All I know about inking





Calligraphy is sheer life experienced through energy in motion that is registered as traces on silk or paper, with time and rhythm in shifting space its main ingredients. – Stanley-Baker

In Chinese calligraphy the character for “forever” consists of eight separate strokes, each stroke has a different name with unique characteristics. The bottom right one is grimly called “Dismemberment” and the stroke resembles a knife point and even worse is said to show the chopping of dead flesh (sorry). It’s a harsh direct looking stroke made in one assured action with no curves or flourishes – a straight downward chop, like this exclamation mark!

Another is considered a more feminine brush stroke and is said to resemble the flick of hair tumbling from a girl’s shoulder. These are a few of the Principles of Yong.

So whats really baked my noodle isn’t just the fact you get lots of different types of brush strokes but you get all these strokes in the one character. This specifically illustrates you can vary your tone within one piece. You can have one overall feeling for a whole painting but within that you have lots of different types of gestures and marks to achieve this.

Credit: Van Gogh. Wheatfield with crows/Sunflowers

I think my stumbling block when it came to inking was how I was taught art. It’s a central idea that your mental state somehow flows from your body directly into the marks you make. As a result you get happy paintings or sad, angry ones depending on the mood you were in when you made them. This train of thought could have come from artists such as Van Gogh whose paintings look like they reflect his turbulent mind. For example his painting “Wheatfield with crows” is said to be the last painting he did before he died and the jagged brush strokes, dark looming skies and crows are sometimes seen as a portent for what was to come.

Instead I believe while painting this he was more focussed on the task at hand trying to interpret the view in front of him. This could well sound very simplistic but I don’t mean this at all, its more that Van Gogh would have an idea of a wanting to create a painting that could well be inspired by a certain emotion. He just didn’t necessarily need to be happy or sad in the actual act of painting. Its this complexity of his own vision that make his paintings much more beautiful, varied and interesting and ultimately open to our own interpretation. So the end result may well convey a sense of isolation but the marks that make this up aren’t sad or happy marks. Its the unique combination of well considered paint marks that combined as a whole elicit this feeling.

What you have is intent, you can decide what type of strokes you use to create a more interesting painting. You don’t have to channel a mood – its okay to pretend and imagine. When you’re inking think about textures and how hair might be different from the shininess of a puffa jacket or how you might want to focus in detail in one aspect and hardly anything with another. Its these change of tones in a picture that are an artists equivalent to musician’s notes or a dancers steps that breathe life and spirit into your work.

Credit: Tintin in Tibet. Hergé

HergĂ© is the pioneer of Ligne Claire the “clear line”. His line work was never the uniform brushwork the name implies. If you look closely there’s a real looseness to the folds in the clothes and he’s really gone to town describing the Yeti’s fur. His brush work constantly changes to suit the situation.

Credit: Paul Pope. The Circus

Or look at the energy and sheer joy in lines in these detail by Paul Pope.

Credit: David Gentleman. London, You’re Beautiful

There’s a change of pace with David Gentleman’s drawings but they still have an abundance of life in these quickly drawn well observed lines.



The Faber Castell pens were the first pens I regularly started to use. It has a fine brown line which is almost invisible when you start painting over it. For me at the time it suited how I drew but the lack of variety with the line makes it quite limiting. The ink is waterproof so its ideal with working with watercolour.


The Carbon Platinum pen is my favourite pen to use at the moment. It uses carbon ink which is waterproof, great with watercolour. What’s special about this pen is that unlike fountain pens it doesn’t have a rounded edge. The problem with a rounded tip is that it ends up slightly rounding off your drawings. This pen acts much more like a dip pen which is fantastic for drawing. Unfortunately its quite a fine nib ideally it would be nice to have a medium nib as well.


The Pentel Brush pen (waterproof ink) is the closest pocketable pen that is similar to a Japanese ink brush, ideal for changing the type of lines you can use.


The Mont Blanc fountain pen has its own unique line, a pleasure to draw and write with. I find it puts down a lot of ink which takes a while to get used too. One thing to note, I wouldn’t use waterproof ink with cherished fountain pens as its very likely to block them.

To counter this, I’d advise you buy a cheap fountain pen to use with waterproof ink. This is a Lamy Safari pen with an adaptor that’s set up to use Carbon ink.


I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with dip pens, I went through a stage of constantly buying new nibs and not being able to get them to work properly. I wasn’t sure if it was the angle I hold my pen but for some reason I just couldn’t get the ink to flow correctly. This changed when I got recommended Deleter nibs which are imported in from Japan specifically designed for drawing comics. I’ve found them ideal to use and have had no problems that have plagued my earlier attempts. You can get really specific black inks from various degrees of waterproofing to matt finishes. I’m quite happy to use a regular indian ink to save money.


And finally brushes, I can’t say much about them other than just find brushes that you enjoy using. Apparently asian brushes are easier to go from a thin to broad line with one stroke.



Deleter Ink (wp) – Great for dip pens

Carbon Ink (wp) – For fountain pens

Dr.PH.Martin’s watercolour – For brushwork

Staedter Drawing Ink (wp) – generally for draft pens

Winsor & Newton Black Indian Ink (wp) – very versatile ink good for dip pens or brushwork

Mont Blanc – For fountain pens


* Please excuse my attempt at painting this mark, it takes years to master Chinese calligraphy, here’s a better video example.

** This idea of using the character “Forever” to help explain inking isn’t my own. I first heard it from Yuko Shimizu as part of the Skillshare inking project– its well worth checking out and goes into this idea in far more depth.

wp – waterproof