LOST Ink Wash Sketch- Step by Step

May 21st, 2010 | Posted in Sketch O'The Week

As promised, here is a step by step of the ink wash sketch process I have been using for the sketch series of LOST characters over the last month or two. I’m afraid it’s not exactly scientific, so I don’t know how much people will get from it… but here it is regardless. Our subject again is Daniel Dae Kim as Jin Kwon.

Pencil Sketch

Here is the initial sketch (darkened to show up better on the screen). I lightly sketch out the caricature using a hard lead, in this case an “H” but a 2H or harder works fine. Ultimately you want the sketch to disappear under the washes, so too dark a lead or too many lines won’t work as well. It’s hard to see but I will lightly draw around some of the main highlight areas because these are the areas I want to paint around with the first washes to create the highlights.

Wash #1

The first thing I do is “knock down” the pencil sketch a bit so I have the minimal amount o lines needed to do the wash painting. I do this by rolling a kneadable eraser over the sketch to pick up the lines slightly. I also did a few corrections with the mouth and some in the eyes.

The first wash is mostly water with just a few drops of ink in it. I use a disposable dixie cup with just a little water (1/2 inch or so) at the bottom and then using an eyedropper I put in three or four drops of ink. I’m using a Pelikan’s Drawing Ink A on this one. Using a #6 watercolor brush, I start to lay in this light value. Since ink dries permanently and very quickly there is always a certain amount of mottling and inconsistency in the wash. I try to do an initial flat value but with the wash still a little damp I go back here and there with the same wash and get a slightly darker value in places like the neck, under the cheekbone, to the side of the nose, etc.

Wash #1.5

Once the ink wash is dry it is not going anywhere. You cannot “lift off” or lighten an area like you can with watercolor. That makes ink wash work different than watercolor but you can use this to your advantage because dry layers cannot get muddled up or dead like they can with watercolor gone over and over. The same value of wash gone over top of a dry layer of that wash will produce a slightly darker value, so after I wait for the layer to dry I do another wash with the same mixture. I’ll go over areas again and bring this second wash into some of the first highlight areas to tighten up the highlight shapes and blend the two areas more. Areas from the first wash I do not paint over with the second become another highlight value… not quite as bright as the white of the paper but as I get darker and avoid covering these ares they will become more and more of a highlight.

Wash #2

Now I take my eyedropper and add another few drops of ink into the same dixie cup, making the value a few steps darker. I paint in the areas that need to be darker, avoiding the highlight areas and creating another value of lighter tone by not covering some of the areas tat has one or two coats of wash already applied. I’m still using the #6.

Sadly at this point I notice that either I have a bad piece of bristol or maybe my ink was a bad choice… I was using FW inks for the other LOST pieces and never had a problem with the paper getting so pilly and overly textured. Oh, well… too late now.

Wash #3

Here’s where things get less rigid and more chaotic. I add more ink to the dixie cup, and with this darker value I switch to a #3 round watercolor brush. I’ll add in darker areas and try to do some gradations as well, like in the cheekbone on the left. I do a gradation by laying down a fair amount of wash to a small area like the underside of the cheekbone, immediately rinsing my brush in clean water and then with the brush loaded with clean water go back to the still wet wash and draw it out into the direction I want the gradation to fade into. You have to be quick because even a few seconds will turn the wet wash too permanent to get it to flow away with the clean water into a fade.

The Rest of the Washes

At this point it’s all quick brushwork and controlled chaos. I add several more drops of ink to the dixie cup to get a much darker value, and am only adding washes here and there to establish the main shadows and forms. I will occasionally get just a touch of some straight ink from my inkwell and mix it on a scratch pad with some of the wash to produce varying degrees of even darker values to do really dark areas like in the hair, the eyes, the nostrils, etc. I also go over areas several times with the same darker value to build up some shadows. Too many small steps to scan in here.

The Final

The last steps are the final washes and white. I will now add a bunch of water back to the dixie cup to get a mid value again, and use it to go over some aras with bigger washes to blend in and add a few more subtle shadows like on the left of the forehead, under the brow etc. I’ll go back to the #6 brush for this as well as using the #3.

Finally, I use white gouache to add in highlights like in the eyes and a few hot spots on the face… although if I did this right I’ll need to do little of that. The whole idea is to paint around those highlights in the first place.

So, there you have it. The LOST “Sketch o’the Week” series is done as the show’s final episode airs this Sunday. On Monday I will be doing a special LOST post that includes the details of what I am going to be doing with all these sketches.


  1. Bearman says:

    This is great from the standpoint of using facial shadows (an area I tend to struggle with)

  2. Lash LeRoux says:

    Wonderful process. Thank you, Tom.

  3. jimh says:

    Tom, thanks so much for taking the time to share this. This is great and very inspiring.

    Great Jin!! The only thing you forgot were a couple bubbles coming out of his mouth :)!
    Just kidding – seriously, thanks again for the post.

  4. Trevour says:

    Really cool – I was never sure how step-by-step ink washin’ worked until now. And superb Jin, of course!!

  5. ted says:

    Thanks for sharing Tom. Tonight’s the night!


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