I often get questions over on Instagram about what I use and how when making my ink drawings. So that’s what I’m going to cover today!
It’s probably important to know the “what I am trying to do” before any of the materials decisions make sense!
Pencil or no pencil?
The most frequent question I get asked is “where are the pencil lines?” Well that’s simple – I don’t use pencil. Not sure why, but I’ve always just gone straight to ink. I think it might originally have been laziness, or a dislike of the way most erasers damage the richness of the ink, or it might have been to stop myself over-thinking everything I draw!
Probably all of the above.
For black and white line drawing, I basically only use two things – pen and paper. I like to keep it simple, which I think is reflected in the work! Also, the fewer materials I have to carry round, the less set up – and this means I’m more likely to sit down and draw something wherever I am, rather than need some elaborate set up.
This is particularly useful at the moment, when I’m living between cities and without a single large studio to work in.
The most important thing for me is pigment ink; the work has to be light-fast. Also, I prefer pens that are waterproof as it reduces the chance of smudging, especially on a hot day!
#1 Sakura Pigma Micron Fineliners
My go-to pens for many years now have been Sakura Pigma Micron Fineliners. I have a standard 6 pack in every drawing bag and case I have, but you can see the full range here.
Some years ago I conducted a fairly rigorous review for Jackson’s Art Blog and it still stands – they are the most reliable, least bleedy and blackest ink option for me.
#2 Derwent Graphik Linemaker
I used them through Inktober 2020 and I still use Derwent Graphik Linemakers for my project @NeverTooManyChickens. I can’t remember why I didn’t use the Microns – it might have been that I didn’t have any to hand, or someone had given me these to try, but now it’s a habit I can’t break.
Part of me wonders if they feel slightly more robust when drawing on watercolour paper – that’s the only thing I can think of.
Unipins were the first drawing pen I ever used, and so they have a special place in my heart. I also still believe that their 0.05 is the finest out there without investing in the inky mess of Rotring Rapidograph.
#4 Molotow Blackliner
A late addition to my suite of pens is the Molotow Blackliner – but oh my these are delicious. I think I was gifted some to try and fell in love. They are really dark black and flow really well. I used them for my entire book The Wizards of Cattywumpus because they were just a joy to use. A little harder to control the ink flow, so I still stick with my Microns for day to day use, but I adore these.
Ok, so paper is tricky because.. “it depends”.
In general, these days I use sketchbooks not sheets or pads. But there are some exceptions:
- Commissions – need to be on a single sheet so that I can work for a long time on a flat surface, and then send the single item out to someone
- Books – I tend to do the artwork on sheets of marker paper because I know they will be scanned and turned into digital work – never sold as originals and therefore don’t have to be high quality rag paper
- @NeverTooManyChickens – all on hot press watercolour paper, because well.. I’m then painting them with gouache
But for day-to-day use I tend to use sketchbooks because these days, the paper quality is excellent and I if I can manage to carry the same sketchbook around for a period of time, I tend not to lose them all!
Features of a sketchbook
I’ve been using them for a few years now, so I’ve ended up with a clear set of preferences:
1. Paper has to be thick
Generally, I need paper to be of a reasonably heavy weight. This is because I don’t want my beautiful dark pigment ink to soak straight through, and because I may get asked to sell a drawing and so I need it to be of a high quality outside of the sketchbook.
2. Paper has to be smoooth
I don’t know where this comes from, but I’m generally not a fan of bumpy paper. It makes the lines wiggly and generally life a lot harder than I want it to be!
3. Covers have to be hard
I used to use all sorts of sketchbooks, but with extensive travelling, I now prefer sketchbooks with a hard cover and a band around them, so that I can chuck them in a bag or case without too much worry that they’ll get squished
4. Paper usually has to be white
I prefer very white paper. Partly because I just prefer pure black on pure white, and partly because it’s so much easier to take photos for Instagram!
My go-to sketchbooks
So, the sketchbooks that meet the above criteria, that I use all the time are:
Stillman & Birn Zeta – I mean the whole series is to die for, but they hard hard cover and spirals which makes life super-easy. And the paper is the smoothest and whitest I’ve found. Heaven.
Daler Rowney Ebony – These are another nice, sturdy, smooth, white option. Not as beautiful-feeling as the Zeta (to me) but definitely in my stack and used on a regular basis.
Moleskine hard covers – I used to use these all the time, but the paper is a little lightweight and usually a little cream/yellow unless you buy the watercolour/drawing paper versions. These will still do for me in a pinch, especially working with Microns because the bleed through isn’t too bad. It’s good that I can grab these at an airport for example, if I have failed to plan ahead properly!
Royal Talens – This is what I’m using the most at the moment. These were given to me and I was hesitant at first – because I didn’t choose them(!) and because the paper is not quite white – it’s a little off-white or almost cream. Also not as smooth as the Zeta. But for reasons I cannot quite put my finger on, I’m really enjoying them.
I think perhaps because the paper has a really nice weight to it, and the cover feels high quality and extends nicely beyond the end of the paper. Also, despite being a white cover, I have thrown them in and out of bags with no damage or marks either to the cover or the pages inside.
What else? (a cheat)
One more question I get is “how do you draw such straight lines?”
There are two answers to that:
In most of my sketchbooks, I keep pre-cut pieces of paper, or even post it notes!
Top tip: when using guides that you inevitably store in the back of your sketchbook, a thicker sketchbook paper like Talens, rather than that of a Moleskine prevents any impact through the paper you’re drawing on. Most of the time I don’t use guides, but when I’m doing something like Inktober and I want all of the cartoon panels to be consistent – that’s what I use.
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