Watercolour & drawing process

Today I’m sharing my approach to watercolour and ink drawing which I use for my instagram project, @NeverTooManyChickens.

All of these are original drawings, using ink pens and gouache (watercolour) on watercolour paper. For instagram, I usually do further editing of the main image in Photoshop to make the colours look more like they do in real life, rather than what the iPhone camera captures.

Materials

A quick summary of materials, before I walk through my process and my “whys”:

The models

I’m lucky that instagram is full of chickens and chicken parents who nominate their critters to be drawn!

Look at this beauty..

Pencil (for once)

My first step is to draw a rough pencil outline, and then ink over the top. This is the only project I have where I actually use pencil first rather than going straight to ink. This is because, frankly, I’m not terribly good at drawing real chickens from life – hence I started the project to get better at it!

Winsor & Newton graphite pencils

For this I’m using a standard 2B graphite pencil from Winsor & Newton. If you’re working in pencil you probably have, or should get, some kind of box set as it’s more cost-effective. This studio collection from Winsor & Newton is standard and reliable, but there are a lot of options out there.

Inking

Once I’m happy with the rough shape and features, I then create a line drawing. Here I’m using Derwent Line Makers and using a standard plastic eraser. My pencil is quite light, and as I’m using pigment pens and erasing carefully, it doesn’t damage the ink work.

Painting

From there I just attempt to match the colours as well as I can. I have some key go-to colours from the Holbein Artists Gouache set that I have set up in my Daisy Palette.

Because it’s watercolour, I can let it dry out on the palette, keep it covered, and reuse it each time I need to work.

These are small drawings, so they use very little paint.

Using this little paint, with this much accuracy means it’s almost more like inking the image than traditional painting.

For Boudica, you can see that I had to go outside of my core colour base and add blue and green! Not your usual chicken colours!

For my brush, I’m using this Jacksons synthetic – Onyx size 6. Does the job, and is kind to animals.

Final work

Here’s the final artwork just snapped with my iPhone.

And here you go – the final drawing, post-editing, added to Instagram.

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Ink drawing materials

A recent commission titled: “Delivery Bike” (SOLD) Ink on paper.

I often get questions over on Instagram about what I use and how when making my ink drawings. So that’s what I’m going to cover today!

Method

It’s probably important to know the “what I am trying to do” before any of the materials decisions make sense!

Pencil or no pencil?

The most frequent question I get asked is “where are the pencil lines?” Well that’s simple – I don’t use pencil. Not sure why, but I’ve always just gone straight to ink. I think it might originally have been laziness, or a dislike of the way most erasers damage the richness of the ink, or it might have been to stop myself over-thinking everything I draw!

Probably all of the above.

Straight to ink. No pencil, no safety net.

Materials

For black and white line drawing, I basically only use two things – pen and paper. I like to keep it simple, which I think is reflected in the work! Also, the fewer materials I have to carry round, the less set up – and this means I’m more likely to sit down and draw something wherever I am, rather than need some elaborate set up.

This is particularly useful at the moment, when I’m living between cities and without a single large studio to work in.

Pens

The most important thing for me is pigment ink; the work has to be light-fast. Also, I prefer pens that are waterproof as it reduces the chance of smudging, especially on a hot day!

#1 Sakura Pigma Micron Fineliners

My go-to pens for many years now have been Sakura Pigma Micron Fineliners. I have a standard 6 pack in every drawing bag and case I have, but you can see the full range here.

Some years ago I conducted a fairly rigorous review for Jackson’s Art Blog and it still stands – they are the most reliable, least bleedy and blackest ink option for me.

#2 Derwent Graphik Linemaker

I used them through Inktober 2020 and I still use Derwent Graphik Linemakers for my project @NeverTooManyChickens. I can’t remember why I didn’t use the Microns – it might have been that I didn’t have any to hand, or someone had given me these to try, but now it’s a habit I can’t break.

Part of me wonders if they feel slightly more robust when drawing on watercolour paper – that’s the only thing I can think of.

#3 Unipin

Unipins were the first drawing pen I ever used, and so they have a special place in my heart. I also still believe that their 0.05 is the finest out there without investing in the inky mess of Rotring Rapidograph.

#4 Molotow Blackliner

A late addition to my suite of pens is the Molotow Blackliner – but oh my these are delicious. I think I was gifted some to try and fell in love. They are really dark black and flow really well. I used them for my entire book The Wizards of Cattywumpus because they were just a joy to use. A little harder to control the ink flow, so I still stick with my Microns for day to day use, but I adore these.

Paper

Ok, so paper is tricky because.. “it depends”.

In general, these days I use sketchbooks not sheets or pads. But there are some exceptions:

  • Commissions – need to be on a single sheet so that I can work for a long time on a flat surface, and then send the single item out to someone
  • Books – I tend to do the artwork on sheets of marker paper because I know they will be scanned and turned into digital work – never sold as originals and therefore don’t have to be high quality rag paper
  • @NeverTooManyChickens – all on hot press watercolour paper, because well.. I’m then painting them with gouache

But for day-to-day use I tend to use sketchbooks because these days, the paper quality is excellent and I if I can manage to carry the same sketchbook around for a period of time, I tend not to lose them all!

Features of a sketchbook

I’ve been using them for a few years now, so I’ve ended up with a clear set of preferences:

1. Paper has to be thick

Generally, I need paper to be of a reasonably heavy weight. This is because I don’t want my beautiful dark pigment ink to soak straight through, and because I may get asked to sell a drawing and so I need it to be of a high quality outside of the sketchbook.

2. Paper has to be smoooth

I don’t know where this comes from, but I’m generally not a fan of bumpy paper. It makes the lines wiggly and generally life a lot harder than I want it to be!

3. Covers have to be hard

I used to use all sorts of sketchbooks, but with extensive travelling, I now prefer sketchbooks with a hard cover and a band around them, so that I can chuck them in a bag or case without too much worry that they’ll get squished

4. Paper usually has to be white

I prefer very white paper. Partly because I just prefer pure black on pure white, and partly because it’s so much easier to take photos for Instagram!

My go-to sketchbooks

So, the sketchbooks that meet the above criteria, that I use all the time are:

Stillman & Birn ZetaI mean the whole series is to die for, but they hard hard cover and spirals which makes life super-easy. And the paper is the smoothest and whitest I’ve found. Heaven.

Daler Rowney EbonyThese are another nice, sturdy, smooth, white option. Not as beautiful-feeling as the Zeta (to me) but definitely in my stack and used on a regular basis.

Moleskine hard covers – I used to use these all the time, but the paper is a little lightweight and usually a little cream/yellow unless you buy the watercolour/drawing paper versions. These will still do for me in a pinch, especially working with Microns because the bleed through isn’t too bad. It’s good that I can grab these at an airport for example, if I have failed to plan ahead properly!

Royal TalensThis is what I’m using the most at the moment. These were given to me and I was hesitant at first – because I didn’t choose them(!) and because the paper is not quite white – it’s a little off-white or almost cream. Also not as smooth as the Zeta. But for reasons I cannot quite put my finger on, I’m really enjoying them.

I think perhaps because the paper has a really nice weight to it, and the cover feels high quality and extends nicely beyond the end of the paper. Also, despite being a white cover, I have thrown them in and out of bags with no damage or marks either to the cover or the pages inside.

What else? (a cheat)

One more question I get is “how do you draw such straight lines?”

There are two answers to that:

a) Practice

b) Cheat

In most of my sketchbooks, I keep pre-cut pieces of paper, or even post it notes!

Top tip: when using guides that you inevitably store in the back of your sketchbook, a thicker sketchbook paper like Talens, rather than that of a Moleskine prevents any impact through the paper you’re drawing on. Most of the time I don’t use guides, but when I’m doing something like Inktober and I want all of the cartoon panels to be consistent – that’s what I use.


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Inktober 2019

In October 2019 I took part in the instagram drawing challenge of Inktober. I’ve done it a couple of times before, but generally found that I don’t have enough time to dedicate to coming up with really good responses to the prompts.

This year, I committed a lot of upfront time to researching the semantics of each word, and trying to come up with really creative solutions. As I was happy with the outcome, and received a lot of messages asking about my process, I decided to publish a book of the drawings, along with pages from my sketchbook and photos of my materials and the approach I took.

A limited edition of books is now available on my Etsy store.