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Guest Post: Thomas Winterstein—On Pen Nibs and Sketching in Pen and Ink

October 15, 2010

August2010001_72dpi Left: Dip pen artwork by guest post author Tom Winterstein, ©Tom Winterstein. The artist writes about his drawing approach in the final paragraph of his article.

Today is the inaugural "Guest Post." This begins an intermittent series on my blog. I am asking people to write about art-related topics that matter to them (and are interesting to me, i.e., I have probably button-holed them and questioned them so intently at some point that they walked away muttering about the Spanish Inquisition). The posts will be new to this blog (not published before on the author's blog or website), but I will provide links to the author's websites as avaiable.

Today's guest blogger is Thomas Winterstein. I met Thomas through the internet after I published a page listing the various Twin Cities drawing co-ops. Since then we have corresponded. I met Thomas in person at the State Fair Sketchout this August. He's also attended the Collective. I hope to get over to one of the many St. Paul life-drawing co-ops he's updated me on. Right now, besides asking him if I could share his thoughts on pen and ink sketching and his preferences about pen nibs—which are vastly different from mine and you need to hear differening opinions—I'm trying to convince him to demonstrate his reed-pen making technique at the Collective in 2011. I'm being as insistent as is legal.

Without further ado, here are some thoughts from Thomas Winterstein on pen and ink and dip nibs, along with a great list of books on the topic:

As I told you, Roz, at the Fair Sketch Out Day, I don’t care for the Japanese manga pen points. I have bought every non-calligraphy nib at Wet Paint Art store, I think, and I always go back to using the same nibs. I generally carry these nibs in my sketching bag: Hunt 107 Hawk Quill, the Hunt 512 Extra Fine Bowl Point, the Hunt 513EF Globe Bowl Pointed, the Gillott 303, and the Gillott 404.  I like the Hawk Quill better than the Crow Quill because it is stiffer. The two bowl pointed pens are good sketching pens because they don’t splatter if I push instead of pull the pen. I prefer the Hunt 512 because I think it gives a more flexible and thinner line than the 513EF. The Gillott 404 is a good nib for sketching because it produces a slightly coarser line than the Gillott 303, which I prefer for fine drawing. 

I use the same nibs over and over again because they do what I want them to do and because I know what they will do. I don’t have to think about the marks they will make. For instance, I may do most of a drawing with a Gillott 303, use a Gillott 404 when I want a coarser line, and then switch to the Hunt 512 or 513EF when I want a bold background for the drawing.

I prefer the long wooden holders that Wet Paint sells because they fit my large hands. I find them nicely balanced. 

August2010002_72dpi Right: Another pen sketch from artist Thomas Winterstein. ©Thomas Winterstein. The artist writes about his method in the final paragraph of his article.

I have also bought most of the black inks at Wet Paint. After trying them all I went back to Higgins India Ink. I mostly use non-waterproof  Higgins India Ink because I sometimes like to  create tone by smearing the ink  with a wet finger. When I was carrying dip pens for sketching in the metal box a Rotring Pen came in, I would carry ink in my pocket in a small, brown, screw-top bottle that I found at Ax-Man Surplus on University Avenue. In four or five years I only had one serious spill because I didn’t screw the top on tight enough. Being an artist I didn’t mind the black spot on my jeans. 

I'm not really very fussy about what paper I use for pen and ink drawing and use mostly what is at hand. I like the Great Canadian Sketchbook and the Aquabee Co-Mo Sketchbook for sketching in pen and ink, but I have used other sketchbooks made by Canson and Strathmore and some no name sketchbooks. They also seemed to be fine. The rougher Co-Mo Sketch paper works well with pen and ink, and when used with dry brush produces a really nice tone for drawings because the brush skips across the surface of the paper if the brush is drawn across the paper on its side. The paper is also good for light washes.  

I have also used Bristol Board, both plate and vellum, for pen and ink drawing. I know that a hard surfaced paper, such as plate bristol, is often recommended for pen and ink, but I prefer vellum bristol or the softer sketch book papers. I don't know if I will like a paper for ink drawing until I try it. Recently, I used a Canson Biggie sketch pad, 50 pound weight, for preliminary sketches for a painting I am doing. While it is a good paper for pencil, I had a hard time getting it to accept the ink; the ink didn't flow off the nib.

I learned pen and ink drawing from books. The first book I used was “Rendering in Pen and Ink,” by Arthur L. Guptill. Even though it is slanted towards architectural rendering (Guptill was an architect)  it is a fine introduction to pen and ink drawing.  

Henry C. Pitz was an illustrator for books and magazines.  He wrote many books on illustrating. I like two: “Ink Drawing Techniques,” which is still in print, and “Pen, Brush and Ink,” which is out-of-print but available used. It was from Pitz that I learned that ink and charcoal are natural partners.

A really good book in all sorts of pen and ink drawing is “The Pen & Ink Book: Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist” by Jos. A. Smith.

Paul Hogarth’s books on ink drawing show a freer, less traditional approach to ink drawing.  The three that I have, “Creative Ink Drawing,” “Drawing Architecture: A creative approach,” and “Drawing People,” are out of print but are available used. Reading Hogarth’s books encouraged me to use a freer, bolder line, and to distort my perspective.

Finally, a book that it is fun to read is “Pen Drawing and Pen Draughtsmen” by Joseph Pennell. I have a paper back reprint of the 1920 edition. It has been reprinted and is available through Amazon. The book is primarily a world-wide survey of pen and ink drawing of  late nineteenth and earlier twentieth century illustrators.  Pennell was an accomplished illustrator and author (he and his wife wrote popular travelogues) and was proficient in pen and ink drawing, etching, and lithography. He was also an iconoclast and a curmudgeon and his comments about the drawings are full of both praise and vitriol.

One caveat about looking at old pen and ink illustrations. Until about the turn of the twentieth century, when photographic reproduction became common, pen and ink drawings were reproduced by wood engravings. The drawing would be transferred or drawn directly onto blocks of end-grain boxwood. The wood engraver would carefully engrave away (chip away) everything that was not a pen line. Sometimes the wood engraver would not follow the drawing exactly or would have to use engraved lines to indicate washes or tones.  This is often seen is skies and backgrounds of the drawings. Pennell discusses this problem extensively.

LifeDrawing001_72dpi Left: Life drawing sketch by Thomas Winterstein using Walnut Brown ink and a Walnut Drawing Stick by Tom Norton. ©Thomas Winterstein.

I find that good drawings come easiest when the drawing media and the paper work really well together. There is nothing quite as nice as drawing with pencil on really compatible paper. It is so sensuous. Pen and ink drawing is most fun when the paper and the ink are compatible and I am in the groove. Then the pen dances across the paper, barely touching it, as I blithely choreograph the lines that describe the subject and my feelings about the subject. 

You asked me to send you some pen drawings. I am sending three. The first two are studies of facial expressions I did for a painting I am working on. I drew these from stock photographs I found on the internet; I chose the photographs for the dramatic screams. I don't remember exactly what nibs I used to make each drawing. I know I used Gillott 303 and 404 nibs, mostly Gillott 303 nibs, on the faces. In addition to the Gillott nibs, I used Hunt Extra-Fine and Globe nibs on the hair and background. I used a Canson Biggie sketch pad for the studies; however, while it has a nice tooth for pencil, the ink wouldn't flow from the nibs, and so I had to struggle a bit to make the drawings. I did the drawings without a preliminary pencil sketch. The third is from a life drawing session. I used Walnut Brown Ink and a Walnut Drawing Stick by Tom Norton (available at Wet Paint). I don’t remember what paper I used, probably a Strathmore sketch pad.

Roz's Note: First off, many, many thanks to Thomas for such an informative post on nibs and books and pen and ink! Thomas doesn't has a website, but I have his permission to post his email if you would like to contact him directly. twinterstein@mac.com

I've read the books Thomas listed and agree with him that they are all wonderful. The Smith book is a particular favorite of mine. If you are interested in working in pen and ink take Thomas' book list with you to the library or store and seek these books out. Be aware that the bold red type was my editorial emphasis. It may not have been exactly what Thomas would have had in mind.

When buying tools take the specifics Thomas has provided about the various nibs and their line quality and stiffness as a guide to decide which you'll try out first based on your own preferences. Ditto for the paper. Happy experiments!

  1. Reply

    Oooh, I think I am going to like your guest appearances Roz. This was very interesting and informative, just as your normal entries are. Thanks.

    • Roz
    • October 15, 2010
    Reply

    Donna and Carolyn I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I think Thomas’ sketches are wonderful and his information first rate, obviously, or I wouldn’t have hounded him! (I’m relentless.)

    Roz

    • Karen
    • October 15, 2010
    Reply

    Wow, thank you ROZ AND THOMAS.

    • Frank Bettendorf
    • October 15, 2010
    Reply

    Roz,
    Great start to a great idea. Well written with solid thinking behind it. I like that he makes positive as well as negative comments. I’m really pleased you’re doing this.
    Frank

  2. Reply

    Thanks Karen and Frank, I hope you both get out your dip pens!!!!

  3. Reply

    What a terrific post! I love hearing about people’s experiences with dip pens and their preferences for nibs and holders. And Thomas’s sketches are great! Thank you both, Roz and Thomas!

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