Monday, July 10, 2017


When I was a kid and starting to get serious about this drawing stuff, the first step after doodling with a pencil was to start learning how to finish your drawings in ink. And in those days, it was not an easy step. First off you had to use a bottle of black india ink which was always either dripping on the paper (or your clothes of your parents furniture.) The tools were even more frustrating: there was the cantankerous crow quill pens that you constantly had to dip in the bottle, and then try and get some kind of some of kind of line that wasn’t squiggly or scratchy or filled with little blotches where the pen caught on the paper. Sometimes when you pressed  the nib on the paper the ink would simply refuse to flow….the next time, as you applied more pressure there would suddenly be a blot on the paper. And after you worked so hard on that pencil drawing. 

There were also the lettering pens which were slightly more dependable. Unfortunately, being a leftie , trying to letter with a tool and a process that was designed for the opposite hand, was an added challenge.( It wasn’t until much later in life that I discovered there were actually left-handed nibs for the lettering pens. And you weren’t supposed to dip then into the ink; you filled a reservoir in the nib itself.)

Truthfully, I didn’t spend a lot of time practicing with those pens because it was so frustrating, and setting up a workplace and cleaning it up afterwards was always a chore. I was more apt to use what was convenient at the moment, and in the 50’s if was that Schaeffer fountain pens that we all used for our written assignments. There were drawbacks (no pun intended). The ink was usually peacock blue or a very washed out black. The nib had very little flexibility to change line weights. And the pens leaked constantly.

It’s no wonder that by the end of the 50’s, fountain pens were becoming relics, and the ball point became the standard. And you could get them in a bunch of different colors.  While my first homemade comics were in color, when I did try inking the drawings, I was using either my Schaeffer or a Bic. The ballpoints were also perfect for tracing your drawings onto the spirit duplicator stencils that I used when I started doing my Masquerader fanzines. The comic book pages that I drew on bristol board and finished in ink, I often used the new nylon tipped markers (Flair was the most popular) and the just introduced “roller ball” drawing pens. Since I’d been writing with them most of my life, they were the natural tool for me and felt comfortable in my hand. Cleanup was easy. You simply put the pen back in your pocket (hopefully remembering to put the cap back on….).

In the sixties all the younger artists were becoming proficient with these new marker pens. For lettering the wide tip of the “Magic” Marker was perfect…or for filling in large areas of a color. And every few months there were constantly new and improved products that you could try out, and they  usually cost much less than the traditional tools. My favorite, which was introduced in l964 and is still the most popular one used today is the Sharpie. The company was founded in l857 by Mr. Sharp, who was the first to mass produce a crude version of the marker….so it took them 100 years to perfect it. 

When I first starting using them, I thought they were a bit clumsy. The ink line often bled on even very good papers. (And after a few weeks, the dye would stain through the paper and bleed  onto whatever was underneath. That ink formula is long gone.) and while they were called Sharpies, after about thirty minutes of use, that precise point was reduced to a blunt stub. So you went through them very quickly. 

But I discovered two things. You could take an Exacto knife and trim and reshape the nib to create some interesting lines and patterns. And more importantly, while I’d been tossing the pens that started to dry out (and they quickly did), I discovered that if I started draw using the side of the nib as you would a pencil, you could get a remarkable variety of tones and patterns. Consequently, over the years they have become my favorite tool to draw with. I’m not sure I would ever use them to try and ink comic book pages, but as a drawing and sketching tool they are amazing.

The first time I went to a life drawing class I was probably thirty years old and had been working professionally (standards were low) for a number of years. But it quickly become a weekly routine for me and a discipline I still practice forty years later.  These days in class I use Prismacolor pencils to draw the model, and time permitting, I’ll add a bit of background, using my “dead” Sharpie collection. This is an ever-changing  supply of Sharpies that have lost a bit (or a lot) of there “life” and are great for tone and usually delicate lines. 

Never one to waste paper (ok, I’m cheap), at some later point, using the Prismacolor figure drawings as a foreground, I’ll head out to a garden area and an interesting subject for a background. While I lay in the drawing quickly with Prismacolor, I then start using the array of Sharpies to produce a line and tonal background for the figures. It’s primarily a composition and design exercise to create an interesting illustration on the page. 

When I have the under drawing done, I literally have handful of seven or eights “dead” sharpies, and I’ll quickly test them out to see what they can produce, and pick two or three to give me a range of line and tone, and start finishing the work. I didn’t invent this process. The illustrator Robert Fawcett was a master of this technique, back when he was using a Flo-Master marker (basically a tube filled with ink with a 1/4” square piece of felt sticking out as a nib.) By squeezing the tube, you could increase/decrease the flow of ink, and Fawcett was using his Exacto knife to customize his felt nibs. 

So hang onto those old markers you thought were useless, and see what new life they have in them if you try using them in a different way. Oh, and next week I’m buying the new IPad Pro and starting to practice with that; they have finally produced a nib that you can hold and draw with on it’s side like a pencil! 

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