Early into watercolour painting, I noticed my painting techniques were very loose, and my layers were overworked, which meant I lost important definitions.

Someone recommended I add pen and redraw what I was missing. My style for it was also too gestural. I wanted to define shapes but got carried away with unplanned shading and mark-making.

My inking ended up covering my watercolour layers, too! This was all discouraging, but on a whim, I tried ink again… selectively.

My aim was for more structure and less sketchy haphazard lines. This approach worked until my next problem! I used too small of pen tips and the wrong type of ink.

In my case, using regular office pens typically didn’t glide well over watercolour. It scraped the paint off, and the ink wasn’t consistent enough. It was especially problematic when I tried shading again.

Gradually I learned how to use varying pen sizes and discovered marker brushes. I found pen brands that performed for my style. Lo and behold, my inking improved! 

You, too, can find a balance between loose brushwork next to hard pen lines. In this case: architecture and plant life! (Our A4 Perfect Sketchbooks come in landscape format perfect for scenic illustration.)

Simplicity is key!

Grab a pencil to sketch your piece and commit to the hard lines later. Then you won’t have to design a composition specifically around your lines.

Pay attention to the negative space from vegetation in the sky. This area is where delicate moments can happen! Keep your gesture sketches free and the building rigid.

For the sky, a simple colour wash will do the trick. Staying basic won’t overcomplicate the leaves soon to come.

While that dries, wash the foreground with colour. Allow a dry time before adding the highlight and lowlight colours for little blending; doing so will give structure to the ground. It’s closer to you, so more texture should come forward.

While in the foreground, paint the grass next to the architecture and the corners of the page. The foreground is where the most detailed plants will be.

Let them dry and move on to the background trees. Your sky should be dry now too. The colours will be darker here. Loosely paint the top of the tree line with a textured brush.

Carry on adding foliage in that colour and bringing them down to meet the foreground. Let the foliage dry a bit before introducing the next shades, so they blend slightly.

This is the stage where overworking it is possible, so be careful! The less retouching, the better! Those messy leaves will do the job of forming the trees. You don’t need to ink them.

If you need extra definition, use a dry, bristly like brush and opaque paint for a wet on dry method. You may notice how the trees create a new atmosphere.

Unique Brushstrokes

The foreground should be dry now. You can also paint with more opaque colours here, including the foliage closest to you and eventually the ones against the walls.

Focus on giving texture and shapes to the flora as you paint with new colours. I like to keep these colours unique to the spot to draw attention forward.

The trees must be dry to paint the building. Colour wash the roof and let it partially dry before including different mixed striations.

You’ll want to see the brushstrokes as they’ll double for texture and distinguishing the metal.

Then block in colours for the windows and door. Remember to plan sections for the white, clean paper to show through.

This is important for painting the bricks too. Use a small bright brush for a few of the individual bricks, mainly those of varying colours.

I painted from dark to light to plan out my white blocks, but the reverse is fine too! After the architecture dries, paint the grass up against the walls.

Later this will be a lovely comparison between your hard lines and your paint’s loose brushstrokes. Make sure to use straight paint, and its opacity will cover or lighten bricks. This step will add a subtle perspective. 

Lumps and Bumps in Walls

Now you can ink! Remember, the walls are lumpy with the bricks sticking out. Instead of drawing a straight line for your walls, throw in some bumps! Pick a few random bricks, too, for outlining!

Draw the whole brick or just the bottom or a side! Block out the windows and doors; they have bricks next to them, too, so few straight lines.

Detail the window panes and door frame. Line the roof and its metal sheets. Use a thicker pen or marker for shading in windows, under the roof, and the door.

These black lines should be coming forward and standing out from the trees, grass, etc.

An entertaining detail is drawing foliage with coloured pencils over a small inked portion. You can also do this with the plants upfront to frame the scene. I chose a white pencil to highlight flora and parts of the building too.

My last step was spraying it with varnish to keep all the beautiful materials set.

Inking Forever

Inking isn’t exclusive to architecture, of course. It’s just easier to see the lines. You can ink out tree trunks, leaves, branches, grass, basic tree shapes, petals, waves, etc.

Anything that needs extra help standing out! But once you start, you’ll never want to stop! Check out this guide on mixing watercolour with other media to boost your learning even further. 

Have you tried inking a painting before? Are there other ways you found to outline structures? We want to know! 

Elly Jauquet is a student artist currently living in Illinois. She started watercolour in 2017 but has been drawing since a young age. You can find her wearing colourful clothes, listening to podcasts, or watching true crime documentaries.

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