Traditional Pen & Ink (1-4)

August 10, 2011

I’ll be concentrating on traditional pen and ink for the next little while. It’s “traditional”, because it involves being strictly representational or naturalistic. It’s “pen and ink” because I still need to keep delving into media I haven’t pushed to the limit previously. It irks me a bit because I like the lost lines  and vagueness of sketching, the immediacy and spontaneity of sketching, suggestion rather than the obvious, using lots of white space instead of “filling everything in”.

First efforts, done in fineliner pens, about 20minutes each on ordinary 110gsm cartridge paper. Wonder if a much smoother Bristol paper is better, to reduce drag on the pen tip. I’m not quite ready to pick up the crow quill and India ink. A long time ago I worked the very slow lines and ink involved in calligraphy, but have never “drawn” or “sketched” with the same pens and inks.  I’ll probably resist working for a while with a technical drawing pen; here, just two pens – an anonymous EXP 0.5mm and a Staedtler fineliner 0.5mm. Should try the same techniques with my Lamy Safari fountain pen with Extra Fine nib. Worked big on A4 paper – didn’t want to cramp my wrists working small.


The  contour line is no big deal; drawing repeated horizontal lines was like being on a sleeping pill and I had to suppress the urge constantly to speed things up. At the end of the reindeer, I wasn’t happy, so did some small panels of hatching and at THAT point realised what I should be doing.  

I didn’t like the frog. Normally I don’t have any objections to copying someone else’s lines, but the linework of the original seemed messy, unsubtle and haphazard, so I simplified things. But at least it added squiggly lines to contour and hatching, so I’m on my way!

The copying of the shop front took me to the end of the two-hour meeting. It was suggested to me that drawing architecture requires one to start from the ground up; I tend too often to start in the middle (at the perspective ‘horizon’ and work down then up.) By now, I have really slowed down. Am not worried that my freehand straight lines aren’t dead straight; I declined the suggestion to use a ruler – I have my principles! Using a ruler or French curve seems too much like technical drawing; I need the work to have some soul and not be completely lifeless. Perhaps traditional pen & ink is all about being technically perfect and “cold” – all virtuosity and no soul. it is though a tradition and I can’t discard it without having investigated it.

This fortnight’s homework is to work up an architectural drawing. it certainly feels odd to take out a photo and copy – haven’t done that for months and months – so I’m determined to work from an on-site sketch of my own. I’ve ordered a box frame from my local framer which will fit an ordinary A4 size piece of paper (a sort of “test” frame for my pen&ink work since I’m unlikely to work larger than A4), so have begun to consider a drawing from my sketchbook of the Nightingale Wing of Sydney Hospital. It will feel strange to work the entire piece of paper and not leave it with large areas of white space. I HAVE to turn up next fortnight with a finished work in a frame; the specific requirements were for it to be on canvas. I’m still trying to get my head around the idea of pen & ink on a gessoed canvas board; I guess the gesso will have to be sandpapered very finely for my liking.

I am feeling claustrophobic and constrained by this medium and will have to “balance” things with a lot of freehand sketching. But at least I’ll learn about pens and ink and perspective and Bristol paper and mark-making filling the entire page, so it’s not all bad! This is the perfect indoor technique. I should have been doing this during the last fortnight of constant rain; the beginning of Spring (albeit in August instead of September) is now upon us which means plein air sketching.


One Response to “Traditional Pen & Ink (1-4)”

  1. quirkyartist Says:

    Who is the torturer setting you all this work? We haven’t seen you out sketching for so long.

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