Art Blog

How to Confidently Draw in Pen & Ink

Are you just getting started with pen and ink? The media is an easily accessible way to get drawing and stay drawing. You don’t have to look farther than your office desk!

First up, gather your supplies

Types of pens for drawing

There are many pens on the market, and it’s important to decide what kind of pen you like and what you’re comfortable with using.

Dip or nib pens

Nib pen drawing on white paper

Dip or nib pens consist of a steel nib attached to a handle that can be made of almost any material. The steel nib is split down the middle, creating an ink channel. Once the nib is dipped in ink and makes contact with the writing surface, the ink flows down the channel leaving a very consistent and easily controllable line.

By placing more or less pressure on the nib, you can control the width of the channel and thus the width of the line. Dip pens had numerous advantages over reed pens, most notably the durable steel nib and the fine line control.

Fountain pens

Fountain pens contain an internal reservoir of ink — often a refillable cartridge — that allows an artist to make a continuous line without stopping to “reload” the ink on the nib. But unlike most pens, fountain pens have a steel nib, too.

The chief advantage of a fountain pen is portability since you don’t need to carry a bottle of ink alongside your pens to do a sketch outdoors. They also reduce the chance of ink splashes landing on your drawing (though any fountain pen owner knows that accidents still happen).

Artist pens

Pen and ink drawing supplies

These days, you can find countless types of pens that fall somewhere between your everyday office pen and a fountain pen. These pens have a reservoir of high-quality ink but don’t necessarily use a steel nib for the tip.

Pens come in a variety of tip sizes (from 0.03 mm to 0.8 mm). Those tips can be felt, fiber or rollerballs. The combinations of size, tip type, brand, ink quality and more are nearly endless — you just have to experiment to find what works for you.

Ballpoint pens

Ballpoint pen and ink drawing

Don’t discount the humble ballpoint pen! Many artists create stunning works with this basic office supply. Unlike many pens, you can layer ballpoint pen ink to build depth and three-dimensional form. 

Choosing your pen

Pen and ink drawing

Before you put ink to paper, it’s a helpful exercise to create a “chart” on a scrap piece of paper.  Just a few quick marks will give you an idea of the types of lines that a pen will make.

Consider how you like the look of the lines made as well as the feel of the pen. Do you prefer the thick tip of a Copic marker or the ultra-fine point of .20mm Micron? There’s no right or wrong — it all depends on your personal drawing style.

Choosing the right paper

There are many types of paper that are suitable for pen and ink. But a little foresight about what you intend to do with your piece can be helpful in determining the best type of paper for the project.

Ink drawing on white paper

For instance, a watercolor paper may look very cool, but if you’re using a quill pen, it can snag, break the tip of your pen and mess up your drawing. On the other hand, drawing paper may look fine for the pen and ink part, but if you decide to add watercolor, the non-porous paper will not let the paint spread in a pleasing way.

Generally, bristol board or illustration board are wonderful picks for pen and ink work. They’re both fairly flat, so neither will tear up the tip of your pen, and the image remains crisp. Yet they are both absorbent papers, making it ideal for watercolor, marker and acrylic in addition to your pen and ink.

Ink

Two jars of black ink

If you decide to use a dip pen, you’ll also need ink! When shopping for your supplies, you’ll want to start with blank ink. Sumi ink has a beautifully rich black tone.

Paintbrush

Applying black ink with a paint brush

Again, if you plan to use a dip pen and ink, you can also add a paintbrush to your toolkit (we’ll show you the technique later in this post).For a paintbrush, look for one that is meant for water-based media. 

A pencil

Light pencil sketch with nib pen beside it

It’s a pretty simple concept: pencil can be erased and pen cannot. Using a pencil to make a light sketch before adding ink can help you get the composition, perspective and size just right.

Basic techniques for drawing with pen

Most pen and ink drawings use one, or a combination of, the following techniques. Looking how to shade with a pen? Or how to add texture to your favorite tree? These approaches will help you do both things (and more). Try them all and decide which approaches you like best — you can then incorporate them into your artwork. 

Hatching

Hatching pen and ink technique

Hatching is the most basic of the pen and ink techniques. It involves making a series of straight lines on your paper.

The closer the marks are together, the darker they appear. These marks can be short or long, and you will typically make them all a similar length.

Hatching can have a flattening effect, as all the lines are straight and not necessarily following the contour of the subject you’re drawing.

Cross hatching

 cross hatchingpen and ink technique

Crosshatching is the cousin to hatching. As the name implies, this approach involves you first making a series of straight lines in one direction, and then a series of lines in an intersecting direction (hence the “cross” in the name.) Like hatching, the closer the crosses are to one another, the darker they appear.

Stippling

 stippling pen and ink technique

Stippling is made for those with a lot of patience, as it involves creating a ton of tiny dots on the page.

Dots that are clustered tightly together will appear darker and give your drawing form. In addition, they can also bring an element of surface decoration to your work.

Cross contour

 cross contour pen and ink technique

Remember how hatching can flatten your drawing? Cross contouring helps give it form. It works in much the same way as crosshatching, but the lines follow the contour of your subject. In doing this, your subject will look more rounded and three dimensional.

Scribbling or random lines

scribble pen and ink technique

This technique challenges you to channel your inner child! It may seem silly, but scribbling can be useful even in the most professional compositions.

The random lines approach is great for building texture. I really like to use it when drawing leaves on trees — the scribble marks easily convey mass. Layer them in order to build depth in your drawing.

Creating texture with your pen strokes

Pen and ink drawing

While the illustrations above feature strong lines, pen illustrations can gain texture and a distinct personality by using different pen strokes. A combination of stronger lines paired with smaller, delicate lines adds up to a greater whole: a more interesting image.

Different pen strokes such as cross-hatching or pointillism can create texture, contrast and dimension. Try out various types of pen strokes to see which one feels right for you.

Painting with ink wash

Ink wash is similar to watercolor painting and uses a lot of the same principles, so if you’ve painted before, you’re in luck. But if you’re new to painting, not to worry!

ink wash pen and ink technique

The general idea is to work light to dark, and large to small. Don’t start with the darkest shade. It will be hard to do anything with that, like add variation in tone, detail or even other colors. Instead, work in layers.

Start by painting the lightest shade you see. Wait for everything to dry before proceeding to the next layer, which is going to be slightly darker than the last. Mix the wash and apply it to the necessary areas. Again, wait for it to dry and mix again. Repeat the process until you’ve added all of the tones so you have a nice balance of contrast.

Wet-on-wet ink wash

Here’s another way to approach ink washes. Let’s say you want to create some interesting, experimental washes that aren’t concerned with form. One way to do this is a “wet-on-wet” technique.

wet-on-wet technique for ink wash

Wet the area of the paper that will receive the ink. Make it as big or as small as you want. Then, using your brush, drop ink onto the watered spot. It will have a mind of its own and pigment will feather in multiple directions. That’s OK — it’s the entire point! Alternatively, you can pick up the paper and guide the ink around the page.

Water wash over ink

drawing exercise pen and ink

If you don’t have a bottle of ink, you can still achieve that wash-like look. All you need is cold-press watercolor paper, which tends to suck up the water quickly, a pen (we used a Pilot Fineliner), water and a paintbrush.

Start by creating a drawing in pen. Then, dip a paintbrush in water and touch the brush to the ink on your page. The ink should start to spread. Go over all of the parts where you want the pigment to move and transform them from lines to washes.

Splattering ink

splatter ink technique

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!

Fixing common pen and ink mistakes

Hopefully, you won’t make any mistakes as you draw — but if you do, there are some clever ways to hide your blunder. 

Accidental pen marks

Pen and ink problems

Problem:  You made a mark where you didn’t mean to, rendering in ink a portion of a drawing that was part of your pencil sketch.

Solution: Often, mistakes of this nature can actually be incorporated into the piece with little difficulty.  Try altering the pattern of a solid element of the drawing to accommodate the errant line.

Smeared pen ink

Pen and ink problems

Problem: If you don’t let the pen ink set for a few minutes before erasing any pencil lines, it could smear. The pen can also smear if you let your hand rest on an inked area while drawing another portion and pull it away too quickly.

Solution: Even though it might not seem so at first, the damage might be less severe if you add other elements, such as a background or color. 

Spilled ink

Pen and ink problems

Problem: You dropped your pen in the middle of making a mark, and it went rogue on your piece, adding avant-garde marks where they are not welcome.

Solution: This method can cause a lot of damage to a piece, especially if ink has spilled from a bottle. If the damage is too great, you may have to trace and re-do the drawing (sorry). However, if you think you can work with the error, you can paint over the unwanted areas using opaque paint.

Water hits the pen

Pen and ink problems

Problem: Maybe you thought your ink was waterproof and it really wasn’t, or perhaps an errant drop of water hit your pen and ink drawing and now it’s looking worse for wear.

Solution: It can be pretty difficult to incorporate this “blooming” area into a piece, but you can take a look and consider the possibility. If it doesn’t seem like it can be incorporated, this is definitely a project suited to the paper method of correcting the error. By putting a “patch” of the same type of paper on top of the offending area, you have a clean slate to redraw the elements that have been damaged.

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