Ink Dipping — A Catastrophic Failure

Yes, my new dip pens and nibs arrived. Yes, I got out my ink. Yes, I’ve been practicing.

No, I didn’t do very well, so I’m chalking my first dip pen drawing up to a learning experience. Make no mistake about it, I did learn a lot.

Scots Pine in Ink (2)


My husband and I enjoy watching Forged in Firea reality TV show about knife-making. That show has nothing to do with pen-and-ink drawing other than the fact that occasionally a bladesmith is sent away from the forge because his blade has suffered a “catastrophic failure” and can no longer be tested or used.

Unfortunately my first attempt at dipping resulted in a catastrophic failure. Like the bladesmiths with their knife-making on the show, I really tried my best with this drawing, and despite the catastrophic failure, I’m proud of what I did.

It wouldn’t be a bad pen-and-ink drawing were it not for the places where I inadvertently got far too much ink on the page. In some places, it’s just splotchy. On the little tree at the lower left, I got so much ink that it actually soaked through and stuck the paper to the next sheet. When I tried to separate the pages, I realized they were about to tear, so, oh, well, I’ll just have two sheets of drawing paper joined forever.

Let me tell you a bit about this drawing. It started off as Day 1 of my Sketchtember drawing project — a drawing a day for each day of September. Originally I’d planned to follow a little prompt list I had, but I changed my mind. As a woman, that’s my prerogative, you know. I wanted to do more than simple little sketches. I wanted to practice graphite landscapes. I wanted to work on shading techniques.

So, I used this reference photo of a lovely Scots Pine tree:

scots-pine-1103363_1920 (1)

I wanted to try shading in the sky, and I knew it would be fun to try creating the textures of the pine needles. Another thing I liked about this reference photo is that it’s fairly easy for me to see the shapes within this tree. That’s something I’ve had problems with in the past. I’ve been working lately with the idea of finding shapes in the things we draw. This photo seemed like an excellent place to begin.

The graphite drawing took a considerable amount of time. Trying to blend the shading in the sky was a challenge, and while it didn’t turn out quite like I wanted, I did get the idea of a sky with clouds, and I got a lot of good shading and blending practice. I was quite pleased, too, with the original graphite-only tree, especially that branch on the lower right. I worked meticulously, creating a texture that truly looked like pine needles. I also made note of the lights on the tree trunk and tried to re-create that in the drawing.

All was going well… until I got that not-so-bright idea of using the drawing to practice with my new dip pens. In hindsight, I can see now that I shouldn’t have attempted it. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

All those thin, fine branches! All those luscious pine needles! All those opportunities for hatching and cross-hatching!

My dip pens and ink were close at hand, so I grabbed them and gave it a go. I wasn’t going to touch the graphite sky, of course, but I definitely wanted to ink in the trees. And it started off really well as I inked in a few thin branches. So far, so good! But that was when I had to dip my pen in the ink for a second time. And that’s when I found myself getting too much ink — I did have a practice scrap of paper for testing but it didn’t help a lot — and before long I was regretting my decision to try inking-in this drawing.

But, as I said, I learned a lot. I thought back to those pen-and-ink drawing lessons I’ve had about hatching and cross-hatching. I thought about shading in ink by drawing lines closer together for darker areas. I remembered learning to create different textures with ink.

My biggest struggle, obviously, was getting the right amount of ink in the nib. And I only used a single nib for this practice session. I felt that I was making enough of a mess with that one.  No reason to get out any others and make a bigger mess.

At this point, I definitely like my Pitt Artist pens much better than this new Speedball Sketching Set. Maybe with more practice, my opinions will change. Today, though, I’m not so eager to try the dip pens again.

Any advice from those of you who have used dip pens for drawing?


  1. Well done for your first Ink Dipping, is definitely is not a failure. Call it part of learning and experimenting with something new.
    As yet I have never used Ink and nibs.
    Well done I say, keep up the good work.😀🦋

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It doesn’t look like a failure from here! About dipping your pen in ink, you can use a small brush or dropper to pick up some ink and put it in the open space in back of the nib to fill up the groove, instead of actually dipping the pen. Then it’s not too much ink so it doesn’t drip as often. You have to keep stopping to refill. And it helps to always do a line on scrap paper first so if a blob happens it’s not on your drawing. That’s what I learned long ago when I practiced calligraphy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think next time I’ll pour a small amount of ink into a dish so I can see it better. I don’t remember ever having problems before when I was doing calligraphy, but I don’t know what I might have done any differently. Maybe I just don’t remember what it was like as a beginner. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The thing about putting a drop of ink on the back of a dry nib is that there’s some surface tension on the drop. If you dip it there’s no surface tension because the ink is all over the nib. You get less blips if you put a drop on the back of the nib. The surface tension on the drop causes the ink to flow out of the slit in the nib evenly. That’s how it was explained to me.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Ha! Yeah that sounds familiar, my inking disasters have nearly always been with my dip pens as well – oddly enough it’s a Speedball set I’ve got.

    That’s enough to convince me that it must be the tool that’s too blame, not the bad workman 😉

    Plenty of practice opportunities in Inktober if you’re going to do that 😁👍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’m going to do Inktober. That’s why I got the new Speedball set, but I’ll probably revert back to my Pitt Artist Pens for the challenge. I’ll keep practicing with the dips pens and maybe I’ll find them a bit easier to use after a while.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Judith, I like what you created!! 🎨👍 I discovered a great resource for dip pens at – I also discovered Japanese drawing nibs that held a lot of ink and didn’t puddle. I look forward to seeing more of your ink creations! ❤️


    1. I bought them so I could try them out during Inktober… but I have a feeling I’ll probably be using my Pitt Artist pens more. It depends on how comfortable I get with the dip pens. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ink has always scared me when it comes to drawing. After making my way through Inktober last year — the first year I finished all 31 drawings — I’m a little more comfortable. The dip pens are really a challenge, though. I’m not sure if I’ll use them during Inktober or not. 🙂

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