How to get started with ink drawing

We explain what ink drawing has to offer the artist and what you'll need to get started with this versatile medium.

Get started with ink drawing Socar

Pen and ink gives Canada-based artist Socar ( the ability to create wonderfully expressive images like this

Learning how to draw with ink is a big step up from drawing with the best pencils. The most obvious difference is that there's no more relying on the eraser, but it can be a wonderfully creative medium – just look at these stunning examples of ink drawings.

Traditional pen and ink consists of black ink and white paper, creating space through thick or thin lines and repeating marks for texture. Ink drawing techniques are similar to painting techniques: they can be as delicate or bold as your temperament dictates: it's all about trying things out.

Getting started with ink drawing

First of all, pour your ink in an inkwell high enough so that when the nib touches the bottom, it covers three-quarters of the nib. Start with the focal point, working your way back and out to the less-important elements.

Grip the pen close to the tip and keep the angle of the pen at about 45 degrees. Your main subject should feature bold, heavy lines and should have the greatest detail and contrast. Strokes generally start close to your body and move outward. Use your arm and shoulder, not just your wrist.

Now that you're comfortable, illustrator Terese Nielsen explains how to choose the right equipment and materials.

01. Tools

Get started with ink drawing tools

Get the right tools for the style of ink drawing you prefer

There are many options for working in pen/ink, so find which best suits your temperament by experimenting with different tools. Take time to develop your dexterity in pen handling by doing exercises. Learn sweeping strokes, bold lines, crisp dashes, delicate dots, curves and straight lines. Be able to do this vertically, horizontally and slantwise.

02. Preliminaries

Get started with ink drawing Preliminaries

Starting with pencil is a tried-and-tested ink drawing technique

There are several approaches for laying out a sketch before using pen. Sketch with an HB pencil and erase only after the pen work is dry. Comic book and manga artists often use non-photo blue pencils. Alternatively, lightly sketch with a light-warm, grey PITT pen, or sketch with light washes of ink thinned with water.

03. Tone and texture

Get started with ink drawing tone and texture

Stroke can dictate tone and texture of your ink drawing

Conveying tone and the idea of texture is done with the type of stroke, or the spacing of strokes, whether wider apart or broken up. Each will have its own peculiar feel. With practice, you learn to use tonal line directions and textures to add points of interest, such as a rhythmic sweep or applying tiny differences in the direction and line weight.

04. Choose your ink, pen and nib

Get started with ink drawing choose your pen

Choose pens, nibs and ink to suit your ink drawing style

Unless you plan to create subtle washes with a brush, we'd recommend you use waterproof drawing ink. When it comes to pen and nib, crow quills offer great nuances in lines, from extremely fine to quite wide marks. They require dipping into ink, though, and can be messy. Wipe the nibs off every 10 minutes to keep a clean ink flow.

05. Brushes and brush pens

Get started with ink drawing brushes

A brush may be a better alternative to pens for you

Brushes are preferred by many artists because of the line control that can be achieved. Press down to create thick fat lines or lift almost off the page to create tiny, thin lines. Sizes 1-3 provide great variety. Alternatively, brush pens are a convenient option and require no dipping.

06. Fine-point pens

Get started with ink drawing fine point pens

Some artists prefer fine-point pens to brushes

Fine point pens produce hard, solid lines. Some artists prefer them to the soft curved strokes of a brush, but they lack the line variation that crow quills and brushes/brush pens offer, often creating a more mechanical, less expressive drawing.

There's no 'right answer' to what to use, of course: it's all about what kind of ink drawing you want to create. But hopefully these introductory tips have helped you to get started; good luck!


Terese Nielsen is a freelance fantasy artist and illustrator.