Lines and Colors art blog

Rendering in Pen and Ink by Arthur L. Guptill

Rendering in Pen and Ink by Arthur L. Guptill

Rendering in Pen and Ink by Arthur L. Guptill

Pen and ink is a medium with a long history, but despite some modern revival in interest (as evidenced by the current internet-wide exercise of Inktober), its importance has faded from its time as a major drawing medium for Renaissance and Baroque masters, and its strong popularity as a medium for illustration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Pen and ink is a medium with unique characteristics — in linearity, texture and tone — that have a visual charm shared only with similar techniques in printmaking.

From the waning years of the medium’s heyday as a staple of book illustration, we have a classic volume that is simply the best book on pen and ink I’ve ever encountered: Rendering in Pen and Ink by Arthur L. Guptill

The original version of the book was published in 1930 as Drawing with Pen and Ink, and versions of that volume are still available. The edition titled Rendering in Pen and Ink was created in 1976, leaving out a few of the original illustrations, adding many others and condensing the area devoted to text while enlarging that given to images.

This is a from-the-ground up treatise on drawing with pen and ink, starting with materials, basic marks and methods of making tones — hatching, cross-hatching, stipple and freeform textures — and going on through methods of rendering trees and landscapes, architecture, still life, people and more.

Much emphasis is given to making and controlling tones and suggesting light and shade, something that those learning pen and ink often struggle with, as well as conveying the textures of natural and artificial surfaces.

Many of the illustrations, particular those explaining the basics of ink drawing and rendering, are by Arthur Guptill himself, and he is no slouch at pen drawing. The book is also profusely illustrated with plates by some of the best pen and ink artists from the turn of the 20th century, a high point for the use of pen and ink in books and magazines.

The drawing may strike some as “old fashioned”, in that it has a character of classic illustration — but to others, myself included, this is a Good Thing — a welcome grounding in techniques taken from masters of the medium.

The current 60th Anniversary edition of the book, which is huge, both in page size and number, is available for under $30 on Amazon U.S. For my money, a single chapter would be worth that! (I’ll note that I have an older, well-worn hardbound edition that I’m using for my review, and I can’t speak to the binding and paper quality of the current printing.)

I’ve had the book since I was in my early 20s; I considered it a gem then, and the years have not dimmed my enthusiasm for its value. Rendering in Pen and Ink is highly regarded as a standard must-have book among illustrators and comics artists, but is less well known to other contemporary artists.

There are a lot of books available on drawing in pen and ink, but if you have any interest in working in, and hopefully mastering the medium, this one should be on your shelf.


17 responses to “Rendering in Pen and Ink by Arthur L. Guptill”

  1. Holy heck, I actually pulled this book off of my professor’s bookshelf yesterday to read, by pure coincidence, and now I stumble on it again here. Glad to see it get covered.

    1. Perhaps destiny is calling (grin).

  2. I stumbled across this book a couple of months ago, at a place called Waste Wise near me, and bought it for all of $1. I also picked up Rendering In Pencil for the same price. Now I feel like I really got a steal!

  3. What difference is there with Pen and Ink Drawing Workbook (Volume 2) Paperback by Alphonso A Dunn, please?
    The other Guptill hardcover (….. : and a word concerning the brush) is rather costly, @ $ 178. 80.

    1. I haven’t seen Dunn’s books, so I can’t speak to that, though you can find videos of his on YouTube:

      When used books are priced that high, wait. They fluctuate in price. You can also look for them on eBay where prices will vary even more over time. Be patient.

  4. Not to miss out on a great pen and ink artist that is Franklin Booth.

    Norman Rockwell spoke of him in the following quote:
    “I have always admired the beauty of Franklin Booth’s work and regard him as an exponent of the very best in American illustration.”

  5. Found this book used for about $5. It is terrific.

  6. One of the interesting things about Franklin Booth is that his signature style is the result of him not knowing that the illustrations he was copying in pen and ink for self-study were actually engravings. When he finally left his small home town to make his way in the world as an illustrator the editors, etc. who viewed his beautiful work were stunned to learn that it had been rendered in pen and ink. Learned this in my History of illustration class at the Academy of Art in 1989.

    1. Ælle & Susan,

      Yes, Booth was an amazing pen and ink artist, sometimes called “A painter with a pen”. See my previous posts on Franklin Booth:

  7. Speaking of books at a good price. If any readers are in or near New England the Book Barn in Niantic Ct. has a wide selection of used art books. They carry artists bios, collections of artists works as well as technique books. To be clear: I have no association with or financial interest in Book Barn. Just trying to help fellow artists.

    1. Thanks, Brad. Used bookstores with good selections of art books are always good to know about, particularly for students and others on limited budgets.

  8. As a Pen & Ink artist for about 40 years, I had long forgotten Guptill’s book. After reading your excellent write-up, I’ve sent for a copy from Amazon UK; cost £15 (US$ 20ish). I’ll be able to read it with ancient, but fresh eyes.

    Still hoping you’ll do an Axel H Haig, Charley – I know we spoke of that some time ago.

    1. John, Glad I could remind you. Thanks, in turn, for the reminder about Axel Haig!

  9. Hey Charley, I was clicking around following links from this post and the Franklin Booth posts. In the spirit of Inktober and for Halloween how about another post on the great Bernie Wrightson. Can you think of anyone more perfect than him?

    1. Thanks, David. Great idea and I’ll try to fit it in if I can; I have a couple of other posts lined up for Inktober.