3 Tips for Getting Started with Pen and Ink for Beginner Artists

As an artist you spend a lot of time practicing different styles and techniques - especially as a beginner. It takes awhile to find a process that you enjoy and a personal art style that you believe represents the vision you have in mind for your work.


For myself, as an artist, I've explored realism, abstract, cartooning, etc. I find that I seem most at home working with pen and ink techniques and my work is heavily influenced by sequential art (comics/manga).


If you are a new artist and want to explore the world of pen and ink illustration, here are a few things you should know and keep in mind when getting started:


1) Use a High Contrast Reference for Practice


Practice makes perfect. You will quickly improve your observation skills by studying the lights and shadows on objects and images. A good reference image will have high contrast - very dark shadows and very bright highlights.

Here is an example of good vs. bad contrast in photo references.


In the top photo, You can see the highlights on the tips of petals are almost white, and the shadows for where petals overlap are almost black. When broken down into a black and white image, you can easily see the shadows and highlights and make out the shapes in the image. This is a good reference to work from.


The bottom image has much softer lighting, so there aren't really any dark shadows. Because of this, when the image is broken down into a black and white image, you see a white blob with no refined edges or shapes. While you can certainly use this as a reference... it will be more difficult to practice shading.


2)Understand Your Tools


You can ink both traditionally and digitally. Digital is a great way to get started (if you already have the setup) because mistakes are easily correctable. Digital ink isn't "permanent" like traditional ink. Quality inking pens can cost more, so if you want to practice the traditional route, just use some cheap pens for practice and when you start to feel more comfortable, invest in some quality fine liners and brush pens for illustrating. Dip pens are also an option but require more skill (something of which even I need to practice yet!)


3) Hatching, Stippling, Etc. for Shading


How can you create the illusion of gray scale using only black? By using lines, dots, and squiggles! By varying the density (less/more) of your shading method, you can create darker or lighter areas that aren't totally black or totally white.



This is a traditional pen and ink piece I have been working on. I am using stippling (lots and lots and lots of dots) to create form.


Ways to shade art with ink:

By varying size, spacing, direction, pattern, etc., you can create different textures and "gray-scale" in your image. This sample is a VERY SMALL example of the different patterns you can use.

If you keep just these 3 things in mind, you will be well on your way to creating beautiful pen and ink illustrations! If you enjoyed this article and want to stay in touch, please consider signing up for email updates here.




Copyright 2019 Mel McKenzie

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