Pen + Ink: One Portrait, Two Different Techniques

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If you've only ever used pen and ink to draw basic lines, you are missing out! While simple lines can absolutely create dramatic drawings, there's another technique that will totally change the look of your drawings: an ink wash.

Check out how these two techniques create WAY different results, even with the same subject

What you'll need:

  • Pen and bottled ink
  • Watercolor paper
  • Paintbrushes
  • Water to clean your brushes
  • Palette

Start by sketching two identical portraits. Use contour lines only for now — you can add the shading with the pen and ink. Afterwards, we’ll compare the two techniques.

Method #1: Pen only

Here, we’re using the pen as a way to add texture and shade this portrait. Using a fine-tipped pen, I began by adding hatching and cross-hatching to give the face form.

Pen is unforgiving, so use it sparingly! Too much shading can age your subject, so start with light hatch marks and then add criss-crossing lines when you want to include shadow. Continue adding the hatching/cross hatching until your subject looks realistically drawn. Be sure to vary your line direction — this will keep your drawing visually exciting and from feeling "flat."

Avoid the urge to outline your portrait, which will flatten your drawing. Instead, use shading to convey changes in surface depth.

Method #2: Ink wash

Next up, we'll create the same illustration using ink washes. It's a bit like watercolor painting! We’ll use pen, but only to define some key details once we’re done. Most of the figure's form will come from the variation in tones.

Begin by creating a wash that’s mostly water and a little bit of ink. This will be your base tone that you’ll apply to everything but the highlights.

Once you’ve painted it onto the the face, neck, and hair, mix another gray tone. Then, apply it to all areas that are in shadow. Continue this process, adding more ink and less water.

Slow build layers of gray tones that convey form and depth. Remember, the darker the ink, the less you’ll paint on the paper. The deep shadows should only go in small creases.

After you've finished the ink washes, wait for them to dry. Then add the finishing touches. Use a thin-tipped pen to shade and add specific details to the eyelids, hair and lips. This also allows certain facial features "pop," and create contrast. Just make sure that you use a non-water soulable pen!

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Pen + Ink: One Portrait, Two Different Techniques