Draw like a painter

Paul Blankinship. American Rococo. Walnut ink

F. E. Church, the great Hudson River School painter used to paint on a salmon-pink ground. From what I can tell, it was lead white and and earth tone red.

It adds depth to a painting by mimicking the Doppler effect.

He also used to carry gessoed paper into the field, on to which he painted oil sketches.  His eight-feet-on-a-side landscapes we’re born thus.

How to put a ink ground under a drawing? Four steps:

  • First, size watercolor paper with rabbit glue.
  • Then add whiting to more glue to make gesso; before applying, pink it up by mixing in red clay pigment.
  • Under-draw in charcoal. Draw in washes, getting progressively darker. Last, draw with full-strength ink.
  • Finally, the lights: Body color, soapstone, white charcoal, etc. are available to you. As with the darks, go from the mid tone out, in this case building up to the lightest lights.

The above pic half-done It’s about 15 x 22″:

You can see this and other works at Elizabeth City’s Arts of the Albemarle at 516 E. Main St. this Friday, 5 to 9pm.

You can buy my ink there, too, in case you feel like making your own magic.

Martinique Plantation


Built in the 1750s, this frame house sits on steel girders and awaits a new site. To capture the dry emptiness of the old structure, I used ink with pen rather than brush and wash, building the drawing up with scratches.

Transparency is achieved here through planning the space between marks rather than establishing planes of wash.

Water studies

IMG_20170520_173129~2.jpgHow to capture both the transparent depth and opacity of water.

Easy. Use transparent ink, like my own Handmade Realism brand real walnut ink first; then layer China white watercolor on top.

Here’s how: First, think like an oil painter. Eschew white for mid-toned paper.  Add ink wash, then full-strength ink. As with raw umber paint, you can go as dark as you like and retain the depth you see in shadows–and shallows, too. Be sure to reserve space for your lights.

Next, add thinned-out China white watercolor. Gradually thicken your white to capture reflective surfaces and froth. If your treatment needs it, dot with pastel.



First prize


Above an image of “Barn and Mist,” which I submitted to this year’s LandMark competition at Arts of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City.  It took first prize.

Many thanks to Darlene Tighe and Keli Hindenach, the gallery manager and excutive director who put on the event during the approach of the tropical storm and sometime-hurricane Hilene. Likwise to Munroe Bell who beat the storm in time to judge the work.


I am proud of this drawing for many reasons, not the least of which is the ink, which I made myself. Handmade ink behaves differently from mass-produced factory-made ink, and it costs about the same. Order a bottle and impress yourself today.

Problem solving


These are cypress trees in a blackwater river in Northeastern North Carolina. You are looking down a tributary creek past its mouth at the river beyond.

I wanted to show fog and humid atmosphere using nothing but line.  Here, crow quills (both real and steel) did the trick.  Hatching with wash and full strength ink is both suggestive and visually soothing.

When Van Gogh made his bistre drawings of enclosed orchards using reed pens, he delayed his background marks until his pen was running out of ink.  I’m not sure he was entirely successful at gaining atmospheric perspective this way or even whether such was his aim; nonetheless, he showed what a pen could do without accompanying brushwork. His hoops and squiggles are both accurate and full of life–that’s most of draftsmanship right there.