My Process and Materials
I create most of my art from my camper van which I share with my partner and our cat who we found while travelling through Europe.
Living in a small space and being so close to the outdoors provides a perfect opportunity to go outside and explore or just sit quietly among nature.
Drawing in pen reminds me to slow down, breathe and get into the flow - as mistakes are very hard to rectify in this medium, concentration is paramount!
When I'm not creating from my camper van, I'm staying with friends/family or house-sitting - it's incredible the things you really appreciate when you're used to being in a 4m x 2m space! You can read about my experience creating from my van in my blog post here.
I don't receive any commission from the links below and are purely for your information if you want to try them out.
Pens and Brushes
I use a combination of different pens in my work depending on where and what I'm drawing:
You can get some nice rich blacks with these technical pens which are hugely popular. Ink flow is completely even with no dangers of blobs. I use sizes 0.05 to 0.3 the most often. On the downside, these are disposable pens and sometimes I find the nib wears down before the ink has been used up. I always keep my semi-dried up ones as find them great for doing very light texture work such as fur or fine hair.
Aristo technical pens
These are similar to the above but I switched over from Pigma Microns as my main pens to these as I liked the fact that they were refillable and meant less waste plastic. I wanted the opportunity to try different coloured inks and Aristo makes a small selection. Also, they had some of the smallest nib sizes I’ve come across, going down to 0,1mm – great for the tiniest of details
Unfortunately, the nibs haven't lasted as long as I expected and instead of changing just the metal nib, the whole bottom end of the pen actually needs replacing so it was a bit of a counter-intuitive move in terms of reducing waste and cost.
I couldn't seem to find a manufacturer website for these but you can find more info at Jackson's Art.
These are a fairly new addition to my inking arsenal so I’m still very much trying to get the hang of the art of dipping for just the right amount of ink. I’m using the Speedball 2964 pen set which comes with Hunt nibs. I like the School nib the most as it’s not overly scratchy or flexible.
I use a Lamy safari fountain pen in Medium with a refillable tank. It has fairly good ink flow, except when sketching really fast. I use this for quick or expressive sketches and as the Aramatis ink I use is waterproof, I often combine with watercolour. Don't make the mistake of using India Ink in a fountain pen like I did! It will clog it up, sometimes beyond repair if the ink has a chance to dry.
Pentel Aqua Brush
This is actually meant for watercolour and I have used it that way as it’s great for plein-air sketching, though mine does have a tendency to leak a bit and dump too much water onto the paper. I wanted a way to fill in black areas fairly quickly and neatly without using my watercolour brushes so tried it with Winsor & Newton India ink and it works really well.
I have read that some people have had trouble with the ink clogging the pen, but I didn’t see to have this problem, though it did take a while for the ink to start flowing at a good rate - sometimes a quick dip in some water can sort that right out. It can be used as a substitute for a standard brush pen.
I don’t tend to use a really wide variety of paper for drawing as I already have lots of different types for watercolour, graphite, pastel..and it does start to take up quite a bit of room.
For quick ink or pencil sketches, I use standard printer copy paper. I find that the ink doesn’t bleed if I use technical pens and it’s thin enough that I can use it over a lightbox to trace and refine the details of a sketch. It’s also really cheap and readily available.
For larger more complex pieces, I often use 260gsm Faber-Castell cartridge paper which is classed as being suitable for mixed media so it will take some light watercolour washes. It has a fairly smooth texture and I can just about see though it on the lightbox if the underdrawing is in ink. I buy the A3 pads and cut the paper down to any smaller sizes I need. Prices are quite reasonable and work out at around 40p per A3 sheet.
For pieces where I'll be sending the original to a customer it's Bristol Board all the way! I use Strathmore 400.
I have only recently started to experiment with drawing on illustration board. The brand I bought is more of a student grade but it’s incredibly think and rigid so at some point, I plan on seeing how it handles watercolour and gouache over the top.
On the downside, it’s way too think to use with a lightbox so underdrawings have to be refined on the board itself (though you could also use carbon transfer paper for smaller sizes, or redraw from a refined sketch using the grid method). It also has an off-white colour which I think looks a little bit too on the grey side!
I'm still very much in the experimental stage but so far, I'm loving the Washi paper made by Awagami Factory - it's thin but incredible strong so it's a great choice for linoprinting when you don't have a press.
Left: A selection of printmaking papers: Awagami Kitakana Green, Zerkall Antique, Strathmore River Point, Somerset Satin, Awagami Select, Stonehenge Vellum-Like Pearl Grey
Up until recently, I'd always used the trusted Winsor & Newton brand which come in a wide array of colours but recently I've been trying Jackson's Art's brand. The ink is water-based so it can be combined with water to create pen and wash images, interesting effects and variegated tones.
This is an archival-quality document ink for use in fountain pens. It's also waterproof so it's great for pen and watercolour wash sketches. It's available in several colours - I have it in both black and brown and a little goes a very long way so it's great value for money.
Made by Speedball, Akua ink is a soy-based ink and can be applied to lino as well as wood blocks for relief printing. What I love about this ink is that it's pretty thick and only dries on absorbent surfaces so it gives me plenty of time to ink linocut blocks. I also don't have to worry about wasting leftover ink on the tray as I can still use it a few days later. It comes in a wide assortment of colours, including white, though I only have the black.
I've come across a couple of strong opinions about Akua and how much some folks really can't stand the stuff, but as I'm feeling pretty comfortable using it, I'm going to continue until experience might tell me otherwise.
Another water-soluble ink, I use this for printing on card only as the Akua doesn't seem to dry - it can be used on standard printmaking and for general lino applications.
Speedball Fabric Ink
A new addition to my arsenal, I'll be conducting some more fabric printing with this over 2020. So far, my main observation is just how thick and tacky the ink is. This does make it rather difficult to maintain details as the ink seems to penetrate the smaller cuts, but I'm not giving up yet!
It washes off easily and although it says that it doesn't require heat-setting, friends on a linocut Facebook group have said it's still best practice to do so.
Pencils and erasers
I mainly use mechanical refillable pencils made by Pentel and I like to do my initial sketches using a 2B but as they get more refined, I go up to harder leads. I also use a 4H if I need to draw on the paper itself as it produces really light strokes and doesn’t permanently mark the paper.
I rarely use moulded erasers as prefer my kneaded one for pretty much everything. I use Faber Castell erasers and usually have a few dotted around the place as I often end up walking around with one stuck to me that then takes me hours to locate!
I was given an A3 lightbox by my sister last year. Prior to using it, I’d always lent up again windows when needing to transfer a drawing from one paper to another. The lightbox has been an amazing time-saver and has meant it’s quick and easy for me to create new drafts with slightly different elements or different positioning.
The brand I use is Tingkam – I’m not sure they make these anymore but I doubt there’s much difference between the different ones currently on offer. It has three brightness settings and so far, it works well for paper up to around 280gsm before it becomes a little difficult to see through. Lightboxes are rather delicate though so I have to be extremely careful that it doesn’t get dropped or knocked - mine already has a masking tape bandage on it where my partner rested his foot on it and cracked the screen!
I would love to purchase a decent printer so I can produce my own prints but for the time being, I make do with an old Epson "all-in-one" workstation leftover from when I worked as a freelance designer. The printer itself isn't suitable for art prints but the scanner gets a lot of use which is A4 and can scan up to 1200dpi.
I use the Pfeil mushroom handled tools. Aside from the fact that it's just another excuse to get something mushroomy in my life, they have a great reputation for their high quality and are Swiss-made.
You can purchase these in sets but having done a bit of research and taken on the suggestions of Nick Morley, I went for a mixed selection of U and V gouges: 11/1, 11.05
The numbering is a bit confusing - as I understand it, the first digit relates to the curvature (or "sweep") of the blade and the second number refers to the width of the tip. They need to be sharpened around every 20 minutes or so of use and I use a honing compound on a leather strop but it won't be long before I need to buy a sharpening stone.Lino
Although I initially purchased both hard and soft lino initially for comparison, my preference is the former which is not only better for detailed work, but also more environmentally-friendly as it's completely biodegradable. The soft is much easier to cut and a bit cheaper, though you often have to cut in two directions to remove the little pieces.
The hard version that I buy is grey and has a hessian backing so you have to be careful not to let the threads get covered with ink and transfer to your print. Hard lino can be also be much harder to cut if it's not warmed up sufficiently so I usually put it under a warm hot water bottle, though a radiator will also do the trick.