Expressive Pen and Ink Drawing Workshop

Learn Expressive Drawing in Pen and Ink

Have you ever wondered what it's like to draw freely and loosely? Not worrying too much about rendering photographic likeness? That's what Expressive Drawing is all about!

And, one of my favourite medium for expressive drawing is pen and ink. It hasn't always been the case, though.

There was a time when I was mostly frustrated with using these lovely looking pen holder with nibs with ink. I really love the look of them but I had trouble making these tools do what I wished to do. However, the moment I understood the tools better, the more I loved them. And now, I'm hooked!

That's why when people started asking me about how I create my expressive drawing pieces in pen and ink, I started putting together this mini tutorial. However, if you would like to learn more about this expressive drawing practice in person, I have a a new workshop coming right up - Expressive Drawing in Pen and Ink Workshop (on 3rd Jun, Saturday, 12-3pm) at Art Stretchers Adelaide. Yes, it's the same place where I held the very successful Expressive Travel Sketching workshop. There's still time to sign-up and join the workshop, if you're based in Adelaide.

Now, here are some basic tips for those who also wish to get started with expressive drawing in pen and ink -

Inky Camera - Inktober Illustration

Iris Ink - Original Hand Drawn Floral Illustration

Sunflower Ink - Digital Art Print

Expressive Drawing in Pen and Ink: What You Need

Pen Nibs - This is probably one of the toughest things to choose, as each individual would have different preferences when it comes to nibs. Thankfully, they're usually inexpensive, so it's not too bad when you buy several to experiment with. I know I ended up with a collection of nibs before I found a handful that I love best.

There are a number of things to consider when it comes to choosing nibs, including size and shape of the tip, the flexibility of the nib, and how ink flows from it. In my experience, I tend to prefer the softer, more flexible nibs with an extra fine tip. My two favourites are: Brause 66EF and Hiro Durchschreib 33.

Some beginners, however, find it difficult to work with these flexible nibs. They tend to be more challenging to load with ink and control the ink flow. I don't mind the unevenness of ink, in fact, the more varied the lines, the more I like it. So, this unevenness doesn't bother me.

For people who might just want of a bit of an easier time loading the pen with ink and controlling the ink flow, I have started using DK Art pen nibs. You can get a set with holder and nibs from sizes 1 to 5 (with 1 being the thickest tip and 5 the finest or thinnest tip). The line variation from these nibs are not as pronounced compared with the Brause and Hiro nibs I mentioned earlier, but these ones are much easier to use. Some people also recommend Nikko G. I like them too, but not as my 'go to' nibs.

Pen Nib Holder. There are usually two basic types: The regular, straight nib holder or the oblique nib holder. They often come in various lengths, colours, etc. - either in wood or plastic. The most popular one is Speedball. For drawing and sketching, I love my plain wooden straight pen nib holder in black. It's unbranded and cost only $5 off Ebay. The DK Art holder is pretty much similar.

Permanent archival ink. There are a number of brands out there and you will find different views and experienced on each one. My current favourite brand is DeAtramentis in Permanent Black. I love it because it dries quickly enough and when it's dry, I am able to use other media on top including watercolour, without the ink smearing or blotching. I have also used Koh-I-Noor inks (different colours) and like it a lot. I have also starting using Art Spectrum* ink, which is an Australian brand. They're pretty much similar to DeAtramentis, but in a plastic bottle instead of glass. They're cheaper and easier to source in Australia.

Drawing Papers/Sketchbooks. There are so many options here and I won't go through all of them. The most important part is to choose an archival, acid-free paper with at least 100gsm. Having said that, I have used plain copy paper and paper that only have 80gsm. They're not as good, but they still work, especially just for practice. My favourite type of paper for this type of work is artist grade cartridge paper that you can buy as a pad. Two brands I have been using regularly are Art Spectrum Cartridge Paper and Quill Cartridge Paper. If you want to use paper that can easily be framed and sold, I suggest using thicker drawing paper (at least 300 gsm) or watercolour paper. My preference is hot pressed (smooth) paper, when I'm using pen and ink.

You will also need a rag (or paper towels or tissues) and a jar of water for this type of work.

Basic Kit for the Expressive Pen and Ink Workshop

This Basic Kit is available for participants of the Expressive Drawing in Pen and Ink Workshop at 20% off at Art Stretchers Adelaide.

To add layer to expressive drawings in pen and ink, here are optional materials that you might want to include:

  • Paint brushes - Any simple, synthetic paint brush would do. Try to get a fine, a medium, and a large brush for various types of work.
  • Paints - Watercolours or gouache work best if you wish to use colour with ink. Or, you can use coloured inks.
  • Additional colouring materials - For mixed media work with ink, brush pens, markers, crayons, watersoluble crayons, colour pencils, and pastels can work well with ink.

Expressive Drawing in Pen and Ink: Top 5 Tips For Beginners

  1. Practice loading and using the nib with ink. Make marks, write letters, and draw shapes to get the feel of your materials. Do this exercise with every nib you own. Regularly work on this mark-making practice using different tools and papers.
  2. Start drawing simple subjects that you can later build on. For example, instead of a full vase of flowers, choose to draw a single flower. Instead of drawing a full scene, just focus on one aspect - a specific object or a special detail.
  3. Enrich your drawing by experimenting with different compositions, as well as making use of tonal value, shadows, and highlights. Dynamic compositions can make a huge difference in your piece. And, using a brush with water, you can add washes to show tonal value and shadows.
  4. Think of layers in your drawing! Add layers by adding colours and textures. But, use them sparingly. Just use enough colours and textures to make your piece 'pop'.
  5. Don't worry about mistakes and imperfections. Part of the beauty of this medium is that such things can be incorporated easily into the piece. Sometimes, they can even be what makes the piece special.
Enrol Now! Join Expressive Drawing in Pen and Ink Workshop

*Art Spectrum is the flagship brand sold at Art Stretchers Adelaide. I occasionally teach art workshops Art Stretchers Adelaide.

About the Author Shai Coggins

Shai has been managing and blogging here at ShaiCoggins.com for 17 years. Here, she writes about creativity, productivity, and how to recharge for a better, happier lifestyle. She is the author of Today: Life Journal, Colour Bliss: Kaleidoscopes, and a little known children's book. A serial entrepreneur, Shai also currently runs Vervely.com, a boutique digital media agency offering online content, community, and conversion marketing services. Her blogging experience and digital work have been featured in various media, including being listed in Fast Company's "Most Influential Women in Technology" list. Originally from Manila, Shai lived in Singapore and the USA before moving to Australia with her British husband. They have two children, a pet bunny, and a rambunctious rescue Labrador.

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