The Process

Where: Home, again

Trip Date: Every Day

Well, I didn’t get power back at my house until this past Sunday; a week after Irma came through. I never realized how nice air circulation was until I lived in a house with two dogs, three cats, and two other people who were unable to take a shower. It was an incredibly long week. To add insult to injury, my car decided to die this weekend as well. So for yet another week I am unable to travel. I have been trying to make it to Wilmington, North Carolina for the past three weeks, but that obviously hasn’t worked out yet. I can promise, however, that next week I will get back to my normal format, wherever the location may be.


The view from my studio window, since I’m not currently able to travel anywhere else.

Last week I showed you some of my old travel sketches. So I thought this week might be a good time to share a little more of my process. It is not an incredibly involved or very unique process, but you may find it interesting nonetheless.

The Tools

Process Tools

My weapons of choice.

For my finished artwork I usually use higher quality materials—nib pens, illustration board, etc…—but for sketching I like to keep it simple, and obviously I have to be able to fit at least some of what I need in my pockets.

As far as pencils go, I’m not picky. I tend to use a regular old mechanical pencil. For inking my sketches I prefer Micron pens. They are relatively cheap, and easily replaceable. Specifically I use the Micron size 01 for line-work, and a Pigma Graphic pen for larger areas of black.


Line-work done with the Micron.

Since I am rather hard on my brushes, I usually rely on cheaper packs with synthetic bristles. I favor round brushes of various sizes, but flats are very good for backgrounds and larger washes.

Now, a lot of people think I paint with watercolor, and that is an easy mistake to make. I actually do my painting in acrylic inks. They are a bit more opaque than watercolors, but they are completely waterproof once they dry. I have never been very good at color; I’ve always been better at—or more comfortable with—drawing in black and white. But through lots—and I mean lots—of practice I have learned to mix nearly any color I need with only seven different colors of ink: Brilliant Yellow, Process Magenta, Flame Red, Turquoise, Prussian Blue, Sap Green, and Burnt Umber. A limited palette just makes it easier on my brain.

Color Ties

So many different colors. And yes, these are some of my ties.

I do all of my sketches in Moleskine watercolor notebooks. Any sketchbook with watercolor paper will do, but I find the texture of the Moleskine paper works best for my combination of pen drawing and wet on wet painting. They are also a nice compact size that is easy to travel with. Plus they just look classy (no, art is not free of vanity).

The Process

When I can, I try to do at least an initial pen sketch on location—I find sketches tend to feel more lively and spontaneous when done in person rather than from a photo. But, of course, that is not always possible: time can be limited, weather can change, bugs can attack. But either way, every sketch begins with reference—in person or with a photo. (I will use a sketch from This article from a few weeks ago as an example.)

Grapes Process 1

My reference photo of grapes.

Depending on the complexity of the drawing I may begin with a quick pencil sketch to block in major shapes and feel out the composition. Other times I throw caution to the wind and go straight at it with the pen.

Grapes Process 2

The grapes sketched in pen.

Once I have most of the pen-work finished I move on to the painting. This part I have to do in my studio, as seven bottles of liquid ink do not travel into the field well. I begin with a loose first layer of ink, letting some of the colors bleed together. I don’t worry about this layer looking to neat, blended colors make the image more unified. After that has dried, I then go back with more saturated colors to define the shapes and values.

And since I am using opaque inks, after I have completed the painting stage, I go back with my pens and touch up any of my line-work that may be trying to disappear.

Grapes Process 3

The final grape painting.

This whole process can take anywhere from half an hour to a couple of hours depending on how complex the drawing and how obsessive I am being. Once it is all finished, I go have a snack.


A snack.

And here is a sketch of the messy workstation where it all happens.


Of course I drew it, who do you think you’re dealing with? Also, ironically this is the only one I did actually paint with watercolor.

By | 2017-09-22T00:04:15+00:00 September 22nd, 2017|Information, Update|4 Comments

About the Author:

James is an artist and illustrator currently working in Georgia.


  1. Sandy Stryker September 22, 2017 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Gosh I love the way you write. So many gifts so little time…

  2. Linda Clarke September 23, 2017 at 6:04 pm - Reply

    My computer was with the Best Buy Geek Squad yesterday and today until 4:00 p.m. I couldn’t wait to see your next installment of The Inky Artist……..and this installment is great. It would be enjoyable for anyone who sees it, but especially interesting and entertaining for someone who aspires to being able to put pencil and paint to paper and have some sort of recognizable image emerge.

    Again, your artworks are fabulous, and I always enjoy your writing and the humor that pops out unexpectedly.

  3. Stanley September 24, 2017 at 9:49 pm - Reply

    Great post and insight into how you put your ideas on paper!

    • James McInvale September 27, 2017 at 9:38 pm - Reply

      Thank you Stanley!

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