How Do You Do Inking? A Guide to Ink Drawing

How do you do Inking? Well, anyway that you want to. You can ink drawing in a tight, controlled manner. Or you can take advantage of the fluidity of ink to create artwork that is spontaneous and full of motion. You can ink with a brush, pen, marker, or anything else you feel like using. 

The point is that as an artist, you can do anything you want to with ink. If you want to achieve particular effects, you'll have to learn how to do certain techniques. Ink is incredibly versatile, but it's also very unforgiving. 

Unlike graphite, if you make a mistake with ink, you'll either have to figure out how to cover it up, accept it, or give up and start over. That doesn't mean that you have to be afraid of ink. It merely means that you have to respect it and practice with it if you want to control it.

As an artist, you should relish the idea of practicing with ink. You should be thrilled at the prospect of learning new techniques and trying new things. Will you struggle at times? Yes. Will you get frustrated and probably end up messing up more than a few drawings? You will. But will it be worth it? Absolutely.

How Do You Do Inking
How Do You Do Inking

Advantages Of Inking A Drawing

If you're already an accomplished graphite artist, you might be wondering why you need to bother learning how to draw with ink. Does ink really add enough to your work to be worth the effort of learning to master? In a word, yes. Ink can add so much to a drawing that it's definitely worth exploring. 

Ink can add an incredible amount of contrast to a drawing. It gives you the ability to add greater definition and detail and sharpens an image. Ink is used by many graphic and comic artists because of its ability to add greater definition. 

Ink cannot be used to create shadows like graphite or charcoal, but it can be used to create shading by using different types of hatching and stippling. This will add texture to your work, which is another reason why working with ink can be very rewarding. Click here to visit Amazon to find drawing inks.

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Apply A Variety Of Marks

A common mistake made by artists who are just getting started with ink is creating a drawing with uniform marks and lines. You need to vary your line width if you want a visually dynamic drawing. Don't try to create solid outlines, and don't create uniform lines. Instead, use a wide range of lines and marks to create texture. 

Before you get started on a serious drawing, spend some time practicing making different scrap paper marks. Look at how they work together, and figure out what works for your style. 

You can embrace a messy, erratic style or a neat and clean one. Or, you can combine elements of both. Whatever you do, don't limit yourself and spend as much time creating different types of marks as possible. The practice will pay off.

Drawing With Different Sized Nibs

Remember how making different types of marks is essential when drawing with ink? Well, using different types of nibs will help you to do just that. Different nibs produce different line widths, and different line widths work together to create a more dynamic and visually appealing drawing. 

One tip that can help you speed up your workflow would be to buy multiple pens and nibs. Instead of changing out the nib each time you want a different weight line, you just swap out pens altogether.

Apply Wash Effects With Ink

One of the few drawbacks of working with ink is the artist's inability to create gradations in value. With graphite or charcoal, you can vary the pressure you use when drawing, allowing you to add more or less pigment to the paper. With ink, you can't do this. You can with a ballpoint pen to some extent, but there are limitations in what you can do even using this method. With ink, you can use stippling, hatching, and cross-hatching, and you can create some impressive values, but it will always be evident that you are making marks on paper instead of blending pigment.

This is where ink and wash can be such a powerful technique for you. When using ink and wash, you add different amounts of water to your ink to dilute it, enabling you to create a wide range of values. When working with an ink and wash technique, most artists prefer to use it similar to how they would execute a watercolor painting. 

They use the ink with a fair amount of water and then let it flow around to create a more spontaneous effect. The other option is to use ink in a much more controlled manner when doing washes. To do this, you should mix various values before you start painting, then slowly work from light to dark.

When adding washes to a drawing, you can choose to do it without using any lines, or you can ink a drawing first and then add washes of ink of different values on top afterward. If you decide to do a pen and ink drawing that you'll put washes over, make sure that you use waterproof ink for your drawing. If you don't, the lines will bleed, which will usually ruin your picture.

Don't Worry About Making Mistakes

When most artists first start working with ink, they fear making a mistake to limit them. If you are going to work with ink, you can't be afraid. You can't worry about mistakes. You have to simply accept that they happen. To limit the amount of frustration you feel, make sure that you spend a lot of time practicing before creating a more complicated drawing. 

The last thing you should do is to attempt a complex, detailed pen and ink drawing that will take a lot of time while you're still getting used to the medium. You might feel pretty confident, but that doesn't mean that you're ready to attempt a drawing that will take this much of an investment of time. Instead, practice different techniques in sketches. Then, do quick drawings and slowly work your way up to more complex work.

Apply Ink onto Different Surfaces

Most artists that work with ink do so on a smooth surface. Smooth surfaces work well for the type of detail that ink allows you to create. What types of smooth surfaces? If you are looking for a quality surface that won't make too big of a dent in your bank account, your best option is bristol board. Bristol board offers a smooth, even surface that is ideal for ink. Click here to read reviews on Amazon.

Bristol board is also heavy enough to absorb ink without warping, assuming, of course, that you aren't using large amounts of ink on a brush. That also means that doing ink and wash on bristol board isn't your best option since it will probably warp, and it could tear.

What if you want to use pen and ink and then add ink washes, watercolor, or acrylic on top of it. Working on a smooth surface is still probably your best option, which is why hot press illustration board or watercolor paper will work for you. Hotpress illustration board and watercolor paper both have a smooth surface, and both are heavy enough to accept washes of ink, watercolor, or acrylic without warping significantly.

While most artists prefer smooth surfaces that work with ink, they're far from your only option. You can draw on any surface you want to, and you may want to experiment with different materials to see what kind of effects you can create. Try drawing on cold press watercolor paper. You can even draw on canvas, cardboard, or anything else that is heavy enough to absorb ink without warping.

Embrace Spontaneity

If there's one thing that you need to embrace when working with ink, working spontaneously isn't just okay, but it can actually help you take your work in new and creative directions. Many artists that work in ink start out their drawing using graphite. There's nothing wrong with building up a foundation by sketching everything out with graphite first. But you owe it to yourself to try drawing with ink directly without the safety net of a graphite sketch. It's going to be a little scary at first, but that's okay. Once you get used to drawing without a graphite sketch, it won't be scary so much as it will be exciting.

What happens if you draw with ink without a sketch, and you make a mistake? Well, then, you start over. Or, you find a way to work around the mistake. Maybe you can place in a large shadow covering the mistake. Or, maybe you can use it to your advantage in some way. You never know until you try, and trying is half the fun. Now, just because you will start drawing without a sketch first doesn't mean that you have to follow that mode of operation forever. 

You can do it forever, or you can do it to give yourself some creative motivation. You could also sketch out some parts of a drawing in graphite, then work directly in ink for the rest of the drawing. This is quite effective when you have some parts of a drawing that need more detail and accuracy, then you can just freehand the rest with ink.

Hatching And Stippling Techniques With Pen And Ink

If you're going to become proficient as a pen and ink artist, you'd better learn to love different types of hatching and stippling. Unless you plan to incorporate ink washes into your drawings, the only way to create the illusion of shadow is with hatching, cross-hatching, and stippling. Ink washes are beautiful when done the right way, but they may not be something you are comfortable doing. Or, you may be working on paper that won't hold up well under heavy washes. Or maybe you just want to add some texture to your drawing. In that case, stippling and hatching techniques are going to be your best friend.

Make sure that you spend a lot of time practicing hatching, cross-hatching, and stippling before you try to use these techniques in a serious drawing. Just like anything else that you do with ink, mistakes can be unforgiving. You also need to learn how to take advantage of the textures that these techniques create. 

You don't want to use them in a way that distracts from your drawing, instead learn to use the right technique for the right surface. For example, when drawing a human face, stippling might work better or you since it creates softer shadows. However, if you are drawing an older face, then the added texture of hatching and cross-hatching can be instrumental.

Learning How To Draw With Ink Will Challenge You, But It Will Be Worth The Effort

The journey from novice to expert when drawing with ink won't be an easy one. But few things in life worth having or doing are easy. If drawing with ink was easy, then everyone would do it. Drawing with ink is different because ink is a liquid, and ink mistakes can't be removed using an eraser. 

The liquid nature of ink makes it behave differently than graphite, and until you learn to understand how it behaves, you'll struggle to control it. When drawing with ink, you can either learn to control it or accept that it's going to do what it wants to do. In all honesty, either approach is acceptable, but the approach you take will dictate your style. If you want to learn how to use ink to its fullest potential, you'll need to learn how to control it.

You'll need to learn how to create shading with ink. You'll need to learn about different hatching and stippling techniques. You should also learn to draw with different types of pens and brushes. 

To unlock all of inks' secrets, you'll also have to learn how to do ink washes, which behave very similarly to watercolor washes. While your journey might come with challenges, once you overcome those challenges, you're going to love all of the possibilities that drawing with ink opens up for you.


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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