Category Archives: ink pen

Loosen up

Feeling very tongue-tied recently, and I am constantly looking for things to loosen up. I’ve been practicing figure drawing for a while and mainly paying attention to proportion, anatomy and value. I understand there are a lot more to practice in each area, but I thought maybe I could take a break, try a different approach, loose, casual, and free?

For years I have in my possession a great book by Bill Buchman called Expressive Figure Drawing. It is full of eye-opening and inspiring artworks, and each time I went through it, I had the feeling that I want to fly (not literally or course, with my pen and brushes and colors). So once again I went through the book, dug out some colorful ink and dipping pens (free dancing colorful lines is another dream of mine), and ready, set, go –

Bridgette, 9 x 12 in, June 2020
Jeff, 9 x 12 in, June 2020

LOL at myself, what a tangled and tightened mess! The second I picked up the pen, my attention was all on accuracy and likeness. I managed to approach value with a different method, but there’s no real freedom in it. I think it’s probably because even though I have learned the basics of figure drawing, I haven’t practiced enough to internalize them yet. I guess I can only set myself free when I am able to deliver the correct proportion, anatomy and values without thinking about them. More practice, in other words.

On the other hand, these drawings do reflect my current mental status – neurotic but still managed. 😂

Copying Masters (11) – Yoshitoshi

Japanese woodblock printing (ukiyo-e) has a profound influence in western art since 19th century. “Japonism” has a visible presence in the art of many big names, such as Van Gogh, Degas, Gauguin etc.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi 月岡芳年 (1839 -1892; also named as Taiso Yoshitoshi 大蘇芳年) was generally regarded as the last great master of the this art tradition. He was a very bold, imaginative and prolific artist. Some of the images he created are regarded as gruesome and disturbing. His most famous series are One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (1885–1892), and New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts (1889–1892).

In “Kiyomori sees hundreds of skulls at Fukuhara,” from the series New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts, Yoshitoshi portrayed the famous Japanese general (or soldier-dictator) Taira Kiyomori (平清盛, 1118 – 1181), who created the the first samurai-dominated government. The main attraction for me is the decisive and effective line work, and the presence of the character:

The original:

My copy:

After Yoshitoshi, watercolor and ink on paper, 11 x 15 in, 2020

A few notes:

  • This is not an exact copy, partially because the paper I used was a failed texture experiment. I have to work with un-intended marks here and there.
  • Copying line work is a tricky business: you want to be careful because the ink is permanent; but if you are too careful you’ll lose the force and the gesture of the line.
  • Sometimes having random textures or marks on paper is not necessarily a bad thing. You are forced to be creative since you have to work around or work against it.
  • My general has funny little hands.

Here’s my attempt of the ukiyo-e style:

Where to, watercolor and ink on paper, 11 x 15 in, 2019

This earlier post is in that line too:

Full moon, watercolor on paper, 11 x 14, 2019

By the way, the art of ukiyo-e fell out of fashion in Japan in the late 19th century but saw a come back since the 70s in Asia. Some young artists incorporated the line works and the fanciful contents into Chinese fine brush painting or watercolor painting.

Hatching, Cross Hatching

I love artworks with beautiful lines or expressive brush strokes. Mark making is an art in itself. One good way to practice line quality is to use a non erasable tool. I used a variety of pens before, dipping pen, micron pen, even ballpoint pen. This week I dug out a cheap fountain pen (the type that Chinese kids used in school to learn writing) and some Faber-Castell Pitt pen, and decided to practice hatching and cross hatching.

There are at least two ways to do hatching (cross or not), one is to follow the form to the object (with the direction of the lines), the other is to use one direction only, and let the value changes indicate the form. My plan was to use the latter approach and focus on value studies, but what I found out is that it’s very counterintuitive not to chase the form.

Portrait of Diana, Faber-Castell pitt pen, 9 x 12 in, April 2020
Serge, Faber-Castell pitt pen, 9 x 12 in, May 2020
Self-portrait, fountain pen, 9 x 12 in, May 2020

Faber-Castell is permanent, while fountain pen ink is somewhat water-soluble. I used a little bit water to wash over part of the drawing and reapplied lines here and there.

I find the sound of a pen scratching over paper very therapeutic, and hatching a great way to exercise control and study value.

Pairs (II) – Color or No Color?

Park in Beijing, Ink drawing
Park in Beijing, micron pen on sketchbook
ink drawing with watercolor glaze
Park in Beijing, mixed media on canvas

I did a sketch with micron pen while traveling in Beijing many years ago. I quite like the result, but also wondered what it would look like with some color. I didn’t want to paint over the drawing, fearing that I might ruin it. So this was the solution I came up with:

  • I first made a photocopy of the drawing.
  • Then I transferred it onto a canvas (‘Glue’ the photocopy onto the canvas with acrylic medium and scrubbed off the paper when it’s dry. The image will stay.)
  • Next I glazed over the image with watercolor. The surface was not comparable to regular watercolor paper, so I only did a few layers of light washes.
  • When it’s bone dry, I varnished it with acrylic medium (gloss). I didn’t know there were spray-on varnishes back then, so I brushed on the medium, It did disturb the paint a bit, but since it’s very dry and very light layers, it’s not that bad.
  • Since it’s varnished, I could hang it without glass. And I still have my original sketch! 🙂