How to Outline with Colour

How to Outline with Colour

In a previous blog, we explored how the line quality of a painting’s linework affects its atmosphere. For part two, we’ll look at lines outside of the ink and pen realm, and go more into the side of coloured lines!

Coloured Pencils

A popular tool used by illustrators (especially for children’s books), the coloured pencil offers a bit more texture than the pen, especially if you’re drawing on a rougher paper surface such as cold press watercolour paper.

You also don’t have to restrict it to outlines only, either – they’re great for adding a bit of colour and texture all over, especially if you want to emphasise a certain subject or object within your art piece. And the rougher and more textured your line quality, the more “whimsical” and “childlike” your art will appear.

This is likely due to the nostalgia linked with many people’s childhood, with filling in colouring books and drawing random things we liked as kids. And depending on the colour(s) you use, they create a softer look as well, especially if you match it with the base colour of your painting.

Another great thing about the coloured pencil is you can sharpen it for a crispier line, or leave it slightly blunt for a wider, more textured line. And since you’re adding it on top of a painting so it shows up better, it means you don’t have to follow the shapes formed by your paintings! 

It makes coloured pencils a very versatile choice for linework, so do give it a try if you haven’t already!

Tip: How about other “childhood” art tools, such as crayons or oil pastels? They will be pretty similar in effect, although it’s harder to get a thin line with these compared to the coloured pencil. Their colours also tend to be brighter and bolder, so you might want to work on a bigger sheet of paper if you do use them.

Painted Lines

You could also go for a more harmonious look with painted linework. This is simply adding your lines in paint after your initial painting is dry, which works especially well if you have a lot of white in your subject. 

Because you’re using a paintbrush, the line quality will be similar to the brush pen, but since paint isn’t a consistent flat colour like ink often is, you may get a bit of variation in how light or dark the outlines are in different areas. Therefore, the final effect may be like a mixture between the brush pen and the fountain pen, except it will be much easier to change the colour of your line if you so wish.

Again, you can match the colour of the line to the colour of your painting for a subtler and softer look, or even just using a lighter colour like blue, brown, or green will give a more muted feeling to your painting. 

Dip Pen

This is probably one of the most difficult tools to master, so if you have no experience with a dip pen, it’s best to learn and practice how to use one first! It’s similar to the fountain pen, except you have to understand how to hold the pen a certain way to get the ink flowing properly without tearing the paper.

In addition, you’ll need to keep dipping the nib into an ink well, hence the name. All that aside, you can produce some fascinating lines with a dip pen depending on how flexible your nib is.

In the image above, I’m using a G-nib, which is a nib that’s on the stiffer side but still offers a bit of flexibility when you press harder. And like with most dip pens, the more pressure you put, the wider your line becomes, so you can get some very smooth transitions between a thin and thick line.

You may also notice that the line itself has darker edges than the centre. This is because when you press harder, the nib’s tines dig into the paper’s surface, creating a sort of groove that allows more ink to sit in. It’s more obvious when using a lighter-coloured ink, but in any case, this creates a calligraphic, almost “bookish” look because of its similarity to the fountain pen.

Dip pens are also a favourite among artists who draw manga, as the line is expressive, yet can be fine-tuned to be thinner or thicker. But again, it takes a bit of practice to understand how the dip pen works, so if you’re interested, it will be a good idea to start here.

Bonus tip: It’s also a good idea to use Bristol or hot press paper, as the nib will snag on more textured surfaces!

Just a Pencil

Last but not least is the humble pencil. I mean, why not? You can sketch in pencil before using watercolours to paint on top, and because watercolour is a transparent medium, you’ll still be able to see your pencil lines.

It’s not for everyone, but some artists love this “rough, sketchy” look. It’s also really casual in feeling like you’ve just stumbled upon an artist’s sketchbook who’s just fleshing out their ideas and testing out some colours.

Pencil lines are also grey, so they’re not as loud as the black outlines from part one of this blog post. Plus they have a slight texture to them as well, especially if your lines are thicker and if you don’t press very hard when sketching.

More Than Silver Linings

That’s it for outline types! I hope you found one (or more) that fits your style or at least has piqued your interest. Of course, there may be more that I haven’t covered, but that just gives everyone room to experiment and explore! So have fun, and stay curious – whether you like linework or not.

Have you found a favourite line type and tool yet? How do you think these lines affect a painting? Let us know in the comments below!

In addition, if you’re curious and want to learn more about the art process, feel free to subscribe to our email newsletter. Whether you’re a beginner or a long-time veteran, we’ll notify you of all the latest happenings with Etchr!

Nicola Tsoi is a practising graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. During her downtime, she likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy. 
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