Pen and ink. It can sound so permanent and scary. But, trust me, it doesn’t have to be! There are so many wonderful ways to control this medium, and its presence can add emotion and fine details to any drawing. Plus, knowing different pen and drawing techniques can translate into adding an extra special touch to a greeting card or scrapbook page.
Grab your favorite paper! Here are 7 popular and exciting pen and ink drawing techniques to try.
A note about materials
Before we delve into technique, let’s talk about materials. This is what I used to complete these exercises:
- Drawing paper
- Black sumi ink
- Nibs in a pen holder
- Archival ink pens.
The type of instrument you use will affect what your line quality and overall look of your work. It also will make some exercises easier than others. A nib and nib holder, for instance, will give you precise lines of varying weight (depending on what type of nib you use). Brushes will cover more area but aren’t necessarily as good for fine details. It all depends on what look you’re trying to achieve.
Linear hatching is one of the most basic pen and ink drawing techniques. To create volume and shading, draw a series of straight lines. Try varying the distance between them and the thickness of your line to create different effects. If you’re going for something that’s in the shade, marks that are close together will read as dark.
Like linear hatching, cross hatching uses straight (or nearly straight) lines. With this technique, however, lines intersect and form tiny crosses— hence the name! Building volume works the same way as linear hatching, where the distance between lines and intersections will make certain areas appear like they are shaded.
This is the perfect technique for conveying form! Cross contour follows the object’s outline and fills out the shape. It makes your drawing look more 3-D with curved lines that give the illusion of form. As with cross hatching and hatching, the way to shade is the same.
Ink wash is my favorite of the pen and ink drawing techniques. Instead of using a pen, you use a brush to fill large areas with color. Work in layers and apply the lightest wash (ink that’s diluted with water) first. Gradually, you can add more and more value (more ink, less water) to forms and add dimensionality to your drawing.
This might be the most tedious of the techniques I’m demonstrating here, but the effect is a really neat one if you have the patience. You’re probably already familiar with stippling – just look at this iconic painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat.
Like this famous work, you’re going to use a series of dots to create form. The closer the dots are, the darker the object will appear (as we’ve seen in other techniques). Large dots create a denser value more quickly but won’t appear as smooth as tiny stippled marks. I’ve included both here.
Scumbling is sometimes referred to as the “brillo pad” technique, which is a good way to think about it as you make your scribbled marks. Let yourself got a little crazy with the movements to create more visual interest.
The splatter technique is fun, but beware — it’s a little messy! Hold a brush or nib that’s been dipped in ink in one hand. In the other, hold a pencil. Gently tap the inked utensil against the pencil, and let the drops fly onto the paper. Use different colors or washes to create a layered, complex effect.This technique works great if you’re doing something that allows for things to look a little crazy and free. It’s unpredictable, so have fun experimenting with what kind of splatters you create!
Once you’re comfortable with these pen and ink drawing techniques, try combining them for added effect. For example, you could use an ink wash as a base then use a thin nib to draw a design on top of what you’ve painted. A broad brush will pair nicely with the thin scrawl of a nib. For more practice, check out some of Craftsy’s drawing classes.