The most sought-after ink is the waterproof kind - you can paint over it and it will stay in place, and if you’re writing a letter the words will be safe from accidental splashes of tea on your desk. Many artists won’t buy ink unless it’s waterproof, which makes sense, but water-soluble ink also has a time and place!

Here’s a 30-minute art class with Allan Kirk to give you ideas for how to make art with those fountain pen cartridges or budget fineliners you’ve not been wanting to use. Use your Etchr Hot Press Sketchbook to show off the ink texture!

Let’s draw a simple window to start with, it doesn’t have to be realistic at all. If you use water-soluble ink, you can use water on purpose to make gradients with it like watercolour! Simply use a wet paintbrush to smudge the lines toward where you want shadows to be, and lift excess ink with a paper towel or rag. You’ll be able to make shaded drawings so quickly.

You might want to experiment with different water-soluble pens you have around the house to see what colours the ink separates into. Allan’s pen separates into a nice green, and I’ve seen many inks that separate into orange and blue.

My pen separates into a slightly pinkish tinge but doesn’t do anything super interesting. Once you’re happy with how your chosen ink separates with water, it’s time to start the main project!

Step 1: Outline

In this project, we’ll be using waterproof and water-soluble pens in tandem with each other to have both structured outlines and rich shadows. Start drawing the scene with waterproof ink so that it doesn’t go anywhere later. This is a casual sketch so don’t worry about being technical, just keep the pen moving.

Enjoy the feeling of the pen on paper while you draw the little shapes for boats and hedges!

Step 2: Water-Soluble Ink

Take your water-soluble pen and go over some of the areas where you’re going to want shadows. The lines probably won’t be too noticeable right now, because you’re just going over places you’ve already drawn and adding washable lines. When doing this, be mindful of how deep you want the shadows to be, because the more water-soluble ink you add, the darker the shadow is going to be.

Step 3: Add Water

Now, take the paintbrush and wet all the areas you shaded or retraced with a water-soluble pen! Watch the soluble ink bleed while the permanent ink stays sharp and defines the picture.

Depending on the ink, you might only be able to rewet and lift it once. Lightening an area that’s already had ink blended into it is difficult or impossible in my experience, so it is not quite like watercolour.

Step 4: More Ink

To increase the contrast, you’ll want to go over the picture with the water-soluble pen once again. The picture will be more lifelike if there is more than one shade of grey. Wet the ink and spread it around as you did before in any place that you think needs to be darker to stand out.

Here it is! A beautiful canal scene that only took about 30 minutes to draw thanks to the speed of water-soluble pens. This is such an affordable way to make art since you only need two pens and water. Also, it travels well, so if you’re into urban sketching you will love this!

Since different types of black ink separate into different colours when wet, you can try a variety of pens in the same picture to get different colours. Many fountain pen inks come in colours such as “blue-black”, “red-black”, and “yellow-black”, so you might want to pick up some of those colours and get some beautiful muted gradients when you add water.

You can also use this technique on colourful fountain pen ink because that usually separates in interesting ways too! Sometimes I paint with fountain pen ink as if it’s liquid watercolour for the spontaneous effect it brings.

If you enjoyed this lesson, you’ll also like Allan's 90-minute class! You’re also invited to join our email newsletter and get exclusive updates! Happy sketching!

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She  loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that  came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long  hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.

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