Monday, June 20, 2011

Drawing With Pen & Ink - Part 2: Line vs. Tone Artwork

In this article I want to share some of the concepts from a classic pen and ink book by Arthur Guptill called, “Drawing with Pen & Ink.” (This book is out of print but I believe it has been reprinted as “Rendering in Pen and Ink: The Classic Book On Pen and Ink Techniques for Artists, Illustrators, Architects, and Designers,” written by Arthur L. Guptill  and edited by Susan E. Meyer.

Line and Tone Artwork
According to Guptill, pen drawing as a separate and complete art form is comparatively recent, only appearing in the last quarter of the 19th Century. The pen was, of course, used in art much earlier, you have only to look at the illuminations of the Middle Ages or the studies of various old masters to see that. What Guptill is describing are pen drawings as pieces of fine art in their own right, not as adjuncts to calligraphy or as parts of preliminary studies for later finished paintings.

Photomechanical reproduction techniques played a large role in the popularity of pen drawing as a separate and distinct art form. Before the advent of computers, scanners, and digital separation techniques, artwork for reproduction was divided into two basic categories: “line” and “tone” artwork. Color artwork that needed to be separated into several colors for printing was “tone.” Graphite pencil, as well as other techniques using graded shades of gray or color, were also considered “tone.”

"Rose Horse," mixed media, an example of a "tone" drawing. (copyright Sara Light-Waller, 2011)

Pen drawings made up of black lines or dots were considered “line” artwork for the purposes of reproduction. Line artwork was easier to reproduce. There was little needed in the way of proofing by artists and printers. It was either too light, too dark, or just right.

Although a complex pen drawing may look like it has many shades of grey within it, it is still, strictly speaking, only black and white. The skillful use of shading with lines or dots is what makes black and white “line” artwork appear to look like graded “tone.”

"Armored Horse," pen, an example of "line" artwork. (Copyright Sara Light-Waller, 2011)

Nowadays, with digital reproduction techniques, all of these old forms are no longer important. What remains important is to understand why pen & ink became so popular in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Simply put, it was cheaper and easier reproduce. It also usually reproduced well. What about that isn’t good?

Next up in Part 3The Unique Qualities of Pen Drawings