Pen and Ink on Frosted Mylar

Frosted mylar (e.g., Duralene) is an excellent surface for drawing in ink. The plastic sheets are durable and transparent. You can trace over a preliminary drawing or even a photocopy of an object. You can also scratch away highlights or details with a scratchboard cutting tool. Be careful not to get your fingerprints onto the drawing surface as the oil from your fingers may cause the ink to bead up.

Here are some examples of leaves traced from photocopies of real leaves. Notice how easy it is to follow the nuance of the variation in leaf venation. Also note how line thickness is used in these drawings. Instead of using thicker lines to indicate objects that are closer to you, I use a thick line around the outside contour of the leaf and lighter lines on the veins. This is an effective graphic style- heavy lines on the major structures, lighter lines on the details. It is often used in technical drawings and architectural diagrams producing clear and readable images. Click on the first image to start the slideshow.

Lets take a look at the process of making one of these drawings on mylar film. Click on the first image to start a step by step annotated slideshow.

11 thoughts on “Pen and Ink on Frosted Mylar

  1. George says:

    Sorry John but i think tracing is cheating ,giving the student a false confidence. Keep up the good work though. PS I am close to 80 yrs young and enjoy drawing a lot even if i fail i will have learned something and i don’t think tracing would help at all. Kindest of regards. George in the UK

    • Hi George, I love your comment that even if the drawing is a failure you will have learned something new. I agree. That is an important way to frame your drawing process. The goal is to learn. I like to use every approach I can, drawing from life, drawing from memory, drawing from reference material, drawing from imagination, copying the work of other artists, drawing in the style of other artists, and tracing. Each mode makes me think and see a little differently. It all mixes together and comes out as something new.

      • Amy says:

        Tracing may not be something I’d use in a finished art piece (and interesting point about false confidence), but do I like the idea of using tracing as a technique to help you really pay attention to detail in a scientific-like manner. I teach science to elementary school kids and integrate art practices, so this is a cool technique for them. +1 on using every technique you can

  2. Nanci says:

    I am definitely going to try this today. I have some of that (another brand) but I’ve only tried graphite on it so far.

  3. George says:

    Hi John, yes i can go along with that but i still feel that the student setting out on their journey might consider tracing to be the rout for them. But as you put it yes it can work. Keep up the good work John its very refreshing to see a very good artist and observer admitting his mistakes and showing how to put it right . Thank you very much George

  4. I am trying to learn to draw, and I find that tracing something first helps me to ‘see’ lines and curves in ways that I sometimes miss when I am just trying to draw something freehand. After tracing an image once, I find that I can then draw it much better when I attempt a similar subject freehand. It sort of helps to map out things in my brain, and it seems to me to be a very natural way of learning how to draw. Children do it instinctively. Thank you for having such an open minded approach to teaching. Sometimes all the do’s and don’ts can feel a little overwhelming, and can take some of the fun out of learning 🙂 ps my 13 year old son made his very first nature drawing of a dragonfly using your website as a guide, and it was such a success, he wants to try another!!! can’t thank you enough for this invaluable resource.

      • George says:

        Hi Starr white whilst i can see where you are coming from . There is a danger now that your son will want a finished drawing like he had with the dragonfly, he may not like to fail now. Plus if you read back through johns blogs you will find the cure there for you problem with curves. Johns advice for that is to move your paper and observe the negative space.
        Now I’m not saying you should not trace ,but i do have a friend who cant stop tracing now he has even sold a few of his tracings , so you see its not what it will do for your son now its what may happen further down the line . A tracing is not really one of our own drawings either is it ,like John says draw, draw, draw and draw some more then the viewer will be looking at our skill but unfortunately the viewer will not know of the effort (enjoyable effort) put we ut into it. One other thing its only my opinion starr white. Cheers

  5. It is amazing to see what people can do with a pen. Art is amazing no matter where you go or how you attempt to draw it. I’m so grateful that we have examples like this that inspires people and helps them see what can be done with art.

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