SECRETS REVEALED! William Stout’s Rackham/Dulac Technique

Some of my most popular pictures are in what I call my Rackham/Dulac style (after two turn-of-the-century children’s illustrators who used this technique extensively, Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac). It dates back a hundred years or so but it’s pretty easy to do. Here’s how:
1) Pencil your picture.
2) Ink your picture with a Hunt crowquill pen, using a 50/50 mixture of waterproof black (India) and sepia inks. That will make your black a nice warm black.
3) After the ink is dry, erase the pencil lines.
4) Mask off your image using white art tape.
5) On your palette, prepare a little pool of raw umber watercolor.
6) Quickly soak the image using a very wet fine-grained sea sponge (or “art sponge”), then wring out the sponge.
7) Using a wide (about three quarters of an inch) Aquarelle watercolor brush, cover your image with the raw umber watercolor.
8) Using the wringed-out sponge, dab and blot up the raw umber watercolor in the areas of your picture that you want to remain light. You may have to wring out your little sponge several times during this process. Work quickly (and near a sink) before the watercolor dries. This will give your image an antique parchment look. You can also add a little raw umber with a smaller brush (not too small) to the areas you want to be darker.
9) While the picture is still wet you can add and perform any wet-on-wet techniques you care to (I usually do this in the sky areas, adding various colored tints).
10) Let the picture dry a little bit, then start adding layers of transparent watercolor to your piece, slowly building up the color to what you want it to finally be.
11) After your picture has dried, use an eraser if necessary to lighten some of your watercolor.
12) When dry, you’ll notice that sometimes your watercolor has greyed-out some of your black pen lines. Mix up a batch of colored ink (never dyes) appropriate to your color scheme with a lot of water to get a nice PALE transparent wash. Brush this over your picture. It will do two things: It should unite your color scheme and it should also bring back the intensity of most of your pen lines.
13) Sometimes adding a touch of Prismacolor pencils is called for to bring out some highlights (I use the Cream and Sand colors a lot for this), darken some shadows or add some complementary “color sparks” to your picture.
14) Carefully remove the white tape.
15) Retouch with white goauche any unsightly color bleeds if necessary. If you need to pop in any white highlights on your piece, now’s the time.
16) When completely dry, spray the piece with Krylon Crystal Clear acrylic coating. Don’t breathe that stuff — you’ll end up with plastic lungs!

As a result of all this work, you should have a brand new ancient-looking masterpiece!

Good Luck!

William Stout

11 Responses to “SECRETS REVEALED! William Stout’s Rackham/Dulac Technique”

  1. brett waller says:

    one of my new year resolutions for 2005 was:
    "-ask bill stout how to paint over ink."
    shazam there it is,
    i’m glad i looked around on your site today.

  2. perdon says:

    nice site

  3. chris says:

    Thanks for that post. I’ve been wondering lately how this technique was done. Now I know!

  4. Colby says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge! This really helped me out. . . and by the way . … your work is great.

  5. Tom says:

    This is great–Thanks! But a question re: #12: I want to try it but have to admit am a bit nervous. When doing the wash of acrylic ink over the watercolor, how do you keep it from budging/smearing the watercolor beneath?

  6. Chris says:

    Delighted to find some information about this technique. Thank you for your help.

  7. lianne says:

    I can’t overstate how helpful this is. I really adore Rackham’s technique and I was searching for its description – this is perfect.

  8. Donna says:

    Thank you! This is gonna be FUN!

  9. Raquel says:

    This is really awesome! I adore Rackham so I am truly grateful to you to have posted this. I have a question, I am not sure to have understood the white tape part, where do I put it? around the paper?

  10. Lori Buckley says:

    I love Arthur Rackam’s work..thanks for posting this! I have the same question though as Tom..”I want to try it but have to admit am a bit nervous. When doing the wash of acrylic ink over the watercolor, how do you keep it from budging/smearing the watercolor beneath?”

    and when you say ‘ink wash’ over the work..this is a highly diluted ink wash, correct?


Leave a Reply