Monday, February 5, 2024

Newsletter: Drawing with an ink pen

Let’s draw with an ink pen WITHOUT using a pencil first. 

Some of you may say I'm crazy. You want me to draw with only an ink pen? Yeah, I know this is scary stuff. I can hear the questions now.

  • I can’t draw with an ink pen?
  • What if I make a mistake?
  • How do I correct mistakes?
  • I feel more comfortable starting with a pencil and then using my ink pen.
  • This will be nerve ranking for me.

This past class session in my studio (via Zoom), I taught my students how to do something they thought was impossible: draw with only an ink pen. It's been four weeks now, with the last class this week, and I must say the students have done a remarkable job, even outstanding. In this newsletter, I want to share some of the nuggets I passed on in my classes.

For years I've been teaching students to draw with pen and ink. In fact, I hold workshops on the subject. However, I always told everyone to start with a sketch in pencil, getting things just the way you want it, then add ink. If you want to add watercolor, erase the pencil marks and add color. Most people did a pretty good job.

From the outset, I was a bit trepidatious about this method myself. Not only did I have the same fears and questions listed above, I also was afraid I couldn't teach it without making a complete fool of myself. But as they say, I carried on.

Perfection is not attainable, 
but if we chase perfection,
we can catch excellence.
Vince Lombardi

Perfection is overrated.

I think the hardest part of drawing with a pen—any kind from fountain to technical—is fear. For myself, I have always drawn with my pencil first. My biggest fear was, “What if I make a mistake.” There are a whole slew of other fears as well. It’s sort of funny, because I’m one of those teachers who encourages students to “throw it out” and begin again.

But working exclusively with ink to create your sketch is just learning another skill. Remember when you started out, the hard part was even putting pencil to paper. Then little by little you learned a new skill. The same can happen here.

Here are some advantages and/or reasons to use ink alone. 

  • Sloppy is good. Really? Just ask some of my travel workshop students about using sloppy copies. It’s a great way to just let go and sketch.
  • Wobble lines are good; they create lively ones and are more expressive.
  • Creating a line without a ruler is a skill and well worth the effort.
  • Increases creativity.
  • Fast and fun.
  • Somewhat representational and full of life.
  • When you start, ignore the mistakes and don’t sweat the details.
  • Once you begin to master this type of sketching, you discover a whole new sense of freedom.
  • Go with shapes first, details last.
  • You’re responding to the world around you; it’s like a narrative of your life.
  • Learn to “restate” your lines. There are no mistakes, just lines to be restated.
For this article, I will cover fountain pens and technical pens. If you want to learn more about dip pens, please go to this link at my YouTube channel to see a two-part series on dip pens.

The Fountain Pen.
There are all sort of pens available today: ballpoint, rollerball, gel, felt tip and so on. I especially like fountain pens. What?? Didn't that go out of fashion in the 1950s when the ballpoint pen was invented. Well, yes but that doesn't mean the fountain pen is not a good drawing tool. I like how the ink flows out of the nib, making it easier for me to draw and even write. Speaking of nibs, there are also different sizes that help when drawing a line. They come in extra fine to fine to medium. Not only that but the Platinum Preppy comes in point sizes: .02, .03 and .05. 

While a complete review of fountain pens can be covered in another blog article, I'd like to share a few products with you today. The two disposable pens I use the most are the Pentel's Tradio style sketch pen made in Japan and the Pilot Varsity made here in the USA as well as France and Japan. My favorite non-disposable fountain pen is Platinum Preppy from Japan (you'll notice Japan is mentioned a lot because they make some good stuff, along with Germany). These pens are also rather affordable at just a little over $5 a pen. If you get further into this subject, you will find that some fountain pens are extremely expensive. The most expensive pen, the  Fulgor Nocturnus by Tibaldi, has a gold nib and studded with black diamonds which recently fetched $8 million at auction.

The Technical Pen/Fine Liners
Rotring originally offered the Isograph techincal pen. Architects and commercial artists used them for their detail work. However, these pens can be persnickety with ink drying out often and then having to clean them often. In years since, the technical pen has been replaced by fine liner pens that have a nib size as small as .003 to .08, basically the same size of the Rotring brand. My favorite is Micron with Copic pens coming in a close second.

What's nice about these fine liners is their varied nib sizes and the ink is usually permanent. Fountain pen ink has traditionally been water soluble, which has always been a negative for me. The reason for this phenomenon is that the permanent inks have been India ink (which contains shellac) and acrylic ink. Both of which will clog the fountain pen. 

But there's good news! During the past few years, some ink companies have developed permanent products: pigmented and carbon inks. Both are supposed to be permanent. Two of which I can totally recommend are: Platinum's Carbon Ink and Sketch Ink. There are others but these are the ones that have worked for me.

Do NOT put India or Acrylic ink 
into a fountain pen as this will ruin the pen.

One last pen: Fude
I ran across the Fude pen last year. It is a funky looking pen, and I just had to have it (of course, I'm addicted to art supplies--better than alcohol!)

Here's a photo of a Fude by Sailor:
Notice the nib, it's lifted a bit. In fact, it may look like it's broken but it isn't. The lifted edge makes wide lines. For smaller lines, just turn the nib around and draw very nice fine lines.

Notice the fine lines and then the bold. I used watersoluble ink, which I could use as a nice wash. It's a fun pen. By the way, you can find lots of videos on YouTube on Fude pen.

That's it for the time being. I'll cover more next month, such as continuous drawing and paint first, ink second.