working with pen and ink

this week instead of painting our own things at art group in the village hall we had a drawing workshop with Fionn Rawnsley who used to teach on the foundation course at Norwich Art School. this was actually really good. I have been lazy about drawing, especially since I started painting abstracts. Fionn used techniques to make us draw like poetry and work inside out

firstly to draw one’s face by feel. I took pen and ink because I’m awkward, but also because I love that medium. I fell in love with it the first time I saw illustrations by Charles Keeping as a child.

I still have all the books I treasured then

his style changed a bit, loosening up,

but the drama of them mixed with the kind of drawing, angular, expressionistic, yet tamed to fit around the page was irresistible.

the book design is exciting in itself, plus Sutcliff’s novels are far beyond much of her contemporaries’ writing for children.

so I am up for whatever can be got out of a pen nib and a bottle of ink.

I just had to replace the nib on this pen as yesterday I crossed it, trying to draw with my left hand

I was given this line ruling pen by a friend, on a mark-making course we both did a few years ago. we made folded aluminium pens and used frayed canes and various other found things. I don’t think I was ready for that course in fact.

if you swerve a pen around, using your wrist and elbow, you can get it to do some quite wild things.

tip it and let it judder over the paper

or if you tip the triangular pen, having dipped it too deep, the handle catches on the paper and you get a thick line as well

for these smudgy lines I used a chinese ink stick, dipped in spit (sorry), in my left hand, then swapped over.

this was the second exercise, to draw someone else and try to draw the details and contours inside the obvious outline, not relying on the outline, and trying not to look at the drawing too much …

then we applied these ideas to still life drawing – I brought three of my pots, some wiggly hazel twigs, and some dead hydrangea heads, and Victoria brought spring flowers and a very handsome earthenware jug.

three hours of concentrated drawing

my head was buzzing

I hope this gives me some new ways into my paintings

but drawing is worthwhile for its own sake

I think I will be trying to fit in a daily drawing now



  1. I love these attempts with different stylii. Books and their illustrators have a special place in this librarian’s heart! At college I studied historical bibliography and came across the work of Robert Gibbings and Claire Leighton, both of whom used wood cuts. Latterly I became involved with the Library Association (CILIP) Kate Greenaway award for children’ book illustration and have seen the work and met some contemporary book illustrators. You may want to look at the work of Harry Brockway – he did the illustration for Jean Giono’s ‘The man who planted trees’.

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