Painting with Inks and Washes

One of the painting techniques that generates alot of questions in recent years on various message boards is the use of inks and washes. One common responce is someone responding stating that inks are 'just thinned down paint', which they are definitely NOT . Most acrylic paint cannot be used with writing pens, technical pens or air brushes - ink can. Ink washes use pure pigments, no other additives are mixed with them.

Using different media, such as inks and washes, is an area of painting miniatures that most

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people have heard about. Most people do not have an understanding of how to achieve a desired result. When most people think of washing or inking they think of how 'inking' produces fantastic miniatures like magic.

This article will discuss five techniques that I use on a regular basis and the principles behind them. The accompanying photographs are examples of the effects achieved by each technique.

1. Thinning paints - mixing the same color ink with a paint gives a much more fluid material to work with than paint alone, making it much more fluid. The advantage of this is pigment density remains close to the same. When applying thin coats, the colors are much more vibrant. This technique is very useful when you don't want to obscure detail on the model but get a good even coverage of color without using tons of coats (base coating).

Shoulder Plate
Ink also doesn't dry as fast as model paint. This is considered and an advantage for certain techniques when more working time is needed.

2. Washes - using "dip" washes so that the ink creates a 'natural' shadow is a relatively simple technique. When the ink wash is applied generously, it flows into the recesses and; detail on the model to create a general shading effect over the figure.

Careful application is necessary to avoid leaving part of an area uncovered that can result in
'wash marks'. Washes are forgiving, and can be clean up with a cotton tipped swab.

The degree of washing depends on the effect required. With a little practice, you will soon get a feel for the level of application needed. Application also depends on the color being used. For example, an yellow ink wash over white is usually thinner than a maroon wash over a red. In general, darker colors need a more aggressive ink wash or multiple washes for the desired effect.

3. Glazes - similar to a wash, pigment of a lighter tone than the base color. Applied to blend between successive highlights to reduce chalky look and smooth out color difference between layers. Glazes can also be used to alter the tone of underlying colors. Glazes are painted onto a model carefully to apply the color in a specific area. Note that transparent ink is best for glazes.

4. Tone - toning is altering the color of paint. This technique is useful for tinting base colors. This technique is useful for light colors such as yellow, grey and white.

Ink tones can be an ideal base for metallic paints as well. Heavily applied metallic paints can look horrible. It's much better to have an appropriate base color showing through, especially with gold. Black under coating for gold metallic makes it look dull , a brown under coating gives it a more realistic feel.

The example shows a blue/black ink as a base for silver to simulate metal. The other example showing the colors of metallic paint uses a skin ink as an under coating for gold.

Acrylic silver and gold metallic paints are the best. Bronze is a dull color. The shine should be preserved by using a satin varnish, as gloss varnish tends to be to shiny.

The weapon on the miniature shown to the right was painted with silver over a chestnut ink
(white under coat).

5. Painting with inks - This technique is used by many professional painters because ink does not have the covering power of opaque paint. Inks dry more slowly than paints, this allows time to use blending to make special effects. Although it is not practical to paint a whole model using ink, specific effects such as skin flesh tones, marbling and lightning can be done very effectively using ink.

Plate Tectonics


This picture shows how ink washes settle in the cracks and recesses of a model.

Ink colors allow painted detail and underlying color to show through. Inks tend to dry with a satin finish


unless a matting medium is used. Both these properties of ink allow interesting possibilities. With a little imagination and time to experiment the possibilities are endless.

Chris Cichon | (913) 461-6969 |
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