Tag Archives: illustration tips

Ballpoint illustration of a bridge landscape

Quoting the Past: Contemporary Landscape Ballpoint Drawing

By Luis Colan of @luiscolanart

Going back to my days as an art student, I always looked at the art of the past for inspiration and guidance. When working on still life paintings I was looking at Chardin and Vermeer, and as I moved to landscape imagery, I researched the different art movements through art history surrounding this subject. The French painters of the Barbizon School and the Impressionists served as the main source for my approach to painting the landscape. 

After several years of working with oil paint, I was in search of a new approach, something that would make my work feel more contemporary. I stopped painting and to keep my brain sharp and my hands busy I picked up drawing. I began drawing in my sketchbook more and more. I tried different pens, not just for the quality of line and tone, but also because of their design. It’s always nice to have a good-looking product in your hands. 

I came across the STEEL F-301 Ballpoint Retractable Pen, a sharp looking ballpoint pen with a stainless-steel barrel which called my attention due to its slick design. Holding it felt great, it was light weight, and the shape and size fit nicely in my hand. I was able to test the pen in the store, and automatically I fell in love with its glide. I didn’t see any skipping on the paper, and I realized that I could use it in my drawings. From that point on the STEEL F-301 has become an important tool and companion. 

Last year I decided to make a full drawing outside of my sketchbook. This drawing, on cotton rag paper, would be used as an exhibition piece. I picked up a sister pen of the STEEL F-301, the 301-A Ballpoint Retractable Pen from Zebra Pen. This ballpoint pen offers the same qualities of the STEEL F-301 but features an aluminum barrel instead of stainless-steel barrel.

With this new pen, I went out to Central Park to capture the perfect scene. I settled on a view of Gapstow Bridge, which from my point of view was reminiscent of a Corot painting. 

Hand illustrating with the 301A Ballpoint Retractable Pen

I began my drawing onsite by quickly sketching the composition. Using gestural lines, I moved about the paper trying to capture the whole effect. The key is in the movement of your wrist and the amount of pressure you apply on the pen. Always keep it light and keep it moving. Once you have the composition that works for you, you can begin by defining shapes better.

Incomplete ballpoint illustration of a bridge

After getting my compositional lines on the paper, I continued to work on the drawing in my studio using a reference photo. At this point, I chose one element of the drawing I was very sure of, and I began to further define its shape and tone by lightly layering lines. I always start light and move on to dark tones towards the end. This allows me to make changes as I go along. It also builds soft tones and gives the drawing the feeling of light and atmosphere.

Hand on paper in the middle of illustrating a bridge in ballpoint pen

My work style focuses on the effects of light. To achieve this, I first began blocking in large areas of the drawing by using soft, light lines to build an even tone. From there, I added the darker elements; the closer things are to the foreground, the darker things get. This gives the drawing an atmospheric effect.The lighter tones recede in space, while the darker and sharper lines push forward in space. 

Ballpoint illustration of a bridge with the F-301 and 301 Ballpoint Retractable Pens beside drawing

Landscapes can be overwhelming to depict because there is a lot of information to process. It all comes down to simplifying and problem solving to reach a certain outcome. We are all aware that trees are made up of million leaves. We all know the general shape of a leaf, but are you going to draw them all, one by one? That would take too long, and it would also make your drawing look stiff.

What you are really seeing are groups of texture, and it’s always good to find these groups and break down the drawing into these larger shapes. 

Some of the things I always keep in mind when working with a ballpoint pen are:

  • Always clean the tip every few seconds on a separate piece of paper or paper towel to avoid any ink bleeding and keep clear, crisp lines.
  • Hold the pen lightly like as if holding a magic wand. Hold the barrel at the middle or towards the end. Do not hold the pen tight towards the tip; that hand placement is better for writing. 
  • To get soft and light lines, I always watch how much weight or force I’m applying on the pen. Since I don’t hold it tight, I let the pen fall on its own weight and let it gently caress the surface of the paper.    
  • Patience and practice are crucial!


I hope you enjoyed learning more about my journey as an artist and my tips for drawing with a ballpoint pen. For more ballpoint illustration tips, check out 4 Tips for Creating a Scaled Ballpoint Illustration from artist Cat Spilman.

Canvas framed ballpoint illustration of a building

4 Tips for Creating a Scaled Ballpoint Illustration

By: Catherine Spilman of @catgreenart

When I first started sketching tiny houses, I used the STEEL F-301 Ballpoint Retractable Pen because Jordan Spilman, my late husband, had an extra one and let me use it. He had always extolled the virtues of the pen and I had rolled my eyes assuming he was exaggerating, however five years later, it is my tried and true, my go-to, my all-time favorite pen.

Today, I’ll be walking you through how I create an illustration in ballpoint with the STEEL F-301 and providing my own tips along the way. All you’ll need is the STEEL F-301, a reference photo, and a sketchbook or piece of sketch paper.

Journal and light ballpoint sketch

Tip 1: Begin a Light Outline

The best thing about the STEEL F-301 is its versatility. When I start a drawing, I do a very light outline to try to get a handle on the proportions and the pen allows me to make lines that are almost like pencil, but more concentrated and delicate. When I paint, I block in the entire image in highlight and lowlights, and then work from there to develop detail. When I draw, I use the opposite approach and work usually from left to right filling in form.

Ballpoint illustration of a buildling

Tip 2: Fill in Detail from Left to Right and Don’t Forget to Blot

I work from left to right because until the ink is completely dry, it is possible to smudge or smear it with your hand. For this reason, I also rest my hand on a separate piece of paper (this also prevents the moisture in my hand from wrinkling the page.) On this separate piece of paper, I blot the pen from time to time. This keeps the ink running smoothly and avoids blots on the image.

When the house is basically blocked in and it’s time to finish up details like windows and shadows, the STEEL F-301 is amazing for achieving deep black marks. It is capable of so many different line weights which are particularly helpful for indicating shadow, texture, or foliage.

Partial illustration of a building halfway drawn

Tip 3: Use a Photo that is Already Scaled to the Size You Want for the Drawing

I don’t use rulers or any form of straight edge because in my opinion they make the drawing stiff. What I do use to maintain some sense of scale is my phone. The image on my phone is usually a similar size to the image I’m drawing, so I can look from phone to paper to double check my proportions.

Finished ballpoint illustration of a building

Tip 4: Use a Reliable Pen

The drawings can take a few hours and during that time it’s important to have a drawing instrument that’s comfortable to hold. The STEEL F-301 is smooth and comfortable to use for extended periods. I’ve used it in very warm climates and in the snow and the ink distributes remarkably smoothly in both extremes. The steel barrel is resilient and made to last and luckily ink refills are easy to access and to install.

I’ve tried other pens throughout the years but for these reasons and more, this is the pen for me. As Ferris Bueller said, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

I hope these tips help you with your ballpoint illustrations. For more sketching inspiration, check out Urban Sketching: Simplifying Perspective and Designing A Fluid Composition by Guno Park.

Skull and crow illustration

Spooky Ballpoint Illustration: How to Draw a Skull & Crow

By: Bonnie Wong

Hello everyone! I’m Bonnie from @super.bonnie and I’m going to show you how to illustrate something spooky just in time for Halloween! October is my favorite time of the year and Halloween conjures up so much joy and I simply love it! I’ll be creating a black and white drawing of a crow on a skull using my favorite ballpoint pen—the STEEL F-301 Retractable Ballpoint Pen and a few of my other go-to Zebra Pen products. Let’s gather our supplies and get started!

Continue reading

Artist Chris Adams’ Illustration Process

By: Chris Adams of @chrisacreative

Like a lot of artists, my process is constantly evolving but it has been pretty consistent for the last few years. Here’s a breakdown of how I like to tackle my illustrations. Let’s jump in.

Continue reading

Wombat illustration created with Pointillism with assorted Zebra Pen products beside it

How to Draw a Wombat with Pointillism

By: Artist Ambassador Sandra Strait

Hello! I’m Sandra from @lifeimitatesdoodles. Today, we’re going to draw a hairy-nosed wombat using a pointillism drawing technique with some of my favorite Zebra Pen creative products.

Continue reading

Illustration of a gorilla with a STEEL F-402 Ballpoint Retractable Pen beside it

Ballpoint Illustration Tips from Artist Guno Park

Ballpoint pens, while seemingly ordinary, are many artist’s go-to tools for creating rich, beautiful, and life-like illustrations. Unlike other tools, ballpoint pens can produce modulated values and a dynamic range of line weights, allowing everything from ghostly soft lines to dramatic graphic marks.

Continue reading