Cartoon Sketching: It is all in the lines. Tips on how to ink your sketches.

While many of us regard a cartoon as a funny picture, in reality, a cartoon is a line drawing where distinctions are made by the way lines are expressed.

Look closely at  the illustration I made of violets (below) and you’ll see that its outline is made up of lines with irregular widths, giving added interest to a subject. Prior to computerized drawing programs, illustrations of all types were finished by professional inkers prior to publication.  If it wasn’t for an inker’s work, edges of illustrations would look fuzzy or simply light gray.

To find out more about the profession of inking, Google the phrase cartoon inkers. A good overview of the subject is How To Be A Comic Book Inker. It covers commentary by famous inkers, a summary of tools, and a video on how inking is done.

Like calligraphy, practice is required, but you don’t have to memorize alphabetical styles. While hard calligraphic pens are handy, many inkers prefer to use very fine-tipped brushes because when pressure is slightly applied, variable width strokes result.

To get started, ideally you should have:

  • A traditional light box, or LED tablet (which provides better visibility through paper)
  • A pack of smooth Bristol paper (not vellum). Packs are available from Strathmore and Canson.
  • Brushes or pens
    • Buy a round, 0 and 00 fine tip brush & India Ink, or . . .
    • Faber-Castel Pitt Artist Brush Pens (you will not need extra ink, which is handy, but these are harder to use than traditional brushes)
  • White-out to cover inking mistakes

To trace, place a sketch on a light box, then cover it with a sheet of Bristol paper. When you turn on the box’s light, the image shows through the Bristol paper, providing the pattern to trace.

Get started tracing by using non-representative sketches, like the one below. In this way, you won’t get hung up on whether your new skill makes the underlying sketch look good. (Click HERE to acquire this 8.5 x 11 inch pattern.)

If you don’t have a light table or tablet, print several copies of the practice sheet and ink over each practice sheet’s lines.

As you become confident, learn about cross hatching such as taught by Alphonso Dunn who provides excellent free video tutorials on the subject.

In addition to developing control, also identify the inking styles you like.  That style will make your drawings stand out, with the opposite of that being coloring book characters that lay flat and somewhat lifeless.

Inking is simply one of many skills involved in creating interesting drawings. Unfortunately, inking is one many sketchers ignore.  Generally, ink is applied after a pencil sketch is made, but some people are so skilled at it, they skip pencil layouts altogether.



This article was written by Karen Little as part of an ongoing series of blogs on Cartoon Sketching. Published on February 23, 2020.

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