To line or Not to line with watercolor



  • I am continually torn when it comes to linework within watercolor pieces.

    I love both styles (linework and non-line) and they seem to have different places, but I have never been able to describe the benefits and drawbacks of them to myself.

    I feel much more confident with linework with wash over the top, but I also feel continually drawn towards trying to do less and less line. Not sure why. I guess it feels more arty 😉

    I would love some thoughts on using one or the other especially for children's books or editorial illustrations.



  • @bradyblack I know what you mean, although I don't actually work in watercolours myself! However, when I see images in watercolour I tend to think a black line can be great and effective when it's very loose and not continuous like in the work of Quentin Blake or Helen Stephens for example. I personally don't like a neat black line going around the image that just seems like it's been coloured in. I suppose maybe it's just a question of taste but I feel like the first option looks more professional somehow. Hope this is helpful! 🙂

    www.rachel-horne.com
    @rachel_horne_art



  • @bradyblack i know exactly what you mean! It seems to me that fine art watercolor is almost always without line and illustration is either way. I always thought WC looked best w/o the line because of its medium. However, I have just recently changed my tune as I have just got into illustration and started paying attention to what historical illustrators did. There are illustrators who have done gorgeous works of art with line work. I agree with Rachael, it’s just a matter of preference. Do several master studies and see what you think. I’ve been working on a few and have found that its growing on me (well, it may be because “the master”s art is so good)



  • @fullerj thanks for your input.

    Who are you referencing for your Master Studies?

    I am just a mess with loving both styles all the time.


  • SVS OG

    This is an issue I have been dealing with for almost two years. I have tried ink and watercolor, no line, lots of hatching, no hatching, and recently have been doing pencil and watercolor. I love line and wash of all kinds and lots of illustrations do use line but lots don’t so I’m always torn as to which to do. Line and wash is easier to do, I think but in my head, I fight the feeling that I shouldn’t use line if I was really good at watercolor.

    I clearly have no advice but lots of sympathy for your question!



  • @bradyblack I have just recently come across the "Golden Age" illustrators. And what a treat! I love their style! If I am not mistaken, I would say that most of them, if not all of them used line work. (Probably standard back then.) I am not used to line work either, and have always shied away from it, but when I look at their wonderful art, it is very well done and the line work is not heavy or unappealing. Do you use the crow quill or copic? I have been trying the crow quill, it has a very fine point. I have not yet tried a permanent marker.



  • @demotlj Sounds like we are in the EXACT same boat. At least i know I am not alone. Let me know when you "find the answer".

    I agree. Line is WAY easier for me, but many times feel amateurish to me. Then I hatch the hell out of stuff and say "HEY, see I can do this too" and then I don't love it either.

    I'm just stuck. Who knows.



  • @fullerj I use everything from fountain pens to bic and pencils for hatching and linework. I used a dip pen for a while as well.

    I am now looking up the golden age of illustrators and there is some BEAUTIFUL stuff in there. Maybe I just need to "be quite" and go Master Copy them for a while and see what comes out.

    Thanks for that recommendation. I'm going to Pintrest save the mess out of them


  • SVS OG

    @bradyblack Keep posting what you are discovering. As I said, this is something I have been wrangling with for about two years and it is probably the central question I have been facing in trying to develop a consistent style that I feel good about. I'd love to read more of what you are finding.



  • @demotlj I will. I think after looking at the Golden masters I am just going to give in and do linework/ pencil work with washes over them. It is good enough for those guys, I'm just going to give in and do it.

    I about freaked out on Pintrest gathering all manner of examples and such. So much fun

    I will keep posting what I find



  • @bradyblack I have a book on pen and wash and they said it depends on who you want to be the star. If you want the colors to be the star, watercolor first and do linework after. If you want the lines to be the star, do the opposite.



  • I'd say they both look great and it depends on what look you're going for. Personally I love using linework since I like the cleaner, graphic quality to it. But you can get more realistic shading and hazy shapes without it.

    You can also play around with using linework in some areas of a piece and leave others without, either to bring the focus to a particular point, separate the foreground from the background, or emphasize different textures (ex fluffy sheep in watercolour with just the head and feet outlined so the wool look fuzzier)

    I would just keep playing around and see which one you like best, but you can definitely use both or just see what works for the piece you're creating!


  • SVS OG

    @bradyblack I’ve actually been struggling with this myself. When I’m painting, I feel like I need line to accomplish a finished looking piece, but l look at other watercolor artists and I’m drawn to more unlined work. It looks so clean to me. I was thinking about doing some master copies specifically of the watercolor illustrations I love, so I could maybe discover what is going on in their work that I’m not doing in my own.



  • I've been studying some artists from the "IllustrationGolden Age" and have noticed they use linework on harder edges, but often leave the softer edges blank. They will also use linework to show the contour of an object or bring your focus to something. So I guess, the linework is there to enhance the paint. Also, sepia ink tends to blend into the paint more than black.



  • @chrisaakins nice. That is a helpful way to think about that



  • @Pamela-Fraley agreed me too. I think I am trying to understand when to use what in the tool box, and what each style communicates.

    Glad to hear I'm not the only one asking this


  • SVS OG

    Wow, this is such a great topic, and something I've been debating for months now. Even tho I'm working digital - which presents other problems, trying to get a watercolor look - I've been totally struggling with line/no line, black line, color line, etc.

    What I seem to like best are illustrations that use line sparingly, or all scratchy and loose. I've never worked like that, so I'm fighting the urge to fall back on solid black outlines. Doing master studies seems to help, so I've been doing some in an attempt to loosen up.

    I realize lately that I often thought I was doing it wrong if it seemed to easy. Sort of like what you said, @bradyblack and @demotlj , thinking the way you were working wasn't artsy enough or something. I think it's because I see myself as such a terrible amateur that if something comes easily, I assume it must be bad. I'm trying to let go of that and just make something, experiment and see what happens without judging if I'm struggling enough.


  • SVS OG

    I did master studies of Lita Judge who uses pencil and watercolor in a lot of her work. She's not as well known but has published numerous books and copying her has helped loosen me up (though I still revert because I don't trust my own judgment.) Here's an image search for some of her work. Lita Judge


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