Friday, February 22, 2019

I Heart Field Notes

2/19/19 ballpoint in Field Notes Sweet Tooth notebook

Last year during InkTober, I discovered the joys of sketching with a ballpoint pen and learned to appreciate the nuances of the ubiquitous Bic. Its distinct formula of ink is somehow different from many ballpoint inks that may write more smoothly or consistently but lack pressure sensitivity and the ability to build in value in a way that is very similar to graphite.

As much as I enjoy using the ink in classic Bic Cristal and Stic pens (which I generally acquire free from hotel rooms), their cheesy, capped bodies leave a lot to be desired. Shortly after InkTober, I went through our junk drawers to see if any other ballpoints had a similar ink, and I was pleased to dig up a Zebra F-301 that fit the bill. It got bonus points for being retractable and refillable. At $2 a pop, the price is hardly more than a free Bic.

Of course, Bic has another form factor that I had completely forgotten about: the retractable Bic Clic. Amazingly, I already own several, all of which were gifts from Field Notes, my favorite pocket notebook company, when I’ve ordered directly from its site. Since I’ve only been paying attention to ballpoints since last InkTober, I had been dismissing these free pens as throwaways (although, thankfully, I hadn’t thrown them away).

During a Valentine promotion when Field Notes Brand was giving out a red pen, I looked more carefully at the black ones I already owned – and that’s when I realized they were Bics! I prefer the simple, retractable, tapered body to the Zebra and all the capped Cristals and Stics I had used previously – and they cost the same as my hotel room Bics.

I felt a bit chagrined that I had looked down my nose at these previous gifts that have suddenly become useful to me. But now I’m showing my love for the Field Notes Bic by making it a permanent part of my sketch kit.

Once again, Field Notes has something I need – if I just pay attention.

Technical note: This little sketch was a first for me – an attempt to render something three-dimensionally and realistically from imagination. It was remarkably difficult for such a simple image. I tried to apply the principles of “light logic” that I learned in my studies with Suzanne Brooker, which I practice every time I make simple still lives of fruit on my desk. But it’s very different without fruit to look at.

The core shadow and highlights were easy enough to place, but without an actual three-dimensional heart in front of me, I wasn’t as confident about subtler contour shading. After a while, I turned my garlic (the same sprouting one you’ve seen numerous times) upside-down, and two adjacent cloves helped me imagine the heart’s lobes. Finally, I checked my work, as it were, by searching for Internet images of three-dimensional hearts.

Whew. Who knew this little heart I wanted to draw to express appreciation to Field Notes would be so difficult. I have immense respect for and awe of illustrators, cartoonists and other artists who render things realistically completely out of their heads.


  1. Replies
    1. Glad you think so! It was so much harder than I thought it would be!

    2. I hadn't realized that the Field Notes pens are Bic Clics. I've got a couple of those somewhere :-) I love the swirly shading of your heart.

    3. Who knew that the ubiquitous FN pen would finally come in handy!


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