Today we are going to draw a natural object from observation using a calligraphy pen and India ink.
Step 1: Gather your Supplies
You will need a bottle of India ink, a metal nib calligraphy pen, a pencil, drawing paper or illustration board, scrap drawing paper, a medium round brush and a natural object. I am going to use a seashell as my inspiration.
Step 2: Observe and Sketch
Take a close look at the shell. Notice the curves, textures and contour outlines. Turn it around until you find a viewpoint that you find interesting. On your scrap paper, practice drawing your shell using a method called “blind contour drawing.” You can use a pencil for this if you want. Without looking at your paper, slowly follow along the outline of your shell with your eyes, while drawing the same line on your paper. This is a technique to help you to see every detail of the shell without your brain telling your hand what it thinks a symbol of a shell should look like. Go slowly and don’t look at your paper. When finished, look at what you drew. It will probably look nothing like the shell and that is okay. Keep practicing until you get a better sense of the shell’s form, but don’t worry if your blind drawing still looks pretty abstract.
Step 3: Draw the Outline of the Shell
On your drawing paper or illustration board, use a pencil to lightly sketch out the contour line, or outline, of the shell. Although this does not have to be completely blind, try to keep your eyes more on your shell than on your paper in order to get the most accurate rendition of the shell. Draw big! Have your shell touch or go off the edge of at least three sides of your paper. Add in any larger details, but save the smaller details and textures for your ink pen.
Step 4: Practice Ink Techniques
On your scrap paper, start to practice using your pen and ink by making basic marks. Dip your pen into the bottle of ink until the ink is about halfway up the metal nib. The ink should reach the open circle gap in the metal nib but shouldn’t go much higher up. Hold your pen about halfway up the handle so that it is angled instead of straight up and down. The metal nib should always curve downward like an arch instead of like the letter u. Touch the paper with the pen and drag it towards you, varying the pressure. A lighter touch will create a thinner line, and a slightly heavier touch will create a thicker line. Practice making a variety of lines and short textural marks.
Step 5: Ink the Shell’s Contour Lines
Once you feel comfortable with the pen and ink techniques, start going over your pencil lines on the illustration board. Vary the pressure of your pen so that you can get a variety of line thicknesses. Ink smudges easily, so be careful of your arm and clothes. If you drip ink onto the illustration board or make a mistake, keep going and consider how you can incorporate the mistake into the design when you start working on details to make the mistake look more intentional.
Step 6: Draw Cross Contour Lines with Ink
Cross contour lines go across the object to help give the appearance of volume or dimension. You can create these lines by curving lines across the width of the shell drawing to form a pattern. The stronger the curve, the rounder your shell drawing will appear. If you look at your shell closely, you may be able to see the texture of cross contour lines on the object. The more cross contour lines you can draw on your artwork, the more naturalistic it will begin to look.
Step 7: Add Textures and Details
Does your shell have any ridges, patterns, or textures? Add these now with short hatch marks or use cross hatching to make an area shaded. Hatching is when you draw short lines parallel to each other and cross hatching is when you repeat the hatch marks to go across the first ones. Hatching and cross hatching can be a great way to add a sense of depth and naturalism to your shell. This is also a good time to get creative in how you will make your mistakes look intentional. Did you drip a splotch of ink? Try splattering a little more ink to make a pattern of dots. Did you smudge ink? Try making a thicker line in that area or incorporate hatching.
Step 8: Ink Your Background
To finish off the artwork, I like to create a sense of contrast by filling in the background with black ink. This makes the shell appear to pop off the page. Use your paintbrush and loosely fill in the background with India ink. You can also pour a bit of ink into water to create a gray tone instead. Be careful as you paint near the edges of your shell drawing. When finished, let everything dry. You can also carefully use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process.
And there you have it! Your nature study is complete. Although we used a shell today as our inspiration, you can also try this process with anything else. Thanks for taking a creative risk and drawing with me.