Ink Drawings

1,779 artworks, 178 artists
Ink drawings are a type of graphics: artists apply an image to paper or cardboard with liquid dye that is intended for writing, sketching or printing. In many languages, such as Greek, Finnish, Swedish, Ukrainian, the word for “ink” originates from the word meaning “black”, although since antiquity the artists used ink of various colours. Artists apply paint using pen, split reed, brush, or ink pen. The ink is based on a solvent, a colourant and modifiers for viscosity and durability. The pen and inkwell became faithful assistants to painters, sculptors and architects: the artists used ink to create drawings, sketches, literary illustrations. The dye dries at a moderate rate and it does not restrict the artist’s painting techniques. Line thickness and shade depend on dilution, ink flow and absorbency, paper density and friability. The ink does not give an artist the right to make a mistake, but it creates expressive “zones of contrast” in the drawing, vividly reflecting the emotional state of an artist.

The first records of a liquid for writing and drawing have come down to us from Ancient Egypt and China, where papyrus and paint made of charcoal and oil or gum became the materials for the work. In the 3rd century BC, ink became popular in Rome and Greece: the paints made of purple and cinnabar were called “court ink”, and because of their high cost, they were only available for the nobility. Medieval artists prepared ink from burnt fruit pits, softwood, soot, bone charcoal and painted on parchment. The Renaissance artists preferred paper and iron-gallic ink: a blend of a solution of tannic acids from “ink nuts” — growths on the oak leaves, iron vitriol and gum. Dutch artists of the 17th century created drawings in blue or purple Indian ink on paper or canvas covered with white oil paint. The 20th century technologies gave artists the permanent pigment inks and the ability to paint on glass, plastic, and metal.

Ink drawing techniques allow an artist to create both a sketch and a complete work. A nib, a thin, pointed brush, and undiluted dye create crisp, contrasting lines on the paper, while a stiff bristled brush creates an airy hatch. A soft watercolour brush and diluted ink leave muted shades, fill in background areas, and convey the play of light and shadow. Expressive brushstroke and spray techniques create rough and “random” lines, blots, grainy areas. To obtain the desired shade, artists use a blend of inks of the same type in different colours. The tone of the paper is itself an element of the image palette. Artists have not lost interest in ink drawings and continue to improve in the use of new materials: alcoholic, chalk, metallized, pearlescent, pigment and thick stamp inks.

Famous ink drawings:
Illustrations for the Divine Comedy 1488 by Sandro Botticelli; “Head of the Virgin in Three-Quarter View Facing to the Right” 1513 by Leonardo da Vinci; “Cottages under a Stormy Sky” 1640 Rembrandt van Rijn; “Good Words” 1893; “Portrait of Balzac” 1897 by Aubrey Beardsley; “The Bull” 1929 by Francis Bacon; “Bullfight” 1935, “Baigneuses, sirènes, femme nue et minotaure” 1937 Pablo Picasso.

Famous artists who used ink:
Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Peter Paul Rubens, John Singer Sargent, Salvador Dalí, Aubrey Beardsley.
Ink is a liquid dye for writing, drawing, or stamping. In many languages, such as Greek, Finnish, Swedish, Ukrainian, the word for “ink” originates from the word meaning “black”, although since antiquity the artists used ink of various colours. Artists apply paint using pen, split reed, brush, or fountain pen. Ink has become a popular material in the visual arts because of its cheapness and safety. Dyes of different colours mix easily, resist light and temperature extremes, penetrate into the base and do not crumble after drying. The ink technique has its drawbacks: drawings dry quickly and cannot be corrected.
The recipe for the writing fluid was invented by the ancient Egyptians. In ancient China, a mixture of oil and soot was used to draw on papyrus. In medieval Europe, they preferred the extract of oak nuts or ink fungus, liquid from the ink sac of octopuses and cuttlefish. In the 16th century, the “ideal” recipe for iron ink for pen drawings appeared: a decoction of oak bark and alder roots, a piece of iron for oxidation and light resistance, gum for strength. The 20th century saw the era of fountain pens, rollerballs, printers and synthetic dyes.
Leonardo da Vinci left descendants a rich legacy of ink sketches, engineering and anatomical studies, pictorial sketches. Everyone knows the drawing of the proportions of the human body, The Vitruvian Man, 1492. Raphael used vegetable dye to create sketches of his unsurpassed frescoes and “immortal” Madonnas and Children. The Portrait of a Young Woman in Profile 1507, Lucretia 1511, The Last Supper 1514, Hanno the Elephant 1516 did not become the basis for pictorial masterpieces, but remain the treasures by the great artist. The famous engraver Albrecht Dürer could not do without ink drawings — museums carefully preserve Six Sketches of Pillows, Portrait of the Artist’s Wife and The Left Hand 1494. Artists of the Northern Renaissance also kept a pen and inkwell at hand: the laconic Praying Shepherd 1561, the grotesque Illustration of a Horse Trader 1567; and the fantastic Beekeepers 1565 by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Etching artist Francisco Goya did not forget to leave to posterity an ink portrait of his beloved Duchess of Alba Arranging her Hair 1797. Baroque painter Adriaen Jansz. van Ostade enthusiastically painted peasants, artisans, merchants. The Peasant with a Pipe 1649 and the Head of a Bearded Man in a Hat 1651 became the standard of the graphic style of the time. William Blake used ink to emphasize contrast in his illustration drawings, Blasphemer 1800, The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun, The Good and Evil Angels 1805. A prodigy and brawler Aubrey Beardsley painted the book margins since his childhood. Two decades later, his ink drawings Self-Portrait 1892, The Comedy Ballet of Marionettes, The Dancer’s Award, Burial of Salomé 1894 and The Mask of The Red Death 1895 proved to be priceless examples of modern art.
Famous ink drawings:
St John the Baptist Preaching 1441 by Jacopo Bellini; Vulcan Building a Fence Around the Mount of Venus 1490s by Giovanni Bellini; Illustrations for the Divine Comedy 1488 by Sandro Botticelli; The Boy and the Bird 1926 by Tsuguharu Fujita.
Artists who used ink in their art:
Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Albrecht Dürer, Sandro Botticelli, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Francisco Goya, William Blake, Vincent van Gogh, Aubrey Beardsley, Ramon Casas Carbo.