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Start With a Pen!

How does every masterpiece begin? Do creatives just go from blank page to showpiece in one attempt? There is seldom a time where inspiration hits and out comes a beautifully composed, awe inspiring, Fine Art piece. This post will try to answer what is the first stage of a finished piece, and some exercises in drawing for those wanting to try.

Drawing is the process of moving a pointed instrument over a surface to leave a mark.

General Knowledge

That mark is a line of course! There is a tremendous amount of history just in that concept that shouldn't be told here. Lines though! Lines are important elements of art. You can make lines with ANYTHING. Mostly everyone thinks of line making with pencils or pens of some kind. There are other types of instruments available if you are inventive enough. Regardless of what you use the purpose is pretty basic. Developing your perception into a physical form.

Notice the word used here in this instance is "perception." What is perception? Perception essentially means, "the way you think and/or understand something or someone." An awareness to all elements of environment thru observation. That is somewhat different than merely looking at something. Looking at something requires little to no effort. It is a passive act that requires no thought or understanding. Think in terms of reading. If you are skimming over the text, that would be looking thru it. If you are taking time to visualize each sentence, and giving it the extra effort of thought you are perceiving.

Drawing is an exercise to study or understand what is being viewed. Drawings also allow ideas to take shape. Sketchbooks are the best way to throw down ideas that needs more study at a later date. Essentially, making it a visual diary with notes, and images that can be developed into a larger ideas. It is the first step really, to completing other art projects.

So, to answer the question from the intro, Drawing is more the preliminary stage of creating grand showpieces. From refined 3D prints to high-rise skyscrapers, drawing the idea first is the easiest way to mess up, adjust for correction. Leonardo da Vinci filled more than one hundred sketchbooks with his ideas. Which included his flying machine, human anatomy studies, and along side with notes.

Intriguing Fact: Leonardo da Vinci was left handed and wrote backwards!

Partial sketch of shoulder anatomy by Leonardo da Vinci
Anatomy of Shoulder and Neck by DaVinci at collection of Royal Collection Trust, UK

Get to the Point

Most popular drawing media is graphite pencils. It is the most versatile that is now manufactured in a number of sizes and degrees of hardness. Since it has such a vast range of possibilities the pencil can be used for both the fine and broad techniques. Drawings, by their techniques, may be divided into two categories The Fine and the Broad media.

Fine Media

The fine media types are more precise with a thinner pointed instrument over the paper. typically this media type produces a very fine line leaving and indelible mark that will not smudge. The most universal technique popular in all period has been pen and ink. The metal nibs of today come in a variety of sizes making extremely strong crisp lines suited for reproduction.

Broad Media

The broad media types are charcoal, chalk, crayon, pastel, wash(diluted ink), watercolor, spray paint. These materials give more subtle gradations of tone and greater variation in width of line than fine media. Transparent coats of diluted ink or water color may be applied with a brush to supplement line drawings, thus modeling them with areas of light and dark or heightening them with color.

In terms of ink "washes" are generally used; with water color "watercolor drawing" is the term used. The Guardian shown below is a mixture of a wash drawing and fine media of pen and ink.

Mixed Media painting
The Guardian by Heath Payne

1st Exercise in Fine Point

With all that being said, if you have a desire to start your masterpiece, I suggest you start with a pen. If your goal is to be better with a pen, familiarity of the tool is required. Each instrument can accomplish different things under different circumstances, but ultimately you are using the pen's most valuable asset: the inked line.

In drawing there is almost no end to the variety of length, direction and character of the lines used or methods of combining each to create a masterpiece. The artist must be able to draw long, sweeping strokes, bold vigorous lines, sketchy short choppy lines, or precise delicate little dots to accomplish a finished pen drawing. For those types of techniques the artist must spend leisure hours sketching and becoming more at ease creating each line.

Straight lines offer a natural starting point for practice. Start with horizontal lines drawn slowly with even pressure from your pen. If you are using a ballpoint play with the pressure and see how it effects your paper. Notice that the nib of the ball point creates a slight valley that can catch the light if the paper is moved just right.

Try to keep your lines evenly spaced and exactly the same length. That exercise in it of itself is tougher than you think. Making one mark is simple, but duplicating the mark multiple times requires a bit more practice.

Draw a vertical line on the left of your paper and then a second vertical on the opposite side of your paper. Use these lines as starting and stopping points for your horizontal exercise.

Too often the beginner is misled into copying what seems to be carelessly drawn lines made by well known artists. Lines of this sort are often the result of years of practice and usually very hard to imitate successfully.

Building Tone with Your Lines

Pen drawings can be done with outlines alone, but to give your masterpiece a suggestion of gray that is obtained by placing dots or lines of pure black together with various spacing.

After your practice with straight lines, now comes the time to build value and tone with those straight lines. A flat tone can be created with straight lines spaced evenly together regardless of the line direction. That is a form of hatching. Lines drawn evenly spaced in opposing direction of each other, for example horizontal overlapping vertical, is an example of cross hatching.

The idea is to use the one color ink on paper to create tonality by spacing your lines accordingly. Tight lines of crosshatching with give a darker tone as opposed to heavily spaced lines making an optical white appearance. Practice creating tone with overlapping lines with various spacing. Experiment with lines as well. Combine curved strokes and hatched into areas of tone.

Practice Exercise

After some practicing of these basic skills with the pen, apply what you learn. Draw an arrangement of three everyday objects in your home. Draw what you perceive, which means you will have to study the object. Recognize where the objects are in relation to each other, where the light is, and what kind of lines you should use to capture what you are looking at during this experience.

In Closing

We will never have a beautiful world if we never create a beautiful world.

Leave a comment of your favorite drawing utensil and your favorite masterpiece!

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