Top tips for painting with a limited palette of fountain pen inks (CMYK)

Many of my posts explore unique qualities inherent in individual inks and utilising these for art. But, there’s also something greater and smarter than just using single colours – and it’s mixing 4 primary fountain pen ink colours together, allowing the user to create all the colours of the spectrum and to paint pictures just like using watercolours.

Whether you’re a one trick pony who keeps churning out the same old stuff or you’re a frustrated ink geek who would love to know where to start, this post is for you.

The single most important thing, above all else, is to educate your hands so that you can transcribe onto paper exactly what it is you see. And practice, practice, practice is the only way to achieve this. So, this post is all about educating your hands and perfecting that hand to eye relationship.

Colour Mixing
If you haven’t already, it’s strongly recommended that you do my mixing tutorial first: Creating a colour wheel with four fountain pen inks .This is the perfect way to start educating your hands in mixing colours, handling a brush, painting a straight line and applying the colours you have mixed evenly on a paper surface.

Before starting, lets have a look at what you’ll need:
• water pot
• mixing palette
• pot of bleach (50:50 mix with water)
• graphite pencil (B)
• eraser and pencil sharpener
• No.2 rigger brush (synthetic hairs)
• No.6 or No.7 watercolour brush (synthetic hairs)
• fountain pen (I use a Noodler’s Creeper as it has a fine point flex nib),
• four fountain pen inks Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (I use my own)
• decent quality cartridge paper (sheet, pad or book)
The items listed are not expensive and this is ALL you will ever need.

Part 01
If you’re a beginner, it’s important that you start small. What you don’t want to do is run out of steam half way through and give up. The works that I have created measure 85mm x 85mm which is a good size. Choose subject matter that you feel comfortable with and then take a crop of that image to fill your area. Start with simple stuff and then gradually move on to the more complex. The object of this exercise is to get as close as possible to the original using only the equipment listed above. And that’s it! TOP TIP: Take your time!

Part 02
Using your B pencil, draw a square measuring 85mm x 85mm. I have specified a B pencil because if used carefully it’s not too soft that it smudges everywhere and it’s not too hard that it indents the paper surface. Print out your chosen crop. In the above pic I have chosen a crop of a fish. What we need to do is gently outline the main shapes of the crop. If you have a light pad, you can trace this. If you don’t have a light pad you can tape the crop print to a window and then place your square over the top and trace. You can also draw a grid over the crop and then draw a grid in your square and then carefully draw in the information. Finally you can draw the outlines from the crop straight into your square. Whatever method you choose, go carefully and take your time. The outline has to be as near as possible to the original. TOP TIP: I choose snap shots from nature for my crops so that if I do deviate, it’s not as noticeable as if I use a modern manufactured technical image source.

Part 03
Once we have the outline information on the cartridge paper it’s time to mix the colours using the skills learned from the colour mixing tutorial. I use my own inks which I designed for this purpose and they are available from my shop.  Try to use inks which are pure dyes with minimal chromatic qualities and NO sludge. Once you have this cracked there’s nothing to stop you experimenting and mixing sediment with chromatic inks.

There is a definite Watercolour technique to what we are going to do and we start with the lightest coloured areas first and build the painting tonally from there. To make colours lighter, add more water.

Referencing the Puffin images –  I began this painting by firstly applying a light wash of yellow over the beak. Using the mixing palette I mixed the wash using a tiny drop of yellow and lots of water. Using a spare piece of cartridge paper I painted a small sample at the edge and then held it over the printed crop to see that they matched. Once I was happy, I applied it.

I then did the same for the grey areas on the side of the face, but before applying I wet the facial area and added the grey wash from the outside edges so that the grey bleeds inwards. I then filled in the black areas and for these wash parts of the process I used the No.6 brush.

For the more detailed bits, I mixed and added the reds and oranges to the eye and beak and applied the colours using the rigger brush. Because this brush has longer hairs, it gives you more control and gives a degree of compensation for hand shaking etc.

For the image crop of the eagle eye, I employed exactly the same techniques. Lighter areas first using the No.6 and more detailed features using the Rigger and fountain pen. To use the fountain pen load the rigger with colour and paint/drop the wash on top of the nib. Test and then use on the live art.

The image above shows me holding a sample of mixed colour up to the original crop to check that the mid tones are as close as possible. The image also shows me using the fountain pen to apply the fine detail. I use bleach to attain the highlights on the feathers and the eye using a very watered down solution of bleach and the rigger brush. I added one drop of the 50:50 solution into one of the dimples on the mixing palette and then added several drops of water to  to it. I then dipped my brush but before applying to my image I used my test paper with the sample colours to see how strong the bleach was. Keep it weak! You can always go over the top again when dry.

And there we have it. The original crops on the left and my copies on the right.

The golden rule here is don’t rush it. Break the crop image down into parts and logically approach the re creation task step by step. Take your time and enjoy it. If you do this exercise on a regular basis your hand skills will quickly improve. The crop image and your image will start to look more identical allowing you to start thinking about what you can do with your art. Why not incorporate this exercise into one of the many 30 day art challenges to speed the skills on more quickly?

Part 04
Concepts and themes
An idea or visual thread that can link a series of 30 artworks together and will help attract audience engagement – a storyline, colour theme, character theme, frame style, illustration style, type style etc. This is also important to consider if you want show the full 30 artworks together.

Composition and execution
Think about the size of your artwork. Can you realistically deliver a larger than A5 artwork every day? What format works best for social media? Square? Put illustrations into frames – vary shapes and sizes – have parts of the illustration breaking out of the frames to add visual dynamism. Use asymmetry NOT symmetry – never place things in the middle and NO halos! Remember the thirds rule! The human eye is always drawn to things that are out of balance. Once the content is in the frame and the layout designed, its time to maximise the elements. Contrast the scale – BIG up things in the foreground, reduce TINY things in the background. Creatively crop – part of a head is often more impactful the a complete one. Depth of field – sharp detail in the foregrounds / out of focus for backgrounds. Variety – zoom in for one frame, zoom out forthe next. Vary the visual angles – looking up, looking down, from the side, upside down. Vary line width. Use the magic of fountain pen inks and bleach to enhance your illustration – work positive or negative. Be creative! Take risks!

Paper surfaces:
Seawhite cartridge paper, Bockingford Watercolour Paper, Tomoe River, Rhodia

And finally, here is a link to a recent video featuring the art I created for the Inktober 2017 Challenge for which many of images created utilised all the top tips mentioned here. There are also videos of me painting with a limited palette on my YouTube channel – link in menu.

And HEY! If you’re interested to know more about how to use fountain pen inks in more creative ways – whether it’s simply to observe their chromatic behaviours, or, to recreate one of my swatch cards, or, to learn how to use them in watercolour painting, illustration and calligraphy, why not check out my online course? It’s a great way to pass the time while self isolating!

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