Ink or Paint, Either Way Thank Goodness for Hipsters

February 3, 2021
Brush pen sketch in a Hahnemühle Drawing and Sketching 8.75 x 11 inch (approx.?) sketchbook. It’s so fun to use pen and ink on this paper.


I am so grateful to the younger generination, especially the hipsters who devote real energy to their facial hair. There is nothing more fun for me than sketching beards, and there are great beards out there now to sketch.

This young man actually had Dundrearies! Named after a character in the 1858 British play “Our American Cousin,” by Tom Taylor, they became popular in the US not least in part because of General Ambrose Burnside who sported them during the American Civil War and gave his name to what were to be called “sideburns.”

I discovered this “lineage” while trying to avoid the “dune” prompt for 2020’s Inktober (day 13). And you can see my day’s work and research at this link.

Sideburns aside, students are always asking me, should I stop with a line drawing, or move to washes?

I grew up with pen and ink, studying engravings, brush pen sketches, and ink sketches from childhood on. I got my first fountain pen at age nine, my first dip pen at 10. As an illustrator I worked with pen and ink almost exclusively for several years.

Here’s the sketch after I added some watercolor washes. I works with lots of open space because it wasn’t a wet media paper—but I still have to play on such papers.

Even to this day, there is almost nothing, to my mind, so totally wholly and self-sufficient, as the considered ink line. I love its boldness against my favorite papers; I love the way dry brush contains worlds of varying visual impact; I love the way wet, saturated lines provide a slap in the face like the recognition of a long-lost loved one suddenly appearing. 

There is nothing as luscious as a properly blended black ink on bright white paper.

But I also love color: transparent washes, opaque washes, stamped pigmented color, scribbled color from a pencil. I love color.

So when a student asks me how I decide to stop at ink, or to go forward with ink washes or with color washes I tell them that I’m led by my intention.

What was my goal when I started the sketch? Was it for ink and did I have a particular treatment in mind? Was it to simply play and experiment?

And if those answers don’t help me decide it comes down to “How would I add paint? Do I want to experiment on this particular sketch?”

I tell students to take a photo (or scan) of an ink sketch before they paint it if they are waffling. After some practice they won’t feel the need any more. Or maybe they always will—but the point is to move on to wash or color wash when that was your original intention.

It’s the way you get good at “the next thing”—by not being too precious about what you just made.

This ink sketch that you have just made, it’s not the last ink sketch you’ll make (until of course it is.) If you’re productive and love to work in ink you could make dozens of ink sketches in a day, to replace the one you just washed color over. 

If you’ve been sketching for awhile chances are any of the new sketches will do much to put to rest any melancholy over the lines lost to paint in the earlier sketch. 

New sketches won’t be the same as the one you just added washes to, but each will contain something that tugs at your heart strings. And the process of making more sketches only makes you more and more familiar with your ink, your tools, and the ways in which you enjoy making lines.

So it’s all good.

Practice the Following

Set your intention before you begin to sketch. (Yes this is all part of my cunning plan to encourage you to make your drawing practice intentional in every aspect.)

Gather materials to execute your intention.



If it is a line drawing, or brush sketch, or stipple drawing in ink, does it stand alone as an inked piece? Does it have the shapes, textures, and volume you want in your drawings. Did it meet your intention?

If so great, you’re done.


If the drawing wasn’t a commission or work for a client who only wanted ink, and you now find yourself looking at it wondering what it would be like with color, ask yourself the following:

Do I have my color materials handy?

Do I have time (before I have to go to bed, or meet someone, or make a meal for someone, etc.) to give my attention fully to adding color?

Do I have a plan based on the paper and the way I inked my sketch for adding color? And will that color enhance the piece?

If you can make a new plan on the fly, then now you’re working with intention again. And if you see in your mind’s eye that color will enhance the sketch based on the plan you have for color use in your mind, well, you really sort of need to go forward.

Because going forward with that new plan is the way you’ll find out how you like to use color.

Don’t be afraid you’ll ruin your sketch. 

You might not enhance it. It might be less striking with color than it was with only ink. But now you have something to access and plan your next ink or color sketch from—you get to start again. It’s really that simple. 

And the great thing about this is every sketch you make, inked or with color, gives you more information about how you like your sketches. 

Over time you stop asking yourself if you need to add color or not.

If color wasn’t in your original intention you’ll come to be happy with the lines as they are. Or you will focus on how to make your inked drawing the best ink drawing it can be by doing more with the ink, and perhaps “breaking the drawing,” but still learning how to make a better ink drawing.

The really wonderful thing that happens next is that you learn to draw differently in ink when your intention is to use color right from the star. You learn which lines of ink to leave out, which ink shading to add or leave out. You learn how to plan ahead.

In other words it’s a win-win, when you work intentionally. 

Why don’t you try this out right now? Set your intention. Make a sketch. Get busy.

About Today’s Image

This is a sketch I made to experiment with while working on drawing paper. I saved a scan of the ink only version to show my students because I wanted them to clearly see there are things I leave out of my inking when I’m going to add color. I minimize hatching as much as possible. (It’s hard to do this for me, because the act of working with a pen is just so darn fun I hate to limit my fun. I remind myself that I can do another drawing right away if I want to. You might try that too.)

Also when I’m inking I only stipple where there might be stubble. Yep, that’s a thing for me. Special consideration towards stubble.

But I also think about face lines—which lines can be left out of the inking. Which lines can be added in with the color wash. These considerations change the overall look of a piece and each contributes to setting up a different path for the way I want to paint when I bring the paint in.

I will even use different spacing between my lines (as in the hair, eyebrows, and beard) when I know I’m going to add ink wash or watercolor afterwards.

I also know, and this is a great thing to know is that if I mess up the inking, or go too far with the inking, I can always fix things by going fully opaque with my paint. I encourage you to consider practicing opaque painting as well.

But that’s a discussion for another day.

Give yourself some options, by all means, but first start with an intention.

Your intention will form the way you proceed. Intention will enhance the process and approach. 

    • Zeke Browning
    • February 3, 2021

    it’s not the last ink sketch you’ll make (until of course it is.)

    I LOVE the Zen of Roz!

    1. Reply

      Thank you. Well you know me, I do like to be realistic.

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