MATERIALS & METHODS
The metal pen dates back at least to Roman times, but steel nibs of the modern type were not made until late in the 18th cent. and began to replace the quill only when they were produced by machine, c.1822. Most artists today use a flexible steel nib with a fine point, but they will draw with anything that comes to hand--even a ball-point, whose light, rapid line tones well with water-colour.
No other drawing tool can produce such a variety of texture or reveal so intimately the personal 'handwriting' of an artist. The pen is the ideal medium for rapidly noting down the first idea and has been used in this way by masters of drawing as different as Pisanello, Michelangelo, Dürer, and Rembrandt. But apart from its use for the hasty or inspired sketch, in which the fire of execution is reflected in the line, the pen has been use with great effect in a careful, calligraphic manner, as in Botticelli's illustrations to Dante's Divine Comedy.
Pen-and-wash drawing, in which the pen lines are reinforced by brushwork in diluted Indian ink or some similar pigment, has been practised since the Renaissance (see Wash).
[Chilvers, Ian, Harold Osborne, and Dennis Farr, eds. Oxford Dictionary Of Art. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.]
Pen drawing has been the medium most frequently used by artists since the 1300s probably because of its great adaptability. There are three basic types of pen: quill pens, made from birds' feathers; reed pens, made from the stems of grasses; and metal pens.
The quill pen moves with great ease across the paper, without snagging or friction. This made it most suitable for calligraphers and the illustrators of early manuscripts and permitted the flourishes and quick cursive movements of the hand of later artists. The point may be cut to fine, medium, or broad, and the width of the line may also be varied by the degree of pressure on the pen. The quill pen produces a line that may be dark along both edges and light in the center as the ink runs out.
The reed pen with its blunt end and coarse structure produces a short, thick line. Though lacking in flexibility, it produces very powerful, stubby strokes. The pen leaves intense lines of ink when full, but a speckled linear trace when dry. In the nineteenth century, van Gogh used the reed pen, and artists such as Rembrandt have used both quill and reed in the same drawing to great advantage.
Metal pens were first mass-produced in the nineteenth century, making the quill almost obsolete. They are suitable for making sharp, clear lines, in jet black ink, strongly contrasting with the whiteness of the paper; the pens were often used by artists whose drawings were reproduced in magazines or as book illustrations.
Albrecht Dürer [1471-1528] preferred pen and ink and worked in this medium throughout his life. The son of a goldsmith and himself perhaps the greatest engraver of all time, his early training in metal craft and his natural bent led to a precise linear rendering of his subjects. Many of his drawings were studies of animals and plants from nature, complete in themselves, but the most frequently used drawing as preparation for woodcuts, engravings, and paintings. As in his prints, it is both the depiction of his subject and the nature of the line itself that characterizes his drawings. He modeled the forms with great virtuosity with his quill pen, the flourishes of curled and hooked strokes following the contours both of supple limbs and of angular drapery, as can be seen in his drawing, The Holy Trinity of 1515.
[Drawing Techniques, Gallery Notes P5 - Works on Paper Series. Print, Drawing, and Photography Galleries. © 1984, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.]
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