Pen and Ink: One Portrait, Two Different Techniques

Pen and ink is one of my favorite mediums. It’s easy to use and take on the go — you can draw with pen anywhere! And, by using ink washes, you can treat the material like it’s watercolor paint.

Learn helpful tips for drawing pen and ink portraits in two ways.

Two drawings side by side

For this tutorial, you’ll need the following tools:

  • Pen or pens. Select your favorite.
  • Bottled ink.
  • Watercolor paper (or paper specifically made for water-based media)
  • Paint brushes.
  • Water to clean your brushes.
  • Palette

I’m going to focus on two different ways to create a portrait using pen and ink: one way is with pen, and the other is a combination of ink wash and a pen.

Two drawings with tools for tutorial

To begin, I created two identical portraits. They’re contour lines only — no shading because I’ll go over that all with the pen and ink. Afterwards, we’ll compare the two techniques.

Method #1: Pen only

First step of pen portrait drawing

Here, we’re using the pen as a way to add texture and shade this portrait. I began by adding hatching and cross-hatching give the face form.

Pen drawing portrait step 2

It can be tricky creating a portrait using pen. Remember to use the pen sparingly, because it’s unforgiving. I started with a thin-tipped utensil and then worked up to a thicker point.

Keep in mind that too much shading can will age your subject, so it’s best to start with light hatch marks and then add criss-crossing (cross-hatched) lines when you want to include shadow. Continue adding the hatching/cross hatching until your subject looks realistically drawn. Be sure to vary your line direction — this will keep your drawing visually exciting and from feeling “flat.”

pen drawing step 3 Pen drawing detail

Tip: Avoid the urge to outline your portrait. It can flatten your drawing. When possible, use shading techniques to convey changes in surface depth.

Method #2: Ink wash

Ink wash first layer

This technique primarily uses ink washes, in the style of watercolor painting. We’ll use pen, but only to define some key details once we’re done. Most of the figure’s form will come from the variation in tones.

Begin by creating a wash that’s mostly water and a little bit of ink. This will be your base tone that you’ll apply to everything but the highlights. Once you’ve painted it onto the the face, neck, and hair, mix another gray tone. Then, apply it to all areas that are in shadow. Continue this process, adding more ink and less water. Slow build layers of gray tones that convey form and depth. Remember, the darker the ink, the less you’ll paint on the paper. The deep shadows should only go in small creases.

Ink drawing step 2

After you have the ink washes done, wait for them to dry. Then add the finishing touches. Use a thin-tipped pen to shade and add specific details to the eyelids, hair and lips. This also allows certain facial features “pop,” and create contrast. Just make sure that you use a non-water soulable pen!

ink drawing detail Finished ink drawing

Which pen and ink portrait style are you going to try first?


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