Approaches to Watercolour and Ink

Published 27 July 2022 in Media Blogs

So, today is a briefing on using watercolours and inks!

Watercolours and inks can be used to create either delicate artworks, or more loose (free, less formal) and abstracted creations. At first glance they may appear to be very similar, but do you know the difference between the two? Watercolour is pigment suspended in water, meaning that with each new layer, the previous colour that you applied will mix or blend with the new layer creating a new colour. Meanwhile ink is more like a liquid stain. This means that each layer of colour will lay on top of your previous colour and with it being translucent it then creates a new colour by the light shining through. This is why watercolours can sometimes appear a little ‘muddy’ as it is more difficult to keep the colours pure. Knowing your colour wheel and how one colour affects and changes another colour is so very important. Both mediums are the application of thin layers and as one adds more layers the colours become more vivid. Warning though: too many layers can cause lifting of areas you’ve already applied.

To start, watercolours: I think the most important thing before starting to create any artwork is to select your materials based on what you would like to accomplish. In the case of watercolour, your choice of paper is very important. Your average wood pulp paper will disintegrate very quickly, therefore select a good watercolour paper – this is rag based and therefore does not disintegrate once waterlogged. The best would be the highest quality acid-free paper or museum quality paper that will help to prevent discolouration over time.

An important point to remember is that the moment you add water to your paper, it will begin to warp and buckle, to prevent this from happening it is advisable to stretch your paper on a thick board and to work on your paper while remaining stretched (only removing it from the board once your artwork is completed and dry). To stretch your paper, lay it in a water bath for an hour or two, remove it from its water bath and lay it smoothly onto your board and carefully wipe off the excess water with the palm of your hand. Tape it down firmly with gum tape, ensuring that the edges of your tape go all the way around the back of your board. Once it’s properly dry, you can start applying your watercolour.

Using good tools can save you in the long run, so purchase good quality brushes that will hold their form much longer than less expensive entry level brushes. The same can be said for your choice of brand of watercolour paints. A good quality paint applies better, has a better quality of pigment (more vivid colours) and this also means that they are more colourfast (the colours won’t fade as quickly).

So, to begin, have your paper, and then either watercolour pans, tubes, or even pens. There are mainly three techniques when using watercolour – (1) wet on wet, (2) wet on dry, or (3) masking fluid

(1)  Wet on wet: wet the area of the paper you will be using with some clean water and your paintbrush (or a spray bottle). You can either have a nice ‘puddle’ of water on the area, and you can let the paint bleed out, or even create gradients with the colours – one could say you have less control this way. Another way is to almost paint the water onto the surface – this way, when you apply your paint, while it bleeds over the wet area, it does not do it so much or as uncontrollably as the ‘puddle method’. Here you can apply more detail and variation to your work.

(2)  Wet on dry: this allows for more detail and even more control – similar to other paint media techniques. Apply your watercolour paints directly onto the surface without any water being applied beforehand. You can bring in more detail and keep the colours more isolated or ‘unmixed’ than using a wet surface.

(3)  Masking fluid: this can be applied to areas of your paper to retain a colour or a detail before applying a wash over your paper. The masking fluid is then removed after you have completed your painting. This is a fantastic method to prevent your colours from becoming ‘muddy’.

Even better – you can use all techniques and apply your paints onto a dry surface for those details, and then work in clean water to get that gradient! Or even the other way around! And ‘puddle’ method, and then once dry, paint in your details.

- keep your brushes clean
- water your paints before applying them
- have two water ‘stations’ – one to rinse, and one for clean ‘applying’ water
- tape down your paper onto a flat surface to keep your paper in place, and to keep the paper flat while its drying (use gum tape or watercolour tape)

Now then, Inks!
So inks are generally either water, oil or alcohol based.

Oil-based inks work well for print-making – linocuts, woodcuts, etchings (and many more!); and water-based inks are used quite often for screen-printing. The main difference between the two is their drying time – oil (obviously) takes longer to dry, on your printing block, roller, and paper. Water-based inks then dry rather quickly, so having a collection or series of prints can be done rather quickly, whereas oil-based inks may take days or even weeks to dry completely. Water-based could be a bit more volatile in their consistency, and quality depends on brand more so than oil-based inks. Alcohol based inks are the quickest drying ink.

To use ink, you can either paint-draw – technique similar to watercolours as seen in Hannelie Coetzee’s works, or you can print-make the likes of John Moore – using rollers, presses and a matrix or block-cut (lino, wood, rubber). As John Moore mentioned in his demonstration: you need to listen to your ink when rolling and applying it to your matrix! It must not sound think or as though there is suction – rather, it should feel like white noise, be uniform and ‘loose’.

So there you have it! A briefing on watercolours and inks – drawing, painting, and printing. When painting or drawing with the two media, you can work them similarly (note: if oil-based ink, use a spirit solution to thin your inks) to watercolours. When printing however, remember John’s words and listen to your ink.

John Moore's On the lookout, ink linocut

Hannelie Coetzee's Hyena bewegings Studie V, ink drawing

Lesley Deysel's Ephemeral IV, ink, watercolour, and tea

- Cassandra Comins

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