80 in 80: What I’ve Learned In 30 Days of Making Art Every Day

So I’ve been doing a daily drawing for thirty days now. I posted the 30th last night.

That’s thirty down and fifty(!) to go for those keeping track.

I’ve posted each one to Instagram, and I’ve managed to not miss a day. There’s been a few days when I really didn’t want to open up the pens. But I did anyway. The drawing might have been simpler than I would’ve liked, but I got it done.

I’ve also learned a few things about my work habits, and what it takes to make pen & ink art every day.

Here’s the top five:

  1. Don’t worry about technique
  2. Know your tools
  3. Be willing to experiment
  4. One line at a time
  5. Distance matters

Don’t worry about style

Since I started from zero on this project, I didn’t have an established style. It was all new! For the first few days I was struggling and really had no idea what made a pen drawing different from pencil. I was lucky enough to find some good instructional books and dig into the “how to” part. Once I learned to stop outlining and leave gaps in my lines, it was like flipping a switch and my drawings immediately improved.

I had to work through those first attempts to see what I was doing. Once I had something I could use for comparison, I saw that I needed help and went and found a book.

I’m still at the point where I’m copying the sample images. Each one that I complete is now leading me towards what will be my style. A large part of this was just finding out what I think looks good and working towards it.

Know your tools

Spend time with any set of tools, and they’ll tell you exactly what they can do. For this project I’ve been leaning on my Rapidographs. They’re the inspiration behind the project and have seen use every day.

Now I know exactly what to expect when I pick up a given size pen. I know how the lines will come out and what the crosshatching will look like for each size I’ve been using.

I’ve also used them enough to know their limits. They lay down a line that is exact and true to their marked size. This is great for some things, like stippling. Each dot is the same size as the last. But there’s no chance of having any line variation. At all.

The Rapidographs are a technical pen in both use and design. The constant width line lends itself to very precise drawing, and is why they earned their reputation in architecture and engineering before CAD computers took over. Their internals are also technical. The needle and weight that regulates ink flow are quite delicate. If you’ve ever given a #000 a deep cleaning, you’ve seen how thin that needle is. If you haven’t, take my word for it, as it fits into a 0.25mm tube.

The weight is also free-floating—meaning that it can be shaken during travel. If this happens, the ink can be pressurized and decide to leave the pen at high velocity. I haven’t had a problem with this because I’ve only taken them with me a few times. But I wouldn’t want to chance it on a longer trip.

Be willing to experiment

Experimentation is key. Playing with style and technique is important. I’ve been able to slowly narrow down what I want my drawings to look like. Experimenting has let me try different thing that will hopefully let me get them there.

Playing with tools can lead to unexpected discoveries. While the Rapidographs kicked off this project, I’m not sure they’ll finish it. I’ve come to appreciate line variation after trying out a Rotring ArtPen (an artist’s fountain pen). I eventually returned the ArtPen because Rotring’s idea of extra fine was much thicker than I wanted. But in experimenting with it, I learned a lot.

I’m going keep auditioning fountain pens hoping find one with a true extra fine point, and solve the Rapidograph travel problem that I mentioned above.

One line at a time

That’s all pen drawing is. Make a line. Make another line. Maybe make a dot. Then keep going until you’re done. For complex drawings start with a small part, and slowly turn that into a larger part.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Starting small, and focusing on making the best line possible will go a long ways toward keeping the “big picture” off your mind.

Distance matters

Posting the drawings on Instagram helped me in an unexpected way. Seeing a picture of the drawing in my feed gave me the mental distance from the work I just completed. I’m able to analyze the picture much better than the actual drawing in front of me.

Having this “instant” distance has helped me improve more than anything else. Looking back over a drawing in a week might have the same result, but having the photo in my feed lets it happen sooner. I used this to improve the next drawing as much as I can. It’s like having a mini-time machine, and has been a huge help.

Conclusion

So far pen & ink has been my focus. I like the way it looks, and has a little bit of an old-timey feel to it. It’s a nice break from the digital world.

I’ll do a similar update after sixty days and see what’s changed. If you like what you’ve seen, please consider a donation using the links in the sidebar. Thanks for reading.