Try out this minimalist india ink landscape art lesson to create stunning results with a beautiful sense of depth. We focused on creating depth and space using value throughout the parts of a landscape. My students really enjoyed looking at Japanese ink landscapes while playing around with such fun and inexpensive materials.
This video explains my technique entirely and is great for review, absent students or for a preview of what students will be creating. Feel free to use it in your classroom of for inspiration for your own lesson.
We started the unit by practicing a variety of india ink techniques. Because my main learning objective was creating space and depth using value, we spent the most class time creating our practice value scales. I cut rectangular strips of Bristol for each student to complete their practice techniques. I think it’s important to have students practice with the actual materials they will be using, and using the right paper is essential with ink.
When I surveyed my Art II students, a mix of 10th-12th graders, almost none of them had worked with india ink before. However, all had done some type of value scale at some point in their artistic journeys. I demonstrated on my Elmo document camera and we did this together as a class. We marked our pure ink paint well with blue painters tape and then gradually added water to create at least seven values.
We started with the darkest value first and then and continued working in sequential order. White is the easiest, of course, because it is the white of the paper. I struggle the most with the darkest gray because it tends to just be jet black or too light. Paper towel blotting is essential when finding the right values, because ink dries fast and it dries dark!
We used flat paint brushes, but I love a large round brush for this technique as well. Most students nailed it on their first attempts, and some had to play around to get lighter. Some chose to start over right underneath their first attempt. I emphasized while they were working that creating value was a huge part of being successful with their landscapes and to take their time until they really felt comfortable.
India Ink Materials
I like Bristol because it’s smooth and washes work really well over it. It is relatively inexpensive and there are many brands to choose from. Right now I am using Blick India Ink, but Black Cat and Speedball are also excellent choices.
If you want to splurge, try out Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink. (Not to be confused with the shoe brand.) These inks are fantastic, and although we don’t use theme for this lesson I love the metallics.
India Ink Painting Techniques
We then progressed to practicing line making using a smaller brush. This is key for creating trees and plant texture. After they played around with that concept we moved on to large washes, adding ink using a wet on wet technique and then paper towel blotting. These techniques will be used to create a dynamic sky and plant textures in the foreground.
Finally, we ended the class period with bamboo skewer drawing. Pen nibs would be great for this, but I have ONE in my entire supply closet and class sizes topping out at 39. So bamboo skewers for the win! Students drew lines and played around with textures. This was a crowd favorite, especially among those who love drawing characters.
India Ink Trees
The next class period was all about painting trees. Students used the back of their Bristol practice paper #publicschoolbudget to practice and I encouraged them to stay away from 100% black trees, but to use the wet on wet techniques and adding fine lines with either a small brush or a bamboo skewer.
I gave them laminated handouts with simple tree examples on them. I’d post what I used here, but I don’t want to run into any copyright issues. I googled “watercolor trees black and white” and had so many to choose from. This was also a great time for students to work out any other ideas they have for their landscapes.
India Ink Mini Landscape Practice
The third or fourth class period was our “mini” landscape practice. We started by taping our paper and ya’ll…this takes forever! I highly recommend using blue artist’s tape, but masking tape will work in a pinch. We taped all four edges and rubbed the tape on our jeans etc. so the adhesive would not tear the paper.
Again we did this together as a class mixing value and blocking in our sky, horizon line, background, middle ground and foreground. I told them not to focus so much on creative expression, but understanding the technique. Variations are always supported in my class, but I told them to do it my way first and then push their own ideas after.
This helped students’ confidence because they knew they could practice the techniques with room to fail. Some of these miniature practices were my favorite outcomes. I love seeing my students’ personality shine through. It always amazes me that I give the exact same instructions and materials to students but they produce such a wide range of results.
Finally, I gave students a larger piece of bristol. I really like the square composition and the taped edge gave it an immediate professional feel. We had done so much practice that it did not take very long for my students to create beautiful results. It took the typical student a class or two to block in their parts of a landscape and sky and another class period or two to add their trees for emphasis. I know the tree practice paid off- their trees turned out stunning! Of course some students added even more details, but I told them this was a minimalistic approach and to not feel like they had to add tons of detail.
Artists to Study
Throughout this lesson, we did our daily Art History Bellwork investigating two Japanese landscape artists. The first we looked at was contemporary artist and professor Shozo Sato. His organization of value in the parts of the landscape matched the technique we were doing in class and he was very well liked by my students. We looked at this artwork and discussed how he organized value and played with the size and value of the trees to create depth.
This is my Bellwork format, we do one activity a day the first five-ten minutes of class.
He is a fascinating artist and performer and we were mesmerized by this video of him painting with ink. I skipped the part of the video where he discusses his surface, since we were using a different paper and approach.
We also looked at the more traditional artist Sesshu Toyo, one of the most famous painters in Japanese history. We investigated how he created space and depth through the size relationships and details in his background, middleground and foreground. Students really loved his line work and the style of his trees. I loved how one artist is still alive and working and the other was from the 1400s. If your students are anything like mine, they are very interested in Japanese art.
India Ink Landscape Student Examples:
Here are some finished examples of what my students created. I am so happy with the end results, and I know my students are much more confident with their landscape painting abilities. Take color out of the equation and landscape painting immediately becomes more approachable for a young art student.
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