Using Gouache For Ink

M. Giraude’s scroll showing
gouache ink interspace lines and filigree.

Here’s something intriguing I tried on M. Giraude’s scroll. And it worked well. Better than I expected. I used gouache as ink.

Since then I see several modern calligraphers online have done it. So my apologies if this is common knowledge. Even so, I am excited about it because it’s so easy and inexpensive.

But why would you want to use gouache for calligraphy?

Gouache, as you may know, is opaque, intensely pigmented and vibrantly colored. I tried it because I was too cheap to buy a colored ink for the little I would need for one scroll. But I liked it because I matched the filigree and interlinear lining with a blue elsewhere in the scroll. It also made those fine lines deeply colored because gouache has a lot of pigment in its binder compared to inks. The best part was how fine I could make the filigree lines by using gouache as ink.

Another reason you might use gouache for ink is you can mix the paints to make a different color. Something I haven’t done successfully with ink. 

If you try this you won’t be disappointed, but it takes a little experimenting. The paint is too thick right from the tube, so I mixed it with a little water adding 10 drops of water at a time until it worked with my dip pen. The paint I used was Reeves non-acrylic gouache. 
To begin, I squirted gouache into a small container, one of those tiny paint pots you buy at a craft store. Don’t overfill it because you want the room to add water and still stir. I didn’t fill mine even half full.

added water by dropper, with more gouache than water, about 3:2.  
Then I stirred it with a small stick I keep for that kind of thing. The amount I wanted to make was too small to shake and would make bubbles even if I did.  

I tested the consistency by drawing lines on scrap Bristol board. First try for me worked fine, so I began interlining Giraude’s scroll. There were so many to do I took a break. When I returned my gouache ink had dried and become thicker than I wanted. I added a few more drops of water, which didn’t appear to thin the color intensity.

I saved the gouache ink by sealing the paint pot with the top and used it the next day for the filigree. 
When you try using gouache for ink the consistency should not be too runny. If it is, add gouache a “drop” at a time until your ink is creamy. If it is thicker than cream add drops of water until you get a consistency that flows well from your dip pen nib. How much water you need may vary between the paint colors or brands. 

Another concern might be how well the gouache binder adheres the ink to your paper. While I was lucky the first time out if the gouache is thinned too much it could rub off the support easily.  When you experiment first, rubbing your sample will tell you if it comes off on your finger. If it does, add a little more gouache or a drop of gum Arabic.

Not every experiment I try works as well or so easily as this. It’s a technique I’m sure I’ll use again and hope you try.

Related Prior Post:
How to Use a Dip Pen 

Categories: How-to

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