Using Ink in Your Journal Work

So, let’s talk about ink. It is one of the bedrock materials for use in an illustrated journal, sketchbook, art journal, junk journal, or an array of mixed-media projects. There is fountain pen ink, plant based inks, pigments, dyes, acrylic ink, and tinctures and they can all be used to create backgrounds or highlights or washes or shadows in your sketches. Here are ten ways that you can use ink in your journal work. (Go all the way down to see the video!)

– Blots. Doesn’t get simpler than this. Dribble a bit of ink on a page then blot with another sheet then allow to dry. Depending on how much ink you use, you will either have a substantial, abstract background to draw or work on top of, or a smaller blotch. The shapes created by these smaller puddles of colour often suggest a drawing with this as its base. You can also make a blot by spraying liberally with a mister than allowing to dry or by folding the pages on top of each other for a dramatic smudge.

– Asemic writing is an abstract calligraphy, scribbled lines that suggest letters and in turn, words. (To see how artists such as Cy Twombly used this technique in their work, check out Experiment with this fun and striking tool to add mystery to your pages. You can cover a whole page or a small corner of it as an embellishment. While you can use any ink for asemic writing and other lettering, here I have used an acrylic ink.

– Even without a stamp pad, you can use inks with your rubber stamps. Use a sponge to ink them up, or mist, then lightly blot before stamping on your page. Be aware that most of the time the result will be more watery and messy than if you had used a traditional stamp pad.

– The same holds for using a stencil with inks. I love the effect of spraying ink into a stencil using a mister. It will give an instant distressed and aged look to your page. Allow to dry or blot carefully.

– One more reason to love bubble wrap (and to reuse it, so let’s rationalise that this is a kind of recycling, okay?), is that it is a fun and easy way to create layers and texture on your page. Add ink to the bubble wrap with a sponge (for a more subtle design) or a mister (for a dramatic look). Bounce or tap the inky bubble wrap here and there.

– Never put ink in your fountain pen unless it is specifically designed for it. Otherwise, an ink may contain shellac or other additives and it is goodbye fountain pen. You can, however, use any ink with a dip pen, which does not have a filling system to corrupt. Brush work is probably the most traditional way to use inks, and with good reason. As almost of my journal work is done on the go, I take a water brush (designed to hold its own reservoir of water) and fill it with well-diluted ink, usually a grey or sepia. While traveling, I can then use this wash to add colour or shadows and highlights.

– Mark making is a boatload of fun. I keep a tea cup that I use only for making faux stains. Anytime I start a new journal, I go throughout the pages and add marks at random that adds layers to your drawings. It is also an instant way to get over that fear of the blank page.

– If you are using a fountain pen, an easy way to create a wash – again, a handy effect when you are traveling and have fewer supplies to hand – is to do a rough sketch, then go over it with your waterbrush. While I have shown a teacup (my go to sample sketch thingie), it is a very effective technique when sketching scenery or landscape.

Do you have any favourite techniques for using inks in your work? Feel free to share them in the comments below! If you would like to order bottles of my handmade wild acorn and walnut ink, you can see them here:

Handmade Ink & Journal








  1. Just discovered your blog – a great fit for me. I got started this summer making my own inks & have been having great fun. Your suggestions for how to use ink were just what I needed – THANK YOU!

    Expect to be hiking Offa’s Dyke in September 2020. Where in Wales are you?

    Look forward to following your blog.

    • Hiya, Believe it or not I just saw this! (Oops.) I live in Swansea. And you? I am so glad you liked the post. Ink and dye making are an obsession now. I am going to the big park in Cardiff in a few days to see if I can beat the squirrels to the walnuts.


      • I’m in the States – SW Montana. Tapping some friends in other areas of the country for ink making materials at the moment – CA for acorn caps and the Midwest for buckthorn berries. Eager to try them both out. Already had our first snow here so local gathering is at an end. Walnut ink was the first kind I made and I’m still using that first batch from 5 or 6 years ago. Good gathering!

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