Swan painting in ink and graphite

I started to work on the swan this morning. I got so immersed in it that I just pushed on and completed it, so sorry for the lack of progress photographs! In the end,  I decided to use graphite and ink!  This is the first time I’ve used black ink in a proper drawing, so it was quite a challenge!

Here it is…

I can’t decide whether this is a painting or a drawing, really it is a bit of both.

If you are interested, I’ll explain some of the techniques I used to create this piece…

The main problem I had to tackle was getting a really striking white on top of all those dark tones.  I had the idea of masking the swan with some card while I worked on the water.  To test this, I quickly cut the swan out from my small reference photograph, held it over some white card and rubbed some powdered graphite over the top. The result was a really crisp, white silhouette over a dark background.  This technique is often referred to as ‘masking’ or ‘negative drawing’.

Next, I sketched the swan out again nice and big on a sheet of card. I then cut the sketch out carefully using a craft knife.  Using some sticky tack, I fixed the cut out to my drawing paper, then started to spread graphite powder over the top with a tissue.

I  added highlights to the water using the corner of a kneaded eraser, and shadows using diluted black ink.  I lifted the swan’s reflection out using my eraser, then strengthened it with a white soft pastel.  Using a large brush I applied several washes of diluted ink over the water.

Once I was fairly happy with the water, I removed the swan cutout. To my relief, the paper beneath had remained perfectly white.Due to the strength of the contrast in this image, there was very little detail to add to the swan. I suggested the swan’s form by adding some graphite shadows with a blending stump.

I used neat black ink to pick out the swan’s face, and also added some to the reflection, and the background. Finally, I added additional highlights to the water using the white pastel.

Phew!  glad I got that out of my system. Don’t worry, I’m done boring the pants off you now 😉




  1. Lilliam · · Reply

    Stunning, this one!

    1. Thank you Lilliam! The original has tinges of gold, where the bleach I added blended with the wet ink. A very unusual effect. 🙂

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