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The power of pen and wash

Innovative, dynamic and illustrative is how Paul Riley describes this combination of media. He reveals his techniques as he makes three short demonstration paintings

Pen and wash is a powerfully illustrative medium and it’s no wonder that it has been used by numerous illustrators. I liken pen and wash to the Oriental form of flesh-and-bone painting, where the pen acts as the skeleton for the image and the washes provide the flesh.

There are two basic approaches to the method depending on the look you are after. One is where the drawing and ink work is done first, then the washes added. The other is where a pencil drawing is done first with the washes added either loosely or in a detailed manner. Then, when the wash is dry, the penwork is added. With the first method you need to use waterproof ink using a dip pen. The second method is possible with either waterproof or nonwaterproof ink. The pencil drawing can be either very detailed or just a light indication depending on the complexity of the subject matter. For a highly complex image you may need to do an in-depth drawing on tracing paper first, then transfer that to your paper.

Styles and subject matter

Practically any subject can be treated in pen and wash, from the highly complex to the merest sketch. Some people like to use the pen line to provide not only the shapes but also the tones using a variety of cross-hatching methods. Others like to delineate and outline, then let various tonal washes in watercolour provide the form. When it comes to washes you can approach the end result by a simple monochromatic finish or for a fully polychromatic look. Depending on the type of pen and the size and shape of the tip, all kinds of effects can be produced. In many respects it depends on your character and hand – for the heavy-handed a robust broad pen approach in the manner of Van Gogh would work; for the delicate light-handed, a fine flexible nib producing a copperplate look would work wonders.

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About The Artist

Welcome to our May issue packed with inspiring practical features to help you develop your skills in all media. Watercolourists will love Bob Rudd's invented colour schemes for dramatic landscapes, Amanda Hyatt's five steps to watercolour success, with an exercise to try, Ann Blockley's invitation to inject some magic into your watercolour washes, Paul Talbot-Greaves' deconstruction into three parts of the painting of a daffodil, and Deborah Walker's test report on a new Winsor & Newton watercolour paper. Paul Riley and Julie Collins show how to use pen and wash and ink and watercolour in powerful combinations, while Jo Quigley demonstrates why working en grisaille in acrylics can be so beneficial. Portraitists will learn different ways to obtain a likeness from Ann Witheridge and Will Teather; adapt your sketching kit with ideas from David Parfitt; try painting seascapes in water-mixable oils with Paul Weaver, and more. And don't forget to enter our summer sketching competition with fantastic monthly prizes!