How to paint birds in flowering Hawthorn using Indian ink and gouache resist with Emma Faull.


This technique is a really good way to loosen up a watercolour painting and produces a woodblock style image. I worked as an archaeological draughtsman for seven years and my pictures have always been dictated by line, so I was looking for a process that could change that habit. Although I start with a drawing one can really go to town with bright gouache colour. The results are always unexpected and quite different from anything that could be done with watercolour and pen.


You will need gouache which is watercolour pigment but opaque and thicker than normal watercolour. I use ready made coloured gouache (I find Winsor and Newton the best as the pigment proportion is high) but cheaper gouache is fine. This works better than white gouache as the pigment stains the paper. You will also need a tube of Zinc/Permanent white gouache for light areas.

Three brushes for watercolour, these should be synthetic as the gouache is not good for sable. Size wise a 2 for fine detail, a 4, a 6 and a big brush for applying the ink. Also a stiff oil painting or decorator’s brush for stippling and applying dry paint for texture.

A pencil 2b is best, an eraser and a technical pen though a biro works as well.

Indian black ink. I use Winsor and Newton, other makes are fine but must be waterproof.

For paper, start with a piece of paper about 14 x 10″ of good NOT (medium rough surface) watercolour paper. I use Bockingford or Langton as the paper works well with this technique although Winsor and Newton has an watercolour Cotman pad which is good too. There is no need to tape down the paper and leave a margin of about 1 1/2″ when you start your drawing.

Stage 1

This is a close up of the drawing. The image needs to have plenty of pattern, Here the white of the blossom and birds will work well against a dark background. Do a detailed black and white drawing in pencil then sharpen up the image with a biro or technical pen. Block in some of the  areas you want to be black in the finished painting, for example the dark plumage on the birds.

Stage 2

Applying the paint. Squeeze out a generous amount of the colour you need onto a plate or palette. Here I am using a size 2 brush. Carefully apply gouache to the areas one doesn’t  want black, use a creamy consistency adding very little water, the neater the better. Here I am leaving the veins of the leaves white as I want them black. Fill in with white between the dark feathers on the bird (3.25 mins) and add pink gouache to the plumage, here I have mixed white and red to give a rosy hue on the finished picture.

I have mixed burnt umber with red (6 mins) to give warmth to some of the leaves. Once a colour is dry it doesn’t  matter if you overlay another,  say blue over white flowers as the underlying colour is the one which will stain the paper.

You can also see where I have added white to the flower shapes (8.20 mins), the white gouache has been tinted with a small amount of yellow so I can see where I have applied paint. Be extra careful applying paint in detailed areas, keep the paint thick but still use a size 2 brush (13.52 mins)

Use a stiff brush to stipple texture in white gouache to indicate background flowers. Here you can see some of the image is outside the margin (17.30 mins). This works well in the finished painting.

Take a broader brush and apply blue gouache with no water so the paint is dry and textured. (20.30 mins) Do the same with deep green gouache over the bottom section (26 mins).

Stage 3

When you have finished applying the gouache wait for it to dry. Put some indian ink into a plastic container apply in broad thick strokes up to the margin with a size 10/11 brush keep it moving and don’t let it dry until the whole image has been covered (31.50 minutes).

Stage 4

Wait for ink to be fully dry. Run under a tepid tap and rub off ink (34 mins). You can use a sponge as well. Take all the gouache off until there is only the stain and black pattern left. Put on newspaper and dab dry with kitchen towel.

Stage 5

I have added with a dilute mix of blue and burnt umber gouache some shadow on the underlying Hawthorn flowers and onto the structural branches. Some of the leaves have had more green applied and the stamens have been highlighted with yellow and pink. I am pointing out the areas where some of the picture comes over the margin. This breaks up the border and makes a better composition.