Experimenting with Line Quality And Working Method

April 14, 2017
Quick memory sketches made while watching TV and having seconds to view the face. The preliminary lines were made with a Platinum Carbon fine point fountain pen, followed up with Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. Watercolor washes of 3 primary colors were then added immediately, also from memory. (Fabriano Venezia 9 x 12 inch journal.)

Typically I like to work with one pen throughout an image and get a variety of line types from that pen by the way I angle the pen and the pressure I use.

In the past couple of years, because of approaches I’ve tried during life drawing co-op settings where I take a larger variety of tools and media (because I don’t have to carry all of them around), I’ve been experimenting with a double statement of lines. I often work in red or orange pencil or marker in a loose and gestural way, and then work over that with a darker brush pen or marker.

It grows out of the idea that you start from the big shapes and work down. When I was going to the Atelier’s Gesture Drawing class the very patient Christine Mitzuk (if you are in the Twin Cities go and take a class from her, she’s marvelous) would try to jostle me into this idea.

Often I like to start with the eye of a subject and work my way out. But when you are sketching people from life and they are moving you want to get the big gestures down first. So of course I spent time trying to focus on that first in Gesture Drawing class and then out in the field.

I bounce back and forth. If my eyes aren’t working and are rebelling against detail I find it’s best to go with the large shapes and work in. Then refine. Also if a subject is moving quickly it works great to go for the bigger shapes and work in.

It’s good to practice both.

But in life drawing I can use large crayons and charcoal. Out in the field I don’t do either of those media.

That’s when I started bringing markers to life drawing. And watercolor brush pens (Bien Fang).

One day in January, too sick to go to the life drawing co-op and sketch quickly, I started sketching with the television running. Sometimes you only get a few seconds view of someone so you are working your memory as well. I did a quick gesture with the fountain pen and then restated some lines with the brush pen. Next I threw on some quick washes. (I was working in the Fabriano Venezia journal which contains paper I like using that fountain pen on—though the books fall apart at the spine so I can’t recommend them overall.)

During Bill Mahr’s political talk show I did additional experiments. I found that quickly getting down general lines for the hands allowed me to be more “judicious” about placement with my bolder lines and create a less fussier form.

As with anything when you first try it your eye doesn’t quite accept it. I’ll need to play with this a lot more, but I found that even in this speedy fashion I caught enough of a likeness so that I could recognize the subjects. The thick brush pen lines weren’t added to state shadow, but to push the whole in a stylistic direction.

I wanted to get away from the fussiness of my more detailed sketches. I feel that there is something going on here that I can explore more.

I don’t like the Platinum Carbon Black fountain pen because its fine nib has a very scratchy feel to me on most papers. I could of course put the ink in other pens of mine. I also have that ink in their fiber-tipped brush pen but that doesn’t yield as thin a line as I’d like to start with.

I haven’t been able to try this again since January, but when I do, I know I’ll try my beloved Staedtler Pigment Liner and other pens as a first statement.

Orange pencil, orange marker (I’m really fond of this—either a Uni Posca extra bold or a Montana Acrylic marker in the 15mm nib size), fountain pen, thin calligraphy pen—it doesn’t matter, they all make useful tools for getting a gesture down and then refining it. You can refine your details towards realism or stylize things. That’s the fun of it.

For me it’s important, whether I’m going to life drawing or not, to keep experimenting so that when I get back into the “field” I can have more familiarity with my tools and use them in ways that are both playful and useful.

And I also find that using an approach where I’m not relying on the brush pen first allows me to avoid going in too heavy with the brush pen. Once that ink is down it’s down. Essentially in one quick sketch like this I get to make two statements about my proportions and judgements on details and placement and angles. This allows me to get immediate feedback and use it to adjust the sketch in the final details. I think on some days this actually helps me learn faster.

Additional Line Quality Explorations

If you would like to see other examples of me working on this issue of line quality from different tools here are a couple past posts that will get you started on your own explorations:

You can see an example of my work with an orange marker and then build-up of a brush pen and color sketch here.

Here is a selfie I did looking in the mirror, sketching first with orange marker and then a solid tipped brush pen.

In 2014 I experimented with this idea using a thin pen to sketch and then added washes. It led to interesting experiments with the Sepia Brush Pen.

Sometimes I use orange paint on a brush. You can see an example of that here as I paint a sketch of my husband from life.

Project Friday Suggestions

After looking at all of the above information you might decide to do your own Project Friday to explore your line quality, boost your memory drawing, and retrain your eye (or continue training it) to see proportions and angles.

Get a couple of pens and either go sit somewhere people are constantly coming and going (and even sitting and reading or using their phones) and use one of your thinner weight pens or lighter color ink pens to make a gestural capture of the person you’re sketching. Then go in and use a black ink pen to refine and stylize your sketch.

I find that the Tombow dual tipped brush pen in the light grays is an excellent pen for this. In fact, here’s a whole Project Friday devoted to working with the set of gray Tombow markers.

A Different Approach Altogether

If you are interested in creating realistic sketches and not stylized ones check out Mark Taro Holmes’, “The Urban Sketcher,” to see how the he uses pencil, then fountain pen, and then brush pen to create realistic shaded ink statements. He has a lovely old-world quality to his pen work. He likes to focus on the big statement in the Atelier fashion and then refine down from there, and his work and his explanations are very clear.

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    • Julana
    • April 14, 2017

    Great post, beautiful watercolor there, interesting faces, good ideas.

    • Beryl
    • April 14, 2017

    ditto…what Juliana said…I am not “advanced” enough to use or understand it all, but it gets me thinking about trying stuff, thank you muchly!

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