Futureshocking Week 5: Back in Black

So, this week’s class  on comics was much more along the lines of a workshop. I bought a blueline print of some of my art to Dublin (printed on Canson Bristol board) along with a selection of tools, a dip pen, a brush, a brush pen and a set of Micron pens. And I talked inking.

Each of the inking tools has some stuff that I wanted to highlight/talk about. But the whole point of the class was to get everyone to try each of these tools and see what they liked and didn’t like. I don’t want to get prescriptive with what you should draw with (I mean, if I did, everyone would be drawing with a brush – even me) but what I did want is for everyone to try as many tools as they can to see what works for them.

The Brush

I favour illustration/designer brushes (like the Winsor & Newton Cotman 111 ROUND SIZE 1 or WINSOR & NEWTOWN Spectre Gold II size 0) that are specifically designed for lettering/design work. BUT not everyone likes those, the brush most people will recommend are W&N Series 7 Kolsinky sable brushes that tend to give incredible fine points and can hold a monstrous amount of ink, but do require a deft hand to control.

Range of Mark: WIDE – from very fine to very thick.
To use: Dip bristles in the ink, avoiding the ferrule (the metal part of the brush), wipe off excess ink on the tip. I often will then rotate the brush on a tissue wiping excess ink while also helping it form to a point, and dip again, wipe excess and then ink.  When you’re finished using it, clean the brush thoroughly, then, and this may seem gross, take the brush tip in your mouth and form a point on the tip of the brush using your tongue. The spit will help keep the brush shape when it drieds. And you’ll find it deeply arousing.
Drying Time: Pretty much instant, unless you’re doing a lot of coverage.
Difficulty: Can be high, takes a steady hand.
Pros: Every line has life, no tool gives more variety or is more rewarding
Cons: OMG So hard. SO HARD. SSOOO HARD. But worth it.
Specialist Skill: Pretty easy to rule a straight line with a brush, you simply hold a ruler at about a 40degree angle in one hand (make sure it’s secure) at about the mid point of the ruler, then drag the brush against the ruler and where you want the line – the trick is you’re not moving the brush – you’re moving your entire arm and the brush is just an extension of that. The advantage of using a brush over, say, a micron pen, is that the line is full of life and bounce and you can get a big range of thicknesses – it’s a beautiful line!


There’s a whole bunch of nibs out there, I favour Kuretake G nibs for most of my inking. I also like Hunt 102/107 nibs which are finer (and one is stiffer than the other). BUY ALL OF THE TYPES and try them. You’ll also need a nib holder, there are, generally, two sizes of nibs – some nib holders will only hold either size (G nibs need the larger, Hunts need the smaller), but you can buy some that hold both – buy those!

(Actually here’s a good little starter set for dip pens)

Range of Mark: Depends on the nib, the stiffer the nib the narrower the range.
To use: Dip and ink. Dip and ink. That’s it. Nibs have a little hole in them that’s actually a reservoir for ink so, in theory, you can fill that and ink happily for ages – but, in my experience, the more ink in a dip pen the more likely you’ll splat a big blob of ink on the page. Dip little and often. As it were, and clean the damn pen after your finished (wet a tissue and just wipe it clean, easy)
Difficulty: Pretty easy, depending on the nib. Springier (softer nibs) tend to be a little tougher, and you may find it takes a while to train yourself to only ink drawing the pen towards yourself (if you try and push a nib pain away from yourself you’re in danger of splitting the prongs of the pen and splattering ink and ripping the paper – horrible, horrible mess – MY GOD THE MESS)
Drying Time: depends on the thickness of line, thicker the line the longer the time (as an old prison adage goes) but your best bet here is – assuming you’re right handed – ink from the top left and move to the bottom right so you’re hand is never in danger of splatting in that ink.
Pros: Decent variety of line, really doesn’t require a lot of skill, can actually be fun to ink with (if you’ve decent paper, something good that will take it).
Cons: So many inking accidents. And many artists, myself included, have little inking tattoo gained while being a little careless with an ink loaded dip pen that they’ve stabbed into themselves. Mine is on my left index finger.
Specialist Skill: I find inking with a nib fast and fun. Except when I’m careless and I splat ink into everything.

Brush Pen

So, there’s a whole bunch of great brush pens out there – it’s never been an easier time to find them. The ones I’ve mostly used (and love) are Zebra Brush pens that you can pick up on ebay (shipping in from Hong Kong) that work out at about £1.50 each, which is actually pretty cheap.

Range of Mark: Surprisingly wide. If held normally you can get beautiful fine lines (though the more you use the pen the less this will be true) and pretty decent bold lines. If held side on you can get strong, super thick lines.
To use: Pick up pen. Draw. Dead easy.
Difficulty: If you’re capable of drawing at all you can use these. Treat them gently (or buy lots) because the super-fine lines that you get from new ones soon disappear depending on use (and if you give it to, say, your 9 year old son to draw with, do NOT EXPECT TO BE ABLE TO USE IT AGAIN, THOMAS)
Drying Time: Pretty much instant. Plus the ink is water proof. Great for convention sketching and laying watercolour over, because they dry to waterproof almost instantly.
Pros: Fun to draw with since they are instantly usable without any skills.
Cons: You’ll burn through them, and they’re so easy to use you’ll start thinking it’s cheating.
Specialist Skill: Ink sideways for super thick line.

Pigment Pens

Pigma Micron pens are the brand I use – the ink is ‘archival’ – ie designed to last and water resistant so you can ink white over the top without picking up the black.

Range of Mark: Not great, you pick the size you want and you’ll get microscopic differences in width – but generally, that’s the size you’ll get.
To use: Draw. That’s it.
Difficulty: Really if you can’t use a micron I question the fact that you can actually draw a line.
Drying Time: Instant and water proof (or at least water resistant)
Pros: You need to ink something? Feeling low? Like self-confidence is gone? Can’t handle a brush today? PICK UP A PIGMA! No effort or skills required. As long as you have a .5 Micron Pigma pen, you’ll get a .5 line without effort.
Cons: Lines are, generally, dead. Unless you go over them to add thickness. And you’ll need to buy a lot – multiple sizes and you’ll burn through them. Not great for the environment.
Specialist Skill: Great for that tiny crowd of 5mm people you have to draw, just pick up a pigma .0035 pen and start drawing.

Indelible Marker

Sharpie is the most common brand here, and the one everyone has.


*ahem* yeah, look, the colour looks gorgeous and deep when applied. Then it starts to shift, and, over time, sometimes weeks, sometimes months, occasionally years. The ink migrates. It migrates across the page, OFF THE PAGE and on to other pages – whatever other pages are stacked above and below it, and what you’re left with is often a faint yellow mark of where the marker used to be. This is why so much art by so many great artists is lost, Sharpies in particular are not an archival ink. DON’T BELIEVE HIS LIES.


Brushes and dip pens can share a bottle of ink. Brushes tend to like slightly thinner ink, but you’ll find your sweet spot. I prefer Winsor and Newton black indian ink (it’s water proof and pretty solidly black). If you keep a large bottle/jar and get yourself a nice little tiny pot, you can fill the pot with ink and leave the lid off to let it get a little thicker, if it’s too thick add some water and mix, too watery? add some from the pot. You’ll find the mix you like best.

(I was asked: Winsor and Newtown black indian ink is made from shellac – which google tells me: Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug, on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. It is processed and sold as dry flakes and dissolved in ethanol to make liquid shellac, which is used as a brush-on colorant, food glaze and wood finish. Boy this makes me regret how often I put my brush in my mouth)

Actually Deleter black ink is also pretty nice. More expensive, and there’s more options (I think numbered 1-6), but the black is a beautiful Matt black finish. Deleter have a range of black inks which, I think, translate to how much thicker each of them are. I didn’t find much difference in use between all of them, but it could be I mistreat my ink badly so they all ended up a stodgy black ink. Recommend you try as many as you can afford.

Also for your consideration: Sumi Ink is pretty nice, good flat coverage matt ink – that comes in a nice little bottle.


Sometimes you’ll make mistakes, or sometimes you’ll want to add some extras to something, or correct a thick line. In many of these case you’ll want some form of white out. There’s lots of inks available for this, they include:

Daler Rowney White Acrylic Ink – pretty good. Really recommend it actually.
Winsor and Newtown White Ink – works ok, easiest ink to get ahold of, dries up in the jar pretty quickly though, you may need to resuscitate it every so often by adding a bit of water and mixing and eventually you’ll throw it away.
Deleter White Ink 1 and White Ink 2 – One’s thicker than the other. Both great. Buy both, figure out which you prefer.




Great for stars and blood splatter. Dip the brush into ink – get a lot of ink on there, and get ready to get your fingers dirty. Using your thumb flick the bristles of the brush (hold the brush in your hand and flick the bristles). You can do this in a controlled way but you WILL get ink everywhere the first time you try it – so, for god’s sake, wear clothes you don’t care about!

Dry Brush

Best using a large, older brush. Dip brush in ink. Now dry off all the ink. DRY IT ALL OFF! Don’t wash it though, that’d be mad. Now ink with it. It’ll leave a dirty mark. Play with that.


Good thick kitchen roll is good for this, scrunch it up, dip it in to ink, now use it for big smoke effects or any other texture you can get out of it.


Secret tip! If I have a large area of black to cover, I’ll use a brush to ink black around the outline of it (leaving a thick inner border where I want the large black expanse to appear) then I’ll grab a cotton bud and use that. Cotton buds are no use for getting in to tight spots, but absolutely brilliant at quick coverage. Sure you can use a black marker – but HAVE I NOT MADE IT CLEAR HOW RUBBISH BLACK MARKER INK IS?


Any way, if you don’t fancy analogue inking – try out all of the above techniques, then scan them in and create brushes in photoshop or Clip Studio Paint and BOOSH! You can texture without getting your fingers dirty.

(Look, if this was on patreon and you were paying for this, I might have dug up lots of actual photos to help illustrate this post, but it’s late, I’m sticking to the arse of this chair due to the heat and I’m tired. So there you have it!)


Author: PJ

PJ is a Belfast based comic artist, and has been for some time.