Gareth Coles, Director of the Creative Lives team in Wales, has a passion for ink painting in his spare time. Here he shares his inspiration and some tips for getting started.

Working with Indian ink

"I firmly believe that creativity thrives under constraints. Limiting your options forces you to make creative decisions. In my creative practice, I mostly work with just a few materials: ink, water, brushes and paper. 

Indian ink is a simple medium: soot and water, and sometimes a binder. It has a long and rich tradition but can be used simply and quickly. Applied neat, Indian ink has a deep lustre, with a patina like bronze; but diluted it yields a beautiful range of grey washes. It can be used with brushes or dip pens. And no matter how thinly it’s applied, when Indian ink dries it’s completely waterproof."

Finding inspiration

"I studied mediaeval art and architecture, and my drawing practice began with studying and sketching old buildings: churches, cathedrals, castles. This led to an interest in landscape painting: representations of how the buildings appear in the land, in different atmospheric conditions. I live in South Wales, where we’re blessed with countless old buildings and plenty of weather, and my artwork usually responds to the land immediately around me. 

I make sketching a daily practice, and always take a pen and pocket-sized sketchbook (A6 size) with me wherever I go. Even a one-minute sketch can enhance your experience of the landscape as it forces you to study your surroundings.

You may find that you’ll have clearer memories of your excursions because you’ve taken the time to draw them. I then usually work on larger pieces, using these initial sketches as well as photos for reference.

But I always try to ensure that I’m responding to the feel of the materials as a vital part of the process."

Getting started 

"The necessary materials are easily acquired and inexpensive. Most paper will be fine, although not too thin or it may buckle. A small jar of Indian ink will cost about £3 from an art supply shop, and any brush will do: sometimes older brushes are better. Apart from that, you’ll just need a jar for water, and some rags or tissues. 

If you’re unfamiliar with ink painting, I’d encourage you to try Indian ink by enjoying the process of working with ink without any expectation of producing an artwork. Try wetting sections of paper with a brush, and then introducing ink into the wet areas. Observe the flow of the ink, and how it dries. Breathe calmly as you work.

When your ink washes dry, you can layer more washes on top. As the ink spreads slowly in the water, you may find that it encourages you to slow down and get immersed in the interaction of the materials. I hope you’ll find the process calming and absorbing."

Watch and learn

Hiroshi Senju creates monumental paintings, such as his ‘Cliffs’ series: 

Norman Ackroyd’s prints and watercolours are inspirational: 

Antony Gormley’s Get Creative Masterclass embodies the principles of making a drawing using limited materials: