Thursday, June 2, 2011

Assume Nothing

 This is excerpted from the forthcoming title, "The Dying Penman," to be published by the See Sharp Press of Tuscon. 

  This is an exercise in direct inking. Whether you use a dip pen or brush, there is a weight and speed to your line drawing that is as unique as your signature. Even markers will show your natural style, though the expressive capability of a single-weight line doesn’t reflect the variations of pressure and speed—which are among the strongest components of fluid drawing.
  All handwriting is imperfect. Even master calligraphers show slight deviation from idealized forms. That margin between perfection and your everyday natural fluid pen-stroke is called “tolerance.” It is a the heart of your personal style and despite all the new controlling powers of the computer,  this imperfection should be accepted—even valued—more than hidden. There are notable exceptions, but usually a bold direct line shows the spirit of cartooning. As “Brevity is the soul of wit,” many of the great cartoonists and illustrators work swiftly and directly,  trusting their first impulses. The more you rely on the computer’s white-out tool, your innate ability to make a pure and bold line is being compromised.
  This exercise begins with a pencil drawing that is comprised of a couple dozen lines (not including shading marks) to complete. It should be clear and simple, yet not too finished. The idea is to use this drawing as a template for several quick inked versions. If you don’t have a light table, then tracing paper will do for the ink work.
  If you aren’t yet comfortable with a dip pen, then use an ordinary cartridge loaded fountain pen rather than a ballpoint. Brush handling is covered in a separate chapter and its use here would not be the optimum place.
  These drawings should be done as if the lines being inked are just familiar letterforms. If the temptation is still strong to make familiar symbols for hands, feet, facial features, etc., then simply turn the drawing upside down and proceed boldly. You’ll be amazed at unexpected surprises from working this way.  Sometimes it takes a change of procedure to get liberated from a stylistic rut.
  By the time you get to the third drawing, your confidence will be increased. Details that may have been conceptual challenges in the first version become increasingly easier to refine in subsequent versions. This is not to suggest that later versions are always improvements over earlier ones; there may be early successes that are difficult to duplicate later. The important thing is to be aware of staying in the present with the ink. See the light reflected in the wet ink; hear the pen; notice that the slightest difference in the way the holder is twirled affects the outcome of the line or mark.
  A technical note: because you’ll be working on very thin paper for these drawings, an ultra pointed nib (such as a crowquill) is not recommended.  Choose a wider flexible nib, which will make it easier to explore the expressive capabilities of drawing without getting bogged down in unnecessary detail work and constant dipping and cleaning. There are times when you’ll be called upon to achieve very fine details with the help of a magnifying glass. But, hopefully, that kind of work will be rare. This exercise encourages spontaneity,  which adds flair to inking. Float like a butterfly  (with a careful pencil drawing); sting like a bee (with punchy inking)!