Ink drawing is a medium that’s hugely popular with artists and illustrators. It’s very versatile and you can learn to create beautiful pen and ink drawings very quickly using a few simple techniques.
You’ll often find pen and ink drawings as illustrations in magazines and newspapers – and they’re often found in children’s books. If you want a good example of an illustrator who uses pen and ink drawing, take a look at the work of Quentin Blake. He’s best known as the artist who illustrator Roald Dahl’s books, including Matilda, The Witches and James and the Giant Peach.
Drawing inks can create results very similar to watercolours, but the colours tend to be more vibrant. You can also use ink drawing alongside paints or markers in your work.
It can be an unforgiving medium because it’s hard to correct mistakes if you go wrong, however, sometimes these imperfections add to the charm of your finished work.
You can use pen and ink drawing to create very detailed pictures or bolder artwork. Sometimes you can achieve surprising results by working very quickly and producing rough pen and ink sketches – try it for yourself and see!
In this guide, we’ll show you some simple pen and ink drawing methods to help you produce stunning artwork. We’ll also explain what materials you need to buy to get started.
What you need to start ink drawing
The first thing you’ll need to buy is some drawing ink. Drawing inks usually come in small jars, but a little ink can go a very long way. There are a few different kinds you can buy, including basic drawing ink, acrylic ink and Indian ink.
Indian ink has been used for thousands of years and is available as either a liquid ink or as a solid block. It is an intensely pigmented ink that won’t fade over time. Acrylic inks come in a selection of vibrant colours and are waterproof once they dry. They can be used to create effects that are very similar to watercolours on your work.
For beginners, it’s a good idea to start with a set of drawing inks and you can always try acrylic ink and Indian ink once you’re used to working with pen and ink techniques.
Next, you’ll need to get a dip pen. This is a special kind of pen with a long handle and it usually has replaceable metal nibs. As the name suggests, you dip the pen into your ink and then draw your design.
It’s also useful to have a paint brush to hand as well, because combining painting and drawing can be very effective. Be aware that the ink can stain the bristles of the brush, so it’s best to use a brush with synthetic bristles for best results.
If you want to mix inks or thin them using water, I’d also recommend getting a metal palette which won’t stain. These are inexpensive and definitely worth having!
Finally, you’ll need to buy paper. Bristol paper is often used by illustrators as it’s very thick and has a smooth finish. Watercolour paper is another good choice as it won’t buckle if you apply a lot of ink. You can also use illustration board and mixed media paper.
Read on to stock up on ink drawing supplies…
Winsor and Newton drawing ink
Winsor and Newton is a brand with a phenomenal reputation for producing high quality art supplies. This set of drawing inks is a good choice for an absolute beginner and contains a selection of eight beautiful colours, including violet, blue, orange and yellow. You can layer these inks on top of one another with stunning results. Winsor and Newton inks can also be bought separately, so you can add to your art supplies and build up a great selection of inks over time. The inks dry quickly and have a slight shiny finish. These inks work well with a dip pen or when used as a wash. They also work well when combined with watercolours.
Liquidraw coloured drawing ink
Bring colour into your work this this fabulously vivid set of drawing inks from Liquidraw. You will have 10 colours to experiment with including orange, violet, pink and lemon yellow. These inks are suitable for use with dip pens or brushes and can be used for calligraphy. You can even use them for airbrushing! The inks can be diluted with water and used for tonal work too. You can also use your Liquidraw inks with other kinds of drawing inks if you want to mix and match different sets – and they can be used with other mediums as well. These bright Indian inks are excellent value for money and are highly recommended for beginners.
Liquitex acrylic inks
If you want to try out acrylic inks, this set from Liquitex is a good place to begin. It contains six highly pigmented acrylic ink shades for you to use in your art work. This Liquitex set combines translucent and semi-opaque colours resulting in a versatile set of inks. The colours are vibrant and permanent, so they won’t fade over time. The inks dry quickly and won’t smudge or bleed if you add another layer over the top. As an added bonus, they can also be used on a wide range of surfaces such as canvas, wood, leather and silk.
Liquitex iridescent inks
Enjoyed using the Liquitex essentials set? Add some sparkle to your art supplies by investing in this wonderful Liquitex iridescent ink set. It includes silver, gold and copper inks – perfect for Christmas crafting! Like the Liquitex essentials set, these inks use artist-grade pigments and you can use them alongside other inks. This ink can be used for airbrushing, to create watercolour effects and even for screen printing.
Speedball sketching pen set
This dip pen set from Speedball is specifically designed for sketching. It includes a variety of flexible pen nibs to help you to produce beautiful pen and ink drawings. The set comes with two different holders, so you can choose the right one for your drawing. This is a good set for beginners who want to dabble in ink drawing.
Joseph Gillott drawing dip pen
Get creative with this drawing dip pen from Joseph Gillott. It’s specifically designed for drawing and sketching with a selection of eight nibs to choose from. These nibs are suitable for a variety of drawing styles including cartoons and can also be used for calligraphy.
Tachikawa comic pen nib holder
If you enjoy comic book art, this nib holder is a good choice to buy. The wooden handle fits comfortable in your hand and you can use the set to produce drawings with lots of fine details. It comes with 10 nibs for you to try out too!
Frisk Bristol board paper
Bristol board has a smooth surface that makes it perfect for pen and ink drawing. It is thick and easy to draw on – and the heavy weight of the paper will make your finished work look truly professional. This A4 pad is ideal for beginners, but Frisk also produces an A3 pad if you want to create larger pieces of art.
Daler Rowney smooth cartridge paper
If you’re looking for a drawing pad that will cover most of your art needs, cartridge paper is extremely versatile. It’s great for ink drawing, but you can also use the pad for watercolours, gouache painting and even sketching. Daler Rowney has a good reputation for producing excellent art supplies and this drawing pad won’t disappoint you.
White synthetic paint brushes
It’s handy to have a set of paint brushes to use when you’re working with inks. We love this set of synthetic brushes from Cass Art, which come in a range of sizes – perfect for all of your ink drawings. There are fine brushes to help you add intricate details and thicker brushes for washes too.
Pro Arte paint brushes
Pro Arte paint brushes can be used with a wide variety of mediums including ink. They’re brilliant quality for the price and are excellent value for money. These brushes would make a fantastic addition to your art stash.
Inks can stain a normal plastic palette, so a metal palette is an essential buy if you want to get into pen and ink drawing.
Featured image by Unsplash/Kira auf der Heide
Pen and ink drawing techniques
Now it’s time to try some basic techniques. You’ll need a dip pen and a brush for this mark making exercise. You may find that you need to dip the pen very frequently in the ink to get good results. Try not to press down too hard on the paper or you might damage the nib.
This involves drawing lines in one direction to create texture on your drawing. This looks great when combined with cross hatching.
This is a popular pen and ink drawing technique, which is often used to add shading. You could practice creating a drawing using just this technique to add texture and depth to your picture.
Using your pen, follow the shape of an object for a 3D look.
Make random shapes to add texture to your drawing. Experiment and see what works for you!
Add lots of tiny dots to the paper using your pen. This can take a long time to do, but the finished drawing will look amazing.
Try flicking some ink onto the paper using a brush. It can add a messy look to your drawing and can give your picture some extra interest. The ink tends to form into dots when flicked, but you can smudge them or tilt the paper so the ink runs too.
You can add a wash of colour to your drawing using a brush – just as you would if you were using watercolour paints. Sometimes this can look good if you apply the ink very freely and don’t try to make it too perfect.
Read on to learn how to create a wreath using pen and ink techniques…
Start by drawing a light circle in pencil. Use a compass or draw around a bowl to create a circle.
Using watered down green ink, begin to add some branches lightly using a brush.
Next, use a slightly darker green ink to create some foliage. I’ve added some blue ink to my green ink here and watered it down to keep the colour light.
Take some yellow ink and flick it onto your wreath. You do this by holding out a finger and flicking the brush downwards against it. Keep your hand close to the paper for an effect that looks a little like spray paint! Flick a bit of green ink onto the picture as well.
Take your dip pen and add some slender brown ink twigs. You may need to dip the pen a few times for best results.
Mix some darker green ink by adding more blue to to it. Take the dip pen and add some fir branches to your wreath.
Paint some red berries onto your wreath using a fine paint brush. Leave a little bit of white so the berries look like they’re shining. I’ve also added some clusters of smaller berries to the wreath.
Use your dip pen to add some thin stems to your berry clusters using red ink.
You can finish there, or give your wreath a vintage look by adding a little blue ink. I’ve extended the fir branches by applying blue ink to the ends using a dip pen. This makes them look longer and fuller. As a finishing touch, I’ve added a little wash of blue ink to the branches to soften them.
You’re finished! We hope you enjoyed this ink drawing project. You could display your artwork in your home this Christmas or use your ink wreath to make a special Christmas card for someone.