The Old Bamboo


My passion for my Rotring rapidoliner deepens. Unlike any other technical pen I’ve used, it is always on the ready, never clogs or sticks or leaks and I’ve never even had to shake it one time to force ink to the nib. The ink itself is deep black, fairly quickly drying and water proof. The drawings I do with this pen are detailed and full of crosshatching. Occasionally, I catch glimmers of the sort of line that r.crumb coaxes out of his Rapidographs and those are very exciting occasions to me.
Still the pen tends to make me draw and see in a particular way β€” I find myself looking for immensely detailed things to draw, elaborate building facades, the interiors of overflowing closets, or else to do lots of postage stamp pictures crammed on the same page. To shake things up, I switch hit with the crudest, most blunt drawing instrument of all, a bamboo pen.


This pen is just a stick carved into a point on either end. I dip it in Higgins waterproof ink. The line is surprisingly smooth and responsive to my pressure, delivering lines of different thickness.It makes me draw far more gesturally and to switch my vision to a different focal length, taking off the microscope of the Rapidograph and seeing in sweeping outlines, forsaking the miniscule details I could never render with the bamboo.
I am drawing from one of my favorite sources, the 1955 yearbook of Spalding Institute of Peoria, Illinois, full of hundreds of well groomed Catholic faces. I have a shelf full of yearbooks, picked up a for a dollar or two at flea markets, and they give me a great range of faces to study, all similarly composed, sharp and clear, covering the 1930s through the 1970s.