Getting Inked

Hey Friends,

This is Steve Knerem from, promoting my second video tutorial of my t-shirt illustration titled “Keep Me Safe – The Ink Stage”. It’s been sometime since the first video so I definitely apologize for the long wait. If you did see the first one, then hang on tight because there is more music, new bands, more info to make your head spin, and a kick-ass HD camera that will make you feel like you are looking right over my shoulder!

I’m mega pumped to get this to you and add it to your “go-to learning library.” Learning never ends! I have my style, but I’m always looking to watch someone do their thing just because they have their own experiences and techniques. So grab your friends and make sure you get over to and pick up at least 7 or 8 copies and be ready to dive into an hour of mayhem!

Onward! Without giving too much away, the new video reveals my “hidden secrets” —  how I ink and what makes me so great! Only kidding.

I do talk through my techniques and style, and hit you with some information on character design and artists who I feel are good to learn from. I’m going to do some of that here, but mostly I am going to walk you through my process of inking.

Let’s begin.


First, let’s back up to the original idea for this tutorial, which started with a scribble.

Scribble on anything! I have endless little scraps of paper that have ideas on them. I could stop creating new images now, and have enough material to create from for the next year.

Once I have some ideas scribbled down, I develop that mud to give it some form and subject matter.

COOL! I knew what I wanted: this female with a shroud, with snakes all around her. So, I asked my friend Danielle Muad ‘Dib, to model for me. A great reference makes ALL the difference. An experienced artist will know if you are throwing crap down and being lazy because a shoulder or hand looks out of place. Don’t half-ass the figure. Get a reference, photograph a friend!

Here is my inspiration: Caravaggio. A master painter, and good source to study for strong light source.

As some of you saw in the first video, I developed my scribble into a finished drawing ready to be inked. In past work, I used to hash out the shadows and light source more in depth. But now, because my drawings take 20-25 hrs from sketch to color, I try to just rough in those areas before I begin inking. If I know I am using a lot of color, then it makes my job easier — all I have to do is some minor shadow detailing. Not that I’m lazy, but after cranking out a bunch of these drawings, your eye knows where to throw down the shadow in the inking stage. I also try to have strong line weight and minor shading. This varies from piece to piece.


Time to rock n’ roll!  Here are a few basic tips to keep in mind when inking:

TIP #1 Don’t think of inking as tracing. Yes, you are tracing — but the difference is now your drawing will become crisp with refined detail and line weight. So, pay attention and work slow if you have to. This is where it counts!

TIP#2 Draw to the actual size of the final print on the t shirt.  I say this because if you draw too big then you have to reduce the image and your awesome detail might become mud. At the same time if you draw too small and you have to blow up the pic to be a larger size, it might look pixelated and blurry, and ultimately be a crappy print.

TIP #3 What you see is what you get.  If the piece is for a client, sometimes I’ll draw just slightly over the size of the actual printed size just in case they decide they want  image a little bigger.

These are just guidelines. Remember: you have to find out what works for you.

So now, I am going to hone in on the character. I love drawing characters and thinking of different costumes. I almost went into film for character creation but I was sort of guided into the apparel world and just ran with it.

TIP # 4 Hit it head on. Don’t be shy about attacking a face. If eyes freak you out then I say START with the eyes. Overcome those challenges and make them your strength.

Most of the time, I usually start outlining the major areas such as the hood in this pic.

Then I go for the jugular! Meaning the eyes, nose and over all face. I always feel that if I get the face first, then that’s my anchor point. It sets the tone for my overall inking. I’m fresh, energized and my hand and neck aren’t cramping yet.

As far as shading goes, I’ve experimented with many techniques. There are endless ways to create depth, but with the past few shirts, I wanted to play with a “stippling” or “pointilism” style. I wanted to get more dimension from my ink stage rather than rely on color, which costs money — think about it!

Once I have the main features lined, I go into mechanical arm mode and dot, dot, dot, dot. It’s hours of work, and I always ask myself: WHY?!?! Well, it’s kinda different. Not that many people want to put in the labor for these techniques, and that’s fine. I’m doing what I think works best for the piece.

In the video tutorial, I demonstrate a few other forms of shading.


How far do you go? How do you know when it’s enough?

Some things to think about:

  • It takes time to develop the eye for not doing too much or too little and you have to always look at your entire drawing
  • Are the values working together?
  • Does it simply look right?
  • I say do a little in an area then work on another area. DONT FUSS!  Just let it flow baby!

So now I hit the face and skin tones. How do I treat the costume? The same, with a million dots? I could. I like to separate the items and think through the garments.  Let’s look at what she’s wearing: a robe and undergarment with ropes and lace. I simply kept in mind what type of cloth is on her body, how it lays on her and where the folds are. Simple.

From here, I always think about the pattern on the character’s outfit. along with the line weight. I would probably use a thinner marker. I use Micron pens and would hit those patterns with a 02 most likely. Think through these elements. If it’s something shiny, make sure it looks shiny with a proper technique. Is it fuzzy? Draw what fuzzy would look like. Make sense?


As I mentioned before, I know I wanted this Mary Magdalene like character. I like the shrouded character not for religious reasons but I felt her character went along with the point I want to make with this drawing which is “Protection” hence the name “Keep Me Safe.” I also brought into the mix the costume from my tee “Octolady.” The third part I added was a Day of the Dead make-up on her face. So these are a lot of elements but if you are going to create a character, go all out! Sometimes there could be too much but I SAY throw the kitchen sink at your drawing and scale back if you need to. You will know if you did too much. Just save those ideas for the next one.

How fun is this!? Just let your imagination flow and draw what is in your head and what means the most to you. So far so good? How about the purpose/storyline behind the character? No you don’t always need some deep meaning and purpose, but it does make for great conversation and I know I want my work to “hit home” with the viewer.

To explain: KMS is a theme of protection. The character is just a representation of who or what you feel keeps you from harm, evil, people, the boogey man or the peanut butter monster.

THE WHO – Whomever means the most to you, a father, brother, sister, God, you get the picture.

THE WHAT – This is up to you. I generalized the “what” as the evils of the world or anything negative that crosses my path.

MORE MEANING – The snakes and skull represent the evil that surrounds us daily. The roses are a force field of good or protection. She is looking up to the heavens or to a source of good to protect her.

NOW IT REALLY GETS  DEEP – The make-up. Why Day of the Dead make-up? Well, I think it looks awesome. Now for the deep part. In my mind nobody is perfect. Humans have good and evil in their heart (you make the choice what good and evil is.) So although she looks like an enlightened being protecting her her heart from evil and surrounded by the force field of roses, she still deals with adversity and her own “evils.”

WHOA!!!! Need a drink, a nap or a smoke break yet?

So there is (extreme) meaning and purpose to our character that will get printed onto a t-shirt (and worn by millions!)

SECRET***This is the direction I am taking my t shirt line. Meaning, Purpose, and something anyone can relate to.


Here are a few artists I like to follow that have really cool inking styles. Study them if you need to, but develop your own way.

Jerry Beck– Awesome comic style. Ripped dudes specific to the body building industry.

Godmachine – A freak of nature.

John Baizley – Unreal. Beautiful penmanship and great illustrator.

Alphonse Mucha-   My personal favorite and the godfather of line weight.


As always, thank you for viewing, reading and purchasing the new tutorial. Thanks to Go Media.

Last point. Inking is broken down into a few steps. Some guidelines: Study objects and people for light and shadow. Experiment with different styles. Find out what tool works best for you i.e. pen, marker, paint brush. Take a look at C.J. Darden  I watched him live at Chicago Comic Con 2 years ago. He throws down ink on a plastic surface of some type then cuts away at it with a blade. Holy Crap original!!!

Until next time guys, I  hope you learned a lot. Feel free to contact me anytime:

[email protected]