Sunday, August 2, 2015

A (Nearly) Single Line Sketch (Plus Inky PSA)

8/2/15 brush pens
Using a continuous, single line to draw an object’s contour – sometimes without looking at the paper, which is called blind contour drawing – is one of those exercises that many how-to-draw books recommend. I’ve tried it numerous times, but only with still lifes, life drawing or my own hand – never while sketching on location.

Yesterday Larry Marshall had a compelling blog post about his attempts at single-line sketches on location, as recommended by Marc Taro Holmes in his free, downloadable tutorial, Making Expressive Pen and Ink Drawings on Location. I empathized with the frustrations Larry experienced, but I was also intrigued by the process. After reading Marc’s tutorial (which was a good review of some of the main concepts he covered in his book, The Urban Sketcher), I gave it a try.

Since today is Seafair Sunday, the culmination of a month-long summer celebration highlighted by clogged traffic everywhere, I decided that I would travel the shortest distance possible and still be able to call it “on location”: I walked out the French doors to the tiny deck off our bedroom and looked across the street to sketch a neighbor’s house. (It’s actually a fun house to sketch at different times of day.)

Instead of my typical fountain pen, I chose two sizes of hard fiber-tipped brush pens (not the kind with real brushes that I usually prefer). I used the finer one to do the continuous, single line drawing, and as Larry expressed doing, I spent a fair amount of energy strategizing how to keep the line moving without lifting it off the page. It’s like drawing with an Etch-a-Sketch! I found that all the trees and shrubs surrounding the house were a handy place to scribble over from one place to another. I had to cheat only once to add a line I realized I had missed after lifting my pen from the page. Then as Marc suggested, I used the larger-tipped brush pen to emphasize shadows. And as long as I had that pen in my hand, I went on to add more trees and an indication of the house next door. After that I cheated more deliberately by using a waterbrush to wash the water-soluble ink in the larger-tipped brush pen and put more shading in.

Having done only one sketch instead of five as Marc recommends, I found that my pen jerked rather than “flowed.” Still, I could already see the value of this type of practice in preventing me from getting bogged down with details and in gaining confidence with drawing quickly. This sketch took no more than five minutes. I’m going to try it again soon.

Now on to the public service announcement part of this post:

At left is the improvised cap liner I made to replace the one I
stupidly tossed out, making a continual mess of ink.
You know that thin, plasticy or foamy liner inside the lid caps of bottled ink? I didn’t realize it served a function, so when it fell out of the cap to my bottle of Sailor Jentle Doyou ink recently, I simply chucked it. The next time I went to fill my pen, I noticed that a large dribble of ink had dripped down the outside of the bottle, making a huge mess. No matter how carefully I wiped out the lid or the bottle mouth, the ink continued to pool and then dribble down every time I opened or closed it. It was then that I realized that the thing I casually tossed out actually served as a seal between the lid and the bottle mouth, preventing such drips. Such a simple thing yet with an important function!

The messy ink bottle label.
Risking ridicule for being the last person in a first-world country to know this (in which case, this PSA won’t serve many), I posted a cry for help on Facebook’s Fountain Pen Network. Literally within minutes, several helpful fountain pen users replied that the same kind of liner material can be found on other similar lids, such as those on vitamin bottles. I went through our supply of various emptied containers and found a liner of similar size. I cut it down to fit inside the Sailor Jentle lid, and voilà! Problem solved. I was told by one poster that without the seal, the ink would have evaporated over time, so I’m especially relieved to have solved the issue quickly.


  1. Your continuous line looks good.and I like how you shaded it. Great to know about the ink lids...who would dphave known?

  2. Glad you gave this a try and were happy with the results. I've done a few more and It really does loosen up one's approach, though I'm still happier with a more deliberate approach to my sketching. But these exercises have launched me into a bunch of "experimentation" with sketching approaches. --- Larry


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