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Work Small, Learn Big | Pens

Francis Boag Blog

Many years ago I worked as a freelance cartoonist (I was never very good) - the humour was ok but the drawings were terrible! Yet I had spent countless hours trying to create a ‘line’ that was uniquely mine.

I tried dozens of pens and used acres of paper looking for that elusive quality that is the stamp of a good cartoonist and although I was having my work published, I was never really happy with what I was creating. But, I did learn an awful lot about what makes a line ‘alive’…how did the ink flow? How thick should the line be? Was board or paper best? Did the ink sit on the surface or was it absorbed into the paper? Was a fast line better than a slow line etc. etc?

The variables of pen and paper are infinite and often produce minuscule changes of which only the artist is aware. Don’t be afraid to look for inspiration in the ‘Funnies’… these are professionals working at the top of their trade, and they can teach you a lot if you open your mind. I eventually decided that I didn’t have what it takes to be a good cartoonist and stopped trying but the lessons I learned during that time have since proved invaluable.

Time spent with a pen or pencil in your hand should never be wasted. You can even make writing your grocery list a learning experience by experimenting with different pens and paper...

Francis

Work Small, Learn Big | Tools

Work Small, Learn Big Blog

For the sake of my sanity and my bank balance, I have taught myself to strictly ration the time I spend in my local art supplier. The tools of our trade, pens, pencils, brushes, sketchpads, paints etc. have always been a source of fascination to me and I could happily spend hours browsing through the delights on offer.

I have even been known to pore over art catalogs and brochures looking for the magic ingredient that will solve all my artistic problems and change my life. Like the golfing ‘rabbit’ who is convinced he can get round in par if he could only find the right putter or new driver, I am always looking for the ideal pen or perfect paper. One of the ’perks’ in my post as Head of Art was the requirement to purchase materials for the department and so I could indulge my passion for art products with a clear conscience. It was during this time I discovered that there was no substitute for quality and I have carried this lesson with me into my career as a professional artist. I remember many years ago reading an article by David Hockney where he explained that when his work began to sell for quite large sums he realised that he should stop using the cheaper paints and boards he was accustomed to as a student and use only quality materials which would stand the test of time. Work offered for sale should only be produced using materials tested for reliability and quality. On the other hand, work produced as preparatory studies, or for your own use can include any media you like. One of the homework tasks I set as a teacher asked the students to make a self-portrait with anything they could normally find around the home.

Work Small, Learn Big Blog

One drawing I particularly remember was made with lipstick, rouge, shoe polish and mascara on a piece of fine grade glass paper. It had a unique quality which made it look as if it could have been found in Tutenkamun's tomb! Items like lipstick and eye pencils make very expressive lines and anything that stains i.e. red wine, coffee, turmeric, food colouring and so on will make a colour wash. You can also, for instance, make a lovely, subtle ‘drawing ink’ by diluting a carton of cold water dye in a jar. Try it and see…there are no rules.