MATERIALS: IT’S NOT ABOUT THE PEN “Oh, please do not ask me about what paints I use and which brushes I like! The art materials don't matter because art is all about relationships and harmony, which can be achieved with any paints. What matters is how you use the materials.”
A lot can be written about tools and materials and still only scratch the surface of your options. A visit to any art supply store can quickly become overwhelming. Just when you get accustomed to a sketchbook or brand of ink, manufacturers discontinue your favorite products and art supply stores change their inventory.
I sketch with friends who build custom, portable travel kits out of Altoid tins and film canisters. They “MacGyver” ingenious devices for holding inks and watercolors to the edge of sketchbooks as they draw. They chat about technical pens, brands of watercolor, and the advantages of different weights of paper. They create complex charts comparing watercolor brands and build detailed graphs of pens and inks.
My own materials haven’t changed much over the years, evolving only gradually on a need-to-grow basis. I’m less interested in tools than in helpful ways of seeing. The artistic principles and elements I mull over while drawing would be the same if I were scratching contour lines in sand with a stick: focus on the scene with the goal of understanding the objects and their relationships and translate them into drawings, whatever the tools. I want my drawings to say, “Look at this. We pass by or handle these objects every day until they become invisible and taken for granted. But look how interesting they are!”What’s in My Bag
It helps to keep your materials simple and compact. My preferred instruments are commonly found in office supply stores or are easily ordered online. With unwieldy requirements you may be hesitant to head out. Even worse is to arrive on location and realize you’ve forgotten your “special” brushes or sketchbook. With a lightweight satchel or backpack always ready to go, you’ll have fewer obstacles to keep you from diving in.
Here is a complete list of my favorite tools and materials. They are dependable and well-suited to the techniques described in the following chapters. Paper
When I began sketchbook journaling, I used cheap, student-grade sketchbooks with thin nonabsorbent paper that wrinkled if I applied washes. They were the cheapest books available, and because I drew for my eyes only, it didn’t matter to me that the books should last. In the margins of those early books are to-do lists, phone numbers, drafts of school assignments, and rambling diary entries. If someone asked to see them, I felt a need to read over his shoulder, ready to flip quickly past pages of sentimentality, ill-formed fantasies, regrets, and obsessions.
But when sketching became a daily habit and I began to take drawing more seriously, I wanted more robust paper. India ink washes and watercolors require heavier paper that can hold several layers of wet media. I no longer use my sketchbooks for to-do lists, financial calculations, and fretful midnight worries. Although some sketchbook journalists incorporate text with interesting results, I have separate, lined notebooks for all that.
The best paper for working with pen, ink, and watercolor is cold-press multi-purpose (or all-purpose) paper, which is a cross between watercolor paper and drawing paper. On coarse watercolor paper, the sharp nib of a pen will pull up the fibers and the line may skip and stutter across the rough paper surface. Smooth, hot-press drawing paper takes too long to dry and will not absorb the many ink washes and watercolor layers that I apply.
After experimenting with different sketchbooks and paper, I prefer Canson Montval All-Purpose spiral sketchbooks and buy them in bulk from my local art supply store. This paper is the perfect blend of absorbency and smoothness. I pull out the spiral bindings and replace them with three or four one-inch binder rings because otherwise the edge of the drawing near the binding won’t lay flat on a scanner’s glass plate, causing the drawing to be out of focus. The rings are easy to unsnap, so pages can be removed and scanned flat. The binder rings also allow me to swap pages and organize sketchbooks by subject. I have books that contain, for example, only still lifes, exteriors, or diary comics.Pencils
It can be a challenge to give up a dependence on pencils and erasers but liberating when you do. The minimal pencil work we’ll do will be quick and gestural and erased all at once when we finish inking. Soft leads such as a 2B or softer are easier to erase. Pencils without erasers will help you avoid the temptation to tighten up and become too fussy from the start. If you use a mechanical pencil you won’t need a sharpener, but broken leads and mechanical glitches can be distracting nuisances when you’re in the flow of a drawing. I like Kimberly 2B pencils by General Pencil, but I’ve borrowed pencils from baristas and grocery clerks in a pinch and it’s made no difference. Erasers
Kneaded erasers are soft, last a long time, and can be pulled apart into smaller sizes. (Once, while I was sketching in Acapulco, a group of local kids gathered around to watch. I gave each of them paper from my sketchbook and tore my eraser into smaller pieces for them to share.) Pink erasers dry out and leave streaks on your drawing. Vigorous rubbing wears down your paper’s tooth. I like the kneaded erasers by Prismacolor. Drawing pens
I prefer to draw with a pen because I’m a neatnik. Graphite smears. Pastels leave colored dust on everything. Oil and acrylic need to be washed out of brushes. Drawing directly with a pen helps me be more direct and decisive. When signing a document, we don’t fussily correct our signatures, and a drawing can be as personal and direct as signing your name.
The workhorse of my technique is the easy-to-find and inexpensive Uni-ball Vision pen. I buy them in bulk at office supply stores. They can even be found in some drug and convenience stores. I use the “fine” (.07) point for contours and the “micro” (.05) point for smaller details and hatching. The ink is completely waterproof and quick drying, which is essential for applying washes and watercolor layers over the ink lines. If you try other pens, choose carefully! There are many “waterproof” pens that are merely water resistant. Test them before committing to a long sketch by drawing a few lines and then brushing clean water across them (or just trying to smear the ink with a wet finger).
An advantage of the Uni-ball Vision pen is that the line width is uniform and consistent. A disadvantage of the pen is that the line width is uniform and consistent! Pressing harder or softer will not vary the line width, so it is not as expressive as a brush pen or dip pen with a flexible nib. However, there are ways to achieve an expressive and varied line width, which we’ll go over in later chapters. Many of my sketching friends love Micron pens, which come in many widths and colors. I find the Micron has to be held perpendicular to the page, much like a technical pen, which is not my natural grip. I suggest you try them out for yourself.
...Demonstration: Still Life with Lightbulb Step 1: Loose pencil guides
Use a soft pencil to lightly indicate placement of the major “chunks” in your scene. This is not a drawing!
I cannot emphasize this enough. In my classes and workshops I have been known to pluck pencils away from students who spend time “drafting.” Don’t pencil anything recognizable. You are merely giving yourself parameters, establishing the major pieces of info within which to place the details. If you spend a lot of time erasing, correcting, and fussing, you’ll deaden and polish away the little variations and serendipitous anomalies that make your drawing your
drawing. Like scratching the boundaries of a volleyball game in the sand, the pencil lines let you know if you’re going too far out of bounds to keep the real drawing on the page.
The original setup
My rough pencil guides Step 2: Contours
Using your pencil lines as a general guide, start in the foreground with your Uni-ball fine (.07) point pen and draw carefully observed contours. Because you’re working in pen, you must draw the foreground objects first and work your way toward the back. Take your time but don’t “sketch” with scratchy, hairy, tentative lines. Start at the beginning of a contour, continue until you come to the end, and then stop, just as you would write your signature.
Start with the contours in the foreground, then work your way toward the back.
Don’t prejudge your drawing at this stage. Wobbly lines, distortions, and wonky proportions will tempt you to start over. Don’t. Your lines cannot help but have your personal stylistic stamp. When you fill the page with the kind of lines that only you can make, the consistency of your style will unify the drawing. As they say in jazz music, “If you make a mistake, make it three times.” Don’t try to correct or redraw wonky lines. Commit to a line, draw it once in ink, and move on. Leave them be. They’re perfect
. Excellent. Beautiful. Next line. Move on.
When your contours lines are finished, use a kneaded eraser to remove all pencil lines. If you find it difficult to completely erase any pencil marks, then you probably drew too many or pressed too hard.
Erase the pencil lines for the finished contour drawing. Step 3: Ink wash
Squint at your scene to observe only darks and lights. Apply one smooth layer of light (20 percent) ink wash to isolate the highlights and bright whites. Use a fairly large brush, #6 or #8, to cover everywhere that is not
white. (This will include most of your drawing unless you are painting a polar bear in a snowstorm.) Use as little liquid as possible by swabbing off the brush inside the rim of your jar. If your paper is already buckling, you’re using too much water or your paper is not robust enough. Don’t scrub or fuss. Hit it and quit it and let it dry.
The first ink wash isolates the highlights and bright whites.
After the first layer dries completely, squint again at your subject and brush on another layer of the same light ink wash to darken the shadow areas. Don’t apply ink anywhere you left white.
Those areas are highlights. That’s why you left them white, right? Only put the second ink layer inside the perimeter of your first wash. This is a good reason to use a fairly dry brush; otherwise, your paper will get soggy and warped and yucky. Let it dry. (Yes, you have to wait. Stand up and stretch. Move around. Go clean the cat box.)
Apply a second ink wash to darken the shadow areas.
Finally, apply your third and final layer of wash to really deepen those nooks and crannies. You can apply another layer of the same wash, but to speed things along and really increase the contrast, I use a different, darker ink solution or add a drop or two of ink to the one I’ve been using.
After the third and final ink wash Step 4: Watercolor glazing
Apply very diluted washes of color. You can always add more saturation, but you can’t remove color, so sneak up on it gradually. While applying a color, look carefully for reflections and objects that share that color. Here, the red ink bottle is reflecting on the green bowl, and the orange pencil sharpener reflects on the glass jar.
Start with a wash of light color, then build up the color, especially in the shaded areas, to increase contrast. Step 5: Final details
Looks good, yes? Now let’s add the hatching. It takes practice. Use your thinnest Uni-ball (the .05 micro point) and hatch little parallel lines where you want your super-duper blacks. I also hatch to indicate surface “direction” and to add surface details like wood grain, fur, design elements, and so on. This is your last chance to add details that you rightfully didn’t draw yet because they weren’t contours
. (With your .07 pen you only drew actual contours, right?)
The final drawing, with hatching lines added
Sign and date it. It’s beautiful. It’s perfect. You’re
perfect. Congratulations. Now do another one.
Then do another.
... INTERIORS: DRAWING IN PUBLIC “Photography is an immediate reaction, drawing is a meditation.”
After practicing with manageable still lifes in controlled environments, we’re ready to take our show on the road and apply the same approach to large, cluttered environments.
Learning to draw on location can change your life. It changed mine. It has heightened my awareness of the city in which I live and inspired me to travel around the world sketching the details of my adventures. Travel sketching has introduced me to artists and locations I never would have seen were it not for the global network of location sketchers.
There’s nothing wrong with sitting at your desk drawing from photos. In the studio, I test new pens and inking techniques. I draw portraits of inspirational artists, writers, and musicians (shown on pages 95-100). I draw from images found on the internet. I keep a daily journal of diary comics based on memories, plans, and dreams. It’s a relaxing, private, introspective activity that I’ve kept up for forty years. But come down from the ivory tower and mix with the masses and it’s a different experience. Observe the world on location. Draw from observation. Be part of the action. Let the real world intrude and jostle your elbow and let the marks be a record of your experience. Getting Comfortable
If you have yet to venture out, drawing on location can be intimidating. You may be nervous about being observed in case your drawing goes poorly. But once you get used to it, you’ll find your fears are mostly unfounded. Here are some strategies I’ve used at different times: · Start slowly
. Getting out of the comfort zone of your own house can be as simple as drawing at a friend’s house. · Draw around supportive friends and family
. Draw your parents in their living room, your partner at a café, or your best friend in a booth at your favorite restaurant. · Draw with a friend
. Find a friend who also wants to start drawing on location, and when you’re ready to venture out, go together. There’s safety in numbers! · Wear earphones
. People are less likely to interrupt if you appear off in your own private Idaho. Sketching is the perfect opportunity to catch up on audiobooks and podcasts. · Sit with your back to a wall
. Indoors or out, it can be one less distraction to know that no one is looking over your shoulder. · Join a crowd
. If you sit in a popular café with pen in hand, you’re just another student doing homework or studying. People will be too busy doing their own thing to notice you sketching in the corner.
It’s hard to justify a day without drawing if you have access to a café or diner. With a little time and a few dollars, you can get a cup of coffee or slice of pie and draw whatever is in front of you without worrying about the weather or attracting attention. Restaurants and cafés have so much clutter and detail that you can draw in the same place several times and not repeat a drawing.
Copyright © 2018 by Steven B. Reddy; foreword by Gary Faigin; afterword by Stephanie Bower. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.