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The Things I Use

After I left my teaching job and spent a year at the Art Students League getting back into a routine of making art every day, I simplified my life by giving up printmaking for drawing in pen and ink. I've worked with the same materials for thirty years now--I'm still at it and I'm still happy. Here's what I use to do what I do.


First, the Paper


Arches Watercolor block of paper

Moulin a Papier d'Arches was founded in 1492! I use the watercolor block, pure cotton, long fiber,cold-pressed, 140 pounds. It has a slightly pebbly feel that gives my line a nice livliness.

The paper is gelatin sized to give it a sturdy surface that won't tear or lint--that is, break into little fuzzy pieces--remember how your school paper would tear when you erased too hard? I think the gelatin must give it a delicious flavor--when I drop a piece Lucy grabs it and won't let go.


Dachshund holding paper

The blurs on this rhino are her work--I put it on the floor to take a picture and she licked it. The ink ran but the paper didn't buckle.


Pen & Ink drawing of a running Rhino

My Pens

When my college friend, Carol Way, showed me her Koh-i-Noor Rapidograph I saw great possibilities.

"Rapidograph® pens are a superior grade technical pen that offers precise, uninterrupted line work for a number of applications."


Koh-I-Noor radiograph

I bought one and for a few years it was my most precious possession. But like many first loves, it didn't last. That fine point, even when filled with the best ink, frequently clogged and the drawing stopped while I took the whole thing apart and soaked all the parts in solvent. That got pretty old.

So I turned to what a teacher had urged me to but I had resisted--the dip pen.


drawing pen

That takes some practice--you have to hold it in a certain way and it's easy to catch the point on the paper and then it sprays the page. some artists exploit that to great effect, like Ralph Steadman. But that's not for me.


Ralph Steadman

I have a collection of pens with varying nibs. My first ones were made of plastic and not very interesting. I didn't want to make a big investment when I wasn't sure how long it would last. Then I read that Nabokov had one pen that he had written with for years and I wanted to be like him. And where better to find something special and personal than Paris? Bon Marche, that great department store on the Left Bank has a wonderful stationery department. I picked up this beauty


drawing pen

and asked the young man behind the counter what to call it. He said, "Porte Plume!" That is, carry the pen. Don't you love it? It was smooth and clean then--now it shows what a full rich life it's led.

On another trip to Paris Arthur and I visited this wonderful store on Quai Voltaire, right across the Seine from the Louvre and a few blocks from L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Click here to learn all about it;


Magazin Sennerei, Quai Voltaire, Paris

Founded in 1887 it's a "Paris repository of art and commerce."


interior of Magazin Sennerei, Quai Voltaire, Paris

For many of the people I know this is a true image of Heaven. It's overwhelming to walk in and inhale the unmistakable aroma of art. I had to buy something so I chose these portes-plume.



2 drawing pens

They used to have beautiful marble patterns. Now they're showing their age and much use but they work just fine. I feel a little Jane Austen-y; dip the pen in the ink bottle, write (or draw) for a bit, run out of ink, stop to dip again, maybe look out the window and think, and get back to the page.



The Inks

my inks on my drawing table

Winsor& Newton, Daler Rowney, Calli and, rarely, Encre Sennelier. Only Winsor & Newton Black and White come with red caps but I switch them so all reds and browns have red caps; blacks, blues and greens have black or blue caps. I also keep separate water jars--one for reds, one for greens. If you mix without care you get a dreary greenish-brown. Daler Rowney inks come with an eyedropper top


Dale Rowley Process Cyan

which I hate because you can't put it down without getting ink all over the table, so I save the W&N tops for them, too. When a bottle is empty I clean it out and use it to custom mix the colors. I also save some to make elegant little bud vases for dinner parties.

My favorite, or rather my most go-to color is probably W&N Yellow Ocher,


Winsor Newton Yellow ochre

which, before I read the label, I thought was sepia. Unless I'm working in black and white I start with this. It dries very quickly, so I can start right away to erase my pencil lines. Also, there's a great deal of variety depending on how thickly I apply it. A heavy pen-full is dark brown but a water wash is a soft yellow.

Calli dark green is so heavy that it has to dry overnight.


Calli Green

I've made too many smudges thinking, "Oh, I'm sure it's ready," and it's not.

Scarlet, Crimson, Magenta, Sanguine, Carmine, Burgundy, Red Earth, Indian Yellow, Turquoise, Emerald, Dark Blue, Light Blue, Leaf Green, Process Cyan--they're all my friends and this is what we do together.


a pagoda with purple mountains in the distance



November 19, 2020

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