A reader, Cheryl, wrote in to yesterday's post that she is taking a watercolor class where the assignment is painting directly with the watercolor brush (a great assignment). As my response to her comment grew and grew I realized I should just make a post about it, because there were some artists I wanted to draw to everyone's attention and I know comments are often overlooked.
My instigating post was about drawing with pen directly (brush or regular or even dip pens, your choice, just get the ink down) without any pre-drawing in pencil. But I also love to sketch first simply with the watercolor brush and watercolors.
You can see one example of sketching with watercolor, using the brush as the drawing tool here.
I also think it's great fun to sketch with FW Acrylics, slightly diluted in an older Niji waterbrush. This effectively turns it into a brush pen with the color ink of your choice. One caveat: if you do this I recommend using an old Niji and only putting in enough ink for your painting session. You need to rinse the Niji IMMEDIATELY, and thoroughly, when you are finished. If the acrylic ink dries in the brush you'll never get it out.
You might also want to have another older Niji on hand, simply filled with water. You can trade off with that waterbrush to further dilute the ink lines into shading (before the ink is dry). You can use a "real" brush for diluting your ink lines too, but be sure to keep it wet and then rinse it thoroughly after your painting session so that the ink doesn't dry in the brush and ruin it. Remember—acrylic ink dries waterproof.
One of the great things about using acrylic ink or fluid acrylic paint is that when it dries it is waterproof and you can use this to your advantage when working over your lines with additional wet media. You can let your lines show, or cover them (as I did in the second link on the verso page).
When sketching with watercolor on your brush you have the watersoluble nature of watercolor to exploit. You can dissolve unwanted lines under later washes, or leave lines visible with only lighter glazes of wash on top.
If loading your Niji waterbrush, or any brush, with acrylic ink or fluid acrylics scares you, I recommend that you load your Niji waterbrush reservoir with diluted gouache or Dr. Ph. Martin's Hydrus Fine Art Watercolors. The latter come in small eyedropper bottles which make loading the reservoir of your Niji waterbrush a breeze. Simply remove the brush tip as you normally would, pull out the black "regulator" cap at the top of the reservoir and put in the drops of paint that you want, in the amount and mix (you can blend different colors by adding drops from more than one bottle). Replace the black "regulator" cap, screw on the tip, and start painting. If you don't want full-strength paint coming out of the brush you can add a few drops of water before closing the reservoir, or you can have a water-only brush on hand to dilute the lines after you've laid them in—as mentioned above for working with acrylic inks.
I have kept a brush like this going (capped) for about 4 days before I rinsed it thoroughly, but in general I would stick to using older Niji's in case you let it go too long. While watercolors remain watersoluble forever someone didn't explain that to the little particles that solidify in the base of the brush feeder and flow could be impaired. Also I've found that water from Niji's used in this way tends always to be tinted after such use.
To use gouache in your Niji you'll need to dilute it to a thin, creamy (but not heavy cream) consistency, so that it will flow through the brush. It takes a bit of playing around to get the mix right. I clean the brush immediately after the session because the coarser pigments clog more readily. I get the gouache in the reservoir either by sucking it up into a syringe (vet supply store) and then releasing it into the reservoir, or carefully pouring the diluted gouache into the reservoir from a small plastic mixing cup (disposable) that is flexible enough so that I can pinch it and make it have a sort of narrow spout. Sometimes old cups crack under this procedure and you get an interesting mess, so work over a sink.
Where To Go for Inspiration
Two artists come to mind when I think of drawing with a brush, and showing those brush lines. They are two of my favorite illustrators and I encourage you to check out their websites for inspiration on how powerful watercolors can be when you bring a calligraphic brush line into it: James McMullan and Jeffrey Smith.
Whether you're sketching with a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen or a regular watercolor brush and paint, I hope you'll skip your pencil work and dive right in. It's a great way to force your eye to edit and work on your hand eye coordination—and it's fun.