How to Draw Using The Ink Wash Method

Long time ago I took a fashion illustration class in college. We spent several weeks trying out different medium like pastels, charcoal, and markers. As much as those methods appealed to some of my classmates with a more aggressive drawing style, I was struggling to really feel at ease with the severity of each line and fill. It was only towards the end of my second semester at Academy of Art University that I finally discovered my preferred illustration medium: watercolor and ink. 

Each brush stroke using ink and watercolor gave my hands a whole new feeling of liberation. My drawings were no longer rough and lifeless, but fluid and dancing with each stroke. My sketches quickly became one of the favorites from our class and soon the head of the fashion department was asking me into her office for a cup of afternoon tea. I even had my work on display at a cafe once! 

But that was a long time ago now. Already five years! Now, just a few weeks ago while traveling, I got the idea to make sketches of every interesting place we visit. After I failed to find any adequate watercolors to work with, I let the idea soak... until last month I hit rock bottom. My dad went to the hospital for his fourth heart attack and my relationship hit a brick wall. I stopped calling my friends and threw all my energy into blogging and reading. That still didn't seem like enough. I decided to write a post about how to cheer yourself up when you're feeling down. 

Then I remembered... drawing! I took to the store to find the perfect sketchbook and some cool new art supplies. Three sketchbooks and a lot of unused pens later I finally came back to my good old favorite... ink and a round brush. The sensation of creating something vivid on paper cleared my mind and put my tensions at ease. Every new drawing was like an angel lifting weights off my chest. Now I have a collection of them in my new tab, Doodles.

Because the ink wash is reliant on the use of water, some people consider it to be a type of "painting." Ink wash or literati painting originated in East Asia, mostly in the form of black and white illustrations and calligraphy pieces.

What you will need

  • Glass of water... or two: I use just one container of water, but you can also use two (one that's always clean, one that is allowed to get dirty).
  • Ink: Sumi ink is probably the most popular due to its rich color and cultural ties. But choosing the right ink for you might take some trial and error. Keep in mind that inks come in several forms, including an acrylic base and dye form.
  • Brushes: If you can, stick to brushes made for watercolor and ink. Beyond that, it's up to your to choose your brush shape and size. I like to work small, so I stick to this little round pointy guy. If you want to make calligraphy, get a slanted brush.
  • Palette: This can literally anything. As long as it's a flat surface large enough to control the level of water and ink, it should do. I like to use the lid of an old pickle jar.
  • Tissue paper - optional: Use some dry paper towels, kleenex, napkins, toilet paper, or even a tampon to suck up any unwanted moisture from the paper. If wet enough, this can act as an eraser. 
  • Pencil - optional: If you want, you can begin by outlining your sketch with pencil before applying ink.
  • The right sketchpad or paper: Because ink wash uses so much water, it's recommended you go for something thicker like watercolor paper, rice paper, bristol paper, or illustration board. Which of these you choose is up to you. Their textures are different and will affect your drawing process and the look of your finished product. 
    • Tip: If you start drawing on printer paper or regular old drawing paper you'll notice a lot of unwanted bleeding. 
Ink Wash Drawing Basics with


Like anything in art, there are many ways to create an ink wash drawing. Some people like to use a black ink to create a basic outline, then fill in the rest with color, some like to stick to black and white using as little water possible, and more combine a pen tip with the brush method. Whatever way you want to create your work of art is up to you. 

  • Like watercolor, the ink wash technique is reliant on the use of water. Create lighter values by simply adding more water to the palette before drawing.
  • Don't be afraid of layers. Whether you like to add shading before or after, keep in mind that working from light to dark is easier to control than from dark to light. Make sure each layer dries completely before moving on the next.
  • For a more loose look and feel, wet your paper with clean water in the areas you want affected before applying ink to the wet spots. This is called wet on wet. The ink will spread throughout the wet area with fuzzy borders. To alter the direction of the ink flow, simply tilt your paper.
    • Tip: Erasing ink wash is nearly impossible. Keep a test sheet handy to make sure you have the right amount of ink and water on your brush before applying to your work.

Some examples of different ways to ink wash

Lately I've been focusing on portraits, mostly of people I follow on Instagram. See my drawings here

Let me know what you think in the comments below :)