Well, I haven’t been able to get to life drawing for a couple of weeks, and though I’ve been racking up the “live” sketches of commuters and cafe dwellers, I felt like posting some working studies from 4-9 years ago.
For much of the last 35 years my principal friend and workhorse in the sketchbooks has been the much available and unassuming ballpoint pen. I don’t say “underappreciated” as a few hours of surfing the internet yields myriad fans and examples of the wonders of the ugly duckling of drawing tools. There are gobs of sites and shows dedicated to the bravura, immediacy, flash amd elegance which the little spheres of ceramic and metal are capable of in the right and respectful hands. No bank lobby, street corner, waiter, certified public accountant, pen-corralling coffee can, or friend was exempt or safe from the possibility that I might leave the meeting or transaction with their formerly valued la plume nestled in my shirt pocket or discreetly cupped in my hand with the otherwise obvious length of it’s barrel tucked up my sleeve. All that was necessary was for that liquid line to unwind from it’s rolling origin in a seductive color with ample flow. And I was easily seduced. I liked lines sharp and crisp or fat and juicy. Especially the juicy, likely to gob pens. Paintbrush in a barrel to my eyes. I had absolutely no hard and fast allegience to any one brand. On a previous posting from Dec. 19, titled “Vomit”, there is a drawing from 2001 in blue ballpoints of a couple of chaps getting roughed up. The top figure is drawn using a Papermate, as identified, and the poor creature with boot in face, on the bottom of the page has been rendered in a darker more violet blue, compliments Bic. Loved ’em both. Went through hundreds of ’em. The hue of the Papermate was perhaps a prettier Ultramarine blue, but I always dug that hard tone of a number of blue ballpoints, Bic being classically mean in character. If you built up enough ink and got right down there to look at the surface they sometimes produced a subtle oily irridescence.
The ballpoints worth stabbing a friend in the back for were the red Papermates. Those long slender Daredevil red jobs with the cap. Those suckers, the prized ones, produced a darker, bloodier, more concentrated line than the Bics. I found the Bics to be lighter and a touch orange. When ever I landed one that gave me that wet, broad line, I did everything to hang onto the point. Notched the barrel to identify it from the others. On an exceptional Bic I’d carve a “+”on the end cap so it’d look like a Phillips head screw. When the ink ran out, I’d pull off the filler or ink tube and immediately replace it taking care not to get an air bubble trapped between the ink and the ball. I had some other practices that might strike those not of the craft as obsessive, but, anyone who’s read this far understands the ways of the brood.
Sometimes I pulled the ink tube out of the ballpoint collar and drew with those slightly flexible plastic tubes, smearing that dark thick lava around the page. Before the page could absorb it, if in fact it could, I’d take X-acto blades and scrape the gooey puddles around. Did a portrait of Tchaikovsky that way for a Record Company illustration some years back. A few drawings had the ink on so rich that after considerable time they had formed crusty little thin scabs where the buildup was thick enough. Weird stuff. I’ve yet to discovered the chemistry of those inks.
For the last 6 or 7 years I’ve had a preference for the gels, Uniball in particular. If swiped or rubbed immediately after making a mark you get a nice watery smear and can transfer finger prints producing marks that are at times brushy, dusty and pastelish or textured, and stamp like . It’s just distinct enuff from the oilier quality of the old ballpoints that I grew up loving. There is a prior posting, dated October, 9, 2009, titled “Life Drawing From …& Chisel”, of a triple portrait in blue ink, of a young female model with glasses. It’s the bottom left drawing in the post. All of the soft and ambient shading is achieved by first drawing a contour then dragging the ink one way or the other. I wanted subtle, hazy tones to help establish form and indicate light souce. It’s much quicker than all that hatching. I love to hatch, but smearing’s just faster and gives a different feel.