Posts Tagged ‘speedball sketching nibs’

Northern Mockingbird – Pen and Ink

26/01/2021

My hobby is birding. I’m quite passionate about it, as I am about art, and occasionally these two loves of my life converge. I don’t draw or paint birds very often although I tell myself that I should. I’ve taught a few workshops on the subject and have enjoyed the enthusiasm and talent that the students have shown.

I have a birding blog that may be seen here. If you’d like, have a look at the Drawings and Paintings page. Recently, I was updating the page and something moved me to draw a new bird. A Northern Mockingbird I photographed last week had been on my mind and I decided to give it a go. Then, realizing that I hadn’t posted on this blog in eons, I thought I’d scan the main steps and tell you a bit about my process.

The Drawing Board

I’ll start with the tools of the trade and my initial process. I work from my own photographs, which can be limiting because my camera skills are pedestrian. Still, once in a while I luck out and I had a nice image of the Northern Mockingbird (NOMO from here on). I duplicate the photo on my computer and convert the duplicate to black and white so I can better see the values. I grid the photo for accuracy. In this case, I wanted the drawing to be about 3/4 the size of the photo so I created a smaller rectangle of the exact same proportions and then gridded it. I work with a soft 2B pencil for all of the preliminary drawing. The softer the pencil, and lighter the touch, the easier it is to clean up the drawing later on with a kneaded eraser.

Evaluating the photograph at the outset is very important. Is anything unclear or confusing? In this case, I edited out several branches. Another concern was the bird’s tail. NOMOs have very long tails and the tilt of the body foreshortens the tail as it’s pointing slightly towards the viewer. I liked the pose, despite the potentially misleading tail position, and went ahead with it.

Step One

Next, I begin work with the pen and ink. I work with a traditional dipping pen. The Speedball nib is inserted into a holder. My ink of choice, since my teen years, is Speedball Super Black India Ink. I won’t bore you with every detail but I’m careful with how I dip and handle the pen to the point of ritual. Something works. I haven’t had a tragic blob in a long, long time. Note the ‘test’ sheet under the pen and pencil, though. It’s an indispensable tool. Note, also, the crumpled, ink-stained paper towel on the left. I’m obsessive about keeping my nib clean.

Tools of the Trade

I’m versed in many basic pen techniques and have taught them for decades. On my own, I have a few favourites and cross-hatching has always been foremost. My second step with the drawing is to explore the forms and, critically, to identify areas of the paper that will remain white. Stroke direction is fairly intuitive although I generally try to describe the underlying planes. The whole drawing is addressed once with these directional strokes (hatching). The cross-hatching comes next.

Step Two

Step Three is an effort to develop the relationships between the values. For the most part, the different areas are cross-hatched once only so the newer strokes overlap the original strokes just once. Yes, I’m patient. This step starts to show the different values in the plumage of the NOMO. This species displays a lovely, subtle range of greys and blacks with a brown eye. In a monochromatic drawing, these elements can only be suggested.

Step Three

In Step Four, I do a lot of work on the darks and blacks. While remaining as true as possible to plumage details, my goal is to give the drawing the strength and vitality of this beautiful, living creature. I don’t rush Step Four and take lots of breaks.

Step Four

Eventually, after long looks from several feet away, I call it a finished drawing. The unresolved look of the upper branch, still at Step Two, is deliberate. The drawing is approximately 7 x 8″. It’s on Strathmore Bristol paper, vellum surface.

LOCKDOWN DRAWINGS

24/08/2020

I’ve been doing a lot of pen and ink drawing during the pandemic. I use a traditional dipping pen with Speedball nibs, Speedball Super Black India Ink and, for some of the drawings, acrylic ink. Cross-hatching is the technique I employ. Cross-hatching with a pen has been one of my favourite creative activities since childhood. It relaxes me and allows me to gradually develop a range of values.

Lockdown Drawings reference photo

The starting point for these drawings is a rather ordinary photo I took of a back alley in Hamilton, Ontario. The cast/core shadow pattern had attracted me. I refined an overall shape from the pattern in the photo.

Lockdown Drawing #1

Each drawing is a variation of the shape and stays within it’s confines except for the occasional wandering line; a fairly obvious analogy of my behaviour during the lockdown.

Lockdown Drawing #2

My goal was to explore the infinite variety of options within a limited shape. Tonal gradations and the internal geometry of the shape are key concerns. The subtle gold lines in #2 are drawn with FW Artists Ink Gold, an acrylic ink.

Lockdown Drawing #3

Lockdown Drawing #4

Gold ink is used again in #3 and #4. These reproductions do not show the reflective quality of the gold ink. The originals definitely profit from the ‘gilt’ shine.

These are small drawings, approx. 8×8″. To date, there are sixteen drawings in the series.

The ‘Dipping Pen’ at DVSA!

13/10/2017

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?