How drawing with ink makes me (& you) a better painter

As most artists know, painting is an exercise in decision making. What materials to use, what colors to mix, how to apply each color…the list goes on. A single painting can be made up of thousands of small decisions.
Some decisions are easier than others. And occasionally, the painting seems to decide everything for itself and we are merely bystanders. At times we may find ourselves hesitating, second-guessing our decisions or even being paralyzed by it all and putting the brush down.

There are many exercises to overcome these hurdles, and I’m here to talk about one in particular. Ink!

Why draw with ink?

  • Deeper understanding of the subject
    • The lines are permanent. This really forces me to observe more closely than if I was using pencil, which can be erased. Intense, close observation over time leads to a deeper understanding of my subject.
  • Confidence
    • Ink drawing is all about commitment. The pressure of the permanent line forces me to pay closer attention to the quality and thickness of the line, shapes of the form, scale, and everything else important. It’s not about making perfect lines, nor is my painting about making perfect brush strokes. It’s more about committing to my choices and continuing on, accepting them for what they are. This repetition slowly grows my confidence. Perfection < awareness!
  • Speed
    • Without the need of a pencil sketch before starting the ink lines, speed is increased. The decision making process becomes more streamlined, as well. After lots of ink sketching I am less afraid to dive straight into painting my forms, not worrying about making a perfect under-sketch. No, it’s not a race, but efficiency of time is important to me.

All of this applies directly to my painting process. Every since time I sketch with ink, I improve in at least one of these areas.

Remember, drawing is the foundation of our paintings (any form of representational art) and should be practiced as often as possible.

Tips for drawing directly with ink

Tip#1: Forget perfection

By trying to be perfect, we do ourselves a disservice. No one is perfect.

I am a very expressive painter, and the last thing I want is for someone to tell me my painting looks like a photo.

Perhaps this isn’t a problem for everyone, but I am often astonished at how quickly I fall into the trap of perfectionism. While drawing, this manifests itself as slow and short scratchy marks, never fully committing to a nice solid line. I want to “ease” into the line. The pencil wants to move, but I hesitate, second guessing myself, or worse, constantly erasing.

With ink, I’m quickly reminded that I’ll never make a perfect line, nor do I need to. The first little wobble presents itself rather quickly. Suddenly I’m free. I’m able to focus on capturing my scene with more life and energy. Yes, I want to be accurate so the subject is recognizable, but I don’t want it to be stiff and boring.

Tip #2: Use Light Ink

If you’re new to this, or having a day where you feel a little apprehensive, try this. Start with lighter colored ink of any kind. In my case, I use a very light marker (Tombow dual brush pen). This reduces the pressure, but not as much as pencil would. When I start drawing on top with my “final” lines, I’m using the pre-sketch to guide me, But the light ink practically disappears under the final drawing. Later, after I’ve drawn the subject multiple times and gained more confidence, I don’t need the light marker as often.

Same page – Do you notice the “light” lines underneath? A little. But it doesn’t detract from the final drawing.

Tip #3: Start with shapes, not lines

Feeling a little bored of lines, or just want to change the way you approach a drawing? Start with shapes.

Instead of drawing your lines then filling in with color, do the opposite. Here you can see I filled in a large area of blue first (comprised of the boat and the shadows on the ground). Then I drew on top with my fountain pen.

This can be a little more tricky if you aren’t used to it, but I find after a while it’s easier to see big shapes like shadows than it is to see outlines. Now, the first thing I see when I look at my subjects are big shapes of shadows.

Or take it a step further – markers without lines.

This is excellent practice for studying forms/accuracy of shapes. I suggest starting with the biggest shadow areas, then working your way down to more details.

Have any tips you want to share? Leave a comment below!

My favorite Ink Tools

See all my favorite drawing tools here.


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I'm an independent artist living in Scotland. Always chasing the light, and painting the beautiful highlands.

2 thoughts on “How drawing with ink makes me (& you) a better painter

  1. I just discovered the blog link while reading the email newsletter. Excellent explanations of “why draw with ink” and tips on use of light Tombow pens as first step before using ink (and ditch the pencil and eraser which I did a long time ago)! The Tombow pens are also great for doing thumbnails. Thanks Sarah for your wonderful videos, newsletters, Instagram posts and blog 🙂

  2. hi sarah great news letter lots of information excellent subjects and great information and will certainly read throught the information and start working from your great advice hope you are keeping well all the best Steve

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