Tearing Parts of Me and You

I’ve had a few emails asking me about my painting process, so I thought I would do a write-up on my newest piece, which was mostly an ink wash, but I take the same approach when I do watercolors. So here we go!

This is my watercolor arsenal.

My supplies have been gathered from years of trying different things. My brushes especially are a hodgepodge of brushes I bought in school (yes, if you get good brushes and take care of them you can use them for a loooong time), came from recommendations of friends, or were just really good deals online that I couldn’t say no to and ended up being a really good brush. My paper is a paper I bought here in Japan. This project was my first time using it, and I really liked it. It’s also the first time I’ve gotten watercolor paper on a block before, so it makes me feel very fancy! The ink is Maxon Comic Ink Black waterproof ink. When doing ink washes, it’s important that you make sure your ink is waterproof. But don’t always trust that if it says waterproof, that it actually is waterproof. You need to test it out on your own!

My main brushes are a Winsor & Newton Series 7 #5 (I have two, actually— one for inks only and one for watercolor only… I’ve had too many black inks leak into yellow paint >.>), an Escoda Prado #10, and a niiiiiice DickBlick brand Kolinsky Round #8 brush that is slowly becoming my favorite. With washes like this, my sumi-e brush gets used a lot too. I also keep frisket, a spritzer, and a huge wash brush handy at all times. There’s also a hairdryer, but with the effect I wanted for this painting, I used it sparingly. For a more wet look, sadly you can’t use the hairdryer that much– which means a lot of sitting and waiting for the painting to dry.

Drawing Transfer

Because I don’t have a light-box here in Japan, after I finalized my sketch, I taped it, and my piece of watercolor paper to a window and used the olde sun as my light-box, careful to not press hard with my pencil.

I drew this ridiculously light for several reasons, the biggest of all is that if I make a mistake, it will show forever on the watercolor paper. If I press lightly, and I may not hurt the teeth of the paper, thus I can erase mistakes. Also, when watercolor paper is stretched, everything on the paper before its stretched, becomes permanent on the paper– or at least in theory. The way I stretched this paper didn’t have that effect, and in the end my pencil ended up being a bit too light, and I couldn’t see it at all in the final stages, but it was better to be safe than sorry. I wanted an ethereal feel to this painting, so I couldn’t have dark, thick lines.

Watercolor Prep

Speaking of stretching, let’s approach that. I’ve tried stretching in a number of ways, and I have yet to find a method that works well with me. I’m always afraid of ripping the paper! But for this painting, I used the stretching method of turning the painting on it’s back, taking the wash brush, and just saturating the back of the painting with water. Then, while it’s still wet, flip it to the front, tape one side down to a flat surface (I have a wood slate thing…), and stretch that paper as far as it will stretch, and tape it down tight. I was lucky and only had one small bump area, which when the paper dried, flattened out. Like I said, stretching is not my specialty.

I let that dry for about an hour or two. It was still slightly damp, so I attacked it with the hairdryer. When it was bone dry (we’re talking Sahara), it was time to add the liquid masking frisket. What is liquid masking frisket? Well it covers areas that you don’t want to paint on. You can create a barrier between where you want a wash, and where you don’t. Do you have to use it with watercolors? No. Some watercolorists I know can’t stand it (it does smell of dead fish). I swear by it when it comes to making ink wash paintings.

QUICK NOTE: If you want to use frisket, know that it CAN stain your paper if you leave it on too long, but if you keep it on for only a day or two, there is no danger. Also, if you plan to use frisket, don’t use a nice brush to apply the frisket. The frisket will destroy the brush. Get cheap cheap bundles of brushes (I got mine at a 100 yen shop), and use those. You can get a few uses out of the brush if you wash the frisket out immediately, but it will never handle paint well again. You have been warned.

I let the frisket dry all the way (I let it sit overnight, as it was getting late). Then, using my spritzer, I made the paper as wet as I could and used the flat wash brush to spread the water around evenly.

Using the sumi-e brush, I dunked it in water and let it get really wet, and then took a very small amount of ink, and mixed the brush into the ink, letting it get watered down. I then commenced blotting the paper in various areas. After a blot, I would take the spritzer and spray that area, letting the water go more crazy.

After about five minutes of that, I let it dry for a bit, but it was taking too long, so I used my hairdryer.

That was a mistake.

Ink Wash Problem Solving

This is the problem with using the hairdryer. The hard lines around the pools of water are visible. This was not what I wanted, so I knew then that I would have to be patient and let the watercolor dry for as long as it took from then on.

I then repeated the super saturate, use sumi-e brush, let dry method for several layers, until I was pleased with how the background looked. I let the washes start to bleed into Peggy’s skirt. This went on for about a day and a half.

Once the paper was completely dry once more, it was time to remove the frisket. The easiest way is to find a big area and gently rub back and forth over it until it comes off, then peel. With the frisket off, and thus no longer running the risk of it staining the paper (it was juuuust barely starting to), it was time to apply a new barrier of frisket, but this time only around Steve.

Once that was dry, it was time to apply washes to Bucky and Peggy, using the same technique as I used on the background, but careful to not go too dark.

Ink Washing Details

After it was bone dry again, it was time to start the detail work on Bucky. My technique with ink wash on details is a bit non-traditional:

You see that paper? Yep, that’s my palette.

I try to use the same kind of paper I am painting on, so I know what it will look like on the paper before I apply it. So I will dip a smaller brush (usually my Winsor & Newton) into a blot of ink on the cap of my ink (never into the actual ink itself), and then I dip my brush into water, and then apply that to my palette. It usually is too light, but then I will add the tiniest of pinpricks of ink to the palette and mix until I get the darkness (or lightness) I need.

There are much better ways of doing this, but even when I try to set myself up to do those ways, it always dissolves into doing it this way, so I’ve just stopped wasting my time setting up something I won’t use.

Because my strange way of working ends up being really light, I always do more than one layer of ink washes, getting the right darkness I want. I usually don’t work as black as this painting, but there was an effect I was going for, so I pushed myself to go darker than what was comfortable for me. When Bucky was finished, I moved onto Peggy…

I wanted Peggy lighter than Bucky, because I wanted the red in her dress to really draw in the viewer’s eye. After she was finished as well, I let the paper dry overnight, and removed the frisket once more, leaving Steve! (sorry I forgot to take pictures here). Then all that was left to do ink wise, was paint in the details of Steve, using hard lines. No washes here! This was the fastest, because the paper was not saturated in the slightest, so it only took about an hour to paint Steve.

Adding Color

Now with the inks finished, I let the whole thing dry. Without the worry of frisket, I could let it sit for a few days (which was great because I was super busy those few days ^.^).

But finally, it was time to apply the red. I used the same ink washing techniques I used in the beginning, saturating the paper with water and then blotting with paint. Dry. Repeat. Until finally…

So how long did it take? I’m not too sure. I really need to time myself one day and see how long it takes me to finish a painting like this, because I’ve done a lot of them… I would say in total, about 15 hours? But there was a lot of drying time in-between that, waiting before I could touch the painting again, so it took much longer. It was drawn out over two four-day weekends.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this process/tutorial thing. If you want to see more of them, please let me know! And, as always, if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments. I’m always open for techniques and material discussion! That’s how I found some of my favorite brushes!