Easily adding tone to a sketch

One technique I am finding more and more useful, is using water-soluble pens and pencils as a way to easily add tone to a sketch.

Some pens and pencils are water-soluble, meaning that after you draw with them, if you then introduce some water with a wet brush, the pigment spreads like ink. I find it a controlled way to add tone to selected areas, and easy to do on the go as all I need is a pen/pencil and a wet brush (I use a water brush which has a cartridge filled with water meaning I don’t even need a water pot).

The first pictures show examples of drawings before and after adding water. The pear is done with a pencil (Derwent Inktense which has good strong colours), the tree is done with a fountain pen, and the hills are done with a gel pen.

The other pictures are sketches I have done using this technique. The chair and trees were done in less than 2 minutes each, while the skull and driftwood maybe took 30 minutes. My favourite is the bottom left one, when a small child I was with came shivering out of the sea and huddled herself in a towel and hat to quietly enjoy the sunshine. I was leaning against a rock, and with just a fountain pen and my water-filled brush, did this sketch in a few minutes with the sand blowing over my paper.

Some tips: –

  • if you add the water to the inside of the line only, it creates volume;
  • if you leave a few areas dry and white, it creates highlights (like on the pear)
  • add more pen/pencil to create darker areas.
  • Sometimes I scribble a patch to the edge of a sketch and use it to add more ink to my brush. I also have a paper-towel to dab off excess ink or water.