Free exercise ink - Manuela Bianco
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Free exercise | Giant clam shell with ink

If you are you curious about ink drawing but intimidated by its unpredictability, or if you have tried it out but quickly abandoned because it felt challenging, this exercise will help you achieve precise results. In this exercise, I’ll show you a controlled approach “wet on dry”, so that you become confident right from from the start. As you become more experienced you can try techniques that allow a more subtle or expressive outcome.


  • (indian) ink
  • jar with water
  • cloth
  • palette or 3 small saucers
  • brush (round, pointed)
  • photo on the right


Apply each layer with a sharp outline

With ink, you can easily transition each layer gradually from light to dark. This can provide nice nuances, but at the beginning, it can hinder you from accurately drawing the shapes you see.

Draw deliberately with sharply defined edges, even if it’s not the case in the photo, so that you commit to the shapes, and your drawing becomes more defined.

Use enough water for a smooth result

When working with ink, it’s easy to get a blotchy result. This usually happens when you don’t use enough water.

Use sufficient water to dilute your ink, and once done, tilt your paper to absorb excess water. You can do this by drying your brush on a cloth and then using the tip to soak up the water. This is essential because otherwise, you may also get unwanted “blooms.”

Let each layer dry

Wait until each layer is dry before applying the next one.

This way the edge remains sharp and does not bleed into the next layer.

Bleeding is what makes working with ink interesting and in time you want to be able to make use of these effects. As a beginners it may give you the impression you are not in control, so for now I suggest to work wet on dry only.



Sketch the shell with lines or trace the key lines with a pencil on watercolour paper. You may want to draw the shape of the shadows too. If you find the lines too visible, you can lighten them with a kneaded eraser by gently pressing it on them.


Dilute the ink and ensure you have 3 shades of gray: a light one, a dark one, and one in between. Try to match the darkest and the lightest tones first, then make an intermediate tint.

Make sure you have enough ink to cover all the areas you want to make in one tone in one go.


Work from light to dark to apply 3 layers of ink.

Layer 1

Squint your eyes. Where the light falls, no ink is applied. Make the rest light gray in 2 steps: first the background, then the all the areas on the shell that are not hit by light.

Layer 2

Squint again to identify darker areas. Make everything that is not white or light gray darker using the intermediate shade. Don’t forget the shadow the shell casts on the right side.

Layer 3

Squint once more and apply an additional layer of the darkest gray on the darkest spots.


Take a look at the whole process in this video.

Interested in learning to draw nature? Check out the possibilities: