You Asked: Pen Drawing on Canvas?

Todays question comes from Veronica and she asks:

“I love drawing with inks ,but I want to know how should i prepare my canvas ,i used gesso,and when it dried I used PITT artist pen and micron but my pens got ruined in less than an hour !Is there other material I can use because I dont want to draw on paper and frame my drawings ,thats why I tried on a canvas”

Do you have any information that might help Veronica?  Please leave your response in the comments box below.


  1. says

    First of all I would not use canvas, too abrasive. I use a panel of masonite, paint with gesso, when it dries I sand lightly with 600 grit sandpaper. then again paint with gesso but brush stoke across you last application. Repeat this process as needed. This gives you a nice surface to paint or draw on.

  2. Raymond Mosier says

    Interesting you tried that. I’m not sure why you don’t want to frame your drawings on paper. I think pen and ink on paper is an exciting medium matted and framed. To protect the final work, I think you would have to frame it under glass even if it is on canvas.
    My guess is the gesso was too absorbent for what you wanted to do. You might want to try a workable fixative spray on the gesso before you draw and see if that would “seal” the surface. Another solution would be illustration board as a support, but that is paper.
    Good luck!

  3. says

    Hi Veronica…
    I use Micron pens on top of acrylic paint in my hand-crafted pins. I have a couple of tips. First, it’s not enough for the paint (or gesso) to be dry to the touch; I found that if I tried using the pen too soon, the pen would sink into the soft paint. Then I tried letting the paint dry for two or three days, and the pen drawing worked much better.

    Second, if the surface of your paint or gesso is a bit rough, try sanding it with a fine grit sandpaper.

    Hope this helps!

  4. says

    I have been using a canvas called “Yes”. It’s portrait smooth and is a great surface for pen and ink work. Graphite even works great on this surface. For multi-media work, it’s the best. The product comes in stretched canvas, pads, rolls and boards. Many of the artists that take lessons in my studio have commented that it’s their favorite working surface.

  5. Yvonne Smith says

    Interesting journey you are on…experimentation can bring stunning results..hope that it works well for you… Had a few thoughts…hope that they help you.
    I see two issues… The canva and then the ink itself… A normal canvas has a degree of spring and movement in it which may be difficult if you wish to do fine detail inkwork.. Also, the surface of canvas may restrict The movement of the pen and a clean flow of the ink for fine detail…how about trying stretching a fine linen canvas over a board mounted on a wooden frame support..once stretched, it will look like a standard canvas, but finer texture, and the board under the canvas will give great support for fine detail pen work, allowing the cavas to be worked flat on a desk for pen work. Prime the canvas with an acrylic primer, allow to dry, give a gentle sanding with a fine grade sandpaper, then blow any dust away with a cool blast from a hairdryer..wear a mask..!… Apply more primer, dry, and sand a couple of times more.. This will build a nice smooth surface to work on.
    Inks and pens… I also use pitt pens for drawing.. But on paper … The nibs are not designed for the rough treatment a canvas would give…. How about rethinking the pens and the ink type… Acrylic ink mediums can be used in pens or applied by fine detailed miniature work brushes. There is a fabulous looking pen which I have seen, but not tried yet, by Pentel.. The AUQUASH is a brush pen..which comes in different brush sizes, but has a internal ink reservoir which you can fill with the ink of your choice..and it gives the ability to load it with any mixed tint that you want.. A bit like working with a fine brush that you don’t need to lift from the canvas to reload with paint…the reservoir feeds the ink to the brush tip. If you use acrylic inks, you can also use calligraphy pens to draw with…just don’t use a nib with a sharp point.. There are lots of fabulous pens and nibs available.
    If you were to use acrylic ink, although I haven’t tried myself, I would imagine because it is an acrylic product, you would be able to use one of the varnish sprays designed for acrylic painrings to protect the final artwork.
    Also worth trying out is the Rotring Artpen… I used to have one.. And I loved the way it was able to go over the top of different dried paint applications without snagging.. It has a variety of metal nib types, but really only takes rotring cartridges.
    Anyway… I hope that you enjoy your journey, and have fabulous art and new techniques at the end of it…!!
    Best Regards,

  6. says

    Hi Veronica
    Gesso is probably one of the worst things to put ink on not only is it too rough ou will find that the ink will have fine cracks in it once its throughly dry. although it is a technique i use frequently to get that effect. The others are right masonite is probably your best bet, but if you cant get that then canvas with a few layers of sanded down gesso finshed with a coat of size that goes on your walls (most DIY store will carry this) Oh and only use a mapping pen to draw on the canvas, the prgress is slow going but it,s better than ruining your pens. Have you tried Rotrings Isographs they are what I use for all these things The inks blacker and finer and dries waterproof. Happy drawing Kate x

  7. Linda Williamson says

    I was wondering if the gesso that makes canvas a watercolour surface would be better than just regular gesso. I use inks on watercolour paper so that was my thought route. I know Golden makes that kind of gesso. I agree with Genevieve that waiting longer for the gesso to dry thoroughly would be important.

    Hope this helps!

  8. says

    First, there are lots of galleries that show unframed drawings on paper: hung from wires, push pinned to wall, behind glass w/ L-hooks/sq. hooks, etc.

    Secondly, generally speaking, cheaper gessos are more absorbent (will feel drier & chalkier), whilst higher quality gesso is less so. I use Utrecht’s artist acrylic & it’s more ‘plastic-y’ in a great way. A higher quality gesso applied well (thick & smooth enough) on even a cheap thick weave canvas will allow for a good deal of detail, though everybody else’s comment’s on linen being better for detail is true – it’s higher quality & price.

    Third, I’m not a huge fan of Pitt pens b/c there’s not that much ink – even when used on paper. If you have or want to develope the skill, ink with brush (a high quality soft hair) would be best b/c of the precision of fine lines (finer than any micron) & range of width. I’ve never used them for an hour straight, but I really like my Tombow dual tipped brush pens. Prismacolor, staedtler are good pens as well, but they’re not going to last as long as you want.

  9. amanda says

    I am curious, how does one prep a wood canvas for an ink drawing? I tried micron ink on a wooden canvas and it just bleeds. Am I just using the wrong ink?

  10. says

    To get fin lines on oil paintings I use a silicon pizza cutter (wheeled gadget worth about $2) , the edge of a palette knife or credit card. As I do it wet on wet I can use a palette knife to correct any smudges.

  11. says

    Amanda – I have been painting in fluid acrylics and using Pitt pens (along with the acrylics in the same painting) for some time now. I paint on cradled birch boards, and here is how I prepare my surface: I apply three coats of gesso, sanding very lightly between each coat. Next, I apply acrylic ground for pastels. This ground gives an absolutely wonderful “tooth” for any medium you will apply. I apply the ground in one direction, using a wide brush, and making sure I carry the strokes from one side to the other without a break. After that layer is dry, I apply a second coat of the ground in the other direction, again, in unbroken strokes. You will have a wonderful “linen look” texture. Finally, I apply one last thin layer of gesso. I apply it thinly because I do not want to lose the tooth of the pastel ground. Then I work painting in fluid acrylics and using Pitt pens. The pens are particularly great for transparent, layering techniques. See my work at Behrent Art Studio on Facebook.

  12. Aimee says

    Gel pens will work on top of acrylic paint — I’ve found that Souffle opaque puffy gel pens work the best.

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