Sunday, February 28, 2016

Producing a pen & ink drawing - start to finish

Every pen and ink drawing I produce is actually three or four drawings.

Ideally, the first  step is a pencil sketch, worked out on site, or from a  photograph. I usually use B or darker lead pencils. I visit probably 99% of the sites I end up producing drawings of. I prefer to to do sketches in the field, but take a multitude of photos to document sites. If I don't have time to work up a sketch I may work from a photograph for the second step--no shame in working from photos.

Next, the drawing or photo is resized to the proper dimensions and taped to my light box. With tracing paper placed over the sketch, I produce a second drawing using  a .3 mm mechanical pencil with soft lead, usually B. I love drawing on tracing paper. It erases cleanly, and I can do overlays to figure out placement of vegetation and other details. Most of the details for the drawing are worked out on tracing paper. The soft lead produces a dark image, which helps with the next step.

The tracing paper drawing is then taped to the light table and the image is transferred to 140# drawing paper (third drawing). Details are finalized. A .3 mm mechanical pencil with hard lead is used, usually H. The resulting image is very light. (the image to the left has been darkened so it will show up better.) The pencil lines usually tell me where to draw. However, I also use pencil lines  to tell me where not to draw.

Finally comes putting ink to the paper. I use .05 mm fiber-tipped pens with black pigment ink. I try to avoid using lines to define shapes, allowing value (lightness or darkness) to delineate edges. First I work on the main design elements. I  start by putting lines down along the trailing edges of contrasting values--perhaps the edge of a window that is farthest away from the light. This is more of just a guide to start building up shapes. If there is a curved object such as a tree trunk I usually don't draw trailing edge lines unless the object behind it is very dark. With curved objects I usually go directly to hatching.

Next comes hatching (parallel lines drawn close together) to start building up volume. I don't work on just one part of the drawing at a time, but usually build up the values of the entire drawing gradually. With pen and ink drawings I have found this avoids value mistakes--where I may make an area too dark; or line mistakes where I just mess up.Such mistakes can be corrected, but those corrections are easier if the affected area is still relatively light in value.

After the basic hatching is done I go back and start cross-hatching (in numerous directions) to build up values and volumes. I will also start adding details such as cracks in logs or knot holes. I mentioned corrections in the previous step. Being able to correct mistakes is one reason I use thick paper. With a good ink eraser, an Exacto knife, sand paper, and a burnishing tool I can usually take a mistake out and bring the paper back to a state where I can re-ink it.

The next step is building up the values, filling in details such as windows, and working on shadows. When working on signs with light lettering on dark backgrounds, or perhaps  light leaves and branches against a dark building I sometimes use penciling as a type of masking, covering an area uniformly with pencil lines.With one of the pen techniques I use, after I have inked an area I can erase the ink and the pencil underneath it to reveal (relatively) unmarked paper.

After I have all the values and details for the primary objects in the drawing pretty much worked out I begin working on the secondary details such as the area around the building, shrubbery, and the foreground. At this point I add my signature. On several occasions I have finished a drawing, filling it up to the very edges, only to realize I forgot to sign it. That means I have to go back  in with my sandpaper and such to make a space big enough to insert a signature. Advance planning is everything with the drawings I produce.

The final step--filling in the background, finalizing the values, and finishing the details. Ideally this is the "dinking" phase, where I can leave the drawing for a while and come back to add details such as missing shadows. It is also perhaps the most dangerous phase of the process, where I can overwork the drawing and ruin it. Knowing when to stop is often the most critical decision an artist faces. 

By the way, the drawing is of an old cabin in the Gold Rush section of Pioneer Park here in Fairbanks. it was originally a prostitute's crib in the town's red light district. See the post here.

You can also look at my post on the drawing tools I use here.

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