Do you feel as though your fineliner pen drawings are a bit flat? Or do you struggle even to put the lines in the right places once you commit your sketch to ink?

These are both common struggles when you’re just beginning to use fineliner pens, and luckily they are easily overcome with a bit of practice. 

A good line drawing starts with a good sketch, then comes to life if you know the right tricks. Megan Biffert, known for her paintings of houses, came in for a FREE Demo and showed us all about how she starts her paintings with fineliner drawings. Let’s try her techniques and see what we can learn!

Step 1: Getting the Proportions Right

Sometimes, the most challenging part of a sketch is the very beginning. That’s because the fewer lines you’ve drawn already, the fewer reference points you have on the paper for getting the rest of the proportions correct.

There are some tricks to make starting easier! One thing you can do is hold the pencil over the reference photo at the angle you need the line to be, then look at how that position looks on your paper. Draw the line accordingly.

You can also measure the angle between the pencil and your wrist when you do it like that. Something Megan does that I also like to do is drawing a faint centre line on your subject that you can erase once you don’t need it anymore. Then measure where things go based on their distance from the centre line.

Step 2: Adding Enough Detail Before You Ink

Every artist has their preference for how much they want to have decided in the sketch stage before they start inking. It’s always good to practice drawing only in pen because it forces you to think about each line, be intentional, and understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.

One good practice is blind contour drawing. It will help you improve your observational skills and help you build confidence when drawing with ink. 

For a finished illustration, it’s much more practical to have most of the details in place in your sketch before you start with ink.

Megan gets the general placement of the vines on the house mapped out for this drawing, then starts a few bricks around the windows, finally adding every detail to the door.

To get the rounded door accurate, she mentally breaks it down into the simple form of a rectangle with a semicircle on the top. You can break down most things you draw in your mind into simple shapes.

Step 3: The Lines

Now it’s time to take a 0.1 size fineliner and get to work on the lines. I am using sepia pens because that’s the set in which I have the most variety. There aren’t any rules about what colour your pen has to be.

Here’s a helpful tip from Megan that I think you will like! If you have a long line to draw and want it to be steady, look at the line’s endpoint rather than at your hand.

It’s like driving; if you want to drive in a straight line without swerving, look at some distant point ahead of you rather than directly in front of the car. Your brain will naturally keep you on course with the endpoint in sight.

Another helpful hint is that it’s okay to make a mistake! Megan herself messes up one line and keeps the picture anyway.

The thing to remember when you make a mistake is that efforts to cover it up usually make it even more obvious, so leave it alone. Megan leaves her mistake alone, and it doesn’t matter in the end.

At this stage, it’s also helpful to remember that if you intend to paint this line art, leave out some of the details. You don’t want everything to have a harsh outline around it hence why there isn’t any detail drawn into the shrubs and vines in this picture.

Step 4: Adding Dimension

Now, your drawing probably looks dynamic to a degree already because at no point in this drawing did we ever use a ruler. If we had used a ruler, the picture would look like an architectural drawing without much character.

Part of your artistic style is simply the imperfect way your hand draws lines because nobody’s hand is imperfect in quite the same way as anyone else. However, there is one trick to make this drawing even more dynamic and full of life.

Using a wider pen (I used 0.5), thicken the lines anywhere where there’s a shadow, like the bottoms of the windowsills. Megan likes to add a subtle Art Nouveau effect by outlining the shapes of each section, even though using line weight in that way might not necessarily be realistic.

Following her lead, I outlined the shapes of the house, porch, chimney, and shrubs.

If your finished product looks a bit different from Megan’s, that’s okay! So does mine! To get the best results out of a tutorial, I always recommend adjusting your approach based on the results you’ve gotten so far. You’ll end up with a more cohesive picture that way.

If you'd like to take it a step further and paint this piece in watercolour, check out Megan’s 90-minute art class! There, she'll share even more of her techniques! 

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Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She  loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that  came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long  hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.

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