Overview of Pen Strokes

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Here I discuss basic pen strokes that are used to draw a landscape in pen and ink. Carry a small pocket sketch book and practice them whenever you get some time. Detailed usage of a pen stroke is given in tutorials for drawing different elements of nature. Following is a quick summery.

Parallel Lines:

This is the most important and basic technique to create a tone in P&I. Practice drawing lines equal distance from each other.


It is important to make sure that your hands are not hesitant when drawing a line. In other words, DO NOT draw a line very slowly and deliberately. This will cause the line to have edges and bad impression. Instead, slowly bring your pen down to the paper and create a confident FLOWING line with a swift stroke. Don’t hurry it either. Key is to find the balance between slow deliberation and fast impatience to create a line that is confident and inviting. This will come with practice as every person has their own rhythm. Practice often and find your own rhythm. You will know when you get it.

The lines also don’t have to be exactly parallel and equidistant. The key is to create an impression of ‘uniform’ tone with a set of lines. In other words, the deviations in the distance between the lines should be small enough so that our mind and eye don’t notice them. Instead our mind should instead see and focus on the lines as a whole to see a uniform tone.


Initially, don’t attempt to draw longer parallel lines as this requires movement and control from the shoulder that takes more time to attain. Lines an inch or so long can be drawn using the movement of wrist and should be attempted initially.


After you can draw one set of parallel line convincingly, next step is to add multiple layers to create tonal difference. As you add more layers, you create more density of lines and this creates darker tone. Creating such tonal difference is the basis for creating form or volume for elements like tree foliage, stones, mountains etc and is very important to practice and get good at doing it.


Parallel lines at an angle of 45 degrees should be attempted first as this is the natural position of a wrist. But parallel lines at other angles, especially vertical and horizontal parallel lines are also extensively used in P&I drawing. If you are adept at drawing parallel lines at 45 degrees, then these lines at other angles can essentially be drawn by rotating the paper appropriately.

This stroke is one of the most basic stroke and should be practised extensively till you are comfortable with it.

Scribble and Loop Stroke:

These strokes are used to create tree foliage, bush, background foliage etc. In a scribble stroke, you ‘scribble’ and create feeling of small interconnected loops as shown below. In a loop stroke, each ‘loop’ is created separately by lifting the pen between strokes and because of this scribble is much faster than doing loop stroke but loop stroke gives a more open airy feel. For close up foliage, loop stroke is better and for bit distant foliage, scribble stroke can be used effectively. Make sure the orientation of the scribble and loop is random and in different sizes to give it a feel of foliage.


As with parallel lines, we also need to create tonal variations when using these strokes to bring out the volume of the foliage. This is done by adding more strokes where darker tone is desired. You can use smaller loops and scribble to add tone easily. Practice this stroke extensively as it is usually part of any landscapes with trees and bush.


Another related task is to draw the outline of distant trees and foliage in an open airy manner. This can be thought of as very open loosely connected loops as shown below. Practice drawing such outlines in different shapes to effectively draw a distant foliage. Distant foliage is often part of any landscape and is usually the element where viewer’s eyes’ rest and so it is important that you practice drawing it effectively.


Wandering Line:

To draw the outlines of stones, mountains, tree barks etc, you need to often draw a line that is not smooth and flat, but has small twists and turns, or in other words, it has a ‘wandering’ feel to it. See the line below to understand what I mean. Such line gives more believability to elements with edges that are not smooth. It might seem easy, but drawing such a line without hesitancy comes with practice. Just let your mind wander and soon you will discover how relaxing it is to draw such lines.


Following is an example of use of such line to create trunk outline. Using flat line in this instance will not create the desired effect.


Practising these lines will also help you draw outline of bare trees from your imagination as shown below as you will learn to let your mind wander and create interesting shapes.


In addition to outline, small such lines are also good at texturing trunks at a distance as shown below.


Grass/Needle Stroke:

This stroke used to draw grass ground cover and needles of a Pine/Coniferous tree consists of small curved lines with a common base. In case of a grass, it is the root, whereas for pine needles, it is the point of attachment of a group of needles to the stem. Orientation of these lines will depend on their usage but you can turn the paper to draw them at any angle.


Tapered Tick Mark Stroke:

This stroke is used to add a feeling of roughness to stones, barks etc. Practice drawing them in different orientation and sizes. It is also important that they have a tapered feel as this is how crevices look in perspective. Avoid drawing flat rectangular and circular shapes.


Rounded Parallel Lines:

This technique is used to give exposed form to ground, stones, mountains, trees etc. Here curved lines are drawn in parallel. The shape of curvature of the lines with determine the shape of overall form. Practice drawing these in different sizes and curvature.


This should get you started. Practice above strokes whenever you can. Use of these strokes in the context of drawing an element is discussed in detail in the tutorial for that element. There are other strokes that are used in pen and ink drawing and indeed you will develop your own repertoire of strokes and their usage as you progress on this journey. Always experiment with different strokes and feel free to reach out to me with any questions and clarification.

Have Fun,


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