Friday, March 30, 2012

Sketching Out a Comic

Horse Life 12 - rough sketch
Everyone has their own way of jotting down ideas. Around here, napkins are popular surfaces, as are random scraps of paper. Sometimes, I might even jot down an idea in an actual sketch book. But I don’t do this too often. Instead, I keep my sketchbooks for more finished ideas and keep a folder on my desk filled with low-quality sketching paper and soon-to-be-recycled printer paper. This paper is used for notes, ink tests, doodles, ideas, etc. I like having this paper really close at hand so I never need to go hunting for paper when I’m thinking/doodling.

I’d been contemplating several ideas for this week's “Horse Life,” but until today, none of them were really doing it for me.  While I was out at Starbucks tonight I suddenly had my idea! I thought I’d post my concept page here to give you an idea of how rough my initial ideas look. After this roughest stage, I'll re-draw the page at least once before inking it. 

This seems a remarkably simple process compared to “Privateer Princess” (our old webcomic).

As I wanted “Privateer Princess” to look more like real manga comic, each page went through four or five distinct stages of creation before posting. First, Matt did the initial rough. Then I re-drew it (at least once). After which I inked it and added tone on the computer. Then we added the dialog together. After this we re-sized the page for the web and then posted it. Phew! It was a lot of work to post weekly. 

“Horse Life” is much easier. Perhaps I’ve learned a few things since the “Privateer Princess” days. Perhaps I’ve just gotten a bit more laid back about it all. Either way, I’m finding “Horse Life” to be a delight. I hope you are too!

If you’d like to take a look at “Horse Life” you can see it here.
If you’d like to see “Privateer Princess” you can see it here.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Horse Life 11

Horse Life 11 is up on my website today horse shoppers!
Click here to see it!

The Search for the Perfect Brown

I've found my brown ink!
For a long time now I have been searching for a good brown ink to draw with. My color model is a brown used by artists of the past. (For example, Beatrix Potter used a brown ink in her illustrations quite frequently.) That brown color, which I have always thought of as Sepia, is a reddish-brown, sometimes leaning towards Golden-Brown. I know that I’m picky, but I have already tried a number of inks and have not yet been able to find the perfect one. Here’s a list of the inks that I have already tried - Noodler’s Golden Brown, Noodler’s Polar Brown, Noodler’s Whaleman’s Sepia, Noodler’s Cayenne. It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Fortunately, the nice folks at Goulet Pens sell ink samples so you can get in and get out really cheaply.

I realized that it was time for another round of ink tests and ordered some new samples from Brian and Rachel Goulet. My newest batch included - Diamine Dark Brown, Diamine Sepia, Diamine Ancient Copper, De Atramentis Ochre Yellow and Private Reserve Copper Burst. Online I could see that all the inks appeared to be in the right color family. I had a brand new Noodler’s Flex pen in the Arizona color primed and waiting for her new brown ink.

Brown ink comparisons on Bee paper
I tested all the new inks with a dip pen and although it was a close race between the Diamine Sepia and the Diamine Ancient Copper, the Sepia pulled it out to win! (So it WAS a Sepia ink all along!!) It was exactly the color I’d hoped for. What’s more, it paired perfectly with a Pitt #169 (Caput Mortem) Brush Pen. And so voila! A new pen and brush set ready for drawing! I’m very pleased!

Ink tests with Diamine Sepia in Noodler's Flex pen and Pitt brush #169 on Bee paper
Ironically, now that I have the perfect ink, I’m having some trouble with the Arizona flex pen. I have several Flex pens that I keep filled with various colors of ink. This one, as I have said, was ear-marked for the brown ink. Two of my newest flex pens come from a later manufacturing batch and just aren’t as good as my three earlier flex pens. They’re alright but the nib doesn’t sit as deeply into the pen and they just doesn’t write/draw as well for me. But it does an OK job as you can see in the drawing samples. Perhaps in the future I’ll find another individual Noodler’s Flex pen that writes a bit better to replace it. But in the meantime, I love my new ink color!

Sepia ink in Banditapple Carnet Notebook
The ink samples are shown in a Bee Pen Sketcher’s pad and in a Banditapple Carnet Peewee notebook. I have to take a moment to say the Banditapple Carnet notebook is very impressive in that the ink did not bleed through the page as I would have expected. It’s really a sweet little purse notebook for $3.50. You can find them at

Friday, March 23, 2012

New Brush Pens!

Kinokuniya purchases
Yesterday, on my way to massage a few horses at the racetrack (yes, I do that too!), I stopped at Kinokuniya Bookstore (heaven!) in downtown Seattle and took a good look at their brush pens. I have been doing some tests of the Zebra Disposable Brush Sign Pens and liked them, but of course, there’s always room for a more perfect pen. So…on to Kinokuniya. They had a lovely selection, luckily with testers all arranged neatly as I couldn’t read a word on the labels except for Pentel, Pilot, etc… I tried them all out and picked out three, which I needed to research when I got home to find out what I had bought!

Apparently, I bought a Pilot Pocket Brush – Hard, a Pilot Double-Sided Brush Pen, and an unknown Pentel grey brush pen. It’s funny that I can’t figure out what the third pen is exactly. I have been looking on the web and can find nothing that looks just the same. If any of you know what this one is, please tell me. I am curious!

Brush Pens - (from left to right) Zebra Disposable Brush Pen Fine, Zebra Disposable Brush Pen Superfine,
Pilot Double-Sided Brush Pen, Pilot Pocket Brush - Hard, Pentel unknown grey brush pen.
Here are my pen tests. All of the brush pens seemed quite good. The Pilot Pocket Brush is perhaps the best of them and it pairs nicely with my Noodler’s Flex pen. (I like creating matched pairs of pen and brush. In my next post, when I talk about my new brown inks, I’ll mention this again.) For the test I also added my Pitt Design Pens (Brush and “S”) to round out the field. I’ve been using the Pitt brush pens for some time now, but they may have just had their spot taken by the Pilot Pocket Brush. It’s a darker black and really is quite enjoyable to use.

Brush pen tests
As another interesting note, today I proved to myself that Thelwell MUST HAVE used both pen and brush in his cartoons. Some of the effects he achieved could only have been gotten this way.
Pentel Pocket Brush and Noodler's Flex pen a great combination!
All my ink tests were done in a Bee Pen Sketcher’s pad.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Making Marks – Classical vs. Modern

If you’ve been visiting my blog recently you will have noticed that I have been doing a focused study of pen & ink work. Although many people today use pen and ink in their sketches or artwork, most do not use it in a classical style. That classical style is really not popular today for more than scientific or perhaps technical illustrations. From the 19th Century back to the Renaissance the classical form of pen and ink marks were an artistic staple. I call them “classical” marks as they mirrored the marks seen in engravings and woodcuts (woodblock prints) which were also popular in those times. Relatively linear, these classical marks created very solid-looking images, where the details stand out in high-relief. Modern marks, on the other hand, are more airy, varied, and generalized.

Howard Pyle is a master of classical marks. His pen and ink illustration style is very reminiscent of woodblock marks and reminds me strongly of the work of Albrecht Durer. In fact, I’m sure Pyle studied Durer when he was learning. As I struggle to copy his marks, I find that the marks really do tell the story of the artist. They are very much like the brush strokes of a painter and you can as easily learn as much from them. It’s like holding the original artist’s hand as you draw. A fascinating process.

Here is my newest pen and ink exercise. A knight copied from Howard Pyle’s “Otto of the Silver Hand” (Dover Books). I have shown you my progress in four pieces. The final piece is approximately 6.5” x 4” clearly much smaller than Pyle’s original piece. If I had chosen to work bigger, as he had, I would have been able to be more accurate in many of the smaller marks. All the same, I did my best with it and think it turned out pretty well. These drawings were created with a Namiki Falcon on Stillman and Birn Epsilon paper with Noodler's Bulletproof Black ink and a Superfine Zebra Disposable Brush pen.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Horse Life 10

There has always been “the newest thing” in tack. I was a teen in the 1980’s in Maryland and spent many days in tack stores looking at all the cool gear available. Even though the prices were much lower back then, there was always a new brand of something coming out, a new type of saddle pad, a new color of bridle. “Keyhole” or “Riser Pads” were new in the 1980’s and really hot items. If your saddle sat too low in the cantle (the back end) or needed stuffing it would boost it up just enough (hopefully) to become level on your horse’s back.

Frequently though, what happened was that the saddle ended up jacked too high in the back and tilted forward onto the horse’s withers. (Thus protective pommel pads were developed but that’s a story for another time.) I wondered what would happen if we took that notion a step farther and so this comic was born.

Welcome to the saddle pad of the future – The Perfect 2-Point Riser PadTM with Bounce Technology!

Happy St. Paddy’s Day everyone!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Blue Nose Bear

Noodler’s Blue Nose Bear is an interesting ink. It’s a cool blue-green color and is, according to Noodler’s Inks, bulletproof (proof against forgery/solvents), partially waterproof, and fluorescent. One of the main selling points for this ink is that it will create a light blue halo around spots that bleed. It writes rather wet, which I like, and that wetness shows off some of its haloing qualities on the right paper. I’ve been noodling around with it (pun intended) for some time now but finally had a moment to do a complete piece with it to see how it did. Here is the result.
"Hillside", Noodler's Blue Nose Bear ink on Stillman and Birn Epsilon paper
I am quite pleased with this drawing. Somehow this color seems appropriate to Pacific Northwest landscapes. Although it is not extremely clear in the scan, you can actually see some haloing in the darkest darks.

So what is my impression of Noodler’s Blue Nose Bear? I like it! I will definitely be leaving it in one of my Nib Creaper Flex pens for a while.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why We Copy

Copy of Table of Contents Illustration (partial) from
"The Story of King Arthur and His Knights" by Howard Pyle
Back in graduate school, I came into conflict with myself over the concept of copying from the Masters. There was a great feeling in the late 1980’s that “copying” was not cool. Of course, in hindsight, seriously listening to the rantings of other early twenty-somethings seems incredibly silly. Students of Art have been learning from works of those who have gone before them from time immemorial. I’m still not certain what the movement against it was in the late ‘80’s. Something societal, I’m sure. But whatever it was became so deeply ingrained in me that as it’s taken a very long time to feel OK about copying to learn. Certainly, I would never copy anything in order to sell it. But there are invaluable lessons to be learned from master artists. Through copying, one can learn much about what they discovered in their artistic journeys.

Yesterday, I wrote about my need to have some of my favorite illustrators close at hand in order to study their works. As I am currently in a phase of further learning with pen & ink, studying the works of Golden Age Illustrators from the late 19th and early 20th centuries seems very appropriate. Before color reproductions were cheap and easy to reproduce for publications, people relied of high quality pen & ink artwork to tell their stories. Howard Pyle is one of my favorite Illustrators from this time period. His pen and ink technique is exquisite and his drawings fanciful but also incredibly accurate. Pyle’s “The Story of King Arthur and His Knights,” is one of my favorites. Although my copy is a bit dog-eared and charcoal-smudged, I wouldn’t part with it for the world. Both the story and the illustrations are wonderful.

P.S. For any that might be interested, my drawing was done with a Noodler's Flex pen and Noodler's Lexington Grey ink on a Bee Paper "Pen Sketcher's" pad.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

On Books

A selection of books looking for a bookshelf
After much grimacing, I realized today that I was going to have to get into the boxes in the garage and excavate some books. Now before I go any further I should state for the record that Matt and I are huge bibliophiles. Also, that our rather large book collection requires many, many bookshelves which we are having a devil of a time finding locations for in the new house. Ironically the new place is about the same size as the old place where we had plenty of room for all the books. I don’t understand why but the new house seems just the wrong shape to have enough spots for all our bookcases.

When we first moved in we got out the “critical” book sections and found homes for those. These included my art studio reference, business, fiction, poetry, horses, and some children’s books. The manga (except for two rather sad and dog-eared copies of Immortal Rain) are all in boxes in our bedroom closet. The cookbooks are in boxes in the Family Room waiting for a bookshelf to be painted Plum. The new age books are in the bedroom, I think…

Meanwhile History, Fantasy/Science Fiction, Fine Art, Children’s, and Massage are still waiting to find homes. In utter frustration I have told Matt that we’re going to have to finish the basement in order to create a proper library!

In the meantime, I needed to have some illustrators near to hand to study. So up came Arthur Rackham, Winsor McCay, NC Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Beatrix Potter, Brian Froud, Charles Vess, Michael Kaluta, James Gurney, Mac Raboy, and a variety of Japanese manga and game artists. (I have still not been able to locate Leyendecker... *grump*)

I feel better now…I truly do. Now, if I could only figure out where to put them!  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Adventures in Writing Part 3: Getting the Feel of a Falcon

Old Farmhouse Door (5" x 7" pen & ink)
Namiki Falcon pen with Noodler's Black Ink on Stillman & Birn Epsilon paper.
As promised, the next test for my new Namiki Falcon fountain pen was to use it to create a piece of art. This exercise is the result. I was debating whether or not to put it up here as, frankly, it is not one of my better pieces. Not better for several reasons that have nothing to do with the pen used to create it. Briefly, and for the sake of critique, I will say that the lack of success of this piece is due to drawing errors made in perspective and the lack of quality reference material used to draw it from. Having cleared that up, I can now move along to the true purpose of this post, which is to describe how the Falcon performed as an art pen.

As an overview, the Namiki Falcon creates a lovely line. It’s consistent and a pleasure to draw with. My pen has an SF (fine) nib. It creates a fine (narrow) width line, as fine or finer than anything else I have to draw with. Its balance is wonderful and it’s a light pen, even posted, and my hand did not get fatigued while drawing. There were a lot of different marks used in this piece and the pen handled them all extremely well. As the Falcon’s nib is only semi-flexible, for some of the darkest marks I decided to use a Noodler’s Flex pen. But those marks were in the vast minority. The vast majority of the marks were made with the Falcon. It was an interesting test to switch back and forth between the Noodler’s Flex and the Falcon. When switching it was easy to notice the difference in quality between the two pens. But that's to be expected as the Namiki Falcon costs 10x the price of a Noodler’s Flex pen.

So what were my lasting impressions? Would I use it again? Was it worth the price? To all of these I would have to say a resounding Yes! I’m not certain that I would use it as my only pen for a pen & ink piece. I like having a few different pens available for creating different textures and tricks. But I would use it alone for a delicate black & white illustration or one that was to be tinted with watercolor later.

So kudos, Namiki Falcon, for your first inking performance and welcome to my pen case!