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When you think of drawing, sketching with a pencil may be the first thing that comes to mind. But pencil isn’t the only way you can draw: Ink is another medium that’s easy to get started with. And once you’re comfortable with the basics, you can experiment with more intricate drawing techniques to create detailed, colorful, and even surprisingly realistic art. 

Here’s how to get started with ink drawing, with beginner, intermediate, and advanced pen and ink drawing ideas to inspire your first project.

Tools for Drawing With Inks

typography
Drawing with ink pens is a mess-free way to begin.

Pens

Ink pens come in many varieties, from the everyday to the more artistic:

Ink and Brush

If you want to create more flowing images, several types of ink can be used similarly to paint, with a brush and water or other solvent, like alcohol.

Other Tools

Ink drawing lends itself well to multimedia art, because the ink is usually bold enough to stand out against a background. Experiment with mixing your ink drawing with watercolors, acrylic paints, collage, gel pens, or chalk pastels.

If you’re familiar with digital drawing tools, you can also create ink drawing effects using Procreate, Photoshop, Illustrator, and other programs.

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Ink Drawing Ideas

Try one of these pen and ink drawing ideas, from beginner level to more advanced.

Ink Drawing Ideas: Easy

1. Detailed Doodle

This meditative design might look complex, but it’s really a matter of letting your imagination run free and doodling with an ink pen.

2. Ink Monster

Ink drop monsters are a fun way of playing with ink and creating characters. Using an old-fashioned bottle of ink and a dropper, create some random patterns on a page and see what creatures emerge from the mess.

3. Simple Line Portrait

man drawing
Student work by Marie Mainguy for Illustrating with Ink: Techniques for Brush and Pen

Simple line drawings can be very effective when you add careful and sparing details. Try drawing a portrait or caricature of someone you know with just some simple lines.

4. Black and White Illustration

ink drawing
Ink drawing can produce dramatic contrasts between black and white.

Not all ink is black, but you can create simple and striking illustrations by painting with black ink on white paper.

5. Highlighter Art

You don’t need any special equipment for ink drawing. Most of us have a few highlighters stashed in our desks, which can be used to draw beautiful and bold designs. Drawing with ink pens doesn’t get much more colorful than this!

6. Sumie Ink Bamboo

bamboo
Student work by Mandie Gibson for Japanese Black Ink Painting: Beginner’s Bamboo.

Sumie ink is a Japanese ink used in many East and Southeast Asian artistic traditions. Drawing with ink and brush is a classic art form, and this classic bamboo is easy to paint.

Ink Drawing Ideas: Intermediate 

7. Calligraphy

Calligraphy is a traditional form of decorative lettering, often done with a fountain pen. Sentences or poems in calligraphy are a work of art in their own right, or you can add calligraphic lettering to illustrations.

8. Blended Water-Based Art

watercolor
Blend water-based markers to create a painterly effect.

Ink drawing isn’t just about stark black-and-white contrast. Water-based markers are a type of ink pen that can be blended to look like watercolor paints.

9. Daily Journal

Journaling is a good activity for self-care. If you tend to be more inspired by images than by words, try keeping a visual journal of your daily activities or goals. The above example uses ink drawing combined with watercolor paints.

10. Abstract Alcohol Art

watercolor shell
Alcohol inks spread unpredictably, so they’re a fun way to doodle with ink.

Doodling with alcohol inks and gel pens is straightforward and creates striking effects, but you might need to purchase some extra supplies.

Ink Drawing Ideas: Advanced 

11. Hand Lettered Poster

words with watercolor flower
Student work by Tia M for Hand Lettering Essentials for Beginners.

Combine ink drawing or lettering with your other favorite media, such as watercolor paints, as shown in this poster. The possibilities of drawing with ink and brush expand when you bring in other media.

12. Ink Landscape

trees
Use water to “paint” with markers.

If you want to make an ink drawing that looks like a painting, try using both water-based and alcohol-based markers, like in this landscape scene.

13. Portrait

sketch of man and dog
Student work by Paula Cuellar for Ink Drawing Techniques: Brush, Nib, and Pen Style.

Once you’ve learned some advanced ink drawing techniques, try a portrait or self-portrait with shading and details.

14. Spooky Scene

illustration
Student work by Silje Züleyha Grimsøen for Ink Drawing Techniques: Brush, Nib, and Pen Style.

Combine careful attention to detail and fine pen control to make a rich, beautiful ink drawing.

15. Digital Ink Illustration

mix tape
Student work by Helen Baker for Ink Illustration Techniques in Procreate.

You’ll need specific software to tackle digital drawing—but if you have it and know how to use it, you can easily make illustrations that look like real ink drawings.

16. Digital Hand Lettering

calligraphy
Digitize ink calligraphy with design software.

You can also turn ink drawings and lettering—such as this calligraphy—into a digital format using design software.

Get Started Drawing With Ink

watercolor design
Get started drawing with ink today, and it won’t be long before you can create masterpieces like this!

Whether you like the graphic black-and-white contrast of simple pen-and-ink drawings or want to experiment with a variety of colors and media, you can find an ink drawing project to suit your style. Use what you already have in your art kit, or invest in some new materials—either way, we can’t wait to see what you create!

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Ink Drawing Techniques: Brush, Nib, and Pen Style