Friday, August 22, 2014

The Timeless Beauty of Rendering in Pen & Ink

As most of you who have been reading this blog know by now, I don't always do what I set out to do in the order I plan to do it. This is most assuredly true of every artist.

I felt compelled to tell you that since I am following up with the recent posts about all the intuitive painting I am hoping to do, and the slippery yupo paintings, and the running together of the colors, and it all gets really exciting and fun and then, life happens, (or death happens, as was the case of that beautiful little marigold), and then for a while I just can't think that way anymore and I am faced with whether to do laundry or to sit and be depressed, so what do I do?

I start playing Vivaldi.

And I start drawing things in pen & ink.

A long time ago, (and I think I mentioned it somewhere in this blog), my dad taught me to draw, and would take me to boat docks, and we'd draw the complicated ships with all of those lines and masts and I was not to use an eraser. In fact he taught me never to use an eraser. This is a pretty drastic thing to tell a kid. Believe me, I have tried to teach this to my young students, and most of them start to cry.
I honestly don't remember when he took the pencil away and gave me a pen....but that, of course, is another step in bravery and confidence, that every child, (and even more so, every adult), really should take once in a while. 

(artwork by Charles Geotis)

The important thing to remember is, as with any medium, you ALWAYS start as light as you can, and then work darker. By the time your drawing is done, those first fluid suggestive lines are not noticeable anymore, and in fact, may even help to add some life to the finished piece. I'm not suggesting that this is going to happen automatically, but with practice, and with NEVER using an eraser, it does work over time. And the wonderful thing is that once you get the hang of it with pencil, pen and ink does not feel so scary, and you already have a leg up on what is going on.

What is pen & ink anyway? I think it is kind of funny that we still use that terminology, since it implies that we are using a dip pen and a well of ink. While I liked to work that way as a teenager, (they DID have regular pens then, I'm not THAT old, but I was a bit of a purist) there existed at that time a few other options. My dad used to use just a regular old felt-tip or ballpoint pen a lot of times.

When I got to college, one of the items on our supply list was a cartridge-filled ink pen for drawing with. It was actually pretty nice- the pen was sort of like a sharp calligraphy pen, and it allowed you to press harder or slant the tip to get different thicknesses of line. It's funny- my first year of architecture school was at Georgia Tech. You would think that this school would be heavily slanted in the technical aspects of architecture. To my delight, I actually found the opposite to be true, at least for their freshman year curriculum.

One of my dearest memories is of two professors who would come to our design studio on Thursdays. Their class was completely art. They were a couple of real characters. Two old guys with long white beards (well, old from my perspective at that time...) smoking their pipes, leaning back with their fretted eyebrows, pensively contemplating each little detail of our work...It would make us so happy when a smile came over their faces in pride and happiness with our work.

Among other things, these two men really taught me some great pen and ink technique. One of our projects was actually doing a portrait of a TREE. We all sat outside for something like four hours with our pen and pad of paper, and had to render a tree, with all of its paculiarities and uniqueness. The technique was to use small, diagonal strokes, (again, light to dark) and to delineate the tree with its bunches of leaves, highlights, shadows, edges, trunk, openings where the branches peek through, etc. It may sound funny but I think I learned more in those four hours than I have learned in many entire classes. I am still teaching my students the techniques, and more than that, I've learned to see every single tree as distinctive, and I innately know how they grow. It was important to know through the years rendering buildings as a design architect, but it is also just a beautiful thing to be able to see. I have rediscovered the beauty of this recently, and I highly recommend it.

These days the technology is so remarkably better that 'pen and ink' really just means 'pen'. Everyone has their favorites, but these days I am really loving the Staedler pigment liners. They come in different thicknesses, and I have found the 0.3 to work really well for heavier line work and the 0.1 for really fine lines.

My education in college expanded to show different ways to render buildings, and once in a while I like to remember it. This is an example of a drawing I completed a few years ago, which shows some of the techniques I learned. Although I worked from a photo with this one, the techniques work just as well on-site. As a matter of fact, on-site work is very valuable in terms of timed site drawings in order to train students, or yourself, how to capture a 'place' or a 'space' within a given amount of time. This drawing is shown to you here so you can see some of the different strokes used to delineate different architectural elements.

 You can see in the enlargement that rendering brick, for instance, is not very precise. In fact, if you try to delineate every detail you will lose all of the life of the drawing. I like to sketch out very faint, BROKEN lines along the horizontal, and then suggest random bricks with diagonal shading, just giving the impression of the material. This general idea also works for stone, stucco (with stippling), etc.

Now having said all that, I am not going to pretend that I don't use an eraser as a professional artist. More often than not I do, especially if I am doing detailed work. I will sometimes block out overall frist lightly with a pencil, then go over and detail with pen and ink, and erase the pencil. Sometimes I will even go further and color- as was the case with the recent childrens' book illustrations.

But sketching with pure pen and ink on a sweet drawing surface, black and white, has such incredible benefits. And doing it over and over again makes you grow in so many ways.

It is very soothing creating a drawing in black and white, with tender, deliberate strokes, not in a rush, and tedium is never an issue. Time is just passing as it should, and beauty is being created, one little stroke at a time, with no eraser at all....this comes from the part of me that loves to embroider, and write, and knit. And maybe even play Vivaldi.

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