Recently I have been trying to learn some new media, and ink is one of them. I love what some people can do with it, both modern comicbook artists and old masters. I would love to achieve effects similar to what Durer did, for example like this: Durers autoportrait

I cant really find any useful info on how to do that. The youtube videos I watched on hatching with ink were all about shading spheres and boxes, small ones I might add. Not very useful, when I tried to apply it to a portrait.

What are the guidelines for learning and using ink for portraits and similar art? Are there any good resources on the topic? Where should I be looking for them?

While someone corrected me in the comments, and told me the work I posted as an example of what I want to achieve is an engraving, it is still doable with a pen and ink - it's all black lines, and black lines are what pens do really well. I would like to ask for answers focusing on the drawing with ink aspect and ignorign the engraving thing - I have a quill dip pen and i want to learn how to hatch to get the threedimensionality and awesomeshade gradation that Durer's pieces have (ignoring how he made them). A less awesome example of how I would like to draw is this:

face ink cross hatching stanta ink cross hatching

The thing that I like about the Durer example is that it has light tones that arent pure white. The others show a lot of white - especially the Santa example has blazing white cheeks and nose right next to pretty dark shades. I like the softness of shade gradation in Durer's autoportrait.

How can I learn shading this way? Are there any guidelines? Could you recommend any resources to learn from? Or maybe you could instruct me on how to learn this in an answer?

  • 1
    Well, the effect was achieved in ink via engraving. So, I'd start there: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engraving
    – DA01
    Sep 18, 2013 at 20:19
  • 1
    The Durer example is scratchboard. The technique is not new. Crow quill pen nibs don't produce the same effect.
    – Stan
    Sep 19, 2013 at 0:15

4 Answers 4


The main problem we are having is that the image was achieved by drawing with white, so you are asking how to simulate the "not mark making."

In any event, white or black, the defining feature of this work is the line weight variability, where the expressiveness of the lines is created by a relaxed pressure on a carving tool.

You will need to figure out how to specify a line and then sketch around that line. Perhaps use a pencil, then fill in with ink where there is not pencil, and then erase the pencil.

If you use black paper and white ink or go with Stan's idea, you will achieve the look you want directly.

For white ink, you need a tool which will allow you to modulate line weight, such as a dip pen (aka fountain pen or quill dip pen).

A decent fountain pen is a pleasure to work with BTW.

As a sort of zen side note: why is a pencil or ink required in order to be a drawing?

  • I do have a quill dip pen :) As for the zen question - it may just be a language barrier, as im not an English native speaker. Im feeling we are having a problem claryfying what Im asking - Im not asking about the technicalities such as tools, methods, white on black and black on white. I need some practice, but I can vary my line weight. Im having a problem with what lines should I draw and where to put them to get such convincing shades, instead of getting a "weir grig" look, as my current drawings tend to end up looking. I'd say learning hatching is key to my question.
    – K.L.
    Sep 18, 2013 at 21:34
  • I tried to clarify my question a bit
    – K.L.
    Sep 18, 2013 at 21:42
  • I like your answer on my similar question regarding graphite hatching - I wanted to make the two into one question, but in the end I decided that graphite and ink are very different mediums and they may deserve their own questions. also I wanted to avoid the problem of two questions in one and "and" answers
    – K.L.
    Sep 18, 2013 at 21:47
  • If you look at the 3 examples you give, the Durer is actually the odd one. The other two are, more or less, doing what I describe generally in the graphite question. That is: they choose to make marks in the areas one normally sees shadows, and those marks often (not always) have a chosen shape and angle which helps to describe the fold or curvature of the facial feature. That really is as simple as it sounds. The hard part is time and energy.
    – horatio
    Sep 18, 2013 at 21:47
  • I will say that for a while in high school I abandoned pencil entirely and used fountain pens and technical pens exclusively. There is no real difference between pencil and ink when it comes to this manner of drawing, except you learn to be less "precious" with your lines with ink since you must either live with your mistakes or abandon the work entirely.
    – horatio
    Sep 18, 2013 at 21:49

Use Scratchboard to get the engraved effect you show.

We used to make our own in grade school.

  1. Start with a sheet of heavy bond paper.
  2. Cover the paper with a thick layer of wax. We used crayons in various saturated colours.
  3. After the paper is covered without any gaps, cover the whole page with india ink. Add a drop of detergent so the ink will stick to the thick wax layer without cracking.
  4. Let it dry thoroughly.
  5. Using various tools scrape off the ink to reveal the brightly covered wax underneath.
  6. Various types of lines give various effects.

Professional scratchboard has two layers and removing the top thin white layer reveals the stark contrast of the jet-black layer underneath. The light layer on the top allows you to sketch your composition before actually starting to remove the overbearing.

Various scratchboard tools are available that look like pen points that fit into pen holders. Some look like rakes with different thickness of the tines to get parallel lines as you drag it over the surface of the scratchboard. Dragging the rake at a cross angle produces the cross-hatching effect that resembles engraving. The more you remove of the top layer, the darker the composition becomes. You can touch up mistakes with Graphic White.

It's fun and a few people still do it now. There are computer programs (image texturizers) that take posterized art and assign a pattern to the tonal value of the lines or areas of the image.

Good Luck, Have Fun.

  • while a very interesting answer, it does not tackle drawing ;) Anyhow, thanks! :)
    – K.L.
    Sep 18, 2013 at 20:53
  • 2
    @K.L. Well, it's not engraving. You wanted to know how to shade and crosshatch. This is one way to achieve the effect. This effect cannot be achieved with steel point or copper engraving due to the line quality. Compare and you'll see the difference.
    – Stan
    Sep 18, 2013 at 21:03

The quality of line you are looking for can be achieved with ballpoint pen I am not trying to say that ballpoint pen and dip pen are the same not even close to each other ballpoint pen has its own look and feel and so does dip pen for me ballpoint pen is another way. To produce art with ink Also ballpoint pen can be frustrating to learn it has taken me about five years to produce the look I want to achieve but is well worth the time and effort just depends on how dedicated to doing the type of art you visualize also I'm not saying to abandon dip pen for ballpoint pen the ability to use either one will expand your art

  • Can you insert some punctuation in this (single?) sentence? It's lack thereof is quite distracting me from the information in your answer.
    – Jongware
    Jul 4, 2015 at 8:59

From the comments above I think the most important issue is being overlooked. If one were to watch youtubes of Alphonso Dunn he insists ( and I agree with him perfectly) that any subject you tackle must be related to a square cylinder or sphere and observe how the light falls on it. If that principle is overlooked no amount of technique would make the drawing look convincing. Perhaps that is why the gentleman is finding the results frustating.

Also I believe that he(or anybody else) should never strive for a Durer look or a Picasso look because there is only one Durer and only one Picasso and only one gentleman like him.

Just concentrate on expressing the volume knowing the edge where the subject turns away from the light and express it. Let the subject itself be your own teacher by your patient observation and assessment and you will have a beautiful result which would be entirely your own.

Good luck friend.

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