I probably should have gotten this one done earlier in the month to help inktober participants get through their drawings…..better late than never, right? Have you been drawing in October?

Tutorial: 10 Tips for detailed pen and ink drawings

Watch the video below and scroll to the end to leave comments or questions — or click HERE to watch it on YouTube and leave comments over there. I read both dutifully!

Below are the 10 tips with a little more about each than in the video. Note something I saw in the photos….when zoomed in on a section, they look like abstract art, huh?

1 Correct supplies for the task

Think about your goal. If you want a piece with really crisp lines, the Lettering pad is great for lots of pens I’ve tried. No feathering! It’s smooth without being shiny, which is nice, and the writing experience is great. But note that you can create other drawings that have a looser feel on any papers— I do that all the time. Note this kitten drawing that was on very rough paper and allowed for entirely different subtle techniques.

In this drawing I used Copic multiliners because I’d already wrecked one drawing by laying my hand in wet ink, so sometimes it’s just practicality that forces a choice!

2 Choose a suitable style

Relaxed or tight? Detailed or just the essentials? Playful or technical? All are just great, it depends on what you want. Sometimes the subject matter will even dictate what you choose.

3 Draw to the destination

A great tip from John Muir Laws – when making a line, keep your eyes on the destination of that line. Don’t watch the pen. You’ll find you reach your destination with a better looking line as well as ending in the right spot! This works for both straight and curved lines, in my experience, though it takes a while to retrain your brain.

4 Vary line length

Different parts of your drawing can be delineated by the kinds of lines used. Short lines for small details and longer lines for flowing sections. Choppy in some cases, dashed in others. A good combination can add a lot of interest in your drawing too!

5 Consider value

Value is the amount of light vs dark – and having changes in values adds so much to the depth! Lines that are closer together or have overlapping crosshatch layers will be darker, and leaving more space between lines or making them dashed will add more light.

*a caveat on the photos in this post: some of the areas look like a blurry grrey or blown out highlights; that’s because the photos had some depth of field going on, and when I brightened them to make the paper white, it did weird things. I did not have grey areas in the drawing! 🙂

6 Draw attention

Where would you like your viewer to look? Find ways to make some of the sections start to take the stage. In this drawing each cluster of feathers had a different level of interest and the ones that drew the most attention had lighter values to them and some of the darkest shadows. The focal point of most any art is where the lightest lights are next to the darkest darks, pulling attention to themselves.

7 Follow directions

Not that there’s directions to follow in art – but this is all about letting lines follow along with the direction of the subject matter, which contributes to the flow.

There are styles where ALL lines are the same direction, even ones that are perpendicular to subject matter elements. But in general following the directono of the subject is a great choice.

8 Bump contrast

Amp up the difference between lights and darks to increase visual interest overall. Where do shapes need a little separation? Make sure the value is darker on one side or the other to increase the difference in the implied line between them.

9 Highlight favorite part

For every drawing you do, think about your favorite bits of it. “Everything” can lead to a cacophony of elements arguing about who’s at center stage, so you need to assess a hierarchy of your interest! Then figure out what you’ll use to draw the viewer to see what you see. Is it contrast? Amount of detail? Lighting? Composition? 

The audience might not resonate with what you resonated with—that’s an audience for you. But that doesn’t mean that having a point to make isn’t a desirable part of the process.

10 Finish well

My last step is always to squint and see what I see. Are the darks nice and dark? Or are the darkest spots in the right places I want them to be? Is there good roundness? Definition of shapes? Don’t let the “Whew! I’m done!” but bite you before you put in the final tweaks!

Need a rooster?

A few people I previewed this image to asked me if I’d be offering it up as a printable…..so here you go! Color it and use it for your art projects, or study it and try to create your own rooster!

Color up this gorgeous rooster! Match the colors from the reference photo provided when you purchase this printable image, or make up your own rainbow of beauty to splash on this noble fellow!


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1 Comment

  1. Karen

    So many great pointers on this lesson. Thank you, Sandy! I love your ink drawings.


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