Tag Archives: #JamesMylne

Try New Things (2) – Ballpoint Pen

I’ve seen many people doodling and sketching with ballpoint pen before, but I never tried. I like the flow and the fineness of a micron or sharpie better. A ballpoint pen is just something you use for it’s conveniency and economy, right? How far can you push it as an art tool? Well, according to British artist James Mylne, this far:

James Mylne (b. 1981), Polo Pony 1 (2008), Ballpoint pen on paper

Look at the range of values a single Bic Cristal could deliver!

No, I am not going to attempt that. I have neither the skill nor the patience. Mr. Mylne’s drawings average 60-100 hours per piece, with the longest 310 hours. While photorealism is probably always time-consuming regardless of the medium, ballpoint pen is extremely tricky because it’s a one way street. You can only go from light to dark, no erasing, no lifting, no painting over.

Still intrigued, I decided to at least give sketching with the Bic a try:

Portrait of a man, ballpoint pen
Portrait of a man, ballpoint pen, 2019. Model from NMA.

And here’s what I learned:

Compare to micron or sharpie, the touches are closer to those of using a graphite pencil. Especially in shading, with good control, you can go lighter than an ink pen, and build up a wider range of values.

Just like a micron or sharpie, since you can’t erase, it exposes all the weakness in your drawing. You need to be mindful about each mark throughout the working process. Scary, right? But also good learning opportunity. If there’s a unwanted mark, the only remedy is to work it into the drawing somehow. This is challenging, may not be possible sometimes, but lots of fun. A few missteps can lead to something unexpected:

Portrait of Jorgie, ballpoint pen
Portrait of Jorgie, ballpoint pen, 2019 Model from Croquis Cafe

Don’t forget to keep a tissue paper handy because you need to constantly remove the buildup at the tip.

By the way, do check out James Mylne’s gallery. It’s not just photorealism, but also a lot of humor.