Why I Like Drawing with a Fountain Pen

I usually sketch with a Lamy fountain pen, with the nib turned upside down for a finer line. When people ask me why, I tell them that I like the tactile feel of a nib as the wet ink flows through it onto paper. I like the fluidity, incisiveness, and decisiveness of ink lines. I like that I don’t have to press to make marks.

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There is no going back if some lines go astray, as they often do. I simply draw new lines over the old. I don’t heavy-up any lines until I am sure, and even then, only to emphasize spatial edges.

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If the surface of the paper is absorbent, the ink will bleed a little and the lines will be a bit thicker than I would want but I adjust. When drawing on smoother paper, I can draw with the finest lines. Here are a few sketches done on different types of paper.

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Mt. Vernon Workshop

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I did this sketch to help publicize a one-day workshop Gail Wong and I will be offering in Mt. Vernon on Saturday, April 20th. Mt. Vernon is an enchanting small town in Skagit County north of Seattle and the Mt. Vernon Downtown Association is hosting the event.

Full disclosure: Due to constraints of time and weather I drew this scene from a digital photograph that was sent to me. I soon realized that drawing from a photo can actually be more difficult than drawing on location. In a 3D environment, we are able to perceive much more than in a 2D photograph. We can shift our gaze, if necessary, to uncover certain details or to see more clearly things that might be hidden or obscured. And we are free to interpret the 3-dimensional information before us. But in a photograph, everything is frozen, including ambiguities that have to be resolved.

Another note: The Namiki Falcon fountain pen is known for its flexible nib. While it is a joy to draw with, I rarely carry the pen for fear of losing it. But since I was in my home office, I took the opportunity to use it for this sketch. The Namiki Falcon is not inexpensive but still it is a reasonably priced introduction to fine quality fountain pens. Highly recommended.

Black-and-White

Even though it’s a typically chilly and rainy winter in Seattle, what better time to study the branch structure of trees. For these stark, black-and-white images, I used a Tombow brush pen.

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While I could have relied on my memory or imagination to draw these, I find that the raw material provided by real-life patterns have a specificity that is more compelling than the stereotypical views that we store in our memory bank, and they are much easier to compose and interpret.

The Power of the Line

The line is the essence of drawing. It is a humble element, made simply by the tip of a pen or pencil as we move it across a receptive surface. Once drawn, a line chronicles the movement by which it was created. It can describe contour and shape, even texture.

More importantly, the line is able to convey to the mind’s eye three-dimensional forms in space, often not by its presence but rather by its absence—where we decide to stop a contour…and pick it up again.

These sketches of sculptures in and around Rome and Naples are prime examples of this amazing power of drawn lines to suggest what in reality is not present on the page.

Contour Drawing

In 1995, my wife and I left the kids behind to travel to Italy, working our way from Varenna on Lake Como to Florence, Cinque Terra, Siena, San Gimignano and Assissi. We had intended to also spend some time in Rome but we found Assissi to be such a spiritually relaxing place that we decided to spend our last few days in Italy at this country house just outside the city walls.

Continuing to employ the contour drawing style I had used in Japan, I made generous use of white space to imply the foreground and draw attention to the main house beyond. Contour drawing requires working from part to part and seeing how shapes and details fit into a larger pattern. Because I was drawing with a fountain pen, I used dots to help me visualize the placement of the image on the page and to work out the roof forms before I started drawing the contours.

It is interesting that later, in teaching drawing, I advocate a more structural approach based on analysing geometric forms and their spatial relationships. As the years go by, I find myself using a combination of the two approaches, as seen in these studies of the Pantheon done a few years later.