5 Reasons to Draw in Pen and Ink (and Sometimes Big) – REVISITED!

crow quill metal pen nibs

I originally published this article on May 25, 2009. The piece has been read over 60,000 times since then. I wanted to give this post a new permanent home and revisit the 5 main points with 9 years of hindsight. I’ve changed my thinking on several of the original points – so I made some counter arguments. My new comments are posted directly under each point.

Things to note:

  • There wasn’t much diversity amongst the artists that I originally included back in ‘09. All male, mostly white. While I’ve since broadened my horizons – I’m not going to rewrite history to make myself look better. But seriously, check out the #VisibleWomen hashtag on Twitter. There’s a staggering amount of talent out there that’s underrepresented.
  • I fixed a lot of the broken links from the original piece. If the text refers to a period in time add on 9 years as this was written in the Spring of 2009.  

Now that computers and the internet have overtaken the world I sometimes fear that a lot of the traditional things that we take for granted will slowly begin to disappear. It may be an irrational fear as the internet has also brought to light, amazing factions of creators in different pockets of the globe.

I’ve been noticing new practices taking hold in the comics, manga and illustration professions. Digital inking, Wacom tablets (yes they are cool) replacing pens, vectors overtaking hand-drawn artwork and a strong reliance on Illustrator and Photoshop.

Don’t get me wrong; this is not a knock against utilizing those techniques. I have seen some amazing art created on Macs and PCs. I just don’t want it to get too carried away.

I have never personally experimented with digital drawing suites like Manga Studio and I will one day when I get the time. For now, I continue to love getting my hands dirty with ink and owning a growing collection of original pages and illustrations.

The main reasons to draw by hand

1. Permanence

If you create your pages with a half-decent ink on acid-free paper, your artwork will survive for decades and perhaps centuries. Paper is still the most portable storage format. Digital works are stored on your hard drive, CD-ROM, DVD or back-up tape. But digital file types and storage mediums change each decade.

We backed up files on tape in the 1980’s and part of the 90’s. Then we used zip cartridges. Then DVDRoms and portable hard drives. Meanwhile paper is still paper. My stack of originals is nicely filed away in a flat drawer. I still like to keep photocopies and high-resolution digital backups though just in case.

[Jay 2018] I was obviously obsessed with the idea of permanence back in ‘09.

Cloud storage was not a common idea, and we had witnessed the comings and goings of the 8-inch floppy, 5.25-inch floppy, 3.5-inch disc, CD-ROM, DAT, MiniDisc, Compact Flash, Zip, DVD and SD Card. I had reason to be wary of storage mediums.

I’m a little more optimistic about cloud storage services such as:

  • Amazon Web Services
  • Google Cloud Storage
  • Dropbox

They continually upgrade their tech—server side—without you having to change multi-media devices every 5-7 years.

And as a drastic solution – an artist could always print out their digital work using the largest printer they could afford, with archival inks and paper.

2. Mastering techniques

I realize it takes years and a lot of artistic skill to render quality digital paintings and drawings, but there’s just something more immediate about pen on paper or brush on canvas. Whether it’s spending years figuring out how to perfectly sharpen your pencil or the exact pressure needed when drawing lines with a dipping nib or technical pen.

It could involve changing up your ink brand, paper type, and size or finally investing in some high-quality Windsor & Newton watercolor brushes. I’m sure we’ll arrive at a day where students will sit around a live model and sketch them with their Wacoms into a laptop. I just hope that day doesn’t arrive too soon.

[Jay 2018] That day has arrived. The Wacom Intuos Pro pen and tablet promises 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity. And the accessories! Ballpoint pen, fine tip pen, pencil, texture sheets (from smooth to rough), and pen nibs. Things have come a long way in 9 years, and Wacom seems determined to ease the change over to digital.

Kyle T. Webster’s Kylebrush.com collection was acquired by Adobe, and they integrated over 1000 of his digital brushes into Adobe CC. That’s forward thinking.

Digital artists such as Cristiano Siqueira are creating mindblowing work with Adobe Illustrator.

3. The Monetary Value of an Original

I realize most art out there isn’t worth much more than the paper or canvas that it was created on and that’s often not the point when creating it. But what about down the line? What if the creator strikes it big? Having a back catalog of originals could become quite lucrative in that case.

The idea of parting with my originals pains me, but my grandkids might not have the same issues. And although I know it’s happened, it’s not often that we visit a gallery to view a showing of digital print-outs.

Jose Munoz original batman art

[Jay 2018] I still 90% agree with this sentiment. Most of the comic artwork available for sale—online—is still largely undervalued. But then I come across a set of 8 pages of original José Muñoz work for Batman: Black and White – The Devil’s Trumpet for $32,000.

4. Drawing Big

Once again I realize a computer screen can become an infinite canvas if you zoom in and out far enough. But the sheer power of wild brush strokes on a larger sheet of paper still captivates me. I was so used to crafting comic pages on 11″ x 17″ sheets that I thought I might be confined to those dimensions forever.

Then I went to a few comic art exhibits. I saw original pages by Dan Clowes and Chris Ware which were much larger. It completely changed my mindset. And seeing that Paul Pope creates comics on pages as large as 19″ x 24″ was a revelation. And in the art world, larger sized works often do command higher prices.

[Jay 2018]  Most of this still holds true. I wonder, with the ever-increasing megapixel capacity of digital cameras, if we’ll return to capturing traditional artwork for books [and online] by photographing it. A 36MP camera has a native resolution of 7360 x 4912 pixels. That’s a lot of image area to play with.

5. Having a Completely Portable Skill Set

If you can draw, you can draw anywhere. If you’re well practiced with pen or pencil, you can draw in your studio, at a cafe, park, bus station, prison, etc. No need to boot up software or rely on electricity. Back in the 1990’s R. Crumb traded in a box of sketchbooks for a villa in France. You probably won’t be able to trade in your old laptops and digital printouts and get the same deal.

[Jay 2018] so coming back to that Wacom mentioned above and Kyle’s Photoshop brush set, I’d say as long as you have battery power, you can now create art anywhere. You don’t even have to worry about ink spatter.

With the variety of traditional ink pens out there now – I’d still give serious thought to filling a sketchbook with drawings.

A Pen and Ink Love In

I wanted this particular blog post to be more of a celebration of the amazing array of hand-created artwork that’s out there and specifically works rendered in pencil, pen, and ink. I’m hoping the next generation of art students and bedroom illustrators embrace the techniques of the past as they forge on ahead crafting new styles and merging the practical with the digital.

In this next part, I’m going to focus on comic artists, but I’ve mixed in a couple of poster artists and illustrators as well. I’ve kept the number down to around a dozen artists, but I could have easily put 50 or 60 (or 500 or 600) more up here. Every artist listed below is one that I hold in high regard. Some have influenced me while others I simply stand in awe of to both their talent and dedication to their craft.

Florian Bertmer

Florian Bertmer is an incredible draftsman who’s taken influences such as Pushead but run with it into a darker direction. He’s a German artist who creates art for posters, t-shirts and album covers.

Paul Pope

Paul Pope is the perfect melding of European, Japanese and old-school American cartoonists. And he draws big. On his large-sized boards, he deftly creates his comic book masterpieces. He’s one of the artists that I simply stand in awe of. The good people at First Second books will be releasing his out-of-print series THB this fall. The Beguiling comic shop in Toronto has a lot of his art for sale.

Paul Pope 100% original art

Aaron Horkey

There’s no point in trying ever to draw more detailed than Aaron Horkey. His unique artwork adorns record covers, t-shirts and fast to sell-out prints. There’s nobody out there quite like him. His hand-lettering is elegant enough to make dozens of artists want to quit and change professions.

His ink illustrations are so intricate that they blow the art up in size (rather than the standard procedure of reducing) before printing it. I’m the proud owner of several of his silk-screened prints which is the only affordable way to obtain his art. His originals fetch thousands of dollars when you can manage to find one for sale.

Jae Lee

I’ve been in love with the art of Jae Lee ever since first buying up all of the issues of Namor that he worked on in the early 90’s. Despite the murky coloring and poor-quality newsprint that Namor was printed on his edgy style cut through. He became a fan favorite while he was very young.

He continually refined his style by at first taking a loose approach following after Bill Sienkiewicz, Barron Storrey, and Kent Williams. After a hiatus, he came back in the early 2000’s sporting a more realistic approach yet still with the jagged edges and razor-thin lines that he was always known for. He must have gone through an oil tanker worth of black India ink throughout his career.

In 2006 it was announced that he would be providing art for the Marvel adaptation of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. He worked strictly with pencils for this project, and colorist Richard Isanove darkened his grey tones to black in Photoshop and went to town with them. Check out his originals at the Albert Moy Gallery.

Jae Lee pen and ink original art Jae Lee pencil art

Lee Bermejo

Lee Bermejo has risen to the cream of the crop of the comix industry. He came out of the gate around ten years ago working for Wildstorm where his work looked like it had been created by a seasoned pro despite his young age. You don’t hear much from him on the interwebs.

We snagged an interview with him recently, but he has no website or much of a presence online. You can, however, find his gallery over at Splash Page Art. I’m guessing he’s too busy busting out insane amounts of detail on his artwork to bother much with the internet. His graphic novel Joker (written by Brian Azzarello) was and is a bestseller. It hit stores shortly after The Dark Knight was in theatres.

As amazing as he is with pen and ink, it’s his recent style that he’s been developing over the last few years that has found him new fans. He creates textures and layers with pencil and then highlights and outlines the shapes with ink.

The Stand issue 4 cover

Bryan Hitch

Bryan Hitch made everyone in comics take notice of him and his art when he joined Warren Ellis for the first 12 issues of The Authority. The two of them helped to make famous the more cinematic “widescreen” approach of comics in the late 1990’s.

But it was his five-year run with Mark Millar on Marvel’s Ultimates that sent his name soaring into the stratosphere. His masterful combination of exaggerated super-heroic realism pushed front and center over painstakingly rendered backgrounds has won him hundreds of thousands of admirers. And artist Paul Neary must have the patience of a Buddhist monk to have inked a lot of those pages.

You can find a lot of Hitch and Neary original art over at Comic Art Fans. And if you have a spare two or three grand sitting around you could commission an original.

Bryan Hitch captain america splash page

Tim Bradstreet

It’s no secret to anyone who’s followed Optimum Wound for a while that we’re big fans of Tim Bradstreet’s artwork. When I happened upon his book Maximum Black I was immediately inspired to start experimenting with realism and photorealism, and I haven’t looked back since. Tim’s style has also evolved over the years, and his graphic design skills are razor sharp. He’s brought a movie poster and book jacket sensibility to comic covers and won himself a legion of fans in the process.

Tim Bradstreet’s art is always a source of inspiration around these parts.

Geoff Darrow

I was blown away by the art of Geoff Darrow from the first moment a friend showed me a copy Hard Boiled. I needed to see more. Unfortunately, Geoff takes a long time to create his painstakingly detailed artwork. The originals (that I’ve seen listed on eBay) are massive in size.

I believe the pencils are done on illustration paper and then the inks are drawn on a vellum overlay. He could have rested on his laurels after working on the production designs for the Matrix trilogy, but he cut no corners when working on his most recent series, Shaolin Cowboy.

Batman vs Superman illo Geof Darrow DD 500 pinup by Geof Darrow

Sean Phillips

Sean Phillips is one of the most reliable artists currently working in comics. Whether he was working on one of my favorite series of the past decade, Sleeper or earning a bigger paycheque on Marvel Zombies, I am always inspired by the results. He described the look of his style on Criminal as Kent Williams inking Mike Mignola.

He has a nice chunky realistic style and extremely intuitive design skills when it comes to laying out panels on a page. He’s also quite an accomplished painter. You can go to Splash Page Art to see Sean Phillip’s gallery of originals for sale.

sean phillips blue line and pen and ink sean phillips original art

Bill Sienkiewicz

Bill Sienkiewicz has always been one of my absolute favorite artists. I treasure my set of Elektra Assassin comics. I feel he’s the artist mainly responsible for bringing the look of organized chaos to mainstream comics. Melding the bold illustration styles of the 1980’s with Neal Adams, Ralph Steadman and probably a million other influences, Bill knocked us on our asses with his wild drawings and layouts.

From his more realistic subject portrayals in his commercial art projects to his “far-out” experiments in series like Stray Toasters, he has never let us become bored with him. It was his collaborations with Alan Moore on Big Numbers and Brought to Light that really did it for me and showed what could be done with the comics medium.

Sienkiewicz pen and ink commission Bill Sienkiewicz original art

 So what compels you to keep drawing?

Photography Credits:

Both photos at the top were used under a Creative Commons License.

Featured image: ‘nibs’ by Denise Chan

‘Scientific Data on Demand – NERSC’s High Performance Storage System’ – credit: Lawrence Berkeley Nat’l Lab – Roy Kaltschmidt, photographer


About Jason Thibault

Jason Thibault  is a writer, artist, & owner of boutique content marketing agency Massive Kontent. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonthibault) and Instagram (@jay_thibs).