Sometimes Sketching Isn’t About The Sketching

My daughter is home from school for a week and I got a late start as I headed to the museum to do some sketching.  By the time I got there it was nearly 11AM and I found that three of my friends had been there since opening time.  Two of them I hadn’t seen in quite a while so we spent some time ‘catching up.’  Ultimately we decided to meet in the cafeteria for some of their divine cremed turnip soup.  And so it was when I headed off to find something to draw.

Then I realized that soup time was only 25 minutes away.  Hmmm…  Rather than starting a long pencil drawing of one of the statues I decided to whip out the Namiki Falcon and use it to do a simple sketch of one of the glass cabinets and their contents.  These things are two huge sheets of glass set parallel to one another with a table inside.  The area above the table is encased in a big glass box.  Easy peasy, says I.  By the end my eyes had crossed trying to follow transparent sheets of glass inside of sheets of glass.  It was fun though.  The soup and company were better.  Sometimes sketching isn’t about the sketching.

Stillman & BIrn Alpha (10x7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black, Pentel brush  pen with Platinum Carbon ink

Stillman & BIrn Alpha (10×7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black, Pentel brush pen with Platinum Carbon ink

Hibernation’s Hidden Costs

It’s currently -13F outside.  This, they say, is a ‘warming trend’ and in reality it is warmer than it was just a few days ago.  But from the perspective of a street sketcher, it matters little whether it’s -13 or -30 outside, I stay inside.

Mid-winter depression is a real phenomenon in places like Quebec, where I live, but for me, it’s more like cabin fever.  I spend too much time looking out the windows, wishing for a place to sketch.  In previous years our Museum of Civilisation has been that place and the displays there have kept me busy throughout our long winters.

But this year, half of the museum is closed due to a fire that occurred just as winter was starting and what’s left are displays of early animation where you can watch endless series of cartoons and the Olympus exhibit which is filled with lots and lots and lots of plaster statues of Zeus, Aphrodite and their kin.
Sketching them was fun at the outset but I truly am a street sketcher that likes drawing buildings.  Yet another plaster head is just not cutting it anymore and so my sketching is floundering somewhat these days.  I doodle a lot but it’s just not the same.  So, I decided to draw a window.  It was just one lowly window, drawn in a 3×5 sketchbook, but it sure felt good (grin).

2015-02-06window

Moleskine watercolor notebook, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black ink

 

My Sketching Brakes Are Ineffective

Recently I’ve been on a quick-sketching binge.  Everything I look at got scribbled onto paper in a minute or two.  That’s a lot of fun and, I feel, it helps me “see” shapes and their relationships more quickly.  But it’s sort of like eating a steady diet of Twinkies.  You might even like Twinkies but at some point you’re going to want an apple.  I needed an apple.

I stopped to pick up a pound of coffee at a local coffee roastery.  I decided to sit and draw so I also bought a coffee as an excuse to inhabit one of their chairs.  I sat on a high chair near a window and two guys sat down near me, below my eye level, and I saw an opportunity to ‘know’ that my subject would be there for a while.  I started sketching with the idea that I would have ample opportunity to truly capture their essence.

Have you ever gotten off the freeway and had a hard time driving as slowly at the side street speed limits require?  That’s how I felt.  I started blocking out the sketch with some well-placed dots and then found myself scribbling details.  I tried to slow down but my quick-sketching brain just wouldn’t let go.  This was a constant struggle throughout the process.  The result was a sketch that wasn’t quite a quick-sketch but not what I was really trying to accomplish.  I think I have to get my sketching brakes checked.  Oh…and how do you draw shaved heads?

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10x7), Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black, Pentel brush pen

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black, Pentel brush pen

De Atramentis Document Ink: Creating A Grey

The new De Atramentis Document inks (not to be confused with other De Atramentis inks) are a dream come true for those of us who sketch with fountain pens and want waterproof inks.  Before they came along, color choices could be described pretty much like Henry Ford described color selection for the Model T Ford – “any color as long as it’s black.”

The current elephant in the room question is whether we’re going to have a ready supply of these inks over time.  De Atramentis is a one-man operation and Goulet Pens, to my knowledge, is the only source for them in North America. Their last shipment came in and went out before some people had a chance to even see them show up.  Brian has said their current order is very large.  I hope so.

I was one of the lucky ones.  I’ve had De Atramentis Document Black and Brown for a while now and was able to fill in the other colors during the few hours they were available at Goulet Pens.

The potential to create any color I want now exists, except for one thing.  De Atramentis sells a solvent for their inks and proper dilution should be done with that solvent.  These inks are pigmented inks and every ink have a particular chemistry to give them the flow and paper interaction properties of a particular brand of ink.   The proper solvent should be used to provide the proper lubricant, stabilizer, and maybe anti-fungal agent in their proper proportions.  The big deal here is the lubricant as this generates proper flow through the pen.  Too much lubrication and you can get feathering, nib creap, and slow-to-dry inks.  Too little and you can get a dry-writing ink, though it may actually dry more quickly.

So before I continue, there’s my caveat.  If you fear doing anything that might be referred to as an “experiment”, read no further.  This is an experiment.  I’ve mixed up a grey ink using the brown and blue ink in this line.  It creates a very dark grey, not unlike Noodler’s Lexington Gray  but a bit darker.  I wanted to lighten it up, but the solvent isn’t available to me, so I used water.  Worse still, throwing caution to the wind, I used plain old tap water to thin the ink.  Here’s what I mixed:

De Atramentis Document inks, not to be confused with other De Atramentis inks:

Brown:  3 parts
Black:    2 parts
water:    3 parts

That works out to 60% water, which is a lot but I found that when thinning other inks I had to add a considerable amount of water to lighten their color.  This proved true for the De Atramentis Document inks as well, maybe even to a greater degree.

grey

grey2As you can see, I got a decent dark grey.   I may want to play a bit with the blue/brown mix or maybe try a green/red mix but this is just about what I want on a tonal scale.  Just enough to take the harsh black edge off my sketches.

The real point of the experiment, though, was to see how diluting with water would work.  I’m surprised to say that even with this extreme dilution, the ink holds up nicely.  There is no feathering, the line remains consistent and there are no flow problems with the Pilot Prera (fine nib) that I used to dispense it.  I wanted the sketch to reflect the tonal differences between the black and gray lines so I used De Atramentis Black to do all the shadow lines on the right side of the bottle.  After scanning I quickly slopped watercolor all over it and can report that the waterproof nature of the ink is retained.  All of this is being done on cheap sketchbook paper.  Just to ensure that it wasn’t the result of the paper, I did a bunch of scribbles on Stillman & Birn Alpha series paper and those were were waterproof as well.

By the way, there’s been some discussion of a Fog Gray color being added to the De Atramentis line.  Those few who have had access to it have found that it’s really more of a grey blue than a true grey.   Given that it’s easy to mix our own greys, though, it hardly matters.

For me, the experiment was a great success.  To be honest I’m still a bit surprised because in my experience, dilution of pigment-based products (wood stains I’ve used) with water are very limited and things tend to fall apart once you get past 10-15%.  Here I’ve more than doubled the volume of ink with water..and it still works.  Go figure.  I still wish I could get access to De Atramentis solvent but until that time…I’m going to go draw a few shades of grey.

De Atramentis Document Inks & Doodling

De Atramentis, the Austrian ink company, has been releasing a growing line of fountain-pen friendly, waterproof inks for a while now.  Buying them in North America, however, has been nearly impossible.  Goulet Pens finally got them back in stock, I ordered, and within a couple hours people were reporting that they were out of them.  Hopefully distribution will get worked out over time.

DeAtramentis Document inks

These inks are a wonderful addition to my arsenal and become the ones I use most often, I think.  Not only are basic blue, black and brown available but they sell an equivalent of the CMYK (cyan/magenta/yellow/black) set that is used to generate color in offset printing.  And they’re mixable.  Jane Blundell has done a series of blog posts on mixing them.

2015-01-20doodles

The black ink makes my Pilot Falcon very happy. Like Platinum Carbon Black, it causes the pens to write a bit finer than they normally would.

 

2015-01-21doodles

Same thing for the Pilot Prera.

 

I’ve just started doodling with them.  I’ve mixed up a gray but otherwise I’ve been working with the colors straight out of the bottle.  They are very similar to Platinum Carbon Black in use, though for some reason they feel smoother to me, maybe a bit wetter.  So far I have them in Pilot Prera and Falcon pens and a Noodler’s Creaper.  As is typical of the Creaper, there is a bit of start up problem but otherwise all these pens seem to like it.  Time will tell.

2015-01-22hatching1

I did some hatching practice with a Pilot Prera filled with De Atramentis Document Brown. The color is a rich brown, leaning towards a burnt sienna. I really like it, though I can always adjust the color by mixing. That’s the great thing about these inks.