When creating in wash and ink, which comes first – the watercolor or pen and ink?  I was asked about this over at Artventure,  and thought more than just one person might like to know the answer. Plus, I just launched two wash and ink classes, and didn’t think to address why each was done differently!

For urban sketchers, the answer to many is clear: start with the pen, then add the color. So what’s the deal – why do some of my classes work that way and others start with teh watercolor?

Tutorial: Wash or ink: Which should you use first?

In this video I’ll show you four examples and you’ll hear about why I choose one or the other!

Watch the video below and scroll to the end to leave comments or questions — or click HERE to watch it on YouTube and leave comments over there. I read both dutifully!

Floral sketch

The left half of this fovglove was first sketched in pen – which can sometimes be intimidating. A black pen on white paper, with no eraser possible, can make you freeze up for fear of a mistake! Then the watercolor (or whaterver medium) can tempt you to fill in every little bit with color, cringing if you go out of the lines…..all that involves stress, in my mind.

But when applying color first, it’s loose and washy – with color not filling in the light pencil guidelines – then loose, graceful sketch lines on top of it can add a fun sense of movement. Leave white areas even if it’s not where the highlights “should” be; little sketches feel so much more natural when they seem like they drew themselves!

Portland Post Office

Applying the same to a building won’t provide movement in the sketch necessarily – however, watercolor first can create an intermediate opportunity to refine your lines when you get to applying them! Painting in a shadow can clarify the actual edge, which sometimes doesn’t become clear til you get further into the drawing. The numbers of times I suddenly realize I’d gotten the perspective wrong! As long as I see it before the final lines go down I have time to fix it. And working it out first with paint can help that process.

Chrysler Building

One of my favorites in NYC, the Chrysler building has  lots of  beautful vintage architectural detail. I could have drawn vertical lines that indicate where the window sills are – but that would have had a lot of trapped pencil under the paint. Instead, I could just sketch windows into columns painted with a glaze of a color and they look surprisingly aligned despite their wonkiness. All because of that simple color trick.

Big Foxgove

A larger drawing of anything, of course, allows more space for details, as well as more whitespace in the drawing for color! These flowers were quity fun to draw in the pen and ink; even though I didn’t  like the “coloring book” vibes that came with the watercolor, I was still happy with it at the end. Playing with the colors to see what kind of purple nixes I could get was particularly fun! This piece is available in the fine art sale HERE.

The aforementioned new classes

PowellsWood Sketches Class is a level 2 – no prerequisites though. Simple sketches from nature! Someone asked if she could use Tombow markers – absolutely, just know there’s no teaching in marker, but just mimic what the watercolor’s doing.

Market Street Sketches Class is level 4 – fun pen and ink work to draw bricks, dormers, windows and more, then some epic shadows in watercolor. You could take this to draw the pen and ink, then just add Copic or waterbased marker to color your drawings!

You can see all of the Wash and Ink classes on one page – some use watercolor, but there’s some watercolor marker and Copic too!


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  1. Arches Watercolor Blocks (Chrysler building 3.9″ x 9.8″, Foxglove 5.9″ x 11.8″)
  2. Pens:
    1. TWSBI Eco with Fine nib 
    2. Visconti Mirage fountain pen 
    3. Platinum Carbon Fountain Pen Ink (waterproof) 
    4. Micron Pens  BLICKAMZ 
  3. Tumuarta 3.5 x 5.5 sketchbook 
  4. Koh-i-noor lead holder pencil 
  5. Lead Holder sharpener
  6. Kneaded Eraser
  7. Daniel Smith Watercolors
  8. Brushes:
    1. Winsor Newton Kolinsky Sable Series 7 Round #8 
    2. Da Vinci Maestro Kolinsky Sable Round 4 

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    1. Heather Webb

      I have been working in Pen/Ink/with a ‘bit’ of watercolour for about 35 years.
      I also do ‘paper collage’ where I take my own pictures, dye rice paper for each piece, and work very realistically – which involves tweezers. I have been working in this media for about 19 years.
      Both involve a lot of detail. Both are a very solitary practice.
      I am trying to venture out and work en plein air, but am still working with my back to a wall. lol

      • Sandy Allnock

        Wow tweezers! That sounds delicate -but beautiful 🙂

    2. Louise

      Just fantastic ~ I love them all !

    3. Gab

      oh wow your sketches are amazing!


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