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Water-Soluble sketching with Private Reserve Inks

November 12, 2013

The other day I was substitute teaching for Max Douglas’ Dynamic Drawing class. They’ve been focusing on sketching the figure in motion, which is always a favorite sport of mine. But as I’m currently teaching a watercolor course (Taking sign up’s here!) I thought I’d stay on theme and have them sketching the model with water-soluble ink line and clear water washes.

The washable properties of fountain pen ink are a useful half-step between drawing and painting. A nice transition for a person who is more of a linear sketcher, but wants a taste of painting.


It happens I’d just received a shipment of fountain pen ink samples from Private Reserve Ink. I was inquiring if they had any charts of which colors washed best, and they very generously offered me a chance to test a range of colors. Good timing for the students as I was able to give out some small testers to try in class. My quick experiments the night before showed they have excellent ‘release’ even after the ink is dry to the touch, making them ideal for line and wash.


Private Reserve offers an interesting selection of colors. I’m particularly partial to Vampire Red and their somewhat electric Daphne Blue. I’m quite sure these colors are not light fast over the long term, but if you are sketching for pleasure, or for reproduction/illustration rather than the gallery wall, that’s not a problem. Even so, any color fading that might occur will only serve to create an ‘old-masters’ drawing :)


Over our one night workshop I had people sketch fast poses with some disposable ballpoints that happen to be water-soluble – just to get them thinking about sketching shadow masses as ‘internal contours’ which they will melt with water.


Following this warmup we moved to the pen and spotting darks with the fountain ink – which we turned into paintings simply by melting with clear water. I can’t get enough of this magic trick.


Then adding in a third value with black Pentel Pocket Brushes. I’d have recommended the Kuretake #13 (first tests here) which has washable ink cartridges, but I couldn’t expect people to be ordering those pens on short notice.


I encourage anyone who wants to transition from figure drawing into painting from life to try out this exercise.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Annie permalink
    November 12, 2013 6:49 PM

    I thought I knew exactly what you were talking about. Till I saw the examples. Hey, thanks! And thanks for taking the time to do these emails. Uh, if one signs up for one of your classes, will that include, oh, 2000 miles roundtrip?

    • November 12, 2013 10:45 PM

      Hah :) You’ll just have to have an urban sketchers conference in your town! We’ll go anywhere there’s a club of artists :)

  2. lefeust permalink
    November 12, 2013 9:58 PM

    this was a really fun class :) I posted some of my drawings from the saturday session on new blog here

    • November 12, 2013 11:04 PM

      Good work! You guys picked up on it really quickly. I can see you’ve been doing a lot of speed sketching :)

  3. November 15, 2013 4:14 PM

    Wonderful figure sketches!!! You really came up with a number of ways to draw the figure in ink. I’m sure the students learned a lot.

  4. DeborahThatc permalink
    March 12, 2014 11:41 AM

    Are all Private Reserve inks water soluble? (Thanks so much for your generosity as artist and blogger!)

    • March 12, 2014 2:01 PM

      I’ve tried about 8 P.R. brand colors and they all seem to be – I would imagine the whole line is the same. They’re not the only ones of course, the big companies like Parker and Pelikan have ‘washable’ inks as well – (their term for water soluble). And I also use Lamy cartriges, and the Kuretake brush pens for this.

  5. Randall Laue permalink
    June 22, 2014 4:40 AM



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