Drawabox.com | Why Ink? | Why not digital?
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This is a question I get all the time - "why do you insist we draw with ink? Why fineliners? Why not pencil, or digital, or crayon, or old chutney I found in the back of my parents' pantry?" Contrary to what many people claim, it doesn't have that much to do with the ability to erase, so to those of you who say, "I just won't use the eraser" you are very much missing the point.

It also has nothing to do with what tools I am training to use for your drawings later on. This is not a "how to draw with pen" course - it had better not be, because I'm not particularly good at it. I'm a digital artist myself, and while I do my practice drills in ink, I do all my professional work in Photoshop.

The short version

Basically, because it works really well with these lessons to reinforce the good habits and the general mentality that is going to help you succeed in the long run. It's not because it doesn't let you erase, it's not because I hate digital media, it's not because I'm specifically trying to teach you how to draw in pen.

It's because ink helps you develop confidence, conscientiousness and patience, and more than anything, develops in you a respect for every mark you put down that is difficult to find with any other tool.

Why not pencil?

These are the major reasons I push people to go through the exercises with ink:

  1. People tend to be wasteful, and ink won't let you hide that fact.

    When we sketch as kids, we tend to really go at the paper. Draw draw draw, don't think, just get it down on the page, something will emerge. It's not wrong to do that, but it is inherently contrary to the core of what Drawabox seeks to teach you. You're not here to learn how to sketch, you're here to learn how to be mindful of your actions, to control your arm and to make the marks you intend to. So while people tend to go in with that urge to be messy, they quickly pick up on just how bad it looks when you're doing it with a pen that makes every mark scream its presence. Ballpoint pens will still allow for lighter, messier sketching, which is why we use fineliners/technical pens, which create a rich, bold mark no matter how hard you press.

  2. It helps build confidence by encouraging you push forward boldly and make mistakes

    People sometimes feel sensitive about the word 'failure', but that's really what we're talking about here. Working in ink gives you two options - you can simply not draw, or you can draw and face whether or not your marks came out as you intended them to. There's no in between. Paralysis is a serious problem among students - it's something that plagued me a lot when I was younger and led to many nights staring at blank pages and blank screens. Ultimately what helped me was to force myself to fill two pages every night in pen. Doing so made me realize that there was a lot more value in doing something the wrong way than not doing it at all, and having to face all those mistakes staring back at me made them a lot less terrifying. More than anything, I learned that failure isn't a bad thing. Where success shows us where we are currently, failure shows us what our next steps might be.

  3. Everything is black and white - there are no gradients to complicate matters

    This is what makes ink so difficult, and is exactly why I insist students work with fineliners rather than ballpoints. Every time your pen touches the page, it leaves a noticeable mark. Drawing more lightly isn't going to make that mark fainter - only thinner. When you put down a mark, it sits there on the page, stark, bold and black, in a sea of the white of your page.

    Working with this medium makes things simpler - not easier, because we often try to fall back to sketching lightly - but it reduces the number of challenges we face simultaneously, so we can tackle one thing at a time. This restriction allows us to focus purely on line.

    Now, many people stress the notion that line does not exist in the world around us - and this is certainly true. This doesn't mean however that it's not intensely valuable in understanding how space can be divided into forms and masses, delineated and described by these simple strokes. More than that, while line may not exist, the silhouettes of forms certainly do - something that students tend to forget when getting preoccupied with all of the internal shading and detail.

    Furthermore, the inability to control the opacity of a stroke forces students to develop a much finer sense of pressure control. When we start out with these tools, our lines are generally clunky and awkward, with no fine tapering on either end, and no character or liveliness to them. As we learn to control how we apply pressure, we discover ways to vary the pressure we apply through the length of a stroke, imbuing it with a sense of dynamism and bringing them to life.

Why not digital?

Let me preface this by pointing out one thing again - I am a digital artist. All of the work I do professionally is digital. What I am saying here by no means suggests that you should stay away from digital media.

I'm saying that digital tools are not the best way to go through these lessons. Here's why.

  1. Depending on your device, drivers can be awful, and that can cause serious confusion for those who are new to drawing

    Honestly this isn't as much of an issue with devices like the iPad Pro, but it's a HUGE problem when dealing with Wacom's tablet lines (Bamboo, Intuos, Intuos Pro, Cintiq, Mobile Studio Pro, etc.) and other tablet brands. Drivers can give you hell when it comes to the brush jittering at small movements. Really, any kind of technical glitch will add an extra layer of confusion between you and what you're learning - after all, that early on it's difficult to say whether or not the mistake you're making really is your fault, your device's fault, or the most likely option of a mix of the two. That is why I always insist people first do the exercises traditionally, where there is no extra layer of abstraction. Fully understand what you're meant to be aiming for and how it feels, then try it digitally. You'll be able to identify whether there is an added issue with the calibration of the device you're using, and you'll be able to move forward from there.

  2. Digital media leans in to one's natural impatience

    We live in a world of immediacy. You want cat pictures, bam. You've got cat pictures. You want a 4K video? Here it is. Every single interaction with technology provides us with a response that is immediate, and if it fails to do so, we immediately get frustrated. We'll get disgruntled if a web page doesn't load in under a second. We don't have time to read, we want to watch and be told. We want pictures, sounds and EXPLOSIONS. And when we want to draw, we want to explode onto the canvas, sketching and painting furiously to have something presentable as quickly as possible. On top of this, the all-too-common trend of "speed painting", made popular on YouTube over the last decade has exacerbated this problem, making a lot of peoples' first exposure to concept art and illustration one of glamour and style.

    This is the world we live in, and how we experience it. There's no room for patience, and unfortunately, patience is exactly what you're going to need in order to learn how to draw. It's not going to happen immediately, it's not going to be easy, and by the box it is going to be frustrating.

    Even when you're conscious of all of this, it's difficult to force ourselves to stop and think. Not impossible by any stretch, and really that's one of the main things this course is meant to teach, but when one has trouble even noticing how the problem manifests in the first place, working around it is a complication that only gets in the way. One of the core principles of Drawabox is that every difficulty you face must serve a purpose. Every challenge must help you develop your skills more efficiently and more effectively. If it doesn't, it's just dead weight slowing you down. That's what digital tools are in this situation, in the context of someone just looking to learn how to draw. Dead. Weight.

    I've witnessed countless students who fought to use their tablets and their software initially, develop a deep respect for every line and stroke that simply had not been there before, despite drawing digitally for months or years prior to that. Hell - I noticed that change in myself. With the physical ink in front of you, there comes an appreciation that feels so much less tangible when represented in pixels.

To summarize

I am in no way suggesting that ink is king, and is the only medium one should ever use. To put it simply, ink - and specifically fineliners - are the tool that pair best with these lessons and the principles upheld here. Can you do the exercises with a pencil, or a tablet, or on your iPad? Absolutely. Will you miss out on elements of the lessons? Certainly.

At the end of the day, there will be people who will respond with, "Well I don't like drawing in pen." The fact of the matter is, what you like is either the most important thing in the world, or completely and utterly irrelevant. If you are looking to learn because you think it's a fun hobby and are interested in it for its amusement value alone, then absolutely use whatever tool you like. There is still much to be learned from these lessons regardless of what tools you use. There's absolutely nothing wrong with doing this as a hobby, and no one should ever look down on you for it.

If, however, you wish to learn to draw as a means to an end - to learn to visually communicate so you can move forwards in a particular career path, or just because you are interested in improving as efficiently as you can, then remember this - you don't get to say, "I don't like it." If you haven't tried something enough to fully appreciate its worth, if you haven't conquered a challenge, you are not in a position to claim that the challenge is not worth your effort and time. Once it's overcome, it is your right to denounce it, to say it was a waste. But until then, you're merely avoiding it because it frightens you, or that you worry that you simply can't do it. And on that point, you're wrong.

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