When I first started sketching I remember that one of my early ambitions was to be able to sketch straight onto the paper in ink!

If you’ve been following me on social media you’ll have seen that I post sketches in ink.

Ink sketching had always eluded me. All I could do was drool over the artists that were able to master this technique flawlessly whilst flailing myself on paper and creating drawings that, well, just weren’t drawings!

In fairness I did abandon it for a while, because why get discouraged with a technique you’re not ready for? I know that some of you may relate to this. I’m hoping what I write will help you start to think about having a go sketching directly on paper with ink.

There is a certain amount of courage required when attempting to sketch in ink. I think you also have to have an attitude that dumps any affinity to perfection.  I must admit that there is always a little frisson of energy when making that first mark of ink on paper. There is something new frontier-ish to ink sketching, a feeling that you create something almost spontaneously first time with very little you can do to change it. Its also a medium, because of its immediacy, that makes it great for quick sketching if you can master your style!

Here are some things to think about when you feel ready to give it a go.

  1. Start by becoming confident working in pencil! I’ve only recently (i.e in the last few months!) made the leap to working in ink. I’ve sketched daily for 2 years in pencil and more often than not gone over my work in micron pen. Once you make that mark on the page its indelible and many artists might get frustrated, if not discouraged by what they produce.  The more confident you become at drawing – lines, shapes, perspective, the general basics of drawing skills, the easier using any medium will be! As you start to view the object you draw and understand how you translate it onto paper in a way in which you are comfortable with, the easier it becomes to try a new medium. By the way, you may want to jump straight in, roll up your sleeves and get sketching in ink regardless of how good you feel you are. The message is the same! Practising getting good at the basics of drawing and sketching enables you to sketch in any medium you choose!
  2. OK. So you’re going to give it a go. Where do you start?  There are a multitude of “ink” sketching materials that you can go for. Personally I use 3-4 different ink mediums. My LAMY and Parker fountain pens, microgel pen, micro pens, and on occasion calligraphy pens (I like the edging and lines they create) – always opt for waterproof inks so that you have the flexibility of using colour. I do also use different colour inks (largely from Daler Rowney) as painting mediums too. However you may like to expand your “ink” equipment if you love the medium to include thick markers for chunky lines such as sharpies, or fine biros to accentuate delicate shapes. Do you want to sketch a picture with different textures and ink colours or do you want to keep your lines basic and simple? Start with some basic ink materials and expand as you become more confident or decide this is a medium you’d like to explore further. If you are starting with pencil sketching, do what I have done, use the micron pen to enhance your sketches.
  3. Mark make! This is fun to do. Get a blank page and play with your pens. Doodle. Create different textures. Get a feel for how they work, what kind of marks they make on paper, and explore your comfort level with regards to how to hold certain types of pen (e.g. a fountain pen is different to a calligraphy pen). Also use this as an opportunity to explore what you love to use. I’ve attached one of the mark making exercises I used for my fountain pen before I started. For my style of sketching the most important element for me is the confidence with which I draw a line. I then use colour. You may decide you like to use a pen in a totally different way. Some techniques (you can see some of them sketched out in the accompanying picture) to have a go practising on paper are;

Drawing a multitude of different lines and shapes in a variety of thicknesses.

Hatching – striking the page in parallel lines running in the same direction.

Cross hatching – commonly used with colouring pencils but can be used working in ink also. A mixture of lines crossing over.

Dotting or “stippling” – Dotting the page with the ink.  This takes AGES! But well worth the effects. These are often effective for trees or leaves for example.

Ink painting – I sometimes treat ink as I would watercolour paint, adding water to it and using it as a wash. It creates a different effect.

4.  Try and hold your pen at a 45 degree angle. This angle allows you to apply the optimum pressure to the paper whilst still enabling you to maintain control on the paper.

5. Think about how you hold your pen.  As you become a more proficient sketchbook artist you will find that you will start to hold the pen or pencil differently in correlation to your confidence.  Notice from my sketching on social media posts how my hand grips the pen almost toward the top end of the pen, at times with a claw like grip.  I have found that my whole arm and shoulder moves freely in response to what I am looking at. I remember an art teacher once making me sketch on a piece of paper with a piece of charcoal tied to the end of a stick almost as long as my torso meaning that my hand was powerless to control my sketch, it was up to my arm and body.   What does this do – forces you to look at your object more than your page.  As you practise you become more adept at looking at your subject more than your paper. Trust me its the only way you can learn to sketch faster and in one go. Gain confidence in the lines and shape in front of you.

As a reminder to all of this…..the sketchbook is often a repository of ideas and a place to make a grand big artistic, imperfect mess. So many of my sketches will never see the light of day or be shared for exactly those reasons. But…I’ve realised that there is no such thing as mistakes – only progress with every line you draw.  If you’re wanting to give ink a try pick up that sketchbook and have an uninhibited go!

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