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.
Last 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.
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.
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.