With a pencil, I have drawn a simple sketch, using very light lines which will be easy to erase later. The pencil stage isn’t necessary if you’re drawing something very simple, like a figure on its own without a background, but if you’re going to have a lot of overlapping objects, such as leaves or blades of grass, or any significant detail, it’s a good idea to plan it out before committing to ink. I used an ordinary HB pencil–any graphite pencil will do.
Adding ink to the pencil sketch should be done in a slow and relaxed fashion, to avoid any mistakes, lightly outlining shapes and forms, then shading them in. Which tools you’ll want to use, and what line qualities, will depend on the intent of the image. If you’re going for something very graphic and striking, long, bold lines applied with ink and brush work best, with finer details added with a dip-pen or quill. For more intimate drawings, with less immediate impact (such as this picture), shorter lines and hatching applied with a quill or dip-pen work best. (You can substitute technical pens, but the line quality is different. It’s a good idea to try both, and decide which one you prefer.)
As far as ink goes, I like to use black ink mixed with a deep brown (in this case, Winsor and Newton peat brown watercolour ink). It still looks more or less black, but slightly “softer” than with unmixed black ink. The same thing can also be done with other colours, such as blues and greens.
If you are using quills or dip-pens, make sure you wipe off the nib every ten minutes or so. Otherwise, drying ink stuck in the nib can cause blobs and uneven ink flow. It isn’t as annoying as it sounds–you just have to take a bit of tissue and gently scrape out any globby bits.
This is a closer look at the focal point of the image (a small dead rat being sucked into a carnivorous hedgerow). Note the difference in line quality between the fur on the rat and the edges of the leaves: the rat has been outlined with broken, “hairy” lines, but the leaves and stems around it have solid lines. It’s important to have confidence, and use long, smooth strokes to delineate major forms. Only use “hairy” lines if you are actually drawing something hairy. It’s a common mistake for beginners to use a lot of tiny, shaky lines, for fear of drawing something wrong, but a confidently-drawn line that’s out of place will look better than a line that’s in the right place, but lacking in confidence. The paper I am using has a fine tooth, which makes the lines slightly bumpy in places - if you want to draw something very precise, use smooth bristol or artboard instead.
At this stage, I have begun picking out the rat from the background, adding darker shadows all around it. The gray tones in the background are not, in fact, gray ink, but very fine hatching. I tend to do the darkest areas of shading when I have just dipped my pen and the ink is flowing very freely, and the finest or lightest areas when I’ve been drawing for a while, and it has begun to dry out a little.
If your drawing will not have any white ink or acrylic highlights added later, any areas of highlight must be left uninked right from the start. For that reason, it’s important to remember where your light source is at all times. In this case, it is coming from above and to the right.
This is a detail of the finished image, once the deepest shadows and the finest details have been added. Note that some areas have been hatched over several times, with lines of varying heaviness, to add subtleties to the shadows. When shading with hatching, be careful to lift the pen between strokes, to avoid a sloppy, scribbled look. Try to also keep hatching lines from crossing one another (unless, of course, you’re using cross-hatching–this picture doesn’t). Changing the direction of the hatching can be used as a subtle way to guide the viewer’s eye through the fine details of the image, especially in a tiny, intimate picture like this one. Notice, on the rat, that the direction of the fine lines that form the hair form a backwards C-curve from the head and neck down the back. An actual rat would have more messy hair, going in different directions (especially where the vines cross its fur), but I didn’t draw it that way so it wouldn’t upset the composition. This picture is only about eight inches tall, with a simple up-and-down composition and a central focal-point, so any out-of-place line could mess it up.
This detail shows how the grass was done. Even when drawing, as opposed to painting, form is as important as line. Grass can be drawn as a lot of up-and-down lines, and the temptation is to do exactly that, but even something as simple as blades of grass will have a certain amount of dimensionality. To make it interesting, I’ve drawn some of the blades in front of other ones, and some of them twisting or bending. I have shaded them in the same way as the rest of the picture. (Note a small mistake in one blade of grass in the foreground, towards the right–the hatching has been done in tick shapes instead of clean lines. This can happen if you’ve just wiped your pen and a piece of tissue is stuck to the end. Always check your pen after wiping it off, or you will also get mistakes like this. Dried or drying ink on the tip of the nib can also have the same effect.
Once you’ve finished inking, wait 15-20 minutes before erasing out the pencil lines. Most ink will dry completely much sooner than that, especially on toothed paper, which tends to be quite absorbent. Still, occasionally there can be some areas that aren’t quite dry, and those can smudge and ruin your drawing when you rub the eraser over them. Erase very gently, to avoid disturbing the ink.
This is the final product: a tiny drawing of a dead baby rat being eaten by a hedgerow. You can draw something that isn’t so weird, of course. The same techniques work for any subject matter.
After drawing, take the nibs out of any pens you used and wash them off immediately. If you leave them in, they can rust and get stuck in there forever. So take them out, wash them, dry them, and then put them back.