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Pen and Ink Drawing Lessons - An Expressive Technique

Our pen, ink and wash lesson illustrates the various stages in creating our expressive color drawing of Lindisfarne Priory.

  • Slide Show

Our pen, ink and wash lesson illustrates and explains the various stages in creating our color drawing of Lindisfarne Priory. This is a less detailed, quicker and more expressive drawing technique than our previous view of Whitby. It is done on an A4 sheet of cartridge paper using black and color Indian inks applied with a pen and brush.

The subject is a view of the Rainbow Arch at Lindisfarne Priory, a monastery founded by St. Aidan in AD 635, in North Northumberland, England. Old architectural ruins of this type are a traditional subject for pen and wash drawings as bold, expressive pen and brush techniques are naturally suited to suggesting the rough textures of bricks and crumbling stonework.

Step 1: Start with a line drawing in pencil

Pen and Ink Drawing of Lindisfarne Priory
Pen and Ink Drawing of Lindisfarne Priory

(click on the flip icon to view)

Our drawing was begun in pencil to establish the basic shapes and proportions of the architecture. It was important to be aware of the perspective drawing of these ruins to accurately create the proportions of their receding forms (click on the flip icon to view).

Many artists start their ink drawings on top of a pencil study as it is easier to erase mistakes and make adjustments to pencil. The support of an underlying pencil study also lends confidence to the expressive qualities of their ink drawing.

Remember to draw your pencil image lightly as you will erase it after inking.

Step 2: Draw over your pencil lines with ink

Draw over your Pencil Lines with Ink.

After completing your pencil study start to draw over the lines with ink. Do not become too preoccupied with detail and try to work with a speed and energy that gives your drawing an expressive vitality.

As always, it is advisable to plan your approach to an ink drawing. If you are right-handed, start inking from the left hand side and work towards the right. This way you will avoid smudging sections that you have previously drawn which may still be wet. If you are left-handed, reverse these instructions.

Step 3: Add pattern and texture to your ink drawing

Add Pattern and Texture to your Ink Drawing.

Finally, you can suggest the pattern and texture of the brickwork and stone with lines, stippling and scribbles. Remember that the lines of the brickwork should roughly follow the rules of perspective drawing.

Pattern and Texture Details

Pattern and Texture Details

When drawing expressively, you do not need to draw every line and detail with great accuracy. It is enough to suggest the occasional corner of a brick or section of a line to communicate an impression of the scene. Most spectators enjoy the economy of expressive drawing and are engaged by the interaction of completing the work in their own minds.

Step 4: Build up tones with an ink wash

Building up tones with an ink wash - Step 1

Building up an ink wash - 1

An ink wash is a transparent mixture of ink and water applied with a brush to create tone. You can mix washes of different shades by varying the ratio of ink and water. A light wash is a very transparent mixture with only a few drops of ink added to water. This is suitable for lighter areas of tone. A heavy wash is a darker mixture with a greater concentration of ink and is used for deeper tones.

Applying a wash is a more liberating and expressive technique than cross hatching and stippling for building up tones in an ink drawing. Several washes were used to build up the tone in our study of Lindisfarne Priory.

To begin with, a light wash was unevenly applied to the sky and foreground to suggest variations in the light. It is always advisable to start with a light wash which is easy to darken if applied too lightly. On the other hand, a heavy wash is almost impossible to lighten if applied too darkly.

Build up tones with an ink wash

Building up an ink wash - 2

In this next stage, the same light wash was applied to the shaded sections of the architecture to establish the tonal composition of the drawing. Note how the brightest areas of tone that are picking up direct sunlight were left as unpainted white paper.

Building up tones with an ink wash - Step 3

Building up an ink wash - 3

At this penultimate stage, a heavier wash was applied over the darker areas to create a more dramatic contrast of tones. In certain sections, this wash was applied twice to establish pockets of deeper shade.

Step 5: Apply color with a watercolor wash

Applying color to an ink drawing.

To complete our pen, ink and wash drawing of Lindisfarne Priory, we have applied a final wash using color inks.

The great advantage of drawing with Indian ink is that it is waterproof when dry. This means that you can paint over it with transparent color inks, dyes or watercolor without any danger of smudging your drawing.

In the finished work we used three different colors of ink: cobalt blue for the sky; yellow ochre for the architecture and sap green for the grass.

Before the ink was applied, the drawing was brushed with water to assist with the spreading and blending of the colors.

Finally, using a large brush, the ink was broadly applied to the sky, followed by the architecture and grass and then left to dry. It is important to execute this stage quickly and leave the ink to run and blend naturally. If you try to control it too much or are too detailed in its application, you will loose the spontaneity and freshness of the technique.

It takes a lot of courage to release control and let the color do its own work but the results are often better than anything you could have planned.


Good luck with your efforts!

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