Writing is a dirty business.

First on the list: Tea.
Then, water.
Fourth place, beer.

But right in between,  on the list of liquids I consume most, has to be… ink. It’s a messy relationship so let me complain a bit about it to you, in confidence.

When I was very little, ink was forbidden. We were only allowed to write and draw in pencils until third grade or so. By high school, ink was mandatory. Teachers would summarily reject smudgy homework done in lead.

I started typing when I was about eleven. And I taught myself the worst job in writing: changing typewriter ribbons. Festoons of inky cloth would cascade all over the room, marking every surface, turning my hands into ebony mitts.

I got my first fountain pen not long after — another source of misery and mess. God, how I dreaded that moment when my pen would run dry. After scribbling the nib frantically back and forth over the page, praying for a reprieve, I’d sigh and begin the chore of refilling: unscrewing the pen, dipping the barrel into an ink well, pumping the little bladder, black drops flying all over the desk.

Decades later, the carnage continues. I have been carrying around a lovely aluminum fountain pen from Muji. It uses cartridges which you’d think would make it less of a hassle. I carry it loaded, with a spare cartridge waiting in the back of the barrel. This week, I discovered that the pen has developed a tendency to unscrew in my pocket (I guess the motion of walking slowly untwists it). I reach my hand into my pocket and find two short tubular shapes where there should be one long one. The nib remains protected inside the cap but the back-end is open and the cartridge is disengaged, open-ended and oozing ink into my pocket. And onto my groping fingers.

Whatever the ink is, it’s not waterproof on the page, but it is on my fingers. Ordinary soap won’t do. I have to pull out the special bar of gritty Lava® soap I keep under the sink and flay my fingertips until the black marks are a faded grey. My nails will remain rimmed in black for days, as if I was an off-duty coal miner or a grease monkey fresh from changing a transmission.

I‘m used to being inky. I often chew the ends of ballpoints and invariably one will start to leak onto my face so I walk around unknowingly sporting black lips or a blue chin. Most of my jeans have indelible spots around the pockets from sitting on pens or having them uncap in the darkness.

The biggest culprit, of course, is my dip pen.The nib catapults ink when I press too hard. The shaft of the pen is always messy. And each time I prod the pen into the well, the cork bulb above the nib sucks up ink too, right where my fingers rest as I write.  And, because I am an inattentive slob, I invariably bump into parts of the page covered with still-wet ink, then smear it and daub my cuffs.

Failing the test.

Recently a manufacturer sent me some sketchbooks to test out (I won’t mention the brand by name). I liked the size, the binding and the weight of the paper and have filled up a twenty pages this week.

Then I discovered that, no matter how long I leave the ink to dry, it loses its water resistance. The ol’ reliable India ink that I have consumed by the barrelful over the years, is now completely untrustworthy, muddying my watercolors and smearing across the page. The manufacturer tells me it’s a function of the sizing on the paper. Whatever. It’s messed up a lot of pages now and, for once, it’s not my fault.

Grrr.

I guess I should stick to writing on my nice clean computer. Except my printer needs a new cartridge. Here we go.

 

 

The writer’s guide to essential gear.

I started writing when I was about six. Within a year or two, I had migrated to my mother’s manual typewriter and when I was seventeen, I finally bought the first typewriter of my own, an Olivetti Lexikon 82. I acquired my first word processor, a RadioShack TRS 80 Model 100, in 1983, then an Apple IIC, and then a long line of Macintoshes stretching all the way to the present.

olivettiBut my computer is just one of many tools I use to write with these days. When I was in college, writing my senior thesis about the social dynamics of 1960s political activists, I used yellow legal pads, index cards and Black Wing pencils to write the 400 pages of my first real book-like object.

trs80I do most of the spade work for all my writing in incremental chunks. Every book, every blog post, began as a series of little scraps, notions, inspirations that struck me often when I was far from my writing desk. I used to jot down thoughts on bits of paper, envelope backs, and receipts. Now I say them to my iPhone.

macAfter I’ve assembled all the scraps a mountain of these scraps, I begin to shuffle them around and pile them into chapters then sections and ultimately a book. And when I write, I rewrite. I go back over each sentence and rethink it, tighten it, replacing a sprawl of adjectives with a single taut verb.

IDEAS: Here are the tools that I use to glean my raw materials, and then shape them into something that deserves to sit on a shelf.

Evernote: My life revolves around this app. It’s a huge database of notes, links, pictures, scans, boarding passes, receipts, quotes that I have assembled over the past few years, all assembled into digital notebooks and tagged with labels. I access it on my laptop, my phone and my iPad. I’m writing this blogpost in Evernote because it’s so convenient.

evernoteIf I am walking down the street and a thought hits me, I whip out my phone and put it in Evernote. Many times I don’t even type it, I can record a note or even have it transcribe my words as I walk. If I am reading an article online, I highlight a quote for future reference, click on the Evernote plugin in my Chrome browser and, boom, it’s added to the data mountain. But unlike the cocktail napkins and matchbook covers of yore, these notes are all easily located and connected to other relevant bits and bobs. I even have photos of all my lightbulbs on it so when I’m at the hardware store I always know what size to buy for the spotlights in the living room. Evernote is a miraculously good thing and I couldn’t write or even function well without it.

Do Note: This is an app for the iPhone which provides shortcuts for the usual process of writing myself a note. In the past I would have to 1) open my email app, 2) put in my email address, 3) write a subject line, 4) write the note to myself, And then 5) send it to myself. With Do Note, I simply open the app, write the note, and push a button. My note now appears in my email, or goes directly into Evernote. Many of these notes are just one word, a clue that will jog my memory and help me reconstruct the thoughts later on.
do itBy making it so simple I can write with one hand, Do Note has made it much easier and more likely that I will record and later developed these little ideas. And we little bit of tweaking, I can write shortcuts to all sorts of other things, allowing me to make a tweet with just one hand or even Post to my blog with the push of a button.

I used to use a notebook and pen to record midnight flashes of inspiration but it would mean turning on the light and waking up fully. Do Note lets me remain half-asleep and still jot down my thoughts and sent to myself for later reference.kindle

Kindle app: I have a paperwhite Kindle and is a fantastic reading device. But I also use the Kindle app on my phone and on my iPad. This app allows me to hight and copy lines from books I’m reading and instantly save them to Evernote for later reference.

LONG-FORM WRITING: Once I’ve gathered all of these many bits and pieces, it’s time to sit down and write a longer piece like a presentation or a book. At this stage, organizing all this information is often half the battle. I generally create an outline of sorts, not the formal sort we learned in high school, but more of a mental map that will guide me to the finish line. I want to sort all of my little thoughts and references into buckets and then arrange those groupings into a larger structure. For this, I use two apps for the Macintosh.

Mind Node: this app has replaced the hand-drawn diagrams I used to make in my sketch book. I usually create a sort of tree with branches connecting different thoughts and expand them into their component parts. But doing it on paper made it much harder to rearrange that structure as I work. I’d have to completely redraw all of the elements to make a change and things tended to get messy and harder to follow. Mind Node allows me to simply drag these branches around into different relationships. And it makes them into pretty colors as well.

mind nodeI also use Mind Node to create to do lists as well, because it allows me to empty my brain of all of the projects I am working on and create a single List that give me an overview of everything that’s on my plate. I create a higher level category and then break it down into its component parts. When I’m done I can see everything I have to do laid out for me in actionable pieces.

Scrivener: this is a heavy-duty professional writing tool. It allows me to create structure, to write in a clean and uninterrupted environment, to build in small bites, and then to format to various industry standards. Scrivener is a complex application and it took me months to understand most of its capabilities but it makes it possible to write a long presentation or a complete manuscript for book in a way that a regular wordprocessing application never can. I can put all of my research into it and I can break down my long piece of writing into manageable small parts, almost like writing on index cards that then weave them together to form one unbroken manuscript.

scrivenerIt also makes it easy to see the forest and then the trees, zooming in and out all of the structure of the book so that I feel in control of an otherwise unwieldy mass of tens of thousands of words.

I used to have to print out my entire book and shuffle hundreds of pages around on the floor. No more — I can save trees and proceed with confidence. Scrivener has helped me to take risks and gain clarity. I used it to write Art before Breakfast and Shut Your Monkey and to keep track of dozens of blog posts over the last couple of years.

Dictation: Writing and drawing are physical activities and they take a toll on my body. I’ve long been plagued with headaches that come from hunching over my keyboard and using a self-taught method of hunt and peck typing. After a long and uninterrupted binge of writing or, even worse, editing a film, all of that unnatural pressure on my thumbs and wrists causes tension in my shoulders and neck resulting in headaches that can last for four or five days. I’ve used various mechanical aids to get around this problem, but the best solution is to be more moderate in my output.

laptopOne way around this problem is to dictate my words rather than pound them out on the keyboard. Over the last decade or so I’ve watched this technology get better and better, and it is reached near perfection with the dictation function of my Macbook Pro. This is built right into the system and it works really well. In fact I’m using it to write this blog post today.

Now, dictating tends to create writing that is different in tone than writing that is, well, written. I can’t quite put my finger on it, as it were, but writing via dictation tends to make things a little more formal and less fun. Somehow dictation puts me in the mood of ordering some robotic slave around, and I tend to be a little more imperious and commanding than I do when I have keys under my fingers or a pen in my hand. Nonetheless it is an effective tool for getting my thoughts down and on I can polish things up with the keyboard and lighten things up afterwards.

InDesign: I’ve not only written and illustrated most of my books, I’ve also designed them. That means ultimately creating final files that I can send to my publisher and they can send to the printer. It’s a lot of work but it allows me to make books that reflect my style and vision.

I use InDesign CC not because I love it but because Adobe forces me too. I’m not a big fan of having applications that are so strongly tied to the cloud because they make it more difficult to work off-line and seem to be updating themselves a couple of times a week just as I want to get to work, but this is the most up-to-date form of this indispensable application. I’ve used it, and a now pretty-much defunct program called Quark Express, for 30 years and it is pretty much second nature at this point.

Canon MX922: In the last century, when I designed my first books, getting a production-worthy scan of a piece of art meant sending it to a service bureau to have a drum scan. That could cost a fair amount of money and slow down the process. But scanner technology has advanced so far and become so cheap that I’ve been able to make three books in a row using a $75 multi-function Canon scanner. It’s a bit limited in size but I tend work small so it’s rarely a problem.iphone

I even found that my new iPhone 6S Plus takes really clear photos from my sketchbook that, with a bit of tweaking in Photoshop, can work as final art. It really makes the workflow move along and allows me to experiment without hesitation.

BLOGGING: It may not seem like it but this blog takes a fair amount of work. It’s not just a matter of coming up with ideas, but also writing posts, editing images, and designing overall look of each page and the blog itself. I’ve developed a toolkit just to cope with this because I know that if the process is cumbersome, my monkey will have many excuses to procrastinate. The smoother I can make the process, the more likely I am to get my thoughts out to you.

Draft: I hate Word. For decades, this Microsoft dinosaur has been sprouting claws and additional tails and horns and useless, complicating features that make a simple writing tool feel like the cockpit of a Space Shuttle. These features were designed by marketing people, to give the illusion that this application is progressing, rather than trying to be a useful tool for writers.
I told you above about how Scrivener is really useful for longform writing. But when it comes to writing a blog post, I want a clean empty environment. No bells, No whistles, no formatting options even, just a blank screen the blinking cursor. That’s why I use Draft.

draftIt’s a website, not even an application. And it simply provides me with a clean page on which to write my thoughts. Draft even has a ‘Hemingway mode’ that remove all distractions, even the delete key so you can just concentrate on getting the idea onto the screen without worrying about rewrite — you can always fine-tune it later. Draft is not the final stop on my creative journey, it’s simply the place to write something fairly short like a blog post. And then I can copy and paste those characters into another place, like WordPress, in order to do the final tweaking and formatting to express my intentions most clearly.

wpWordPress: I use WordPress.com because, after trying many other options over the past twelve years, I have my blog where I like it: clean, distinctive and with just enough features to make it useful. Tumblr and blogger are too barebones while WordPress.org is the opposite, super customizable, allowing you to host your site anywhere and add lots of plugins with cool features. However I know from also managing the sketchbookskool.com blog that it can be a drag to keep updated. WordPress.com just takes care of all the action under the hood and leaves me to blogging. Plus, I have a special custom theme that makes it look pretty distinctive.

bucketImageBucket: Each of my blog posts has at least one image, many of which begin as fairly large Photoshop files. I can save them as smaller files in Photoshop but I like to use image bucket, a Macintosh app, to down-res batches of images or to quickly knock out a 72 dpi version of a large tiff file. It works quickly and mindlessly it is therefore a regular part of my toolkit.

VIDEOS: I love making films and, in many ways, the process is like writing so I’ll share my filmmaking process with you too.

My kit now has fourcameras:

camera 3– At the top of the heap is my Canon 7D which I generally use with a 50 mm lens. I also use a wide-angle (16-35 2.8 L II), a macro (100 2.8 LI1.8), and an all-purpose zoom (24-70 2.8 LII).
– My favorite camera these days is the small, gorgeous Canon G7X. It is infinitely customizable, has a display that flips up so I can frame myself in a shot, and fits in my pocket. It’s a pretty miraculous bit of gear.
– I also have a butt-simple Canon Vixia HFR40 camcorder which I originally bought to take along on our cross-country trip. The images and sound are pretty great and it’s a basic point-and-shoot, perfect for those moments when I don’t want to monkey around with technical considerations.
– My new iPhone 6S Plus shoots 12 Megapixel stills and 4K video — which is insane for a cel phone. It will definitely become indispensable as a camera too.

fcpxFinal Cut Pro X: I think FCPX is, despite the derision of many of my professional editor friends, an incredible cutting platform, especially at $300. We cut all of the Sketchbook Skool videos on it and it works like a dream. If you wonder how good it is, sign up for a kourse at SBS and see for yourself.

vimeoVimeo: We host all of our videos on Vimeo because it has real respect for the art of filmmaking. There’s no advertising and full control over the appearance of embedded videos, including making them private and passworded. I’ll often copy videos over to YouTube as well, just to stay on Google’s good side, but there’s just no comparison. Vimeo’s also a great place to browse and be inspired.

AND FINALLY: I have a lousy desk chair. I’ve tried an Aeron, a yoga ball, standing, and now I have given up and just use a chair from the dining table. They all leave me feeling tight and achy and lead to the headache situation I described above.

pomodoroThat’s where Pomodoro Pro come in. It’s a really simple idea, a timer on my computer and phone that divides my day into 25-minute work increments, followed by 5 minutes of rest. It is intended to keep your nose to the grindstone, your attention undivided and focussed on the task at hand. For me it does the opposite, reminding me to stop, stretch and take a breather. The timer just went off so I’ll stop now.

I hope this has been useful. If so, why not sign up for future updates from my blog. Just drop your email in the box at the top of the column on the right.

Mad Old Men unearthed

So many people seemed interested in my recollections about old typewriters that I thought I’d share this dusty relic, a three-part conversation between Tommy Kane and me in which we discuss all the old technologies that used to be part of our work in advertising. If you’ve had a long career in design or what you used to be called ‘Madison Avenue,’ it’ll ring some ancient bells.

We recorded it about four years ago. It’s sort of pathetic how unreliable our memories were already.

Things you’ll like.

photo 3
An Excuse to Draw: Tommy Kane Sketches the World.

I want to share a few experiences I’ve had recently which you might enjoy too.

An Excuse to Draw: I mentioned Tommy Kane’s book a while ago, but it’s a pleasure I’ve re-experienced over and again since then and it has filled me with so many emotions. photo 2

One is enormous pride in my friend who is such an extraordinary and hard-working artist. I have always loved the things that Tom makes but seeing them all in one place, takes my breath away. The enormous variations of things he draws, the intense detail and perfection of each image, the wit, the beauty — they ricochet me about. And seeing them all hardbound and being shared with the world, well, that’s the fate he always deserved and I’m immensely glad he is finally getting his due. photo 1

Another is admiration at his tenacity. Tommy is such a perfectionist, to the point of obsessiveness, filling each page edge to edge, never forsaking a drawing if it starts to go awry, always riding it out to the end, which is never bitter. Each page is a grand battle, Tom vs. Tommy, slugging it out until Nirvana is reached. The sheer volume of time, sweat and ink that went into tis book would loop around the world many times I admire his balls and wish I had that perseverance.

Third, is the pleasure in seeing the drawings I’ve watched him make and all the ones that he made on the other side of the world — all together. This book is as big and complex as the planet, so many details one every page, so many pages, so many pages within pages, all laced with jokes, and stories, and observations. Poring over it reminds me of how I used to read books when I was a kid, studying every picture, looking for faces in the windows, scrutinizing each detail and fantasizing about going to every place. It’s an adventure.

If you haven’t ordered a copy of Tommy’s book yet, start saving up. It will educate you, entertain you, and blow you away.

Oh, and if you want to see how he does it all first-hand, I hope you enrolled in “Beginnings” at Sketchbook Skool. His klass is the final one in the kourse.

Urban Watercolor Sketching by Felix Scheinberger
Urban Watercolor Sketching by Felix Scheinberger

Urban Watercolor Sketching: Another friend and collaborator on An Illustrated Journey has a new book out too. It’s actually not brand-new except in its English translation. Felix Scheinberger is a great illustrator, teacher and author.

photo 3-1This book (which I think is kinda misnamed as it doesn’t actually just focus on Urban Sketching but is about all things watercolor) is a treasure trove because it has so many witty, loose, energetic, gorgeous watercolors by Felix that are inspiring me over and again but also contains so much deep technical information, all presented in such a useful and accessible manner. photo 2-1Reading Felix’s book has re-whetted my appetite and rewetted my palette too. I am chomping at the bit to get out there and paint. I think it may have a similar effect on you too.  Now if I can only convince him to teach a klass for us!

Pocket Palette:

IMG_1690
Pans labyrinth.

IMG_1693And speaking of my palette, Maria Coryell-Martin just sent me a credit card-sized metal palette with a magnetic base into which you can swap pans of watercolor.  There are two sizes of pans and they all snap into place in this sleek little package. I just filled it up with my favorite tube paints and am ready to try it out. I am curious about how the mixing surface will work. Maria is an expeditionary artist who has painted in some amazing places and this invention seems quite genius. If you’d like one of your own, visit her shop.

IMG_1688
My current favorite colors

Until now, my palette situation has become less than optimal. I have my Winsor-Newton portable set which I just replenished, two teeny palettes which Roz sent me, and a big metal palette with too many paints in it.

IMG_1694
Teeny weeny kiddy paintbox

They are all a little dirty and muddy so sitting down and laying out my palette from scratch was a great feeling.  Now to pack up my gear and head out.

I just need to locate my favorite brush which seems to have strayed.  Heeeere, brusy-brushy!

Clean sweep.

watercolor stages

Because it’s finally March and spring is allegedly on the horizon, I decided to clean up my studio. I swept the floor, wiped down all the tables, emptied the trash cans and water buckets, and vacuumed the chartreuse carpet the dogs nap and chew dried bulls’ pizzles on.

Then I decided to go deeper. Remembering the old carpenter’s homily, “Look after your tools and they’ll look after you,” I pulled all of my art supplies out of their drawers, boxes and Ziplocs and gave them a proper going over. I scrutinized each tube of watercolor and acrylic to make sure the lids were firmly screwed on, rolled them up from the bottom, and separated the ones that seemed too hopelessly hard and dry. I filled all the pans on my watercolor boxes with fresh paint and left them to solidify. I examined every brush and gave them a wash and scraped the crud off their handles. I sharpened all my pencils.

Then I culled the herd. I have been toting around a big lump of brush markers, some almost ten years old. Whenever I try to use them, whichever one I pick is frayed and faint. Hoping for a resurrection, I usually recap it and throw it back in the bag. Time to face reality — they are all hopeless and done for.  And I’m not sure that this is a medium I want around any more. I don’t like the look of my marker drawings any more. I started using brush markers in the first few years of my journaling life, back when I was still wary about watercolors and didn’t know how to incorporate colored pencils.  Now they seem limited and the colors too dull. So a couple of hundred dollars worth of markers have to go in the trash.

I love my Dr. Martin’s transparent watercolors but too many of the bottles are empty or polluted. I have to go online and order replacement bottles this afternoon.

I came across a few things I’d bought and forgotten. Some black boards and a set of tools to make from a brief period of interest I had in scratchboards. I still want to try that out. Maybe next week. A huge dropcloth and a set of grommets so I could cover a wall of my studio with canvas. A box of untested Daniel Smith watercolors. A really big unused sketchbook. Some big fat Magnum Sharpies that I haven’t worked with since fall. Another stash of flattened cardboard boxes waiting to be painted on.

Next, I turned my attention to my computers.  I ran diagnostics on them both, backed them up, and bought a box of DVDs so I can store files I won’t need again for a while. The internet service in LA is really lousy compared to what we have in NY and I work to squeeze every drop of speed I can out of it. I have been overly reliant on our balky wIfi set up (super annoying as I have a small house and a WiFi extender) and discovered that my new MacBook Pro doesn’t even have an Ethernet port anymore and I had to go to the Apple store and spend more money on a Thunderbolt adapter. Now I can upload  a video to Vimeo in a quarter the time. Well worth the $29.99.

Computers are a fact of life these days. They are our tools as human beings and as artists. We need to keep them clean, charged, and ready to go. We have to update their system software and their applications. We need to spend some time learning the ins and outs of what their apps can do and if they are the best for what we need.  If you can manage all the intricacies of a sewing machine, surely you can master a graphics program (speaking of which I have decided to avoid the expense of getting the new Photoshop and am trying a $30 app called Pixelmator.  So far it is seems to have 90% of the features of Pshop at 5% of the price).

Being mystified by technology, especially when it inhibits the things you want to do, is silly and unnecessary. Answers to any question one could ever have about how they work or how to fix a problem is just a Google click away. And if you are serious about sharing your work online, you should also consider replacing your computer at least every 3-5 years. There invariably comes a time when computers that may have worked just fine are using software that is no longer supported by the manufacturer and becomes slower and slower and eventually stops working with things like Java and HTML 5. Oh, and spend $100 on a scanner (I just bought a new one and it is a monster, zipping through scans in a 1/10 of the time of my old one).

Finally and most importantly, I am doing some spring cleaning on my head. I am clearing the cobwebs, washing the windows of my soul, binning the old and crusty thoughts that I have been schlepping around all winter.

I am going to the library and the bookstore to look at some fresh inspiration. I am scouring the Internet on my peppy new laptop for videos to learn from and portfolios that make me gasp with jealousy. I am thinking of some new types of drawing experiments I want to try. I want to work bigger and do some more large landscape paintings on cardboard ( I just had some fun painting the calla lillies that just popped up in our garden). And I want to get wilder and looser. I want to tie my brushes to broomsticks so they waggle of their own accord. I want to set up my easel in the bed of my truck. I want to draw with my left hand and my eyes closed.

High time to breathe in the last frosty gasps of winter, cough out the dust, and exhale the spring.

A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King

~Emily Dickinson

Fallink in love again

fallinkWhile visiting Bergamot Station, a collection of art galleries in Santa Monica, I happened into Hiromi, a lovely store full of exotic paper from around the world. The store blind-sided me — Jack and I really just wanted to see some art — so I wasn’t prepared to start properly drooling over Korean mulberry Hanjo, Bhutani Dekar, or handmade tissue from Berlin.
Rooting around the shop’s counter for a business card as a reminder for a future more leisurely and acquisitive visit, I came upon a basket of what seemed to be regular old rollerballs pens. But on closer inspection, these unassuming bits of white plastic revealed themselves to be superfine Kuretake Fudegokochi brush pens. Their tips weren’t brush shaped, more like a plasticky fiber tip, so I tried one out on a scrap of paper.
As the first line serpentined out onto the page, clouds parted, birds tweeted, the world became ashimmer in a golden glow. This pen was amazing, as flexible and responsive as a steel nib, capable of super thin lines, then big fat wet ones, and all the gradations in between. The lines were jet black, crisp when I wanted, mushy when I didn’t.
I was in love. Again.
My name is Danny and I am a pen Lothario, a promiscuous and fickle romantic. It’s high time to sit down and discuss my oat-sowing ways before I commit blindly to yet another drawing playmate.
Flash back. My first pen was a roller ball, the Uniball, a friendly and welcoming old stand-by. It’s cheap, widely available, waterproof and a sensible choice, the pen next door. But after a while, its dependable lines began to bug me. They had so little character and variation. And the way the hard ball tracked a groove into soft paper began to grate, high heels tap-tap-tapping on parquet.
Another fling: a superfine needle-nosed technical pen with a pointy backside and a cap that always got lost. I drew microscopically with this pen, favoring smaller and smaller sketchbooks, until I was tempted to draw entire landscapes on the head of a pin while peering through a loupe. It was a super-anal relationship — clearly not healthy.
In a stationery store in the Esposizione Universale Roma, where Mussolini built a grand expo to celebrate the triumph of fascism, I came upon my first Faber-Castell PITT artist pen. Despite the unseemly way in which we met, these pens have been loyal friends to me ever since and I have PITTs stuffed in every drawer and pocket. They are the old standbys, the ones I come back to when the latest fling lets me down. I am never quite ready to settle down with any of the PITT family. Not even the soft, warm embrace of the Big Brush Pen. Always a bridesmaid, alas.
Speaking of big-boned pens, I spend a crazy month or so this fall scrawling on cardboard with increasingly huger Sharpies, working my way up to the King Size and finally the Magnum. Wow. I was a little wild and out of control for a few weeks, going on pure instinct and I loved the abandon of these fist-filling chunks of inky permanence. They can’t be let near my sketchbooks, however, drooling and seeping through the pages like Rottweiler puppies.
Another pal let me down this fall. My Lamy Safaris have fallen out of favor; well, to be fair, the blame falls on the ink that runs through their veins. For some time, I had been blaming my steel-nibbed calligraphy pens for the smears and speckles that kept appearing on my finished drawings but finally realized that the real culprit was the Noodler’s Bulletproof black ink in the Lamys I draw with. Now this ink is amazingly good stuff, black, waterproof, and super-permanent when it’s thoroughly dry. And there, quite literally, is the rub. I work fast, I work messy and if the page isn’t 100% dry before I turn it — catastrophe. Supposedly, it dries in under a minute; I have waited far longer still with disastrous results. And when I am in a period of wild abandon, cavorting with Sharpie Magnums, I have no time for noodling with Noodler’s plodding pace. So my Lamy’s are at the back of the desk until my pulse slows once more.
Back to my new Japanese amor. It didn’t take me long to discover her flaw — the ink is not waterproof. With a moist brush, her lines turn into a pool of ink. However, if decades of marriage taught me anything, it’s that one must compromise to be happy. And so for now, I am willing to draw and only draw. No slatherings of Dr. Ph Martin’s, no limpid pools of Winsor Newton. Simple line drawings are fine for now. Especially when those lines are springy, expressive and full of life. They suggest color, even in black and white. As we head into the grays of winter, I will work within Kurtake’s limitations. But Spring is not far off and my heart may soon wander again. Just saying.

Addendum.  This is the specific pen I just fell in love with. You can find it also on JetPen.

Pen-ter the dragon

Check out a lovely post about picking the right pen by Joe Nevin.
I especially like his observations about the living nature of certain kinds of pens. I think that’s why I like dip pens so much, they are willful and collaborators in my art. They make it more difficult and that’s what I like the most. Every line becomes an adventure and you never know what’s gonna happen.