Pen Drawings As Procrastination

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Pen Drawings - Chiaroscuro geometric objects test

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.

Pen Drawings - Portrait of a woman in an off-shoulder dress

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.

Pen Drawings - Woman in a striped cardigan and pants

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.

Pen Drawings - Woman posing on a sofa in a leotard

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.

Pen Drawings - Portrait of a soldier

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.

Pen Drawings - Portrait of a woman in a hat and furs

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.

Pen Drawings - Blonde woman wearing a jacket in profile

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.


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  1. my my!! such great sketches..there is a lot of talent I can see in there.. I ve never tried with fountain pens.. your post gave me the push. :)thanks!

  2. hi, i haven’t sketched in years though i was an avid sketcher once. Did a lot of sketching/doodling with fountain pens too! Really encouraged to pick it up again after looking at your images. The last one is really lovely.

  3. Hi Samir, as your friends say, this is a push, to all graphic designers,and artists us that maybe life took us to other paths, to remember our roots, or what we really liked and enjoyed.
    I like the way you take your time to do this exactly, in our modern times, we should always leave for a while our computers, and take the time to enjoy not just seeing, but watching, and transporting it to paper, in any way.
    And well to finish this nice talk, I might even send you my pic for you to translate it into a beautiful drawing, ha ha ha šŸ˜‰
    Thanks for sharing Samir,

    1. Magali, thanks as always. You’re right, for anyone who is into art or design, drawing is often our root, and one we sometimes forget it along the way. Definitely something to revive when you can.

      I would gladly draw from your picture, except that it would come out looking like someone completely different! šŸ™‚ I still haven’t cracked the skill of making a recognisable likeness. For now I just enjoy creating an image that is hopefully attractive on it’s own.

  4. I really like these simple pen sketches, you make them look so easy to draw! I was going to just use oil and acrylic paints, but now I am thinking of trying some blue pen sketches for my year 12 visual arts major work. I have just done one in red pen, but it doesn’t look quite as good as yours.

    1. Brontie, thank you for visiting and always happy to inspire some artistic experimentation.

      Good pen drawings, like anything else, really are a product of practice. Don’t go by your first attempts. As you can see even in this set above, towards the end of the set I end up drawing better than what I start with. This happens in my case because I often go without drawing for months, but with more regular practice, there’s no reason to expect a more steady improvement in your skills.

      Best of luck with your Year 12 work, and do share some online when you’re a little satisfied with what you’ve done. I’d certainly like to see them, and feedback can help, both to improve your technique and boost your confidence.


  5. as-usual inspirational!!! thank you for the gentle kicks reminding us to go back to what i loved most drawing :))) shall pick up my pen this week itself :DDDD

    1. Thanks Aarti. Most of the time, I’m actually trying to give myself some not so gentle kicks into action, but it’s a great side-effect if the gentle one get passed on to others. šŸ˜‰ Enjoy the rediscoveries.

  1. Ink Pen Drawings of Human Figures | Samir Bharadwaj

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