Life drawing in ink

2-10 min poses (cut short by fiddling with the material and blotting)

I wanted to try something new for my life drawing class (they are not tutored so they are what I make of them) and decided to test ink and my new bamboo pen. I chose a roll of wall paper to draw on as it is thick enough to take the ink and the roll would give the ink a chance to dry before it reaches the floor. Changing page in a sketch pad would be difficult. The shading is done with a waterbrush. It was very fiddly, I would have needed at least four hands – or somewhere to put my things. Some of the ink was very wet and runny so I had to blot it with a cloth smudging and staining in the process.

Apart from that I am quite happy with the result. The marks are loose and quick and the uneven application of the ink gives them life and character. The pen is thick and does not allow for detail which forces me to concentrate on large shapes.

I suspect the figures gain a lot from the medium so that they look better than they are. Or maybe the eye is more forgiving with regard to accuracy when the lines are sketchy and obviously not precise? So I think this is a great way to make interesting drawings, but for learning purposes a less forgiving medium makes mistakes more prominent and is therefore better.

I need to draw more faces! They seem to be the hardest part of figure drawing… I need to learn what to draw, what marks to make to suggest the features.


Ink portraits

Ink is a wonderful medium to loosen up drawing! To this purpose I made myself a new pen out of a short bamboo stick. It makes uneven marks, very thick in the beginning, thin when the ink’s run out. I can also draw with it on its side to make broad bold marks.

These drawings involved a lot of contour drawing I noticed.

The close study for Assignment 1 was a lot of help. I knew what lines I wanted to draw and how. However, none of the first two looks like me. The one in blue ink is a better likeness. In all of them I like the quality of the lines and how they add life to the drawing.

Calligraphy ink Sepia, bamboo and glass pen on A3 cotton watercolour paper


These could possibly be me in my teens. I wonder what it is that makes the blue one look slightly older…


Calligraphy ink Sepia, bamboo pen and brush, A3 cotton watercolour paper
Calligraphy ink blue black, bamboo pen and brush on A3 cotton  watercolour paper

1.3 Self-portrait

  • Make a self-portrait
  • Use a variety of pencils in the H-B range
  • Use a variety of marks

A daunting task. During my morning sketches in the train I found that my faces look more lifelike if I try not to draw lines but rather areas of shadow and light. So that is what I did for my self-portrait. In order to get nicely defined shadows I put a light to the left and slightly to the front of me. After two very quick sketches and a drawing in my sketchbook I decided on a pose and began.

I started with a very rough application of shadow areas with a 4H pencil. I worked this until I felt that the pencil caught on something to substantiate – the right eye brow. From there I let myself be led to other shadow areas until I had a very delicate picture of my face. It felt a bit like sculpting. I then intensified some of the shadows and stepped the pen up to a 3B and finally a 7B. With these I could define the eyes and nose and fill in the dark areas of my hair. At the same time I worked with the putty eraser to correct mistakes. I also worked in highlights with the putty eraser or a pen-eraser for the very small highlights. Only now I drew in a few lines around the eyes, nostrils and lips. For the hair I used some more energetic marks I had found during the first exercises of this course.

I used the strongest contrasts and most defined lines around the eyes to make them the focal point. I also decided to draw face and hands as realistically as I can and be looser with the clothes to strengthen focus on the face.

Self-portrait, pencil on paper, A3

Mark making from Ex. 1-2

For the hair I used some bolder marks and lift-out from exercise 1. The linework for the clothes and the hands was similar to contour drawing – I had my pen on the paper and my eyes on the subject. Only I drew lines inside the shapes as well.

Even if I did not use many of the marks from the previous exercises I feel that my approach and way of working has changed: how I hold the pen (different ways depending on what I do), how I use erasers, where my eyes are when I draw. This last point I noticed very distinctly when I drew my drawing hand. Due to the hand moving I was obliged to keep my eyes on the paper for longer stretches and draw from memory. This felt odd – when earlier it was the other way round.

It would be interesting to do portraits in other media and use more of my marks, e.g. in ink.

Contours from the train

I had some difficulties with the contourdrawing exercises I did last week so I decided to give them a try in the train.

photo-1The shapes here are more complex and a lot of them are clothes – this made it easier than manmade shapes where mistakes are instantly visible.

I noticed that my eyes stayed longer with the object and only flicked back to the drawing to check on it and find points of relation. And I began to see that the silhouette can give quite some information about shapes that are not drawn at all (e.g. glasses or ears define the tilting of the head – they even define the shape as a head).

Silhouettes have a distinct inside and outside – a fact that can be explored in a drawing. Some ideas have popped up in my head… (to be continued).





1.2 Contour Drawing

Exercise 1: Contour of a simple object

  • place a simple object slightly at an angle
  • with a pen begin to trace its outer edge
  • when I have a believable shape, trace negative spaces into it
  • Do this on several A4 sheets
  • reflect on where I have made good use of my observation
  • reflect on the double experience observing/drawing


I found this exercise very difficult as I do not normally draw like this. I try to construct the shape rather than follow its outer contour.

First attempts

I also wanted to correct mistakes in order to learn the shape.  Also certain things I observed got amplified by my hand and I had to moderate them. My first attempts were very disjointed and wonky.

Drawing in the negative spaces felt like a relief! They helped me to understand the shape. When I change my eye to concentrate on what is inbetween as if it were a positive shape I see what is there rather than what I think the shape is.

My eyes tended to stay with the object rather than flicking between object and drawing and so I lost track of the drawing. After a while I found a balance that worked.

Exercise 2: ‘Blind’ contour drawing

  • Draw the same object as in Ex.1
  • Draw its contour and negative spaces
  • Do not look at your drawing
  • Keep this up for 5 min.

I was glad I had already studied my subject in the previous exercise. I felt that my hand knew the shape of its belly and of the handle. Alas it also knew a garbled shape of the pipe. Maybe I relied too much on my hand’s memory and did not really look anymore. I observed that my eyes won’t trace a line as would my fingers. Instead they jump, catch, accelerate, backtrack… It is not as if I could couple my hand to my eyes and let the latter lead the former. My eyes are a jumpy guide.

blind contour.JPG

Claude Heath

Claude Heath is a contemporary draghtsman who draws objects he does not look at but feels with his hand. Neither does he look at his drawing. Touch is different from sight in some important features – especially in connection with drawing. Where a seen object has one contour line, a silhouette, a touched object has not. Where a seen object is partly obscured by itself, a touched object is not. Neither colour, shadows or perspective come into it when we touch an object. Claude Heath translates the shapes he feels into pictures where he draws the lines he feels with fine pens. Some of them are recognisable images, especially when he helps the eye by choosing different colours for front/back or outside/inside. This helps the viewer to interpret the many marks. He sais that by not looking at the image taking form makes the act of drawing a part in a performance (1).

I think the idea of translating touch into sight is very intriguing. His drawings also show that it is possible to synchronise the drawing hand with the feeling hand (or with the eyes if one were looking) to a point that results in quite accurate lines. The pictures Heath made of his brother’s face are fantastic in that respect.

He uses other techniques as well, like drawing with both hands simultaneously , or 3D drawings (‘blind’ as well).



Reflections on Ex. 1 and 2

I think both of these exercises help me to look closely and observe. Drawing like this relies heavily on observation rather than on understanding shapes, the laws of perspective and geometry. It is a skill that I feel I need to develop.

They also build eye-hand coordination – especially ex. 1 where I have the possibility to correct mistakes and calibrate my hand movements to what I see.

Blind drawing forces me to stay with the object rather than my drawing. It can build courage to rely on my hand for longer stretches of time. That is a good thing for the information, after all, comes from the object.

Exercise 3: Drawing from memory

  • Choose an object with interesting shapes and holes
  • Study it for 1 min.
  • Then put it away and draw it from memory in 5 min


As in the first exercise I notice that contourdrawing makes me forget all other things I otherwise use when drawing. I loose track of where I am even with my eyes on the paper. I also notice that I fall back on what I know rather than what I have seen in terms of perspective in order to make up for things I have forgotten (like the angle I saw the object from).

Exercise 4: Drawing blind

  • Look at your object very attentively
  • Then begin to draw with the paper out of sight
  • Keep drawing for 5 min.

How is this exercise the potentially most valuable in terms of observation?

I have difficulties to let my hand follow my eyes as they jump back and forth along the line I want them to follow. I loose track and draw in different scales – a problem I noticed I have in my life drawings as well. Revealing! The problem might be hand-eye coordination? Deficiency in that would make it hard to remember where my lines are when I need to lift the pen.

A somewhat picassoesque passoire


Before these exercises I had not thought of the contour as a distinct feature of an object – I had always concentrated on shapes. However, now I understand that the contour can give information about the shape of an object in its own right. There are some advantages to be had from that:

  • The contour line can be used to check a drawing for mistakes
  • It can also help to try and see lines and shapes instead of the object as such in order to draw what is there rather than what I think I see.
  • When setting up a still life I can make quick contour sketches to get an understanding for how my composition works in terms of balance and interest. This can also contain shadowlines. Example of two different arrangements of the same objects:
  • The same goes for portraits: With the help of contour sketches I can choose an angle that is interesting and where distinct features in the silhouette give information about shapes and directions (from the right angle a silhouette can give an astonishing amount of information. I realized this when I drew contours in the train, in my sketchbook)

Spinnoff to Dramatic Marks

The exercise about dramatic marks seems to have struck a cord with me. I don’t want to let it go just yet and keep coming back to it with my inks and sketchbook. The inks I use won’t lift off easily so I used this technique only in the first one.



Pelican nib pen ink, water and acrylic marker (white) on cartridge paper.

I tried to achieve an effect of light backlighting a nondescript foreground. I was not trying to depict anything here.



The other two started in a similar way although I built the tones up instead of using lift off. For the fire picture I started with a rough frame in undiluted ink and draged that into the centre with clear water. I then emptied my brush on the oposite page, first diluted and then some short marks in undiluted ink. I then let the images inspire me to add colour, trees, snow and crows to amplify what I saw in them. I worked on them simultaneously and let them inspire each other.

Black, yellow and red calligraphy ink, water, indian ink on cartridge paper


Black and white calligraphy ink, water on cartridge paper

Neither of the images was planned, they grew under my hands. I like the spontaneous element of the crows although they are not perfect. I regret having tried to make them clearer by adding a (very bad) wing.

Life Drawing Class

At my third life drawing class this autumn I felt I have overcome the initial problems of orientation and proportions and find myself where I left off a year ago. Although there are a couple of new aspects, too.

I like to begin with the head and shoulders to get a feel for the pose and work my way down. I tried other approaches – like being all over the paper all the time, or beginning with the feet – but they make me feel disorientated.

Our model this week had a braid. I liked that very much as it helped me to define the inclination of the head and the shape of the shoulders.

Coal on A3 newspaper paper (the lines have been smudged stamped themselves between drawings)


This week’s sketches

I have a new – and bigger – sketchbook for my train sketches. A new pen, too. Both make sketching harder, I feel. A5 needs considerably more detail than did A6 and errors in shape or perspective are more obvious. With the new pen I have abandoned the skratchy marks and try instead to draw single lines. This needs some getting used to. However, I think it is good for me to see where I make mistakes.

I have been to the Opera with my sketchbook. The black clad musicians in the dark and black painted orchestra pit were interesting, as the instruments and the musicians’ hands and faces were what was visible while their clothes faded into the background.


I also began to feel that I am looking differently after working on my course. I look at things that interest me and think about what kind of medium/marks I would use to draw them. Some I tried out in my sketchbook.

Direction of lines: vertical on land, horizontal in the water. I like the idea but the horizontal lines need to really be horizontal
The station at 6 in the morning. Lifting out of all the lighter parts from a dark background.