Ghosts of the Past

On Thursday night, I logged in for the weekly “live lesson” at The Virtual Instructor. Since I started attending the sessions in March, I’ve come to enjoy going to class every week. It’s almost like being back in school…which is a good thing. I love learning, and I always enjoyed school.

But on this particular evening, my usual enthusiasm wasn’t there. We were going to start on an “ink wash” project. I had visions of horrible messes of spilled ink — and lots of frustrations on my part. I’m not, you see, a fan of ink. Oh, but this was going to be fun! That’s what I told myself.

Ink 1Last December, when I first began “ink” drawings, I quickly convinced myself that ink was not my medium. My drawings, I thought, were complete failures. In looking back now, I have to admit I’m shocked to see how good those drawings actually were, especially considering how little drawing experience I had at the time.

I learned all the shading techniques with pen and ink. I learned to create different textures. I tried doing a few landscapes.

And I got frustrated. Drawing with ink made me nervous and anxious. I worried about making mistakes. When working with India ink from the bottle, I worried, too, about knocking it over and ruining tablecloths, carpets, and clothes.

It was obvious. Ink and I just didn’t go together.

I’d been doing lessons from The Pen and Ink Experience at The Virtual Instructor. Before long, though, I decided to stop following the course. I felt like a quitter, but at the time, it was the right decision to make. I just wasn’t ready to tackle ink at that point.

This ink sketch I made last December really wasn't all that bad.

This ink sketch I made last December really wasn’t all that bad, but I thought it was a complete failure.

And so, with memories of my unhappy ink experiences still in my mind, I approached Thursday night’s lesson with a bit of trepidation. This wasn’t pen and ink drawing, I reminded myself. This was going to be an ink wash project. Much different.

So, I watched and listened as Matt, the virtual instructor, demonstrated ink washes. Wet on dry. Wet on wet. Dry brush. Next came the value scale and practice on shading cubes, cones, and spheres. I didn’t want to try working with ink and water here in my art room, so instead of following along, I sat back and observed, and promised I would complete the exercises when morning came and I could set up my materials on my very well-protected kitchen table.

And, I did.

I dug out a large sheet of the old Canson watercolor paper I’m trying to use up, and I figured that would be suitable for my ink wash practices. I doodled with lines and shapes. I looked at values and shading. And somewhere along the way, I started seeing ink a lot differently. Having gained a little experience with watercolor, I saw possibilities for ink washes. Wouldn’t it be fun to try doing a landscape of sorts using only India ink?

I couldn’t wait for my practice exercises to dry! I wanted to turn the sheet over and get busy painting a black-and-white landscape. After all, I still had all the ink I’d poured onto a mixing tray just sitting there waiting to be used. I wouldn’t want to throw it out!

So I grabbed a flat brush, then looked at my water. In addition to the clear water I’d drawn that morning, I still had a bit of “paint water” left over from the previous day’s watercolor practice. The water had a slight burnt sienna color about it. Yeah, I went for it.

I made a very light wash on the paper. It had just the barest hint of burnt sienna about it. Then, still using my big, flat brush, I made a couple bold lines with ink. I added in pine trees on the left, then added a few on the right, watching as the ink blossomed into misty-looking shapes.

And then I saw it. On the right, instead of trees, I could clearly see the image of a ship. A ghost ship, I called it. The wrecked vestiges of a search for buried treasure, perhaps. I should mention here that Treasure Island is my favorite book. I try to re-read it at least once every year, and it’s about time to start my annual reading. So my love of that story might have influenced what I was seeing.

Excited now, I grabbed a jar lid, covered it with tissue, and created a huge moon shining over the water. A few misty clouds hovered at the edges of the moon. I loved what I’d created…a ghostly pirate ship running aground in a silent, wooded cove, all on a haunting, moonlit night.

Sounds great, doesn’t it!

But then, when the ink was dry, I was disappointed to see that my pirate ship, my trees, and even the moon had all but faded away. I could see faint outlines of where the trees had been. I could still make out a very light suggestion of the ship. But my vision was gone.

Could I bring it back? I decided to give it a try. I grabbed a tiny brush, took a bit of ink straight from the bottle, and set about re-creating trees. I didn’t add quite so many this time. Next, I tried outlining the hull of the ship. I added in criss-crossed lines to represent broken masts, rigging, and netting.

I started enjoying the process, realizing that I only had to capture the illusion of this ghostly ship. Less became more. I didn’t need details.

Sad to say, I wasn’t happy with the results. I’d gotten a bit heavy-handed in re-doing the ship’s hull, and ink isn’t like watercolor. It can’t be lifted off. So I tried scrubbing it a bit with clear water and a tissue. I did manage to lighten it somewhat. Then, on a whim, I added in a few more dark streaks to suggest waves crashing against the broken hull.

I couldn’t salvage the beautiful moon. The clouds obliterated it beyond hope, but maybe you can still see a faint trace there. Or maybe you can simply imagine the moonlight.

Here is my “Ghost Ship in the Moonlight”. I love it for the childhood memories it evokes, and for the possibilities I see within it. It was only meant to be an experiment, a chance to use up a bit of paper and ink. Seen in that light, I think it far exceeded any expectation I might have had.

Ghost Ship in the Moonlight

I hope you like my “ghost ship”.  I’m now very intrigued with the possibilities of using ink and watercolors and plan to spend a little more time learning how to create the scenes I want. I think I’m going to enjoy ink a little more now.


About Judith

As an artist, author, and musician, I celebrate creativity and personal expression through all that I do. I invite you to join me as I explore many different aspects of life, love, beauty, and nature.


  1. What s fun adventure!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Judith, mysterious and lovely. So glad you gave ink another try.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. It will be an interesting starting point now that I see possibilities for using ink washes. Anytime I can engage my imagination, I’m intrigued.


  3. dawnmarie

    So you have experimented around with pencil, ink, water color, acrylic and what else? What is your favorite so far? Is ink harder than water color or would you say just different? I am curious about these mediums. Have you ever done pastels? So many questions!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ink is definitely harder than watercolors, I think. Ink drawings are my least favorite thing, and so far, watercolor is my favorite — along with plain old graphite drawing. Yes, I’ve done both soft pastels and oil pastels, and I really do enjoy those, too. And I’ve done one project with scratchboard. It’s tricky, but I really had fun with it. I’ve also done charcoal and conte, and I enjoy those, but right now watercolor is top on my list, probably because I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with it and I’m starting to pick up on a few techniques. I can see improvement in my watercolor, so that makes it enjoyable.


  4. Ink is so “rigid” in my mind and experience, you can combine ink with other mediums, that might give you some joy in the experience.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The ink washes are fun. Ink drawing still makes me nervous. It’s too easy to make mistakes and then impossible to correct them. I’ve used ink with watercolor before, such as when I did the watercolor of my husband’s old van. It’s not something I’m inclined to do often, though. As you’ve said, it’s rigid. And it requires an immense amount of patience. That was another huge drawback for me.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. You may warm up to ink yet! I thought I would hate it and wound up loving it. Shocked the heck outta me. It taught me not to erase, which is cool. Another thing I like is sketching lightly in ink and then using watercolor to add color. Very fun! Ink can be your friend. It’s fun to explore different mediums and glad you’re having fun with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do like little ink and watercolor sketches. I did a little sketch of my chives that way — it’s somewhere here on the blog. Usually, though, I draw first in pencil, then when I’m satisfied with it, I ink it in. I add the watercolor last. Another thing I’ve enjoyed doing is a bit like an “ink-blot” exercise. Just putting a puddle of water on the paper, adding ink, and then figuring out what it “looks like” and creating a drawing from it. When I was first learning about ink, I did several of those. Mine never looked like much of anything, but it was still fun. LOL

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think Jill does those! They do look like fun. Sure, pencil then ink and erase the pencil works great! Ink and WC are really great partners I think.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve heard that some artists actually mix ink with their paint — I haven’t tried that yet — and there are a lot of different ink colors available, so as with so many things in art, the possibilities are endless. It’s true that we’re only limited by our imaginations.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. this does look like fun Judith! and wow, ink!
    ink is so much fun – its wild and expressive and you get super great tonal values 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice tones in that watercolor, reminds me of some of the mystical Chinese landscape paintings. Good luck with the journey ahead!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I was disappointed that when dry, the painting looked nothing like it did when wet. I lost so much of my “vision”, but that’s part of the learning process. I do want to spend more time with ink washes now.


  8. Actually, i looked at this blog and thought of applying ink into my charcoal drawings to sort of enhance contrast,,,, and see what comes out of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love the story of your adventure with the ink and how much you enjoyed it. I think it turned out far better than you are giving it credit for. I can relate to the frustration of pieces not turning out as you had seen them in your head – I feel that way often. I think the trick to master is, regardless of what you intend for something to be, when you call it finished you have to let go of all of the intentions and appreciate it for what it is. When I think a piece of artwork is finished, even if it’s just because I am too frustrated to try anything else with it, I put it out of sight for awhile so that when I come back it is with fresh eyes. Sometimes I’m surprised at what is actually in front of me at that point and I can like it a little more for what it actually is and not what I had wanted it to be. Other times I still hate it and remind myself that if I only try to do what I know I can already do, then I never explore new territory.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the excellent words of advice. Learning art has been an incredible experience for me. It’s helped me develop more patience, has put me in touch with hundreds of creative, talented artists around the world, and has led me toward many exciting new discoveries. I have fun looking back at the sketchbooks I’ve filled over this first year. Many times I am surprised by what I see. Putting a little distance between ourselves and a drawing or painting does make a big difference. Other old sketches I made early in my journey serve to show me how far I’ve come, and that’s very exciting. Thank you so much for visiting my blog and sharing my journey with me.


  10. Yes to this adventure, Judith!


  11. Ink washes—so unpredictable! I love them! lol! And I love it whenever you say you are going to enjoy creating using something completely new to you. Gosh, I love seeing other people have fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Btw, that ghost ship painting is totally cool! I love ghost ships! And what’s up with the old ink sketch? That was not a failure. It’s awesome! To me, a failure is a sheet of paper with nothing on it lol!

      Keep art-ing!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like my ghost ship, so I’m very happy that someone else can “see” it and like it, too. When I was first doing pen and ink sketches last winter, I thought they were all horrible. It surprised me when I looked back through my sketchbooks and realized they were really as awful as I’d thought. I like your thinking about failure as a blank sheet. You’re right, really. With art, as with so many other things, what matters most is not the results but the fact that we’ve put ourselves out there and done something. I’m going to remember that always. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Empty pages aren’t really empty. They are covered in fear. Wow. I feel like Confucius right now. The pen is like a flashlight, except it has ink instead of batteries. Okay. I need to stop now.

        Liked by 1 person

      • LOLOLOL…nah, keep going. I’m cracking up!


    • I’m really intrigued by ink washes now. It is fun to play with them. There are so many fun things to do with art. If only we had unlimited amounts of time and money!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know, right? I haven’t drawn anything worthy the last 5 days because I’m up to my eyebrows in 3D animation work! All I have are squiggles on my sketchpad and some random drawings of eyeballs on receipts lol! Time and money! Gimme! Gimme!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, do you have a national lottery there? We have lots of lotteries here. We never win anything 😦


  12. Yes, we do have lotteries. The most I’ve won so far is 500 pesos (or roughly 10-11 dollars). If… err… WHEN I win the jackpot, I’m gonna quit my job and just do art aaaalll day. I’m grinning ear to ear just thinking about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, we’ve had some super-mega-huge-jackpots over the years. I won $50.00 once on a scratch-off ticket, but that was a long, long time ago. If I won something big, I wouldn’t just buy art supplies, I think I’d buy an art store! Wouldn’t that be fun!

      Liked by 1 person

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