Wild Squirrel for Inktober – Pencil to Paint Tutorial

Zebra Zensations Technical pens on Hahnemühle Burgund Postcard. Photo reference courtesy of Skica911 on Pixabay.

If you are looking for my review of Alice Hendon’s Tangle All Around the World you can find it here.


  • Inktober – Wild
  • Doodlewash – Squirrel

This painting is what is known as a ‘line and wash’ because it is drawn in pen first and then painted with watercolor.

Before You Start

There is a series of commercials where a squirrel sits in the road, causing a car to swerve and crash. Afterwards, he slaps hands with another squirrel and it’s obvious they planned the crash. The moral being that squirrels are EVIL! Well, actually, the moral was supposed to be that you should buy something, but I don’t even remember what.

To me, the squirrel in the reference photo had an evil expression and I wanted to capture that feeling that he was hatching mischief. The background in the reference was blurred, so I decided to add more color to create something soft and contrasting to the evil squirrel.


(This scan is darkened so you can see the pencil lines. You should pencil lines in lightly)

I decided to keep the detail limited – I wanted the focus to be on the facial expression.

Not sure if you’re up to drawing this? Art Tutor has a great grid program that will help by applying a grid to your uploaded photo. You can also crop and adjust color and value.

Except for some texture added to the tree trunks, I just penned in the outlines and minimal detail. Even at that, I felt I’d added too much so I addressed that in the last step.

With Daniel Smith Watercolor and White Uniball Signo Gel Pens added

Monte Amiata Natural Sienna with a touch of Rose of Ultramarine were used for the squirrel. Wisteria, Rose of Ultramarine, Cascade Green and a touch of Monte Amiata were used for the background. If you don’t have these Daniel Smith colors, a Raw Sienna, red violet, red violet & white, and a blue-green would give similar results.

Notice that there is a roughly circular flow to the colors in the background and the most contrast is along the lower branch, leading you to the squirrel’s face. The sharpest detail is in that face.

As mentioned in the step above, I felt I’d penned in too much line detail, so now I grabbed a white signo pen and added highlights to the fur along the back and blended some of the ink into the yellow behind. I used it, smoothing out the gel ink with a finger, along the other two branches so the light would again lead the eye toward the face.

Did it all work?

Today is the 16th day of Inktober, where anyone who is interested is challenged to do an ink drawing every day! There are prompts: Jake Parker (founder of Inktober) has an official list, but many others have put out lists as well, including the usual set of prompts from Doodlewash.com.

The official Inktober Prompt List.

And the Doodlewash prompt list for the month.

Zebra Pen is joining the fun with a month-long challenge, giving you the chance to win $250 dollars worth of pen products! Just follow zebrapen_us and zebrapen_canada on Instagram, and when you post your Inktober drawing there, use the hashtags #zensationschallenge #Inktober2019 and #Inktober.

Published by Life Imitates Doodles Art, Reviews & Tutorials

Artist Ambassador for Zebra Pens. I'm a self-taught artist who dances about with all sorts of artistic mediums. My main loves are Watercolor, Zentangle and Ballpoint pen. The subjects of my work are many and varied and change at whim. I'm a little bit crazy, but doesn't that come with being an artist? At my Life Imitates Doodles Blog, I post a list of resource links for Tangles, Tutorials and Giveaways two times a week. I also write reviews, hold giveaways and share my art work.

10 thoughts on “Wild Squirrel for Inktober – Pencil to Paint Tutorial

  1. “The moral was supposed to be that you should buy something, but I don’t even remember what.” Best sentence every written, especially as commentary on our socioeconomic obsession with all things retail – and on sale! “I got it on sale so it doesn’t count as something totally stupid that I didn’t need.” You just made my day, Sandra, you really did. And this squirrel – love him. If he looks evil (I think he just looks squirrely) maybe it’s because he’s also pondering our compulsive impulses to buy everything in sight. We should all stay home and make art.

  2. OMG – what a great painting – love that squirrel. I really appreciate your daily emails. They are inspiring and while I don’t have time to draw or paint daily, your emails keep my mind in the game, so to speak. Thanks again.
    Jaki Ayton

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