Ink Art Forest (Tutorial)

Accidental art is a type of Raw Art–you deliberately give up control to create art. For perfectionists (or us recovering perfectionists), it’s hard to give up control voluntarily. The resulting joy is seeing accidental art develop in front of your eyes.

Niji9For years, I’ve been working with an ink technique based on a mix of control and complete lack of control. Here’s a short video of that technique:

A few days ago, I created a journal page for the Niji Design Team that was both simple and stark.  It does not require you to be an illustrator. Here’s how to do it.



Here’s how you make the journal page

1. Spray a very fine mist of water on the front of the watercolor paper. It will curl slightly, with the middle higher than the edges (convex).

2. Wet the larger watercolor brush, blot, and load with ink. Very carefully, touch the tip of the brush to the drops of water. The ink will jump across the water droplets, forming interesting spidery shapes. These are pine branches.

Niji34. Work slowly and carefully up and down the page, creating these patterns. It takes a little practice–use less spray water than you think. The droplets should be separate to avoid a black wash of ink.

5. Repeat the process on the same side of the page, on the other edge. Allow to dry. Add an ink line down the vertical edge of the page. Rinse your brush.

Niji66.  When the paper is dry,  use the thin brush to draw a horizon line at the bottom third  of the page, between the trees. Use the waste water, it will still produce a light gray line.

7. Fill in some of the white areas with a very pale gray wash to indicate clouds and the ground. You have a journal page of contrast and visual interest. You can add hand-lettering if you’d like.

Niji8You can create different pages with creative use of different details.

For complete direction for this page, visit the Niji Design Team page.

Quinn McDonald is a Niji Design Team member. She was not paid to belong to the team, but did receive free products to experiment with from Yasutomo /Niji.


Posts from the Studio

I don’t run new posts on Saturdays, but many people spend time in the studio on the weekends and I thought it might be helpful to post links to several older posts on this blog that might be helpful for a day in the studio.

How to make your own deckle-edge paper.

Review of Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils.

Marbling with Sumi ink.

10 Ideas for what to put on your journal’s first page

How to handle problem students (Part 1)  (Part 2)

Enjoy the day!

Quinn McDonald writes “The Business of Art” column for Somerset Studio.

Tutorial: Sumi Ink Marbling

Marbling paper is a complicated process. Marbling paper with sumi  inks and colored pencils is fun and unpredictable–you don’t know what you’ll get, but it’s always fun. Raw art is meaningful art you make with a minimum of equipment and without kits. It’s art that is uniquely yours and art that makes meaning for you. All the expensive equipment in the world won’t make you an artist. But making something meaningful does.

This simple, unpredictable technique  of marbling paper uses only a black ink. The project that allows for quiet meditation and a lot of fun with colored pencils, aquarelles, regular pencils, ink pens, or whatever else you have. You will need some equipment:

  • Toothpick
  • Soup plate or baking dish (8-inch square)
  • Paper towels
  • Paper to work on (I used 4 X 6 Arches Wove Text, but any  good paper will do.)
  • Sumi ink (available at most art supply houses. Walnut ink or regular fountain pen ink won’t work.)
  • Tap water (Don’t use distilled or treated. Regular tap water is perfect.)

sumigraphtintGather everything on a place you can clean up easily. Stack up two or three paper towels. Make sure the bowl you use will hold the entire sheet of paper. Fill the soup plate or baking dish with cool tap water.

Dip the toothpick in the sumi ink, so you get the toothpick wet. Touch the tip of the toothpick to the surface of the water. The ink should immediately flow onto the surface of the water. Use the tootpick to gently spread the ink on the water’s surface.

Pick up the paper by holding it at opposite corners–one on the bottom, one on top. Curve the paper slightly, so the bottom will touch the water first. Roll the paper smoothly over the surface of the water. If you want both sides of the paper inked, wait till the entire piece of paper is floating on the surface of the water, then gently push the piece under water, pull it out by one edge, so water and ink rolls down the length.

Hold the paper by one corner, allowing it to drip dry. When the paper is no longer dripping, put it on the paper towel to dry. You can use a hair dryer to finish the drying process.

When the paper is dry, use pencils, pens, or colored pencils to pick out and emphasize patterns that the sumi ink made. In the example I made, I use my favorite subtle-color pencils–watercolor graphite pencils, which can be used wet or dry. Derwent Graphtint are wonderful for subtle work, but you don’t need anything more than a regular pencil. OK, you can also use Derwent’s InkTense for their transparent color. Use a light touch, because gentle color works best with the mysterious swirls of sumi ink.

FTC Required Disclosure: I purchased all materials in this tutorial. No one paid me or donated the tools I mentioned by brand name. Links to products are not paid, simply practical ones I find useful.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who believes that everyone can keep an art journal, even those who can’t draw. See her work at

Judy Melvin: Class in Mixed Media

Judy Melvin, a mixed media artist, taught a class to the Calligraphy Society of Arizona this past weekend. Judy is a calligrapher with a big portfolio. She has a 12-year career with American Greeting Corporation where she designed and lettered product, invented new fonts and painted and designed cards.

Radish bird, bleach, pastels on Arches cover stock © Quinn McDonald 2009

For members like me, who aren’t calligraphers, the class was still rich in opportunity. I used mark-making, found poetry, and hand lettering in this class and had a wonderful time.

Judy demo’d “Sink Art” –you start by using sumi ink on white paper, then rinsing it under running water. Sumi ink is tenacious, but the running water washes some of it off. With careful manipulation, you can run the ink to other parts of the paper and develop a marbling effect.

We also used brushes and calligraphy pens to write on black cover stock with bleach. The stock was black all the way through, so the result looked like batik. We then went back and added pastels to incorporate color into the positive and negative spaces.

We worked with gesso and walnut ink as well, creating several pieces. The class ended with an art show. One of the delights in a class of creatives is seeing the results of people who have received the same instruction. None of them are in the least alike.

Judy’s friendly, easy-going style and encouraging manner is a big plus in making the class interesting and fun.

Below: Detail of a bleached  piece of cover stock, colored with pastels and then collaged with found poetry.


Bleach and pastels take away and give color

Rebels & Radicals

Dangerous women
Fight to build clarity, creativity and courage
Demonstrate How we are connected
in a world gone mad.

Below: Detail of a bleached piece of cover stock, colored with pastels using hand-cut stencils.


Detail of Radish Bird, showing stenciled pastels