Moon Rising in Forest

One of the joys of being an artist is seeing accidental art develop in front of your eyes. You are working on one idea and another one runs across your desk and steals your attention. Which one do you follow? I chose the one that surprised and delighted me–the way sumi ink spreads on paper. Pure creative joy! The ink moves quickly, without control. Watch my video of the technique.


I’m Quinn McDonald, and for years, I’ve been working with an ink technique that uses the differing surface tension of water and ink. It’s in my new book, The Inner Hero Art Journal (out in December from North Light).  A few days ago, I created the journal page (above), that was both fresh and easy to create.  It does not require you to be an illustrator. You lose control (I know, that’s really hard) and let the ink go. Here’s how to do it.



Here’s how you make the journal page

1. Pour 1/4 teaspoon black sumi ink into a  small container.

2. Spray a very fine mist of water on the front of the watercolor paper. It will curl slightly, with the middle higher than the edges (convex).


3. Wet the larger watercolor brush, blot, and load with ink. Very carefully, touch the tip of the brush to the drops of water. The ink will jump across the water droplets, forming interesting spidery shapes. These are pine branches.


4. Work slowly and carefully up and down the page, creating these patterns. It takes a little practice–use less water than you think. The droplets should be separate to avoid a black wash of ink.

5. Allow the paper to dry. When it is cool to touch (not quite dry), Use the loaded bush to draw a heavier line along the edge. If your paper is too wet, this line (the tree trunk) will spread into the branches. This work counts on detail.

6. Repeat the process on the same side of the page, on the other edge. Allow to dry. Rinse your brush.


7. When the paper is dry, but still cool to the touch, dip your small brush into the rinse water, and test to see if you can draw a pale gray line. If the color is too dark, add more water. Use the thin brush to draw a horizon line at the bottom third  of the page, between the trees.


8. On the right side of the clearing, use the sparkling watercolor in orange to draw a partial circle for the rising moon.It will be pale. Allow to dry

9. Using the dark orange neon oil pastel, cover the circle, going beyond the edges. Smooth the color with a tortillon (a paper stump) or a cotton swab. Blend in a dark pink and a lighter yellow.


10. Make sure all the ink is washed out of the bigger brush. Load it with gold watercolor and create a wash around the moon. Don’t be afraid to use a lot of water, the dried sumi ink will not run.

11. Fill in some of the white areas with a very pale gray wash to indicate clouds and the ground. Using the fine brush and watered-down ink, add branches. Add detail with the Permawriter.

You have a journal page of contrast and visual interest. You can add hand-lettering if you’d like.


You can create a number of pages, and each will be different, depending on the ink and the detail you add.

2 thoughts on “Moon Rising in Forest

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