Inking Tutorial Part II

August 22nd, 2006 | Posted in Tutorials

Continuing with our inking tutorial, we are still concentrating on the central figure on the illustration. After switching to the pen I have started adding more details and lines to the drawing. The pen is great for building up forms, wrinkles and starting to add some values to the figure. I will go back and forth between a brush and pen for a while, but evenually it will be almost all pen work.


There are plenty of things to think about with inking, like form, light, shadow, contrast, etc. It can seem very complex and there is certainly too much to go over here, but in keeping it simple there are a few important and common elements that an inker must consider and use in most inked illustrations. We’ll go over these as they pertain to the main figure, and then expand into the background.

Line Variation

I mentioned this in part one, but it bears repeating and further discussion as it’s one of the most important points in inking. Certain stylistic approaches aside, there is very little that is more boring than a line with no variation. It’s flat and lifeless. We discussed using line thickness to help establish a light source and to help separate forms in part one, but line variation is so much more than that. It’s visual interest and dynamics. It gives a drawing life, movement and energy. Line wieght adds mass, form and a substantial quality to a two-dimensional image. Take a look at some of these close ups of a few of the lines in this piece, and you’ll see how the forms have a lot more interest and energy than they would with lines of the same thickness.



Total logic with respect to line variation isn’t necessary. Sometimes you add weight to a line to make something seem heavier or more substanial, or to place it solidly in front of another object, or to emphasize a light source… but sometimes you do it just to add some interest to the drawing. Ink blobs, too-wet-lines and other accidents can often be “happy accidents” because the spontaneously add some interest to a drawing that might otherwise be very sterile. Where you place your thick and thin lines depends greatly on your own drawing style and sensibilites.

Spotting Blacks

This term means adding areas of solid black to a drawing in a very deleberate manner. This can serve many purposes, like establishing depth, moving the eye across the page, creating strong contrasts, establishing strong light sources or to define form and mass. Many inkers begin a piece by spotting the blacks first but it is the last thing I do before the ‘final touches’. I’ll look over a figure as well as an entire image and look for where I can fill in blacks. In the following pictures I am using a brush to add black areas to the foreground figure.



In terms of black and white art, it’s surprising how many ‘colors’ we see every day would register to our eyes as solid black if we suddenly saw the world in black and white. The values of most darker reds, blues, violets and greens will be plain old black in a black and white world. Try squinting your eyes at a room sometime and look through your eyelashes at the area. All you will see is values and vague shapes when you do this. See how many objects you thought about as a color turn completely black. The eventual color in this image means we don’t have to get very crazy with spotting blacks, but we’ll do some. I make her shoes glossy black, and add drop shadows to help give her some form and mass. I might add a shadow on her shoulder from her head later, but I leave it out for now. I’ll spot more blacks in the background later also. When I do I’ll be looking for balance, meaning I will want an area of black on one side to be balanced by an area or areas on the other. For an example of a cartoonist who really knows how to use blacks, look at any of Angelo Torres’ MAD parodies. Long underrated as a MAD artist, Angelo is a master at using solid or near solid blacks to great effect. Wally Wood was another master of using black.

Adding Values via Crosshatching

In pure terms inking is about black and white. Certain styles will take a more graphic approach and use only black and white shapes to create their images (see Frank Miller’s “Sin City” for some brilliant use of pure black and white art). For our purposes we will want to establish some values. Again, the color aspect of this illustration will give us all the opportunity we need to create values, but we’ll still want to create some values at the ink stage. Since we are not using washes, that means mainly crosshatching. There are lots of different ways to crosshatch. One thing to avoid is the perfect 90 degree lines… trying to crosshatch with lines that are perfectly perpendicular to one another is very flat and boring. Work at angles and don’t be afraid to have several variations in angles in any given area. The MAD master of crosshatching has to be the great Jack Davis, who used a lot of it and made it work beautifully. I’ll add a little to the bottom of this ladie’s shoe as an example. It’s very easy to overuse crosshatching. remember you can always add more later, but taking it away is a lot more complicated (and messy).



Adding Values via Patterns/Textures

Really this is just another way of crosshatching, but wheras crosshatching is more about adding shadows and values to objects via their forms and shadow, using patterns and textures are more about defining the surfaces of objects. An example might be adding close stripes to a man’s shirt to give it a ‘gray’ value, or to scribble on one side of a bush to create a little shadow area and establish the leafy feel of a plant. I will do some of this on some of the clothes and on the shadows in the grass on this piece, but I want some vibrant color so I won’t be doing much more than that.


Here’s a picture of the main figure, basically done with some of her would-be tackler also done. I will definatley be going back to her and adding weight to some lines and possibly some additional values as I see they are needed when the background gets filled in. Our perception of her will change when she is surrounded by inked lines as opposed to the white of the paper as she is now.
Time to start the backgrounds. There are figures in the mid-ground area and I’ll start with them and work my way backward. I will still use line variation, blacks and values, but will generally keep them less impactful that the ones in the foreground elements. You’ll notice I am turning my paper a lot… I have to in order to not only keep the lines moving in directions my hand and pen like to move, but also so I can work on dry areas while other wet areas get a chance to dry.




You may also notice I am using my left hand to support my right somewhat. I have no idea why I do this, but it makes my hand far more stable with fine detail work. It may be a holdout from my days of airbrushing T-shirts… Sam Viviano told me it’s similar to using a “moll stick” which is a wooden dowel some inkers and painters use to keep their hands off the wet surface of the work while allowing a place to stabilize when inking/painting. Anyway I do it and have no explaination.

When working on the backgrounds, the farther back I go the less detail I add and the lighter and thinner the lines become. The trees and bushes in the extreme background will basically be nothing but contour lines and the suggestion of some leaves… nothing will flatten out an inked drawing more than a ton of detail making visual noise in the background, unless the artist uses the background’s density to make lighter foreground elements pop out… kind of reverse-psychology with inking. One trick I learned from Sam Viviano is not to ink the lines of an object that is behind another object all the way to the edge of said foreground object. Here is an example:


This trick adds a bit of room or air around foreground objects and separates them from objects behind them. There are times when you might want to go right up to the edge, particularly if the background object is darker than the one in the foreground, but the “space” trick is a good one for more linear drawings.

Once I get all the lines inked and the majority of the drawing is done, I erase the pencils. If I used a denser ink for the brush work, it will not lighten up too much. Make sure you give your piece a good 30 minutes to dry… it’s amazing how long ink applied with a pen nib can take to dry. Nothing is worse than having a big smear from a spot of tacky ink when your eraser goes over it.

My last steps are to beef up lines with a brush as needed, spot more blacks and then scribble in some finishing touches. I notice that the lines under the lady on the left are weak, and need to be heavier, so it’s in with the brush.


In an effort to achieve the balance I was talking about earlier, I will sometimes decide an area I may have crosshatched or done linear shading in needs to be black now, like the pants on the man on the right.



Have no compunction about inking over something with black if it will make the piece stronger… blacks are the strongest part of any inked image. I add black to a few of the shirts, some shoes, the lady on the left’s skirt, and a few other places. The color will rescue this piece, so I won’t do too much. Finally the ‘finishing touches” are last. here is where I grab a bunch of thin markers or rollerball pens to add some textures or little details. I’ll scribble in some areas to add some values and interest, and generally add lines that would be tough to do with a dip pen.

Here’s the final inks:

Click for a closer look

Nothing special, just a quick ink job before I scan and color. Total inking time about 4 hours. Hopefully I established some depth, some focus on the important aspects of the illustration and added some values to make the coloring easier. I’ll post the final colored piece when completed.


  1. Trevour says:

    I think I speak for every visitor of your blog by saying, THANKS FOR SHARING THIS! Both parts of your inking tutorial provide invaluable information, and it’s all easy to read and follow.

  2. Tom says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Trevour, and to all who e-mailed me privately saying the same.

  3. tone says:

    You must be Mad giving away your tricks of the trade. Well done. I love your approach. Montreal is Mad country. We love our comedy. Kudos.

  4. Tom, this is the best cartoonist’s tutorial on the internet. You’ve done it again! Thank you so much for posting this; it truly is invaluable.

  5. […] Of particular note on the blog is his recent two part tutorial on inking (part 1, part 2). This is something I have always found a pain – the pencil drafts look great, but my inking technique usually just messed everything up! Take some time to read through his posts properly. It’s the next best thing to sitting in his studio looking over his shoulder! […]

  6. namowal says:

    I found this tutorial by through Google. What a find. I need a lot of practice in this area* and this will be a great help. Thanks, Tom!

    *I usually work digitally but much of the rules still apply.

  7. Eszlee says:

    Wow.. I hafta try these techniques. I get a bit nervous using a liquid ink pen as you did here in this tutorial. This is a GREAT tutorial & very inspirational. It makes me want to strive to get better. Thanks heaps! _Esly


I’m in LA doing back to back Caricature workshops. Here’s the class illustration of workshop no. 1. Visit for all the details and to see where others are scheduled in 2018!

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