I finally decided to participate in Inktober after years of wanting to participate but letting life get in my way. In preparation, I decided to write down some brief thoughts on some of the pen and ink instructional books that I’ve collected. Reviewing these books has been helpful and inspiring as I plan out my inking activities for this coming October.
Continue reading below for my reviews:
Pen & Ink Drawing: A Simple Guide by Alphonso Dunn. This is the most recently published book out of all of these. The author’s passion about the topic comes through so strongly when reading this book. There is a lot of basic drawing instruction included, such as info on value, form, and composition. There is also a chapter on sketchbooking, where the author shows examples of his own sketches. One thing that I thought was interesting was that the drawings seem very “soft,” as if drawn with pencil. Looking closely, I tend to think that this has to do with how the art was reproduced. I highly recommend checking out this book as well as Dunn’s expansive YouTube channel. Dunn also came out with a companion workbook which I haven’t gotten a chance to see yet.
Creating Textures in Pen & Ink with Watercolor by Claudia Nice. This book and the following one are very similar but Nice’s work always made me smile so I decided to get both books and see what the differences are. One of the main criticisms of Nice’s books on Amazon was that same content has been recycled and used in several books. I didn’t specifically notice that with these two books, although there was some overlap. One thing that really distracted me throughout both of these books was the odd style of handlettering. I would have much preferred a standard printed font for ease of reading. I enjoyed the wide variety of subject matter with quite a bit of still life material. She also uses colored inks in some drawings. Nice uses rapidograph pens almost exclusively.
Creating Textured Landscapes with pen, ink and watercolor by Claudia Nice. In the previous book, Nice focuses on capturing textures of a variety of man made and natural substances. In this book, Nice shifts her focus to nature and how to incorporate the different elements into a landscape style painting. There seems to be more watercolor content in this book, and more pen and ink material in the former. There is one chapter devoted to incorporating architecture into the landscape and covers perspective nicely. The landscape format of the book also seems to fit nicely with the subject matter. I’m not sure which book I prefer more; I’m glad I got both.
The Technical Pen by Gary Simmons. Although this book is specific to technical pens (rapidographs), it contains a lot of helpful information for general pen and ink drawing. Disposable fineliners like Microns have similarities to technical pens so a lot of the demo illustrations wouldn’t necessarily have to be done with a technical pen. Many of the drawings are highly stylized and have more of an illustrative quality. My favorite part was when the author redid the same drawing several times using different types of pen strokes to show the variation possible. There is a good mix of “tight” and “loose” drawing styles.
Rendering in Pen and Ink by Arthur Guptill. I’ve had this book for years and it never fails to inspire. It’s such a classic. I love that in addition to showing many drawings, the author analyzes them and explains what works and what could be improved. There are also sample artworks from different artists, not just the author of the book. It’s really heavy on architectural drawings but there are natural elements incorporated within them. There are also a fair number of portraits included.
Pen & Ink Techniques by Frank Lohan. This book has some good info about planning out the drawing, including matting, and has some very useful suggestions about avoiding common errors. Demos have step by step instructions which makes this book a good choice for a beginner. I wish this book featured less architecture and more natural elements. This was also the shortest book out of all of them.
Stay tuned for more pen and ink themed goodness (naturally). If you know of any other useful pen and ink books or resources, please let me know in the comments and I’d love to check them out.
I’ve recently started reviving from a serious artistic funk in which I haven’t had the inclination or desire to engage in any sort of art at all. I didn’t even want to look at other people’s art, check Instagram, look for “inspiration” online, or anything similar.
I’ve never really experienced anything like this in the past. I wasn’t feeling depressed or anything of the sort, but I do think that I shifted focus to other areas of my life that were more immediately pressing (finances, etc.). I considered pushing on and continuing to work despite feeling very averse to the idea. The advice of many established artists is to “show up and do the work” and so forth. Instead, I truly felt like I just needed to rest my brain and to do nothing.
Now that things have quieted down a bit, I am focusing more on my art again. This time though, I am interested in expanding beyond floral art (not eliminating it entirely, of course). Throughout school and in the months following, I was drawn to florals because they made me happy and it was a subject matter that felt comfortable and easy to me. Now, I’m wanting to branch out and tackle some other subjects (other aspects of botany, rocks, and landscapes). I’m also working on some sewing projects and I’m imagining how I can incorporate sewing and embroidery into my art.
Cathy Johnson recently discussed her recent “dry spell.” I always like to read about how other artists deal with their creative ebbs and flows and it also makes me feel a little less uncomfortable with the whole process.
The following images are some of the pieces I painted in the last several months. Stay tuned for some new work in my next update.
A few months ago I got an illustration job that was perfect for me. I was commissioned to make some artwork with a new line of watercolor brush pens by the Inspire! Art company. The purpose of the illustrations were to demonstrate the kind of work the pens could produce and to show examples alongside the product photos online.
I had so much fun because I had free choice to draw whatever I wanted and I even got to work in my own sketchbook!
I really had a lot of fun with these pens. There are a huge range of line weights possible with these brush tips. I think the clearest example of finer lines is in the outlining in the butterflies wings. I also liked the painterly way I could work, as seen in the Johnny Jump Ups piece and the tulip petals. The colors are very tropical but coordinate well with each other within a color family. The set also comes with two water brushes in a fine and broader size.
You can check out these pens on their Amazon sales page (click through all the photos to see my work).
To see some more examples of my work with these pens, follow Inspire! Art on Instagram as I made some additional drawings that haven’t been published yet.
Although I have taken some memorable trips in the past, I am more of a homebody and prefer the comfort of my familiar environment. I do love to read travelogues and travel vicariously through other people’s photos though.
I recently found the book Explorers’ Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery & Adventure by husband and wife Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Hebert. It is a thick book (320 pages) and features photos of artists and sketchbook spreads from 70 different explorers’ sketchbooks, logs, and nature journals.
I haven’t had a chance to read all of the profiles yet, but I’ve been enjoying myself by reading one or two essays at a time in spare moments. I really like how there is a mix or photographs showing the book in its entirety (tattered pages, crumbling spine, etc.) as well as details of individual drawings and photos/drawings of the artists themselves. Another thing I appreciate is that the featured sketchbooks are from modern day explorers as well as those from the more distant past. Although many of the sketchbook pages shown are beautifully illustrated, there are also some utilitarian pages included with lists of figures, diagrams and penciled in comments.
I think my favorite sketchbook so far is from Edward Norton. He had some majestic mountain landscapes featured, as well as closeup studies of plants. His quote below reminds me of something that a modern day plein air sketcher would say.
“I sketched feverishly, my water freezing as fast as I put it on the paper, as also my fingers.” -Edward Norton (1884-1954)
Clearly this book was on my mind when I came across some of my late great uncle’s photographs while organizing through my reference photos on the computer recently. I couldn’t resist making an ink and watercolor interpretation of this mountain scene as if I were on location. Unfortunately, my uncle didn’t label or organize any of his photos so it is a mystery as to where he was when he took the photo.
If you can recognize this scene, or can suggest any similar books featuring the inside of sketchbooks, please leave me a comment below.
I took a break from art for a few days to get my studio (i.e., my bedroom) in order. I wasn’t really happy with the lighting in my space, so I made a change and swapped bedrooms with my daughter. I was also struggling with clutter overload, so I took the opportunity to dispose of a lot of excess stuff and completely reorganize. The changing of the seasons seemed like the perfect time to undertake the project.
My art supplies and personal possessions are much more manageable now, but the whole job took more than two days and it was exhausting. Unlike some of the glamorous studio tours I’ve seen, my room is very plain and simple and nothing special to look at (hence, no pictures!).
One thing I love about my new setup is that my scanner is next to my desk now, so I can use it whenever I want. I didn’t have a place for it before and I had to keep it in my basement, which made scanning a real chore. I also got a new Ottlite with an attached magnifying glass (which has already been coming in handy).
After I got everything set up, I had a massive scan-a-thon and rounded up some of my recent pen and ink work to show you all. Thanks for looking and enjoy!
Lately, I’ve been interested in painting watercolor without a pen and ink drawing underneath as a way to improve my painting ability. I love pen and ink, but I sometimes find that I use it as a crutch for out-of-practice watercolor skills. It can be fairly easy to make a detailed ink drawing, slap on a few watercolor washes and come out with a really nice looking piece of art. Using just watercolor is trickier because flaws become more apparent, especially when using different techniques such as wet on wet painting.
I’ve found this video from Steve Mitchell’s The Mind of Watercolor so helpful in preventing overworked areas and understanding why they occur. I never took a formal watercolor course, so everything I learned comes from trial and error, instructional books/videos, and even a few kind souls who gently pointed things out to me about my technique. I still find myself returning to some of these same errors, especially “painting in the danger zone,” as Steve refers to it in the video. I highly recommend Steve’s videos. He has a ton of experience and I always end up laughing at his dry sense of humor.
I recently came back from a trip to Washington, DC where I got to visit a Blick store. While I was there, I got some new pens, including the Pentel Arts Hybrid Technica Pen. This is a gel pen with a metal tip and acid-free, archival, water and fade resistant ink. It comes in five sizes, from 0.3 mm to 0.8 mm. I got the 0.3 mm size to try out because I usually go for the finest lines. Below is a nature study I did in my Moleskine watercolor sketchbook using this pen.
I really like this pen for the following reasons:
It is smooth, even on coldpress watercolor paper. I didn’t notice any skipping, ink globs, or smearing. Reviewers on the Blick website noted some issues with globbing with the larger sizes.
The ink is very black and the side of the pen is clear so you can easily see how much ink is left.
Unlike felt tip fineliners where the nib tends to relax and get larger over time, the Pentel Arts Hybrid Technica has a tungsten carbide roller ball for a consistent line.
Things about this pen that I wish were different are:
I wish the ink were waterproof and not just water resistant. When I used watercolor over my drawing, the bleeding was minimal, but somewhat unpredictable as some areas bled more than others.
I wish this pen came in other colors besides just black. I would especially like a brown or sepia colored ink.
I wish refills were available instead of the whole pen being disposable.
Overall, this is a great pen and perfect for throwing into my purse when I don’t want to have to worry about making sure my fountain pen is freshly inked up. I’m thinking of buying a few more in the 0.3 mm size as well as trying out some of the larger sizes.
I’ve been doing a lot of drawing, painting, thinking, and planning lately (as well as studying). My mind has been drifting to trees lately: the trunks, branches, and leaves that appear in my sketchbooks, but also the deep roots below. Scientists have found that there is much more going on underground than originally thought (Read: Trees communicate via their own fungi-based “internet”).
When I think of trees, I think of wisdom, strength, and stability. I’ve never had successful New Year’s resolutions in the past, but this year (probably because I am starting a new season after graduation) I really feel like I am starting my life over with a fresh start. I have been thinking of my priorities, and the things I really want to get done. I’ve also been focusing on my health, taking control of stress, and finding ways to incorporate minimalism into my life (Read: Go Deeper, Not Wider).
I’ve been enjoying spending time in my sketchbooks more than ever. Instead of being a task to check off my list, artmaking has become much more of a pleasure than it has been in a long time. I know that this feeling will not last forever, but I’m really loving it for the time being!
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. Psalm 92:12-13
For more tree goodness, check out Terri Windling’s blog posts on trees. She writes so poetically, and the photos of her forest are so magical. Be sure to hover over each photo for poetry and quotes.
This is my last post of the year where I’ll review 2017 and look ahead to my art goals for next year. This is also the conclusion of my round up of unposted artwork from the past year. The above images were sketchbook pages in my large moleskine done from life. Even though my time was limited, I worked quite a bit from life over the course of 2017, which I am proud of and want to continue into the next year.
My goals for 2017 were to finish my nursing program and to incorporate more art into my life than I did in my first semester. I was successful with both of these goals, although my art activity fluctuated with my school schedule and I often went long stretches with no art making at all. My most productive times were in August and the end of April to mid-May, which coincided with my semester breaks. The least productive times were in September and November, which were also some of the busiest times of my entire nursing program. I posted to my blog 23 times this year, although 4 posts were written and pre-published the year before.
For 2018, I would like to work on making art on a more consistent schedule. I have some longer term projects/series that I am planning, but I need to create a lot of new work on a consistent basis to make my plans a reality. I also want to work more from life when possible. I did a lot of small nature studies this past year and I would like to continue on that theme. I also let my email newsletter fall by the wayside while I was in school and I want to start sending that out again.
I’m looking forward to an exciting year ahead. I hope everyone reading this joins me in having a productive, prosperous, and fulfilling 2018!
These are some of the blank greeting cards that I painted over the past year. I had a recipient for each of these in mind when I painted the cards, but it is a goal of mine in the upcoming year to paint a few of these ahead of time. I would also like to get some images printed on cards as well because while I like sending cards with my artwork on them, it is not always feasible or desirable to send original art. I also would like to find a replacement watercolor greeting card for the Strathmore brand that I currently use. I’m not entirely happy with the paper as it seems to give me uneven washes and I have a hard time lifting color.