History of Pen and Ink Rendering


Despite the limitations inherent in working with just two basic elements, pen and ink renderings allow artists to express themselves in an amazing variety of individual styles. Pen and ink drawing has a rich history that encompasses simple outline sketches, caricatures, cartoons and detailed illustrations.


  • The word "pen" is derived from "penna," the Latin word for a feather or plume. And that is exactly what the early pens were---quills or reeds with the tip carved to form a nib. Their use faded with the advent of mass-produced steel nibs in the early 19th century. Although fountain pens, cartridge pens and fiber tip pens have come along since then, the traditional pen dipped in a bottle of ink survives as the choice for many artist renderings.


  • Ink used for rendering dates back more than 4,000 years. The original color components came from animal, vegetable or mineral sources mixed with glue binders and water. An assortment of pigments and dyes have been developed, but for many drawings, black ink is still preferred. Other chemical additives can now give ink a shiny finish or make the ink waterproof when dry.


  • Papyrus was the earliest medium for pen and ink renderings. By the 5th century BC in Rome, papyrus was replaced by parchment made from treated animal hide. Artists continued to use parchment through the Middle Ages to the end of the Renaissance when paper became common. Nowadays, two- or three-ply Bristol board with a smooth finish is the preferred surface for pen and ink drawings.


  • Pen and ink drawings have evolved from simple outline sketches to detailed renderings that suggest a full range of textures and tonal values. Varying the pressure on the nib can make fluid lines of changing thickness. Stippling a pattern of dots, or hashing and cross-hatching a series of parallel line strokes can create a texture. Varying the spacing between the dots or hatch marks will determine the darkness of the area being shaded.


  • Pen and ink started out as a medium for writing and simple diagrams. By the Middle Ages, monks were producing brilliant illuminated texts. Later, artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Rembrandt Van Rijn would use reed pens and sepia ink to make expressive sketches and plans. It was in the last part of the 19th century that improved printing technology, along with illustrators and caricaturists such as Thomas Nast, helped pen and ink rendering become an art form of its own.

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  • "Rendering In Pen And Ink;" Arthur L. Guptill; 1976
  • Photo Credit Fountain pen on letter and envelope image by Paul Hill from Fotolia.com
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