Monday, December 26, 2016

Musings on Water Soluble Ink: Part I


I've been wandering around the house mumbling to myself.  Most of my blog post are inspired by what I see in the natural world around me.  This time I want to write about creating using water soluble ink. The thoughts come from inside my head.  The challenge is to bring order to them. 

I probably would have forty years of experience using water soluble ink if technology had been different decades ago when I started my art career.  Back then it was much cheaper to prepare line art (clean black and white art such as the raccoon) for reproduction versus anything done with color or even grey tones.  At that time I was doing a fair amount of illustrating and even had a small (black and white) bookmark and notecard business. I spent a lot of my time creating careful line drawings.  Ink is not forgiving.  I penciled first and inked carefully.  Looking back I wish I'd allowed myself more time for sketching from the heart.  As it was, I was very goal oriented -- I wanted to create finished art. 

Now I approach my art very differently.  It's no longer a business.  It's an expression of who I am and what I love.  I'm trying to capture what catches my attention.  It doesn't have to be perfect. I'm striving for something with more soul. 

Sketching/ drawing with water soluble ink has been a delightful addition to my arsenal of how I work.  Several years ago I happened on a throw-away pen which had ink that bled.  By then I was finally sketching a lot more ... and this little pen was a joy.  But, of course, it ran dry. I couldn't find a replacement.  I live in a small town and seldom enter an art store.

Thank heavens the Internet came along.  I eventually discovered other artists who like sketching. I grasped bits of wisdom they threw out.  Cathy Johnson opened my eyes to sketching with a fountain pen more than anyone else.  I got a pen and I happened to fill it with the only fountain pen ink for artists that I could find:  Pelikan Fount India Ink.  This is NOT India ink!  At least to my mind it isn't.  To me India ink is permanent and has shellac in it -- only to be used with dip pens.  I've no clue why they gave it such a confusing name.  'Real' India ink is death in a fountain pen.  Pelikan Fount India ink is designed for fountain pens -- opaque, lightfast, and black.  The bottle didn't even tell me it is water soluble.  That came as a happy surprise.  You can use it for crisp, black work ... or add a little water and create every grey tone imaginable. 
Now to the nitty gritty of how I use it.  I'm going to write about two brands of ink (Pelikan Fount India ink and Platinum Carbon ink) and a waterbrush. The waterbrush is the plastic brush in the photo.  It holds water in its barrel, so I can easily add water to my drawing.  Good art stores and online catalogues have them.  My favorite is a Niji mini medium. 

I find Pelikan Fount India Ink just a little too water soluble.  If I use it straight, I have difficulty controlling my light tones.  My solution is to mix it with a permanent ink, a non-soluble one.  That may sound counter intuitive, but I'll explain.  The permanent ink soon dries, giving me a nice black line.  The Pelikan ink is now diluted and so not as powerful.  Normally I just dump some of each together, a little heavy to the Pelikan ink.  For the chart of tests I'm about to show you, I measured a little more carefully -- about half and half of each ink.  I keep reading that it isn't good to mix inks ...... but I've been doing it for about four years without a problem.
On this chart I quickly sketched the three little lines and then timed how long I let them rest before smearing them with a clean, wet,  waterbrush.  Note that within five minute all the inks were dry and the response was the same then as it was a day later. 

The first vertical row of tests is pure Pelikan Fount India ink.  Note how it still bleeds a fairly strong grey tone the next day.

My second column is my half and half mixture.  It still has some ability to bleed the next day. 

My third column is my other favorite ink, Platinum Carbon.  This ink also goes in a fountain pen. Once dry, it doesn't bleed.  Some artists have commented that their pens clog with this ink, but I haven't had any problem.  My standard equipment is to have one pen filled with my (approximate) half and half mixture and a second pen filled with Platinum Carbon. 
And now for how I make the ink work for me.  See that mess around my art -- that tells a lot.  I'm working back and forth between ink that has dried, fresh ink, and, MOST IMPORTANT, making little squiggles of ink off to the side to harvest greys from. While still wet I dab my waterbrush in there and pick up grey tones.  If you look carefully at the top you'll see little pen scribbles.  (I'm not referring to the dark border around the tiger eyes -- I did that intentionally.)    I quickly wet my squiggles, check if I've got the grey tone I want, and add it to the art.  I don't have to hurry. Once the ink is too dry, I just have to go back and make another squiggle.  For a really dark area, like around his eyes, I add just a little ink right on the image and wet right away.  For mid tones I often make a scribble off to the side and bring the mid tone in.  Light tones I can just rewet a dark area and pick up pale ink. 

It takes a little practice before you feel as though you are in control.  At first you might feel as though you are patting your head and rubbing your tummy.  Just remember you don't have to hurry.  You can always add a little more ink.   The ink doesn't lift off very well, so work with light tones first.  You can always darken them.  If you try adding ink to damp paper, you'll probably get a big black splotch.  It'll gallop away from you in a hurry.

Often I like to pencil first.  Once a pencil line is wetted, it doesn't like to erase.  So I often pencil, ink simple lines, dry, and erase before I add the grey tones.  Next week I plan to post a step by step demonstration of my normal mode .... if I have a normal mode.  Sometimes my first lines are water soluble ink, sometimes permanent ink, sometimes I decide six months later I want to add the grey tones. I did this line drawing of the standing bear in Yellowstone in April and added the grey tones in December.

Good paper makes a big difference.  If the paper is too absorbent (cheap sketching paper), it'll just suck up the ink.  When paper is too polished, the ink just slides around on the surface.  Most on my drawings are done in my 'Super Deluxe Bee paper sketch book.'  I think any sketchbook designed for watercolor will work, but if the paper is too rough, you'll have a hard time with your pen line. 

Next week I plan to post examples done with an inexpensive throw-away pen -- for those of you who want to experiment before taking the plunge and buying a fountain pen and ink ..... and I'll post an example drawn with a sumi ink I recently found.

But first, here are a few more sketches and how I did them:
On the nuthatch I used my half and half mix plus a little black watercolor for the background.  I signed it after the background was dry -- or else my signature would have bled.  This is a drawing I did at home, looking at one of my photos.
This is a field sketch using the half and half mix.  It's a very spontaneous drawing.  I was working on the top cormorant when the second flew in.  I wanted to quickly capture the gesture of the two together, so I quickly added the two lower ones. 

I can easily work in grey tones in the field using a water brush for my water source.  The barrel of the brush holds water.  It feeds water out at a nice rate, but if I need more water I can just give it a little squeeze.

Another field sketch -- this one done while watching a western grebe feed its chick.

On this cormorant I had this blog post in mind so I scanned it with my squiggles and I used my 1/2-1/2 mix of the two inks. Mostly I got my grey tones from fresh ink just applied to the art.  If you use scribbles, be sure to put your scribbles far enough off to the side.  And if you find my way too untidy, you can always keep a scrap of paper handy.  I do find it best to scribble on scraps of decent paper so the paper doesn't just suck up the ink.    

More in about week.  Do feel free to ask questions. 


13 comments:

  1. How fascinating to peek inside your artist mind, Elva! Thank you! Looking forward to Part II.

    Cheers,
    Chris

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  2. The gradiant tones you are achieving with this technique are really beautiful. Washing water-soluble ink is one of my favorite sketching techniques too, because the materials are so minimal, yet you can still get rich tones.

    Tina

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    1. What kind of water soluble ink do you like, Tina?

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  3. Fabulous post Elva! I've missed your educational and wonderful sharing of knowledge.

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  4. Fascinating reminder that your work is not just your magical talent, but also a mixture of knowledge, experience and practice. It is always beautiful! Thank you for sharing all the different techniques and results.

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  5. This is brilliant, Elva. Long ago, far away, you introduced me to Pelikan Font ink and I loved its slightly purple wash. I haven't used it in a long time, though.

    What I do, though, is have a constant dance between trying washable inks and deciding that some other way of adding tone is better. I can never decide. One of the reasons is that I find most washable inks to "wash" just too darn much for my tastes. You may have just provided the answer and for quick drawing, there's nothing more simple and quick than using a washable ink.

    BTW, I'm curious whether you've actually heard an "artist" complain that Platinum Carbon Black clogs their pens. It seems that lots of people who don't use it will claim that constant maintenance is necessary. It's also the case that people who don't use their pens often will complain about whatever ink they use as being one that clogs their pens.

    In contrast, most people I know who use these pigmented inks regularly don't have any problems whatever and don't spend a lot of time cleaning pens either. Marc Taro Holmes just wrote a post saying as much and his experience is the same as mine, and apparently, yours. Any in will clog pens if you don't use them, but PCB is no better/worse in that regard than any other I think.

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    1. You make a good point, Larry, i.e. whether artists who actually use their pens on a regular basis have problems with Platinum Carbon ink. I suspect you are correct, that regular use of the pen solves the problem. I may let one pen or the other sit for a week, but never much longer. On the rare occasion that my pen didn't want to flow, I just rinsed the nib under water and I was good to go again.

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  6. Great post, sketching in ink is a favourite technique of mine too. I use Platinum Carbon in a Lamy Safari and have yet to have any problems with it. Regular use is the key I think!

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  7. I need to book mark this one. You're always so generous in sharing your knowledge. Thanks.

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  8. Elva, you are a wonderful teacher. I like how you include your graphics. It makes sense when you can visualize. Your technique gives a true spontaneity to your work.

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