For many artists, making art is more about telling a story rather than worrying about the technical details. This is especially true for artist and instructor Ian Fennelly, whose penchant for old vehicles and cityscapes shines through in this demo.

If you’d like to learn how to weave a story with your paintbrush, then you’re more than welcome to follow along!

Step 1: Quick Ink Sketch

Like many urban sketchers, Ian dives straight into doing an ink sketch, although he prefers using a pen with grey ink to start. But you might need to take a moment to prepare your tools (and yourself!), so here’s a list.

You’ll need a set of Tombow dual brush pens (greyscale), black waterproof graphic pens (sizes 02, 03, and 05), a cold press watercolour sketchbook (30cm x 30cm or 12” x 12”, 300gsm or 140lb), watercolour paints, a palette, a ½” flat brush and a size 8 or smaller round brush, a large container of water, and paper towels.

Tip: If you don’t have something on the list, feel free to sub in the closest thing you can find! For example, I don’t have a 30cm x 30cm watercolour sketchbook, so I used an A4 one instead. As for the pens, the greyscale pens should be water-soluble, while the black graphic pens must be waterproof.

It’s also a good idea to have the reference photo on hand, or at least on screen. 

When you’re ready, start doing a very loose sketch of the old car with a dark grey pen. Ian holds his pen at the very end, which helps him keep his lines super loose! He also recommends starting at the car’s radiator, and slowly extending your lines from there.

Bonus tip: Throughout the sketch, Ian barely lifts his pen from the page, similar to doing a contour drawing. This helps give the sketch a “scrawly”, casual look.

Try your best to keep the car in perspective, but even if it looks a little wonky, that’s fine. The important thing is to keep it loose, have fun, and bring this old car back to life!

Step 2: Waterproof Details

Since the grey lines are quite sketchy and light, they’re meant to be more like a preliminary pencil sketch (but in ink). This means you’ll need to go over the important lines and add more details in black.

Start with the 05 size pen, and again, draw the radiator first. You can add a few lighter lines for the details inside, and strengthen the more important outlines. Details can be done in the thinner 03 or 02 pens.

This is also your chance to sort of “tidy up” your drawing a bit, especially in terms of the lines you want to keep.

Note: If you’ve used a non-water resistant grey pen earlier, it will likely disappear once you add watercolour, which is why you’re going over your lines in waterproof ink.

Step 3: Watercolour Wash

Next is to slap some paint on! These are some of the fastest paintings I’ve seen, which helps keep things loose.

For paint colours, you’ll need Winsor blue (or ultramarine blue), burnt sienna, cadmium red, green gold, white, black, and quinacridone gold. You’re welcome to add or change some colours if you wish.

Starting with your flat brush and burnt sienna, paint the area near the door. Then, switch to Winsor blue, and paint the tire guard and tire on the right. Let the paint mingle on your paper’s surface to create a smooth transition.

You can also mix burnt sienna and Winsor blue on your palette for a more neutral grey, and paint in the left tire. Add some blue to the back tire, and some green gold to the side of the car and side window.

Drop-in some quinacridone gold to the side window as well, and to the headlights on the bottom (attached to the front fender). Use burnt sienna with a little cadmium red in a few places for the frame around the windshield, and dilute your paint as you bleed this colour into the car’s roof. For the radiator, add a little white to your neutral grey mixture, and paint around it.

As for the darkest shadows, use a saturated black to help build contrast. Also, if you ever need to paint smaller areas, switch to a smaller round brush before doing so! This includes details such as painting the frame around the windshield.

Tip: You’re welcome to use whatever colours you wish, wherever you like! The key is to keep it loose and to have the tones relatively similar to the reference photo. This means shadows should still be dark, while highlights should still be light (or left white). Also, in general, Ian likes to make his shadows a cool colour like blue, while lighter colours are warmer, like burnt sienna or quinacridone gold.

When you’re done, splatter some of your paint along the bottom of the car (if you haven’t been splattering already!). 

Step 4: Refining with Brush Pens

For this next part, you can decide whether you want your painting to dry first, or just forge ahead. Ian keeps going due to time constraints, but you can take a break here if you need!

Going back to your greyscale brush pens, use one of the lighter ones to add some lighter shadows within the car’s radiator. Brush over part of the headlights, and along the shadowed sides of the tire guards, tires, door, and rear-view mirrors. Shade in the windows as well, though leave some slivers for reflective highlights.

Note: If your paper is still wet, just be more careful when brushing over that area with your pen. If it’s water-soluble, it should blend in quite smoothly. The only danger is if you press too hard or brush over it for too long, as the wet paper is damaged more easily than dry paper.

Switch to a darker grey pen, and shade in the darker highlights. Again, use the reference photo as a guide.

For the darkest shadows, use a black brush pen. You can be a little more precise with your shadow shapes, as they offer a really good contrast both in terms of value and in terms of the line style.

Step 5: Doris, Stan, and a Final Glance

In the final stretch of this painting, Ian adds two newcomers – Doris and Stan, the bird buddies! This is to enhance the “story” aspect of the painting and breathes life back into this old car.

Again, use the black graphic pens to scrawl on these birds. I had my birds pose a little differently, but you can follow Ian’s ones if you wish, or make up your own.

Shade them in with the grey pens accordingly, then add any fine details using the 02 graphic pens.

Ian does about 100 different touch-ups during this, so it will be hard to list them all! The main ones are shading in the windows and side of the step, scribbling grass lines under the tires, and adding cast shadows for the headlights, tires, and around the fender.

In the same way, keep observing the reference photo, and touch up your painting accordingly. The important thing is to keep your highlights, add your shadows, and do whatever your painting needs to come together as a cohesive story. 

When you’re done, you can sign your painting, and make sure to share it with us and Ian! There was a lot packed into this one demo, so if you want the full experience, check out the live demo recording as well. 

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Nicola Tsoi is a practicing graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. During her downtime, she likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy. 

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