How to Paint With India Ink

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Chinese and Japanese calligraphy are painted with India ink.
Chinese and Japanese calligraphy are painted with India ink. (Image: Anicent Chinese Calligraphy image by Da Vynci from Fotolia.com)

India ink, also called Chinese ink, is a black pigment made from lampblack mixed with a binding agent and molded into cakes or sticks or blended into a liquid form. It's been used for thousands of years to create calligraphy and paintings. In the modern world it is used in painting washes as well. You can use India ink on any absorbent surface such as rice paper, Bristol board or watercolor paper to create beautiful, simple or complex images.

Things You'll Need

  • Ink cake or stick or bottled India ink
  • Ink stone
  • Sable hair or Chinese brushes, small, medium and large
  • Container for water
  • Paper towels or rags
  • Watercolor palette
  • Paper

Paint Using Bottled India Ink

Dip the small brush into the bottle of India ink and dab it into a well in the palette. Use only the amount left on the brush to draw the deepest outlines on the paper as you would with a pen.

Create grays by diluting the paint in your well by dipping the brush into the water and adding a drop or two. You can three or four wells of lighter grays by repeating this process and adding more water to dilute the ink.

Bring your charged brush to the paper and paint in the shaded areas. Working quickly you can bring water to the paper to spread the ink as a watercolor artist would to create lighter shades or you can apply lighter shades of gray paint from your well.

The artist, painting only with ink and water, creates a beautiful wash.
The artist, painting only with ink and water, creates a beautiful wash. (Image: voyage image by Sujit Mahapatra from Fotolia.com)

Leave areas intended to be white dry since there is no white paint. Whether you can clean away excess ink after it's dry depends upon how waterproof the ink is.

Using the India Ink Stick and Stone

Place a few drops of water into the well of the stone and grind the ink stick in slow circular movements until the ink stops running. If you prefer a velvety charred ink, the deepest black, prepare the ink the day before so some of the water evaporates.

Transfer the paint to a well of the palette using the brush. Dip the brush in the blackest ink and wipe off equal amounts into four clean wells. Don't take all of the blackest ink since you'll need it for drawing.

Add increasing amounts of water by the drop to the four wells to create four shades of gray, deep, dark, light and pale. These shades and the black are your paints.

Paint using the ground ink in the same manner as you do the bottled ink.

Brushes and inks used for Chinese calligraphy are the same used in Chinese painting.
Brushes and inks used for Chinese calligraphy are the same used in Chinese painting. (Image: writing-materials image by Aleksandr Ugorenkov from Fotolia.com)

Painting With a Chinese Brush

Take the brush in your hand and hold it with your fingers in the middle or near the top vertically to the paper. Keep your wrist relaxed but not resting on the paper forming a hollow large enough to hold an egg in your palm.

Continue to hold the brush in this manner even as your change the brush stroke. The pressure you exert on the paper with the brush hairs is all that's needed.

Draw the contour of the subject with the inked brush just touching the surface of the paper.

Apply washes within the outline using a little more pressure, bending the brush so that you're painting with its side. Move the brush freely over the paper. Practice pressing, lifting and stopping the brush to create a variety of stokes.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use traditional watercolor methods to paint using India ink using sable brushes and water color papers to create gray tone studies and paintings. You can use either the ink stick or bottled ink.

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