Posts Tagged ‘pen and ink drawing’



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.


Introduction to Drawing Birds at DVSA!


Yesterday, I was back at the Dundas Valley School of Art to teach a one-day workshop. Our medium was pen and ink and our theme was an introduction to drawing birds. I chatted a bit about famous bird artists like John James Audubon, James Fenwick Lansdowne and Robert Bateman and discussed their processes. We also talked about David Sibley and other excellent bird illustrators whose work informs the field guides used to identify birds. Artists past and present have worked from mounted specimens, skins, field sketches and photos. Our only option yesterday was to use photos as our reference. We worked from black and white photos as our drawings were in black and white, as well.

Proportion is important when drawing a bird. I used a simple grid approach and presented this to the students.

This is a Black-capped Chickadee, a common woodland and feeder bird in southern Ontario. I’m going to show you three steps of my demonstration. The first step establishes the main values throughout the drawing with hatching. I do not outline and I develop the darks very patiently. Most of the preliminary pencil drawing has been erased, including the grid, but not all.

I’ve used cross-hatching to emphasize plumage details and to stress ‘light and shadow’ in order to give the bird fullness and form.

I’ve developed the darks and added definition to areas like the undertail and legs. Note the gaps I’ve left around the edge of the bird such as the beak, upper breast, upper back, tail, legs and branch. Did you notice the gaps before I mentioned them? These gaps allow light to flow throughout the drawing and enhance the feeling of vitality. A heavy outline is not only unnecessary; it would flatten out the drawing and detract from the impression of fullness and liveliness.

The students followed my steps in order to understand the process. There were a lot of elements to consider and they did very well with the exercise.

Black-capped Chickadee Critique

Our afternoon drawing was a portrait of a Downy Woodpecker; another local favourite. Here’s my grid analysis and my unfinished demonstration.

I enjoyed the talented and enthusiastic group of students. Several were birders and many were members of the local Hamilton Naturalists’ Club. They worked hard and came away with a sound process for drawing birds at home from their photos. Let’s have a look at their Downy Woodpeckers.

Downy Woodpecker Critique

Pen and Ink Studio at DVSA – Week Four!



I dipped into my treasure trove of drawing subjects yesterday and found an entire ancient realm of castles. Albeit, castles with the names of American resorts. They offered a great opportunity to discuss ideas about handling architecture with pen and ink.

Step one of my demonstration shows some a wet-in-wet wash over a pencil drawing. The wet wash was a combination of Raw Sienna and Cobalt blue, mingling in places to create a grey. The red roofs were added after the first wash dried.

Step one of pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

I did a lot of work on the demo with the pen. Note that before I spent time on any details, I tried to establish the main shapes of light and shadow. We didn’t have table lamps available to light our castles, so we all tried to imagine a single light source. I decided upon a light source from the upper right.

Step two of pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

The castles look complicated but they were a lot of fun to draw. The students did very well. We’re still missing a few holidayers but expect them back in the studio at the Dundas Valley School of Art next week.

Pen and Ink Studio Critique

Pen and Ink Studio Critique

Barry’s Birds in the Wood Duck magazine


My hobby is birding. As such, I’m a member in a few clubs and organizations. One of these is the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club. The club produces the Wood Duck magazine nine times a year, from September to May. I recently submitted a pen and ink drawing of an American Kestrel for the December issue. The editor liked it and suggested we make it a regular feature. Barry’s Birds has hatched and taken flight!

American Kestrel by Barry Coombs

American Kestrel
by Barry Coombs

Wood Duck, December 2016, Cover  Wood Duck, December 2016, P. 94

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