More Sketches from my Autumn Color Workshop.

I love the light during Autumn. During my career as a full-time art professor, I would sometimes lament that I didn’t get enough time to draw and paint outside in the Fall. Classes, tons of grading, mentoring/advising, meetings, and the earlier and earlier setting of the sun as we moved into late September and through October just made it hard to be outside in the glorious light and the amazingly rich colors.

Yes, I am still teaching a lot … but I now I am somewhat more in control of my schedule and can get more time to explore this beautiful season.  And, I can now teach students classes or workshops centered on our mutual visual excitement … Autumn’s beautiful colors. In my last post, we looked at some images as I began my latest workshop, Sketching Fall Foliage w/Watercolor.  Here, I am posting my final two demos from that workshop

I pointed out to my students that when we are sketching, many of us tend to jump in and begin making an image right away. That spontaneity can be so very refreshing, even exhilarating. But for our last morning, I suggested that student stop and think, even if for only 2-3 minutes about their composition; about staying true to what it is that excites them about the subject matter. I even suggested that, especially when they are not sure how to begin, hat they might do one or more thumbnail sketches. I demonstrated and we talked about a line/shape studies, value studies (above left), and color studies (above right). We even discussed some of the virtues of doing a Notan study.

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After I made the thumbnail studies I jumped into actually creating the first new image of the day.

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unfinished: East, Towards The Blue Ridge On Rte. 254,  watercolor over pencil, 7.5 x 10.5

As I began my demo, I talked about combining the two approaches we had explored the day before, wet into wet and wet on dry. As you can see in the unfinished sketch above, the left side is mostly done in wet-on-dry and the shaded trees on right is executed with wet-into-wet painting. Below, is the more finished version of the sketch.

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East, Towards The Blue Ridge On Rte. 254,  watercolor over pencil, 7.5 x 10.5

For our last sketch of the day we work in a field surrounded by lots of different trees. None were majestic, eye popping examples of Fall’s stunning displays of color. Instead, as the clouds grew thicker and greyed the sky, I tried to focus students on “finding” excitement within the normal. I also discussed a use of color that many of you may remember if you ever took a look at Making Color Sing by Jeanne Dobie. For this sketch, I asked students to incorporate at least a limited use of some soft, subtle (chromatically contrasting or complementary) hues to accentuate and enrich the boldness of the colors that we did see.

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Trees Behind the Bleachers, 12th & Oak Streets, watercolor over pencil, 5×8

All in all, I think we had a good workshop!

And … my students and I got to be outside making images surrounded by Autumn’s color.

 



 

One Place; Two (very different) Sketches

How often do you return to sketch a location? Do you ever try a very different way of sketching the same place?

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Tunnel at Mary’s Rock, 6×9 (this is a demonstration a layered wet on dry watercolor technique and of limiting the image’s area of interest/focus.)

Well, on the Skyline drive about an hour away, there is a really neat locale known as Mary’s Rock; a peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The road cuts 600+ feet through the granite outcrop via a tunnel. This is the site that I chose as the subject of these two rather different sketches.

Today I was conducting my Painting and Sketching  Fall’s Foliage workshop and I was demonstrating two alternative ways to approach a watercolor. For my first image (below), I worked atop a wet sheet of paper, loading color into wet color passages and employed a good deal of color lifting too.

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Tunnel Beneath Mary’s Rock, watercolor 7×11 (This is a demonstration of a wet-into-wet technique with scraping and lifting of color.)

While I love the richness and spontaneity of this approach, I don’t usually work this way across an entire painting’s surface. I tend to like to contrast the fluidity against a bit more concreteness; anchoring the loose and free flow of color to few more solidly placed passages of color or line .

My workshop students seemed to enjoy the excitement of pushing very wet color around and adding extra water, color  splattering, soaking up excess liquid, and other tasks to manipulate their images of the tunnel under Mary’s Rock.

For my second demo of the day, I returned to my more normal painting process, a mostly wet on dry approach. I also suggested and attempted to lead them to limiting the area of greatest color and value detail to the section they most wanted to have us focus on. For mine, since I was intrigued by the trees growing to the left of the rock face and the opening of tunnel, that is where I concentrated most of my color and value manipulation … only hinting at the red trees to the far right. I could have painted even less detail and may still erase some the pencil lines delineating the upper edge of the tree line to the right but I will admit that I mostly pleased with this one..

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Tunnel at Mary’s Rock, watercolor, 6×9

 

I’ll post a more the workshop sketches in a day or so; you can find them by clicking here.

 



 

 

 

 

 

A Long Wait; Just A Little Spare Time

Sometimes life throws us a curve.

This past weekend I was going to be in one of those “wait, wait, and wait some more” situations. Since I’d have to cool my heels a bit, I took a much needed work project along and did make some good progress. But as I grew tired of working on a weekend, I popped out for a quick lunch. And as I came back to the waiting area I spent some time just observing other folks who were also playing the waiting game.

Eventually, I pulled out the sketch kit and made a fairly simple ink pen, brush pen, and water-brush sketch. It is ok. Maybe a bit stiff. Maybe a bit too reliant on hatching; but ok.

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Phileas and Varsity Fountain pens, Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, and a little bit of water from a water-brush pen. 6″x4″

After that sketch, I turned to a very different subject, I turned to look out the windows. The waiting area was graced with multiple banks of large window panels. The light flowed into the space and the sky filled my field of vision.

And a bit unexpectedly, I could see that the clouds were thickening. some even looking like we might get a rain shower. None was forecast but it is summer and above 90F so showers or thunderstorms are always possible.

Anyway, the clouds were moving slowly, barely faster than the folks in the room around me. This time I committed to starting my sketch in pencil and ink.

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Pencil, water-soluble ink, Caran d’Ache Watercolor leads, Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, Platinum Preppy pen, and a little bit of water from a water-brush pen. 5″x7″

I started with light pencil work and quickly added scruffy ink lines within the cloud shapes. The ink was from a marker that I laid almost flat to get some nice “dry brush” like line quality. I proceeded to use the water brush to dilute the ink from these lines, spreading it up, out, and down from the cloud shapes. I was careful to take some of the ink wash out in linear ways that filled in or echoed the clouds contours. I also used a little to indicate the sky behind the tops of the clouds.

After that it was a matter of putting in a few more lines. I alternated between my pencil, an ultramarine watercolor lead, and a fine nabbed Platinum Preppy pen. Lastly … and totally unplanned … using some more of the Caran d’Ache watercolor leads and the Brushpen, I added the hint of the top of a tree line.

An unexpected sketch with an unexpected finish.

I guess I waited just long enough.

Home again, home again …

Well, I’m mostly home again.

After some whirlwind adventures in San FranciscoChicago and Salt Lake, I am back to my home in Virginia. But within the week I was again teaching an urban sketching workshop.

This one was a weekend long Urban Sketching workshop sponsored by the Beverly Street Studio School (BSSS) in the small city of Staunton. The town, which has lots of Victorian and Edwardian era architecture in its downtown and older neighborhoods, is located near the southern end of the Shenandoah Valley.

My group was a lovely and lively bunch of folks; they weren’t afraid to push beyond some of their comfort zones. That makes teaching a real joy.

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My incomplete morning demo piece; I was using direct and blended pencil on paper.

On the bright and clear Saturday morning, we gathered next to an old commercial mill building and adjacent grain silos near the railroad. Our first round of sketches were all made using dry media. Below are two examples of student pieces completed in the Saturday morning session. I think the use of intervening organic and manmade shapes as well as strong value contrasts help make these two really quite good!

After a lunch break we reconvened in an older residential neighborhood, the historic Gospel Hill area, just a bit east of the downtown. Our goal was to use or to include soluble and/or permanent ink in this sketch. In the shade of century old trees, we worked on finding snippets of the architecture or landscape architecture to concentrate on.

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Gospel Hill Garden Wall and Steps, Staunton Va                                                                                            This is my very quick second workshop demo piece; I used permanent and water-soluble ink, ink wash, and brush pen, 5×7

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After working all afternoon, we had a productive critique there on the sidewalk as residents walked or drove by … probably wondering what we were up too. It was a good day over all.

The next day we worked with various combinations of materials and added color to our  sketching toolkit. We did have to compensate for some high winds and we worried a bit about nearby heavy storms. So we gathered at two locations that offered potential protection. Luckily the afternoon thunderstorms skittered by to our northwest and southeast.

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Gathering for our final critique under the protective covering of the train station’s platform.

The participants made some fine sketches, I had a lot of fun meeting these new folks, and … jiggidy-jig … it was nice to sleep at home both nights too!

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Many thanks to the wonderful folks of the BSSS ( http://bssschool.org ) who invited me to teach this workshop.

I also want to thank the students who signed up, and especially those who were members of the local sketching group known as Sketch Staunton. You can find the group online via Facebook.  ( https://www.facebook.com/groups/392125291370828/ )

All of them made the weekend really special.

In Salt Lake; What Will I Sketch?

Salt Lake city is, for the most part, a flat city. But a very high mountain, the Wasatch Front, is so very, very close.

I am here to work evaluating art portfolios for ETS again this year. With that project, I’m staying and working near the center of the city, between the government, LDS Temple. financial, industrial/warehouse, and older residential areas. The week that I am here, my days are pretty full between 8am and 5pm … but it is summer and the light lasts until just shy of 9pm. Perfect for me.

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View south at Broadway and Main, Salt Lake City 5 x 11, ink and watercolor over pencil

The other evening, just before a cold front blew into town, a friend of mine and I went downtown to sketch in the center of the commercial and financial district. It was a good location with lots of foot, car, and trolley traffic! Before I was even close to finishing though, the colder air roared in with 50 mph+ gusts. I called it quits despite not having laid in all the colors or textures I had hoped to; the breaks of creating sketches outside.

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The A Street Steps, Salt Lake City 5 x 11, ink, ink washes, and watercolor over pencil

Earlier in the week, other friends and I went out after dinner to an older residential neighborhood, known as The Avenues, that overlooks the downtown. The low hills of the area have some steep sides and interrupt a road known as A Street. My subject was the “A Street Steps” that connect the lower section of A Street to the upper portion.

Tonight is my last full day in the city before returning home. I’ll try for at least one more sketch. I am hoping for a full watercolor actually. Maybe I’ll actually get a view of that mountain in this one!

If it works out, I will post that one once I get home.

 

 

Back in Chicago … and Sketching too!

There are places that I love.

They may be locations where I have lived and which hold deep memories of family, of being, or of becoming. There are other locales that are beautifully quiet and allow the spirit to open outward. Some, marvelously raucous and exciting, enrich our souls through the senses.

Chicago is a city that can I truly revel in; just being in, seeing it from ground level, experiencing the soaring buildings on the lakeshore and riverside. When I was a teen living in the midwest, it was a city that I thought I might go to college in or near; might even make my home and work in someday. Now, it is a city that my son lived in briefly and is home to friends and professional colleagues.

So coming to the city to sketch and to teach two sessions of a workshop for the 2019 Chicago Urban Sketchers Seminar is treat. I have met lots of interesting people from all over the country and region. Most of my students though are from the Chicago area and they are wonderful.

 

My workshop sessions, both titled “Richness & Simplicity, with Ink Pens and Brush Pens” concentrates on quick sketches using water-soluble and permanent inks. I am working with my students in the Wabash and Congress area of the city with its very visible L. It is a wonderful mix of old and new, ugly and beautiful, high rise and street level shops. Fun to draw!

Early phase of my Saturday demo sketch

Early phase of my Saturday demo sketch. Ink of pencil, 7×5

We were working to use visual richness balanced with simplicity in creating an image. For this first demo, I concentrated mostly on a metalwork surrounding a single pylon of the Chicago L.

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A Chicago L Pylon at                   Wabash & Congress                       Inks w/ touches of watercolor, 7×5

Above is the completed sketch with inks and a few touches of watercolor. Richness I think I got; simplicity … somewhat.

Anyway, now it’s time to head for Salt Lake City and spend a week evaluating AP student’s art portfolios for ETS. It will quite busy but I should get a bit of sketching time in too.

Last Sketch of the Day

I make images, a lot.

And I do like the surprises that come along when I am creating.

Saturday I awoke a bit later than expected but pretty quickly adjusted and started off for a healthy day’s work. Soon I was making images and coaching some of my sketching students. We all seemed to be working well and they made good progress. As the class was closing in on its last hour, I began my final demo of the day. I wanted to reiterate the theme of this portion of the course, simplification of materials and design can still produce visual excitement. So, for this sketch, I switched from using ink and watercolor together to a simple watercolor approach.

As I sat down on the ground to paint a riot of trees and colorful bushes behind a wooden fence line lit by the 3pm sun, my eyes caught sight of tree limbs overhead moving across a breezy blue sky. When the wind stopped for a moment, a faded peachy-orange chimney was visible, framed by the darkly shaded leafy branches that stretched upward. It was a lovely surprise and I immediately and happily changed my visual focus.

 

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Chimney Top, Wine Street,  4″x5″, watercolor on Fluid watercolor paper

The piece is small, only five inches wide and four inches tall. I began with a quick loose pencil sketch; only spending time with a few proportions and details at the top of the chimney and the adjacent satellite dish. Next, I applied color with a #16 soft sable round and occasionally slowing down to rewet and blot a few edges. As I neared completion, I stopped for a moment. I didn’t want intuitive painting to slide into mindless picking at the image. I selected a #8 round with a firmer synthetic-sable blend and I added some very small dark leaves, pulled out just a few lights, and crisped up a details in the roofline and bricks.

Yes, there are times when it is hard to get to the work of putting my hands on my trusted tools and favorite materials to create images that excite me. Major life commitments, even the more trivial flotsam and jetsam of existence, interrupt forward momentum.  But, working our way through and perhaps with a bit of bobbing and weaving, we can get clear of all the distractions and let ourselves be; be the creative selves we most desire.

On a good day I might be in the studio or outside happily making images for six hours to ten or more hours. Other times, like today, I get about four hours engaged with imagery. Often most of that time is working with my wonderful students and their art work. In the end, even though I thought I only was creating a demo for the class, I got to make my image too.

Surprise!

Sketching, Under the Canopy

Saturday started out mostly clear but the sky here along the Blue Ridge filled by noon with low, threatening clouds, drizzle, and fog. So I took shelter under a local music pavilion’s ample covering and prepared to sketch as the rain began. Gently at first, soon the shower became a storm, the wind grew more blustery, and the temps dropped pretty significantly.

Through the Charlottesville Pavilion's Proscenium Arch
“Through the Charlottesville Pavilion’s Proscenium Arch” Fountain Pens, Ink Brush Pen, and Watercolor, 5 x 11

Escaping the worst of the storm, I was entranced by the visual conversation between the variety of opposing curves and the repetition of parallel lines. With no desire to escape the protection of the canopy, I had a good stretch of time to work out the complicated structures of the pavilion: the massive curved steel supports for the pavilion’s fabric shell, the brick archway under the road to the right behind the stage, the rows of seats and chairs for the currently absent audience, and the huge black curtains behind the stage area.

Those layered sheer curtains act as baffles for sound and light; they where a real challenge. I have made a few previous sketches on this site on the east end of the pedestrian mall before, even here at this pavilion. I have never tackled those curtains though. How do you draw single and multiple layers of loosely woven, rough textured sheer fabric? Especially when it is black and in shadow?

The process of working out the arrangement of shapes and how best to combine and manipulate watercolor and multiple inks was fun. I’m pretty sure this isn’t a definitive sketch for the Pavilion; probably not even my best sketch of the site. That will have to wait for another visit.

 

 

Ink Pens, Brush Pens … Oh my!

I recently had the privilege conducting my newest mini-workshop for the San Francisco Bay Area Urban Sketchers as part of their USk 10×10 series for 2019. I had a gloriously fun time. The Bay Area USk chapter was completely welcoming, helping me with getting the word out, logistics, and organization. They couldn’t solve my silly confusion of the north and south entrance to the Palace of the Fine Arts … but that was all me!

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My Ink Pen & Brush Pen USk SF Bay Area workshop  @ the Palace of the Fine Arts

Our gathering at the wonderful Palace of Fine Arts was on a sunny, cool, and breezy Spring Sunday and we sketched for three hours. I enjoyed the location quite a bit and the participants were a joy to work with!

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The participants and their final sketch at the USk SF Bay Area workshop 

The focus for my workshop was on using ink pens and brush pens; that is the subject of this post too.

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the final stage of one of my workshop demo sketches                                       (5×7, using ink pen, ink brush, and water brush) 

 

First let me tell you that I think sketching and drawing with ink is an adventure!

Yes, I know some folks worry; even get anxious about drawing with ink. If you are using a dip pen, you might get a bit uneasy about where your elbow is in relation to that open bottle. When using a permanent (non-water soluble) ink, do you worry about making a terrible, uncorrectable mistake? Using a re-wettable, water soluble ink, we might fret over the possibility of destroying some great lines with an errant drop or smudge of water.

All those are valid, quite reasonable, concerns!

I think it’s ability to be one step away from those disasters may just be part of ink’s allure!  That, ink’s luscious value shifts, and its ability to be bold, fragile, subtle, and sensuous by turns add to the jeopardy and joy of working with ink.

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Fountain Pen Inks

Over the years, I have experimented and used just about every type or classification of pen and ink. that artists have made or bought. I have even made my own pens and my own inks on occasion. Those have been great experiences to learn from.

At the same time, I can not pretend to have tried every single pen, fountain pen, or brush pen; there really are thousands manufactured and offered up for sale every year. So, I am going to concentrate on the basic types of pens and a few inks that I keep on hand and use regularly.

Above you can see the marks of four of the five types of fountain pens that I have in my sketch kit. From left to right are marks of a Sailor Fude (De Mannen), a Waterman Phileas (equipped with a medium nib), a Pilot Varsity, and a Platinum Preppy.

The Sailor pen is designed with a 55 degree angled/bent (Fude) nib that makes creating varied thicknesses of line quite easy; a real advantage if you want to write calligraphy. It also makes this Sailor a wonderful drawing pen as well. I have it loaded this Japanese pen with a cartridge of Sailor’s own Jentle Ink, a soft black ink that rewets easily with water. When re-activated, the ink flows easily and produces a fairly even grey wash that seems to lean a little towards a slight blue-ish cast.Fountain Pens, Sketching WEB

The Phileas, made by the French Waterman company for about 20 years, is my favorite writing pen and I carry another one in my sketch kit as well. My Waterman Phileas is currently outfitted with a medium nib though I also have back-up fine, wide, and extra wide nibs too. The ink is also by Waterman, their Intense Noir. It flows readily and when it comes in contact with water you can see that it will quickly break down into it’s violet-blue and yellow-brown components. When I use the ink to create a wash from lines I have laid down while sketching, the ink puddle ends up drying to a slightly uneven purple grey toned wash.

The inexpensive Varsity and Preppy pens both have much finer nibs but they are also of the short, stubby nib style so they are not very flexible. A more flexible nib makes a fountain pen have a greater range of line width/quality when you press lighter or more heavily as you move the pen across the paper. I would say that the disposable Pilot Varsity, has almost no flex to its nib but you can get a thinner line by turning the pen’s nib upside down. The refillable Platinum Preppy has just a minimal flex in the nib’s thinner tines.

The Varsity’s ink is a fairly standard writing pen ink; it is totally soluble in water. Like the ink that I have in the Phileas and the Sailor, the Varsity ink lines can be nearly obliterated if submerged in water or touched by a wet brush. The Preppy, I have loaded with a nearly permanent ink, Platinum’s Carbon Black. Only a tiny bit of the ink is reactivated with water and a brush. The lines will stay in place and the small amount of ink that dissolved into the water allows for the creation of subtle grey washes from the ink lines.

As a sketcher, I love the portability of fountain pens. And, I have to admit that I have been a devotee of the  fountain pen ever since the 60s when I was in 2nd grade. That is when we began to learn cursive writing, penmanship, and the use of the old Sheaffer school fountain pen.  (Mine had a clear red barrel; by the 3rd or 4th grade I was trying to do even my math homework in pen!) Most of us don’t write with fountain pens anymore but they have had a resurgence among sketchers and other artists.

When I studied drafting, as well Fiber-tip Pens, Sketching 1 copyas commercial art (the predecessor to graphic design and visual communication design) we used highly crafted mechanical pen to create consistently fine or bold lines. They were called technical pens and these beautiful tools have mostly given way to the computer stylus. Now, almost all artists today have switched over to the very much simpler and far less expensive mechanical pens equipped with a roller ball or hard felt/fiber tip.Pitt Pen B,,Micron 5, Sharpie Ultra F, WEB

These modern substitutes for the technical pen do not produce quite as crisp a line but are far easier to use. Most are disposable rather than having complex and sometimes messy refilling and cleaning processes. Brands that are popular among sketchers today are the Pitt Pen, Sakura’s Micron Pigma, and Multiliner by Copic. Younger artists, and those who can not as easily access more prestigious pens, may also decide to use the Ultra Fine Sharpie.

The line work that each of these pens create is pretty regular and consistent. When you want a larger or thicker line, you have to choose a pen with a wider nib/point. All of these pens use inks that are highly water-resistant or even permanent. Above you can see that when I added water, very little ink was dissolved from either of the two samples of Pitt Pen line work. Even less of the Micron Pigma ink was reactivated; the Sharpie appears to be completely permanent.

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There are a few pens in this category that are exceptions to rule of line regularity. The Pitt Pen with the Bold tip is large enough to be turned off of the point and to make a slightly wider mark on the side/edge of the nib. The mark may be larger but it is often not as “clean” and crisp (almost like a dry brush type of mark) because the flow of ink will be slightly less than even. That is the same thing you might get from another hard fiber tipped pen … the old Flair pen.

The Flair, has an ink that is quite readily wettable. So it can give you smooth lines, dry brush/broken lines, and a wash when activated by water. That is a pretty versatile ink and pen!

Fiber-tip Pens, Sketching 2 WEBAnother type of fiber tipped pen is out there … the brush pen. Instead of a hard fiber tip, it employs a long soft fiber tip formed into a brush shape or a group of longer polyester fibers that are an actual brush. Some of these pens use a sealed ink source and a disposable; others are refillable with ink cartridges. Depending on the style, they can deliver a much broader range of marks; all the way from the finest line work to large bold areas of ink and dry brush. The refillable nylon fiber brush version of brush pen have become one of my favorite ink tools because of their great variety of line quality!

The brand that I like most right now is the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, It is a very portable, pocket sized brush pen and, after it dries, its ink seems to be highly water resistant. The manufacturer says it is completely permanent but, as you can see above, mine ran a quite bit the first time I dropped some water on it. Many permanent inks, those known as  as “bulletproof” inks, are dye-based and are made with special chemicals that cause the dyes to bind permanently with the cellulose fibers in the paper. Because I was using a watercolor paper, the paper’s internal and external sizing may have kept the ink’s chemicals from coming completely into contact and fully binding with the paper’s fibers.  (I’ll experiment with it on more standard drawing papers and post those results soon.)

There are a number of other excellent brush pens out there; Copic, Pilot, Zebra, and Kuretake have all gotten good reviews. I have also been seeing a lot of my students starting to use the new Arteza Watercolor Brush Pen in black.

(By the way, if you like the idea of using a brush pen loaded with watercolor based color inks, there are lots of interesting brush pens out there now. My first experience with these was the Tombow (dual end) brush pen. It has a hard felt marker tip on one end and a larger, more pointed and somewhat softer “brush-tip” on the end. A year or two ago I also ran across the Winsor Newton Watercolor markers; they are shorter and stubbier than the long Tombows. As I suspected with a long time watercolor manufacturer, these have excellent color in a range of deep rich hues. Here is a link to the Jet Pen website which has a really good comparison of watercolor based brush pens. They don’t seem to have tested the new Arteza yet but the site has great info and a larger list of brush pens than I was aware existed.)

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the final stage of one of my workshop demo sketches                                                                              (5×7 using ink pen, ink brush, water brush, and dry watercolor leads) 

Well, I think that I’ve rambled on a bit long today. I hope you have gotten some good and helpful info about ink pens that are suitable for sketching. Please give me some feedback, even some insights about new materials you are trying out or are using.

Until next time … try to keep you fingers from getting too inky!

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Waiting at the DMV, Waterman fountain pen and Pentel brush pen over pencil,  3″ x 4.75″, (created in a Brooklyn Art Library Sketchbook Project sketchbook)

Exploring Black Inks

I love working with inks. Whether I am sketching outside or creating larger pieces in the studio, ink is one of my favorite materials.

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Like many of you, early on I began working with India ink. It’s rich deep darks provided a boldness that was, and still is, alluring. I know, sometimes it was a little scary too! Over the years I’ve tried lots of other types of ink and grown fond of quite a few. So, I thought that I’d explore the attributes of some inks that have I used, share a bit of basic info about them, and see what you like about them as well.

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Below you can see a page of ink tests that I made today. With each of the inks, I have kept my testing pretty basic, using four simple steps. In order to see how each the inks look and behaves on a dry paper surface surface, I applied a large brush-mark of each ink to the paper. Then I added a few parallel lines using a small brush. Because I also want to know how the inks interact with water, I conducted two additional tests; first I heavily wet a small area of paper and dropped a tiny bit of full strength ink into that wet paper surface. And, because I’m interested in the re-wetting of the inks, after those short parallel lines were completely dry, I brushed a liberal amount of water over parts of the lines to test test the ability of each ink to resist the effects of water.

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[ Note: When using ink, the substrate (or ground) will likely have a profound effect on how the ink performs. I do employ inks in my large mixed media drawings on Mylar (my Natural-Family-History series) and occasionally on large sheets of various Arches, Rives, or Fabriano papers. Since I use inks a lot for sketching, I conducted these tests on a Canson 140 lb cold pressed watercolor paper. (I also use Fluid Easy Block papers, Canson Multimedia sketchbooks, and Pentalic watercolor journals for sketching). I chose to use the Canson because of its subtle texture and the fact that it isn’t too heavily treated with a sizing. This would allow both water and ink to penetrate the surface at a moderate rate.]

 

IMG_4606 copy, edittedAbove is a strip of inks that I have tested in this manner. Now let’s get a bit closer look at the results.


To the left you can see a close look at three of the first inks I tested in this way. The Winsor Newton and Higgins (#4415) are both traditional India inks. When dry the large areas of ink where pretty even and flat (the Higgins a slightly less flat, a tiny bit less dense) and were only barely transparent. Both also had that “metallic carbon in shellac sheen” we associate with India ink.

The Higgins (#44041) Eternal Ink was very different; in fact it may be a renamed versions of a Higgins ink I remember from my college days. You can see that it is bit less dense than the first two and in the re-wetting test, it obviously isn’t water resistant … much less waterproof. This ink displayed something I used to associate with all black Higgins inks; it is definitely made with a non-black pigment. When younger, I was always aghast (and secretly a little intrigued) that Higgins would often break down into a violet and a yellow brown or olive green) when exposed to water. Here, in both of the water tests, we can see some of the warm and violet casts of the ink. On the plus side, it being labeled “Eternal” should mean it is archival (Ph neutral and fade resistant in light). So it is a good ink; just do be aware though of the visual surprises it may provide you when in comes in  contact with water!

In part because of the Higgins pigment issue, I have tended to use the Speedball Super Black India ink as my “go to” ink in the studio. The Speedball company has been creating art supplies for over a century (Hunt-Speedball-Bienfang) and they make some fine products. This ink definitely uses a black carbon pigment and has a very dense pigment load. Washes made with this finely ground ink tend to be a quite flat, even grey. Opaque at full strength, it flows readily in water but when dry it is very permanent. When using this ink during drawing or painting sessions, I have also noticed that at full strength, it also seems to repel/shed any water (or watercolor) that is laid over it. This is probably due to the shellac binder of this traditional India ink.

Another black ink I use a good bit now is the Yasutomo Sumi Ink. Sumi inks are derived from the same Chinese ink traditions that gave us India inks. I enjoy the velvety look of this one a lot; it is a rich, intense ink black ink. There is much less of a “shellac” shine to this ink and it makes a luscious grey wash too.

Everything I read on the bottle, in commercial descriptions, and on the product website says that Yasutomo Sumi is permanent. But, as you can see, re-wetting it produced a beautiful dark grey wash!  I re-did my experiment and waited six hours to allow the inks to cure more. It still re-wet producing a wash. Now, when reading about inks, you will often hear the term “bullet-proof” in reference to an ink that bind permanently to the cellulose fibers of paper. So, “bullet proof inks should be waterproof when allowed to dry in contact with paper’s cellulose fibers. Perhaps the Canson watercolor paper’s sizing kept the ink from coming chemically into contact with the cellulose … or maybe my ink application was so dense that the upper layers of ink where unable to reach the paper fibers? So, I have to wonder if claims for this inks permanence were negated by the way I was conducting my test with a sized watercolor paper. Maybe on an unsized Sumi paper, this ink is permanent as soon as it is dry?

I will have to explore that more at a later date!

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The next ink I tested, Pen & Ink Sketch, is also an India ink but of a quite different kind. It is made by Art Alternatives out of the UK. They make this black India ink and sell it bottled and in the smaller international size fountain pen cartridges. As soon as you know that it is for fountain pens, it is obvious why it is different from standard India ink. It has to be. Inks with shellac can dry and stubbornly clog the tiny ink channel inside a fountain pen and/or the nib very quickly. It isn’t a nice way for a fountain pen to die.

This ink is lovely though. A soft satin black, not made shiny by any shellac or super sticky gum/sap based binders, it flows beautifully into water. As you see to the left, it re-wets a tiny bit too. Most of the black ink stayed in the paper’s fibers or on the paper surface; only a small amount became active when I added water and gently rubbed the surface of the ink marks. This could make it an excellent candidate for sketching when you need or want to spread only a tiny bit of light washes from previously applied pen or brush drawn lines.

(PS.  Art Alternatives also makes some nice and fairly inexpensive fountain pens for artists under the same brand name as well!)

My next three inks are Holbien Special Black, Liquitex Professional Carbon Black, and Royal Talens Amsterdam Oxide Black. All are dense rich blacks. They all handle well in the brush and the pen. While they seem to react slightly differently when dropped into water or onto wet paper … the Holbien seemed to break down a bit and both the Liquitex and the Royal Talens ran pretty freely … they were equally permanent when I tried the re-wet test. This shouldn’t surprise us though. Each of them is in fact an acrylic polymer emulsion based ink.  Of the three the Hobien seemed the most opaque to me. The other two came close when seen as a mass of color, less so when in thinner applications.

The fact that all three are not re-wettable means they are great for using under additional wet mediums. The Talens and Liquitex seemed to flow well but I must admit am a little leery about using the Holbien to create washes.

These last four inks are really fun. Those first two are specifically made for use with fountain pens. Manuscript Black and Noodler’s Lexington Gray. The last two were both made locally. Fleagall, in the brown bottle with the dropper cap, is made by an artist/graphic designer who teaches at a local community college. The other ink, the Iron Gall is made by a local artisan/craftsman who makes a lot of his own artist’s materials .

As the names imply, Manuscript Black is a bit darker and more densely pigmented than the Lexington Gray. The Manuscript ink spread easily and pretty evenly in the water drop at the top of the test where as the Noodler’s reacted a bit oddly in water. Despite being lighter, in the re-wetting process the Lexington Gray appears to be more permanent than the Manuscript Black.

The last two inks are both iron gall inks. Iron gall inks were the primary inks used in European countries since about the 4th century and were only supplanted by other forms of ink in the 20th century. One of the reasons they were so popular is because they are easy to make and darken with age. Another advantage they have is that once they are thoroughly dry, they do not re-activate with water and hard to scrub off a surface.

Notice both the Flea Gall and the Iron Gall inks are slightly violet when they are diluted. That is a characteristic that I like a lot. The slight transparency of both when applied even at moderate applications make both excellent candidates for ink wash drawings and paintings.

There are two issues that limit the use of iron gall inks in the modern age. One is the tendency for them to be acidic. If not made properly they may be too acidic and can slowly “eat” through the paper. The second problem is they don’t play nicely with closed system mechanical pens. The iron-gallic particles that make up the ink’s pigment can slowly accumulate in a pen’s ink feed and clog it with a difficult to clean mass of hardened ink. This isn’t a problem in a brush or a dip pen which are easier to clean.

In the Upper Canopy, a 5×7 brush sketch using India ink

As if it weren’t obvious already … I can be more than a bit nerdy about art supplies but I do hope this hasn’t been overbearingly pedantic or preachy. I would love to hear what inks you like to work with too. Please tell me if there any inks you think that I ought to try out …. for sketching or for using in the studio? And if you disagree about the qualities of a specific ink that I have talked about here, that is  cool too; please do let me know. I am always open to re-evaluating materials … and to changing my ideas, my opinions!

Now, it is time to get back out there and do dome sketching! There is a 30%-50% chance I will use some ink. Wish me luck.

PS Coming soon, A review of other colors of ink. …. and some ink pens & brush pens too!

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View South On US 11, Mount Syndey, Ink brush sketch, 5×11