Dry brush painting is particularly rewarding and fun if you can master it. All you need is a willingness to persevere and not give up – the results are well worth the effort. The main reason I enjoy dry brushing is it’s immediacy, and the final piece can be unexpected or contain ‘happy accidents’.
This blog is about ‘real’ dry brushing – not the kind done by using an illustration programme like Photoshop with a pen and tablet – there’s a disjoint between the tablet and computer screen which reduces the immediacy and satisfaction in the execution (in my humble opinion).
In this blog we will look at the following:
Tools and materials
Personally I like to use a waterproof Indian ink and watercolour brushes on ‘NOT’ or cold pressed watercolour paper. NOT paper has a rough surface which adds texture to the dry brush image and is the type most usually stocked in shops. You can use paint on canvas or other materials but this blog doesn’t deal with those methods.
To begin with, practise on old scraps of paper, unwanted pictures or the backs of old watercolour pictures. If you are on a tight budget you can use thinner watercolour paper because dry brushing doesn’t distort the paper as much as normal watercolour work (although if you want to add colour washes to your picture once the ink has dried it is better to use 300gsm paper or textured board).
Dip your brush into the ink and then stroke it on an old cloth, blotting paper or scrap paper to reduce the volume of ink on the brush. Start by making simple shapes with your brush – just doodling to get the hang of it (see above).
When you want to try to paint a picture, choose a subject which has plenty of contrasts and isn’t too complex. Pencil in your design first, and if you prefer, put in some solid lines where there are areas of strong contrast, but you may want to leave this stage until after you have added lighter marks. You’ll soon get a feel for what works best for you.
You can define details with solid ink using a brush or pen – the contrast will add depth to your picture. One of the things you will discover, if you are using a brush of reasonable quality, is how long a ‘dry’ brush can keep giving out ink. When the brush is most loaded, deal with darker areas, when it’s not giving out as much ink, paint lighter shades.
Have a look at some of these pictures for inspiration – if you look at the portrait I did of Swiss singer Sophie Hunger (above) it’s a case of ‘less is more’ – I have shown enough without needing to put in every detail.
The ploughed field and trees (above) are good subjects for dry brushing because their texture lends itself well to this technique – the brush effortlessly adds detail. It’s about creating an impression rather than precisely copying every feature.
Once dry, if there are areas you are unhappy with, you can work on them with a sharp scalpel – I use a surgical Swann-Morton no. 3 handle with a 10a blade available at chemists or online, but any sharp craft knife should do (if you are a child make sure you have a parent or guardian’s permission). But this should be done carefully and sparingly, unless you are confident about what you want to achieve, as if you want to re-brush over scraped areas they tend to absorb the ink differently.
The picture below was created using watercolour and other media but then I dry brushed the black areas to add drama and texture.
These are a couple of illustrations by other artists. Lynton Lamb created many book covers – he creates an evocative image with few strokes. This is probably a lithograph (an image created on a stone) but the result is the same. Below it is an illustration by James Gardner for his book Drawing for Advertising (1938).
Where to get materials (UK)
If you don’t have an art shop local to you (use it or lose it!) here are some suggestions where you can buy materials:
Scribblers have inks at https://www.scribblers.co.uk/
Jackson’s have general art supplies such as watercolour pads, brushes and inks at https://www.jacksonsart.com/
Please feel free to ask questions or comment below.
Happy dry brushing!