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Pen Sketching Tutorial

by Alicia Qin

Sketching with a pen? It’s not as impossible as it sounds! While you may be afraid of your inability to erase at first, you’ll quickly learn how to find the right way to sketch with pens and let your mistakes turn into another beautiful aspect of your drawing. Keep reading for some tips on how to get started with pen sketching!

Picking a pen

Picking a good ballpoint pen to use can be the key to how successful your sketch will turn out. Don’t use a pen with liquid ink, as it will bleed through the page and won’t allow you to make good sketching lines. I highly recommend using the BIC ballpoint pens (my personal favorite). They are very affordable and work the best for sketching in my opinion. Another option you can go with are the ballpoint pens from Paper Mate (pictures above to the right). Although these pens are the ones I recommend, any other pen that can create varying degrees of darkness will also work.

How to shade

With graphite, blending can be done easily with a blending stub, brushes, or even your finger. With ballpoint pens, however, shading has to be done without any type of blending. One good way to do this is to make several straight horizontal lines very close together. The lines can be as long or as short as you want, depending on how much area you are planning to cover. Another effective way to shade is using cross-hatching, a technique in which you cross the lines, forming a grid-like patch. The lines don’t have to be perfectly perpendicular and can vary based on what kind of final effect you want. Finally, experiment with the varying levels of darkness that your pen can produce. As in most works, contrast is a very crucial aspect of your sketch.

Ready to get started? Let’s walk through a basic sketch together to better understand the process.

Step #1: Basic Pencil Outline

You don’t have to jump straight into using the pen with your sketch. I recommend using pencil to first produce a simple outline of what you’re trying to draw, just to lay out where the larger shapes will be. This will assist you when figuring out where all of the shading will go.

Step #2: Outline in Pen

When you are happy with your basic pencil sketch, go ahead and outline the shapes lightly with your ballpoint pen. You can also begin lightly shading in any areas that will be visibly darker in the final product. If your pen isn’t giving out ink easily, I recommend having a scrap piece of paper on the side to test your pens and get the ink flowing again.

Step #3: Begin Light Shading

This is where things get a little trickier. Remember your sketching techniques and apply them to the darker areas of your drawing. Start as lightly as possible and slowly begin to build your way up. If you make a mistake, that’s totally okay! Sketching is all about making mistakes, and a line that you have originally thought to be too dark or in the wrong position might end up actually enhancing your drawing.

Step #4: Finalize Shading

Once you begin to get the hang of how to shade with a pen, go ahead and continue building it up until you reach a level of darkness that you’re looking for. Remember that contrast is still very important, so leave highlights untouched and darken other areas.

And just like that, you’re done! Of course, if something went wrong at any point, you can always restart and keep practicing until you get the hang of it. Once you master a style of shading that you’re happy with, you can experiment on your own with different pens, different colors, and even more!

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