Monday, October 08, 2007

The Pen and Ink Book

The National Cafe
11" x 16", pen and ink in Sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
(see Lunch at the National Cafe for more details)

I am particularly fond of working in pen and ink as anybody who has reviewed drawings on my website will know. The Pen and Ink book by Jos. A Smith (published by Watson Guptill) is certainly one of the things that stimulated my interest.

I'm not sure when I bought my copy but it says it was published in 1992. The latest edition was published in 1999. I don't have that so I can only go by the copy I have. My guess is the major changes will relate to the materials section. However I have to say that a lot of what he has to say about materials is of an enduring nature.

At the time of writing the book its author, Jos. A Smith, was a Professor of Fine Art at the School of Art and Design at the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York and had been since 1961. He obviously brought a wealth of practical information and experience to developing this book. I'd liken aspects of his style to a very contemporary version of Albrecht Durer. I would expect most artists to find the range of excellent artwork in this book by Prof. Smith and others to be extremely stimulating. All quotes included here are from the book.

The subtitle of the book is "materials and techniques for today's artist". One of the bonuses of the this book is his very comprehensive treatment of materials for drawing in ink
  • 10 pages devoted to pens and brushes,
  • another ten pages on inks and then
  • 12 pages on paper and supports.
I probably learned a lot of what I know today about pen and ink and how it can be used through those pages. Also bear in mind that I read all this despite the fact that all the products listed are those that are manufactured in the USA or readily available in the USA - and a very large proportion could not be easily found in the UK. I read it all from the point of view that there would come a day when I might be able to get them..........little realising at the time that ordering online from internet suppliers was just around the corner.

I love books that explain things and get into the nitty gritty detail and this is certainly one of those. Here's a couple of examples:
  • I knew it was a book to be taken seriously when it described a process which I had discovered quite independently - that of turning the pen over and drawing with the nib upside down to get a fine line. This book explained why it was a good idea and also why it worked.
  • One of the things I particularly like about this book is that for each drawing it states very clearly the precise brand of pen and ink and paper used and the precise size of the drawing in both metric and inches. Many of you will have noticed I do an abbreviated version of the same thing with my own drawings when posted in this blog. Now you know where it comes from!
The second section is devoted to Ink Drawing Techniques and covers
  • basic pen and ink techniques. These include the use of line and tone and how to achieve these using parallel lines, hatching, cross-hatching, use of patterns, making marks to imply lines, stippling, spattering
  • brush and pen techniques - including laying a wash (includes a demo in stages); using white ink on toned paper (very effective!)
  • the use of coloured inks
  • mixed media with examples and a demonstration using (1) wax crayon and ink and (2) pastel and ink (3) acrylic and ink
  • the use of scratchboard - and a demonstration
  • exercises to develop skills
I found the final section on The Art of Drawing to be very valuable. Simpler drawing books very often focus on techniques for 'how to' use different media and perform basic drawing tasks competently. However, once a basic facility and skill in drawing has been developed, the artist needs to move on to consider drawing in relation to perception and expression. This section provides a lot of examples of different sorts of drawings and looks at how and the reasons why different drawings develop as they do. He discusses drawing strategies - and here is an example of what he has to say.
Confronted with random detail, the artist must find and distill from that chaotic overabundance, or create and impose a system of order upon it. A successful drawing is only apparent chaos. It is in fact complexity with an underlying does not matter how personal and idiosyncratic the structuring principles may be. Their purpose is to harmonize the superficial detail in a manner that will impart visual meaning and readability.
He then discusses different approaches such as divergent and spontaneous drawing, establishing criteria for making selections as part of the drawing process, making decisions about the important questions which need to be asked about: type of support; format; the intended relationship between viewer and drawing; how to represent space within the picture and indicate tensions associated with different dimensions; what sort of scale to use; whether to use line or tone or a combination of the two; whether to make the line descriptive, expressive or related to process; whether to use observational or process-related textures and how to use value contrast.
Process-related line is determined by the artist's intent and not by the means
Finally he expands on the elements of drawing - in other words all those aspects which are intrinsic to decision-making about any drawing or visual art generally. He covers: line and experiments with line, value, texture, shape - and subshapes, volume and modeling, direction and movement, scale and issues of dominance, rhythm, colour, similarity and proximity groupings before rounding off with considering intuitive drawing. He makes very good use of drawings in a variety of styles as examples for the points being made.
"The problem with descriptive texture is most apparent with students who possess a high degree of technical facility. A drawing can have a dazzling level of realistic rendering that masks a weak structure of composition"
I took a look at the Watson Guptill Publications website and studied their categories and (A to Z) catalogue (very useful!) and couldn't find it, however Amazon indicates that it can still source it and I guess it will be available from other sources. If it's gone out of print I'm amazed as this is a really excellent book - albeit with a small audience.

In my opinion, this is not a book for beginners or for those starting out. Rather it will be enjoyed by those who are already have skills in drawing who want to advance and develop and/or those who are seriously interested in drawing in pen and ink. I'd expect that the book was used by Professor Smith with his students while teaching at the Pratt Institute.

You can read other reviews on here (scroll to the bottom of the page). I'd say the first 5 star review by the Top 500 reviewer is accurate and the review by 'cancel' is a less popular view but provides some reasons why certain readers might not like it. For example, Smith is a surrealist and some of his drawings won't be to everybody's taste.

Pencil Rating: My pencils rating is two fold. This is a definite 5 pencils for anybody who loves or is seriously interested in learning more about pen and ink work and is a four star for anybody else.

The talents of Jos. Snith have been summed up as follows.
Two Faces Of Jos. A. Smith Illustrator and Surrealist Jos. A. Smith has multiple personalities, enabling him to feel complete as an artist. As an illustrator, he has drawn political cartoons for Harpers, New York Times¸ Newsweek, and Time and created renderings of news events when photographs were unavailable; he was Newsweek’s courtroom artist for the Watergate Trail. Smith has also illustrated adult books including Erica Jong’s Witches, Mackinlay Kantor’s Andersonville, and Joseph Conrad—Heart of Darkness and Other Tales.


  1. Katherine -- I own this book and agree it's excellent, but I haven't looked at it for a long time. Definitely time to pull it off the shelf again, thanks for the reminder!

  2. I must say that I'm very much enjoying this book review for the simple reason that I too an getting to reread / review books that I sometimes haven't looked at in some time.

    It's a really good way of telling whether you value a book or or not!

  3. Yes, the only bad thing is that these reviews make one want to buy these books. :-)

    Seriously, this looks like a great book - I do hope I can get my hands on it. And, thanks for a great review, as always.

  4. Rose - I'm a bookaholic and it's catching - what can I say! ;)

  5. Beautiful work on the National Gallery sketch, Katherine. You should consider doing it again as a piece to print. Now I'm going to try to find that book!

  6. Thanks Robyn.

    The nice thing about doing a sketch in a double page spread of a sketchbook is you can do all the learning without worrying about whether it's going to be good enough to do something with.

    However having done this one I am intending to go back with a decent size of paper and have another go.

    What I can't decide at the moment is whether it would be better or worse with more people or or about the same. I rather like all those echoing shapes of chair backs.

    Good luck with the search - it's a really nice book

  7. I think you have just the right number of people in just the right place. I really liked the repeated patterns of the empty chairs too.

  8. Thanks Robyn - the repeated chair back stay!


COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of the amount of spam and copying of my blog posts which is taking place. Removing them is taking too much time.
Please feel free to comment about the blog on my Facebook Page as my blog posts are always posted there but please note
1) anonymous comments are NEVER published
2) automated / spam / scam comments are never ever published on this blog
3) I ALWAYS block and report spammers to Google and/or on Facebook

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.