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Doing Drawings in Pen and Pencil

Updated on August 21, 2019
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Monterey Pine
Monterey Pine | Source

My Experience

Many novice artists steer clear of drawing in ink because it is so permanent, unlovable, and hard to control. However, with a little practice, you will find the benefits of pens for drawing. Here are a few things to think about when using pens for drawings.

Pointillism | Source


Almost any fine-point to medium-point black pen or marker will work for your purposes. A Sharpie is a permanent marker and has many advantages, like being able to paint watercolor over it without any lines bleeding. However, it has a tendency to bleed through the paper if you are using a thin drawing paper.

I really like the Pilot brand pens since they come in the fine-point and the medium-point, they do not bleed through the paper, and they flow smooth, leaving nice thin lines. However, you cannot paint watercolor over them because they will bleed and run with water.

Choose your own pens. There are too many brands to cover in this space so buy what you like and try them out. Feel free to try a number of brands and styles before you choose your favorite.


“How important are the visual arts in our society? I feel strongly that the visual arts are of vast and incalculable importance. Of course, I could be prejudiced. I am a visual art.”

— Kermit the Frog
Half Dome
Half Dome | Source


What to get and what not to get.

Those pink school erasers we used to use in grammar school are basically useless for drawing. They don't erase lines completely, tend to tear the paper and leave pink marks. Try the new vinyl or white plastic erasers. They leave fewer pebbles to brush away and pick up almost any pencil marks. I introduced a student of mine to these white erasers and she remarked that it was magic. I wouldn't call them magical, just very good!

You may have seen the kneaded gum erasers in artist's kits before and figured that any true artist must have one. They really are not for erasing in the same way you are familiar with. They do pick up some pencil marks but mostly they are for working with soft pencil or charcoal and lifting off sections to make soft white highlights. They have to be pulled like taffy to activate the lifting qualities. I suggest that if you do not have one, don't bother to buy one at the beginning of your artistic journey unless you plan to use charcoal.


Set the Stage

Your drawing surface

Find a place where you won't be disturbed or interrupted, including phone calls. Make sure that your drawing surface is flat with good lighting. Keep all your materials within good reach, so you won’t have to jump up to get something you have forgotten, like an eraser or ruler.

Especially at first, don't do any talking while you are drawing. The experts think that talking uses the other side of the brain and therefore makes your creative side go "blind" temporarily. At first, the silence will feel awkward to you and you will want to fill it with music or other noise. Resist. (Music without words is okay but try it without anything at first.) After a few sessions, you will find that the silence will be a pleasant retreat and you will grow to look forward to it. What is more, your drawings will show the benefit of concentration without distraction.

Many people learn to block out the world and all noise when they are "in the zone" but at first, this may not be easy. I have learned to do it and even yelling, my husband can't seem to get my attention when I am in the art zone. It's a lovely place with peace and color and harmony. You will like your zone too.

Chief Plenty Coups
Chief Plenty Coups | Source

“The artist must train not only his eye but also his soul.”

— Wassily Kandinsky
Don Alfonso, 100 years old
Don Alfonso, 100 years old | Source

Memory Drawing

Another exercise you can try is memory drawing. Place something interesting in front of you and concentrate on it for 3 to 5 minutes—look at it—really look at it. See all the details. Is it round? Square? Triangular? Does it have hard edges? Soft edges? Where are all the shadows? Where are the highlights?

After 3 to 5 minutes, remove the object and begin drawing as quickly as possible while the image is still fresh in your mind.

When you are finished, pull the object back out and see how close you came. Did you see as much as you thought you did? Try drawing it again, this time with the object right in front of you.

There are times when you will see something that sparks your excitement and desire to draw, but you are in no position to draw it right then. Try to concentrate on it in order to draw it later.

The first drawing was done from memory of my tape dispenser and the second one with the dispenser in front of me.

Memory Drawing
Memory Drawing | Source

“How you do your work is a portrait of yourself.”

— Author Unknown
Walnut | Source

Contour Drawing

This is a great exercise. Choose something that interests you: a photo, a flower, vase, pencil sharpener, it doesn't matter. Put your paper and pencil-hand into a brown paper bag. The bag keeps you from feeling self-conscious about your drawing. How can you draw when you can’t see it? That is the point. Without looking at the drawing or lifting the pen, follow the outline or contour of the object before you. Give yourself plenty of time. You will find the first few will look nothing like the object, but you will have learned to train your eye on the object and not become distracted by the drawing. This also trains you not to stop and use an eraser, as you cannot see if you made a "mistake" or not. Better yet, you may find one or two contours so interesting that you may want to keep and paint them later. Draw your object more than once. Your hand and eye will become better at rendering what it sees. I find this a good exercise to get ready to use a Wacom Tablet, which requires you to look at the computer screen as you draw and not your hand.

Contour drawing exercise without lifting the pen
Contour drawing exercise without lifting the pen | Source

“You can never do too much drawing.”

— Tontoretto
Canning jars in ink
Canning jars in ink | Source

Scribble Drawing

Using three of the 5 basic values, scribble on the paper. Scribbling is very important. Many people think that going back and forth in a zigzag vigorously is scribbling. This is not what I mean by scribble. A true scribble must change direction every quarter of an inch or so. Make your pencil go up, down, over, across, and around, using angles, curves, and straight lines. This kind of scribble drawing can be used for whole drawings or filling in small shapes such as roofs and trees.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Scribble Hat
Scribble Hat
Scribble Hat | Source

“What we have is given by God and to teach it to others is to return it to him.”

— Gianlorenzo Bernini, c 1665
Hopi woman grinding corn
Hopi woman grinding corn | Source

Final Thoughts

Feel free to ask me any questions or advice in the comments below. I’m happy to help people and talk about art.

Chiefs Lookout
Chiefs Lookout | Source

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