by Max MaxBert Bertuzzi
What are we talking about
Ink as a sharp medium. I am not going to talk about washes or gray inkinkg here, just black ink techniques, like those used in comics and certain RPG publications... Can you remember John Dykstra's pictures in older D&D manuals?. Something like that, but also newer references as Mark Farmer's work ( inker for Alan Davis' pencils and also for the Adam Huges' pencils of the comic book 'Ghost' )
Tools to ink & some basics about them
A wide variety of tools can be used to ink. The most common are brushes, nibs and pens. there are some substantial differences between these tools that can make you prefer one rather than another.
About brushes, you'll have to take care to use a good quality brush, finest sable ( marten or similar ) like Winsor&Newton's brushes series 7. This is particularly important as it will reflect on the modulation and sharpness of your inking. Better not to save money when buying a brush for inking, believe me! You may want to choose a brush because of its natural smoothness that reflects on the artwork in soft line modulations. The sizes of brushes may vary given the size of your picture ( the larger the picture the larger the brush, in general )... However a good size for general inking ( comics and RPG illustrations ) is N°0 to N°3, because they allow thin and wider lines. My personal choice goes to Winsor&Newton N°0. Keep in mind that I am referring to Winsor&Newton sizes, which are generally a little wider than standard sizes, so a W&N 0 could be like a N°1 of a different brand.
Your brush has to be cleaned after every work! If you plan to use it again in a short time you can just use fresh water, gently taking care not to waste your brush tip, in general it's better to periodically wash it with soap&water: this way you'll not only keep you brush in a good shape but also will be always clean and ink will work better on it. Do not use trementine or other hard solvant because, with ink, you don't need them and they consume the sable of your brush.
About nibs, Same applies to quality. Good quality nibs give good quality results (DUH!) At present, I am not a very user of nibs but I used them for a while so here are my tips about them. Nibs have different sizes and hardness. In general you can find soft, medium and hard nibs. I would say that, to draw, soft are better. They will give your lines a better modulation ( large-thin ). You may want to choose nibs because their lines are decise and sharp, straight and strong, and their life is generally longer than brushes. Nibs give up a lot more ink on paper than brushes, and tend to scratch your paper sheet, so to use nibs you'll have to use a smoother and harder paper than brushes, in general, and be careful not to make stains. So keep you hands off the fresh lines and be careful not to keep the nib on the same zone of the sheet for too much time. A good brand for nibs is Perry, but I believe this brand does not exist anymore so you'll have to try yourself, and choose the nib which has the sharper point and the softer steel.
As for brushes, keep your nib always clean by washing it with soap&water after using it, because otherwise it will tend to rust or will keep&release the ink in a wrong way, and you will probably get stains and bad lines while working. Avoid any solvent.
About pens there are lots of them, ball-point, pigmented or brush-sized, broad-tipped or fine. In my opinion, pens are good to refine after inking and can be used to generally render hard-looking surfaces, like walls, stones, and so on. They can also be used to ink little details like eyes, scales, and so on. Nevertheless, I know of many professionals who use pens as their primar tool of inking, and they do a marvellous job! You may want to use pens because they are easy and quick to use and you can find almost every size and hardness you want. There are so many pens brands that I cannot suggest a particular one. However, good for inking are pigment ink pens. I've also heard of people that cut the tips of their pigment ink pens in a diagonal way so the pens can give them a more modulated line, but this is a different story.
The inking work
Organize your working table
Wether you are working with a nib or a brush, you'll have to keep on your table a bowl of fresh water and some kleenex (or similar) to periodically wash and dry your working tool, keeping it in a good shape while inking. Water is important because the brush has always to be kept a little wet, to work at its best, and the nib has to be always very clean to work. Also, it's useful to keep an extra paper sheet on a side, to try your nib or brush before using it from time to time, when you're not sure if you have loaded too much ink ( a simple xerox paper sheet will do great )
Inking, and some tips about lines ( supported by samples )
The brush is a very smooth tool, it requires a very light hand and can give you pretty good results if you remember you have a brush in you hand :) So, exercise your hand to be gentle and try to understand where lines are to be kept thin and where instead you need a strong mark. In general, Larger ink lines give an impression of roundness and depth, thinner lines give an impression of a light, or a light reflection (in certain cases).
Inking with just black means that you have to find a synthesis between light and shadows with just 2 tones. The contrasted synthesis is what makes our eye regognize shapes, so we have to deal with it. Exercise your eye in this synthesis work by looking at the reality as well as others' work. We can also talk of 'color vs. shadow'... Color ( of course not in a literal way, since we are talking about black and white ) when wed raw many details and textures, more than keeping attention on shadows and light, and 'shadow' when instead, it's the light and shadows that take the best place. We can also realize a 'mix' of color and shadows, to obtain a balanced figure, with shadows, lights and textures, without filling the picture with too many confusionary details, but it's not as easy as it may sound at first.
(Click here to zoom up and see the details!) - An example of brush and pen 'light' inking. On this picture, brush is used for the lines of the dragon's body, lines were kept thin not to enhance shadows too much ( as French would call it 'Linee Claire'='Clear Line' ) Pens are used mostly to refine some particulars, especially, detalis on the knight and lines of the armour. A set of transfers is used for the texture of the external armor. The texture of the chainmail was made using a 'rapidograph' but could have been done with a similar pen, a fine-tipped pigment-ink pen for example. 'Color' is more used than shadow here, in fact more attention is given to textures, even if some few shadows were used.
Another example of brush inking. Brush was used for almost all lines here, except for the bow, arrow, textures on the 'gloves' and forearms armor. I also used thin-pointed pigment ink pens to enlarge and/or correct some body lines that did not convince me ( expecially hands and head ). Notice that there are some heavy shadows, that should give an impression of roundness, by contrasting with white zones. Placement of shadows in inking is an important step. Here 'shadows' take more importance over 'colors', even if some few textures are defined.
Hatching, cross-hatching. Ways to reproduce virtual 'gray zones'
There are situations where we need or want to reproduce a relatively 'smooth' passage between lights and shadows, to enhance the roundness of shapes or not to have a too marked 'detachment' between black and white. This situation can be solved in various manners. Most common is 'hatching'. It means that we 'simulate' the passage from black to white by using lines that commonly start from large and dense ( next to dark zones ) and become light and sparse ( near to light zones ). Hatching can be obtained with any inking tool, of course the properties and the results vary widely, depending on the tool and the hand. Excessive hatching may disturb the eye and cause problems when it comes to printing. That's why if you're going to use hatching in a wide way, you'll want to make sure that the output won't suffer of that. Sometimes adding too many details is worse, especially if the output does not support them. I've included some detailed examples below to ease the comprehension of this topic.
Examples taken from particulars of the picture above.
Hatching, light lines come out from the dark onto the face, giving the idea that the face is thin, and enhancing the bones of the cheeks. Also, a simple light hatching is used for the shadows of the horns on the 'helm'.
Hatching and Cross-hatching:
Hatching is used on the upper part, to define the smoothness and roundness of the leg, bended upon the knee, and cross hatching is used for the projected shadow of the knee on the ground.