20th February 2024

Pen and wash Watercolour Painting

Pen and Wash
Pen and Wash.

Pen and wash is a different style of watercolour painting. I’ve wanted to give it a try for a while but though it best to cover the basics first. Many people use this type of painting when they are “out on location”, to make quick(ish) sketches. Maybe to use as the basis of a “proper” painting later. Having said that I do like it as a style in it’s own right.

An Easy Alternative?

Yes, I went into Pen and Wash with that attitude. Certainly you aren’t expected to be as detailed with the painting therefore making the paint bit a lot quicker. However, this is compensated for by the fact the drawing takes me a lot longer than I would spend for a “normal painting”. I do it once in a light pencil, then draw over that carefully will waterproof black ink and finally add shading etc ( they seem to call the shading bit “adding value” which tickles me).

Woolsthorpe Manor
Woolsthorpe Manor

So if you are already an experienced dawer it may be a quicker method for you. But for me, who struggles a bit with drawing ( lots of rubbing out pencil mistakes) then I’m not convinced there is much saving. On the other hand I assume I will get faster with time and anyway, I like the style.

In the end I’m not trying to paint quickly, although I can see the benefits of that when you are working outside.

Pen and Wash 2
Pen and Wash Example 2

The Technique Itself.

As I’ve already said the main parts of the image, the detail and some shadow, are all added  using indelible (waterproof ink). I bought two Pilot Drawing Pens from Ebay, one sized 01 and one sized 05. To be honest the 01 one isn’t much use, the line is too fine. The 05 one is about right for most work.  I also have a small (M) Staedtler permanent maker pen also in black. This is good for large areas of shade. (I didn’t bu=y this recently, it’s out of my glass painting kit. You may or may not choose to do your drawing in pencil first, I obviously do!

Once drawn and shaded you simply add colour using thin washes of watercolour. Most people don’t seem to be too precise about how they go about doing this, occasionally going out of lines etc. Because the colour is quite soft and you are only giving an impression of colour it doesn’t really matter.

Starting Pen and Wash.

Below if the video from YouTube which I followed to do my first Pen and Wash painting. It’s well worth a watch.


It’s certainly a technique I shall be trying more. Pen on wash obviously isn’t suitable for every picture but there are some it seems to suit better than normal water colour painting.