pen-sunbathersThe only downside to my vacation (and this will give you an indication of what a hopeless nerd I am) were a few pen problems. First of all, though we packed virtually everything in the house into our car for the trip, I left my trusty Rotring Rapidoliner in my bedside table drawer. The only reason for such an oversight is that I had just begin to use a device called the Rotring Art Pen — a sort of fountain pen that Richard Bell uses all the time and seems to swear by. I have been interested in drawing with a fountain pen of late because I like the more variable line it gives (I love my Rapidoliner because it flows so smoothly but the line can seem a little mechanical and rigid at time) and so I have been two-timing the Rapidoliner with this long, black stranger.
The Art Pen has one obvious design flaw, the back end tapers to a near point which mean that when you take off the cap, you can’t snap it onto the back and have to lay it down somewhere and then be mildly distracted about whether or not you’ve left it behind which may effect your drawing in a sort of stone-in-your-shoe sort of way.
Then, poolside, I discovered a more significant problem.
The Art Pen comes with a half dozen little prefilled plastic ink cartridges. The ink, I discovered after laboriously drawing this geezery couple and then beginning to slather on the old water color, is not waterproof. The ink began to branch out into spidery tendrils and my lines became fuzzy.
Fortunately I had bought a special bladder, the “Piston Fill Ink Converter”, that allows me to fill the pen manually and later I tossed out the feeble cartridge and pumped in some India Ink.
Another minor problem arose which is that the bladder, which is a sort of syringe that you advance and withdraw by rotating a little stick at the end, doesn’t seem to draw entirely of its own accord and one must ocasionally recrank it up and refill the nib. If you don’t do this very carefully, big drops of ink fall onto your drawing.
All that having been said, I continue to use the Art Pen but plan to send Richard a nasty note.
I’ll admit, I am a fickle pen owner. I search for years, find perfection, but my eyes keep roaming. Another pen I keep on the side is called the Grumbacher Artist Pen (there’s not alot of creativity in the pen naming community, it would seem) which has the teeniest needle point and the same pointed-end, cap-losing design as the Art Pen.
It is not refillable but the line is so fine it seems to last forever anyway. I did a drawing or two with it on my trip and still quite like it but for optimal performance, use very smooth paper.
Finally, the Art-Pal Creative pen — a very groovy-looking, gold pen with a brush nib that you fill with the ink of your choice. Looks, however, are horribly deceiving. It is a piece of junk. I filled it, used it briefly twice, and the nib sort of crumbled and the tip broke off. It might be possible to replace the nib but the pen came from Jerrys Artarama with no instructions and no way to buy new nibs. I’ve written to them for explanation but so far they have been mute.


And finally, I am determined to pick up some gouache today. I tried working with watercolor and no line drawing but the results felt wishy-washy. I need to be able to add a layer that is more defined and sharp and bright on top of watercolor and I have resorted to white ink put on with a dip pen and then tinted the ink with watercolor which works okay but is fiddly and hard to control.
I’m sure if I paid better attention to my lessons from Roz I wouldn’t have this dilemma but it seems easier to just buy more art supplies.

By George

up5thWhile I was drawing this, after dropping Jack off at school and sitting under the Washington Arch with its two newly restored statues of the general/president/slave owner/lumberjack, I heard something soft land on the ground ahead. Then, through the proscenium of the Arch, a man strode onto the stage – a 30ish black man in a tuxedo, sans the jacket, which he’d just thrown at the arch. He yelled at the top of his lungs: “Fuck you, George Washington!” Fuck you!” Then he picked up his jacket and strode offstage.
Another morning in New York City.

I drew the lines with my Rapidoliner and inked in the trees with Dr. Martin’s.

John Hancock

jacks-noteWhen you’re designing a book that will be entirely handwritten, you have two choices. You can be as patient as Frederick Franck and get a bunch of pens and set to work, writer’s cramp be damned. If you are as inconsistent and sloppy as I am, better to follow SARK’s example and have a font created based on your handwriting. So when I made Everyday Matters, I worked with Alexander Walter to turn my vaguely cursive upper/lower case writing into a font.
The font worked well for the book but I was troubled by the fact that the point size is set by the height of the tallest letter, including descenders and ascenders. That meant I was also ways having to scale up the letters and that if I cranked down my leading, I would have letters from different lines bumping heads and tails.
Recently I decided to try a new one, based on my other style of handwriting, a printed uppercase face with slightly larger letters for caps. I wrote out the alphabet and all the punctuation and numbers, then copied out many surreal sentences like “You hope havoc and chaos will ebb when you tattoo a kiwi at the zoo” and “A yoga guru will hew the yucca with a hacksaw.” I made a high res scan of all this palaver and emailed it to Alexander and a couple of weeks later, he sent me a link so I could download the font. Alexander also gave me a macro that runs in Microsoft Word to randomize my text. This useful feature takes all of the variations on a given letter that I have printed and randomly substitutes them in to my text. Instead of the same exact Y, for instance, it will insert one with a longer tail, an angled shaft, uneven tines, etc. This helps to give the font the little bit of chaos that makes for verisimilitude.
Jack immediately asked if I would load it onto his computer. I wonder why.
PS: About 50% of Everyday Matters, captions, some of the nuttier pages, is handlettered.

Art Supply Porn


I didn’t even know I had a great aunt Greta (twice removed). But I was happy to take the call from her lawyer, the executor of her estate. Now I am the lucky owner of a 5,000 square foot studio loft not far from our home.
It is a quiet space but when I open the floor to ceiling French doors, the birds’ twittering can be heard from Central Park below. The ceilings are high, about 18 feet and, but for a few graceful, sculpted columns, the space is open and expansive with freshly painted white walls and well varnished, wide plank floors. The most notable feature is the enormous skylight overhead that floods the room with sunshine on even the gloomiest days.
Greta, who apparently enjoyed my drawings when I was six, also left me an open ended, unrestricted trust fund for art supplies and furniture, so I have been busily organizing and shopping for the past few days.
First, I had my friend Dean help me plan out the space. We covered the eastern wall with cork for pinning up drawings and things torn out of books and magazines. Next to it, we erected twelve foot high bookshelves with one of those sliding ladders. In the corner by the door, I have a seating area with a Mies leather couch (for afternoon naps) and three Eames chairs and walnut stools. There’s a large kitchen and we just had to have some of the counters redone (I love to draw at the kitchen table) and a new fridge with an ice maker installed.
There’s another wall for storage with oak flat files and cabinets for storing supplies. I have two different drawing tables, one of which is a BF23 from Italy and can be angled, and raised with a foot pedal. I have a wooden print rack and several taborets that roll around on the floor and hold pens and stuff. They’re delivering the G5 Mac tomorrow afternoon and the server, which will hold my MP3 collection. Then the guys from Harvey Electronics just need to hook the system up to the Niles Audio AT8700 speakers they installed in all the walls and we’ll have Miles playing in ever corner.

So, off to the store.
Let’s start with watercolors. I want all the colors that Daniel Smith makes, every series, big fat 15 ml. tubes. Then I’m also going to try out a few other brands, so I’ll get all three of the Maimeri sets that Catherine Anderson advertises. I’ve had fun with the Dr Ph Martin’s transparent liquid watercolors I own but I want to move up a notch to their Hydrus colors so I’ll pick up all24 colors they make. I see Schmicke makes powdered metallic watercolors – they could be fun to use in my journal so I’ll take those: rich gold, pale gold, copper, silver and aluminum. Here’s something called Ox gall Liquid; no idea what its for but I like the sound of it. In the basket.
Next, I want the best brushes money can buy. Really great watercolor brushes always spring back to a natural, razor sharp point and I think male Kolinsky red sable is considered the best (they’re made from the tips of animal tails which is mildly disturbing but maybe they just trim off the tip and it grows back like a lizard’s. In any case, I’ll ask the lawyer if the trust fund can make a contribution to PETA or something). Here’s a #14 brush for $311.95. I’ll take three. It’s by Isabey and they’re nickel plated. But the #14 is pretty chunky; for safety’s sake, I should get the whole line, 00 though 12. And, for fooling around with, maybe those Squirrel quills. And a 2″ squirrel wash or two. Oh and some fun brushes: a few of those filberts and fans, a set of lettering brushes and those weird angled tear drop brushes.
I’ll need some good new palettes, the big English glazed porcelain ones. Grab half a dozen. That watercolor bucket looks interesting – it has water basins and palettes inside it and there are holes in the hadles to keep brushes upright. Oh, and this Rinse-Well thing is cool. You fill the big bottle with water, it fills a basin with clean water and when it’s dirty, you press a button and it flushes it into a hidden reservoir. Cute and just $30. I need three. Might as well get this Sta-Wet palette with the lid that seals the paint like Tupperware. It seems a bit fiddly and I can always just get fresh paint but, oh, what the hell… in the basket.
Watercolor canvas? Apparently it has a special coating that takes the watercolor, you can lift off mistakes or even wash the whole image off the surface and start again. It doesn’t rip or shred and comes in huge rolls so you could do paintings that are 4 and half feet by 18 feet! Wow.
I also need loads of Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper. I want to try the hot press too and both 140 and 300 lbs. I love the Canon Montval Field books for journaling but also want to try out these Michael Rogers books with 140 lb. cold press acid free paper. Take a half dozen of each. This Nujabi journal looks good too: 25 130 lb. deckled pages in a Royal blue cover. In the basket. Lots of empty pans and half pans and an enameled steel box to hold them. Some nickeled brass palette cups. Check. One of these steel tube wringers that squeeze out paint. Check. A few dozen empty jars and squeeze bottles. Check.
I’ve never used a Mahl stick to rest my hand on while painting. It’s very Rembrandt looking. In the basket. And a thing called an Artist Leaning bridge, a transparent shelf that sits right on top of your page so your grubby paws don’t get on the work.
Here’s a very cute and must have item, the art traveler, a combination back pack and stool, with aluminum legs and lots of pockets and padded straps.
I like these huge art bins with the casters on them, full of individual boxes that neatly stack. Even a pocket for my wireless phone. Do they have to be such an ugly shade of purple?
I’m getting a huge paper cutter for bookbinding. I am used to the arm cutters (which could live up to their name an sever a limb) but am intrigued by the Rotatrim that rolls the blade along a bar. They have a massive 54″ one here that’s a bargain at just a little over a grand.
I need pencils: These Faber-Castell Polychromos come in a box of 120 colors and , for some reason, a CD-ROM. I like the idea of pencils so sophisticated you need to use a computer to work them. I’ll take the matching Albrecht Durer Watercolor Pencils too. In a wooden box, just $300 a piece. I’ll also need an electric eraser, just in case I ever make a mistake. These triangular TrioColor pencils looks interesting. Oooh, and these color pencil easels that organize everything in rows behind elastic straps and Velcro closures. Very nice.
I want to try some new media too: Encaustic crayons that you apply with a special electric iron. British scraper board for beautiful cross hatched drawings tat look like engravings. I’ll take some in black and some in white. And foil too. Oh and a set of cutters and scrapers you need to work on them.
No pastels. I never like drawing with them and I never like the look of pastel drawings. Except for Degas. And Lautrec.
Some gold leafing. I’ve used cheap stuff and it’s very dramatic but I’m going for the real stuff this time, 22k Double Gold and Pure Palladium too. The perfect way to class up a humble line drawing.
I’m going to have to order some clay for sculpting but I might as well pick up the armature set, the metal mesh and the riffler tools for shaping. This rotating sculpture stand is cool. It goes up and down and has a little adjustable shelf for tools. And this clay gun extrudes different shapes of clay, like a grown up play do maker, only in steel. Ultimately I want to get a welding setup and a kiln but this’ll do for now.
I love pure pigments, no idea what to do with them, but I want a few jars of them sitting around: Sennelier sells a nice starter set for just $1250 in a handsome wooden box.
I want some gouache to try out for the first time. This Lukas brand looks sort of interesting but I think Roz urged me to get Schminke. Better ingredients, less chalky and dull.
Now that I have all this space, I’m going to do some oil painting. I have painted on canvas before but always hastily, using a dining room chair as an easel and acrylics because they dry fast. I’m intrigued by Williamsburg paints. They’re made here in New York by an artist who based his recipes on research into the paint houses that supplied Monet and Cezanne. I’ll need 150 ml. tubes and the colors go from $25-145 so I should probably get the whole range, looks like about 150 colors. I can’t stand the smell of turpentine and how it gets into everything so I better get some Turpenoid and a citrus based thinner.
Brushes: If in doubt, buy the most expensive. In this case, more Kolinsky Sable. I’m getting a set of flats, of rounds, of filberts and of liners: grand total, a mere $1802.15. Hang on, these color shapers look like fun. They’re silicone brushes which I can use for applying and scraping paint, sort of like more elegant paint knives. But I should get paint knives too. Here’s a set of 60 different ones for $450. Done. Oh and a smock. Here’s a nice black one, cotton, lots of pockets. And though I won’t be getting a beret to go with it, I like this life sized human skeleton made of wood. Beautiful, and look, life sized posable manikins. They have men, women, boys and girls. A lovely family for just about two grand. And a posable giraffe too. Other miscellanea: a reducing glass les for looking at my canvas without having to step back and … duh, an easel, I’ll get two: one for plein air, a french easel that folds up into a little box to strap on my back like Van Gogh did. And then a big one made of oiled oak wood with cranks and shelves and casters. Here’s a nice one, called appropriately, the Manhatttan and it’s just $1707. Greta would approve.
Finally, canvas, double primed cotton duck to start with, and then a roll or two of Belgian linen and loads of stretcher strips and canvas pliers and a really good staple gun. And a few maple panels for painting on too, the really thin kind, satin smooth. Oh, and a Bob Ross video, maybe “More Joy of Painting”.

(This grotesque fantasy of excess was inspired by the arrival of Jerry’s Artarama catalog in our mailbox. In the real world, I ended up buying a bamboo sketch pen, for $1.79).

Booking a vacation

lighthouseI dream very intensely on the first few days of a vacation, as my brain reorganizes its hard drive. Weird hallucinogenic dreams feather into each other, dredging up dramas, ancient and new. Old bosses, old addresses, old mistakes, reappear in new masks to cavort on the brinks of skyscrapers or wrestle in Jello®. It’s like File Day, as rusty drawers squeak open, folders and envelopes get hauled out and dumped in piles, sifted through, tossed or reformatted. All this housework doesn’t necessarily result in clarity but it’s an important part of growing and assimilating experiences.
Here, however, are a few of the things I gleaned while lying poolside:
• It’s a mistake to start a vacation by saying, “I sure hope nobody gets sick on this trip.” I am a hardy type, rarely sick, but in Tuscany I got a virulent ear infection (my first in thirty five years); in Puerto Rico, Jack got chicken pox; on the Jersey shore, I got poison ivy (that required two courses of steroids) and so, inevitably, we succumbed in the Dominican Republic too: head colds, coughs, skin allergy, sunburn, insomnia, and diarrhea made for a fun time.
• Cheap rum is cheap for a reason.
• Al Franken is funny, right, and a bit too much of a shrill wonk.
• You can only draw so many palm trees and no one but Albert Bierstadt should try to paint sunsets.
The Da Vinci Code is an abominably written regurgitation of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, a preposterous best seller I read ten years ago and is just a disservice to Leonardo. It wreaks with wooden dialogue, leaden characters and lumbering plot twists and treats art like some sort of word jumble. Wait for the TNT miniseries to come out.
• European and South American pop music uses harmonizing vocal chorus in almost every hit. American pop almost never does.
•Jhumpa Lahiri richly deserved her Pulitzer prize. Many of the characters in The Namesake are still hanging around me, offering me pakoras. I can’t wait for her next one.
• Rapidographs leak after air travel.
How to be Good suggests that Nick Hornby may have been a one or possibly two book wonder.
• I still love James Herriot, almost as much as I did at twelve.
Sixpence House is the story of Paul Collins’ year in Hay-on-Waye, the Welsh town with 1,500 inhabitants and 40 antiquarian bookstores. He is a deep and infectious bibliophile and the book is very entertaining. If you love sifting through shelves of dusty obscure books that no one has read in a century (as I do), it’s worth a quick read.
• Topless sunbathers make me yearn for more covering, rather than less.
• A.P.P.B. (Always Pack Peanut Butter)
• It’s nice to go traveling, but, oh, so nice to come home.