Posts Tagged ‘cross-hatching’

Northern Mockingbird – Pen and Ink


My hobby is birding. I’m quite passionate about it, as I am about art, and occasionally these two loves of my life converge. I don’t draw or paint birds very often although I tell myself that I should. I’ve taught a few workshops on the subject and have enjoyed the enthusiasm and talent that the students have shown.

I have a birding blog that may be seen here. If you’d like, have a look at the Drawings and Paintings page. Recently, I was updating the page and something moved me to draw a new bird. A Northern Mockingbird I photographed last week had been on my mind and I decided to give it a go. Then, realizing that I hadn’t posted on this blog in eons, I thought I’d scan the main steps and tell you a bit about my process.

The Drawing Board

I’ll start with the tools of the trade and my initial process. I work from my own photographs, which can be limiting because my camera skills are pedestrian. Still, once in a while I luck out and I had a nice image of the Northern Mockingbird (NOMO from here on). I duplicate the photo on my computer and convert the duplicate to black and white so I can better see the values. I grid the photo for accuracy. In this case, I wanted the drawing to be about 3/4 the size of the photo so I created a smaller rectangle of the exact same proportions and then gridded it. I work with a soft 2B pencil for all of the preliminary drawing. The softer the pencil, and lighter the touch, the easier it is to clean up the drawing later on with a kneaded eraser.

Evaluating the photograph at the outset is very important. Is anything unclear or confusing? In this case, I edited out several branches. Another concern was the bird’s tail. NOMOs have very long tails and the tilt of the body foreshortens the tail as it’s pointing slightly towards the viewer. I liked the pose, despite the potentially misleading tail position, and went ahead with it.

Step One

Next, I begin work with the pen and ink. I work with a traditional dipping pen. The Speedball nib is inserted into a holder. My ink of choice, since my teen years, is Speedball Super Black India Ink. I won’t bore you with every detail but I’m careful with how I dip and handle the pen to the point of ritual. Something works. I haven’t had a tragic blob in a long, long time. Note the ‘test’ sheet under the pen and pencil, though. It’s an indispensable tool. Note, also, the crumpled, ink-stained paper towel on the left. I’m obsessive about keeping my nib clean.

Tools of the Trade

I’m versed in many basic pen techniques and have taught them for decades. On my own, I have a few favourites and cross-hatching has always been foremost. My second step with the drawing is to explore the forms and, critically, to identify areas of the paper that will remain white. Stroke direction is fairly intuitive although I generally try to describe the underlying planes. The whole drawing is addressed once with these directional strokes (hatching). The cross-hatching comes next.

Step Two

Step Three is an effort to develop the relationships between the values. For the most part, the different areas are cross-hatched once only so the newer strokes overlap the original strokes just once. Yes, I’m patient. This step starts to show the different values in the plumage of the NOMO. This species displays a lovely, subtle range of greys and blacks with a brown eye. In a monochromatic drawing, these elements can only be suggested.

Step Three

In Step Four, I do a lot of work on the darks and blacks. While remaining as true as possible to plumage details, my goal is to give the drawing the strength and vitality of this beautiful, living creature. I don’t rush Step Four and take lots of breaks.

Step Four

Eventually, after long looks from several feet away, I call it a finished drawing. The unresolved look of the upper branch, still at Step Two, is deliberate. The drawing is approximately 7 x 8″. It’s on Strathmore Bristol paper, vellum surface.




I’ve been doing a lot of pen and ink drawing during the pandemic. I use a traditional dipping pen with Speedball nibs, Speedball Super Black India Ink and, for some of the drawings, acrylic ink. Cross-hatching is the technique I employ. Cross-hatching with a pen has been one of my favourite creative activities since childhood. It relaxes me and allows me to gradually develop a range of values.

Lockdown Drawings reference photo

The starting point for these drawings is a rather ordinary photo I took of a back alley in Hamilton, Ontario. The cast/core shadow pattern had attracted me. I refined an overall shape from the pattern in the photo.

Lockdown Drawing #1

Each drawing is a variation of the shape and stays within it’s confines except for the occasional wandering line; a fairly obvious analogy of my behaviour during the lockdown.

Lockdown Drawing #2

My goal was to explore the infinite variety of options within a limited shape. Tonal gradations and the internal geometry of the shape are key concerns. The subtle gold lines in #2 are drawn with FW Artists Ink Gold, an acrylic ink.

Lockdown Drawing #3

Lockdown Drawing #4

Gold ink is used again in #3 and #4. These reproductions do not show the reflective quality of the gold ink. The originals definitely profit from the ‘gilt’ shine.

These are small drawings, approx. 8×8″. To date, there are sixteen drawings in the series.

Pen and Ink – Natural Forms at DVSA


I was back at the Dundas Valley School of Art today to teach the second in a series of four one-day workshops. Last week, I taught Pen and Ink Basics and most of the students were back today to explore natural forms with their pens.

We follow a step by step approach to our drawing exercises. Today, I brought in objects for the students to draw. Our first challenge was a garlic. I discussed the process on an 18 x 24″ pad at an easel. We then gathered around a table where I presented a smaller pen demonstration in steps.

Drawing lesson by Barry Coombs

Our second drawing subject was a seashell. I have quite a collection so each student had their own shell. Once again, I explained our approach at the easel, touching on key elements such as light and shadow and proportion.

Drawing lesson by Barry Coombs

We concentrated mainly on hatching and cross-hatching today. Stroke direction and edge were discussed. In general, we work from light to dark so the dark ‘stripes’ on the shell were one of the last things I did.

Pen and Ink demonstration sheet by Barry Coombs

What a hard-working bunch! After completing two drawings, and with only half an hour left in the class, I gave them each a walnut. I didn’t do a demonstration but asked them to think about all of the ideas we’d considered thus far. Have a look at a selection of the day’s drawings.

I’ll be back next Thursday to teach Introduction to Pen with Wash and Watercolour. I think the class is full but sometimes there are cancellations so, if you’re interested, contact DVSA.

Pen and Ink-Natural Forms Critique

Pen and Ink-Natural Forms Critique

Cinqueterre, Italy 1981-2


Riomaggiore by Barry Coombs

A long time ago, I had the good fortune to study in Florence for an academic year. After my return to Canada, it took years to pay off my student loans but it was worth it. During the Christmas break, a friend and I followed the sage advice of Sandro at Zecchi’s, the famous art supply store in Florence, and visited the coastal villages known as Cinqueterre. We had intended to stay overnight but dragged out the trip for several days, hiking the entire trail system and sketching everything that caught our eye.

I thought it would be timely to share a few of my Cinqueterre sketches as I’ll be heading off to Lucca with an eager and talented group next month. One of our day trips will take us to Cinqueterre.

The sketch above is of Riomaggiore. All of these sketches were done in a 9 1/2 x 13 1/2″ hardcover sketchbook. My typical practice was to lay in the drawing with pencil and then complete it with ink. I (carefully) carried around bottles of ink and ‘crow quill’ nibs and holders. Black and Raw Sienna inks were used in the Riomaggiore sketch.

Corniglia by Barry Coombs

The next sheet gives a sense of the dramatic topography of this beautiful area. I settled on my sketching stool and looked down over Corniglia. I completed the sketch in Sepia ink, turned my stool around and looked way up at San Bernardino. If you’ve been to the region, you’re probably wondering about San Bernardino. It’s not one of the five villages. Actually, it’s a hilltop hamlet and is considered to be a part of Corniglia.

Vernazza by Barry Coombs

The third and final sketch that I’ll share today is of Vernazza; Sepia ink over pencil. I loved working with a ‘dipping’ pen and I still do but, these days, I use them exclusively in the studio. Outdoors, I use various pigment ink disposable sketching pens and I’ve strongly recommended that my students bring a compact sketching kit to Lucca.

I drew and painted outdoors as much as possible while studying in Florence. However, the occasional rainy weather gave me the opportunity to sketch in the museums and galleries, including the Uffizi! I learned a lot by studying the masters through drawing whether it was figures from paintings or sculptures. I’ll show you a few of those in my next post. Ciao!


American Kestrel – Pen and Ink


My hobby is birding. I’m frequently asked by birding friends if I draw and paint birds. Without making eye contact, I whisper a response. Not really.

Well, once in a while, I do draw birds. This drawing of an American Kestrel, our smallest falcon, was done with a traditional dipping pen and India ink.

Near the end of a long walk on Toronto’s Leslie Street Spit, a landfill site that has evolved into an internationally important birding area, I noticed a male Kestrel perched in a tree. It suddenly dropped to the ground and then quickly returned to it’s perch with a plump Meadow Vole in it’s clutches.

I’m not a photographer but I managed to get a decent shot with my point and shoot digital camera. The American Kestrel is a beautiful and colourful bird but I enjoyed the challenge of drawing it with black ink. I used cross-hatching to develop the values and the patterns in the plumage. The final drawing bears little resemblance to the colour photograph that inspired it. Interpretation, editing and simplification were all necessary to capture the essence of this elegant and lethal little hunter.

Pen and Ink Basics – Wednesday and Saturday


It’s been a busy week. First of all, I’d like to welcome new followers and thank those of you who’ve taken the time to comment. Now, to the matter at hand.

I gave a workshop called ‘Pen and Ink Basics’ twice this week; on Wednesday and Saturday. The students did three drawings and followed a step-by-step approach. Each drawing was started with pencil and completed with pen. Pigment ink or pigment liner drawing pens were used.

Our first exercise was started by drawing a triangle with pencil. We then added a curve to the bottom corners of the triangle, converting it into a cone. We created an arbitrary light source from the upper left of the cone. Step One shows swatches of pen strokes that create an overall tone in the core and cast shadow areas. It looks a bit like a parquet floor, doesn’t it?

In Step Two, the cast shadow and the cusp area of the cone are darkened by cross-hatching. New swatches overlap the earlier ones.

The final step shows a broken line on the left edge of the cone. The cast shadow has been darkened at the ‘point of contact’ with the surface plane. It’s not easy to ‘blend’ gently with the pen and it takes a lot of practice. I’ve tried to blend the left and right edges of the dark cusp to make the cone appear natural and three-dimensional.


For our next exercise, each student received their own small still-life; a bowl with a walnut, an almond and a pecan. Two steps of my demonstration are shown below. We started with hatching (parallel strokes) and used it to develop the light and shadow. Gradually and patiently, darks and detail and texture were developed.

A sleuth of bears joined us and volunteered to pose for our third and final exercise. We used a very similar process but tried different variations of cross-hatching.

Everyone was pooped by the end of each day. The exercises were challenging. Each had three basic components.

1) TECHNIQUE: Variations of hatching and cross-hatching were the key techniques. Stippling (dots) and line weight were also explored.

2) LIGHT AND SHADOW: The students did not have lamps to light their subjects. A single light source had to be imagined and applied consistently to each drawing. A sense of three-dimensional form was the goal and this was probably the most demanding element of the workshop.

3) PROCESS: We started with the big shapes in order to establish a convincing sense of light and shadow. As mentioned above, darks were developed with patience. Detail and texture are very important but great care was taken to preserve the areas of direct light.

The students selected their favourite drawing of the day for our critiques. They did good work but, more importantly, I hope they’ll take these ideas home with them and practice often in their sketchbooks.

Wednesday Critique

Saturday Critique


Drawing Exhibition in South Korea



I’ve had a wonderful connection with the South Korean art community for almost two decades. My drawing, ROCK DOVES, will be exhibited in an International Drawing Exhibition  from March 3 – 11, 2011. The show is taking place at the Hangaram Art Gallery in Seoul. Last year, I sent WINTER LANEWAY to this exhibition.

ROCK DOVES is a small (approx. 7 x 9″) pen and ink drawing. It was inspired by the strong light and shadow pattern I noticed on the birds while I waited for the bus at Dundas West subway station.

Tuesday Class – Pen and Ink!


I love drawing with pen and ink and I’ve been teaching it for two decades. Most of the Tuesday class participants are watercolourists but there is usually someone drawing with pencil or pen. The other night, four of the group were working with pen and a few combined it with other media.

Jacques Descoteaux

The drawing on the left is by Jacques Descoteaux. Jacques is one of those landscape painters who never really drew much. He had been concentrating on pencil until recently. Lately, the pen seems to have really inspired him.

We can all see the little problems with the drawing but I like the simplification and the handling of the pen. The drawing has a harmonious textural quality that has nothing to do with the textures of the various objects being depicted. Check out Jacques’s work at

Katherine Frech

Katherine Frech is a very capable watercolourist and one who loves to experiment. I thought she was doing a warmup drawing on Tuesday but she kept going. She’s created a very believable space with the objects strongly related to each other. Her use of tone in the background and the treatment of the fabrics pulls everything together nicely. I enjoy the ‘lost edge’ between the apple on the left and the canister above it.

Michael Galea

Mike Galea is an architectural student who joined us this term. He and his friend John started with drawing fundamentals in pencil and were introduced to the pen a few weeks ago. The combination of pen and watercolour really appeals to Mike and he’s done a nice job here. His process began with a pencil drawing. He then painted his watercolour washes in just a few values.  He used the cool red of the apples in the background (the apples obviously didn’t appeal to him otherwise) and even snuck some of the red into the objects. The pen came last. Note that the pen appears in every area of the drawing.

Aleda O'Connor

Aleda O’Connor is best known for her landscapes in oil pastel on wood panels. A while back, she found the panels a bit too cumbersome to take on a trip and substituted drawing materials. This drawing is done with pen and white charcoal pencil on a toned pastel paper.

Aleda feels that she has been struggling a bit this term. Who doesn’t from time to time? Still, I like the openness of her cross-hatching style. It allows the toned paper to act as a middle tone. Sometimes, I think she uses too much white but that’s not the case in this image.

The artists used pigment liner or pigment ink drawing pens. The ink is waterproof, the pens are disposable and they come in different colours and nib sizes. Great pocket pens! Every art supply store carries them and they are made by Pilot, Staedtler, Micron and other manufacturers.