Introduction to Inking
Getting started with inking. Originally published in Woodworks E-zine.
Even with advances in printing, there is nothing that reproduces as cleanly, beautifully and cheaply as a black and white inked piece, which is highly desirable to publishers looking for illustrations. This is a guide to get you started on inking your work.


There are two distinct categories of inking tools that I'm going to focus on: felt-tipped pens and dipping pens. Each of these types of inking tools generates very different results. A dipping pen has a flexible tip that allows a variety of thicknesses with a single stroke. A felt-tipped pen has uniform thickness and the advantage of being more portable.

When selecting a dip pen, choose a comfortable handle and a variety of nibs to try. You'll find that you'll develop a preference for a certain size and flexibility, depending on how you personally work. Use waterproof, permanent ink only! From a voice of experience, if you are transporting a bottle of ink anywhere, do so inside a sealed ziploc bag. This has saved my sketchpads and other contents of my pack on at least one occasion.

When selecting your felt-tipped pens, always look for the words 'waterproof' and 'permanent' or 'archival.' Non-permanent inks can fade and discolor with time, and if you ever want to add watercolor over your inks, it is imperative that they be watersafe. Don't limit yourself to just one pen! You want a variety of thicknesses to work with, or your piece can be boring and feel monotonous. I personally recommend Micron Pigma pens, and if you're on a budget, pick up a size 05 and an 005 as good starting tools.

Your ink source isn't the only thing you need to consider! Some papers will soak up ink quickly and make it look grayish, or be very textured for a deliberate rough look, and some will hold the ink on the surface for a long time and can lead to smearing. You should always use the very best paper you can afford; a cheap paper often has undesirable results. I recommend a smooth-surfaced, thick, bristol paper for most general purposes, but you should experiment to find what kind of surface and thickness you find most comfortable to your particular style.

The Sketching Stage

Start with a pencil sketch that is fairly well cleaned up and has a good level of detail, remembering that even really fabulous inking can't correct anatomical or perspective errors. There is no need to go into great depth in terms of shading, but do have an idea of where light and dark areas will be.

Use a medium pencil, probably no harder than B or 2B. When we are finished with the ink, we will be erasing all of the pencil guidelines, so we want something that will lift off easily.

I often make notes on my sketches, reminding myself where I'm going to want certain kinds of hatch-patterns or blocks of solid black. Many patterns I don't fully sketch, I just practice them until I have a good handle on how they will come out, then I put in a skeleton for anything that needs to be evenly distributed. Lines on a birch tree, for example, need to follow a regular curve, so I'll sketch in that curve every few inches to make sure that all my lines end up parallel, but I won't pencil in every single shadow and wrinkle and bit of peeling birch bark. The more comfortable you are rendering your subject, the less you have to do in pencil before you put down ink.

Line weight

Once you're ready to start inking, ask yourself: what are the most important bits? You want to make those stand out more than all the fiddly details, so consider outlining them with a heavy line. If you're using a dip pen, you'll want to use a larger nib, and/or use more pressure to get thicker output.

Vary your line weight not only by how important something is, but by how close it is. Depth can be emphasized by making far-off things very faint, with teensy little lines.

Shading with Ink

Hatching is using lots of little lines to imply shadow and texture. It is important to keep your lines roughly parallel to each other, or it will start to look messy and scribbly.

Cross-hatching. Like it sounds, cross-hatching is hatching, but in two directions overlapping each other. Generally, you want to do cross-hatching to achieve darker areas than just hatching.

Scribbling. If done with care, even random-looking scribbles can produce deliberate-looking textures and patterns.

Stippling. Not to be confused with 'pointillism,' stippling is the art of using lots and lots of little black dots to imply shading. (Pointillism is the action of putting colored blobs close together to imply mixed colors.) Stippling is best used when cross-hatching might be too strong or directional, or a block of black might be overwhelming to a design. The advantage of stippling is that it can mimic any shade of gray without a stroke to lead your eye around. It is excellent choice for drawing lines that you wish to be indistinct; like cloud lines, or mist.

Stippling is just about impossible with dip-pens. Stick to felt-tipped pens for dot-making.

Your individual dots will not be perfectly round unless you have a great deal more patience than I do. If you dot in the same direction throughout a piece, it will have a lean to it. To counter this, work in a broad circular motion. Otherwise, plan your direction and stick to it.

Directional lines. This probably has a more technical name, but I don't know it. If you look closely at a U.S. dollar bill, you will note that the shapes and shadows on the presidents' faces are generated with lots and lots of lines moving in the shapes of the faces and varying in thickness and spacing. The further spaced and finer the line, the lighter the area. The more tightly packed and thicker the line, the darker the area. The face is defined by the lightness and darkness of the spaces, and by the direction of the lines. This is an exceedingly difficult technique to master, and requires a great deal of practice and control.

By Jennie Seay, used with permission

Blocks of black. The strongest of shadows can very effectively be shown using masses of pure black. You can use very crisp, striking contrast between clean whites and solid blacks for high contrast, or create a gradient from black using any of the above methods.

Mixing it all up

Beware of using too many different kinds of shading and line-weights in a drawing. Your linework should be secondary to your composition, and you don't want the busy quality to your piece to outweigh its functionality.

Fixing Errors

A misplaced line is not the end of the world! You can use white ink, white paint or white-out to cover an accidental line. White-out, however, does tend to be a little lumpy, and white ink a bit on the weak side. A white craft paint is usually going to be your best bet if you want as low a profile as possible. Make sure it dries completely before you try to ink over it with the correct line! You can also clean up any incorrect lines in a computer program after you've finished and scanned in your piece.

Be Brave

Inking takes courage! Its permanency can be intimidating. It can also be very rewarding. These hints will hopefully make the journey less frightening.

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