Get started with ink drawing

Learning how to draw with ink very different from mastering pencil drawing. The most obvious difference is that you can no longer rely on your eraser – make a mistake in ink, and you'll have to find another way to rectify it. Don't let that put you off, though. Ink drawing can be an incredibly creative process.

Ink drawing techniques can be as delicate or bold as your temperament dictates: it's all about trying things out. In this article I'll explain how to get started with ink drawing, from choosing the right equipment and materials, to mastering different techniques.

01. Use the right grip

Grip the pen close to the tip and keep the angle of the pen at about 45 degrees. Strokes generally start close to your body and move outward. Use your arm and shoulder, not just your wrist.

02. Practise making marks

Get started with ink drawing - tools

Develop your strokes with ink drawing tools

Take time to develop your dexterity in pen handling by doing exercises. Practise creating sweeping strokes, bold lines, crisp dashes, delicate dots, curves and straight lines. Make sure you're able to do each of these vertically, horizontally and on a diagonal.

03. Consider composition

Traditional pen and ink consists of working with black ink on plain paper, and creating space through thick or thin lines and repeating marks for texture. You want to start with the focal point of your design, and work your way back and out to the less important elements. Your main subject should feature bold, heavy lines and should have the greatest detail and contrast. 

04. Lay down preliminary sketches

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. Many artists will 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.

Read: Our pick of the best pencils

05. Vary tone and texture

Get started with ink drawing - tone and texture

Stroke can dictate the tone and texture of your ink drawing

To convey tone and suggest texture in your ink drawing is all done through the strokes you use. Different types of stroke will each have their own peculiar feel, and varying the weight, direction, and density (whether wider apart or broken up) of strokes can have a big impact. With practice, you'll learn to use tonal line directions and textures to add points of interest within your composition.

06. Consider different tools

There are many tools available for drawing in pen and ink, so find the one that best suits your style by experimenting with a few different options. Unless you plan to create subtle washes with a brush, we'd recommend you use waterproof drawing ink. There's no 'right answer' to what to use, of course: it's all about what kind of ink drawing you want to create. 

07. Try crow quills 

Get started with ink drawing - choose your pen

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

Crow quills offer great nuances in lines, from extremely fine to quite wide marks. They need to be dipped into ink, though, which can be messy. If you do go for this option, you want to fill your inkwell up so that when the nib touches the bottom of the well, three-quarters of it is covered with ink. Wipe the nib off every 10 minutes to keep a clean ink flow. 

08. Experiment with a brush or brush pen

Get started with ink drawing - brushes

A brush pen may be a better alternative to quill pens for you

Brushes are preferred by many ink artists because they offer greater line control. Press down to create thick fat lines or lift the pen until it's almost off the page to create tiny, thin lines. Sizes 1-3 provide great variety. 

Brush pens are a convenient alternative option as they require no dipping or wiping of the nib.

09. Consider fine point pens for detail work

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.

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