Art supplies for black and white sketching and painting

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Using black and white for drawing and painting is a great way for beginners do tonal or value studies to improve their art. With monochrome, the main concern is to portray light, shadow, form and contrast. There are no colours to worry about. If your monochrome art doesn’t look right, it won’t look right even with colours added.

There is a huge variety of art supplies just for creating monochrome art. In this article, I’ll share with you the supplies that I use and mention the pros and cons.


All the supplies can be mixed and matched. You can create different look and style depending on the tools you use.


For drawing with ink, you can use fountain pens or disposable pens. I highly recommend using a pen with waterproof ink which allows you to use with other media, especially water-based media.

When you buy waterproof inks for fountain pens, make sure the ink bottle specifically mentions the ink is safe for use with fountain pens. Some inks can clog fountain pens and you won’t want that to happen.


Ink can be used with dip pens and brushes. With dip pens, such as the one above that uses a Zebra G nib, you can draw really thin lines and press harder for thicker lines. With brushes, you can paint and cover large areas.

If you want to paint with black ink, I highly recommend having a brush dedicated just to using black ink. Don’t mix black ink with watercolour. Black ink is difficult to clean off brushes even with brush soap, and when ink hardens can make the brush hair hard too. You don’t need to buy expensive sable brush to use with black inks. Just get a cheaper synthetic brush that has a sharp point.


Ink is a versatile medium that can be used for drawing and painting. Each ink has its own characteristic and each bottle is designed specifically for certain purpose.

In the photo above on the left is a bottle Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay Black India Ink. The bottle comes with an eye dropper which makes it easy to extract ink out. So you can take out the appropriate amount of ink that you can later dilute to create ink washes.

On the left is a bottle of Speedball Super Black India Ink. The large bottle opening makes it easier for you to dip a dip pen or brush in it. To extract the ink, you’ll need to buy an eyedropper or blunt needle and syringe separately.

India inks are heavily pigmented and usually waterproof which makes them suitable for use with other media, and great for creating ink wash art. You should never use India inks in fountain pens because the ink will dry to leave behind physical ink particles to clog the pens.


Here we have Noodler’s Lexington Gray and Noodler’s Bulletproof Black. These are fountain pen inks which are waterproof when dried (properly).

These inks are quite fluid and I use them to refill my brush pens.

The bottles have large opening so you can reload fountain pens easily. Because the bottles are tall, when the ink levels are low, it would be difficult to reach the ink if you use dip pens or brushes.


Brush pens are very convenient because they are easy to bring around and you can paint without having to constantly reload the brush.

The main brush pen I use is the Pentel Colour Brush Pen which is available in many different colours. When the brush pen runs out of ink, you can buy disposable ink cartridges or refill those ink cartridges yourself (saves money). Main advantages of the Pentel Colour Brush Pen is sharp point of the brush which is great for drawing or painting details, the huge bristles that you can cover large areas with, body that can be squeeze to push out more ink and you can refill the ink cartridge.

The smaller Pentel Pocket Brush Pen which is also quite popular. This brush pen is more suitable for drawing details since it has a sharp point but the bristles are shorter. It’s more difficult to refill the ink (you’ll need a blunt needle and syringe) and ink flow is not that great.


Ink can be diluted with water. Diluted black inks can be used to different values of gray, from light to black.

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The look of the ink will vary depending on the ink used. In the picture above, the ink uses is Sum ink (or Chinese ink) which has a lot of texture and granulating. If you use fountain pen inks, India inks or technical pen inks, the ink washes will appear flat. Choose the right ink for the look or effect you want.

Certain inks will dilute to look slightly warmer or brown, and some will look cooler or bluish. Personally I prefer black inks that dilute to a neutral gray.


Pencils are versatile tools for creating art too. You can use pencils to draw or shade. Pencils come in different hardness (H) or softness (B) which can be used to create a range of values.

Mechanical pencils are used mostly for drawing and hatching.

The other pencil shown above is the Cretacolor NERO oil-based charcoal which works just like a normal pencil but smudges way less. This is great if you have the tendency to smudge your pencil art accidentally.


Watersoluble graphite pencils are available.


Shown above is the Derwent Graphitone watersoluble graphite and chunky ArtGraf watersoluble graphite stick.

The ArtGraf graphite stick actually dissolve very readily on paper and can produce a dark wash easily.


The ArtGraf graphite in a tin is better for painting larger pieces.

ArtGraf products are pricey but surprisingly good.

Painting with black and white, creating monotone sketches is a great way to improve your art and understanding of value and contrast. Don’t underestimate black and white media because they are very versatile and can create terrific art. The potential is limitless and I highly recommend beginners to try creating in black and white before moving on to using colour.

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