Years ago I started off using a #2 size, Series #7 Winsor & Newton sable brush, and a bottle of black waterproof ink.
I could pull consistent lines with tapered ends over and over again with a steady hand using a brush which helped me land a job inking for Archie Comics among a few other popular publishing companies.
The brush was my main tool and I relied on it big time! These days I start most drawings with either a pencil or a fountain pen but more often than not there are other tools I use to complete a drawing.
Let me share some of the tools I use more regularly to create black and white line drawings. Hopefully, there’s something here that you’ll be able to incorporate into your own drawings.
I didn’t completely abandon the brush after finding the dip pen, but I did fall in love with an ultra-flexible nib. I began using it all of the time and this helped to shape and influence the type of lines I put on paper today.
I love the look these ultra-flexible nibs give to a drawing and the pleasure of being able to create lines from hair-thin to really thick.
If you’re in need of one nib that provides this range of variation you might consider a dip pen. The downside to a dip pen is that they’re hard to travel with.
Having to carry a bottle of ink on the go and dipping while sketching isn’t exactly convenient. If you work with ink then your fingers are probably already stained but I can guarantee that using a dip pen will ensure the fashion statement.
Here’s a tip - when using a dip pen make sure to shake a little bit of excess ink off the nib back into the inkwell each time you dip it. This will save you from having too much ink on the nib and having to white out unwanted black blobs on your drawings.
Still, dip pens are great for serious line flexibility.
The really thin lines in the background of this cat were done with a Zebra G nib dip pen. This nib can produce hairlines in addition to ones much thicker because it’s super flexible.
Have you ever used a fountain pen? This is my go-to drawing tool because I don’t have to dip it, carry a bottle of ink with me, and it provides great line variation.
Some fountain pens even have super large ink reservoirs so you won’t have to fill them all the time. Line variation is important to me so I use a fountain pen with a flexible nib.
Try using the backside of your fountain pen too. Many times this will produce an even thinner line than the front of the nib!
This is helpful for noodling in minor details like hair, wrinkles, cat whiskers, or things way in the background that you don’t want competing with thicker lines in the foreground.
In addition, you can fill them with waterproof ink designed specifically for fountain pens so when you add watercolour to your black line you won’t have the concern of the ink bleeding into your colours.
Many fountain pen inks claim to be waterproof but they aren’t. Just because they say, “waterproof” on the label, doesn’t mean it is.
It seems as though many companies are using the word “waterproof” without much thought to whether it actually is.
I have completed drawings under deadlines for major publications using “waterproof” ink only for the drawing to be ruined after I applied watercolour.
Don’t let this happen to you. I understand that saying “almost waterproof“ on a bottle of ink wouldn’t help sales but as creatives, we need to know if our black lines will muddy our watercolours.
To me the definition of “waterproof” is when clean water is brushed over ink lines on 100% cotton paper 24 hours after the ink has dried and the lines don’t bleed...even a little bit! If it does, it’s not waterproof.
I’ve been using De Atramentis Archive Ink because it’s waterproof and made for fountain pens too. If you know of any other fountain pen inks that are truly waterproof, share it in the comments!
When you’re drawing in black and white it’s especially important to create textures along the way. Sometimes I use my thumb to spatter a little ink off the end of a toothbrush.
Doing so will breathe another layer of interest in your image. In this drawing of a cat, you can see how those little toothbrush spatters provide additional texture and feel to the drawing.
Try spattering with watercolour, acrylic, or any other liquid using a toothbrush to create this effect. Just remember not to put it back in the bathroom when you’re done!
Once upon a time, I used a liquid white-out to cover blemishes on my black and white line drawings. It’s the same white-out that is still used today to correct paper documents.
I used that until I realised it would dry and crack up into a thousand little pieces after a short amount of time and literally fall off the drawing.
It’s safe to say this product shouldn’t be used for your drawings. I’ll use white gouache or titanium watercolour to cover something unwanted.
For smaller cover-ups or to add highlights in windows and light bouncing off of leaves, I’ve been really happy using a white gel pen.
If you try covering up or adding to your drawing with white gouache, titanium white, or a white gel pen I think you’ll be happy with the results.
100% Cotton Paper.
There’s nothing better than working on 100% cotton paper. Hands down it’s the cream of the crop for artists. 100% cotton paper helps paint blend together revealing softer edges while maintaining the paint’s true colour.
It’s more durable to work on and will stand the test of time.
For drawings that require even more water, try using a watercolour block or illustration board made with 100% cotton paper to keep your drawing from warping and buckling. If you haven’t already, treat yourself because you deserve it!
I created this black and white drawing of a cat using the tools I mentioned above.
Share your thoughts with me because the tools you use for your black and white drawings can inspire other creatives!
My name is Mark Brewer. I’ve been drawing and painting things I find humorous for 30 years. I’m excited to have my own chapter on Etchr's blog with creative friends from around the world. I’ll share what I've learned about drawing, color, and the tools I use.