Toolbox: Drawing with Gouache and a Nib

IMG_7509
A while back I took a calligraphy class from Tara Bliven, and it opened up a whole new world of drawing tools. Not only did I get to try out new tools and techniques, it was the first time a pen and nib really worked for me. (Sometime I’ll give my whole “It’s tough being a lefty” rant.) As a lefty I need to use a special Oblique Pen Point Holder to write left to right– but with a little practice I learned to use a plain pen and nib to draw with gouache.

All the dark blue lines on this piece were done with a pointed pen, the rest is watercolor.

What’s so great about drawing with gouache?

• You can draw any color you can mix, for cheap. Instead of buying half a million different markers, buy a primary set of gouache and mix the colors you love.
• Gouache colors are opaque, which means you can do light lines on a dark background.
• Skinny paintbrushes are a pain. Although some people *ahem, Rachel* seem to be able to make magic with a brush, I have no luck doing fine lines with a paintbrush. A pen works much better.
• Gouache mixes wonderfully with your watercolor projects (#diycraftchallenge)
• The quality of line you get with a pointed pen is awesome.
• You look like a total bada** when you’re using a pointed pen. Trust me.

IMG_7205


For this piece, I put down a dark blue background in watercolor, then used gouache to add the white words and flourishes.

IMG_7350
There is a little learning curve when you’re working with a pen and ink, and practice makes perfect. I like to do little doodles on scrap paper to practice my lines, play with color, and generally mess around.

Supplies

• Gouache– like this Winsor & Newton set.
• A pen holder– like this one from Speedball
• A pointed pen nib– I used a Nikko G pen for this project, but Tara also recommends the Brause EF 66 which is better if you’re not as heavy handed as I am.
• A dropper of distilled water.
• A couple of ratty paintbrushes for “ink” application, mixing, and cleaning.
• The rest of your usual painting tools– a paint tray or plate, a jar of water, paper towels, paper, pencil, etc.

IMG_7366
To start, I put a drop little bit of gouache into my paint tray…

IMG_7369
and add a couple of drops of distilled water. I add just a little bit of water to start, because it’s easier to add more water to make the consistency I want.

IMG_7374
I mix my water with my paint until it’s consistent (using a cheap kids paintbrush). I like to play with different degrees of “wateriness,” more water means that the “ink” will be thinner and less opaque. Typically I used a mixture that’s about 3 parts paint, 1 part water.

IMG_7383-2
To apply the paint/ink to the pen, I saturate a paintbrush, and slowly slide it against the backside (concave side) of the nib. The ink will cling to the nib and seem to fill it partially. When it seems full (this part takes some practice) I will gently point and shake the pen downward towards the tray to get any extra blobs of ink out before I start drawing. In some cases (like today), I will actually drop the extra bits of paint onto my paper, for fun.

IMG_7444
Then it’s time to draw. I place the nib gently again the paper, concave side down, at an angle. Then I slowly pull the nib along, rather than pushing like a lefty with a ballpoint. (If you’re having trouble, check out one of the amazing tutorial videos on youtube- like this one.)

IMG_7454
Unlike a normal pen or marker, a nib like this will need to be refilled rather frequently (using the brush method above.) I try to keep an eye on how much ink/paint I have in my nib so that I don’t run out in the middle of a line. When you’re using the nib, you’ll notice that the tip is made up of two pointed pieces. When there is enough ink, it looks like one point on the end, but when they start separating, I probably need more ink.

IMG_7486-2
Periodically, I stop to rinse and scrub my pen. I dip it in my jar of water, and use a clean brush to scrub any dried bits of ink/paint off of it. Then I dry it gently with a rag or paper towel, reink, and go back to work.

IMG_7489
For this doodle, I had both white gouache and blue gouache in my paint tray, and I went between the two when I was reinking.

IMG_7496
Can you see why I like drawing with gouache? The possibilities!

IMG_7503

I was inspired to pull out my gouache today by the April DIY Challenge: Watercolor. We’d love to see what the theme inspires in you, so pull out your favorite medium and tools and share with us!

Comments

  1. Michele says

    That is SO cool! I love using light ink on a dark background. I have now added this to the list of things I want to try.

    • says

      I think working on a dark background gives you a whole different perspective. (= I’d love to see how your experiments turn out!

  2. says

    Amazing. I’ve painted a little with gouache, but never on a black surface and not with calligraphy nibs. I have the same lefty issues with using nibs as you, but the dark background offers up some very creative ideas and opportunities. Thanks!!

    • says

      I think that drawing with the nibs is a lot easier than writing (for a lefty). I keep trying to figure out a good way to write with them– but so far I’ve not been successful writing right to left. (;

  3. says

    Your work is really wonderful and thanks you so much with this tutorial, i have never try this way of painting and it’s seem so great!
    I have nibs i have never use so i’m impatient to try this method!
    By the way, your illustration is amazing. *0*

  4. Jerry Swatsell says

    I’ve begun cutting bamboo. I use a pair of hand pruners like you would use for plants or limbs. and have made some nice dip-pens. It’s a lot cheaper (free… Bamboo is everywhere) and you are in complete control. Cut between the joints and use an X-Acto knife to make the tip.

Trackbacks