The last time I tried to draw seriously was well over a year ago, and I was drawing with a pen to clear my head. This time was no different. I have a few projects on my mind at the moment, including the ever-postponed redesign of this site, and just planning out the various aspects of the many projects was getting tedious and jumbled. I’ve written before about how procrastination can be beneficial, this was one of those occasions. If you must procrastinate, you might as well get something done while you’re at it, so after a long hiatus, I decided to take up my pen and draw.
I’ve primarily been a pencil-sketcher through most of my drawing life. As a medium, the pencil has other characteristics besides erasability that give it a unique character, such as the ability to create smooth, varying tones. My experiment this time was to try a more hatching based approach to shading with a pen, so I started with the simple geometric shapes that are always a good test. The trusty sphere and arrangement of three-dimensional forms helps concentrate your mind on technique and away from the details of what you’re drawing, a useful trick. It’s obvious that my familiarity with pencil shading spills over here, hence the scratchy chaotic lines, which would have looked perfectly smooth with a pencil.
Then I plunged into something more challenging. Nothing is more challenging to draw than people, because our tolerance for visual mistakes in people is very low. Unlike my previous tries with regular (biro) ballpoint pens, this time I found a gel pen lying around the house and used that. Compared to the sticky ink of the regular ball-point, the gel pen produces cleaner and sharper lines, which are a challenge when your shading gets scribbly. But the over-all effect is not bad at all.
I continued to tackle more human subjects. Faces and the human figure are close to my heart, which certainly helps during long drawing sessions. With this figure, the gel pen really helped lay down the flat areas in the woman’s hair; it has an interesting consistency to it. This drawing was finished quickly compared to the others here, but they were all more involved than the pen sketches I’ve tried before.
Yet more figures and more complex poses followed. The foreshortening of the legs is something I always have trouble getting right. It ended up looking fairly consistent here, although it meant making plenty of adjustments as I drew. It is likely the details don’t match the original picture I was looking at, but thinking on-the-go and coming up with a good final result is just as useful a skill to develop.
I wanted to tackle this very stark portrait of a soldier from an old black-and-white film because it had so much black in it and it would challenge my shading technique, which it did in more ways than one. The gel pen I found had been in use and the ink finally ran out while I was about a third through this image. I didn’t have another similar pen to replace it with, so I filled an old fountain pen with some royal blue ink and continued with that. You can see the slight difference in colours between the two; The gel pen is a brighter blue.
The switch to the fountain pen confused my hand a bit, so I quickly moved on to the next drawing, using only the fountain pen; I took on this portrait of a model in a hat. One problem with the original image was that it was evenly light in tone. There were almost no blacks in there except for her eyes, so to capture the essence of it with the unfamiliar fountain pen, I had the exaggerate the drama of the shadows. I was also in a hurry to finish and leave for an evening outing, so this was quite hurried. My immediate impression was that this looked too rushed, but while that is true, I now think that, along with the more fluid lines of the ink pen, add a great deal of character to it.
I had set myself the task of doing seven sheets of drawings for my pen drawing experiment. For my last drawing, I took my time choosing something that was enough of a challenge to end with. I settled on this profile shot, which gave me plenty of scope for exploring the line of the ink pen. The hair in this image took several passes, and a lot of instinctive strokes before it finally looked like a satisfactory head of hair. In fact, I am more than satisfied with it, especially when I look at it up close in the actual drawing.
The ink pen is a joy to draw with. It produces a beautiful fluid movement that comes almost automatically, the very same reason schools used to encourage the use of fountain pens as students learned to write; It is a marvellous instrument. The only thing to pay attention to is that the ink is a lot wetter than in ball-point pens, so it takes a few extra seconds to dry. It’s something to watch out for as you move your hands across a freshly-drawn section of paper. The wet ink and the need to do several passes to get a deep dark shade also means regular paper is going to be on the very edge of tearing after the process.
Keeping aside the cautions for the medium, I definitely want to do more like these. While the picture of the woman in the striped cardigan was a 20 minute sketch, most of the others took well over an hour to do. I am quite slow at this at the moment, but in spite of that, all these were done over only two days. Well worth the effort, I think.
And now that I’ve fruitfully delayed working on other things, it’s back to work.