Dark Materials

Saturday, 11th March 2006


Using the small plastic screw-top sample jars that I bought at Boots pharmacy the other week, I've tried mixing four washes of Chinese ink that, along with the black of the ink itself, will give me an evenly spaced range of tones when I'm on location.

ink washesWorking in wash seems to be a messy business compared to watercolours so, after splashing about for a bit with my first sample swatches, I change into an old sweat shirt.

Watching Ink Dry

tone 3 dryingIt's difficult to judge the tones as you mix them because when you try them on the page they appear darker than they will once they've dried. This seems to be especially true for the darker tones, such as my number 3, 'medium dark' as I've called it, which I photographed (left) as it was drying; you can see that the wetter, lower half of the wash was a tone or two darker than the drier top half.

It's important to label them as the washes look identical in the jars. The fifth, tall screw-top jar contains the Chung Hwa Chinese Ink (it is supplied in an attractive but, for the purposes of fieldwork impractical, ceramic bottle).

' In Japanese Brush Painting class we actually grind the ink with the stick onto the inkstone,' writes my friend Rachel from San Diego, 'But certainly there are lots of records of painters centuries ago who used ink and stone on location. I just don't know how they did it. For us, instead of watering the ink down into bottles, we place some of the darkest ink onto a white plate, then use some water to dilute this down into a greytone. In fact, I often end up with several different greytones on the same plate, sort of a palette.'

cubeAny colour you like, so long as it's grey

Apart from the inherent messiness and the bother of carrying four bottles of wash along with my Chinese ink, I think this method will work well on location; it's quick, like painting-by-numbers. I like to start with the lightest tone and work to the darker ones. You don't have to wait until the first wash is dry, as you do in traditional wash drawings where you lay one wash over another to produce a luminous graduation of tone. In these drawings, I left the darker areas blank when I started by painting in the lighter tones.

Like Rachel says, it is like having a limited palette available, except they're tones instead of colours. Next Page

Richard Bell, richard@willowisland.co.uk