Adventures in teaching…
So I got a new pen.
I have been on a quest to find the perfect sketching pen, and gradually I’ve been acquiring more and more expensive pens. Enter the Pilot Namiki.
This pen is often referred to as the Falcon, but that name is nowhere on the packaging. The pen I purchased is not the resin body nib, often called the Elabo, but the metal body version. This makes the pen very solid, which I prefer. It’s also slightly bigger than the resin version. The nib is a 14 karat rhodium-plated gold nib. Some people have complained that the nib is a bit scratchy and it isn’t as smooth as my Platinum DP-1000 AN, but the nib offers a lot more line flexibility.
This is why I splurged on this pen. The flexibility it offers is very controlled and the line returns immediately to its normal width once the pressure is taken away. So it is responsive yet sturdy. The pen feels like it will last a long time. And the metal body makes it feel very solid to write and draw with. So far, it’s always worked as soon as Ive started using it. I’ve never had to wait for the ink to load. Also, it doesn’t matter how fast I move the pen, I never lose the line. I was using a Lamy Safari (which is a nice all-around pen) for check writing awhile ago and noticed that when I wrote my signature I lost the line. The pen couldn’t give me ink fast enough to keep up with my hand. Well, I don’t have this problem with the Pilot Namiki.
Looking at the image above, the Platinum DP-1000 AN has a thinner line than the Pilot Namiki. Yet I’ve found the Platinum line is sometimes a bit too thin and it doesn’t offer much variation. And the biggest problem with the Platinum is its leaking. So far, I haven’t experienced that with the Pilot Namiki. I’m about to take it to Yosemite so we’ll see how it handles the trip and the altitude change.
The pen I received came with a Pilot Con-70 ink converter, which is bigger than the Con-50 which comes with the resin model. I’m using Platinum ink in mine.
Anyway, I love this pen. It is so fun to use. I love the weight of it and the flexibility of its line. It’s not as flexible as a dip pen, but for a portable fountain pen, it’s really nice. And yes, the nib isn’t as immediately smooth as other pen nibs, but that hasn’t bothered me. This is just an awesome pen that I’m finding myself taking everywhere.
I just finished a notebook that I’ve been using for almost an entire year. It’s an Apica Premium C.D. Notebook. I’ve talked about how much I like the Apica notebooks (here and here), but I think this one is the best. It has the same very smooth, but thin paper that all the Apica notebooks have. Yet the paper is even tougher and can stand up to heavier layers of ink. The paper is not really good for ink wash or watercolor, but thicker gouache is fine. But really, it is outstanding for pen-and-ink. Highly, highly recommended.
When I was learning to play trumpet as a kid, I was told to never let my cheeks puff out when I blew. But take a look at almost any picture of Dizzy Gillespie. What do you see? Huge, puffed-out cheeks. So watch out for being too precious with the “rules” that you hear. Yes, you should listen to the advice of those who came before you, but “rules” are just lessons that another artist learned to help them create. The goal of all these rules is to eliminate potential problems that might hinder you from doing the art you want to do. But if those very rules are getting in your way, then you have to break them. However, breaking rules won’t make you a great artist, just as obeying all the rules won’t.
That being said, pen-and-ink can be an unforgiving medium at times. I remember lots of moments of frustration over the years and most of those could have been avoided if I had known the correct way to do things. Most everything I learned was through trial-and-error, including how to hold my pen. But I’ve seen a few photos and videos recently that have shown me very different ways of doing this. So what is the correct way? (hint: the first paragraph is a spoiler)
In the classic pen and ink book, Rendering in Pen and Ink, Arthur Guptill says that you should “hold the pen naturally, much the same as for writing” (21). So basically, hold a dip pen the same way as you would hold any writing instrument. Yet he warns you to “keep your fingers far enough back from the point to prevent them from becoming daubed in ink, and above all, don’t cramp your fingers tightly onto the penholder.” George Carlson says basically the same thing:
This seems like sound advice to me, yet the manga artists showcased in How To Pen & Ink: The Manga Start-up Guide all hold their pens choked way up on the holder. Here’s Oh!great:
And look at Nightow Yasuhiro here. He’s choked up so far his finger is on the nib itself:
These are professional manga artists so obviously this way of holding a pen works for them. That being said, I would really not recommend holding a pen this way. I saw Jeff Smith talk at the TCAF a few years ago and he said that when he was done with Bone he had a slew of health problems, all of which stemmed from a rigid drawing posture. I want to be able to draw till I’m old, so I don’t want to develop cramped habits that may cause problems later. So take Guptill and Carlson’s advice and hold your pen in a relaxed, natural way.
For instance, I rest my pen on my ring finger with my index and middle fingers on top. Yet I’ve seen other artists rest the pen on their middle finger. I don’t think either is “right;” it’s just a matter of what feels comfortable to you.
The more important consideration is the nib’s orientation to the paper. In general, the pen should be angled at about 45 degrees. This will vary as you draw, but you should never hold the pen completely perpendicular to the page. Not only might the ink drip out, the tines of the nib are more likely to catch and send a spray of ink. Basically, if you rest your hand on the page, the angle from the height of your hand to the paper makes for a nice working position for the pen. I recommend having some kind of blotter or other piece of paper beneath your hand so that you don’t smudge your drawing or get your hand oils on the drawing paper.
Also, the pen needs to be in a position that you can draw with it. And I mean draw in the sense of pulling. The nib is made to be pulled down the page in the opposite direction of the tip. Never push. Not only will you get ink splatters, but you may also ruin your nib. Some nibs can be moved sideways, creating very thin lines. But the drawing motion unlocks the full potential of the nib, allowing lines to swell from hairlines to broad strokes. Catherine Slade shows this in her Encyclopedia of Illustration Techniques:
All kinds of how-to videos exist on YouTube and they vary widely in quality. In one video, the artist Dan Nelson holds his nib completely upside down. This seems to work for him and it does allow him to get very thin lines. Still, it goes against the very intent of a nib’s design. If a nib is upside down, you can’t use pressure to vary the line. Basically, it would be like drawing with a rapidograph, which means you are depriving yourself of the expressiveness in your chosen tool.
Overall, there is a lot of variation out there in how artists hold their pens. What we are all looking for is that sweet spot where things feel comfortable but where we are also accessing the full potential of our instrument. And in the process, not developing bad habits that keep us from creating or even harming us in the long run.
This interview has some odd parts. Near the beginning there’s an exchange that goes like this:
NR: Would you describe your own work as Clowesian?
NR: Okay. So if you were to describe your own work as Clowesian, what would that mean?
But besides some interviewer/interviewee disconnect, Clowes says several interesting things, as always. I found it odd to hear him talk about things as if he were describing my own life. His statements about only starting stories that have hung around in his head for years definitely mirrors my own experience. It was also interesting to hear that he doesn’t let anyone read his work until it’s done.
As a side note, I just finished Patience and I really enjoyed it. It may not be as edgy or layered as Clowes’s other work, but there is something more solid about it. As much as I loved Eightball, I think not working in an episodic format has helped his stories.
I got the Platinum Carbon Desk Pen awhile ago and I’ve really liked sketching with it. I recently read somewhere on-line that Platinum has another desk pen and it’s even finer. So I decided to check it out. It’s called the Platinum Desk Pen DP-1000AN.
Basically, the two pens are very similar. Similar shape, cap, and nib. The gold end to the DP-1000AN is an obvious difference; the other differences are a bit more subtle. For one, the Desk Pen is slightly heavier, which I like. And while the two nibs are similar, the DP-1000AN’s nib is cut a bit more deeply on the side. You can see the curves on the sides go a bit further down. It’s very subtle. As for drawing, I found the nib a bit scratchy at first, but that’s gone away as I’ve used it. Yet it draws a finer line and it is able to swell a little bit more.
It’s difficult to tell in the photo above, but the DP-1000AN has a bit more line variation. The thin is thinner than the Carbon and the thick is a tad thicker. Again though, it’s very subtle.
The one major drawback I’ve found with both pens is leaking. Both are clearly labeled as desk pens. This means they are meant to sit on a desk and not move. But that’s not how I want to use them. I want to sketch with them, which means sometimes throwing them in my bag before I head out somewhere. Well, they don’t like this. Again, this is my fault. I am going against their intended design. Still, I wish they traveled better. I carry a little cloth with me anyway so the leaking both pens sometimes exhibit is quickly cleaned up.
Just like the Carbon Pen, the DP-1000AN can use the Platinum Fountain Pen Converter, which means you don’t need lots of little disposable plastic reservoirs and can just refill with your own ink. I use a bottle of Platinum Carbon Ink for all my fountain pens.
The Platinum DP-1000AN is a nice pen to sketch with, just like the Carbon. I like it better than the Carbon, but that difference is subtle and may not be worth it to you. But there is only a $4 price difference between the two pens: DP-1000AN vs. Carbon.
Sunny vol. 5
I finished the final volume of Taiyo Matsumoto’s series, Sunny. As I mentioned before, the series is about the lives of a few children left at the Star Kids Home orphanage. These children are there not because their parents are dead, but because their parents are unable or unwilling to care for them. They are abandoned children. This creates the tension in the series and the conflict each child must deal with, and each one deals with it in their own way. There are no great plot resolutions in the final volume. That’s not how Sunny works. It’s episodic and the various episodes form a mosaic of life at Star Kids Home.
So while the chapters here mine a similar vein as the other volumes, we are offered a bit of comparison. In the beginning of this volume, Haruo, who is the child with the most behavioral issues at Star Kids Home, meets his doppelgänger from another orphanage, Yokkaichi House. This dark reflection of Haruo seems like a buddy, but quickly invites Haruo to participate in behavior that is not merely destructive but criminal. Matsumoto perfectly captures the youthful look of awe and fear on Haruo’s face as he watches his new friend. Yet the adventure ends and Haruo realizes that his friend may not live as carefree a life as he claimed. And so perhaps Haruo appreciates his situation a bit more. But the lesson is not really Haruo’s; he’s too young. We, the readers, see that if these kids lose all hope then they lose all connection to civilized society.
Sunny walks the line of being sentimental and moralistic, but the realism of the children’s behaviors and the bleakness of their situation keeps the book from crossing that line. And without the line, the work would be completely nihilistic, which is not its intent. From what I’ve read, this book is based on Matsumoto’s own childhood and part of his goal here is to recreate the camaraderie of the found family in the orphanage. As we can see in Matsumoto’s other works, he is interested in criminals. I think in Sunny he is exploring the reasons why he didn’t become one himself.
Personally, Sunny is the best work that Taiyo Matsumoto has created.