3. Refining in Ink

The final stage of this exercise is the most difficult, requiring great concentration and control of your hand and materials.

In the last stage, we were concentrating on the spacing and proportion of the design. In this stage, we’re concentrating on the execution of it.

When you feel you have quite a nice harmony to your design in charcoal, you can move onto tracing or copying it repeatedly with brush and ink. This is a further development of the refining stage. We’re trying now to produce the best version we can of our refined design.

You’ll get the best results if you do this with Chinese brush and ink on semi-sized or sized Chinese paper. It will require a lot of practice to control the consistency of the ink. You can also use Mulberry bark paper, but this paper is very absorbent and your lines will spread if your ink is too thin. If you haven’t added any water, though, you will find that the ink doesn’t flow well and your strokes become broken and scratchy.

Whatever paper you use, the best way to practice getting the consistency of the ink right is to wet the brush with water, then blot most of the water off using kitchen roll or something similar. Then fully load the brush with ink. Make a few practice lines on a spare piece of paper and see how it feels, watch the quality of the line. Over time, you’ll get a feel for how much you need to dry off the brush after you’ve wetted it with water in order to get the best balance between the ink not spreading too much and still producing fluid lines.

If you can’t get hold of Chinese paper, try tracing paper, or any translucent but slightly absorbent paper. Lining paper is good, but not translucent, so you won’t be able to trace. You can still do multiple versions without tracing, but using a translucent paper makes this stage much easier. Watercolour paper will work too, but also is not translucent. In addition, you’ll be doing so many versions of this design that you don’t want to be worrying about the expense of the paper.

If you can’t get the perfect materials, work round it. Don’t ever let materials stop you practising! The spirit of this exercise is multiple version of the same design, trying to improve each time. Bear that in mind and you can’t go wrong.


First, prepare several sheets of paper of about the same size, big enough to fit your corner ornament design comfortably with some space around the edge.

Put a sheet of kitchen roll on your drawing board to blot any excess ink.


If you’re using mulberry bark paper and tracing, proceed as follows: Put the best charcoal version of your design on the kitchen roll, and then place a sheet of tracing paper over that. This is to protect your original drawing underneath. Now place a sheet of mulberry bark paper on top. You should be able to see your charcoal version through the paper.


If you’re not using a translucent paper that allows for tracing, just place your original to one side of your paper. It might help you to rough out the proportions of the design in pencil on your paper to guide you.

Dip your brush in the water, then dry most of it off. Dip the brush in the ink, and blot off the excess on another piece of kitchen roll.


Now draw the design. Try as much as possible to complete lines in a single stroke. Concentrate on the spacing and try to improve the design a little each time you trace it. After you have completed each version, allow it to dry. Once dry, use that version as the original for the next tracing or copy. Produce multiple tracings of the of the original design in this way.

Here’s a demonstration of two versions I did of the design I chose for this exercise:

Once you have several drawings completed, lay them all out next to each other. Arrange them in order of quality and choose which you think is the best.

Take a little time to think about what it is that makes the one you chose the best design.

Produce more tracings to see if you can improve further on the execution of your best ones. Each time you re-draw your design, you will be stretching your design muscle a little further.

If you enjoy this exercise, do it again with another of your designs. I’ve done this exercise many times and will do it again. It’s also a great warm up to a longer practice session.

Here’s a few examples of tracings of the design I used as an example on the previous pages. As you can see, some are better than others, and the progression is not linear. Over many repetitions, the quality gradually improves. These tracings were all done on Mullberry bark paper, you can see how much the line bleeds and spreads!