Of course, you're free to use any method of creating an image, but as a professional artist, you should limit yourself to those tools that produce crisp, easily reproduced lines quickly and predictably. The standard method is to sketch in pencil and finish the art in ink using a pen, brush, or marker.
Pencils are for sketching only — not for final art. Pencil work is too likely to be smudged or damaged as it is processed for publication. Avoid working final art in pencil unless there are special circumstances that dictate otherwise.
Since the lines you make in pencil are not intended to be seen in the final art, use “nonphoto blue” pencils. The color of the lead — light blue — does not photocopy well, nor is it particularly readable by a scanner. That means pencil marks will disappear as the work is processed for publication. Lines drawn with these pencils will not have to be erased unless they are very dark. You can ink over them, safe in the knowledge that the stray pencil marks that remain will disappear in the production process.
If you prefer mechanical pencils, take heart. You can buy blue leads at any office supply or art supply store. They work just as well as the nonphoto blue pencils.
When you go to the art supply store, take your notebook as well as your checkbook. Write down the price of the item you need as well as its product number. When you get home, plug the product number into an Internet search engine (you may need to add the manufacturer's name). You'll find countless merchants vying for your business. Keep the art store's price to compare.
Black and White Ink
Always use an opaque waterproof black, like India ink. Once it sets, it stands up to time and wears wonderfully. Don't experiment with cheaper products that claim to be “just as good.” It's a terrible feeling to look back on old work you're proud of and see the line work faded because you used cheap supplies.
Accidents happen — even to experienced inkers — so don't panic. Use opaque white ink for corrections. Daler-Rowney Pro White is a popular brand among cartoonists.
Red sable brushes such as the Winsor & Newton Series 7 are considered to be the best by many cartoonists. They stand up to wear wonderfully and they work well with India ink. Some brushes flop and wobble when loaded up with ink. Red sable brushes flex and spring back into shape. Buy a few different sizes and shapes and experiment to find the ones you're comfortable with. In general, you'll want a couple of pointed brushes for line work and a rounded brush for filling in blacks.
To prepare a brush, dip it into the ink and then pull it across a sheet of scrap paper, twirling it in your fingers as you draw the brush back. This forms the brush into a point and distributes the ink evenly inside the bristles. You can produce very thin or very thick lines depending on how hard you push the brush into the paper.
Pens and Nibs
There are several types of pens to choose from. The trick is to find the one you like the best and practice with the ones that produce the lines you want. You'll want to try a crow quill pen for fine lines. For lettering, select a couple of pens with rounded ends: A Hunt Globe 513 and a Speedball D5 or B6 are excellent choices.
Although you can get by with one pen holder and several nibs (a nib is the pen's tip), it's recommended you buy a few holders. That way, you can switch from one nib to another as you complete your work, without making a mess.
Wash pen nibs and brushes with mild soap and warm water after every use. Avoid using hot water — it damages brushes by loosening the glue that holds the bristles. Dry everything on an old towel or paper towel. With even the best upkeep, your drawing instruments will need to be replaced when they become worn. Using brushes and pens past their prime will result in poor-quality images.
Select a nib, place it in the holder, and dip the pen into your bottle of ink. Start the ink flow on a scrap of paper. Once the ink is flowing freely, you may begin to draw. Your lines will be thicker or thinner depending on the pressure you put on the pen — but at a lower range than that gained by using a brush.
The trick to using pen-and-ink sets is to anticipate when the ink will run out of the nib and redip it before you run out. As your nib runs out of ink, you will probably push down harder in an attempt to make the ink flow more rapidly. Pushing down too hard causes the prongs of the nib to spread out farther and leave feathery marks where lines were intended.
For ultracrisp lines of a consistent width, learn to use Rapidograph pens. A set usually contains an ink cartridge, one holder, and several pen nibs in assorted sizes. The pen must be held at a 90° angle to the paper, and you must resist the urge to bear down on the paper to produce heavier lines. Rapidographs are somewhat hard to learn, but they produce beautiful lines for those who've mastered them.
Markers are probably the easiest and most recognizable method of creating line art. Resist the urge to use those comfortably familiar El Markos and Sharpies. They're great markers, but they're just not advisable for this kind of work.
Rather, you should try pens from the Pigma Micron line. Again, several sizes can be bought at your art supply store. They stand up to constant use better and the ink is archival. Pigma Micron also boasts a set of markers with brushlike nibs. Feel free to experiment with these, but not at the expense of learning to master a good brush-and-ink technique.
The problem with using markers is that people tend not to change their markers frequently enough. Many will use a marker until it runs dry or until they've mashed the nib into a useless nub. Of course, once they look back over the work they've produced with this one pen, they can see a long, steady degradation of line quality that wasn't as evident when they were concentrating on keeping their deadlines. When you select your markers, buy two or three. It's easier to retire an older marker if you have another ready to take its place.