Posts Tagged ‘Staedtler pigment ink drawing pens’

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 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.

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.