Making Reed Pens at the MCBA Visual Journal Collective

August 21, 2011

See the post for full details.

ReedMolly4302 Left: That's Molly Anthony cutting at the base of her reed—see the fluffy top labled "top" floating above the table.

On Monday, August 15, 2011 artist Tom Winterstein taught about 20 members of the MCBA Visual Journal Collective how to make reed pens!

He brought Phragmites Australis (common reed) for us to use. (He went into the marsh last fall to harvest them. They need to dry first.) One stalk will make several pens depending on the strength and thickness of the reed and the maker's desired pen length. I just had to show you the photo at the left because it makes me smile.

Tom brought along several examples of his own reed pen drawings as well as his favorite books about pen and ink drawing. I noted down two of them, Paul Hogarth's, "Creative Ink Drawing," and Donald Anderson's "The Art of Written Forms."

There was also another book that I found interesting, "Pen, Brush and Ink" by Henry C. Pitz published in 1949. (Tom reminded me of the exact title so I could amend this post.)

TomWReedPens4299 Right: Tom talking to the group.

After his introduction Tom walked the group through the cutting of their pens. It is really quite straightforward a process and I recommend that you seek out instructions (with diagrams so you can see the angles) because these pens are quite fun to work with.

Tom also brought soda cans and tuna can lids so that we could cut strips of metal to turn into reservoirs to insert into the tip of our pens. Something so simply is a marvelous addition to the pen because it holds more ink in the pen nib and wicks it out at a more measured pace, allowing you to make longer lines and work for a longer period before redipping the pen.

PensInUse4309 Left: People get to work testing out their new reed pens.  

Tom also had several quill pens on hand. The ones I tested had a very smooth feel along the paper.

I don't have a close up photo of the pen we actually made. I'll try to post an image of it, and perhaps some reed pen sketches…right now I have to run errands, and of course, go sketch with my new pen.

Thanks to Tom for a great talk and to everyone for showing up and making it a great evening of production and fun.

  1. Reply

    What a wonderful project. Living somewhere between no-where and no-where else, I really long for the kind of group that you have in your local. Looks like a really interesting bunch of people.

  2. Reply

    Thankyou for such an interesting article! Just what I needed! I had been eyeing up bamboo pens in my local art shop and not been very impressed, as they were much wider than these are, and no reservoir. I shall go and make Google my new BFF as I am sure I can adapt local materials.
    As always, you are right on the ball with what I want to find out!

    • Miss T
    • August 22, 2011

    I would have been sooooo dangerous with those long fluffy things. But the pens look cool!

  3. Reply

    Bilby06, I don’t know where you live in the country and in smaller towns people are at a disadvantage finding a critical mass of people to have a group like this (though there is something very fun about small groups too).

    If you are in even a small town I would encourage you to think about organizing your own group, thinking of where you might put notices up, and so on. There are just so many journal keepers and sketchers out there that you might find a core group of 6 to 10 folks who enjoy meeting.

    I wish you could do this. Failing that, finding on-line groups that share their work on Flickr would be a good way to go about it.

    If I were more video savvy I’d video take the meetings so more people could see what goes on.

    Good luck gathering a group.

  4. Reply

    Caroline I’m so glad that you’re going to look into this. Don’t hold your breath, but I’m going to try to take Tom into doing a short video. Since he would be demonstrating and not waiting for students to follow, it would be very short, and manageable. It wouldn’t be until later this fall though, if I can convince him.


  5. Reply

    Miss T. We only had two “sword” fights! I would not try this with untrimmed reeds with middle school kids!

    • Tom Winterstein
    • August 23, 2011

    Roz, the book is “Pen, Brush and Ink” by Henry C. Pitz, 1949, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York. This book was in the library when I was in sixth grade. I read and reread it and it got me interested in pen and ink drawing. I finally found it in a used book store last year, 50 years later.


  6. Reply

    Your are right. Taking charge and forming a group would be the right thing to do. I am sure there are many others who want to take journaling serious around here. I live in Canyon, Texas, south of Amarillo. We have a university here in Canyon,(WTAMU)and I am (semi) retired from Amarillo College. I’ve taught Art there for 29 years. Sheesh, I must be getting lazy. 🙂 Thanks for the push. I think I will do that this Fall. Maybe I can quit whining then. lol

  7. Reply

    bilby06, Ah, a college town. Then you should be able to nab a bunch of 20-somethings who want to capture their world, or lure them away from Facebook! A worthy goal. Have at it. Since you taught Art there for 29 years perhaps someone at the college can let you have some space to meet for free, and advertise the group in the newsletter or student paper! There are a lot of art teachers (who teach art to a variety of age groups) who attend the Collective, so I think you have a built in membership pool for your more mature members. Before you know it you’ll have some cross fertilization going on.

    It’s exciting. Make it happen. Fall is already here. Best of luck!

  8. Reply

    Tom, thanks for the full info on the Henry C. Pitz book. I kept forgetting to ask you!

  9. Reply

    Too true. It really is fall, even though the temperature is over 100. I am, today, putting together resources. I think you are right, there is a large pool of individuals who would might be interested. I don’t doubt finding space to meet would be reasonably easy. I guess I will start with contacting folks that might be interested and just follow the flow. Thanks for the encouragement. bill b.

  10. Reply

    Bill, one thing else I would encourage you to do—set some ground rules early on. Make sure that members know it’s not a coffee hour for chatting. And depending on what you intend to do, make sure they also know if you are going to talk about the trendy “emotional” journaling or focus on sketching. I think that it’s easier to do a group that focuses on sketching with some nods to art journaling. If you go the other route there are always some folks who want to use the group as a “therapy” group, and without strict guidelines that can get out of hand too.

    I was actually just starting to form a post about it (but the Fair will take me away from the computer so check back in a couple weeks). Liz Lerman has a great book on “critical response” which even if you don’t follow in your group, can still provide a set of guidelines to frame discussions.

    Good luck. Let me know how it goes. If you get up and running maybe we can arrange an exchange project between groups for 2012 because we don’t have any of our group projects (except the portrait party) set yet.

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