Skip to content

Good Question of the Week: A Trick for Using Liquid Ink in the Wild

June 19, 2014

I thought I would start a series of posts I’ll be calling: Good Question of the Week. Maybe I won’t be doing it every week :) But I’m still calling it that. Gradually they’ll build up into a nice tips and tricks list.

So, this first one was not even a question. Someone was saying in passing – “oh I wouldn’t take liquid ink into the field – that’s a disaster waiting to happen”.  I thought – “Such a shame – why pass up the expressive line you get with brush or dipping pen!”.

So – yes, yes it’s true. The potential exists for a dramatic spill. And of course the main problem is how to actually draw without splattering all over nice new pants. Not every urban sketcher wants to look homeless while street drawing. It’s bad enough we sit on the sidewalk.

I’ve tried a number of clip-on things, magnets, even the sticky rubber stuff used to hang posters. (Here’s the post on magnets). Ultimately, it’s all much simpler than that.  Introducing the “Book and Bottle Grip”. Patent Pending.


What I do is just hold the bottle, and the sketchbook in one hand. This way I always have control over the ink, and it’s the shortest distance from dip-to-draw. This works with a brush or dipping pens (as shown). I do this now for watercolor as well – holding the book and my clear water in the same hand. (My new mini-half pan set can be clipped right to the book itself). Sometimes I”ll put a little piece of coroplast behind the book – if it’s one with a floppy spine.

The bottle is a 30 ml Nalgene container – purchased from a camping good store – probably meant for sunscreen or bug repellant. These plastic jars will never break and have a leak-proof seal. You can carry liquid ink in the bottom of your bag without fear.

I don’t have huge hands – so I *think* this should work for anyone. Let me know if you try it out.





11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2014 3:30 AM

    Hi thanks for your advice. I have given up with the ink bottle for the very reasons that you have described but yes I do miss that flow of link. I may return and have another go.

  2. Linda permalink
    June 20, 2014 10:23 AM

    Thank you for this useful post Marc!

  3. June 20, 2014 12:13 PM

    Marco, Thanks so much for this post! I look forward to others in this series. Besides urban sketching, I am a pointed calligrapher. When I go off to conferences and workshops, I have to pack ink… know what a hazard to clothes in the same suitcase that is! I have, in the past, when flying, used regular ink bottles and used packing tape to swaddle them against leaks …plus the little note to the security guys about what it is. However, I will check out these bottles you suggested! Great idea! I think sketchers need to engage a pet octopus as a sketching partner ! LOL. Anyway, thanks so much for your great blog posts! I learn so much from you. Elsie

    Elsie Hickey-Wilson Fitchburg, Wisconsin, USA

    Sent from my iPad


  4. June 23, 2014 7:19 AM

    Thank you for the tip, Marc! Only problem, I like to have water brush handy for washing off the ink line and it has to be quick, so ink wont dry yet, so I nee both hands, one with pen, other with water brush. Haw to handle it with bottle in one hand?

    • June 23, 2014 8:40 PM

      That’s odd – with the Lamy ink, or with Private Reserve ink, it doesn’t matter if I wait before I wash the ink line. I’ve painted drawings that were a week old, and still had plenty of washing effect. Might be the nature of your pens?

  5. Jean Bouchard et Lynn Fournier permalink
    June 25, 2014 4:12 PM

    Hi Marc, Can I ask you what is the brand on your watercolor mini-half pan set? Tx Lynn

    • June 25, 2014 4:21 PM

      Hey Jean – In this shot right?
      That is a Winsor and Newton set of half pans. I got it here in Montreal at Avenue Des Arts. They also sell the pans individually, so you can customize your colors (and stock replacements). I’ve added extra pans down the middle – it comes with a tiny (essentially useless) brush in that space. I’m using a flat stone bead as a spacer to ‘fill the gap’ the pans leave between them. You could probably just stick some bits of cardboard in there. Or some kneaded eraser :)

  6. June 25, 2014 4:28 PM

    Maybe a natural sponge in the ink bottle would make it even more spill proof? I think the waterproofing of Noodlers Bulletproof ink in my Lamy Safari depends on the paper. It varies between total to partial.

    • June 25, 2014 6:44 PM

      It is true! it depends a lot on the paper. My theory is it needs to be coated stock to prevent too much absorption. The Hand Book sketchbooks and Stilman and Birn books work very well. The classic Moleskine with the tan colored waxy stock is tremendous for this. The ink will lift and puddle in interesting ways – like water on wax paper.


  1. Go Bags Go: Field Sketching Kits for the Brazil Symposium | Citizen Sketcher

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: