It’s the middle of the week and it’s January and it’s ludicrously cold in New York, so I need to comfort myself with a new pen or three. Know the feeling?

I am an unapologetic LAMY enthusiast. I have several different Safaris and I recommend them highly for anyone who wants an inexpensive fountain pen with a nice springy nib. I have a couple of charcoal ones, a blue one, even one in hot pink all outfitted with converters so I can use my own ink, ideally waterproof. They’re the bomb. Now it’s time to try out some other family members.

pen-1This is a LAMY Balloon. My first love in pens was the Uniball Vision which is also a rollerball like the Balloon, though a lot more utilitarian in appearance. The Uniball is a little scratchy and dresses in drab grey whereas the Balloon wears a transparent lime sheath that feels child-like and has a cartoony pocket clip. It makes a slightly thicker line than the Uni but there’s variability; I can pull back on it to make a lighter and narrower line or bear down for a thick and somehow softer mark. It’s not a ballpoint feeling but much smoother and glidier. I am using a blue refill in mine and the color is at the green end of blue. At this point, I doubt I’ll use the Ballon for serious drawing. It feels more of a pen for writing  (it’s lovely for jotting notes) or for doodling — the gliding line makes me just want to fill my margins with monsters — but it’s not either controlled enough or interesting enough to make me inspired to draw.


This is a LAMY nexx M. It is a lovely, modern looking fountain pen. It’s available in five different nib types, from extra-fine to broad and there’s a left-handed nib too. My nib is fine — which is fine. A tad scratchy but flexible enough to take me from a delicate line almost to a medium. The pen is light (pseudo metal with a stainless steel nib) and quite thick-barreled but the best feature is the soft, non-slip rubber grip so you can keep going and going — without getting that dreaded fountain pen claw cramp that narrower, harder pens can cause. It is intelligently designed so you can easily know which way is up. (Nothing worse than a fountain pen that somehow resolves so the nib is upside down when you bear down and it jitters across the page). The Safari has a similar contour design but I like the rubber cover of the nexx M. It’s not as functional- and tough-looking as the Safari, a bit more junior executive, but a good pen for about $25 and fun to draw with.


This is the Lamy Joy. It’s my favorite of the new recruits. First off, it’s a calligraphy pen which may seem a weird choice for drawing but I like the expressive quality italic nibs make. Pull down and they’re broad, slide and they’re thin. And curved lines swoop from fat to thin and everything in between. My Joy came in a sleek metal box with three different nibs (1.1.,1.5 and 1.9) in it so there’s lot of room for experimentation.  I also love its shape. The end of the pen is long and narrow, almost like a dip pen. I had a Rotring Art Pen that had a similar shaft — but the cap would just fall off the narrow end so I was always losing it. The Joy has a tough clip just like the Safari and the cap snaps tightly right on the end of the pen. It was made by designers who really think about how people use pens. It might even improve my handwriting. Oh, joy.

Did you see the LAMY pen giveaway on the Sketchbook Skool blog? Check it out.

Write on.

The old cliché of the teenager spending hours talking on the phone has been replaced with a new cliché: The teenager spending hours talking with her thumbs.

The positive aspect of this development: we all write a lot more than we used to, typing endless texts and emails to communicate on virtually every subject. We write a lot but not necessarily well. We have to rely on ALL CAPS and exclamation marks and acronyms (LOL! OMG!) and emoticons 🙂 to overcome the deficiencies in our vocabularies.

All this writing is really typing. The keyboard has replaced the pen and apparently for good. Virtually every one of the United States has recently changed the core curriculum for their schools eliminating a cursive learning requirement. They’ve replaced it with a mandate for keyboard proficiency.

Now, malcontents have been bemoaning the decline of handwriting since the invention of the typewriter 150 years ago. Most offer iffy arguments — Doctors with bad handwriting kill patients with illegible prescriptions. F’real? Others say we are losing the ability to read crucial old documents, that kids who can’t write cursive can’t decipher it either and they’ll never be able to read the Bill of Rights, Democracy will wither, and we’ll all go to heck in an illegible handbasket. Whatevs.

I have always had messy writing and I’m also a fairly poor typist, so I can go either way on this (nonexistent) debate. But I have thought of a more compelling reason for the young ‘uns to brush up on their penmanship.


Most of the entertainment loved by tweens and teens these days is dystopian. The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, and endless variations on how tsunamis, asteroids, aliens, bird flu, Benedict Cumberbatch and/or werewolves will soon take over the world. When this happens (and it could be any day now), down goes the electrical grid and the Internet — and with them the power of the keyboard.

A whole generation of people who don’t know how to use ham radios or morse code will also not be able to legibly write signs warning that there are seriously zillions of zombies coming down this road or not to drink the brown water or kiss a chicken or leave home without a hatchet. People will stand around trying to work out what the signs mean and meanwhile, vampires will emerge for the caves or zombies will come out of the trailer park … and the writing will be on the wall.

It’s high time The Calligraphers Lobby® and The Penmens’ Guild™ started infiltrating Hollywood and embedding scenes in movies in which brave young men and women write gorgeous Palmer Method graffiti that save their pals from the monster invasion. Neatly lettered, perfectly grammatical signs could well be the salvation of humankind.

Think about it. Maybe write your Representative a letter.

(I had some other important ideas on this subject but unfortunately I wrote them down on an envelope and now can’t read a word of it. 😦 )

P.S. PL: Happy 616!!

Self Distortraits

As I flip through my last few journals, I see that I am more and more drawn to drawing faces. Maybe that’s just a function of winter — when the weather is warm I can go out and plunk down on the sidewalk somewhere and draw landscapes, buildings, dogs being curbed. When the weather is inhospitable, I sit at my dining table and after I’ve drawn every object in the room, I flip through magazines and start drawing faces.

I tend to draw a lot of self-portraits — not become I am so fabulously handsome but because my face is always handy, right there, wrapped around my eyes. I’ve done hundreds, none of them even remotely alike. This winter, fiddling with my computer, I started taking distorted pictures of myself with my laptop’s built-in camera, then distorting them further with dip pens and brushes and sumi ink.

They’re part of my effort to do more than just draw exactly what I see but to add some feeling to the exercise. Of course, it’s impossible for me not to inject some subjectivity into any drawing. That’s enhanced when I keep it loose and free, the flaws enhancing my point of view.  But I find that when I start with something that’s unfamiliar, like the bulges and twists the computer puts into my face, I tend to pay more careful attention, take nothing for granted, create something that looks like a photo in the degree of detail; and yet feel free to push the lines further and add more sweeping grotesqueries.

I’m done with series for now as the sun has come out and my park beckons

Pens of the Moment

These days, I have quite a nice little arsenal of pens (here each presents a self-portrait), and they are influencing how and what I draw more and more.
First off is (1) my trusty nib holder. It’s a General’s #204B with a cork finger grip area, now deeply dyed with a couple of years of various inks. Despite my collection of nibs, this one is permanently in my holder: aHunt Ex-Fine Ball Pointed (my sight is beginning to go and Jack had to read the tiny letters off the nib) with a nice big reservoir hole. It’s a squishy nib that can draw very fine lines or big fat ones.
(2) came from Venice with my Friend, Tom. The holder is champagne colored Murano glass with steel hardware and it’s a lot more solid and weighty than everyday pen. I like the weight but am nervous to carry it away from my desk. It came with this nib that looks like a steak knife which lays down sharp lines, a little less flexible that the Hunt. In my current journal I am only drawing in browns, blacks and yellows � my main inks are Doc Martins’ radiant concentrated Sepia and Golden Brown and Daler-Rowney’s FW Acrylic Artist Ink. The former is a little more transparent that I always want, the latter is thicker, almost like paint and takes a while to dry.
(3) I’ve mentioned my bamboo pen before. I use it with any ink but most often Sum-i ink in a heavy stone inkwell. It draws all sorts of line depending on how hard I press and feels lovely and organic.
(4) is a Faber Castell PITT pen, brown ink, preferably, S or F, and usually in my pocket. The ink is permanent so I can watercolor over it right away and depending on the age of the pen it can be smooth and creamy or scratchy and textured. I can draw very little broken lines with it or bear down and make dark ones. It’s less alive than dip pens but the best marker I’ve found.
(5) After years of searching, I found a fountain pen I really like. I got it in Italy: a Columbus Maxima and it’s very heavy and silver and cost about 80 Euros. I use disposable cartridges with non-waterproof ink which I can smear with a wet fingertip. At first, I thought the tip was too stiff but I carry it with me everywhere and it had become a good friend.
These pens tell me quite a lot about my drawing at this stage. I like dip pens because they slow me down — I take my time with open bottles of ink and the small load of ink they can sustain. It also makes me feel connected to centuries of artists who worked in just this way. My love of technical pens like the Rapidoliner has ben replaced by a desire for variable lines that give drawings more interest and life.
It’s also interesting to see how my pen choices have changed. Here’s the inventory I did a year and a half ago. The entire original cast has changed.

The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are


My guide to discovering and increasing your creativity. It’s over two hundred pages of essays, ideas, and watercolors. Here’s a peek inside.

Buy Now From Amazon

I got the first note from someone who has bought my new book at Barnes and Noble today and I realized it is high time I shared some more details about the book with everyone. First of all, I have put together a crude little gallery with a few representative spreads from the book, generally one from each chapter.

Next I’d like to share some opinions from people who’ve gotten their hands on it. I hope to do this less in the spirit of self-congratulation (though I am quite proud of this book) and more to just let people know what the whole things is about and hope fully to inspire some readership.

Let me also say something quite important up front. I have written this book and kept this website going for years now for a simple reason. Re-awakening my creativity and sense of myself as an artist changed my life and helped me to deal with the most horrible thing that has ever happened to me: the day Patti was run over by a subway train and her resultant paraplegia. I am not exaggerating when I say that Art became much of the reason for me to carry on with my life.

I believe that we are all born creative and that, at some point in most people’s childhoods, they lose the urge, but not the ability, to make art. This is a tragic loss. Through the history of our species, ordinary people have always made paintings, sung songs, decorated their homes, expressed themselves in a hundred ways. Today, however, we are increasingly creatures who expect others to provide us with entertainment and culture. We take for granted that creativity is the domain of professionals. We are convinced that if we cannot be perfect, we should not try.

What a loss. I believe fervently in the spirit of amateurism. I know in my heart that it is far better to do an inaccurate, clumsy drawing than not do one at all. It is better to sing off-key than be mute. A scorched home cooked meal is far more nourishing for the soul than a frozen dinner. And I want to rekindle that spirit in whomever I can.

I make a decent living at my job. So I don’t do drawings and watercolors and write essays about creativity or even publish books in order to make money. I do it because I feel that it is important to encourage others (and simultaneously myself) to give oneself permission to be the artists that we all truly are.

My book is called The Creative License but of course, I can’t issue such a license. I can’t give anyone permission to be themselves. All I can do is provide examples, suggestions, encouragement and hope that magic happens.

One of my first readers seems to be getting this. Tonight, after reading just a chapter she writes:

After only the first 11 pages, I feel like you are a voyeur in my life. You said it very well when you talked about people who just have to create. (When I see something beautiful, ugly, interesting–whatever, I don’t just want to look it–I want to get it down on paper and recreate it). But you really struck a nerve talking about those of us who put that creativity into a box and try to keep it there for whatever reason (Will my kids really want those journals that I fill when I’m gone?–yeah, they probably will.) “So with the very first chapter you have looked deep into the heart of people who know they are creative, but stifle it, and the people who are afraid to find out that they are creative. And that encompasses pretty much everyone! I realize that the title of the book is “…giving yourself permission…” but the “familiar” tone that you use to expose those thoughts about creativity almost make it feel like it’s OK for the permission to come from an outside source–the author–someone who has a grip on the understanding of the creative process. “

I hope her enthusiasm doesn’t wane and that the ensuing chapters continue to fuel her creativity and lead her to new places.

Finally, here is a very generous review from one of my favorite artists, my watercolor teacher and mentor, Roz Stendahl, one she recently posted to the Everyday Matters group:

“I was fortunate to be able to read the proofs of Danny’s new book, “Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are.” First a disclaimer for those of you on the list who don’t remember my name from my infrequent posts. Danny is a pal. We’ve corresponded, chatted on the phone, he’s visited, we have drawn together. You could stop reading this email right now because of that, expecting a bias.

But I also am a life long journaler and I teach visual journaling at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts so I read almost all the books that come out in this field. I want to provide up to date recommendations for my students.

I think these things put me in an interesting position to tell you something: reading this book is just like spending time with Danny. His sense of humor comes through. He is silly and playful, wry and sarcastic by turns, but always engaging. Something is always popping out of his brain. He’s gathered all this up and put it in a book. And he wants to encourage you to draw and tap into your creativity.

There are a lot of books on creativity on the market. Some of them try cheerleading and cajoling, some encourage you through psychology, and others practically shame you into picking up your art materials. Danny’s approach is different. Like the great pitch man he is, he creates an analogy (creative license is like a driving license) and then joyfully explains and expands until you want in. The nice thing about this approach is that you don’t end up with two dozen vegematics in your attic like Opus. You’ll end up with a visual journal that records what’s important to you and you’ll be more connected to your life.

Danny’s book is organized in such a manner that it can be read straight through or dipped into. There’s an introduction which establishes the groundwork for you to view yourself as a creative being. The driving license analogy is introduced here.

This is followed by nine chapters which deal with everything from how to draw (giving you instructions for exercises to get you up and running today) to shock (getting out of a rut), resistance (going on), and identity (self acceptance as an artist). (And lots more.)

Each chapter is further divided into smaller sections, often only a page spread or two, dealing with some aspect of the chapter topic. These sub sections read like brief meditations, parables, or pep talks.

I feel this type of organization is one of the best aspects of the book. It allows the reader to come back to the book for small tune ups so he can get back on the road (keeping with the driving metaphor).

Throughout the book Danny provides his readers with suggestion upon suggestion of things they might want to draw, examine, think about, or respond to. If you are new to drawing, visual journaling, or doing creative activities in your life, this book will help you realize how you’ve been a creative being all along. Now’s the time to reengage your life, dreams, and creative self. Danny’s book will give you enough gas to get you a fair ways down the road and the insight to be able to spot refilling stations.

If you already have a creative license and use it daily in your life, the book will still encourage you. Chances are your take on visual journals and creativity is skewed differently because you already understand your process. But a fresh view, another angle, can help you appreciate what you have and enable you to flex your creative muscles even more.

After reading the book I felt that the experience was like being swept up into a brainstorming meeting where there was a lot of laughter and enthusiasm but also serious, earnest work. I believe you’ll enjoy this book.
I’ve only seen a black and white proof, but I’ve seen many of these journal sketches in person. The book is going to be a colorful and visually entertaining book.
Danny can sell an idea and he does it clearly and with humor. I’ll be taking this book along to my journaling classes so that my students can benefit from the perspective Danny brings to the topic.
Danny didn’t ask me to write a review, but I felt compelled to because there are a lot of “creativity” books on the market and we talk about books on this list. Why buy this one? If you’ve enjoyed and found Danny’s insights on his blog helpful, if you like the supportive aspects of exchange that happen on this list, then you’ll enjoy this book which grows out of this seed. The book will speak to you in accessible ways that other creativity books might not.”

If you gotten this far, I hope you’ll check out the book. And if you do buy a copy and read it, I hope it’ll motivate you to expand your creativity. And finally, I hope you will evangelize, gently helping others to see their own creativity, helping make the world more present, more forgiving and more beautiful.Peace out. Commercial over.

On crosshatching

As you spend more and more time drawing, there usually comes a point when contour drawing isn’t enough. You can set down lines that perfectly describe the shapes in front of you but you become interested in giving your work dimension and exploring the effects of light and shade. Several people have reached that point recently and written asking me to talk discuss the whys and wherefores of cross hatching. let me try.
Cross hatching is quite miraculous. How is it that black ink lines on white paper have the ability to create an infinite number of shades of grey, to evoke all the colors of the rainbow and to suggest textures and materials and varied as silk and stone, glass and schnauzer hair?
The first thing to do is to get in the groove. Practice drawing lines until you can lay them down in fairly predictable parallel strokes. Do it in boring practice sessions or just start working them into your drawings. Try greying gradations, filling boxes from pure white to solid black — space the lines far apart in the first box, then halve the distance in the second box, then halve it again in the third and so on until your final block is completely black. Next, try crossing your vertical lines with horizontal ones, weaving darker and darker gradations. Then lay a diagonal set of lines over the grid, upper left to lower right, then cross back upper right to lower left. Try keeping them as regular and even as you can, so you can create various sorts of grey with various sorts of combinations of lines. Don’t make yourself nuts just experiment with lines at 45 and 90 degree angles.
The next things to consider: What do these shades of grey represent? The answer seems to fall into three main effects: Tone, color and texture. You can decide that darker greys mean things in shadow, or that different greys represent different surface colors, or that the lines represent different textures.
These drawings (by Guptill — see below*) are basically about light and dark. The lines tell you the volume and direction of the light on the object and that’s about it.
These lines tell you a lot more about the materials the objects are made from; straw, wood, wicker, etc. all accomplished with crosshatching various sorts of lines.
In this drawings, my pal Tom Kane uses lines to suggest different colors in a girl’s kerchief.
But here he uses the same sorts of lines to express the direction and shading of light on a girl’s hair.
As you can see, once you start introducing these tones, you have a lot more decisions to make. You aren’t just recoding shapes; you are expressing an opinion about what you found interesting in the scene.
Consider the differences that values and tones make in these three interpretations of a scene:the various choices evoke different temperatures, distances, moods and degrees of importance.
It’s interesting to play around with line quality and stippling too: Consider the different feelings these drawings have because of the varying degree of regularity and the direction of the lines used in each identical composition.
My inclination is to avoid incredibly regular lines; they seem mechanical and inorganic to me. I lay down one value in the middle then go back and firth balancing areas with more or less crosshatching until I have described the effect I want. It’;s all a matter of balance and crosshatching is pretty forgiving, If things feel off, just go back and hit your darker areas with a new layer of lines to get the emphasis right.
Like so many things in drawing, there aren’t a lot of hard fast rules or rights and wrongs. Crosshatching is just another opportunity to record your observations, capture your feelings and have fun. And there’s something about that hypnotic regularity of drawing parallel lines that is very soothing.
“Drawing is just an excuse to crosshatch”— R.Crumb
* The greatest practitioners and teachers worked and published in the 19th century, when every day’s paper was full of endless engraved examples of cross hatching. I have learned a lot from the publications of Watson Guptill, beginning with seminal works by Arthur L. Guptill himself, like Rendering in Pen and Ink and moving on to the less encyclopedic but crystalline Henry C. Pitz’s Ink Drawing Techniques. I also love Paul Hogarth’s Creative Ink Drawing. Many of these are still in print or can be picked up cheaply second-hand.