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Love the look of pen and watercolor artwork and want some tips to get started on the right foot? What are the must-know things to have in mind when combining ink and watercolor in order to avoid undesired accidents? What are some good options for supplies when it comes to ink pens and bottled inks?
Watercolor and ink go together like bread and butter.
As an artist with experience working with a vast array of traditional drawing and painting mediums, I've found very few combos that can so easily create such striking and professional-looking results.
I'm a huge fan of both painting with watercolor as well as of pen and ink sketching, and have released helpful blog posts and videos to help beginners improve their skills with both.
In today's blog post, we're covering the must-know basics to know about when looking to use these two mediums in combination, which brings up a whole new set of questions in terms of process and supplies.
As with all mixed-media art creation, it's incredibly important to consider how the mediums we're going to be using will be interacting and affecting each other throughout the art-making process, but also how the piece will hold up over time after the artwork has been completed.
By doing a bit of research, choosing the right art supplies, visualizing what results we're after, and planning the techniques/general strategy we'll be using before getting started with a new piece, we can ensure a smoother process and it'll be much more likely that we'll arrive at results we'll love.
Today, I'm incredibly pleased to share an article written for us by pen and ink expert K.T. Mehra. She is the founder of Goldspot Pens, a store based in New Jersey that is dedicated to selling not only beautiful, high-quality fountain pens, but also incredible inks, writing instruments and paper.
Alongside the hard work she does in her company, she's incredibly passionate about literature, history and, you guessed it...art!
Without much further ado, let's get into her helpful tips and recommendations for supplies.
by K.T. Mehra
Watercolor and ink work together beautifully, and this combination of mediums can certainly lead to a variety of amazing effects and styles.
Line work created with dark inks can be colored in with bright watercolor washes for very impactful, modern-looking pieces, but there's also so much room for exploration, creativity, and for artists to bring in their own personalities into the process.
To make it easier for artists just getting started with ink and watercolor, I’ve written a short list of must-know aspects to consider when choosing pens and inks to combine with watercolor. Afterwards, I'll be sharing my favorite options for both ink pens and bottled inks.
Before getting into anything else, when buying inks to combine with watercolor (whether in pen or bottled format), it's important always ask yourself the following four questions:
1. Is it waterproof?
The first and most important factor you want to consider is whether your ink is waterproof. This will determine whether it'll bleed or smudge when water is applied on top of the ink.
When working with watercolor, you'll need quality waterproof ink. This will allow your line work to stay clean and sharp as you apply paint over it. Most pens and inks will be labelled as 'waterproof', whether in pen form or bottled format.
2. Is it water-soluble?
You may come across inks and pens that state they are 'water-soluble'. You want to avoid these inks, as they are made with water and will run when combined with watercolor.
These can be used to create particular styles, but are not ideal for most cases when you're looking for a good ink or pen to use in combination with watercolor, as the ink will run and smudge, and very possible affect the vibrancy of your washes of color.
It's best to assume that any ink pen contains water-soluble ink and will not be ideal for use with watercolor unless its specifically states that it is waterproof. You also usually want to avoid any pen or ink that says it’s 'water-based'.
3. Is the ink pigmented?
Oftentimes it's not 100% clear whether the pen contains waterproof ink or not. One sign that the pen is most likely waterproof and usable with watercolor is if it includes the words 'pigment' or 'pigmented ink' on the pen or bottle.
Pigments are tiny particles of colored material that do not dissolve in water. In other words, they are rarely water-soluble or water-based, which makes them good for use with watercolor.
4. How long does it take to dry?
Another factor you want to consider is the ink’s drying time. If you apply watercolor too soon after drawing with ink, it's likely that some smudging will occur.
Most inks will dry after an hour or two, but to avoid this completely, you’ll want to wait 12 to 24 hours for the ink to fully dry and set into the paper.
If you don't want to wait this long for the ink to dry, make sure that to purchase a fast-drying ink. I'll recommend my favorite below, so keep on reading!
Are you supposed to do your ink line work before or after your watercolor washes?
This is a great question, and the answer is even better.
The truth is... either way works!
There are pros and cons to both methods, but it's ultimately up to you to experiment and determine what'll work best for you, making sure, of course, that you're taking precautions and allowing layers the necessary time to dry in between.
It depends on the artist's personal way of working and the outcome that he/she is going for.
A reason you might want to do your ink work before watercolor is that it allows you to focus on your line work and/or outlines first, establishing a type of preliminary sketch to work with. You're then able to begin applying watercolor washes and it's easier to stay inside the lines and have more control over where the color is applied.
Also, you'll likely find that the pen glides across your paper more smoothly when there's no paint on your paper yet, which can be a pro for many artists.
A reason you might want to do your ink work after your watercolor painting process is if you're looking for your line work to be very clear and visible.
Doing your line work after your washes also allows you to first freely paint with watercolor, creating abstract shapes and organic effects which can then serve as a guide or a type of underpainting for the line work that'll come later.
This technique is great for artists who love the looseness and interesting effects watercolor allows, and want the paint to be the primary creative force structuring the artwork.
It's also important to note that, when doing your ink work after your watercolor painting, you're also able to use water-soluble inks, as long as you've allowed your painting to dry for 24 hours.
Have fun, explore and get creative with your process!
Ink and watercolor can and should be used in new ways that give your pieces a unique personality and character. I'd recommend exploring both sequences and analyzing which results you like best.
Best Waterproof Pens For Use With Watercolor
Now that we’ve covered the basic things to consider when searching for an ink pen or bottled ink to use in combination with watercolor paint, let’s look at the best waterproof pens available (in no particular order).
Uni-Ball Signo Gelstick Pen
The Uni-Ball Signo is a great beginner-friendly option. It's affordable and one of the best ink pens for use with watercolor. It's waterproof, fade-proof, and is able to create smooth, thin lines. It also doesn’t leave stop and start marks at the end of long lines and marks like most gel pens do.
*Most Affordable *Best Gel Pen
Sakura Pigma Micron Series
If you’re looking for a slightly more professional fineliner pen, the Sakura Pigma Micron is a great option, and it's one our favorite fineliner pens for use with watercolor. The Sakura Pigma Micron draws smooth, thin, and very consistent lines that can really help bring together watercolor pieces.
Artists around the world swear by the Pigma Micron for its precise and professional line work.
*Best Fineliner Pen
Lamy Safari Fountain Pen
Using disposable pens can definitely become expensive because they have to be replaced after a relatively short period of time, especially when using them for drawing/sketching purposes.
We recommend, as an alternative, using a fountain pen and filling it with your own ink. This allow us to use our own choice of ink at an affordable price and we can continue filling up the pen when the ink runs out. As long as we take care of the pen, it'll last for years.
If you are looking to invest in a fountain pen, Lamy Safari is the best option for beginners and is relatively affordable for a quality, reusable fountain pen.
*Best Beginner-Friendly Fountain Pen *Most Affordable
Uni-Ball Impact Gel Pen
The Impact Uni-ball pen is a slightly more expensive gel pen option that works wonderfully with watercolors. Go with this waterproof pen if you're looking to incorporate thicker, bolder outlines or marks into your watercolor paintings.
This pen draws fairly wide lines. So if you are looking to do very detailed work, you will need a large canvas or paper, which may be a drawback of the impact gel pen for some artists.
Fudenosuke Brush Pen
Another interesting option is using a brush pen alongside watercolors! The Fudenosuke pen by Tombow is perfect for use with watercolor, as it is waterproof, and produces beautiful drawings with a lot of line-weight variation.
Brush pens allow for varying thicknesses of lines/marks via changing the pressure and angle we're using. If you aren’t looking for a this kind of variation in your line work, as well as organic transitions between thin and thick lines, a brush pen may not be for you.
This pen also requires practice and a certain level of control, which may be a drawback for some artists.
*Best Brush Pen
If the thought of a fountain pen caught your attention, the Kaweco brand is famous for their superior quality fountain pens.
Winsor and Newton Fineliner
This is another beautiful and unique option for a high-quality fineliner that works great with watercolor. Winsor and Newton provide a great lineup of fineliners that are waterproof and come in many sizes and colors. I can’t recommend them enough!
The Unipin Fine Line
The Unipin Fine Line is a great and fun-to-use waterproof pen, but it does have some drawbacks. I love this pen and it’s definitely worth a buy. Unfortunately, when using an eraser on the Unipin Fine Line, the ink fades and blurs a bit.
This is a fantastic option if you do not plan on using any pencil markings that you’re thinking of erasing later in the process.
Pentel Pocket Brush Pen
If you are looking for something a little different, the Pentel Pocket Pen is a really neat option. This pen was created for writing expressive Japanese calligraphy. It has a very sensitive felt-tip that's able to create plenty of variation when it comes to line width.
This may be a negative for new artists, but it does allow more control for experienced artists that are used to brush pens.
Faber-Castell Assorted Pens
Faber-Castell has an awesome pack of eight waterproof pens which offers and assortment of different types and sizes. They call these their Pitt Artist Pens, and the cool thing about this pack is that you get four fineliners and four brush pens in almost every size.
There are better ink pens to use with watercolor on this list, but the Faber-Castell Artist Pens are waterproof and do work well with watercolor. The main benefit of buying this pen set is primarily the variety offered, which allows the artist to explore amongst them.
Best Bottled Ink For Use With Watercolor
If you’re looking for the absolute best supplies to use for your ink and watercolor pieces, buying your own ink bottle along with a fountain pen or dip pen is going to provide you a custom experience and might just be the way to go.
Next, I’ll reveal my top ten picks in terms of the best bottled inks out there.
Platinum Carbon Ink
Probably my favorite ink to use with watercolor is the Platinum Carbon ink. It's a beautiful natural black textured ink that comes in a lovely little glass bottle. This permanent, waterproof ink is great for use with watercolors.
This ink takes about an hour to dry. Once dried, it’s resistant to water, erasing, smudging and anything else.
This Japanese ink is highly sought-after, which makes it slightly pricey, but it's worth every penny!
*Best Overall Ink
De Atramentis Archive Ink
This is an incredible waterproof ink. The color is less textured and not as pretty than the Platinum Carbon Ink and less of a 'true black' than the Speedball India Ink, but the De Atramentis Archive Ink may just be the most waterproof ink on this list.
I've experienced absolutely no smearing or even a drop of ink smudged after working on my watercolor washes. The ink was also dry after only a few minutes! This is a great and really safe option for use for your watercolor projects.
*Most Waterproof Ink *Best Fast-Drying Ink
Speedball Super Black India Ink
India ink is the best, deepest, truest black ink you can get. Speedball's India Ink is an amazing waterproof option. Some artists mention occasional smearing, but I've personally never had this happen.
The Speedball Super Black India Ink is the best ink bottle you can purchase for a pure, true black outline with your fountain pen and dip pen. If you use this with your Lamy Safari fountain pen or the Kaweco, you’ll want to clean out the pen often, as this ink is thick and can clog the pen if not cleaned routinely.
*Best Pure Black Ink
Winsor and Newton Ink
Winsor and Newton’s ink is also great for watercolor projects. It offers a matte black finish that would be perfect for more modern or cartoony styles and line work. This ink does take a while to dry, but if you're looking for this kind of color and style, it’s definitely worth it.
Sailor is a company that's known for their fountain pens, but they're also one of the top ink manufacturers in the world. This is another high-end Japanese ink that performs beautifully for both writing and drawing. You cannot go wrong with the Sailor Kiwa-Guro.
The ink is a solid matte black and dries very quickly. The big negative is that there have been reports of it losing its waterproof properties after several months of being left in the bottle.
So far, this hasn’t happened in my personal experience, but it would make this option riskier if our aim is to combine it with watercolor.
How To Find The Right Pen And Ink For You
Like with all art supplies, it’s important to explore for yourself in order to find the right pen (and ink) for you. Art is such a personal experience, and we all have different styles, quirks, and processes.
Try different pens and inks to find the ones that work best for you, starting at accessible options if you have a limited budget. Finding your personal favorites will make all the difference when working on a new art piece.
Whether you decide on a gel pen, a fountain pen and ink, or a professional fineliner, we are excited to see what you come up with!
Looking for further guidance with combining pen and ink with watercolor? Check out *FREE* samples of exclusive, step-by-step, fully-narrated art tutorials I've created for my innermost art community over on Patreon here.
Sending out a huge thank you to K.T. Mehra for her enlightening tips and recommendations!
To find out more about Goldspot Pens and the products they have available, visit their website here.
Also be sure to follow their Facebook page and Instagram account for the latest news.
Thanks for reading!
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