Using Pencil with Pen and Wash

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Drawings With Layers

Wash application echoes the movement of leaf surfaces in these eloquent drawings. Darker layers result from a buildup of light, transparent values.

from top, drawings by students linda fitzgerald and ann ballantyne

Begin with a pencil underdrawing, applied according to the effect you want. Applying pencil first will increase your technical control before you add ink and wash.

Your pencil underdrawing can be:

• a simple vertical or diagonal guideline to give a tool or upright object a straight reference;

• a general sketch to help control scale and placement of the object on your page, as well as give you a preliminary feelfor that object;

• a complete, detailed drawing.

In a casual drawing, retain your pencil marks if you like the look. With a formal pen drawing, erase your pencil underdrawing (no one will know you had a safety net) after the ink is dry.

"I used to rip up all my drawings. I don't have any of that early work, and I'm really sad about that. I could have learned a lot of things if I had kept them. Now, I put my drawings away for a while. Sometime I take out a drawing that I do like and put it up on a wall and think, I did something that was O.K.! That helps. "

-student susan parsons

Once your pencil line is in, do your pen drawing, putting in as much texture and detail as you want. You can sketch with pen, using a spontaneous, intuitive approach. Values can be filled in with quick marks, or even scribbles, that describe the surface. A more formal approach simply means more precision. Micro pen nibs create a finer mesh of marks that are less pronounced than the fine nib makes. Outlines work best with the fine nib; shadow areas are more effective with the micro. Washes over pen lines can subdue their bold look, as well.

Squint to see the shadow value pattern; use your micro nib for those areas. Wait for a few seconds for the pen line to set. Test a small area. Place a very light wash over all value areas, reserving lightest areas-highlights in particular-as blank paper, building up washes gradually, as you did before.


Evaluate as you would for any value drawing, from a distance, once your wash has set. Ask yourself if any areas need some darker wash. You can put more pen work over areas to deepen values, adding more contrast. You can also put washes over the pen work-but never use pen on a wet surface.

These drawings demonstrate the effectiveness of subtle gray washes. Let light layers of wash dry between applications if you want to achieve darker values slowly, with greater control.

student drawings, from top, by sandy fitzmaurice (smaller brush), jim hohorst (tape roll), and a. gaston (larger brush)

Tape Roll DrawJim Gaston Pens

"I enjoyed layering the wash and getting it a little darker in some spots, and I was happy with the shading and the scale, even if I couldn't get all the lines the way I would have liked— but it still worked in the end." —student kim nightingale

"If you have some nice lines, some nice shading, it can be pleasing even though it wasn't exactly what was on the table. It's a piece of art, not an exact replication. Don't beat yourself up so much!" —student ellen s. Gordon


Have fun with multiple possibilities. Play with techniques and materials. Now that you're familiar with wash, experiment with direct mixing and application of darker washes. Send someone a piece of "mail art"; use a postcard-size format, or if larger, apply a first-class stamp. Let a bunch of friends in on your activity by photocopying your drawings (use the black-and-white setting on a color laser printer to get a full range of grays), and send them out as mailing multiples— or scan and e-mail them.

Cattails Sketches

"I hadn't taken a real art class since I was a kid. I was afraid to try, intimidated by all the details. So when we had the assignment to do the pen and wash, I wanted to do the cattails, but I was so worried about the wash and all those overlapping leaves and all those shadows to draw. I used a pencil sketch underdrawing for overall shape and placement, then just started at one end and worked my way to the other. No stopping or erasing. I realized it wasn't like this was going to be taken out and put on a public wall for critique. I could just start over if I wanted to, but I had to keep going until I finished. I was so happy when I saw that it was actually recognizable as cattails!" —student tracev m. robinson

Pencil Skecth Cattail


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Pencil Drawing Beginners Guide

Pencil Drawing Beginners Guide

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