Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Drawing With Pen & Ink - Part 1

"Jack" - pen & ink rendering done in a tight style.
Pen and Ink is one of my favorite mediums of expression. The feeling of quietly adding marks to a paper is very relaxing for me and always has been. Of course, this doesn’t apply when you’re in a hurry, but if you can get “into the zone,” you’ve got it made.

Many people have asked me over the years how I can work in a medium that really is quite unforgiving. Although there are ways to make corrections, by and large, pen and ink is a not an-easily-correctable medium. So how do I keep my stress levels down while working with it? Practice with a pen, first and foremost. Planning with a pencil before applying ink. Finally, a determined mindset that doesn’t allow space to think about my lines being wrong. If they are, well then, I correct them. If a piece goes too disastrously wrong, I start again. In that way it’s similar to watercolor. Planning can make a big difference in any medium that isn’t easy to correct.

For pen and ink work practicing “your hand” is very important. In other words training your hand and arm motions to be consistent. Having been trained as a draughtsman in the old school (pre-AutoCAD) I learned how to make pretty straight lines without a ruler and to make all sorts of other consistent and repeatable marks as well. This is so true today that my scrawly signature looks the same EVERY time. This is because I can copy the same hand and arm motions each time. Piece of cake really! I continue to practice making marks whenever I think of it. Buying my new Noodler's pen was a wonderful opportunity to catch up on my practicing last night.
Pen & ink practice exercises
Pen and ink illustration today (not cartooning which has always been stylized) is, by and large, pretty tight. That is to say, the popular rendering styles of the current day tend to be highly accurate and photographic. This wasn’t always the case. Classic pen and ink styles have also included looser and more stylized drawings, as were common in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

As an example here are two pen and ink drawings by well-known artists. The first one is by Henry Pitz from the mid-20th Century and the second is by Claudia Nice from the late 20th. Similar subjects but handled quite differently. Which do you like best?
By Henry Pitz
By Claudia Nice
In Part 2 of this article I’ll talk about a classic pen & ink book and some of the history of the field.


  1. A very interesting post - Jack looks great!

    I like both of the bottom pen and ink drawings... I find it difficult to choose because the styles are so different.

  2. Sorry it took me so long to reply to you Kristin. For myself I like the Henry Pitz drawing. It's actually harder for me to be impressionistic with ink and I really appreciate what he's done there. But the point is, of course, that there are many roads to Rome. :-)

  3. Oh, that's very interesting! Love the drawing (Jack), very cool, he looks great!

  4. Jack was my gel pen experiment, proving that you don't need a fancy pen to do pen & ink. :-)

  5. Yes, Jack looks great! As for the 2 examples you showed, I like them both very much. They're so different, but lovely in their own way! nancy