Buying and Using Pen, Ink and Watercolor i.e. my first tutorial! – sort of

I’ve been working with pen, ink (both drawing and calligraphic) and water colors for a little while now, and I feel like I can contribute some basic information about how they mix and where to buy them. I previously touched on this a bit in this post, but have decided that something with a bit more detail might be nice.


Paper -  Because you’ll be working with wet media, a watercolor paper is best. Use whatever you like best, but I like hot-press watercolor paper (as opposed to Rough or Cold-Pressed which have more toothiness, thus more texture in your final, although they also tend to be more absorbent and will buckle less with moisture). I haven’t tried too many brands, because this stuff is expensive, but I’ve had really good experiences with Arches Hot Press Watercolor Blocks (I use 9 x 12″). After a bit of shopping around, Dick Blick is the cheapest actual, physical store for this paper (right now for $21.35) but Jerry’s Artarama and Art Supply Warehouse have it for the same price, so whatever you prefer. Everywhere else I looked, it was at least a few dollars expensive. If you want to go cheaper (and I certainly don’t blame you if you do) L’anaquerelle is a bit cheaper but I’ve found it isn’t quite as smooth as Arches.

Before I get into inks … a quick note on the differences. Calligraphy Ink is the kind of ink you put in pens while drawing ink is typically used with paintbrushes and in airbrushes. DO NOT put drawing ink in your fountain pens, they have components which make them “water proof” that will cause build up and clog your pen. Calligraphy Inks, even if they say they are water proof, are no more than “water resistant” because they lack those components.

Drawing Ink - I haven’t tried many different brands of drawing ink, mostly because I’ve come to prefer water colors. However, you can get an opacity and vibrancy from a nice drawing ink that you can’t always obtain using watercolors. The brand I use is FW Artists Ink which is acrylic based. This type of ink is different than most drawing inks because it has pigment (most inks are dyes). This becomes important when you want to say … erase the pencil lines beneath your coloring. I have no preferred store for drawing ink, but Dick Blick has a decent selection. Also I should note that I believe you’re supposed to use drawing inks for airbrushing and I’ve only ever painted with them … so you know, take me with a grain of salt or two.

Calligraphy Ink – Calligraphy ink is pretty awesome if you don’t mind the expense. Honestly in terms of bang for your buck it’s a pretty good deal. I buy Noodler’s Ink at Art Brown (although I believe there are several online vendors if you don’t have a vendor near you) and although it can be about $12 a jar, I get a 6 oz bottle which is honestly more of that color than I’ll use in a lifetime. What I love about ink is it paints on like a water color but you can erase through it. It’s also pretty <3 and there’s nothing more fun that fiddling around with fountain pens. Also it comes in like a trillion beautiful colors in these pretty old timey bottles.

Water Colors – I don’t know much about water color. I used to use one of those little cheapo pellet things that comes with a free brush. I recently decided I’d really give them a chance and bought a set of student grade Van Gogh paints. I’m happy with them, but really couldn’t tell you any more than that.

Brushes and Pens – These are really a matter of person taste. I like to use a $35 Lamy Fountain Pen with a fine tip for my inking and store brand brushes for my water colors or to paint with my colored inks (or black ink washes), but really, whatever floats your boat.

Other good things to have on hand include paper towel, for blotting and messy lines, lots of water, several dishes you’re willing to sacrifice to ink stains, a flat surface.


Just in case you skimmed the earlier steps some important points of inks and paints:

  • Pigment based colorants lay on top of the paper, meaning you can’t erase pencil underneath them, but you can lighten or dilute them a  bit after you’ve layed them down and they’ve dried UNLESS your pigment is mixed with a dye.
  • Dye based colorants stain the paper, meaning you CAN erase through them, but once they’re dry they’re down and there’s no moving them around or perfectly blending edges.
  • If you mix pigments and dyes together, they take on the worst properties of each, meaning no blending and no erasing through.

The first thing I learned when playing with these media was the most exciting, they can all be mixed. I wouldn’t recommend pre-mixing anything because stuff tends to separate and go all weird when left to sit, but in the short term you can mix your pretty green drawing ink and your blue watercolor to see what they look like and they paint on the paper just fine.

That’s it. Mix it up, play around, and have fun!

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