Drawing Basics: Drawing People in Ink Frees You

Celebrate Inktober with art: Morning Rush Hour by Marvin Franklin, 2004, ink drawing, 14 x 11.
Morning Rush Hour by Marvin Franklin, pen and ink. Article contributions from Bob Bahr

Inktober Is the Month to Explore

Every fall a subject that fades during summer comes back with a vengeance: pen and ink sketching. A while back, one of our members reached out about sketching on mass transit, drawing quick doodles and sketches of people on the go.

It reminded me to find the work of one such artist who does that exceptionally well: Marvin Franklin. Now is an exciting time to talk about Franklin’s work because this month is Inktober — a month of art prompts and daily drawing projects to celebrate dramatic but easy, speedy and free and fun drawings with ink.

Celebrating Inktober: Subway Sketch by Marvin Franklin, pen and ink
Subway Sketch by Marvin Franklin, pen and ink

New York’s City Life

Franklin enjoys drawing people with a ballpoint pen on the New York subways, and his hand is free but sure, scribbling in darks and roughing in forms only to refine them to a wonderfully artistic finish somewhere between realism and a bracingly original expressiveness.

I think about him often when I draw in ink, because the medium he used with such a sense of familiarity has at its heart a contradiction: Ink’s permanence can set you free.

Inktober Prompts for You

The thrill of Inktober is all about harnessing the power of a pen and finding the freedom of no do-overs. I’m giving you a week’s worth of art prompts to start with. Repeat every week with a new spin, or use them as a jumping off point for your own prompts.

Monday – Draw your morning coffee or tea. If you’re not a caffeine person, draw the first drink you have today, whether water in a glass, a soda, or a mug of cocoa.

Tuesday – Draw your shoes.

Wednesday – Go out in public. To a park, restaurant or coffee shop. Draw a slice of life.

Thursday – Sketch a fantasy. A thing you want or a place you want to be.

Friday – Draw a pattern. Something abstract that takes up the whole page. Use a lot of ink and a lot of marks.

Saturday – Draw something from a weird angle. Get down low or peer at something from above.

Sunday – Sketch your hand. Your rings and the shapes of your fingers, scars or tattoos, your watch or the cuff of your sleeve.

Inktober Tips

-Start with a squiggle or stray mark. If you are hesitant because of the permanency of ink, make a mark so now you can focus on how to “fix” it or incorporate the mark into your sketch — and not about simply getting started.

-Do it in the car. Not while driving though! Cars, trains, buses and subways swerve and move unexpectedly. For an artist needing to loosen up, that’s great. You’ll flow more easily because you know that control isn’t possible.

-If you are overwhelmed, just do a five-minute sketch today. And then tomorrow. Don’t think about anything other than non-stop drawing for five minutes. Anyone can do anything for five minutes. Give yourself permission to start sketching, even if you have to turn on the clock to do it!

Getting Started

I like to draw in a figure-drawing group using a red PaperMate pen because it forces me to either slow down and make very careful marks, or do the opposite — to ignore the permanence of the marks and make them freely. Drawing in ink forces my hand one way or another. (I also like drawing in red pen because it gives me a chance to create with it instead of correct–the activity I use a red pen for all day long in my job.)

Drawing in ink forces my hand one way or another. (I also like drawing in red pen because it gives me a chance to create with it instead of correct–the activity I use a red pen for all day long in my job.)

What does pen-and-ink do for you? Let me know by posting a comment. In the meantime, a salute to Marvin Franklin — a sketching great — and a chance to get a game-changing resource if you love sketching and pen and ink but feel like you want more instruction.

Creating Textures in Pen & Ink with Watercolor with Claudia Nice is for artists who love a quick pay-off and don’t want to spend weeks in the studio to make a single work. Nice shows you the power of texture in drawing and how quickly and easily your next drawing can come together. Enjoy!




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17 thoughts on “Drawing Basics: Drawing People in Ink Frees You

  1. Drawing in Ink definitely slows me down. I’ve always been amazed at how my ink drawings tend to keep mistakes at bay. When I’m working with a pencil, I know I have that handy eraser standing by, and I make many more mistakes than when working with pen.

    Thanks for the reminder – haven’t worked with pen in a while. Wonderful drawing by M. Franklin – shows that there are great subjects everywhere.

  2. I love Marvin Franklin’s work.

    When I first started going to life drawing sessions as a regular practice, I was using pencils, graphite sticks or conte crayons, and my sketches were sort of rough and scribbly. At some point I found an ink-cartridge brush pen with a real fiber brush and decided to try drawing quick poses with that. I found that it made me really take in a contour or curve before allowing the brush to touch down, so when the brush did touch the paper I could make a sure, bold stroke. It slowed me down at the time, but in the long run practicing that way increased my speed tremendously. Now, though I usually use a pencil for quick poses, my lines are much clearer and more expressive than they used to be.

  3. Pen n ink helps me to realize where my mistakes in sketching lie by not being able to erase. And by goin quick it helps my sketching of when I want to draw slow, my hand begins to direct me then by have already sketching many times before. Now I’m beginning to do blind contours much more than I used to without knowing I am…people have wanted to see my sketches after I’m done because they say I wasn’t lookin at the paper, which I don’t realize, but I know I do, maybe for a quick second. I think I do that bc there’s a motion that I want to catch in the body that one doesn’t hold for too long. But I love drawing in pen n ink. I used to draw in pencil all the time and realized that I can get very realistic, so someone told me about the difficulty of pen, so that’s when I picked it up. I realized it just takes time and much patience. And with ink I’m pretty much taking the same route I did with pencil, but with tighter parameters…I also love drawing in transit, many diff types of faces, and enjoyed the article on Mr. Marvin Franklin, it’s great to see and follow his steps of rendering and to compare my approach. Happy drawing everyone!

  4. I mostly paint in oils. I’m a big fan of blending, and I don’t practice the theory of doing everything with the minimum number of brushstrokes. So pen is a great outlet for this side of my personality. I’ve gone with hatching and cross-hatching of zillions of lines at times, but my favorite technique for figure-drawing in pen is to figure out the absolute least number of strokes that can be put down and still convey form. It’s a delightful change of pace – and now that you’ve got me thinking about it, maybe I should do it more often…

  5. That most respected and accomplished teacher, Sharon Yates,( retired from MD Institute College of Art) told us to go out and draw people in public at least once a week, and to draw with a pen. I thought I’d die from incompetence – though this doesn’t seem to be fatal.

    Well, like all these others, I found it was EASIER; it forced me to be sure of what I was looking at and my work became the stronger for it. Coincidentally I just returned from a day trip in which I intended to paint, but since it kept showering, I sat in the car and drew – or leaned against it, ready to jump back in. I am sure I engaged with my subject more with my penthan I would have with paints and one eye one the threatening clouds. Pen is definitely THE sketching medium when on the fly. If you make an error, simply put on X on that line and redraw. Later the error may be lost in hatching or other texture.

  6. I think there is evidence of Marvin Franklin’s changes of line, changes of mind, in that posted drawing; see how those ‘errors’ are absorbed into a fine finished sketch!

  7. Several years ago I decided to limit my sketchbook to ink drawings. I’ve always appreciated what can be achieved through economy of line, but I think that what influenced me most in this decision was that once I laid down line on paper, it was there and I was committed to that, and whatever stroke I made next. Graphite and charcoal could always be rubbed out, but marks made in ink – whether I choose to work fluidly or in detail – tend to be more deliberate. I recently spent time thumbing through the pages of a filled sketchbook and what I immediately noticed is how much more confident each scrawled upon page appeared from start to finish. My ink drawings of places tend to be detailed: I approach these sketches in a Zen state, quite honestly. My drawings of people are much quicker and very gestural. I enjoy the challenge of “nailing” a figure’s pose in as few strokes as possible while still maintaining a convincing study. Such drawings are often cathartic for me and I find the boundary that exists between the activity of drawing in ink on location to be a nice break from that of painting en plein air. It’s interesting, the distinction that exists in my drawings of places and people. I think the stationary nature of location vs. the dynamics of people in motion define for me the difference in how I use a pen.

  8. I carry a hard bound sketchbook, something I have done since I was in college. When I started to draw in it, I would draw in pencil, then later refine the pencil with ink. I was too self-consious to leave a bad drawing.
    Over the years, I traded this technique to one of ink only. This forced me to be careful in the beginning so that I produced as good a likeness as possible with as few lines as possible. Over the years, I have loosened to the point where I now can Draw allowing for some linee that might not be totally desirable, but end up giving the sketch character.

  9. I think this subject has two side. I have to say that I’m on the other side of the coin, I like to draw with my brush or palette knife – I’m a firm believer in “LESS IS MORE” I like the looseness of quickly drawn (painted) figurative. I had the wonderful experience of seeing the Modernist exhibit of Maynard Dixon at Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery in Tucson AZ. Maynard painted a body of Modernist work from 1917 – 1934 signed with a name he made up (Nvorczk.) If you find any of this in your attic, bring them to Antique Roadshow!!!
    I also like the “LESS IS MORE” approach to landscapes in the fashion of greats such as Guido Frick and Walt Gonske to name just two.
    These difference help make the world go round – isn’t art wonderful!

  10. Art is the language of the soul. When I see a piece created by someone that moves me, it does so in a non-language way. This must be the soul speaking.

  11. Thank you for posting this article on the work of Marvin Franklin.
    I read the attached article above about his life, his circumstances, and passion for drawing. He was a wonderful artist and it saddens me to see he received recognition only after his death for his talent and passion. He was gifted with a wonderful ability to draw and depict life realistically for the everyday traveler.

    An inspiration to pick up some pen and ink again….

  12. Picked up a pen to draw with because of Danny Gregory and Everyday Matters. I found that it set me free and I loved the medium for that. Discovering this helped me to take that same sense across to my paintings – havent quite got there as yet though. I keep restating lines and dont think of them as mistakes and the ones i cant restate i find usually that i can live with it. I havent been making many in the recent past. Definitely not in the league of Marvin Franklin but i feel a similar sense of freedom. here’s an old one made in ’06 that i still like

    loved the post and everyones comments . will be back to read the rest. thank you.

  13. Well, Marvin’s trains must run more smoothly than San Francisco’s Muni, because I’d have trouble having control of line. Oh wait, perhaps that’s part of the point? Letting loose? I’m all for it. As an oil painter, I like every painting to _look_like_a_painting, with thick brush strokes–it’s my expression. I see the same in pen and ink, and also enjoy drawing people in crowds.

  14. I agree about Marvin’s freedom . I grew up out in the country and had nothing but bottled blue ink and mom’s letter writing pen. Of course I didn’t know any different and graduated to crow quill and ink brush. To my surprise, in my early twenties, just how lucky I had been…Ink does not intimidate me. Over the years artist friends of mine have asked how I can draw in ink with no prior pencil sketch etc. I answer that ignorance is bliss.
    Drawing in ink, after 40 years is still my favorite. Everyone should let it fly!!

  15. Pen and ink took away most of my fears in drawing. It helped me with my problem of not being able to finish any artwork. It even gave me courage to do a colored portrait of my late grandmother.

    For me, it is very calming and gave me a reason to be rigid. I never taught that I would prefer a pen over a pencil.