Wildlife Sketching: Pen, Pencil, Crayon and Charcoal

Wildlife Sketching: Pen, Pencil, Crayon and Charcoal

by Frank J. Lohan

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For every artist who longs to capture the beauty of nature on paper, here is clear, concise instruction on creating true-to-life drawings. Author Frank Lohan, an experienced teacher, stresses perceptive study and analysis. His numerous examples illustrate how to discover the underlying geometric shapes of natural subjects, and they show how to develop sketches that


For every artist who longs to capture the beauty of nature on paper, here is clear, concise instruction on creating true-to-life drawings. Author Frank Lohan, an experienced teacher, stresses perceptive study and analysis. His numerous examples illustrate how to discover the underlying geometric shapes of natural subjects, and they show how to develop sketches that form the basis of realistic compositions.
Beginning and advanced artists as well as wildlife enthusiasts will appreciate these 600 images of birds, flowers, trees, animals, reptiles, and amphibians. Step-by-step methods, explained in simple terms, offer guidance on selecting tools and materials; creating perspective drawings; employing pencil, pen, and charcoal techniques; and other approaches.

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Wildlife Sketching

Pen, Pencil, Crayon, and Charcoal

By Frank Lohan

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1986 Frank Lohan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13559-5


Tools and Materials

Pencil Drawing

Pen Drawing


Pencil Drawing

The tools needed for pencil. drawing are inexpensive and readily available in any art supply store. Pencils, two kinds of erasers, an erasing shield, paper towel, and fixative to eliminate smudging are all you need for many hours of drawing.


There are dozens of kinds of pencils available for sketching. The pencil illustrations in this book were done using only graphite pencils in hardness grades 2H, HB, 3B, and 6B (fig. 1-1). The H series is hard, while the B series is soft. The larger the H number, the harder the lead is. The larger the B number, the softer the lead is. Using a 6H pencil can be like drawing with a nail—it makes a light line and usually leaves an indentation in the paper.

I do not recommend the common No. 2 writing pencil as there is no telling just how hard or soft any brand might be. It is best to buy four drawing pencils, all from the same brand, in the 2H, HB, 3B, and 6B grades. This will give you a completely adequate tonal range for the subjects treated in this book.

Sharpen your pencils with a pen knife or single-edge razor blade or a utility knife. Leave about one-quarter inch of lead beyond the wood (fig.1-3). Then, using a small piece of sandpaper (fig. 1-2), put a slanted, flat surface on the lead. This gives you a broad, flat surface so that you can cover larger areas with a uniform tone, and also gives you a very sharp edge at the tip for putting details in place. I glue a small piece of sandpaper in the cover of a small box, and also glue a piece of paper towel there. This keeps the graphite dust in the box and off my drawing, and gives me a towel to wipe the lead on each time I sharpen it.


I recommend two different erasers: one is a soft, pink or white pencil eraser (fig. 1-4), and the other is a kneaded eraser (fig. 1-5). The eraser on the back of a common writing pencil is much too abrasive for use in sketching; it destroys the paper surface.

I'm sure you are familiar with the pink or white pencil eraser, but you may not have seen a kneaded eraser before. It comes in a small rectangular package. Tear about one third of the eraser off—it is like dry chewing gum and tears easily. You can squeeze it together with your fingers, twist it, fold it; press it together again and it becomes one piece. You can pinch it to a sharp edge and press that edge on a dark area of your sketch, or press a larger part of it on your drawing. You will get results like those illustrated in figure 1-6. It is great for slightly lightening a dark area. As you use it, keep kneading the dirty part inside and it will last a surprisingly long time.

Erasing Shield

An erasing shield is a very handy drafting tool (fig. 1-7). It is a thin piece of stainless steel with variously shaped cutouts. You lay it on your drawing to protect areas you do not want to touch, and to expose what you want to erase. You then use the pencil eraser to trim an edge or to erase in the middle of a toned area, as illustrated in figure 1-8.

Paper Towel

I use a folded paper towel like a paint brush to dust the eraser residue from my drawing.


I use clear spray enamel to fix or protect my finished drawings after I have cleaned up any smudges. Three or four light coats leaves an invisible, clean surface that greatly reduces smudging from handling or storage.

Two other pencil-like tools illustrated later are the lithographic crayon and the charcoal pencil. Both of these produce intense darks. The lithographic crayon leaves a waxy black residue that smears rather easily but works well with pen and ink. It is usually used on a highly textured paper such as coquille paper to produce a dotted gray background or shading tone very quickly. I use four or five layers of clear spray enamel over the drawings made with lithographic crayon. The use of this crayon with pen and ink is demonstrated in the section on sketching songbirds.

The charcoal pencil in the 4B or 6B grade also produces an intense black quickly. The dust residue may be blown off the drawing and details put in with pen. Charcoal pencil is suitable only on a coarser, toothy paper with grain enough to "hold" the charcoal. It, too, requires three or four coats of the fixative to keep it from rubbing off or smudging other areas.

Pen Drawing

The tools required for drawing with pen are widely available and vary in cost. What you spend depends entirely on your personal preferences. I use all three pens described below in my classes. Each type of pen is made by several different companies, and can be found in any art store.

Technical Pen

The technical pen (fig. 1-9) is widely used for engineering drawing and is becoming more and more popular for art work. Basically the point is a very tiny tube with a fine wire inside the tube. This wire is attached to a weight inside the pen that moves the wire inside the tube when the pen is gently shaken. This movement of the wire is what keeps ink flowing through the extremely small hole in the tube.

The technical pen must be used in a position almost upright to the paper to get the ink to flow out the end and onto the paper. This is different enough from the normal writing position that many people find it a little awkward at first. With a little patience and practice, however, you will develop a feel for it and will achieve considerable dexterity.

There is no flexibility to the technical pen. The line width produced is fixed by the size of the point—that is, by the size of the hole in the tube. To obtain a different size line you change points.

The benefits of using such an implement include portability and convenience—it eliminates constantly dipping the point into ink, which is characteristic of the replaceable nib crowquill-type pen.

It is important with technical pens that you use the ink specifically produced for them to minimize the possibility of clogging the point. Such ink usually comes in a plastic container similar to the one illustrated (fig. 1-10). The ink reservoir for these pens usually is a little hollow plastic piece that slips over the back of the point assembly. To fill the reservoir, remove it from the point assembly, then put the spout of the bottle into the plastic piece and squeeze the bottle until the reservoir is almost full (fig. 1-11). Then twist the full reservoir onto the rear of the point assembly, and screw the hole into the tube that acts as the holder.

Although there usually is a moisture retainer in the cap of these pens, I have learned from experience to clean all the ink out of the point whenever I am finished sketching for the day. The hole in the tube that forms the point is very fine and once ink dries in it, it can take hours of soaking, shaking, and washing to get it clean. Once I clean the point, I reassemble the pen and store it upright in a glass with the point at the top. If I do not expect to use the pen for several days I also clean out the ink reservoir with soap and water and a Q-tip, as little flakes of dried ink can also make the ink flow erratic.

Point sizes range from the smallest, 6X0 (six zero), on up to 3, 2, and 1. I find a 3X0 (three zero) most suitable for all the work I do; the finer points (4X0, 5X0, 6X0) tend to clog more easily. The line produced by the 3X0 point is illustrated in figure 1-12.

Artist's Fountain Pen

The artist's fountain pen (fig. 1-13) is perhaps the most widely used implement for pen and ink sketching. It has the advantage of portability, just as the technical pen does, without the need to carry ink. In addition, the point is flexible, which allows for varying, or modulating, the line width simply by varying the pressure on the point as you draw. This lends a free look to your work, especially to looser sketches. Typical lines from an artist's fountain pen are shown in figure 1-14. Points can be interchanged on these pens, although I just keep one marked fine in my pen all the time. You cannot achieve as thin a line with the fountain pen, however, as you can with the technical pen.

Depending on the make, fill an artist's fountain pen either as described above for the technical pen, or by submersing the point in the ink bottle and operating the fill mechanism. I use a nonwaterproof ink in my fountain pen and do not worry much about how long I let the pen sit between uses. Very heavily pigmented waterproof ink can ruin an artist's fountain pen if it dries out inside the pen and on the point. If I use such ink I clean my pen completely at the end of the day. The ink I use most often states "for fountain pens" on the container.

Crowquill Pen

This replaceable nib pen is the old standby sketching pen. It is the least expensive and utilizes any ink, even the most heavily pigmented ones and the ones that achieve their waterproof characteristics from the use of shellac. A crowquill-type nib holder with point inserted is shown in figure 1-15 along with some typical points. A wide variety of points with different degrees of flexibility are available at several for a dollar in any art supply store. Crowquill points produce line work similar to that of the artist's fountain pen.

India ink is a popular choice for crowquill pens. This ink usually comes in one-ounce glass bottles with eyedropper-type fillers (fig. 1-16). You can ink the point using the dropper (fig. 1-17) or by pouring some ink into a shot glass and dipping the pen into it. (Dipping into the ink bottle itself is very messy.) Both the front and back of the point must be wet with ink. Be sure to keep points clean and shiny by frequently dipping them in a small glass of water and wiping them with a paper towel as you work. This keeps the ink flowing reliably.

If ink dries on your crowquill points so that they look like figure 1-18, they are too dirty to work reliably. Soak them overnight in ammonia, soap, and water; then clean them.


There are many different kinds of paper available that are suitable for drawing. Try a variety of them to see what unique effects they may produce for you. In general, however, if you are just starting out, the first four papers listed below will work quite well until you are ready to experiment with other papers.

Bond Copier Paper or Tablet Drawing Paper

This is good for pencil composition drawings, which inevitably require erasing to get things right. Make all composition drawings in pencil, whether you plan to do the final drawing in pencil or in pen. Only when the composition is satisfactory should you then transfer it to your final working paper (as described later).

Quadrille Paper

This lightweight bond paper has light blue squares all over it. I use this for all my pencil compositions—the blue lines keep my verticals vertical and my horizontals horizontal. On unlined papers my verticals always tend to become slanted, with the tops drifting to the right. Quadrille paper is available in pads at art or drafting supply stores.

Tracing Vellum

This semitransparent paper generally is available in pads. It is usually 100 percent rag content, which makes it as permanent as the best watercolor paper. For this reason vellum is often used in drafting rooms for permanent engineering drawings. If you use vellum for your final drawing, you can lay a piece of it directly over your pencil composition and go to work with pencil or pen without having to transfer your composition.

A vellum sketch mounted with a piece of white paper behind it seems to glow—the light goes through the vellum and reflects back from the white underlayer. Vellum is available in art supply or drafting supply stores in pads.

Bristol Board

This is the standard paper for pen and ink sketching. It comes in several thicknesses and in several finishes, from smooth to quite toothy. The smooth paper is better for ink, and the toothy paper better for pencil and 0for lithographic crayon or charcoal pencil with ink. I like the two-ply (100-pound) kid, or regular finish bristol board, for both pen and pencil drawing.

Watercolor Paper

A 140-pound medium finish watercolor paper is actually kind of rough. I like it for pen sketching, as the rough finish gives a sort of broken line that can be quite expressive in rustic sketches. The smooth watercolor papers (hot-pressed) are great for detailed pen work.

Coquille Paper

This pebbly surfaced paper works well with lithographic crayon and ink. Using the crayon lightly produces a uniform gray tone, since it only sticks to the tops of all the little bumps on the paper. This paper is often used for drawing editorial cartoons and can be useful for technical illustrations, as it makes shading, using a lithographic crayon, very quick and easy. The drawings of the flint and the crab are good examples of this technique (fig. 1-19).

Mylar or Acetate

These materials come both clear and frosted. The frosted kinds are frequently used for engineering drawings. The inks that are made for these papers say "for film" on the box, and will not creep or ball up on mylar or acetate surfaces. I only use such inks with my crowquill pens—never with my technical or fountain pens, because of the possibility of clogging them.

Like vellum, mylar and acetate can also be used directly over your pencil composition, since they are either transparent or semitransparent. The rough frosted material will take pencil and ink, but the smooth material only takes ink that is made for film. The clear films may also be placed over a photograph for drawing directly in ink with no intermediate composition drawing.

Textured Papers

Textured papers such as linen paper or watercolor paper offer interesting results with pencil because of the unique texture of the papers. The linen pattern of the paper shows through the first sketch of a cedar waxwing (fig. 1-20). Observe the difference when the same bird is done in pencil on thin rice paper that was placed on top of coarsely textured watercolor paper (fig. 1-21).

The more texture there is to the paper, the less pencil detail you will be able to achieve. When trying for more scientific accuracy, use a smoother, hard-surfaced paper like two-ply bristol board. Such detail is shown in the sketch of the head of the cedar waxwing (fig. 1-22), which was done in pencil on hard-surfaced, smoother paper; and in the drawing of the three hawks (fig. 1-23), which was rendered in ink on a smooth-surfaced paper. The smooth surface is necessary for careful detail work either with pencil or with ink.

A list of basic tools and materials recommended for sketching follows for your shopping convenience:

Pencil Drawing

• Pencils: grades 2H, HB, 3B, 6B

• Erasers: pink or white pencil eraser; kneaded eraser

• Erasing shield

• Fixative: clear spray enamel

• Lithographic crayon

• Charcoal pencil

• Paper towels

Pen Drawing

• Technical pen; points for various widths

• Ink for technical pen

• Artist's fountain pen; nonwaterproof ink

• Crowquill pen; variety of points

• India ink for crowquill pen

• Paper towels


• Bond copier paper or tablet drawing paper

• Quadrille paper

• Tracing vellum

• Bristol board, such as 2-ply (100-lb.) kid

• Watercolor paper: 140-lb., medium finish; hot-pressed smooth

• Coquille paper

• Mylar and/or acetate papers: clear and frosted

• Textured papers, such as linen or rice

Cooper's hawk, goshawk, sparrow hawk drawn in ink.


Excerpted from Wildlife Sketching by Frank Lohan. Copyright © 1986 Frank Lohan. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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