Thursday, June 19, 2008
As you may recall, a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the pencils (and other tools of the graphite trade) that I tend to use. This week I'm hoping to answer some of the questions I get regarding Pen & Ink. These are the implements I need to create the kind of linework you'd see in a Six-Penny Anthem, or an Ambidextrous. Or a Mojo Comic. Or for A List Apart. Or in a lot of sketchbook pages. Or for grocery lists and signing credit card receipts.
Here is my Crow Quill pen — a sludge-slickened Speedball #102. Two hundred years ago this would have been just one giant feather with the end split to hold ink. Goose feathers were the most common, but if you wanted really fine lines, you used a crow feather. During the eighteenth century, when wearing wigs and signing Declarations and Constitutions was all in vogue, we killed off all the agreeable crows, the kind that didn't mind just handing over all their feathers. This left us with only the angry kinds of crows, who steal our corn and hang out in murders. So today we manufacture our own pens. That's the price of freedom.
Now, the real important thing to understand about a Crow Quill pen is that it comes in two parts: the holder, which is where you do all your holding of the pen; and the nib, which is where you do the drawing. The nibs are designed in such a way that when you dip it in ink, it sucks up all that liquid into a little reservoir, where it stays suspended through the magic of surface tension. Then when you want to draw, you press the nib down and it splits just enough so that a trickle of ink runs down onto the page, and — voilà! — you are making a line!
Depending on how much force you use, you can vary the thickness of the line. The nib I prefer, a #102, is generally the most flexible of the Speedball nibs, and so I can usually get a pretty thick line before the end of the nib snaps in half, shooting shards of metal all over my face and arms and eyes and groin. Or, put another way, before the nib bends so much that it no longer holds ink in the reservoir. As you can see from above, I have a whole big box of nibs ready for such situations.
Of course, a Crow Quill is completely useless without a bit of ink. To be honest, I've never done any real research into ink; all I look for is that it's black and waterproof. That being said, I've used this Sanford Higgins Waterproof stuff since I was old enough to be accountable for spilling it on the carpet. I don't really pay attention to whether I'm using the normal ink, or the Black Magic brand. There's certainly some difference; judging from the name, I'd say Black Magic is a good stand-in for chicken blood in voodoo ceremonies.
For your viewing pleasure, here's a sample of a drawing made only with a Crow Quill pen:
Truth be told, though, I rarely use the Crow Quill for hatching and adding shadows. The majority of the time I use a single-width pen, like this:
But more on that to come.
On numerous occasions, I'll have large areas of black I'll need to fill in on a drawing. There's two ways I can do this: one, I can fill it in digitally, or two, I can use a brush. Option one is usually the way I go when the final product will be digital; but if I'm doing a drawing to hang up on a wall, I'll break out this guy:
This is my angled brush. He's pretty versatile. That tapered tip means I can get into really tight areas, but also make pretty broad, sweeping strokes if I angle it just right. Here's a few cases where I used the angle brush for filling in blacks1:
As you can see, the angle brush can take care of most of my needs. But in certain situations, I may want to letter something, and I'll want a bit more precision. In such cases I'll use a lettering brush:
Its longer bristles act as kind of a "shock absorber", and hide some of the natural jittery-ness that comes with inking, so you get a more controlled line. I used a lettering brush for this bit of onomatopoeia:
That's the sound of a flaregun, kids. Good to know in case someone fires a flaregun and blinds you. Then later, when you hear the foosh, you know someone sent up a flare for help and you can help them.
If I didn't mention it already, the Crow Quill can get pretty messy. And what's more, it takes a while to dry. So I actually don't use it near as much as this fellow here:
This is a Sakura Pigma Micron Pen. I've been using these for years now. Chances are if I drew something in pen it was with one of these, and that's because they've got a lot of things going for them. They have a reliable single-width line; they dry relatively fast, and the ink is water-proof and archival. There's also a variety of point-sizes to choose from, so you can get either a really thick or really thin line. I actually prefer to use these for all the hatching I'd do in a Crow Quill drawing. Except for the wanton physicist J. Joseph Carter, all the drawings in this article are hatched with a Micron. Most Mojo comics and every Ambidextrous are drawn with a Micron, for sure.
Not to say they don't have some drawbacks. Microns tend to create a really dark grey line rather than a rich black like the Crow Quill & Higgins Ink combo, and often when I'll use a Micron for hatching on a Crow Quill drawing, the Micron lines almost look brown to me. Also, even though they're waterproof, you can't really do a wash over them (unlike Crow Quill lines, which are pretty steadfast), so if you plan to use microns with a watercolor, you need to do your linework after the watercoloring is done.
But the biggest problem with them is probably that they're expensive, and disposable. I've torn through an estimated 200 in my lifetime. That's a lot of waste. So, much like I'm trying to do with the mechanical pencils, I've switched to a refillable pen, also known as a Rapidograph.
I had to buy a set of these in college, though you can purchase them individually. Like I mentioned, these are refillable; you basically unscrew the pen from the holder, and inside is this little cartridge you fill with ink. A nice plus is that rapidograph ink blends into a Crow Quill ink drawing better than a Micron. But a drawback to these babies is that they can clog, so you have to clean them every once in a while. Which is disappointing. I hate cleaning my tools. But then I remind myself that decreasing my environmental impact requires sacrifice. If I can give up ramming beaver dams with my car, what's a little extra cleaning?
One last thing I'd like to do is give a suggestion for bringing your pen and ink onto the computer. I'll scan almost all of my black and white work as a bitmap (scanners might also call this a "line art" setting), at 600 or sometimes even 1200 dpi. Then, for presentation, I'll convert the image to greyscale and shrink it down to the dimensions and dpi I'd like. You'll notice when you scan your image in at 600 dpi, and it's being displayed at 100%, it's quite pixelated. Well, once you convert to greyscale and shrink the image to at least 300 dpi, those pixelated lines will smooth right up. So there you go.
Next time, installment three: Painting Tools.