Sometimes when painting with watercolour, it can be frustrating to capture fine detail, even when using the finest of paintbrushes. However, by using the pen and wash technique, it is possible to combine detailed drawing with expressive watercolour washes.

Architectural Drawings

Traditionally, pen and wash was used by architects in order to create artistic impressions of their building designs.

Drawings were typically created by using a fine-nibbed Rotring pen where permanent black ink was then washed over with watercolour or ink.

The resulting artworks were well-drawn, yet creative and energetic due to the harmony developed between the use of pen and brush.


Artists and illustrators also use the pen and wash technique to create lively and expressive imagery.

In the illustrated image featuring a bike, you can see that the pen drawing allows the artist to achieve fine detail and definition. Whereas the splattered and more freely applied colourful washes add vibrancy and an expressive quality to the artwork.

Using non-permanent pen

A further way in which pen and wash can be achieved is by using non-permanent pens.

In this method, the initial pen drawing is diluted and defused with washes in order to create depth and atmosphere. Both plain water and coloured washes can be used to offer different effects.

Excess diluted pen ink can be lifted off to achieve more subtle effects.

The Sheep Shack

The sheep shack is located in the east paddock here at Backbury House. It is a great subject to draw and paint due to the eclectic mix of corrugated iron and old bits of plastic and glass which form the structure.

In this drawing, the pen and wash technique allowed me to combine line and wash to indicate the different surfaces of the subject. The pen allowed me to draw detail, whereas the washes created form and colour.

I was also able to layer drawn and diffused penwork to capture the dense foliage found within the surrounding woodland. This is indicated by defused tones with overlayered mark-making.

The dissolved black penwork has also created shadow and atmosphere within the wintery scene.

I hope that you have found this technique interesting to learn about and that you have also been inspired to have a go at it yourself.

If you would like further tuition, then you may wish to attend one of our watercolour workshops or courses where you will be given more detailed instruction and practice in the technique.

To learn more about the different watercolour programmes that we offer, please visit the website at

I hope to see you soon and good luck with your drawing and painting.


Proprietor of Backbury House Retreats