Beer can pen?

Chinese black ink drawn with folded pen and painted with brush and dilute ink, white gouache in toned sketchbook,
source is courtesy on Esther Kiehl on SktchyMuseum.

I’m loving drawing with this folded pen, otherwise used for calligraphy and its cousin, asemic writing. This is the latest version of the homemade variety of folded pen, and it is both simpler to make and more attractive than the one pictured on my previous post. Simpler because it is cut from a beer can, so you don’t even have to go to a hardware store to buy the metal (if you have beer in your fridge at any rate.) We’re not beer drinkers, but Bob now has some colorful cans waiting to be drunk so he can make more of these! Then there is the dowel and the tape. Bingo! You’ve got a superb drawing instrument you’ll love, as long as you’re not into fine controlled lines only. There are surprises along the way. 

Bob is using his folded pens in combination with his printmaking in a new series called Unspoken Journey which I think you’ll enjoy. If you’ve been following along here lately, you’ll see how much his explorations are inspiring me!

I tried out my new folded pen in a coffee shop today sketching people. It was going great until I realized that I had some puddles of ink in my sketchbook making it impossible to turn the page. Loose paper is recommended for that reason! Or several sketchbooks!


Folded pen portraits

Chinese Ink applied with homemade folded pen and brush

My husband Bob has been having so much fun with his folded pen which he just made after a quick trip to Lowes for dowels and some light weight bendable metal. There seemed to be no limit to what he could do with it. So I asked him to make me one and give me tips. I had just a few minutes to try it out before dinner and was amazed at how much control I had with it! Enough to tackle portraits! It all depends on how you load it up with ink and position it. I was also surprised by how much drama I could get with the dark thick lines, which I normally steer clear of because the human face seems to demand more subtlety.

But after dinner, when I switched from scrap paper to my toned paper sketchbook, the folded pen wasn’t behaving as well. Blobs of ink coming out at inopportune moments. So it will take more practice, but still, the drama is there. I think I prefer to use the folded pen on white watercolor paper and do the modeling with a brush and light wash of ink.

I decided to switch to the Pocket Brush Pen for this fellow’s pose (on the Sktchy Museum app). thinking I needed more control. Of course the pocket brush pen also has a mind of its own, so I used it just for bold outlining, and for added dimension use a brush dipped in diluted ink.  At the end I added some watercolor for the red beard before declaring it Done! Always best to get out before it’s too late.

watercolor and white gouache in beige toned sketchbook

A couple more portraits here, done before the holidays. This one done with a touch of fineliner and clear choice of focus. How much of the head do you need to tell the story, and what can you leave off? The top of the head for instance?

Such a beautiful model. That makes it much harder. One can’t resist trying to get that beauty on paper. Overworked. 


Museum for Cold Weather

Back to sketching portraits from the wonderful Museum Sktchy App. I know many of you also use its source photos, posed mainly by portrait artists who know what makes a really fun and expressive pose to draw and paint! I’m snuggled into my studio most days to stay warm lately, and I can easily get absorbed in these portrait sketches. Here’s the latest.

Watercolor and white gouache in beige toned Nova sketchbook

These days I’m telling myself not to “play it safe” with drawing and painting; to sketch quickly, exaggerate, embrace my own squiggly line and visual distortions. This guy Dennis was a gift. Such an appealing, and I’m betting, forgiving face.

I was working with the gray violets in the shadows, and at the end, added the greens. You can do that with transparent watercolor in a glaze-over and it (almost) works. I took out my white pastel pencil and gel pen at the end. Those finishing whites are the other fun part.

Well you get the point. . .the sultry eyes and touseled mane. This toned paper isn’t the best for watercolor subtlety, but if you stand back and look, it holds together, haha!

pocket brush pen, watercolor in Field Watercolor Journal

This is what happens when you point a camera at my son, which I did while he was here at Thanksgiving. He becomes the goofy clown. So a rapid direct brush pen sketch seemed to fit. No subtlety at all here. It might be my favorite. I’m sure it’s his!

Margriet Aasman is a master portrait artist who knows how to pose as a result, a lovely lady and great teacher on Museum as well!

If you have a favorite, let me know! It may just be the nudge I need to keep going when the Critic makes a visit and wants to trash them all!

Young and Old

Fineliner pen and watercolor in Field Watercolor Journal

The Young one first. A Halloween visitor. Three year old pirate Captain Ellis showed up on our front porch to collect the booty. He’s a serious guy who meant business, as you can see.

Pencil, watercolor, white gouache and gel pen in Nova beige toned sketchbook

And the old. Somebody’s grandpa (from the SktchyMuseum app). Such gentle compassion in that face.

Holiday Bazaar

fineliner pen and watercolor in 6X8″ hand.book watercolor journal’

We were back to the Squaxin Island Museum for a holiday craft fair on Saturday. I wanted to sketch the front of the building for its unique architecture with exquisite landscaping around. But as rain threatened to resume, the warmth of the museum beckoned.

Inside the Museum the tribal artesans had spread out with their wares and in many cases were practicing their arts while the public shopped. I found a bench where I had a view of Eileen here, doing some pretty skillful turning of the heel of a patterned sock, using four needles, while she greeted friends and family and only occasionally looked down at the needles. Her legs were cozy in their bulky knit leg warmers and the museum’s leather sofa with the tribal symbols made a comfortable place to knit. Meanwhile her niece stood behind stacks of sweaters, hats, and gloves, selling to the customers. The sketch got quite cluttered as I put in the museum display cases. And the quote on the wall – A place to come together, to collect, gather, and share – seemed to so perfectly reflect the feeling of that day. The translation back to the indigenous language follows. I would love to know how to pronounce these or perhaps this word/concept which conjures such warmth. It reminds me of the Scandinavian word hyggelig.

I went home with the warmest, softest knit hat, which will come in handy this week as our temperatures in the northwest plunge to the 20’s!

Portraits More Recent

I think I would title this one “The Shoes” because they are definitely the star. That and the exposed shins and socks. The picture makes one feel a bit tipsy, like the feeling of riding on public conveyance. But this guy is a pro.

So how does he really feel about it? Blood pressure skyrocketing. Finger in a light socket? Missed his flight? Just got canned?

French diplomat? Who knows? I got out my Fude fountain pen with the crooked nib. Its hard enough to handle that all precision gets lost. So the big shapes, the chisels on the face of an older gentleman can have the emphasis they need. There’s intellect, experience and power there.

The gray toned paper needed some relief but I might have overdone it with the white gouache. So much detail in the hands left out here. I must admit, all those fingers, like so many windows on a building, sometimes bore me. All you need to know here is that they are hands. Period. More attention for the face.

OK, so now I’m caught up with portraits for now. Next batch in a month. Thanks for hanging in there with me. Since I know many of you are portrait artists, questions or advise! about materials or sources are welcome in comments here!

My source for inspiration, as always in the Sktchy Museum app.

Portraits: Catching up!

Periodically I get so tired of my careful, precise drawings. And I suspect this portrait above happened after I had overworked the last one. So I reached for my Pentel Brush Pen and just went for it. No subtlety here. Just the deeply grooved face of an elderly man who knows the meltdown of facial muscle tone has already occurred, and thinks, So who cares!?

And another one, all bristly white hair and determined scowl, or is it simply compassionate concern? Sometimes older folks have a scowl on their faces, but it’s really because they’re struggling a bit to see with failing vision. I should know.

This guy’s younger, and an experiment in color value. Find the shadow shape and flood it with color! Two colors here: quinacridone burnt orange and pthalo blue, and some white gouache.



What’s my favorite facial feature? Why noses of course and the bigger the better. More drawing with the Pentel Brush Pen, though I think I must have done a quick pencil sketch first? I can’t remember. The paper is good watercolor paper and white, so there’s no need to finish with white gouache for the highlights. The white of the paper does that best.

I wanted the subject, Katarina, to speak in that throaty Baltic/Russian voice. Can you imagine it? The gel pens at the end helped to convey a kind of glamour she seemed to have. That, and oh those lips!!

There’s more to catch up on. Stay tuned.

Indigenous Peoples Day with the Squaxin Island people

various pens and watercolor in Canson mixed media sketchbook 9 X 12″

Monday was Indigenous Peoples Day (formerly mis-named as Columbus Day) But when I arrived that morning at Squaxin Park (formerly Priest Point Park) in town, I was there to get to know more about these people whose home for thousands of years has been on this land we call Olympia. I brought my sketchbook, because that’s the way I learn things now. But after a few minutes I realized that I needed to be fully engaged with all my senses, and particularly my feelings to the unfolding of this event. My sketchbook became a jumble of notes as my iPhone occasionally took the pictures I would need to use later, and occasionally tears streamed down my face.

The tribal leaders opened the dedication ceremony and prayers while drummers and dancers filled the open meadow with chanting and waves of movement. We la ho yaa ye ye ye ye kaha ye or something like that. They were invoking the spirit of the land.

“The land is alive and it sings to us. The plants are alive. They are our teachers and medicine to the people.”

“We are the people of the water. “

“We are joyful all of you have arrived!” (This is written on the sign in the native language as you enter the park now)

“We as Squaxin wrap our arms around you.”

And then the mayor and council members each read a passage of the proclamation vowing to stand together with the Squaxin Island tribe for the mutual benefit of our shared home.

A minister of the Interfaith council asked everyone present to find ways to embrace the truth that indigenous wisdom holds the salvation our world needs for healing.

And then the tribal leader proclaimed “Thank you for welcoming us back to our home.” The flag of the Squaxin people was raised next to the American flag and the tribal members served a free feast to everyone.

What more can I say. I wish you’d been there. The Ancestors definitely were, in the magnificent towering trees around us.

A Poet at Oly Farmer’s Market

Our year-round Farmer’s Market has the gorgeous seasonal fruits, veggies, flowers, fish, meat, baked goods, artwork, and cool things like worm tea and fermented foods. Also live entertainment and world cuisines.

But last Saturday there was a new addition, a dapper fellow sitting at a manual typewriter set on a tiny table with a pile of small sheets of blank paper, offering custom poems! “Your Story, Your Price”

Who could resist? My first thought of course was to sketch him, but since I would be sitting close by and looking at him a lot, I first introduced myself and ordered a poem. My story. . .ummm. Something about a poet and a tree, I suggested?

fine liner pen and watercolor with Elliot’s poem in Etchr sketchbook

I sat at a picnic table with my back to the band that was playing. Children were running around, my picnic table received other visitors and their food and conversations and jostling. Most people walked right by. Some stood blocking my view for a while, speaking to the poet named Elliot, ordering poems, I presume. And I realized both Elliot and I were in the same boat, needing to concentrate fully on our creative task in the midst of numerous interruptions.

Over the years I’ve trained myself to do this, but how does one start a poem, get interrupted to take a new poem order, and immediately return to the middle of the one you were working on? I was impressed.

When I returned at the end of 45 min or longer to show him my sketch, he had a small pile of poems completed and waiting to be picked up. He dug mine out and read it to me. I was pleased! I particularly like the ending. . .”reminders, so, in the woodpulp that stays“. When I asked him how he does it, he replied, “there’s always poetry” and smiled.

 Elliot seemed pleased with his portrait too! And his poem fit just perfectly on the opposite page!

It had been a great meet up for our combined Tacoma and Olympia Urban Sketchers! Some sketched the building, others the flowers and people. All seemed to enjoy this time out of busy lives, sketching in public.

Another month of portraits

fountain pen, watercolor, and a touch of white gouache on gray toned paper

First of all thanks to the SktchyMuseum app participants who provide their inspired poses for us to draw! I’ve tried to include their names, though sometimes I think they post a picture of someone else that they took. I try different approaches to drawing/painting each one I do, which will be abundantly obvious here. Some are very quick sketches, others take longer, and none are really “finished”, because then I’m sure I would mess them up!

watercolor in field watercolor journal (140lb CP Fluid watercolor paper.

I just felt I owed myself a good watercolor surface to do some wet play on, so I switched to the Fluid watercolor paper which I love and kept it loose and wet, bleeding off edges across lines and charging more pigment into spots before the surface dried.

watercolor, gouache, white gel pen on beige toned paper

You can see the difference here as I went back to the Nova toned paper, which is not really made for those wet watercolor washes. The pigment settles in quickly and creates edges, just a different look.

watercolor, gouache, white gel pen on gray toned paper

Here I’m hardly focused at all on the surface textures, but trying out the idea of a quirky, unfinished or “vignetted” portrait.

And here’s another take on the unfinished theme, less aggressive and jarring.

Pencil, Silver fox ink, a touch of watercolor and no white gouache on gray toned paper

Another unfinished one, more along the lines I’d imagined. The gray paper read as white, so I didn’t add any, and the ink made the most lovely wash on this paper, probably because I told myself not to muck with it, haha!

So if you have a minute I would love to know what is your favorite and which if any gives you the creeps or any other response. All reactions valid and welcome.