Thursday, 18 September 2014

Working with pen

I have been working on my on-line watercolour course, adding the painted watercolour swatches to my website and making up dozens of watercolour palettes lately so it has been nice to take a couple of breaks (between all the rain we've had) and do some sketching. With limited time, I drew in pen first. I like to use a fountain pen (Sailor, Lamy or Pilot Falcon) with waterproof ink (De Atramentis Document Black or Archive).

I am very much a pencil first artist - I like to do a pencil layout, then start with pen if I am using it, or watercolour, but that takes more time and ends up being more precise than I wanted. Working directly with pen takes out the setup steps and forces you to work more quickly and arguably more loosely. You end up with a black line drawing, with or without cross-hatching or shading. Adding watercolour becomes a little like filling in the colouring books of childhood. The decisions have already been made. The lines are all there - you just fill in the colour. With a degree of stylisation already in play due to the black lines, a lesser degree of 'realism' is required so adding the colour is much faster.

Neil's garden over a glass of wine in large Canson All Media sketch book.
This is very much an unplanned 'sketch' rather than a finished painting, which was what I set out do do. But does working in pen automatically make a drawing look sketch-like? I spent another hour or so in my own garden, drawing the strelitzias we planted quite some years ago. Having drawn the foreground plant in pen, I chose to brush in the background shapes directly with watercolour without any drawing at all. Once again it is very 'sketchy', but loose and relaxed.

My garden - quick sketch in large Canson media spiral sketchbook.
I was given some lovely flowers yesterday so spent an hour or so doing another quick sketch. Pen first, once again, then quick washes of watercolour. Taking more time over the drawing and less over the painting is really a reverse from my usual more botanical style where lines are hidden or merged under the watercolour washes.

A bouquet sketch. Right hand side of the page
A5 Moleskine watercolour notebook

Flowers in detail (left hand side of spread)
A5 Moleskine watercolour notebook

Then I decided to add some closer studies to the opposite page in the Moleskine sketchbook. I started these in pencil but wanted the 'freedom' of pen lines so switched to my fountain pen.

I don't know if I will try to do a 'finished painting' by drawing straight in with pen, but for sketching I am enjoying the freedom of black lines :-)


  1. Hi, Jane. I don't have an answer to your question if using a pen makes a drawing look sketch-like, but I love the effect you achieved with the sketch/painting of your garden. The pen-drawn foreground looks 3-D against the watercolor-only background. I've been using Micron pens for SBS, but I love the lines that fountain pens make. I need to take my Lamy out of the box and try it!

    1. I enjoy the microns Susan and they are very portable and convenient. Also waterproof, which fountain pen ink isn't always. But the Lamy pens are lovely for drawing and writing. I'm sure you'll enjoy it :-)