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Draw on that painting! Here's what you use...

Stephen Lursen Painting basics stephen lursen

In this video and blog post I'm talking about drawing tools as used in mixed media painting. If you have looked at art online and seen an artist use acrylics with charcoal or markers and thought to yourself "how do I incorporate drawing tools within the process of creating a painting?" Then this info should be very helpful! The drawing tools I include are:

  • Soft pastels - Good for the top layer of a painting if you want clear unsmudged marks. They wash or smear away when painted on and must be sealed to become permanent. 
  • Drawing pencils - Good at any stage of the painting but hard to completely paint over because of the oil within the graphite resists water based media. Drawings with pencil are permanent, meaning doesn't fade or fall away, but it can be smeared if left raw. It is rare that someone will take an eraser to a finished painting, but to be safe, seal the finished work to protect it from being vulnerable.
  • Charcoal pencils - Good at any stage of the painting but the more you paint over it the more smudged and atmospheric it becomes. In some cases it can just disolve into the wet paint (when painted over) which can turn your colors gray or dark. If you want a clean charcoal line it must be on the top layer or you must seal it well before painting over it. When used on the top layer of a mixed media painting, the charcoal must be sealed with an aerosol spray to prevent smudging.
  • Watercolor pencils - Anything labeled "Aquarellable" can be used to draw on the surface of a painting and then the drawing can be liquified by water or paint. This can be used to create mystery within a painting because the marks made from drawing are unlike any that are made with a brush. At first the marks resemble that of a color pencil. But these marks can morph from hard edged into flowing atmospheric color fields when wet. *** To make waterproof and to protect from UV damage & fading, a sealer has to be used, otherwise the watercolor drawn part of the image can be re-activated after a long time if it comes in contact with water and it will also fade if in direct sunlight as is normal for all watercolor paints.***
  • Color pencils - Non water soluble, color pencils are permanent once drawn. Some can be smudged if drawn onto a smooth surface but are very difficult to manipulate in this way on a bumpy surface of a canvas painting. These are often used to create very thin colored lines that would be next to impossible to create with a brush and paint. These can be used to write on a surface in color instead of having to use a pencil or charcoal and write in black/gray. Just to be safe, you should spray sealer over any exposed drawing section of a painting.
  • Ruling pen - This is a tool used to draw lines with ink or paint. Predates paint pens and was originally used in drafting. This is a really fun tool but does take some getting used to. I recommend starting with a really thin acrylic paint like acrylic ink or airbrush medium + paint. Otherwise it takes a long time to get the consistency right if you're using water + paint. Being able to draw/paint perfectly straight lines with a ruler and ruling pen allows you to do so much especially if you like geometry within a painting. It also saves so much time if your alternative method is taping off the lines and then painting them.
  • Chalk markers - Great for low risk spontaneous mark making or writing as the chalk can be washed away easily. If you want it to be permanent then seal it with multiple coats of an aerosol spray varnish or just use something else. typically if a chalk marker is used, it is intended to be washed away. So it is best when used as a planning tool and not a permanent drawing tool.
  • White ink pens - Great when they work! I've found that they dry up very quickly compared to black pens so each white roller ball pen has a time limit once opened. The roller ball can also become clogged very easily and ruined if you drag the pen through wet paint. As a result, make sure your painting is dry when you start to draw or write with a rollerball pigment pen. I love signing a painting in white and I use these primarily when signing a small canvas.
  • Sharpie paint pens - One of my favorite! I love how bright the white is when drawn over a painted background. This tool is also great at creating small line work or texture (hatching, cross hatching, scribbling, etc.) too. Note: The marks are not waterproof and can be washed away, which is good because if you make a mistake, then wipe it away with a baby wipe. Seal the surface when finished to prevent vulnerabilities.
  • Water proof and non waterproof markers - waterproof means that once it dries completely, you can work on top of it without effecting the lines. If it doesn't say it is waterproof, then it should be assumed that it isn't. In that case if you paint on top of a non waterproof line, then you will most likely dissolve said line and it will blend into the color you're painting on top and create a mixed version.
  • Calligraphy markers - typically black but are available in colors too, the unique design of this markers and pen is their angled tip. The angled tip provides a greater opportunity for quickly changing the line weight when writing or drawing. Practice makes perfect! If you want your handwriting to look professional, then I recommend purchasing an exercise/workshop book and writing along with examples until you perfect your style. 
  • Black permanent ink markers and pens - permanent ink is only permanent after it is completely dried. If you wet or smudge the link before it dries (meaning immediately after the mark is made) you can treat it like paint for a few seconds. This technique is used to add mystery making a geometrically consistent line from a pen appear more fluid and inconsistent as if from a brush. These tools can be used at any stage of a painting without worry of loss or interaction by painting over it. Also, the difference between waterproof and permanent (as they are not mutually exclusive) is that permanent means light fast (that it doesn't fade under UV lights). If an ink pen is not labeled as lightfast then it is safe to assume that the ink will fade from black to gray and eventually to invisible. It is noteworthy that many sharpies are not lightfast and will fade over time like printed receipts. Typically we don't want our art to fade so I recommend weeding out any non permanent pens and markers from your art stash or setting them aside to use for practice pieces.
  • Non permanent ink markers and pens - These pen or marker lines will dissolve to varying degrees when painted on. If used on the top layer a sealer must be used to slow their fading under UV light.
  • Paint markers - Such as Liquitex brand or Montana brand paint markers allow you to draw with paint as the felt tip is constantly fed by the reservoir of paint within the handle. The marks are unique when compared to paint applied with a brush but are less customizable as the tips are normally not interchangeable. These are a real game changer because prior to their invention, you had to mix your fluid paint and dip a ruling pen into it to apply a drawn paint line. Also, I recommend buying paint pens/markers that can be refilled when empty. 

If you have any questions, thoughts, ideas, or otherwise, please feel free to leave a comment below and I'll happily read it and I'll respond! Also make sure to subscribe below to receive free offers and enter to win some of my paintings in my regular give aways!

Happy painting!
Stephen Lursen Art

If you are interested in a more in depth online workshop, please visit https://stephenlursen.com/collections/online-workshops-educational-videos

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  • Anna on

    You’ve mentioned a few times to use a sealant. Are there different types? I’d like to use a soft pastel pencil to draw a mural on my painted interior walls. What sealent would you recommend for this? Also, if I tried a light fast paint markers, would I also need a sealent on top? If so, which? Thanks!

  • Megan on

    Hi! So I’m going to be painting a black acrylic background on canvas and possibly going to use a gold sharpie marker to draw on top of that after it dries…would you happen to know if I have to varnish differently over a sharpie?

  • Megan on

    Hi! So I’m going to be painting a black acrylic background on canvas and possibly going to use a gold sharpie marker to draw on top of that after it dries…would you happen to know if I have to varnish differently over a sharpie?

  • Vonalda on

    Hi – Great info! Thanks! Just one thing – “Permanent” does not mean lightfast or archival. These are two different terms. For example, regular Sharpies are called “permanent” because they are water-resistant but they do and will fade over time! Professional framers hate it when people bring in their precious collectibles, signed with Sharpies, to be framed as they know the signatures will fade in time, no matter what they do (even under “museum” glass)!

  • Desirae Standiford (Dez) on

    I commented about the mixed media wall & a pen that will write fine font over latex primer & polyurethane wood stains.

    I DO have some colored calligraphy ink pens. I am worried to try them bc the wall is perpendicular to the floor….meaning no tilt.
    Meaning, no flow. :’(

    Do you think a Calligraphy drip pen might work? As it is more like a paint brush? (Kind of???)

    Thanks again!


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