• How to Combine Inked Calligraphy With Watercolors

    Want to take your lettering to the next level? Combine inked calligraphy and watercolors! That sounds simple enough, but there’s a specific process you should follow to guarantee polished-looking strokes and ink that doesn’t smudge. (Read to the end to find a special inky gift!)

    How to Combine Calligraphy and Watercolors | The Postman's Knock

    The same question mills through my email inbox every month or so: “How can I write calligraphy on a watercolor background?” The answer: write the calligraphy before you paint the background. In this article, I’ll teach you how to combine inked calligraphy with watercolor backgrounds to result in smooth, crisp strokes that don’t bleed.

    1. Choose a Watercolor-Friendly Paper

    When you’ve got your eye on a project that combines inked calligraphy with watercolors, you’ll need a hardy paper that’s water-resistant. My favorite watercolor paper is Strathmore 140 lb. (affiliate link) because it can handle a lot of moisture before it starts to warp.

    How to Combine Calligraphy and Watercolors | The Postman's Knock
    Most high-quality watercolor papers are hardy enough to handle quite a bit of moisture.

    It’s important to note that pointed pen nibs can act a bit finicky on watercolor paper. Watercolor paper nearly always has some tooth and texture to it, so remember that you’ll have to focus and try to use an especially light touch as you create upstrokes.

    2. Start with a Pencil Draft

    Behind every polished masterpiece is a draft. Pencil drafts can take a while to make, but they save you time in the long run. If you begin your calligraphy piece with a pencil draft, you’ll drastically reduce your chance of making a mistake.

    How to Combine Calligraphy and Watercolors | The Postman's Knock
    I used Kaitlin Style calligraphy to make this draft.

    Try writing out an exact draft of your calligraphy or lettering. It’s okay if you need to use guidelines (like letter baselines) in order to achieve an ideal draft.

    3. Trace Over the Draft with Waterproof Ink

    People usually think that the watercolor should go on first, then the ink. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to create calligraphy on a watercolored surface. The watercolor makes the surface too smooth and unpredictable, making it tough to create crisp strokes. That’s why I recommend drawing/writing with ink first and then waterproofing over it. The most reliable waterproof ink I’ve found is Ziller Soot Black.

    Ziller Soot Black Ink
    You can read my review about Ziller ink here. Note that Ziller has several other colors of ink; you can browse them all at Paper & Ink Arts (affiliate link).

    I’ve experimented with several inks over the years (see: Black Calligraphy Inks Comparison Part I: Ziller, Sumi, and Higgins and Black Calligraphy Inks Comparison Part II: Bombay, Speedball, and Winsor & Newton), and Ziller ink is the only one that was completely waterproof for me.

    Black Calligraphy Inks Comparison Part I: Ziller, Sumi, and Higgins | The Postman's Knock
    I painted over all three of these samples with water. It’s obvious which ink fared the best!

    Just use the pen holder and the nib of your choice to trace over your pencil draft with your waterproof ink.

    How to Combine Calligraphy and Watercolors | The Postman's Knock
    I’m using a Brause EF66 oblique pen to write this Kaitlin Style calligraphy.

    Let the ink dry, then use an eraser to get rid of any remaining pencil lines. You want to make sure your pencil lines are all gone before you go over them with watercolor — otherwise, your watercolor will immortalize the pencil marks on the page.

    How to Combine Calligraphy and Watercolors | The Postman's Knock
    It’s easy to see when Ziller ink is dry. Any wet ink will look shiny, while dry ink has a matte sheen.

    4. Go Over Your Calligraphy with Watercolor

    Once you’ve erased over your pencil guidelines, paint over the calligraphy with your favorite watercolors. Try to use light colors. That way, you’ll see plenty of contrast between the black letters and the colored background.

    How to Combine Calligraphy and Watercolors | The Postman's Knock
    Notice how well this ink does when exposed to moisture/watercolor.
    How to Combine Calligraphy and Watercolors | The Postman's Knock

    Once your watercolor dries, feel free to use Bleed Proof White ink to draw stars and light beams around your calligraphy. Doing so lends a fun and festive look to projects!

    How to Combine Calligraphy and Watercolors | The Postman's Knock

    And that’s it! This is the exact order that I recommend for combining black calligraphy with watercolors. To recap, you’ll go: (1) pencil draft, (2) ink, and (3) watercolor.

    While we went over how to make a simple watercolor piece today, this process can apply to a variety of projects. It’s the same process I’d use for illustrated watercolor maps, for example. If you’re making something like the map pictured below, pencil drafts and waterproof ink are absolutely imperative.

    Kaitlin Style calligraphy is the star of this illustrated Save the Date map!

    I’ve also used this process to add watercolors to place cards! Remember, writing on a surface that has dry (or wet, for that matter) watercolor paint on it is never ideal. Instead, write first, then paint second.

    How to Develop an Artistic Hand-Lettering Style | The Postman's Knock

    Lastly, this process is also great for sketchbook pages and artwork in general. In addition to calligraphy, Ziller ink is great for illustrations. If the ink isn’t giving you the delicate lines needed for techniques such as crosshatching, you can dilute it with some water. Don’t fret: the ink’s watercolor properties won’t be compromised!

    How to Add Color to Your “Day in the Life” Sketchbook Layout
    Curious about this project? See this tutorial.

    I know that this is a simple article, but it contains important information. My hope is that it helps you next time you want to create a project that incorporates both calligraphy and watercolors. Here’s to combining different mediums and techniques to create projects that surprise and delight!


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