EDM #19: Draw something you’ve made

It’s been a long-ass week. Undistinguished except for the miserable heat, mugginess, and torrential rain. I’m not much of a drinker but when I saw this challenge, I knew exactly what I’d make: a cool, crispy gin and tonic.

And I’d make it with sumi ink and a dash of watercolor (and a soupcon of salt).

Sumi is the everlasting gobstopper of art supplies. You get a beautiful carved black block embossed with gold and silver designs. You splash your cool stone chalice and rub it with the block a couple of times and, hey presto, ink. But it’s ink that’s so forgiving and compliant. It hits your brush looking all dark and full of intent, but then when you slap it on the page, it backs off, dissolving to a smoky wave.

You can modulate it in so many ways that perfectly suit my way of painting. I can dilute it to a whisper and then build up layers up on layers that transition smoothly into each other like a delicate moire. As it dries, sumi becomes a dusky, matte layer of grey that doesn’t feel like paint or ink or pencil or anything, like it was just meant to be there, like some sort of organic residue left by my gesture. And that ebony brick of oriental exotica last forever, through fecund years of rubbing against the stone palette and daubing on the page. Ah, suuuuumi.

Can you tell by my writing that I’ve consumed my model?


I wanted to share this just because I think it is quite remarkable. So, yesterday, I posted the fact that my drawing of waking Joe was marred when I wrote on the bottom of the painting and the letters became all spidery and smudgy.

A few hours later, I got an email from Michael at Stillman and Birn:

I saw your blogpost today and the problem you had writing with your dip pen with watercolor. Can you share some more details with me about happened? Was the wash very heavy and undried when you tried to write on top of it?

It hadn’t occurred to me that the paper was in any way to blame so this evening I conducted a more in-depth test. First I laid down a coat of watercolor and let it dry, really dry, for an hour and a half. Then I tested various pens and inks on it. No bleeding at all.

Then I made a wash and let it sit for just five minutes so the surface was just barely dry to the touch. And this time I did get a little spreading after a few minutes, but only with Dr, Martins.

In short, I was at fault — as I had expected. I hadn’t let the painting of Joe actually dry properly before I laid down another layer and thus the problem.

Another messy drawing accident is not remarkable or even news at all. What does impress me is that Michael, who contacted me in the first place and offered to send me the sketchbooks to try out, is so diligent that he would monitor my blog and write to me to discuss the problem.

If I hadn’t already been impressed by Stillman & Birn‘s products, I certainly would be now. I hope you are too.

EDM Challenge #14: Draw what you see in the morning when you get up

I did this painting fairly quickly, first in Dr. Martin’s washes and then added gouache and some white paint to simulate  a bleary, early morning, shallow depth of field. As is my wont, I worked quickly, nay hastily, and then scrawled a note along the bottom with a dip pen in Tiger Yellow watercolor.

For some reason, disaster struck:

The paper decided to turn my lines into spidery muck. Thinking I could repair matters, I tried a different nib and a darker ink. Matters went further down hill. Finally I pulled out my fountain pen and made a irreversibly botched job of it. I even slathered on some white-out to mitigate the damage and … ah, hell, that’s why Photoshop has a cropping tool.


Turn the page, on to the next challenge.

EDM Challenge #13: Draw your telephone (land line, cell, old-fashioned?)

For some reason, our phone follows the aesthetic of the Sony Sports Walkman from the early 1990s. That’s probably around the time when innovation in landline phone design was frozen too.

I laid down a bright coat of Dr. Martins Tiger yellow, then when it dried completely, I drew the phone with my extra bold Lamy Safari. Then I used my Lamy fine point to add details and to cross hatch. Finally I used a white pencil, a white charcoal pencil and a couple of other colored pencils to add more details and dimension. This took 15 or so minutes.

Then I took a picture of the whole damned thing with my cel phone.

BTW, some people have wondered what book I am drawing in these days. Well, most of these challenges have been done in the same book, a 7″ square wire-bound number made by Stillman and Birn. It’s one of their Delta Series with cold press Extra Heavyweight Ivory paper (180 lb.) and a rough surface. I like the paper in this book but am no longer a big fan of wire-bound books so I have been waiting for an opportunity to use it. If you are okay with this sort of binding, I think their books are the best being made today. I see they make hardbound books today and I’ll definitely give them a try sometime soon.

EDM Challenge #8: Draw your watch or other piece of jewelry

Walking dogs, ironing, rousing Jack, an early meeting — I had a rushed morning and no time to relax and draw. At lunch, I pulled out a box of Crayolas and a ball point and drew my watch and arm in a notebook.

I used a light touch with the ball point and I could get a lot of variety in its line. Then I laid down a solid skin tone with one crayon. Next I layered a half-dozen different colors on top to create dimension and all the variations of skin. Finally I drew the arm hairs on top of the color, skimming the surface so the wax didn’t gum up the pen.

I have been using the same technique of ink pen and watercolor for a long time and I must say it’s a welcome change to try out different media.

Lamy replacement nib

I bought Jack a Lamy Safari extra-fine fountain pen. He likes it (though he bought a bunch of refills rather than deal with loading it from a bottle. The ink’s not waterproof but it’s a lot simpler to deal with if you’re not used to ink bottles) but prefers my new super thick and chunky nibbed Safari. I discovered that you can replace the nib on a Safari to a different style. You can buy the whole front end of the pen on the Lamy website for virtually what I paid for the complete pen but on ebay I found a guy selling just the nibs for a lot less. Hopefully,  we’ll get it next week and can make the swap.


After my bizarre pen experience yesterday, I hastily ordered a replacement. In fact, I got so carried away and was so vigorously cursing my old Safari that I ordered several replacements (“muttering “I wont be fooled again”). Another Lamy Safari extra fine, a second Lamy Safari pen with a broad nib (and a refill converter), and finally something pink called a Noodler’s Ink Flex Nib Piston Fill Pink Panther Fountain Pen.” It was a mad burst of self-indulgence brought on by grief, I’ll admit.

Then, this evening, reading the comments on my last post, I came upon a link recommended by Lisa Ridolfi which led me to a video explaining how to swap out nibs on Lamy pens.

As I watched the video, I thought, “Huh, so Lamy pens don’t usually have black plastic points, they have metal nibs. The black plastic bit is just the thing that the actual nib slides on to. Which could only mean that ….”And sure enough, after scrabbling around on my desk, I found the metal nib that I had accidentally yanked off as I tried to vigorously wipe down my newly filled pen. I slid it back into place, gave it another more delicate wipe down and the Safari is back on course. Huzzah!

Any day now, I shall have an embarrassment of new pens arriving in the mailbox which will fortunately will force me to draw all the more. I hope you will absorb you this pathetic anecdote as a cautionary tale, and that you will forgive any aspersions I have cast at the Lamy company and their fine products.