

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