Clever Fixes: Correcting Common Mistakes in Pen and Ink

Drawing with pen and ink is a wonderful and low maintenance method of creating artwork. However, the sense of permanency that comes with the medium can prove difficult to work with: unlike pencil, if you make an error with pen and ink, it’s a bit trickier to fix.

Fixing mistakes in pen and ink

Photos and illustrations via CakeSpy

How to fix ink drawing errors

While fixing errors in pen and ink drawings can be difficult, it is not impossible. In fact, up to 95 percent of all mistakes can be fixed with one of the easy methods outlined in this post.

Not only will we discuss some of the easiest and most effective methods of fixing mistakes in pen and ink drawings, but we’ll put the methods to work with a list of common calamities, discussing which methods are best suited to each one.

Incorporation method

Work with the error

Could the “error” somehow be fixed by slightly altering your drawing to accommodate the errant line or mark? Many times, the answer is yes. For instance, in this piece, by adding stripes to the shirt with the accidental flower stem poking through the sleeve, it becomes more natural and doesn’t require any additional editing. When possible, this method is one of the easiest and least potentially damaging to the finished piece.

Opaque paint method

White paint to mask mistakes

You can paint over errors in a pen and ink piece by painting over the offending area with opaque white paint. Either a matte acrylic or gouache paint will work well. Keep in mind, however, that using only white paint might be quite prominent, because few papers are truly 100 percent white, and it will show up a slightly different tone. Using a little bit of yellow or another color to mix with white to make sure it really blends in to the paper will help the “band aid” from being too obvious.

Paper method

Paper method

You can use paper to make a “patch” on your piece to cover up a mistake, by placing a small cutout of the same type of paper you’re working with over the offending area,  The downfall of this method is that the added paper will be visible, but in an involved piece of artwork, it might not detract too much attention from the piece.

Eraser method

Pen eraser

Erasing pen is not impossible, but it’s certainly not easy. A pencil eraser, like the one pictured above, will have little to no effect, and is more likely to tear up the paper than to remove pen marks.

A special ink eraser will need to be used to remove ink. Older types of ink erasers were slightly involved contraption in which a metal piece scrapes off the paper, and then a pencil-like eraser is used to remove any remaining line. Today, ink erasers are more refined, but in my personal opinion, they’re typically not the way to go. I find that they only really remove lighter marks. It’s a distinct possibility that you will tear up the paper’s grain by erasing vigorously, so use with extreme care. Test the eraser on a small area or on a scrap piece of paper using the same pen as on your main piece to test the effectiveness.

Combination method

Sometimes, not just one method is the perfect fix, but it’s a combination of the methods listed above. To illustrate this idea, we’ll now talk about some common pen and ink drawing calamities and some suggested fixes. As you’ll see, many of them rely on a combination of the above methods.

Common calamities and solutions

Accidental pen marks

Working with it

Uh oh. 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. Or perhaps you just put ink down where it shouldn’t be, whether it’s a misspelled word in a piece, or just an element that you have chosen to omit from your piece.

How to fix it:

Often, mistakes of this nature can actually be incorporated into the piece with little difficulty. Going back to the example used for the incorporation method mentioned above, altering the pattern of a solid element of the drawing to accommodate the errant line can be very effective. If the incorporation method does not work, often using opaque white paint over the area can easily cover up the extraneous line.

Spilled ink

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.

How to fix it:

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 the opaque paint method, or use the paper method if it is localized to a specific area.

Pen smeared

Smeared pen

Even if the ink is permanent, if you don’t let it set for a few minutes before erasing any pencil lines, it could smear. Pen can also smear when you’ve let your hand rest on an inked area while drawing another portion, and pull it away too easily.

How to fix it:

A background can help

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. In the above piece, simply adding a background softened the effect of the smearing.

Painting over the smeared area

Once color is incorporated, the smearing is barely evident. If it still bugs you, or if you’re not planning on incorporating color, you can employ the opaque paint method to get rid of any remaining smear marks.

Water hits the pen

Water on the paper

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.

How to fix it:

Paper method for fixing an error

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.

You ran out of ink

Yikes! You’re in the middle of a drawing and you made a mistake, all right: you forgot to get an 08 tip pen. What do you do?

How to fix it:

If it’s a small area, you can draw twice over with a thinner pen. If it’s a major or prominent area, though, buy yourself a new pen with the same size tip before proceeding.

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