I am very particular when it comes to the tools, mediums, and processes I use to create my artwork. My art style is extremely precise and considered, especially as I primarily work with black and white. Since I work as a graphic designer as well as an artist, of course I can be flexible, and have created designs in full/spot/Pantone colour. But the linework is always drawn in black and white, and colour almost comes as a secondary addition once I bring it into Adobe. So for the purposes of this post, I'm going to be concentrating on the tools I use for my hand drawn work, as that's what I love most and do best!
1. Find the right paper
Before you even begin thinking about pens, you want to consider the surface you're drawing on. I previously always used high gsm cartridge paper (which essentially just means it's very thick and dense paper), which is a good alternative to boards. But these days I swear by Arches watercolour paper. It might sound silly using watercolour paper for fineliner work, but the reason I use it is because it has a gritty, textured surface (designed to absorb the watercolour) meaning that the lines you draw immediately look so much softer as a result. Arches paper can be a bit pricey, so it's a good idea to buy the bulk pads. Eckersley's is a good retailer that stocks Arches, as well as a lot of other fine art supplies.
2. Go big or go home
Nope, we're not done with paper yet! If you've made the decision to spend on getting the larger size of Arches paper, opt for the paper cut from a roll. The reason I'd recommend this is because you then have the option of hand-torn paper, instead of machine-cut. This will give your paper an artisanally frayed/distressed look, which looks amazing in floating frames (but more on that later). There's an actual term for this effect, called deckle edge. If you're buying single sheets of paper, that's okay too, just make sure they have deckled edges! Eckersley's usually has plenty in stock.
3. Pen options
Now the fun part! Pens, pens, pens! When it comes to drawing black and white artworks, I have experimented with a number of tools, from paint and Poscas to quills and Indian Ink. But I always come back to my tried and true favourite: the fineliner. There are quite a range of options here, as there are many good fineliners on the market. UniPin is a good place to start, as their fineliners have a good range of sizes, and they are readily available at places like Officeworks (and most stationary stores). Of course, Copic Multiliners are known as the unrivalled champions of the fineliner game. And while they are absolutely of a high quality, with fluid ink and sturdy nibs, I personally don't think the difference in quality is that much more substantial than UniPin. The good thing about UniPin pens is that you can buy a pack of five for under $10, whereas Copic Multiliners cost about $5 for one individual pen.
4. What to look for in a pen
There are three things that are crucial to look out for when buying your fineliners: nib size, size range, and price. These will vary depending on your needs, but I personally look for the smallest nibs, the greatest range of sizes, and the most affordable price. UniPin generally covers that trio pretty well. However the one thing that is undeniably better about Copic Multiliners is the fact that they stock a size 0.03mm nib, which is by far the thinnest I've seen on the market (I almost wept when I found a smaller size than my cherished 0.05mm UniPin). So I tend to buy a bunch of 0.03mms for the fine details, and then get the UniPin packs for the bulk of my artwork. I go through a ridiculous amount of fineliners per artwork, so it's necessary for me to be economical!
5. Pens for lettering
Hand lettering is a whole 'nother kettle of fish, and one that probably deserves its own post. It's an incredibly time-consuming and precise art - even if the end result looks unruly and handwritten, it probably took a lot of practice and labour to get that effect! You can use fineliners for handlettering, but I suggest doing this only if you have some experience with script writing. The finer the pen line, the more evident your mistakes will be. So for beginners, brush lettering is a really fun and fulfilling method! It's super easy to create words or phrases using a brush because it does a lot of the work for you. But don't be fooled: there's a real technique to lettering, which I'll be discussing in next week's post. As far as tools go, although you can use a paintbrush and ink, I am absolutely devoted to my Tombow brush pen. It's so convenient to carry and use, and it has by far the most fluid ink + firm bristles combination I've encountered.
5. Tracing your outlines
It's no surprise that I am a bit of a neat freak. So I don't really like using pencils to trace outlines because there is a risk of smudging, as well as the dreaded eraser flakes. I often just draw freehand, however when I draw my portraits, I prefer to use some sort of outline just so I can be sure my proportions are true to life. If I must use a pencil to trace my outlines, I ensure that it's a very blunt 2B or HB (the softest pencil size). I use a very light touch when I'm drawing to ensure as little lead is on the paper. Personally, I like to use a 0.03mm fineliner to draw very thin, light dots as an outline instead of a pencil outline. This means my drawings are created using 100% fineliner (no pencils), and it also creates a nice, sharp edge. (Just be wary of making your edge too sharp - especially with portraits, you don't want any harsh lines at all!)
7. Filling in the spaces
I'm a huge advocate for white space (both in drawings and general visual styling). However some artworks call for a coloured background - it all depends on the tone of the piece. Posca markers are my go-to for filling in big areas with black. If you're working with fineliners for the entirety of your piece, Poscas are your only option for filling in big spaces - believe me. I have tried sooo many Sharpies, paint pens, actual paint, and textas against the colour of a fineliner, but they all result in a black hue that is either a more grey-black or deep black than the fineliner. Poscas also come in a range of sizes, so you can fill in both the big spaces, and the finnicky small areas close to the fineliner work. Here's a tip: if you want to turn your newly coloured-in background into a galaxy, just take a white gel pen and start drawing clusters of dots. Easy!
8. Finishing digitally
Luckily, working with 100% fineliner artworks mean that there's no need to bother with varnishes or top coats as you would with paintings. So once the last dot or line has been drawn - you're done! There are a variety of routes you can now take with your artwork. With lettering or commissioned designs, I will scan them at a high resolution (600dpi, greyscale) and neaten them up in Photoshop. This can involve brightening, adjusting the levels and curves - essentially making your whites look extra white and your blacks look extra black. At that point you can then consider vectorising your art/lettering, adding colour, or even inserting it onto a PSD mockup, depending on the needs of your project.
As far as fine art goes, I always frame my artworks. Framing your work is like filling in your eyebrows - absolutely essential, and it shapes the way your whole surface looks. There are tons of framing options, but I strongly recommend avoiding standard Ikea or Kmart frames (even I'm guilty of doing this). Your artwork is extremely precious, and you've spent a long time on it. Plus, the paper size will often be a custom size, so standard frames will often not fit your work correctly, or just look very cheap and tacky. Custom framing is definitely expensive, there's no doubt about it, but it's an expense that I consider an absolute necessity with my art! There are tons of different framing options, from traditional frames to mounted or Perspex frames, but my personal favourite is a floating frame. This is when your artwork appears to be 'floating' off from the background mount board. I love floating frames because they not only give your artwork an element of space, airiness, and breathing room, but it also emphasises your work in its entirety (including the deckled edges!) much more.
So there you have it! The essential tools and techniques to creating my signature stippled/hand lettered/black and white artwork and linework. Is there anything you'd like to know more about? I have a lot of tips and practical advice from years of experience with lettering (and even glitzier/tricker techniques like silver leafing) so let me know if you're interested to learn those techniques too!
See you Friday!