Ever Heard of a Learning Burst?

2 ideas for pen and ink exercises for when you’re short on time.

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A practice session for pen and ink doesn’t have to be an epic event.

You can do what I call a ‘learning burst’ and get a lot out of it.

When I think of doing a Master’s Study, I tend to envision doing a full piece.

But that’s a big undertaking, especially using dip pens.

There are two ways I like to go about doing a learning burst.

A full Master Study of an entire piece in ink using dip pens can take up to 30 hours…
Watch the companion video.

Zoning in a Section

The first learning burst exercise idea is to “zone in” a small section of a larger piece.

I got that idea when I saw an illustration zoomed in.

Then I remembered a Richard Friend video, where he demonstrates “How to Render like Bernie Wrightson”. He suggested starting with just a section of a piece.

Rendering a specific zone, a small section of a full illustration, suddenly seemed manageable.

A small section of a Wrightson is still a massive challenge, though doable, not daunting.

A zone can be rendered in a reasonable amount of time. Instead of taking days (or weeks) to do a full Master’s Study.

I got the idea of “zoning in” when I saw an illustration zoomed in
Doing only a small section of a Wrighston piece is less daunting (though still a massive challenge).

This tactic makes it easier to focus on the learning aspect of doing a Master Study (and for me, less angst about how an ink piece might turn out).

Zoning in on a Technique

The second learning burst demonstrates, another version of the zoning-in exercise which also helps chunk down a task. 

Rather than focusing on a section of a piece, I zone in on 1 technique.

I look at how various Masters executed a technique, try to replicate it in an exercise, and then immediately apply what I’ve learned in a composition.

“Zoning-in” on a technique from various Masters.

Cross-Hatching Master Study

Lately, I’ve been wrestling to find an elegant way to do cross-hatching.

There’s nothing wrong with cross-hatching, it’s just, that sometimes it looks like mud.

I showed an example of this in a past blog, here and below, where I added a drop shadow by crossing marks on top of marks, and then years later, redid the same exercises but rendered the shadow by building the density of the tone.

In 2020, I cross-hatched the drop shadow. In 2024, I rendered the shadow by building the tone.

And I felt smug for shading it that way. Except that by saying this, I had implied that tonal density was a superior line treatment to cross-hatching.

I don’t want to mislead anyone by giving the old cross-hatching a bad rap.

Look at how the Masters rendered theirs. Moebius, BILAL, Franklin Booth, and Charles Dana Gibson.

These are divine. The cross-hatching is rendered like a texture.

The Masters’ tonal gradation is lively, not mechanical, and not muddy.

Even Gibson’s scribbly, style makes cross-hatching an enviable effect.

Looking at their pieces, I have no idea how the Masters achieved those results, but by zoning in, and trying small swatches, like a cross-hatching study, then it’s energizing bite-size mastery practice.

I started with a Moebius gradation.

BILAL was similar but with more curvy hatches.

Booth is my hero, I love that tight knitting he does.

Bernie Wrightson was influenced by Booth, so his patterns are similarly precise. That’s why I chose Gibson over Wrightson, even though Wrightson is my close second hero to Booth.

Left to right: Moebius, BILAL, Booth, Gibson.

It’s not a complicated, fairly quick exercise, which makes it simple to sneak in between other things.

I then applied what I learned, to a small ink sketch in my Moleskine book.

I started to understand cross-hatching more after doing those swatch studies, from the Masters.

The result from my sketch is not yet how I envision the cross-hatching treatment will be in my final artwork.

However, I had fun practicing it and look forward to my next learning burst session!

Rough sketch but with more practice, I’ll make good use of the cross-hatching technique.

I hope that you enjoyed these ideas. If doing a full Master’s Study sounds interesting, check out my How to do Master Studies article.

DELETER 201-1034 Comic Book Paper, A (great for inking practice)

Resources – Tools and Supplies

Moleskine Arts Sketchbooks

Speedball Hunt 512 Bowl Nib 2pc

Speedball Super Black India Ink 2oz

Speedball Universal Pen Holder, Gold Marbleized

Coppertist Brass Snake Pen Holder

29.5″ x 10.75″ Adjustable Tabletop Easel

Swing Arm 5x Magnifying Desk Lamp

More studio equipment and art supplies

Grow your inking skills with Skillshare.


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