Posts Tagged ‘pilot pigment ink drawing pen’

The Dramatic Pen at DVSA!


I was at the Dundas Valley School of Art yesterday, joined by a full studio of enthusiastic art students. The title of the workshop, the Dramatic Pen, refers to the use of black and white ink on a toned or tinted paper. This practice goes back a long way. We looked at a book of German drawings and I’m showing a few here from the great Albrecht Dürer.

The paper colour in the German drawings varied from grays to blues, greens, deep reds and exciting purples. The tone of the paper, regardless of colour, acts as a middle tone. The colour of the paper often dramatized and enhanced the subject.


The tools of our trade were fairly simple. Pigment ink pens in black and white were used. The white pen is a Uniball Signo broad. I would have preferred a somewhat finer nib but it was unavailable at our local art supply store. The black pen is a #8 Pilot drawing pen. Our paper is Canson pastel paper, purchased in a pad.

We kicked off with a discussion of basic volumes and principles of light and shadow. This gave us a chance to try out the pens and work on our cross-hatching technique. Note that the white is reserved exclusively for areas of direct light.

Our next project was of a garlic and each student was issued one. The creases in the skin of the garlic helped us decide on line direction. Here are two steps of my demonstration:

The students selected the paper colour of their own choice. They did a great job with their garlics. If you click on any of the critique images, you’ll see a larger version.

Garlic critique a

Garlic critique b

Our final drawing was of a beautiful Henry Moore sculpture. Wait a minute! That sure resembles a dog chew. No offence intended to the great Henry Moore. The organic quality of the dog chew made it a good subject. Have a look at two steps of my demonstration. I added a bit of stippling to this study.

Once the comments about dog chews died down, everyone applied themselves to the task at hand.

I’m offering one more workshop this spring; Introduction to Portraiture in Pen and Ink on Thursday, June 14. Stay tuned!


The ‘Dipping Pen’ at DVSA!


Yesterday was my first day back at the Dundas Valley School of Art for the fall term. It was a one-day workshop and our theme was pen and ink drawing with the traditional dipping pen. All of my one-day pen and ink workshops to date have employed disposable sketching pens from Pilot, Micron and Staedtler. They’re easy to use; no muss and no fuss. They’re portable and I use them for sketching all the time. However, for my sustained studio drawings, I always use a good old metal nib and a bottle of India ink.

I’ve been drawing with these tools since I was a teenager. My all-time favourite ink is Speedball Super Black and I’ve always used their nibs and holders, as well. These are what I recommended on my material list for the workshop. I suggested a choice of three different nibs; 22B Extra Fine, 56 School and 99 Drawing. The paper I recommended was Strathmore Bristol. By the way, Speedball Super Black comes in an extremely practical bottle with a wide (easy for dipping) mouth and a wider (hard to knock over) base.

Decades of experience have taught me not just how to draw but how to manage the dipping pen. It’s very easy to make a mess and unfortunate blobs are common for the novice. I started the day with my hard-earned tips regarding the care, transport and use of the metal nib. Everything matters, especially how your work area is organized.

The students were given about a half hour to try out their materials, experimenting with marks and strokes and getting a feel for the nibs. Next, I handed out a template of a basic feather shape. With my demonstration, I discussed mark-making and patterns. It gave the students a chance to unleash their imaginations while practicing with their new tools. They took to it very well. The usual problems were encountered but the only real disaster was a coffee spill! The three recommended nibs were tried by most of the students and the 99 Drawing was considered to be the most difficult to use. It’s very sensitive to pressure and wonderful to work with but may require a little more experience in order to gain confidence with it. Have a look at the feathers. Click on the image for an enlarged version. There’s some lovely detail to enjoy!

Our second drawing was of a leaf. I issued handouts with a black and white photo of the leaf. It wasn’t a very good photo, a bit blurry, so we discussed ways to clarify and simplify the image. My demonstration dealt again with technique but also with the concept of ‘light and shadow’.

We took our time with the leaf drawings and they were very successful. Overall, it was an enjoyable day with an enthusiastic and talented group of art students. My next one-day workshop at DVSA is an Introduction to Drawing Birds with pen and ink and takes place on Thursday, November 2. Care to join us?

Pen and Ink Basics at Dundas Valley School of Art


Last Thursday, I taught a one-day workshop at the Dundas Valley School of Art in Dundas, Ontario. It was called Pen and Ink Basics and it’s the first in a series of four this spring.

I cover a lot of material when I teach pen and ink. We started off with a discussion of our materials and a repertoire of fundamental pen techniques; hatching, cross-hatching, stippling and line weight/variety. The material list was not lengthy. I always use drawing pens for these classes. No muss, no fuss, no spilled ink.

Materials-Pen and Ink Basics

We did three step-by-step exercises and the students worked from my models. I presented the goals of the exercise on an 18 x 24″ sheet at an easel so it was easy for everyone to see. The group gathers around a table for the actual pen and ink demonstrations which are done on much smaller sheets of paper.

Drawing lesson by Barry Coombs

Drawing lesson by Barry Coombs

After discussing the basic techniques, we drew a cone using a version of cross-hatching called ‘parquet’. I’ve always enjoyed teaching drawing and the students didn’t just develop their newfound skills with the pen. I also presented, and emphasized, ideas about the traditional use of light and shadow and threw in a few thoughts about two-point perspective, as well.

Pen and Ink demonstration by Barry Coombs

Two more drawings were completed after our cone exercise. A box-like cubic form evolved into a building and we combined a spherical  form with a cone, ending up with a pear. As mentioned, these exercises are done one step at a time. It may seem like a formulaic approach and, to a degree, it is. However, the completed drawings give the students a sense of satisfaction and confidence. The lessons learned can be applied to their own work and are particularly appropriate for those who keep sketchbooks.

Pen and Ink demonstration by Barry Coombs

It was a long day and I was impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of the group. They did a lot of drawing and processed a great deal of information. At the end of the day, I asked each student to choose one of their sheets for our critique.

This Thursday, May 19, I’ll be teaching the second workshop in the series; Pen and Ink: Natural Forms. There may be a spot of two left for you! If interested, contact the DVSA.

Pen and Ink Basics Critique

Pen and Ink Basics Critique



Humber Valley Art Club – Day Two


It was back to Neilson Park Creative Centre for another day of pen and watercolour with the Humber Valley Art Club. Last week, we worked right to the end of the day and so we got started yesterday with a look at our work from day one. Our two drawings were done with monochromatic washes of a single value before applying pen.


Natural forms are always a great subject for drawing. I brought in my collection of shells. I have about thirty whelks which I’ve beachcombed over the years.

I made the upper study at home and did the lower one as the first step of my morning demonstration. They’re on Arches, 140 lb., Hot Press watercolour paper. I started with a warm wash throughout the shell and the platform. When it dried, I painted the shadow with a dull violet.

Step one of shell demo by Barry Coombs - HVACDay2/2014

I developed the darker areas with the pen (Pilot, pigment ink drawing pen, black, 03), added a little detail and enhanced the structure of the shell.

Step two of shell demo by Barry Coombs - HVACDay2/2014

Following that, I paid careful attention to edges of the shell. I didn’t want a hard outline all the way around the shell. It would make it look flat. Also, I got out my kneaded eraser and cleaned up the pencil lines.

Step three of shell demo by Barry Coombs - HVACDay2/2014

Our afternoon drawing was based on a diagrammatic model I provided for the group. It’s a bit formulaic but not a bad way to achieve the basic shape of a dory.

Dory diagram by Barry Coombs - HVACWk2/2014

I worked on Curry’s, 200 lb., Cold Press watercolour paper. The watercolour was all done in one main step and I allowed colours to run into each other, particularly on the beach.

Step one of dory demo by Barry Coombs - HVACDay2/2014

I certainly didn’t overdo the pen (Pilot, pigment ink drawing pen, black, 08). The Cold Press paper is a bit bumpy and the larger 08 nib allowed me to work quickly.

Step two of dory demo by Barry Coombs - HVACWk2/2014

Next week, we’ll have a look at the dory drawings from the HVAC participants and embark on some new projects. Stay tuned!

Humber Valley Art Club – Day One


Day one was supposed to be last week but a snowstorm forced the cancellation of the Neilson Park Creative Centre in Etobicoke, Ontario. Neilson Park CC is the home of the Humber Valley Art Club and it would be difficult to find a brighter and more spacious studio. I last worked with HVAC in 2011 and it’s nice to be back. We were able to negotiate a makeup day so I’m looking forward to three more days of our Pen and Watercolour workshop.

Our first day was devoted to single-value, monochromatic washes with pen. I brought in a bunch of little cardboard gardening pots and arranged them so that they overlapped each other. I never miss an opportunity to discuss my thoughts on drawing. Step one of my demonstration shows pencil planning lines and a ‘wire frame’ approach. At this stage, it’s as if the objects are transparent. The wash is a mix of Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna. Both of the day’s drawings were done on Arches Hot Press watercolour paper, 140 lb.

Step one of pen and w/c demo by Barry Coombs - HVAC1/2014

We’re using disposable pigment ink and/or pigment liner drawing pens. They’re made by various outfits and they come in different nib sizes and colours. This is what they look like; the upper pen is from Pilot and the lower is from Staedtler.

Drawing pens - HVAC1/2014

Our goal was to establish the light and shadow with the monochromatic wash and add detail, definition and more structure with the pen. Basic pen techniques were explored. Hatching and cross-hatching do most of the work. Some stippling adds a tactile quality to the surfaces of the objects. We talked about edge. You’ll notice the gaps in the edges around the lightest areas. These allow light to flow through the drawing.

Step two of pen and w/c demo by Barry Coombs - HVAC1/2014

The basic shape of the window was done from a diagram I provided to the participants. Again, a single wash shows how the light hits the window and wall and I’ve also accented a few bricks. The features inside the window were drawn after the wash dried. The pen was used to create new shapes such as the cat and the plant, from within the dark wash. The art of the possible!

Pen and w/c demo by Barry Coombs - HVAC1/2014

Everyone worked very hard but we decided to hold off on a critique until next week. We’ll have fresh eyes and new projects. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate.

Grand Manan Island – Day Four!



We visited Woodward’s Cove today. A bit of fog rolled in early on but didn’t hang around. Another gorgeous day! I applied some pen to the studies that I’d prepared yesterday on a quarter sheet of Curry’s, Cold Press, 200 lb. paper. The watercolour washes for the first one were in full colour and the other was in sepia. Each demanded a different approach with the pen.

Pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs-GM2013

The sketch of the boat was done, initially, with some wet into wet watercolour and fairly relaxed brushwork. I used a #3 pigment liner pen from Pilot and tried to add structure and texture to the piece without detracting from the look of the washes.

Pen and watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs-GM2013

The sepia study of the painter had a strong quality of light and shadow. In this case, I used a #8 pen and worked more boldly with stronger lines and marks.

Everyone headed off to find their spots and explore the site. The tide was low again and a low tide in Woodward’s Cove is a very low one, indeed. The entire harbour drains for several hours.




As usual, some of us found lunch off-site and others had a picnic on the spot.


Time flies when you’re immersed in a creative pursuit. Before we knew it, we got together for the daily critique. We see more watercolours every day but some very strong drawings enhanced the exhibition.


Brant Visual Artists Guild – Pen and Watercolour



I lead a one-day workshop for the Brant Visual Artists Group about every second year. Since my last visit, they’ve moved from downtown St. George to the Langford Schoolhouse. It’s a lovely rural setting between Ancaster and Brantford, Ontario.

Our theme was ‘Everyday Objects’ and our medium was pen with watercolour. I picked a few things out of my art bag and started a sheet of monochromatic studies. The paint tube and the pencil sharpener were painted with a single value wash. I painted a light middle value of blue on the ink bottle and allowed it to dry before applying a darker middle value.

Step one of watercolour and pen demo by Barry Coombs - BVAG2013

The pen came next, after the washes were dry. We talked about the basic pen techniques of hatching, cross-hatching, stippling and line weight. I used pigment ink or pigment liner disposable sketching pens from Pilot and Staedtler. A fairly fine #3 was used on the tube and sharpener and a thicker #8 on the ink bottle.

Step two of watercolour and pen demo by Barry Coombs - BVAG2013

After lunch, I selected some new objects and showed two different ideas about colour. Each study is painted with a cool and a warm colour. The container with pencils was done with a cool red wash (Rose Madder Quinacridone). I dropped in some Cobalt Blue while it was wet and allowed them to run together.

The bulldog clip was painted with yellow where the light hits the object and blue in the shadow areas.

Step one of watercolour and pen demo by Barry Coombs - BVAG2013

I wiggled the pen nib back and forth for the darks on the pencils. Also, I changed the stroke direction on the different walls of the container. The bulldog clip isn’t finished. The dark areas could be deepened with more cross-hatching.

Step two of watercolour and pen demo by Barry Coombs - BVAG2013

One of my blog friends is Erin Hill from Australia. She runs workshops and classes in pen and watercolour. Her students paint and draw all kinds of things, including pastries and various kinds of food. They draw them and, then, they eat them. I suggested the BVAG members take a peek at her blog.

We covered a lot of material. Not everyone finished all of their studies but everyone went home with some new sketching ideas.

Critique - BVAG2013

Here they are! The hard-working Brant Visual Artists Guild. Joanne Lloyd, next to me with her foot up on the chair, is the Workshop Co-ordinator.


Brant Visual Arts Guild – Pen and Watercolour


I was in St. George on Saturday. It’s a charming, small town near Brantford. The Brant Visual Arts Guild have a space there and I always enjoying visiting this group. Pam Kong, above with me, has been the Program Coordinator as far back as I can recall but she’s giving it up to take over as President soon.

Our theme was a fishing village in pen and watercolour. The first surprise for many was the lack of photo reference. We worked from a template I’d created. I wanted to include several elements commonly found in this type of scene.


The second surprise was the use of yellow and blue as light and shadow. Quite a bit of paper white was left untouched, as well. This created an overall pattern and relationships between the many different elements in the composition. This demonstration is on smooth Arches Hot Press paper. I elected to use strong brushstrokes with crisp edges throughout the development of the image.


The next step was local colour. I chose to stick with primary and secondary colours, ignoring neutrals such as grey and brown.

Finally, the pen. I used a #5 drawing pen, pigment ink, from Pilot. I work quite quickly with these demonstrations in an effort to communicate ideas about the handling of the pen. Illustrating the process and discussing the pros and cons of various approaches is the goal. As such, I rarely work on the piece after the workshop is concluded. It’s job is done. Here are a few details of the pen work.


It was a busy day with a lot of new ideas to assimilate. The BVAG was up to the challenge. Several of the group commented on how much fun (and addictive)  the pen is and intend to do more of it on their own. Have a look at some of the work.