Drawing with pen and ink

Hi, lovely Messians.  It’s Elizabeth here.  I hope to serve as your personal creative cheerleader this season and throughout the year, chiming in with a “Just give it a try!” whenever you find yourself hesitating.  I want to be there encouraging you to experiment and play with new and different subjects, materials, mediums and techniques. Today, let’s pretend to hold hands and (actually, not pretend) draw.

EmK’s last post likely has you testing out every pen on the planet, scribbling, cross hatching, and mark-making.  She has inspired me to dig through my pen, markers and ink and revisit some of my favorite drawing exercises.  These exercises are intended to get you warmed up and comfortable with various tools, to move your mind into a creative space, and above all, to infuse some fun into your art journaling and art making.

Though these are similar to the exercises that my most helpful (and by helpful, I sort of mean that she instilled terror in my young soul) drawing professor led me through, today’s exercises come with no critique, no pressure, and no defined outcome.

Incorporating Drawing in Your Art Journal: 6 Exercises

The first step for each of these exercises is to say to yourself, Drawing is making shapes.  And shapes are made from lines and curves.  And I can make lines and curves.  So I can make shapes.  So I can draw.  Repeat this first step as needed.

Recommended tools + materials: You’ll find so many great recommendations from the Creative Team and Get Messy members!  For drawing and sketching practice, I’ll use anything from hot press watercolor paper and a liner brush… to an old ballpoint pen and the back of a junk mail envelope.  I find myself feeling the most free when I’m simultaneously feeling the least fancy.  Experiment, play, explore.

Exercise 1: Complete a found image

incorporating drawing

incorporating drawing

Select an image from your stack of magazine tear-outs or ephemera or old photos and either cut or rip it in half.  Affix this image to a page in your art journal (using a glue stick, matte medium, Mod Podge, etc.), leaving yourself room to complete the image.  I recommend working from the half-image that is in your journal, rather than the half-image you’ve removed.  That way, you are less focused on copying and more engaged with the process of completing the object (or person, animal, what have you).

Feel very free to take liberties with form and style.  For the examples above, I clearly took some liberties.  It’s all good in the art journaling hood.

Exercise 2: 10 versions of an object

incorporating drawing

incorporating drawing

Choose a subject.  It may be something you are very comfortable drawing (some of my defaults are furniture, flowers, shells and birds) or something that you are very uncomfortable drawing (in my case: ears, cats, hamburgers, sea cucumbers).  Once you’ve chosen your subject, draw it ten times.  You may choose varied points of view or use different pens or markers for each version or draw half with your right hand and half with your left hand.  Mix it up.

I find this exercise makes for a really lovely art journal background or standalone page.  Maybe not if we’re talking sea cucumbers.  But maybe.

Exercise 3: Outline only

incorporating drawing

For this exercise, you’ll want to draw from life.  Which is to say, get a random thing and put it on your desk where you can really see it.  Choose something with some visual interest (say, a teapot rather than a box of Cheerios), but nothing so complicated that you want to crawl through the computer screen and harm me (say, a giant and very trendy fiddle leaf fig plant).

Focus exclusively on the object’s shape, and complete a line drawing of that shape.  If time allows, move it around a bit and begin again.  Once you’ve finished drawing, have some fun with adding color to your page.

You’ll see I added a label to my satsumas (my favorite winter citrus!), mostly because a week after drawing these, even I likely wouldn’t know what they were.

Exercise 4: Gestural drawings

incorporating drawing

For this exercise, you’ll need a person or creature in motion.  I will happily lend out my three-year-old daughter or one-year-old son.  Just kidding… kind of.  If you don’t have a person or animal at the ready, a YouTube video (this Misty Copeland solo is divine) is perfect.

You’ll endeavor to capture the shapes your subject creates as they move through space.  You may end up with sweeping lines, linked ovals, cascading dashes — whatever you end up with will be beautiful.  It might not be especially representative of your subject, but it will be beautiful.  I find these quick (and I mean quick– they shouldn’t take more than a few seconds) drawings to be so evocative and perfect for capturing powerful emotion and spirit in my art journal.

Exercise 5: Inspired by a found image

incorporating drawing

Dig into that magazine stash again.  No ripping this time.  Make a drawing inspired by your found image (I love using faces for this exercise because they inevitably turn out a little off, and rather interesting), letting go– once again– of a need to complete a perfect likeness.

Exercise 6: Drawing with your non-dominant hand

incorporating drawing

This is a classic drawing warm-up.  If you’re left-handed, move your pen or brush or marker to your right hand.  If you’re right-handed, move your pen or brush or marker to your left hand.  If you’re ambidextrous, tell me all your secrets.  Choose any subject (you can draw from an image, from life, or from imagination) and draw that subject entirely with your non-dominant hand.

I find these drawings to be so loose, free and fluid.  And they are really fun to play with after the fact, as you add color, texture and other visual interest.

So there you have it, friends.  Six different ways to use every single pen, marker and brush in your arsenal.  Six different ways to loosen up and play.  Six different ways for me to try to trick you into drawing things like sea cucumbers.  And ears.  


Elizabeth lives in Boston with her husband, two young children and not-so-young French bulldog.  She is passionate about encouraging others in their creative pursuits and building peaceful communities. She almost always laughs at her own jokes.


  1. Vanessa Oliver-lloyd


    • Elizabeth D.

      Oh, goodness! A giant, all caps THANK YOU! So thrilled this spoke to you. xx E.

  2. EmK Wright

    Ohh so wonderful! I love your lines and curves mantra! I can see it being my go to when I’m being too hard on myself.

    • Elizabeth D.

      Thanks, EmK! Yes, please be sure to always tell yourself the best, most encouraging things! <3 You have such talent!

  3. Gilly Welch

    Oh my goodness there’s so much here I want to try straight away, thanks Elizabeth I honestly think I could do all of these..hehe I may have to add some extra pages into my journal!!

    • Elizabeth D.

      Thank you, Gilly! I cannot wait to see what you cook up! <3

  4. Katie Smith

    I love these ideas & your examples!!

    • Elizabeth D.

      Thank you, Katie! xx E.

  5. Laura Rahuba

    You have an hilarious writing “voice”! Are you a writer, Elizabeth?

    • Elizabeth D.

      Oh, thank you, Laura! I am!

  6. Meghan Deinhard

    Love all of these! Thank you for a great tutorial. The drawing mantra is perfect.

    • Elizabeth D.

      Thank you, Meghan! I am so glad these appeal to you! I always love seeing your work. xx E.

  7. Clare Davis Etheridge

    Where to start! Every single exercise is one I want to try. Ok, start at the top!

    • Elizabeth D.

      So thrilled to hear that, Clare! Hope you’re well! xx E.

  8. Anna Oliveira

    “Drawing is making shapes. And shapes are made from lines and curves. And I can make lines and curves. So I can make shapes. So I can draw.”
    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ll try to always remember myself of it. <3

    • Elizabeth D.

      You are so very welcome! xx E.

  9. Misty Granade

    You might actually get me to draw with these prompts!!

    • Elizabeth D.

      YES! I’d love to see! I know your drawing is brilliant! xx E.

  10. Thea marie østerholt

    I love all of these promts and looking forward to trying them out! Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

    • Elizabeth D.

      Thank you so much, Thea Marie!

  11. Deborah Hosaflook

    Oh man, all of these wonderful exercises to do!!!!!! How fun!!!!!! I can’t wait to sit down and go through all of them!!!! Thanks for taking so much time to give us so many wonderful options and great ways to incorporate more drawing into our journals!!!!

    • Elizabeth D.

      You are so welcome! I can’t wait to see what you come up with! xx E.

  12. Jenny Sehlstedt

    I am all excited, I hope, hope I have chance to try out tonight.

    • Elizabeth D.

      I can’t wait to see what you create, Jenny! xx E.

  13. Kelli CRESWELL

    Even though I have been trying to draw (well, doodle) more, these exercises scare me a little. But I am inspired to try! Thanks!!

    • Elizabeth D.

      Doodling is drawing — don’t sell yourself short! <3 I can't wait to see what you make. xx E.

  14. Sasha Zinevych

    This tutorial is pure inspiration, Elizabeth!! And I am in love with your witty and ironic writing style! <3 Thank you so much for sharing these exercises. These will keep us all going not only this season, but all others to come after it.

    • Elizabeth D.

      I’m so glad you like it, Sasha! I just love the page you shared on Instagram today! xx E.

  15. Romana

    Gosh! Cannot decide which to try first, so good!!

    • Elizabeth D.

      Thank you so much, Romana! I love the drawings you shared on Instagram today. Those plants would make such lovely prints! xx E.

  16. Charlotte Erichsen

    Love your tutorial – so many possibilities! I knew the gesture drawing and sometimes practice it on http://www.quickposes.com. It’s a website where You can set a time frame for each photo and it shows you a different pose every 60 seconds or whatever time frame you select. A session normally is 20 pictures. The photos show mostly dancers or athlets, so the poses can be quite challenging, but fun.

  17. Emily@squiggleandswirl

    So glad I popped in and saw this! Love it all , words , ideas and your art. Thanks for inspiring me today Elizabeth . X

  18. Ashley Rodgers

    Oh my goodness! So many ideas! I love them all.

  19. Shelley Hitz