Can You Use Pen And Ink On Canvas?

Can you use a pen and ink on canvas? Of course. Will you get the type of results that you are hoping to get? That depends on the type of effect you want to create and how you prepare your canvas before working on it. 

The problem with drawing with pen and ink on canvas is that canvas has a rough texture. This texture is great when you are painting with oils or acrylics because it helps the paint to grip the surface. But pen and ink are usually used on a smooth surface, so canvas is hardly ideal. 

If you are interested in creating a highly textured piece, you can get some interesting effects while drawing on canvas. But, if you're hoping to create a detailed drawing with fine lines, then that's going to be considerably more challenging. But, isn't art all about finding ways to challenge yourself and then overcome those challenges? 

Isn't art about learning and exploring while expressing yourself. So what if most artists don't use ink on canvas? That doesn't mean that you can't do it. Can you use pen and ink on canvas? You can, and as an artist, you should at least try it to see if you like it.

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    Can Pen Be Used On Canvas?

    Can You Use Pen And Ink On Canvas
    Can You Use Pen And Ink On Canvas?

    Can pen be used on canvas? Absolutely, because as you well know, you can do just about anything that you want to do in art. With that being said, you should still strive to make intelligent choices that will enable you to express your artistic vision. 

    If your plan is to draw a detailed pen and ink drawing that makes use of stippling and hatching to create careful value gradations, then you're going to have a hard time accomplishing this on canvas in most cases. 

    Now, if you prepare a canvas specifically for ink, you should draw in more detail since several coats of gesso can help cover up the rough texture of the canvas. Now, if you're thinking of applying multiple coats of gesso to your canvas to make it smoother and more accepting of ink, why not just draw on a smoother surface instead? 

    The point is that if you're going to draw on canvas with ink, you should take advantage of the texture instead of trying to cover it up.

    The best way to use ink on canvas is to take advantage of the texture and use it to create an interesting visual. Don't try to work around the texture of the canvas. Use the texture to add a new dimension to your pen and ink drawing. 

    If it helps, try thinking about how oil and acrylic painters use the texture of canvas to add thick, textured paint to create their images. You can do something similar to this with ink. Obviously, you won't add a thick layer of ink, but you can mimic this type of texture.

    What Type Of Pens Can You Use On Canvas?

    If you've decided to try using ink on canvas, the first thing you need to do is figure out what kind of pen to use. This is another point, whereas an artist can do whatever you want, but that doesn't mean you should. Could you use a cheap ballpoint pen to draw on canvas with? 

    Sure, but don't expect to get professional results using a cheap pen. You could use an artist pen, but the rough texture of canvas is hard on fine pen points and will quickly cause them to wear out. Not only will this cost you money since you'll have to buy replacement pens frequently, but it could also ruin your drawing. If a damaged pen tip leaks on your drawing, well, I'm sure you get the picture. Ink isn't exactly known for being very forgiving.

    What kind of ink pen can you use when drawing on canvas? Your best bet is probably to use some type of marker. If you aren't planning to add any paint to the piece, then an acrylic or oil-based marker will work. But, if you're planning to add acrylic paint over your ink, then you'll want to use an acrylic-based ink. As a general rule of thumb, you should never put acrylics or oil, which goes for ink.

    If you're worried about using a pen on canvas, don't forget that you can also use a paintbrush. The only problem you're likely to run into when painting with ink on canvas is having the ink run down the canvas. Now, the first solution is to just let the ink run and take advantage of the running ink's spontaneity and let it become a part of your piece. 

    Option two is to lay your canvas flat on a table or desk instead of an easel when you are working. When painting with ink on canvas, you can either use the ink straight to create intense blacks or water the ink down to create ink and wash effect.

    Many people who work in ink do so because they like the more precise control level that they can achieve when using a pen. If you don't want to use a brush and don't like the way that pens feel on canvas, do you have any other options? You do, and it's called Inktense pencils. 

    Inktense pencils work very similarly to watercolor pencils. But, there are two distinct differences. First, Inktense pencils tend to produce more vibrant colors than watercolor paints or pencils do. They also come in various colors, so you can work with black, or you can add some color. The other main difference is that once Inktense pencils dry, they are waterproof. This makes them an excellent option for underdrawing before painting in acrylics or oils.

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    Drawing With Ink On Raw Canvas

    Drawing on raw canvas with ink is very challenging, but it can also produce some stunning, beautiful effects. Are you going to be able to draw in detail with ink on raw canvas? Probably not. You probably won't be able to produce crisp lines either. If you work with colored inks, the inks will be more muted than they would be on primed canvas or a piece of white paper. 

    Don't worry, we're not trying to convince you to not use ink on raw canvas. We're about to get to the good part. What is the good part? It's that using ink on raw canvas can produce old, weathered, artwork. If you want to create a scene or portrait that is harsh and gritty, then working on unprimed canvas is just about the closest thing you can get to a perfect surface.

    When working with ink on unprimed canvas, keep in mind that the ink is going to bleed. Since the canvas isn't primed, the ink is going to seep into the fabric and spread. It's kind of like using watercolors with a lot of water, you can't really control where the ink flows, but even lacking control, it should produce some exciting effects.

    Since raw canvas will absorb a lot of ink, please keep in mind that you'll be using more ink than usual when you choose this as your drawing surface. You should also remember that painting on unprimed canvas isn't usually advised, so if you plan to use ink to sketch out a layout that you can paint over, using primed canvas is a far better option for you.

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      Drawing With Ink Onto A Prepared Canvas

      When most people plan to draw on canvas with ink, the type of canvas that they're thinking about is probably primed canvas. Primed canvas is a surface that is often used for oils, acrylics, and to a lesser extent, watercolors, but it isn't something that's frequently used for ink. That's because it's heavily textured, which makes working with ink on it challenging. 

      But, while challenging, it can also be very rewarding. There are two approaches you can take when drawing on canvas with ink. Approach number one involves using a regular canvas prepared the same way that it would be prepared for paint. It has a few coats of gesso, but not enough to mask the rough texture.

      Now, if you prefer a smoother texture, you can achieve this with canvas, but it will take more work. You may decide to just draw on an illustration board or bristol board if you want a smooth surface, and that would undoubtedly be easier than trying to get a smooth, even surface on canvas. 

      But, if you prefer to work on canvas, that's your prerogative since you are the artist, and you'll be putting in the time and effort to create your next piece.

      What can you do to get as smooth and even of a finish as possible for your canvas? You're going to have to spend some time applying multiply layers of gesso to it. Even if you buy canvases that are pre-stretched and primed, you'll need to spend time working on the surface to get it smoother and ready for ink. 

      It might seem counterintuitive, but you're actually going to spend a fair amount of time sanding your canvas to help get a smooth surface. Why sand it? Sanding your canvas will give each layer of gesso a little more tooth, which will help them adhere better. 

      Make sure that you allow each layer of gesso to dry completely before applying the next layer. Once you have multiple layers of gesso carefully applied, it should cover up the rough next of the canvas reasonably well, giving you a nice, smooth surface to draw on.

      Is Ink Suitable For Sketching Ideas Onto Canvas?

      Is ink something that you should be using for sketching on canvas? That depends on what you mean by sketching and what you plan to do with your sketch. Should you sketch for practice with ink on canvas? 

      Probably not, because canvas is far more expensive than cheaper sketching paper such as newsprint. You could even sketch on copy paper, cardboard, or just about anything else besides canvas. The point is that sketching implies practice. 

      Most artists sketch regularly for practice and to try new techniques. Why would you want to use canvas for this purpose? Canvas is expensive, so unless you enjoy wasting money, then sketching on it is not the best use of your resources.

      Now, if you plan on sketching on canvas with ink as a precursor to a drawing, then that's something entirely different than just sketching for practice. Many artists that paint prefer to work over a sketch, and sketching in ink is an ideal option for artists that prefer to work this way. 

      While it isn't as important when working with acrylics, you should never use graphite as a sketching medium to work with under oil paint. If you use graphite under oil paint, it will eventually seep through the layers of paint, which will ruin your painting. That's why sketching with ink before you paint is your best option.

      Working With Ink On Canvas Is Unconventional But Could Give You Fantastic Results

      As an artist, you should always be pushing yourself to try new things and to experiment. There's nothing wrong with mixing media and trying things that you've never tried before. If anything, it's wrong to not take this kind of approach. 

      Who knows, maybe you'll discover that the unconventional approach of using ink on a surface like canvas is something that you become quite proficient at. Maybe you can figure out ways to control the ink and work with the canvas's texture to create something extraordinary. 

      Or, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll try using ink on canvas and decide that there's a reason that most people don't try this. The point is that you'll never know unless you give it a shot.

      Create Art With My Favourite Drawing Resources

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      Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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