Pen & Ink Still Life Illustrations


This week I’ve been working on the last stages of my new beginner’s acrylic project book and wanted to add some pen and ink illustrations of materials & still life setups.

For all the sketches I used the following pens on 220gsm cartridge paper.

  • Lamy Safari Fountain Pen – filled with Lamy water-soluble black ink
  • Pentel Aquash Waterbrush Pen – this bad boy just holds the perfect about of water in the brush filament tip to wash-in water-soluble ink
  • Muji 0.5mm Black Fine Liner – so smooth and works well at any angle under a rapid speed
  • Pentel Brush Pen – if you’re struggling to create broken line effects, treat yourself to this pen, you can block in deep blacks really quickly

A number of the illustrations below are based on famous still life paintings. I always think looking at the pieces in black and white is interesting as you see how much the composition reveals an artists style. If you compare the shapes in Cézanne’s work to Morandi’s, there is a different set of compositional interests.


Morandi often bunched his set-ups together, you can see how he used a mixture of overlapping objects with similar vertical shapes to give the pieces a stark, square grouping. I love the spaces between Morandi’s arrangements, having the objects so close creates a real relationship between them.


In comparison to Cézanne, who uses flowing sculptural tablecloths, circular fruit piled up high with the edge of the table surface, giving us a sense of the space.

Here you have this brilliant steep angle of the dark band that adds movement and draws our eye to the taller jug breaking through the line. He’s positioned the handle so you have a lovely dark ‘negative space’ and then uses the circular shapes of the pot and bowl. Cézanne often propped bowls from underneath to highlight the shapes. If this was sitting on a flat surface the plate would have much more of an ellipse shape.

(You can see some more photographs from within Cézanne’s studio here: How to paint, sleep (and nearly die) like Cézanne)


I always love how Cézanne’s still life’s feel like the objects have just toppled onto the canvas, but when you look more closely at the arrangement you can see how they are each carefully positioned and balanced together. Here, the main focus is the water jug, then your eye moves to the two pears on the plate. Using the shape of a plate hi-lights an area and adds contrast to the darker shadow shapes from the fruit lined up in the background.


Here I arranged two objects, one as a whole and then cut the other one cut in half. It’s a very simple yet effective way to add interest to your composition and give you new shapes and narrative. Having a cut pumpkin and a knife tells more of a story of the absence of human presence that two whole pumpkins left untouched.

You can see some other things to look out for when arranging still life compositions here: Are you making any of these 7 compositional mistakes in your paintings? 

onion bowl pen sketch

In this sketch of a bowl of onions, I felt the overall impression was a little heavy. The silver qualities of the onion skins didn’t translate as well into a drawing, but I really liked the pattern on the Mason Cash bowl.


We only use a couple of brushes throughout the book, mostly a flat synthetic brush for adding clean, smooth marks. This one is a series 302 Flat Golden synthetic from the fab Rosemary & Co.


This is a chisel acrylic paint marker from Liquitex. They can be handy if you’re coming to painting but not feeling super confident in drawing fine lines with a brush. The marker is filled with liquid acrylic paint and can give you a really nice sketchy feel to the underdrawing of your paintings.

Beginner's Acrylic Book drawing

This collection of art materials on the shelf in my studio caught my eye for the final sketch. Even the little brown jug from How to Paint a Warm & Cool Still Life Painting made an appearance!

Still life project e-book

This new practical project e-book will look at how to create still life paintings with simple impressionistic marks, chiaroscuro techniques, and clear colour mixing recipes. 

I’ve created it because I’m passionate about still lifes and have deliberately taken an impressionistic approach with all 3 painting demonstrations so you won’t get distracted by the details and lose momentum.

It’s been designed to be simple with step-by-step instruction, broken into bite-size pieces so you can complete each stage within a 2-hour window. Something you can easily follow, even if you’ve never painted before.

More details coming soon!

This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Raymond

    I’m not a total dummy, Will, but my artistic logic is failing me. If you are using a water-soluble ink, and assuming you are doing the shading AFTER you draw the outlines and hatching, why aren’t the outlines and hatching smearing when you apply the (grey) shading? Thanks!

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Raymond, I use a combination of a permanent ink (the Muji & Brushpen) and the water-soluble ink (the LAMY). So the water-soluble ink is selectively added or ‘loaded’ into a section and then washed over with the water brush pen.

      Hope this helps,


      1. Raymond

        Now that makes sense to my artistically logical mind! Thanks for the reply! I look forward to the e-book.

  2. Bryan Wickens

    Anything on watercolor painting ?

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Bryan, this will just focus on Acrylic painting techniques.

  3. Johannes Awondatu

    Very nice lessons….thank you!

  4. C-Marie

    Hi Will, I love pen and ink drawings. I draw my own set-ups and also copy Vincent Van Gogh’s drawings and paintings. Love seeing yours. Also really enjoy your emails…..had fun with the Cezanne link this time! Thank you, C-Marie

    1. Will Kemp

      Glad you enjoyed them C-Marie.

  5. Susanna Ray

    Hi Will,
    Thank you for all the nice and helpful emails and the wonderful demos. Although I don’t paint/draw as much as I use to, I sure enjoy seeing and reading all the updates you provide. Thanks again!

    1. Will Kemp

      My pleasure Susanna, really pleased you enjoyed them.

  6. Nancy B

    Hi Will. I really enjoy your style and teaching methods and love the Impressionists. I visited Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny and some places Van Gogh lived and worked in Arles, but didn’t think to visit Cezanne’s studio while in Aix en Provence while I was living in Europe. Thanks for the tour and am really glad you didn ‘t drown while down research for this book! I can’t wait to see it!

    1. Will Kemp

      Ha, ha, thanks Nancy, glad you enjoyed reading about Cezanne’s studio.

  7. Cynthia Fahnestock

    Your sketches are fabulous , clean, and clear, full of character. I took your beginning drawing course and an acrylic also, though I am a watercolorist at heart. I will be excited to see the finished book. I would love to do such wonderful pen and ink. Do you have a course on just that?

  8. Elaine Schab Bragg

    Hello! I love drawing. Period. Your article us must useful to me as I am translating drawings to watercolors but frustrated with translating ti acrylics. I am pretty new to acrylics and long for basic instruction. I want to draw with my brushes, if that makes sense. I look forward to your e coarse with excitement! When is it coming around?

    1. Will Kemp

      Sure does Elaine, the book should be out in the next few weeks.

      1. Gord


        Did the book come out? Is it the Beginning Acrylic book? Just wondering as I did not see the sketches from this post in that book…


  9. Katerina

    Your posts are always welcome and we look forward for them.

  10. duh chuen W. Priessnitz

    Hi Will thanks so much . for your generous, helpful and inspeiring deponstrations. I am used to paint with abstract paintings but also very interested with black white sketches .
    But I am living in Germany so I do not know where could I buy those material here.

    1. Will Kemp

      Pleased you enjoyed the article, most of the pens (apart from the Muji fine liner) are usually available on most online pen sites.

  11. B.

    Hi Will, I LOVE your website, and method of teaching. More acrylic painting videos please.

    1. Will Kemp

      Glad you’ve been enjoying it.

  12. Dee

    Awesome, thank you. :)


    Good morning, Monsieur Am a great grand mother.. still young enough… and I want to start your courses by learning the beginners guide… If it is better to start a course, to go quicker, I am quite prepared to buy a course, but it is better for me to ask you the question.
    I live in the beatiful island of Mauritius… and ther are such beautiful landscape..

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Elizabeth, you can either start with the free video lessons for individual projects of the beginners acrylic course to give you an overview of the medium. And Mauritius has such beautiful colours.

  14. Michelle Brown

    Hi Will,

    What did I miss…Is this only/online course?

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