Basic Ink Techniques – Lines

Even as Inktober draws closer day by day, I’m still unsure about exactly what I’ll be doing. One thing, however, that I’m very sure about is that my ink techniques are sorely lacking. I do like drawing with ink, and I felt I’d improved my skills tremendously by the end of Inktober last year. I’m hoping to see even more improvement in 2020.

That said, I don’t need to wait until October 1 to start practicing my basic art techniques. I can do that right here, right now, beginning today. So, I’ve dug out some of  my resource materials, and I’m happily reading, reviewing, and applying what I’m learning.

Today’s ink exercises are all about lines. A line is, of course, the most basic element of art. With ink, however, we don’t always think of line quality in quite same way as we do in graphite. To me, a line is a line is a line… and it’s only been in recent days that I’ve stopped to consider how many different lines we can make with ink!

Eugenia Hauss clarifies line with this definition:

A line…is an all-sufficient unit in the drawing that has a distinctive feature and expressiveness.

She goes on to say that a line may be perceived as aggressive or gentle, to give two examples. This expressive quality comes from the inking implement we use, the length and movement of the line, how the line ends, variations in width, and variations in pressure. Lines, of course, can also be straight or curved, another way in which a single line can be expressive.

Whew! I’d never really thought of all the differences we can make between one line and another!

Let’s start by looking at the various inking tools at our disposal. There are many different types of pens available to us. Turning to Eugenia Hauss again, you’ll find an excellent article here that provides an in-depth look at various implements.

  • Nibs and Ink
  • Liners (Also known as technical pens)
  • Brush Pens
  • Brushes

Nibs and Ink

Last year I hoped to use nib pens for Inktober. That idea quickly fell by the wayside. Many artists love nib pens because of the different thicknesses available. It’s possible to make lines that go from thick to thin and back again, simply by making a slight change in the angle. Variations in pressure will also produce different types of lines.

These pens are generally used for calligraphy, so if that’s part of your Inktober plan, you’ll probably want to get a good set — complete with holder — and a bottle of ink.

I did find the Elegant Writer by Speedball  to be a good substitute for a nib pen or “dip pen”. I’ll be using my set a lot during Inktober, I’m sure.

Liners or Technical Pens

Ink Set

Technical pens are definitely my “weapon of choice” as I attack ink drawing. In the past I’ve used Pitt Artist Pens — I loved them — but I’ve switched now to an Artsky set with 10 tip thicknesses, ranging from 0.05 to 2.0. These are the pens pictured above.

Brush Pens

The largest tip in my Artsky set (above) is actually a brush pen. My Pitt Artist Pen set also included a brush pen. These are similar to markers — much like Sharpies — and are useful for creating thick, dark marks.

I’m not sure if Sharpies or other markers are considered brush pens or not, but I do know that they are available in different sizes and colors. I’ve used Sharpies before during Inktober. They’re definitely an inexpensive way to go! And, they’re easy to use.


I’m only now beginning to learn about using brushes with ink. I experimented with it a bit last fall when I tried making my own ink, and I did purchase a beautiful set of inks and brushes for Chinese Brush Painting. You haven’t seen any examples of brush art yet because I’m too intimidated to try it! But maybe that will happen during Inktober.

What I’ve learned in my ink-tool research is that many artists like using brushes with ink because of the diversity that allow. They’re excellent for creating textures, such as fur or feathers. Well, excellent in someone else’s hand — not in mind.

Again, playing with brushes and ink is something I’ll probably try during the Inktober challenge.

This quick look at inking pens and brushes is still far from complete. There are gel pens, there are calligraphy pens, and there are technical pens known as radiographs and isographs. There is, of course, the good, old-fashioned fountain pen, some needing to be refilled from the bottle, some that make use of cartridges, and some that are disposable!

Line Exercises

I will probably be using all of the different tools listed above — well, maybe not the dip pens — but no matter which I choose, I’ll be drawing lines. No way around it. We can’t draw without lines. So, I’m busy now doing line exercises, and I invite you to join in, especially if you’ll be taking part in Inktober.

  • Begin by simply making lines on the paper. Make lots of straight lines.
  • Now make lines using varied amounts of pressure.
  • Make curved lines.
  • Make lines and vary the width by changing the pen angle.
  • Make attention to the ends of your lines — end some abruptly by quickly moving the tip of the pen away from the paper; make other ends “looser” by gradually letting the line fade out.
  • Make dotted or dashed lines, gradually changing the length of the dots and dashes.

Maybe it seems silly to spend time on something as simple and basic as drawing lines, but I know, for me, this is a valuable practice. It’s also a good opportunity for me to get out all my ink supplies and make sure I’ll be ready to go when Inktober rolls around.

Coming up I’ll be posting more about ink techniques, so why not grab a few sheets of paper, find your favorite inking tools, and practice along with me?

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