Line and Wash Tutorial

I think that line and wash is pretty underrated. There is enormous variety and subtlety which can be put into a line and wash painting. It is very much a traditional medium having been used at least since the 13th century. Rembrandt often used this medium.

 

Okains Bay Store, an example of a fairly simple line and wash work. Not far from colouring in.
Okains Bay Store, an example of a fairly simple line and wash work. Not far from colouring in.

Remember – The first rule is that there are no rules

However generally

⁃ most people consider it more suitable for smaller works (perhaps up to A4)
⁃ simplification of subject matter suits this medium
⁃ a good balance between line and colour is needed
⁃ contrast (or having a wide tonal range) always adds zing to any painting
⁃ works well as a spontaneous medium ( although it can be as finely detailed as you like)
⁃ mostly black lines are used but there is a tradition of using sepia/red brown lines with a light wash

Possible approaches to line and wash
⁃ Line first (you can pencil in basic shapes first if you need to)
⁃ Wash first (could be random or detailed)

Cob hut, Alexandra, relies more on the quality of the painting.
Cob hut, Alexandra, relies more on the quality of the painting.

Line tools
Lines can be applied in almost any imaginable way.
⁃ Indian ink and dip pen
⁃ fountain pens
⁃ waterproof felt pens
⁃ water-soluble pens and inks
⁃ felt markers
⁃ crayons
⁃ charcoal
⁃ sharpened sticks (with ink)
⁃ special double ended pens which apply water-soluble ink from a felt tip and have a brush with a water reservoir at the other.

Wash Media
This is generally limited to:
⁃ watercolour (and, perhaps, gouache)
⁃ thinned acrylic paint
⁃ Thinned inks (monotone, sepia, or coloured)

The Golden Lane, Prague Castle, sold. Painted later from a sketch done on site. Line and wash is a flexible option, great when travelling.
The Golden Lane, Prague Castle, sold. Painted later from a sketch done on site. Line and wash is a flexible option, great when travelling.

Thoughts on line technique
⁃ use line to describe shape and form
⁃ generally a larger work needs a thicker line
⁃ loose, spontaneous lines seem to work well – try to hold the pen well up the barrel and not rest the hand too heavily on the paper
⁃ wibbly- wobbly lines are often more expressive – think about grass shapes and tree shapes
⁃ can use minimal pencil lines to define shape
⁃ don’t worry if you get a line placed wrongly- just put in the right one as well
⁃ try drawing without taking the pen from the paper – it might work for you
⁃ use line to anchor subject to the ground
⁃ you can hatch or stipple to add tonal value before painting or just to indicate where you need darker values in your wash (think about the light)

The Marketplace, Durham, $175 Framed. Also sketched on site then painted with a very limited palette.
The Marketplace, Durham, $175 Framed. Also sketched on site then painted with a very limited palette.

Thoughts on wash technique
⁃ the wash may vary from a single coloured very light wash to complement the line to a highly detailed watercolour covering the whole spectrum
⁃ the wash does not need to relate to the line work at all
⁃ the painting will look more spontaneous if you do not carefully “colour in” your line drawing
⁃ there is great scope for “wet in wet” techniques
⁃ remember watercolour dries lighter
⁃ think about the vignette (Quilliam’s favourite)
⁃ like watercolour painting generally start with the light colours and work darker
⁃ remember you can lift colour out – the paper towel is your eraser
⁃ you can tidy up details once the paint is dry
⁃ do not fiddle – “finishing: a painting can easily ruin it

Have a look at some of my line and wash work

4 thoughts on “Line and Wash Tutorial

  1. Thank you so much for this tutorial. Lots of valuable information and tips that I have been unable to find in such detail. As a beginner, I find that art teachers leave out crucial, simple details in the belief that they should be obvious. Nothing is obvious to an absolute beginner.

  2. Nice post! I spotted your Okains Bay Store sketch at the top and had to take a look. I really enjoyed sketching it a couple of years ago, the peninsular is a great source of sketch subjects isn’t it.

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