Sunday Mailbag

October 3rd, 2010 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Like you I use a nib (i.e. a dip pen and ink) to draw cartoons with but unlike you I don’t have deadlines to worry about. Artwork inked with a nib can take a long time to dry before you can erase any pencil lines and scan into the computer to be coloured. Do you have a number of pieces on the go at any one time or do you have to just go and do something else. I can’t imagine a client would accept, “sorry, the ink isn’t dry”!

A: Inking with a dip pen does lay down a lot of ink and it does take a bit of time to dry… but not THAT long. Even the heaviest of lines are dry in about 10 minutes or so…. certainly not long enough that it would interfere with meeting a deadline. The main concern with using a pen nib to ink is smearing the inked lines with my hand if I try to work on the drawing while it’s too wet. I do several things to combat this:

  1. Work on a few different pages at the same time– As you mentioned, this is a good solution if you have multiple pieces to do at one time. In the case of a MAD parody, I usually have several pages to do for a job, so its easy to work on one until it’s too wet to continue working on, then I toss it aside and grab another page and work on that until it’s too wet… then on to another or back to the now dry first page.
  2. Work down and to the right– (If you are a lefty it would be “down and to the left”). I will start in the upper left of either the panel or object I am working on, then proceed to lay down ink lines as I move down and to the right, ending up on the lower right of the panel or object. In this way all my wet, inked lines are above and to the left of my inking hand, and thus never get obscured or passed over by that hand. I can see them at all times and am never in danger of smearing them… unless I forget and move back up to the upper left again in which case both smearing and swearing occur in proportionate amounts.
  3. Use a brush for the big lines– The big, thick lines take a lot longer to dry due to the heavy amount of ink laid down, but you use FAR less ink when using a brush as opposed to a pen and nib. I will often use a #2 or #3 watercolor brush to ink in big, bold lines for that reason. They are dry almost instantly. If you are comfortable inking with a brush, this is a good solution.
  4. Blot the not-quite-dry lines– I don’t do this too often because it often messes up the line, but you can carefully blot the excess ink off the paper surface if you use a tightly rolled paper towel. Roll up a folded paper towel so it is about a 4 inch long tightly rolled tube. Lay it on the paper surface close to the wet line but not on the wet area. Roll it slowly across the paper and wet line keeping gentle pressure on the roll and not allowing it to slide at all… the trick is to roll it along the surface. This only works for smaller areas as once you reach the full circumference of the roll you have to stop blotting. Also the area cannot be too wet, or you will just squeeze it into a big blob of ink.

Fortunately for inkers everywhere, there is a little thing called “white out” that can be used to fix the inevitable little smears and screw ups when needed… nobody likes to use that stuff, though, so a little care and foresight when inking will save on the need for the white.

See my tutorial on inking for more techniques and tips.

Thanks to Des Campbell from England for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!

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