How do you do pen and ink illustrations?
July 20, 2004 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Pen-n-ink illustration filter:
I've recently taken a renewed interest in "embellishing" or "rendering" in pen and ink. This has led me to this picture of a fiddling cat, which is naggingly familiar to myself and also to my Mom, although neither of us can remember the artist or source. Also, I came across this illustration from an Aesop's Fable, but I do not know the artist either (evidently, though, Aesop has a long and old tradition of finely illustrated editions.) Can anyone help me out?

And while we're at it, do we have any pen-n-ink or comics style artists out there? What good books or practice-methods have helped you? (I've had this great book since I was a child but am only now making good use of it.) Do you use traditional quills, or have you transitioned to modern markers and such? Or a Wacom tablet?
Really, I'd love any info from anyone who creates art or plays with the techniques.
posted by Shane to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Comic cover artist Brian Bolland has an incredible step-by-step tutorial on his site detailing the making of this cover. But it's completely over my head! Still, it's interesting because Bolland draws in the comics style of rough sketch, pen and ink, then color, but he has transitioned into a totally digital process involving a Wacom tablet and digital colors, etc. Bolland has a very smooth, refined in king style.
posted by Shane at 12:35 PM on July 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

Your second picture (the Ape and the Dolphin) is by Stephen Gooden, from an edition of Aesop's Fables first published in 1936, reprinted in an Everyman Children's Classics edition in 1992. I think the 1992 edition is out of print, but there are several copies on ABE (search by keyword: aesop gooden).

It's featured in this nice exhibition of illustrated books for children.
posted by verstegan at 1:51 PM on July 20, 2004

I have trouble going back to traditional quills after having switched to rapidographs, also used famously by this guy.
posted by Robot Johnny at 2:01 PM on July 20, 2004

I'm just a novice, but have this technical pen book that is a good intro to the subject.

In terms of materials, I also play around with scratchboard, which requires the same sort of thought in creating tone and depth when you only can work with black and white. It's a nice flip to have a black canvas and only the ability to make white lines.
posted by Sangre Azul at 2:43 PM on July 20, 2004

Response by poster: Gooden! Thanks, verstegan. I'll check Pat Catan's for Rapidographs, Robot Johnny, but you don't get that variation in line thickness that you do with a quill, eh? You know, I've always sucked at that anyway... And thanks, Sangre Azul, scratchboard is really fun, especially the concept of drawing the "light" areas on the dark as opposed to usually drawing the shadows on top of the light. Looks like a good book, too.
posted by Shane at 2:58 PM on July 20, 2004

Pencil and then pen and ink on paper, scan, then color with Wacom for me. My pens are nothing fancy: Pilots or even Sharpies, and Rapidographs for fine linework. You can get varying line widths with a regular pen. You just go over your line over and over again. Me, I can't deal with quills or nibs, but I'm less uncomfortable with brushes. But then, I don't do the kind of refined rendering you've been looking at; for that I would consider breaking out a crowquill. The downside to scanning inked drawings is that it's inconvenient to work much larger than your final size unless you have an expensive scanner. Wacoms don't provide fantastic control - I don't trust them with my initial drawings - but they're massively better than mice and if you work with them at 100-200% the way Bolland does that is definitely one way around their limitations.
posted by furiousthought at 5:06 PM on July 20, 2004

I use a Rapidograph for my original drawings (regular felt tip pens dry out too fast for me). I scan that in, use a Wacom for touch ups and Photoshop to color the drawings. Photoshop has really opened up the coloring process for my work. The Wacom tablet is nice too but I have a bit of a disconnect when I am looking at the screen and not down at my hand. So while the digital tools really help, I still begin with old fashioned pen and ink.

Books are good to help you learn the tools but they aren’t a substitute for plain ol’ goofing around and practice, practice, practice (as my piano teacher was fond of saying).

Thanks JRobot for the Rapidograph link. I need a new set but cringe at spending $100. Now... does anyone have tips for keeping the pens from drying out for those of us who live in dry climates?
posted by jabo at 5:16 PM on July 20, 2004

Which model(s) of Wacom would those who use them for this kind of work recommend? I assume they aren't all created equal?
posted by rushmc at 5:32 PM on July 20, 2004

You know, I've had a pretty hard time telling the difference between ArtzII and Intuos and Intuos2 as far as response is concerned. I only upgraded because the connection became obsolete when I got a new computer. As far as size goes, 9x12 or 12x12 is nice but 6x8 is plenty serviceable if cash or space is an issue. It's what I have at home. I wouldn't go with the 4x5 inch ones though.
posted by furiousthought at 6:47 PM on July 20, 2004

Ditto what furious says. I have an old, refurbished Intuos 9x12 and it's almost too big but I am very happy with it. If you are looking for an old (+2 years I think) tablet on ebay, be aware that they used to have an ADB connection. The ADB to USB converter I have doesn't support OS10 as far as I can find out.
posted by jabo at 7:35 PM on July 20, 2004

Response by poster: furiousthought , I guess what I meant is varying the line width as you draw it, like: with a somewhat flat-tipped quill point, a curved line varies in width, as in calligraphy; and with a pen that is pressure-sensitive or a crow quill, you can vary the width of a line as you draw it by varying the pressure you exert.

It's funny, but when I think of fine linework these days I mostly of think of artists associated with comic books. I suppose there are plenty of editorial cartoonists doing the skritchy-scratchy thing, but first to my mind spring Bernie Wrightson and Guy Davis and Kevin O'Neill and even Gerhard, not to mention a tribe of hard-working embellishers who mostly sweat over other people's pencils. And Maurice Sendak and Edward Gorey, of course. Even so, today you rarely see artists putting in the kind of craft, care and technique of the old school. (Guptill's Rendering in Pen and Ink is filled with beautiful drawings like that last link.)

Are there any artists, old or new, that you folks particularly dig?

Thanks, folks. With a little luck I might be better acquainted with embellishing and computer techniques soon.
posted by Shane at 8:06 PM on July 20, 2004

Hi Shane,

Great thread. You are perhaps a 2000 A.D. fan? hopefully you also know Kevin O'Neills early work (and I think best comic art ever) for Nemesis? I used to love Bolland and McMahon drawing for Judge Dredd.

I have been working with tablet only for about a year now and am thinking of doing some traditional work with pens again. There is no black quite as black a good old fashioned india ink. I am therefore also interested in good tool info.

One thing that I find indespesible for digital drawing is a software program called sketchbook pro by Alias. please go try the demo if you haven't. I use photoshop and painter as well, but nothing feels as close to drawing as sketchbook pro does.

and regarding great online places for digital illustration there are two places that are truely indespensible. the first is the forum at sijun where very excellent digital artists contribute and mostly everyone is very helpful. Watching a speedpainting thread is great for the good, bad and ugly that comes out of it. the good is truely amazing, but this is going away from pen and ink sketching I guess.

the second place is related to the forums and is the link archive where I first ran across the Bolland tutorials.

hope some of this helps. I would love to chat more about this subject it is a new and wonderful world for me as well!
posted by darkpony at 10:03 PM on July 20, 2004

This is the best AskMe thread ever. I think I've bookmarked half the links, and I'm ordering those books and a Wacom tablet tomorrow. Do any of you have recommendations for a decent, affordable, OSX-compatable scanner?
posted by subgenius at 10:14 PM on July 20, 2004

Back and forth:

I guess what I meant is varying the line width as you draw it, like: with a somewhat flat-tipped quill point, a curved line varies in width, as in calligraphy; and with a pen that is pressure-sensitive or a crow quill, you can vary the width of a line as you draw it by varying the pressure you exert.

I know. What I'm saying is that it isn't necessary to make that kind of line in one stroke as you draw it; you can draw a line that looks like that with multiple strokes, so that using a rapidograph doesn't necessarily keep you from making variable-width lines (tho I wouldn't/don't use rapidographs that way; the texture of a rapidograph's stroke makes it easy to screw up when you're making lines like that). A lot of comics artists use brushes for those kind of variable-width lines, though, not pens. The claim is that brush lines are more alive and flowing, and that is definitely true of original artwork produced that way... digital reproductions, though, that's not so definite I think. Brushes demand the kind of supreme confidence you get from screwing up hundreds of thousands of times. The canonical brush is a number 3 sable, which is expensive.

If you are looking for an old (+2 years I think) tablet on ebay, be aware that they used to have an ADB connection. The ADB to USB converter I have doesn't support OS10 as far as I can find out.

This is also true of serial Wacoms on the Mac side, so don't try and get lucky with those either. (The bigger ones had serial connections.)

darkpony, thank you for that forum link!

subgenius: I'm happy with an Epson 1660 Photo. If you're scanning black-and-white line art you don't have to go too high-end IMO unless you want to scan tabloid size. I personally scan b&w line art and fix the threshold so that most of what I miss with the eraser doesn't get picked up. Others scan theirs b&w photo and adjust in Photoshop. They may be more particular but I'm pretty sure any modern scanner handles that sort of thing well enough.
posted by furiousthought at 10:26 PM on July 20, 2004

hold the phone on the lack of serial support for mac tablets. through the apple website I saw this last week. I bought a USB tablet 6 months ago cuz this didn't exist, but it looks like this is an open source developed serial tablet driver for os X. I have NOT tried this at all, but it may grant new life to old (perfectly functional except for connection type) tablets!
posted by darkpony at 11:00 PM on July 20, 2004

Oh, really. That is terribly interesting. Thanks again, darkpony! (Doesn't work with my tablet at work, tho - wrong model number. Apparently, Wacom has a program where you can send in your old serial tablet and they'll change the connection from serial to USB, which is another option.)
posted by furiousthought at 7:00 AM on July 21, 2004

Response by poster: Wow, thanks to all for thoughts and links and info.

I can't recommend Rendering in Pen and Ink enough. Many of the illustrations in it are mind-blowing, and looking thru' them you inevitably come to the conclusion that this is mainly because of the artists' portrayal of contrasting areas of light and shadow. The stunning effects are the result of the judicious use of shading and even more so the things they didn't do, the areas they left blank. Subtle. Amazing.

I would love to chat more about this subject it is a new and wonderful world for me as well!

I think I've bookmarked half the links, and I'm ordering those books and a Wacom tablet tomorrow.

I'm purely a novice (again) to making art, but maybe I'll follow up and post some of Rendering's illo's on my blog, or maybe even start a forum where we could discuss and have fun. darkpony, those are great links! I do love 2000 AD, but it's expensive in the States!

What I'm saying is that it isn't necessary to make that kind of line in one stroke as you draw it...

I gotcha, furiousthought! You know, I thought I'd seen the technique I described in several inkers, but now that I look I can't find it. I think it's rare that that type of varied-thickness line is used, and when it is used it's probably the result of two or more lines, as you said.

Good point on brushing, too, furiousthought. One of my absolute fave artists, Mike Ploog (who apprenticed with Will Eisner) did brilliant work in B&W brushed tones in Planet of the Apes and Kull and such. I will definitely do a tribute to Ploog someday on my blog, posting his art. Ploog now does storyboards and such for Spielberg films, heh. You can see many illsutrations in the still shots in the film Wizards, just finally released on DVD. Ploog was occasionally slaughtered by a few inkers in comics, but he and Alex Nino had brilliant chemistry on the original Weirdworld (pencils here). Now Nino is a brilliant, quirky artist. I think Gene Colon, among others, did some impressive brush work too, back in '80s Marvel hayday of B&W magazines like Hulk and Dracula and Howard the Duck.

For some reason I had imagined Terry Austin did that varied line-width thing, but he really didn't. (Wow, Austin liked his Zip-a-tone then, but used it well, too. There must be a digital equivalent now, eh?)

This brings up a good point, which is that comic books are an incredible showcase for inking skill. Terry Austin was magic over John Byrne's pencils. For me, the credit for Byrne's magic should be shared with people like Joe Rubinstein and Terry Austin and Dan Green. To me, Byrne's art never achieves the same quality when he is inked by himself or by a lesser talent. For me, too, Alan Davis pencils will will always have just a little more synergistic magic with Alan Davis inked by Paul Neary than Davis with Mark Farmer; Farmer is impressive but just a bit stiff and less flowing somehow.

The opposite is true, too, of course: I remember watching then-editor Al Milgrom slaughter issue after issue of the Incredible Hulk (and even some of Arthur Adams gorgeous art, inked here by Adams himself) before Milgrom eventually became a competent inker. And then you have classically trained, talented inkers with unmistakable styles like Rudy Nebres and especially Alfredo Alcala who are technically impressive, yet often smother the flavor of any artist they (literally) cover. Ernie Chan was always a bit heavy, too, although sometimes the artists he worked with, heh, needed that.

More comics fun: Bob McLeod's page of before and after pencil and inks. Here he is over Michael Golden's ebulliant pencils.

It's a delicate balance, and inkers deserve far more respect than they get. They don't just "trace" ;-)

By the way, I just found Ed Smith. Impressive stuff. And Architects are often trained in pen and ink too.

*phew!* I guess I gotta stop sometime here...

I have to thank you folks, too, because I'm at a crossroads in careers where I desperately need a change. I'm looking at a graphic design program and also at leaving the security of my (1&1/2 - 2 hour daily commute) job for something closer to home that will allow me to write and be creative.

The fact that I've just spent the entire workday morning loving it here is just more justification and momentum for me to make the change.

posted by Shane at 8:14 AM on July 21, 2004

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