The Virtues of Pen

A pencil was my first tool when I began to draw in earnest years ago.  I wanted to be able to erase, to make my drawings just “right”, and then put watercolor over top of it, working within the lines carefully.  What has evolved in my switch to pen is difficult to describe or explain, but somewhere along the way, I fell in love with pens.  Typically it is a ballpoint pen, but I also enjoy felt tip, roller ball, permanent and non-permanent inks.  The major “advantage” I now enjoy is the fact that you CANNOT undo mistakes.  They are left on the page as a record of where my hand has been, how I was “seeing” in the moment (whether correctly or no), and then the restatements and re-do’s (if I choose).  I tell my students that drawing with a pen is actually freeing!  You are taking off the table the whole issue of “having to make it right”, and just letting the lines fall where they may.  You’re even able to say to any viewer to whom you might show your drawings:  “I couldn’t erase…I was using a pen.”  Most of the time, your viewers do not see “mistakes” as you see them!  Drawing in pen gives you a great excuse to go ahead and make mistakes.

When I draw in pencil and then add watercolor, I miss my lines terribly.  I used to be so sad that a drawing “disappeared” when the watercolor was laid in.  Drawing in pen solves this problem for me, since I can still see the lines even after watercoloring.  I love the linework as a foundation on which to hang the color, and I want to still be able to see the foundation after the color has been added!

No two pens are alike.  Some are gloppy and thick, some are smooth and thin.  Some smudge, some don’t. Some bleed, run, and oozle when water is added.  Just within the world of pens, there is so much to explore.  You can use a water brush to “paint” after drawing with non-permanent pens just by touching a line and pulling the ink out into the areas you want.  You can use your thumb to smudge the glopped ink.  You can vary the value of your pen by pressing down harder for darker values and lightening up for the paler values.  Pen is wonderful for cross-hatching, for crisp lines as well as choppy.  Of course, my favorite, is the smooth flow of pen in continuous line drawings.

Like Mikey (from a commercial popular in my childhood) used to say, “Try it, you’ll like it!”

0 thoughts on “The Virtues of Pen

  1. Alex Tan says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your views on both pencils and pen. I like the way pen defines with strong and permanent suggestion. It imprints the path, error, corrections… it’s a great package for expression. I guess pen can also be a frustrating too if you are trying to create something realistic, something correct and up to scale, something that you can’t afford to make mistakes unless there’s an “undo” button somewhere. Perhaps like a map, or a technical drawing… one would only use pen in the end, and if a mistake is made then, you’d have to do it all over again.
    But I really like the way you see it as “freeing” the expression and free to make mistakes. I really must try to keep that in mind while using pen to draw next time. Thank you Jennifer ^^

  2. Kim Barlow says:

    Jen, I love your argument for the use of pen and ink when drawing. Someday I hope to break out of that need for the eraser, but I’m not there yet. Your words are swaying me very strongly in that direction, though!!

  3. delph says:

    I’m totally with you about the use of pen. I feel the same (and wish I was as articulate about it as you are : )!)
    Great drawings presented here! They’re all neat, and my fave is the third one, with the lamp, for its awesome linework!
    I’ve tried to answer to your question about drawing (on my blog), I should have read this post before it would have helped ^^!
    Love these posts, and reading your thoughts!

  4. marie singer says:

    Jen, are you familiar with the book The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicolaides? It’s a classic on art study by an artist and teacher who taught at the Art Students’ League in NYC in the 1930’s. His 1st chapter is on “contour” drawing, which is what you are doing with the pen. It is part of a necessary method of literally “getting in touch” through all the senses with what one draws. Contour makes your hand and eye feel all the edges and work together to recreate that experience.
    He is the teacher I wish I had had, but I have him in his book.
    I suggest perusing this book if you are not familiar with it.
    There was a time when just a book was enough for me, but now I need to share with other artists in the here and now.

    Thanks to your blog and other sites, I’ve ddrawn a pic everyday this week. Will I keep going ?? That is the Q.

    • jenpedwards says:

      Yes, I’m very familiar with Nicolaides’ book…it is wonderful and I refer to it and recommend it to all my students. I LOVE how he talks about contour drawing and how he teaches you to think of your pen/pencil as actually touching the contours you’re seeing in front of you. SO glad you are drawing daily! I’m sure you will keep going, even if there is a break from it here and there. Cheers to you Marie!

  5. Ramona Davidson says:

    Yes, last summer over a two month period I did several sketches with just a ball point pen. Loved the freedom. You don’t have to be so precise and can just keep drawing. No stopping to make corrections and erasing and redrawing. Makes for a fast sketch to hold a memory of a place if you are traveling.

  6. Raena says:

    I wish I were to the point of declaring which instrument I prefer over another, but every time I think I have it figured out, I feel drawn (no pun intended) to the another. Sometimes I find bliss with the simple pencil and the various lines it is capable of, and sometimes it is the pen. What I do know, is that “line” excites me. And that I am more proud of gestural drawings that I’ve captured in less than five seconds than I am of the tonal work which took me 20. I like it when my hand just “knows” what to do and does it without my brain interfering. They don’t actually look better or more skilled on first inspection, but it’s that quickness to capture it that feels wonderful. I don’t consider myself very articulate, so I do hope that made some sense!

    • jenpedwards says:

      All this makes perfect sense, Raena! I feel the same as you do about the quickness, the flourish, the freshness of line (as opposed to a belaboured line). Thanks for your thoughts here! They are much appreciated and understood!

  7. Patricia Lee Rivero says:

    I might be about to graduate into pen usage. I have discovered that I don’t like the way my painting becomes nebulous as I progress so perhaps I’m pen ready now! Thank you for your insight yet again!

  8. Timaree (freebird) says:

    I’ve been using just a pen in my fake journal. I want to do something quick and unfussy. I have been surprised at how quick I can do a recognizable drawing and it has been rather freeing. Now, will I keep it up? At times I am sure. At others I like the watercolor only look so then I’ll use pencil. I think trying ink directly helps you become more confident in your drawing.

  9. Alissa says:

    I agree with your pen and pencil comments Jennifer. I can sometimes go in with a pen and start making marks on paper immediately. But for certain objects/scenes I put in some initial pencil lines just to get my perspective and oontext right. However, sometimes I get carried away with the pencil and forget to swap over to pen and then go over the line, but it never has the original energy in it. And as you have said – there are so many different types of pen out there- sometimes you find a pen that is just right for the paper that you are using and it slides along the page – such a joy!
    Can you tell me what you used for the inital pen/pencil marks for Maddies jumble of stuffed toys

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