Archive for November, 2011

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Ink Drawing Started: Who’s To Blame?

November 30, 2011

I’ve gotten the background finished on a new ink drawing. This one is 7.5 x 24 inches on Multimedia Artboard.


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I’m using a Speedball C-4 chisel point nib for the marks. Lots and lots of marks.

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My Trusted Drafting Table

November 26, 2011

Here’s another old friend pulled out of storage at my parent’s home, my old drafting table. It’s about 40 years old now, but has spent about the last half of that time buried under some blankets in their garage. It’s got a few battle scars, spill stains and dried spots of rubber cement still on the surface. Adds character.

That C-Clamp is handy for keeping bottles from tipping over with a scrap piece of wood pressed to the table. On the lightbox I’ve been testing out some ink patterns to use on a new drawing I’ll be starting soon. In the far corner is a box of vinyl gloves I use to keep my hands off the drawing surface.

The studio room is getting a bit crowded these days. I’m hoping next year to move into a larger space, but there are some financial activities that have to take place first.

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New Drawing: Pleading Hands

November 17, 2011

Here’s a new ink drawing, 8.5 x 11 inches on rag paper using a Uniball Gelstick. It’s taken from a series of video screen grabs I made recently of two people having a discussion about movies. Their hands were very animated, so I hope to do a few more of them.

The process involved displaying the screen grab on my computer screen in front of me, sketching the outline of the hands to size using a Prismacolor layout marker (10% grey) and then started shading, as demonstrated in the image above. I had to darken this scan some so you could see the grey lines better. This paper had a few spots of uneven sizing on the surface which causes the marks to skip and drag in an annoying manner, but I managed to get it to work. That’s a common problem with most paper stock.

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Ink Bottle Cap Problems

November 13, 2011

I happened to notice recently that the cap on my bottle of Dr. Ph Martin’s Bombay Ink had cracks appearing in the rubber stopper. It was most obvious on this bottle of red, but another bottle of brown had smaller cracks starting to appear. These bottles are only a few months old, but this deterioration in the rubber will allow air inside that will dry out the ink. I’ve no idea how long the bottle may have sat on the store shelf before purchase. I replaced it with the cap of an old bottle of Higgins colored ink, which had also dried out a long time ago, but the stopper still seemed okay. Next, I decided to go through the various ink bottles I still had to examine their condition.

Most of them are just your basic bottle with a screw-on lid (no stopper.) Speedball, Winsor & Newton, Deleter, Yatsutomo and others use this design. Some of the older ones I had use metal caps instead of the more common plastic. Both of those will eventually let air in, but metal is more durable. I had to toss out half a bottle of Speedball Super Black the other day that was only a year or so old because it had dried out already. Of the ones in the photo above, the Winsor & Newton and Deleter have also now died out. The FW acrylic ink is okay but the stopper feels very flimsy. The Pelikan bottle is one I’ve had for many many years and it still works fine. Their stopper seems to be made of vinyl. They still use the same cap design, but the bottle itself is now plastic, so I fill this glass bottle with new ink since plastic is not as airtight. The new Higgins stopper seems to also now be made of vinyl and the seal is better than the others.

I also noticed a problem on a bottle of Sennelier Shellac Ink. The screwing part completely separated from the stopper which the shellac had stuck to the rim of the bottle. It’s still usable since the cap presses the stopper to the rim, but I’m not convinced it’s an airtight seal.

The moral of this post is: I need to use up all this ink more quickly.

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High Key Values in Ink Drawings

November 11, 2011


“High Key” is a term used to describe the brightness of a color. For example, in the grayscale image above, 10 to 7 would be high and 3 to 0 would be low. As demonstrated in my previous post, the range of values an artist can create using a cross-hatched technique is limited to only 4 or 5 levels between white and black. Also, most types of ink cannot reach a very dark black or whatever color is being used. Many brands of black India ink are not able to pass a level 1 value using the above scale, without making several passes, which shortens the value range even more. I’m not saying that’s a problem, in fact, it often makes for a fantastically dramatic image, but it’s a limitation an artist needs to understand.

I’ve made several posts in the past on the beauty of engraved prints, and in this example you can see the value range that can happen when the work is made by an artist like Auguste-Hilaire Leveille. A compressed digital file doesn’t do it justice. A pen line is much larger than the needle scratch of an engraving tool, so to achieve the same tone with a pen nib, the drawing would need to be several times larger. An 8×10 inch engraving would have to become 3 or 4 feet tall in order for the thinnest lines to keep the same value and proportion of thickness as seen in an engraving.

This value range is not impossible to achieve with pen and ink, but it is challenging. In my recent drawing of Shakespeare the head is approximately 4 inches tall, which gives me plenty of room to create a whole range of values with a quill point. It is also possible to create high value shades with a pen at a small size if you increase the space between the lines. This gives a more pronounced appearance of texture, as seen in this detail of a drawing by Jardine Walter. In the case of print reduction, as most ink drawings are intended, the space between the lines is less pronounced.

In this detail on the left of an illustration by the great Virgil Finlay you can see how he managed to control the lighter values by using a stippled dot technique. Search the internet on artist Franklin Booth to see more such examples.

Another method involves scratching the ink away, which can be done with a sharp needle to leave behind a very thin line. There are clay coated scratchboard surfaces on the market, such as those made by Ampersand or the Essdee scraperboard. The drawing of mine on the right of my friend Lydia was made on Ampersand’s Scratchbord where I scratched away the lines of her blouse. Also please look at my previous post on how to make your own scratchboard. You can also scrape ink away on a monotype plate and make small copies that way.

In the case of high key values, most inkers use an approach that eliminates that highest value range altogether. The result is a drawing that looks something like an overexposed photograph, or as if the scene were lit with floodlights, high in contrast. I could have scratched out Lydia’s skin tones in the drawing above, for example, but I wanted to emphasize her glowing skin, as I also did in this recent drawing of the resting biker.

There are many situations, however, when blowing out these details is a shame. Not every scene, for example, needs to be pitch black or flooded with light. Unfortunately, I believe many artists turn away from carefully drawing values with ink by looking at the daunting task of all those lines they have to draw. There’s no room for laziness here.

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Values and Textures with Ink Lines

November 8, 2011

You can control the value in an ink drawing by changing the amount of space between the lines. In the image above there are four value transitions between the white of the paper and a square filled with solid ink. The first square on the left is the lightest value with lines going in one direction. In the next square horizontal lines are added. In the third there are diagonal lines within each grid intersection, and in the fourth square diagonal lines are added in the opposite direction. The limitation of this value change is that there is a line between each value so you wind up with straight bands of tone.


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To create a smoother transition you need to gradually introduce more space between the lines. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. In image #2 above the lines are drawn so that they gradually become thicker. Another choice is to make the line widths the same, but drawn closer together as in image #2b. You can also break up the lines entirely into dots and dashes, as in #3.

Images #4 and 5 show tapered lines made with a brush marker and hair brush. This technique is often referred to as “feathering.”

Dots can also be used in an effect called “stippling” in the same manner, as in #6. I prefer to shift each row, like a woven pattern, so that it creates a more even tone. In image #7 you see a sort of dry brush effect that was actually drawn with a bamboo stick, and in #8 I’ve used a brush to vary the line thickness and altered the ink value within the line itself. These marks give you not only value changes but also an implied texture.

Image #9 shows lines made with a fine tip marker (.005 Micron.) In image #10 you see an optical effect of a moiré pattern caused by the angle of diagonal lines. It’s an interesting effect but hard to control.

In this detail from an engraving you can see how line thickness alone conveys a value change from light to dark. The wavy lines help illustrate the texture of the wood grain, which also works well for the wrinkles in fabrics. The bright areas that were scraped away can be mimicked on a good quality sheet of paper or scratchboard.
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I use all of these methods, sometimes in various combinations, to control the values in my ink drawings. I also like to use a sheet of paper with printed rows of lines 1/8″ apart that I place underneath the drawing to help me keep the lines straight. I have another sheet with both vertical and horizontal lines that helps with placing dots and keeping them evenly spaced.

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Digging Out An Old Painting

November 5, 2011

I was digging through storage recently and came across this ancient artifact from about 32 years ago. It’s part of a series that I made showing boys playing with guns, oil on plywood, 2 foot square.

Sometimes there’s a problem with making something that will last a long time since that’s exactly what may happen. Still, it’s interesting to recognize what has changed over the years and what hasn’t.