India Ink Nest Artwork

India ink is one of my students’ favorite media.  It creates bold artworks and the variety of painting, line work and ink splatter are so much fun to experiment with. Try out this india ink nest artwork that explores value, contrast, composition and symbolism.

If you have a short attention span like me, this video will give you 38 second snapshot of the technique:

Observational Studies

One of the challenges I find teaching in a public school setting is providing experiences for students to create from direct observation.  They are so accustomed to drawing what’s in their head, or from photographs, and drawing from life can be daunting.  There are many subjects we don’t have access to inside the walls of a classroom, but these nests are inexpensive and long lasting.  They are fun to study observationally and even more fun to think about symbolism and metaphor. 

These are some of my favorite india ink materials. There is a less expensive option that is great for large classes like Art I or II. The second option are both a little nicer and little more expensive, great for a smaller AP or IB course.

India Ink Nest Artwork Materials

Blick Bristol Pad - 9 Fabriano Bristol+ Pads - 11 Blick Black Cat Waterproof India Ink - Quart Dr. Ph. Martin's Bombay India Ink - 1 oz, Black

***This post contains affiliate links to products I truly love and use in my classroom. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.  Thank you for supporting this public school teacher’s side hustle so I can continue to provide free content.

We started this unit focusing exclusively on observational drawing.  They were instructed to capture what they see accurately and focus on values.  My students have experience with drawing and ink, so this was a scaffolded skill from their Art I and Art II classes.  If your students are younger or less experienced, all they need is some guided practice creating value scales and several thumbnail sketches based on pure observation.

India Ink Value Studies

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Once we did sketches in graphite, we moved on to ink.  Although we did ink last year together in Art II, I pretended none of them had ever touched ink.  I know my memory from last year is spotty at best, so I always re-teach basic skills to my AP students during the first semester. 

One of my mistakes my first year teaching AP was that my students “already did that” so they had the skills needed.  Much like playing a musical instrument, you would never jump on stage for a performance without practicing scales and rehearsing your part.  Sketches and technique studies are fundamental no matter what level your students are at.

At this point, you can have your students create beautiful observational nest paintings.  They always turn out stunning and make excellent portfolio pieces.  I wanted to push my students’ concepts as well as their technique, so once we finished our studies we began to explore the question “what is a nest?”. 

This video walks you through how to layer value from light to dark using india ink, paint brushes and a bamboo skewer.

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I like to use guided questions when planning lessons because it allows students to have more ownership of their outcomes. This is a great first or second lesson with my AP students to help guide their inquiry moving forward. They will be creating their own guided questions through their sustained investigation, but many of them have no idea how to start. Scaffolding how to base art on an inquiry is an important step. Most students have little experience designing their own investigation.

Mind Mapping

We started by writing the question “What is a nest?” and did mind-mapping together.  This is a strategy we will come back to often in AP, and I like to structure doing it together first so they get comfortable with the concept.  I had them look up definitions and then pick one, or create their own, that they felt most connected to. 


Students then created thumbnail sketches of their final compositions focusing on contrast, value and composition and exploring their own ideas of nests.  Several of my students used graphite instead of ink, and one did a mixed media collage technique.  

This was where the fun really started.  I was so happy with how personal and deep they got with this artwork.  Their artworks were nostalgic, chilling, sentimental and funny.  I enjoyed every day of this artwork. 

Finished India Ink Nest Artwork

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