Technique Tuesdays: Ink Techniques

Think ink, and so many different types come to mind: acrylic, India, stamping, printing, spray, and walnut. All are perfect for mixed media, since ink techniques encompass a range of looks and styles that work for art journaling, collage, lettering, and printing. Add lettering with a dip, fountain, or artist’s pen and calligraphy ink; stamp images with stamping ink; make a mottled background with spray inks; get messy, abstract drips and shapes with acrylic ink; and make beautiful sepia stains with walnut ink.

Read on for ideas on how to use a variety of inks in your artwork, and try out different types of this medium to see what effects you can achieve.

1. The loose qualities of acrylic ink are used to their best advantage in a blotted line drawing, among the ink techniques featured in Artful Adventures in Mixed Media by Nathalie Kalbach. To create this look, add small puddles of ink to an art journal page with a dropper. Then close the spread to blot and transfer the ink to the other side of the journal spread. Continue doing this until you have transferred the ink you want. Don’t overdo it, and don’t use too many colors. Also, avoid placing wet complementary colors next to each other so the colors don’t get muddy. Let the pages dry before closing the journal. Dip a bamboo sketching pen into the ink and add symbols to the page. Add a quote with the bamboo pen as well. For an extra touch, dip a fan brush into the ink, and splatter it with your fingers. This helps tie the elements together and repeat the colors used.

Blotted line drawing ink technique from Artful Adventures in Mixed Media
This blotted line drawing ink technique adds color and energy to an art journal spread. (Art by Nathalie Kalbach, photo by Christine Polomsky)

2. Inks are great to use for a quick marbling paper technique, says Crystal Neubauer in her book The Art of Expressive Collage. She advises experimenting with a variety of papers: “I have found some papers take marbling really well and hold the pattern, and some simply run all over the place. One of my favorite papers to use is old blueprints.” Start with a large pan filled with water, and pour a small amount of India ink into separate wells in a palette (this technique will also work with acrylic ink). Working with two small paintbrushes, dip each one into a different color of ink. Lightly touch one of the brushes to the surface of the water, creating a small circle of ink. Touch the second brush to the surface of the water inside the first circle of ink. Continue alternating colors, loading more ink onto the brushes as needed. Using a paintbrush handle, lightly swish through the water to move the ink across the water, creating an interesting pattern. Lay a sheet of paper on the surface, and lift it out of the water. The ink pattern should transfer to the paper. Set it aside to dry. Bonus tip: After the ink in the water has been absorbed by the paper, you can repeat the inking process. If the ink resists spreading, change the water.

Marbling ink techniques from The Art of Expressive Collage
Floating ink on water creates beautiful marbled effects on paper. (Art by Crystal Neubauer)

3. Most artists are familiar with using pen and ink, but how about an eyedropper and ink? This playful technique, used to draw a whimsical face, is featured in the article “Face Play” by Karen O’Brien in the Fall 2015 issue of Faces magazine. To get started, load an eyedropper with acrylic ink. Draw a face on paper, including only the basic elements: face shape, circles or dots for the eyes, nose, mouth, and neck, and a simple shape for the body. Tilt the paper to let the ink drip a bit, adding unusual lines to the figure. Blot with a paper towel and let dry. Define the features with black pencil, and use heavy-body white acrylic paint to cover any unwanted lines. Try to leave as much of the ink as possible, and define shapes with more black ink or pencil. Add shading with light applications of black pencil, ink, or acrylic paint blended with matte medium. Add highlights with white acrylic paint and accents with watercolor pencils.

Ink techniques using an eyedropper for drawing from Cloth Paper Scissors Faces magazine
An eyedropper filled with ink can be used for drawing, shown here to create a whimsical face. (Art by Karen O’Brien, photo by Sharon White Photography)

4. Using a dip pen for lettering doesn’t have to be intimidating or difficult. Pam Garrison takes a fun, funky approach to hand lettering using ink techniques in Lettering Lessons Volume 8: Using a Dip Pen in Nontraditional Ways. With a little practice you’ll develop a feel for how to make thick and thin strokes with the pen and calligraphy ink, and then the rest is up to you. For example, first experiment with how much pressure to use. This is critical to discovering and creating your own letters. Press harder on down strokes to release ink, and use barely any pressure on upstrokes, so that your nib is just sliding along the paper. Next, make a few block letter As and Bs. Challenge yourself to make them different by changing the pressure (choosing to release different amounts of ink) and the angle of your lines. Choose a few of your favorite letters and draw them, leaving space within for embellishments. This is where your creativity really shines. Make marks instead of creating strokes. Go over lines, or drag ink that’s already on the page to change your letters. Lightly drag the tip of your nib from left to right, with the tip just skimming the surface of the paper, making the finest of lines inside or outside the letter. Outline the letters, fill them in, and doodle around them. Add color with markers or colored pencils.

Dip pen and ink lettering techniques from Cloth Paper Scissors Lettering Lesson Volume 8: XXXX
Create lively lettering with a dip pen and ink, adding fun embellishments and flourishes. (Art and photo by Pam Garrison)

5. Tracy Verdugo incorporates acrylic ink in an abstract mixed-media piece inspired by nature, making the most of the medium’s versatility. In the article “Impressions of Nature” in the January/February 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, the technique starts by randomly applying two colors of ink to an Ampersand Aquabord, adding a few sprays of water, and gently tilting the board to move the inks around. Look for accidental shapes. Drop some sea salt into the wettest areas to add visual texture, and make marks with a skewer. Create contrast with Payne’s Grey ink, adding it with a dropper, circling some areas and leaving small windows to the under layers. Pull some of the ink into the surrounding areas with a wet paintbrush, lifting any excess with a paper towel. Add small details with a white gel pen, and drag the skewer through areas of wet ink. Continue tilting the board, layering inks as previous layers dry, and adding details, contrast, and depth.

6. Joanne Sharpe loves using ink for unique lettering with unusual tools, and in “Ink Up Your Letters” in the May/June 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, she offers some tips for getting started. First, try out various types of ink to see what you like best. Black India ink is a dense, opaque, pigmented ink; acrylic inks contain super-fine pigments suspended in an emulsion; and watercolor inks are highly concentrated watercolor pigments suspended in liquid. Then, choose a surface for your project, such as watercolor paper, a journal page, or a mixed-media collage. Finally, experiment with using unexpected items to write with, like the end of a paintbrush, a piece of cardboard, sticks, skewers, or the cut end of a large feather. “Using inks with brushes or writing with interesting objects,” Joanne says, “creates words and letters than are genuinely one of a kind.”

Lettering with ink techniques by Joanne Sharpe from Cloth Paper Scissors magazine May/June 2014
Create funky letters using ink with the end of a paintbrush, a stick, and more. (Art by Joanne Sharpe, photo by Hornick/Rivlin Studio)

7. Create great grungy visual texture using India ink and ink techniques found in the book Abstracts in Acrylic & Ink by Jodi Ohl. On a sheet of Yupo paper, take a fan brush loaded with black India ink and make scribble marks all over the surface. Then, use a brayer to roll solid areas of ink onto the surface. While the ink is still wet, drop rubbing alcohol onto the surface. This creates circular blooms as the ink evaporates outwardly from the alcohol drops. Play with dropping the alcohol from close up and further away from the substrate, noticing the variety of marks it makes.

India ink techniques from Abstracts in Acrylic & Ink by Jodi Ohl
Alcohol dropped onto wet India ink produces beautiful abstract marks. (Art by Jodi Ohl, photo by Christine Polomsky)

A bottle of ink and some paper is all you need to begin incorporating this exciting medium into your work. These resources will help you get started!

Abstracts in Acrylic and Ink by Jodi Ohl
In Abstracts In Acrylic & Ink by Jodi Ohl, discover unique and fun ways to layer inks with paint, crayons, pencils, and more to create beautiful abstract mixed-media art.
Cloth Paper Scissors Art Lessons Volume 5: Recycled and Re-Inked by Rae Missigman
Recycle laundry dye trapping sheets into beautiful embellishments using ink techniques in Art Lessons Volume 5: Recycled and Re-Inked by Rae Missigman.
Art Journal Mark Making: Throwing Ink with Dina Wakley and Amy Jones from ArtistsNetwork.tv
Get out of your art journaling rut and learn some new techniques for mark making using ink in the video Art Journal Mark Making: Throwing Ink with Dina Wakley and Amy Jones.
Cloth Paper Scissors Art Lessons Volume 11: Freestyle With Distress Inks and Stains by Jane Davenport
You’ll be amazed at what you can do with Distress Inks and Stains; find great ink techniques in Art Lessons Volume 11: Freestyle With Distress Inks and Stains by Jane Davenport.

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