Traditional art: Inks I

Traditional art: Inks I

Hello there!

Today I’m going to talk to you about another of my favorite techniques:


Ink is a wet technique that is applied with a brush, pen, etc.

It is known that it has been in use since 2697 B.C. in China, but also in other countries and regions such as India, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome, ink was used to produce texts and drawings on papyrus and parchment.

There are several types of ink: vegetable, mineral, and even animal (squid ink, also known as cuttlefish), but the best known is Chinese ink, which is obtained by dissolving the black pigment in water and adding camphor and shellac. However, Chinese ink is not only black. Currently they are manufactured in different colors that give very interesting and intense tones.

There’s a special Chinese ink technique called sumi-e. This technique emerged in China in the 7th century and was brought to Japan by Buddhist monks. The main characteristic of this technique is that there are no previous sketches and the artist reproduces, with loose brushstrokes, any type of illustration. Another peculiarity is that, although monochrome ink (black ink) is normally used, there is the possibility of adding a gray tone by applying water.

The sumi-e is used to illustrate what is known in Chinese art as The Four Nobles or The Four Knights, which are: the plum tree, the orchid, the bamboo and the chrysanthemum, representing the four seasons of the year: the plum tree is the winter; the orchid, spring; spring, bamboo; and the chrysanthemum, autumn.

There are two very important types of ink that must be clearly differentiated:

  • Water soluble: If you apply water or use a wet technique, the ink will run throughout the area that is wet. Be careful if, for example, you are going to illustrate something with mixed media (for example, ink and watercolor), because everything can go to waste, even if the ink is dry. In that case, you have two options:
    • Or you color first with the wet technique and then ink.
    • Or, you ink with a waterproof ink and then color with the wet technique.
  • Waterproof: They are the ones that, once they are applied, if you use a wet technique, they will not expand due to the water. They will stay there.

And then you have ink marks to give and take. Here are some that I usually use:

  • Winsor & Newton: It has a great range of colored waterproof inks at a fairly affordable price.
  • Art Creation: I was given a half-liter bottle of black ink from this brand three years ago and I still haven’t finished it. It lasts a lot and is waterproof.
  • Liquitex: I tried those inks on the 2021 Inktober and, honestly, I was very surprised. It is acrylic ink, which allows a much more intense color than conventional ink and, being acrylic, it’s waterproof.
  • Parker Ink: This is the one I’ve been using the longest. It is water soluble and when water is applied to it, the ink oxidizes and creates very interesting and random colors as the ink oxidizes.

Apart from the ink, you need a tool to apply this ink.

Before talking about these tools, I must explain the types of strokes that can be made with them:

  • Hard line: It is a uniform line, which never varies, even if you apply pressure.
  • Soft line: The line varies according to the pressure on the paper.

For this, we can use three types:

  • The hollow bamboo: I tried it while I was in class and I didn’t like it too much. It is simply a bamboo cane with a bevel cut.
  • Brushes: My brushes, as with watercolors, are made of synthetic bristles. I have a special pack that I use only for inks, and they come in different thicknesses and shapes.
  • Pens: It is the tool that I use the most with ink. I currently use a Tachikawa T-40 toothpick holder (base where the nibs are held) with different models of nibs: Maru Hard 280 (for fine and very precise lines), School 240 (with a hard and medium line) and G Model 240 (for thick and quite soft).

There are also pens that come with their own ink cartridge, perfect for when you’re away from home or drawing outdoors.

Then you also have calibrated or rotring markers (this is what this type of markers have been called in my house) that have waterproof ink and can also be used for inking. As with pens and brushes, there are different thicknesses and different types of lines.

The brands that I have used the most are the following:

  • Staedtler: They have been accompanying me since secondary school, when I was doing technical drawing. They all have a hard line and the thicknesses vary depending on the calibration you choose.
  • Neopiko: They are similar to the Staedtler. They have a hard line and the thicknesses vary depending on the calibration you choose.
  • Sakura: Calibrated markers with different types of lines. Almost all of them have a hard line, but there are some that have a softer line.
  • Uni PIN: Calibrated markers with a hard line, but with different thicknesses.
  • Tombow: Calibrated markers with different types of lines. Almost all of them have a hard line, but there are some that have a softer line.
  • Edding: Hard line markers. Despite having different thicknesses, these are usually wider than normal markers. I use them to cover areas of black quickly and efficiently (if I don’t have ink and brushes on hand).
  • Pentel: Markers that I tried while studying illustration and that blew me away. They are calibrated markers with different types of lines. Almost all of them have a hard line, but there are some that have a softer line.
  • Kuretake: I discovered these thanks to my husband, who gave me one and I really liked it. It has various tips and thicknesses.

Talking about the paper, one whose grammage is not less than 150-180 g/m² is recommended and it is recommended that it be acid-free. And so? Well, acid-free paper allows illustrations to maintain their quality for longer.

The one I use, for example, is a 200 g/m² mixed Canson brand. Yes, the same as with watercolor. I also use 185 g/m² Canson brand paper-cardboard if I know that I am not going to use another technique other than pencil and ink, and without washes.

As you can see, the inks are a separate universe, with a wide variety of tools that you can try. You will surely find one that is comfortable for you.

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