Ian Fennelly is an incredible painter and urban sketcher; on top of that, he is a warm, kind person who is a joy to listen to while he paints. We were fortunate to have him come on board for a FREE Live Demo a while ago, and I was lucky enough to get to recreate his masterpiece for our blog! Let’s begin!

Step 1: Planning

Ian has this marvellous trick whereby he plans out the first lines of his sketch without even marking the paper! He arranges his pens on the page to represent where the main lines of the big objects are going to go.

As you can see here, I’ve laid out my fountain pens to vaguely represent a boat with a sort of folded mast thingy on top (I’m not very good at naming boat bits, sorry, everyone).

Step 2: The Initial Sketch

Ian does his initial sketch with Tombow brand water-soluble pens. He doesn’t like to use pencils because they are too non-committal, and he wants to make himself think before he lays down a line instead of after.

I’ve noticed that most great artists have this in common, where they don’t like to sketch in erasable media because erasable media make it easy to be too sheepish and change your mind before you’ve seen your complete result. I’d encourage both myself and everyone reading this to make at least one sketch of something tricky using no erasable media whatsoever.

Because I have no Tombow pens, I used one of my fountain pens. The most neutral colour of ink I have in my fountain pens right now is this sort of gold colour. Right off the bat, my painting is a different colour scheme than Ian’s.

Step 3: The Final Sketch

This part is pretty straightforward. Go over the sketch you did in the water-soluble pen with a more permanent pen, like an Etchr fineliner. I used a sepia fineliner that I had lying around because I had already used a gold colour for the initial sketch; thus, my image is now permanently yellowy-brown. I might as well embrace it.

Step 4: Shading

Here’s a very cool thing I’ve never seen anybody do before: Ian likes to do shading with various grey shades of Tombow pen before adding colour. This stage of his painting is far more important to him than colouring, which takes him only a few minutes at the end of the work.

Again, I don’t own any Tombow pens, so I strategically brushed water over my fountain pen lines to make value gradients. If you’ve ever used water-soluble graphite, this is kind of the same process.

Step 5: Adding the Color!

After labouring over your picture with the values for a while, you’re all set to add colour! I didn’t follow Ian’s colour scheme very strictly because my lines and values were not neutral greys. I used teals and oranges mostly instead of cooler blues and browns.

I took Ian’s colour scheme and warmed it up to coordinate with my yellowy base. I also allowed the colour to mix with the fountain pen ink to unify the colour scheme further. The unification that came from the gold ink reminded me of using an adjustment layer in Photoshop to tint the colours of a painting to be more similar.

Step 6: My Own Finishing Touches

Ian’s finishing touches worked well for his painting. However, because my painting was so different from his from the substitution I made initially, I used a different approach for my finishing touches. Rather than focus on the ground and texture, I added some blue and orange to the sky to add a sunset effect.

I thought my painting’s result looked like golden dusk during late summer, so I with it and made the sky appropriate. Overall I’m so happy with my painting even though it’s different!

Finally, I’d like to share some insight from Ian that rang true for me. When asked how he found his art style, he said he doesn’t think about having a style. He thinks instead about drawing intuitively, and a style comes naturally from doing so.

When I was a student, I always drew funny little creatures in my sketchbook for fun because it came naturally, but in class, I kept thinking I needed to have a “Real Style”. In the end, I realized that the funny little creatures in my sketchbook were my real style because that’s just the way I draw. Embrace how you naturally draw!

If you’re as impressed by Ian Fennelly as I was, you’ll want to check out his Mini Workshop

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator and graphic novelist based in Minnesota. She specializes in all things cozy and calm, but adds humor where she can. When she isn’t drawing, she enjoys playing musical instruments, but you’re more likely to see her staring at some silly tree or something. 


  • Edith mcNally said:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Delighted to see more blogs like this.

    September 24, 2021

  • Jay Artale said:

    Great step by step Elsa. I live Ian’s style and bought a selection of Tombow pens based on watching him. Tonal shading wasn’t something I’d embraced before. I just used watercolour. But I’m never without a selection of grey shades to quickly add shade and shadow. Thanks for your reminder about finding your style. I think that this is a big question lots of beginners have, I know I labored over trying to find my style. I watched countless “find your style” videos on YouTube- and blogged about the experience on my Roving Jay blog. But at the end of the day – my style evolved out of a daily creative habit. Brilliant article. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    September 23, 2021

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