Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

October 26, 2015

Pen and Ink, tools of the trade.

Filed under: Drawing,How to do,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Rob Adams @ 3:01 pm

I have been experimenting with pen and ink for years. I started with Rotring technical pens doing fine stipple and line drawings. They came in sets from 0.1 mm to 1mm and I had the whole set. The only problems being that if you wanted to change line thickness you had to change pens and the mark was unvarying. Also they were a devil to maintain, constantly blocking or getting their delicate innards damaged. The very opposite of expressive!

Then one day I passed by Philip Poole’s pen shop in Drury lane and he sold me a mixed box of Victorian drawing nibs made by Gillott and a couple of dip pen pen holders. The difference was wonderful. A Gillott 404 can go from 0.1mm to 1.2mm all in the same pen! Suddenly all sorts of new effects and textures were available. The nibs are wonderfully responsive. The disadvantages being they wore out quite quickly and required very careful handling if you didn’t want to drop a blot on to your paper. There is also the constant dipping that interrupts the flow. Also the paper had to be very smooth, ideally Bristol board.

Then for many years I did no pen work at all as I moved from illustrating books to designing and building things. Then a few years ago I started doing sketches out doors using fibre pens which was very convenient. I soon got dissatisfied though. The fibre pens had the same problems as the Rotrings, no feel at all. It is possible to get a grey line by moving the pen quickly so it skips but they have a very dead quality to the line. I had some old Rotring “art” pens which used cartridges but had possibly the nastiest nibs ever made by man!

No problem, I thought in my innocence, I’ll just go back to the dip pens. The experience was not great. The sharp nibs didn’t like the slightly rough high sized paper from Ruscombe Mill and handling ink bottle etc too made the whole process too cumbersome. The rough paper catching the nib and even wind was enough to dump the whole contents of the reservoir on your masterpiece at any moment.

Looking on the web I found that old fountain pens had flexible nibs. Skipping to ebay I immediately bought a 100 year old Waterman 50 which when it arrived had the most wonderful nib. Alas a little more research showed that if I used my nice paper the high size would soon wear away the tip and then the gold in short order. Great on Bristol board but not on my paper of choice. Mind you it is still far and away the best pen nib I have found for responsive feel and variety of line.

Back on line I found a range of fountain pens with the unlikely name of Noodlers. They has a pen called the Nib Creaper that looked just the ticket. It had a steel flexible nib, so tough and no rust. It was also very reasonable so I bought a few to play with. The first impressions were pretty good. The variety of line was there you just had to use a little more pressure than a Gillott. As the nibs are tipped they also could negotiated the rougher paper with no issues. The only difficulty for me was it was too small for my hands. Still I did lots of drawings with them.

Looking again I found Noodlers made some larger pens called Ahabs so I got a couple to try. The pens were very nice when they came but the feeds could not keep up with fast drawing. Here is where the Noodlers pens come into their own, Nathan Tardif who is Noodlers Ink made the pens to be easy to modify. This means they come apart very easily. Also bless him he sells spare parts, nibs etc. It only took a few moments to cut away a couple of ribs on the feed and hey presto my Ahab was delivering ink like a champ.

I still missed the wonderful delicate lines a Gillott 303 could deliver. I actually put a 303 in the Nib Creaper but I knew it would rust even though it worked wonderfully. So I got a Nib Creaper nib and sharpened it up. I just used a diamond stone so very fast and care needed not to over do. I did it withe the pen inked so I could check progress as I went along. I finished and smoothed on an Arkansas stone which is very quick and easy as you just write and scribble on the stone until it feels silky smooth. The result is great with a very fine line but still plenty of flexibility.

My final act was to buy the rather more pricy Neponset which has a three tined “music” nib. It is quite expensive but alas I found too hard and not good to draw with. No matter very nice to write with. The Neponset does have a very large body though which I like as I don’t hold a pen where you would to write when I draw. I hold it halfway up or even at the far end from the nib. I immediately spotted the Ahab nib would fit so a few minutes fiddling and I had done a transplant! I’ll put a few samples below.


fountain pens, noodlers, ahab, neponsit

Here are our dramatis personae, now below what they can do on paper.


pen and ink

One I did not mention is the brush pen which is a Frankenstein creation using a Pentel brush pen with a Pentel waterbrush reservoir grafted on. Once filled with the same ink as the pens it makes solid darks and expressive foreground strokes a breeze. The ink is Noodlers as well Nathan makes a wonderful array of colours but only some are suitable for drawing. For drawing I like an ink to be light fast and also fairly waterproof. Just to be awkward I don’t want it totally waterproof a want a bit of colour to wash out. Noodlers make inks they call bulletproof which pretty much fill all those requirements. Below a set of links to suppliers etc.

Noodlers Ink Nathan Tardif’s site: Lots of interesting info for modifiers!

Pure Pens Noodlers pens and ink supplier in the UK.

Gillott Nibs alas they don’t make dip pen holders with brass tongues that act as reservoirs any more but it is easy enough to make one out of copper or brass sheet.

Ruscombe Mill Lovely paper, the link will take you to the calligraphy papers which I use, but other papers they make might well be good for pen.

October 10, 2015

A Trip to Pembrokeshire

My first trip to Pembrokeshire in a while… and no chance to paint… With old friends so lots of talk, laughter, food and walking. Being a tourist rather than a painter lots of photos to bore friends with when they come to dinner… there is nothing more tedious than photographs of other people having a good time in a lovely place! All I managed while there art wise was one small pen and ink, but I still wanted to get some paintings done to recall the weekend.

So once home what can you do? I find if I am going to paint quick studio paintings from reference then I need to do it as soon as possible after the shot is taken. I find after that I really struggle to remember how it felt to be there. I do bigger studio paintings from reference but that is a different and longer process involving sketches and multiple photographs. Painting quick a la prima sketches from single images is a different and I think more difficult thing. You are very at risk of having the photo make every decision for you. To counter this I try and paint very quickly and also several times whilst painting put the reference aside and work from memory. If I am lucky I find that at a certain point the painting gains a life of its own and becomes an independent thing, a memory prompted by a photograph rather than a copy.

Once I have decided to paint from an image I first look at how I can break the image down to simple tonal areas. Then I decide what my palette is to be. I find restricting the palette helps a great deal. Then you cannot mimic the colours of your reference but have to mix equivalents. (this is a good policy I find with plein air also!) I then look at the arrangement of things and think, “How could it be better?” by better I mean have more sense of atmosphere and a simple underlying structure.  I turn the image into a monochrome version to assess the actual tones. Colours confuse our sense of tone so it is far easier to see the relative tones with colour removed.

With all that thought about if not all decided upon I mix the colours. It is so much easier with oils I find to mix the colours first. There is often not time en plein air but in the studio it is well worthwhile. When you do this you can put your lightest light and darkest dark on the palette and then set the mid tones to lie between them. I very rarely use full white in a painting so this process makes sure you do not automatically use the full tone range but set a key (range of tone) that leaves you room to manoeuvre when the time comes to accent and add punch at the end. It is far easier to paint if all the tones are there on your palette organised in hues. The mistake many people make is mixing too little. In the end you will not waste paint because the left over colour nearly always gets absorbed into the mixes for the next painting.

Once started I found the first one was very lifeless and in the end rubbed it off and started again another advantage of no time pressure and a studio setting. The next attempt went better and I got properly in the swing. When the point comes where you forget yourself and the time starts to flow by then usually the painting benefits. Before the oils I did some quick watercolours to get myself immersed in the subjects.


Tenby, pen and ink, drawing, wales, pembrokeshire

Here is the one drawing I got done. This is Tenby, a place I would love to spend a few days painting in. It has the lure of some very obvious scenes that get painted too much, but has a lot more to offer as the dramatic headland it is built over allows some great and unexpected viewpoints.


Tenby, watercolour, wales, painting, pembrokeshire

Here is one of those Tenby views. The narrow street runs steeply up from the harbour giving a great perspective. You actually could not do this painting on site as you would be mown down by the constant stream of 4×4’s driving up the hill! Only a 1/8th sheet but I painted it with a big sable keeping everything quite wet. Even though I was not trying to be very precise you have to take great care over the perspective in scenes like this where the road is going uphill. If you get lines at the wrong angle the feeling of buildings stepping up a hill is soon lost. I put a few soft lines in first to guide the angle. Watercolour.


pembrokeshire, watercolour, painting, wales, cliffs, sea

The coast path in Pembrokeshire is a wonder but tricky to paint. There is a tendency to over cook the turquoise which makes it more Med than Wales!


Chamber Tomb, Pentre Ifan, Newport, watercolour, painting, wales

This is the chamber tomb of Pentre Ifan near Newport. It is sited in a wonderful position and should be easy to paint but I have failed to paint it decently quite a few times now. This attempt wasn’t too bad and at least captures a little of the mood. I felt it was a little tight so I did it again giving myself only 20 min.


Pentre Ifan, Chamber Tomb, Newpoit, wales, watercolour, painting

Here it is again different but not really better! I shall have a crack at it with the oils I think.


Wales, Pembrokeshire, Narberth, oil painting, art

First go with the oils. This is Narberth a distinctly posh Pembrokeshire town. The first attempt got bogged down so I wiped it off and started afresh. It still needs some adjustment of the distant tones which need to be a tiny bit softer and bluer but I will dry brush over once it is dry. 10in by 14in Oils.


Coast path, cliffs, sea, pembrokeshire, wales, oil painting

This is on the wonderful Pembrokeshire coast path. I have painted here before in a force 8 gale so a studio picture was far more comfortable to do! Not sure this is quite finished some of the distant cliffs need softening a little. I have already adjusted the horizon after I made this scan as the whole thing falls off bait too much to the right. I did this to counter the lean on the figure but rather over did it. 10in by 16in Oils.


Pembrokeshire, newport, parrog, wales, oil painting, art

This is the Parrog which is the harbour at Newport. When I was walking and saw this I could see it as a painting and tried to hold on to the memory! Quite hard and close tones but fun and quick to paint. 10in by 16in Oils.


Pembrokeshire, wales, painting, sea, cliffs

Last one. Back on the coast path again. It was very still and warm for October. I painted the foreground with a knife which is unusual for me. I must use it more. I am slightly put off because I rather dislike knife paintings where the impasto seems to perform no function. For the scraggly growth on the cliff edge it was just the thing though. Like all techniques if the technique starts to dominate then it ruins the picture. Paintings about how things are painted are I tend to find rather tedious! 10in by 14in oils.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Powered by WordPress