Life #3 - Explanation of Process

Right from the beginning Life #3 was different - although it started as a mistake.  I was actually planning on doing a diptych but accidentally bought three sheets of paper when I thought I was buying two.  Upon realizing my mistake I immediately decided that I liked the idea of triptych better anyway due to it's obvious symbolism of the Trinity and went with it: now I can't imagine what the drawing would have been like if it was only a diptych and am frightfully happy that I grabbed one more sheet than originally planned.

The drawing medium for Life #3 is pen and ink on watercolor paper.  The primary brand of pen that I use for these drawings is Speedball and other closely related brands of pen nib which are all interchangeable.  These are all metal pen nibs that need to be dipped in ink: there is no reservoir tube inside of the pen - every time a given nib runs out of ink it must be re-dipped in to the ink bottle.  This sounds like more of a pain than it really becomes: in fact the need to continually dip the pens in ink gives far more control than regular pens because you can more easily dictate how heavy you want the ink to come out on the paper.  Of course having such free ink on the nibs can also make for easy messes too: if I have a lot of ink on the nip and bump my elbow addicentally it can send a splashing gob of ink down onto the paper in a place that I don't want it: this happened dozens of times over the year plus that I was working on the drawing. 

This is a farily complete sampling of all the nibs that I used for the drawing, from the smallest to the largest.  The quarter is simply for size comparison (I do a pretty horrible job of cleaning my pen nibs: I need to work on that).

Early on the drawing this was the nib that I used the most by far, particularly for the filler text. 

I discovered this nib at Pearl Paint on Canal St. in Manhattan and it quickly became the nib that I used the most: replacing the previous nib which after a while I found to be too unstable.  I felt much more in control with this one, and it felt stronger in general.  I also find this nib to be difficult to find, so after I finished Life #3 I went and bought 18 more of them (fortunately they're also really cheap - only $.29 each).

This is a 1/4 inch ink brush, and one of my favorite nibs (although I probably used it the least overall).  This is good for thick, heavy lines: for example, the outline of the text tree in drawing #2 and #3 and the heavy radiating lines on the left side of the tunnel that dominates drawing #2.  I would also use this to get blobs of ink on the drawing in key spots, and then I would pick the the drawing and while holding it verticle to the table I'd hit the drawing down to make the ink run down and across the paper.

Flat nibs work the best for creating flowing lines because of the change in thickness as the pen's direction is changed around the paper: a lot of my simple pattern work was done with flat nibs of various sizes (this was the largest):  the gold-coloured top of the nib creates a reservoir for the ink.  The flat nibs also work best for the Hebrew text. 

This round-headed tip (the part that's bent up is round) work perfectly for rounded text - this is the nib that I used for the Greek text in drawing #3.

Very little of this drawing was planned: almost none of it in fact as exemeplified by it's very beginning by the buying of three sheets of paper instead of two and just going with it.  I only knew two things when I started the drawing: 1. It would have the word 'Life' in large letters across the middle, and 2. It would have lots of text and other drawings within that large word to make the the whole of the drawing.  From there on out I drew and wrote about whatever was interesting to me on that particular day and time that I was working on it.  From time to time I'd take notes and place the around the drawing to remind myself of elements that I'd like to include, and still other details and sub-drawings were the results of total mistakes like dropped blops of ink which I would then need to cover up somehow.  There are parts of the drawing that I absolutely hate, and there are other parts of the drawing that I can't stop staring at.

I think that the most noticable thing about the drawing as a whole is that the further right you go (it was created from left to right) the darker and heavier the drawing gets: the filler text is drawn much more densely, and there is a lot more heavier line work.  Other than the word 'Life' itself, the first truly heavy lines were the top-most radiating lines coming out of the center of drawing #2 on top.  It's funny looking back because when I fist drew those heavy lines - particularly the one on the right - I felt like it was too out of line with the rest of the drawing: now I think they're perfect.

My favorite part about doing this kind of drawing is the repetative patterns: making the repeated line patterns that dominate quite a number of spots on the drawing was very therapeutic.  Also, as odd as this may sound I really enjoy holding the pens themselves - I feel like in a way I'm stepping back into a different time where things were more elegant and computers hadn't even dawned on the horizon.  There were four main types of pen holder that I used while working on the drawing.  I started by primarily using the black pen holder on the far right (see photo) and then the small brown holder on the left for the smallest of details.  As the drawing progressed more I used an older version of the black holder second from the left (which had cork near the nib) but that eventually wore out and I threw it away.  Getting in to the third drawing I went back to mostly using the far holder: it's much more solid.  Then with only a couple weeks left I switched entirely over to the blue holder.  It has the same strength and shape as the black on, but the blue material has a sort of velvet texture to it which made it much more comfortable than the hard overly-smooth plastic.  If I could create my own pen holder I'd probably like it to be made out of some sort of metal and a lot heavier.

The main physical limitation in drawing with these materials is that especially with the small text and texture, my hands really took a beating: both from joint pain and pain from the pressure of the pens being squeezed between my fingers which would often hurt for days after a multi-hour drawing session.  But in contrast to photography where I often feel too removed from the subject matter and the process (I sorely miss working with film in a darkroom), when I work with the pens and inks I feel like a genuine part of the work.  Taking a photo is a much quicker process and so I think that my personal satisfaction with my photography is often left lacking these days.  To step back and look at a single piece who's process has lasted well over a year gives me a much deeper sense of accomplishment in trying to say something with my artwork.     

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