Wash Techniques in Pen & Ink

Updated July 20, 2017

Use wash techniques in pen and ink drawings to add shading and tonality to a work of art. A wash looks similar to water colours. Create a wash by mixing water with ink to make a transparent medium. Using a wash in your pen and ink work can add dimensionality to an otherwise flat drawing.

Shading Theory

A wash adds shading to otherwise flat pen and ink drawings, so an understanding of shading theory is integral to effective wash techniques. Highlights, midtones and shadows are usually determined by one or more implied light sources within a drawing. Decide early on what the light source in an image is and sketch out how it will create shadows within your drawing. Ink is permanent, so try to figure out the correct shading for an image in pencil before adding a wash.

Mixing the Ink

Create a wash by mixing ink with water. Start with a few tablespoons of water and add the ink a few drops at a time until a light wash is produced. Use a paintbrush or toothpick to thoroughly stir the mixture so that it produces an even tone. Add this nearly transparent wash first, then gradually darken the mixture with more ink and add darker tones to your drawing. Always start with the lightest wash and then go darker since it is nearly impossible to lighten a shadow you have mistakenly painted too dark.

Experimenting with Evenness

Experiment with how even the tone of the wash is. Uneven application of a wash can look messy, but if done carefully can also be quite expressive. On the other hand, an evenly applied wash can give a more polished look to a piece.

Brush Techniques

Painting a wash is similar to painting with watercolours. Experiment with the effects of applying different pressures to the brush and going over already painted sections. It is best to experiment on a scrap piece of paper, since ink is permanent once applied to your final drawing.

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About the Author

Writing since 2005 for a variety of media, Andrea Snow has written on topics ranging from pop culture and film to technology and home-related how-to articles. Her published works include music reviews at "The Owl Mag." She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in English literature and film and TV production from New York University.