Thursday, January 9, 2014

My Very Favorite Pen

My favorite tool is the Bic four-colored retractable ballpoint pen.  I first got one as a present in my high school seminary class. Every kid has had one of those multi-tip novelty pens that writes in like 17 different neon colors and you unscrew the case to write with all the tips at once; you know what I'm talking about. So I didn't think much of this particular pen at first. After all, it only had four colors.

I rediscovered it when I took Chemistry my second year of college. It came in handy for taking notes since, being a visual person, it helped a lot to color-coordinate descriptions versus equations, and diagrams of ions versus isotopes. Eventually I was taking all my class notes in four colors, and actually it really helped to keep my thinking organized. But I was still sketching in pencil for the erasability, though as time went on and I got into the habit of carrying my sketchbook with me everywhere, it got excessively smudgy. Also, I had heard the advice that if you sketch in pen, you pay much more attention to the process and take more care with it, which is true. If all your marks are preserved, you pay more attention to the marks you're making. At the same time you learn not to get too attached to the sketch phase, because it won't turn out perfect, but you can get your ideas out and work through the problems before going on to a more precise drawing. For a while I tried sketching with fine-tip black gel-type pens that I'd used for linework, and I could do some cool things, but they were too bold and not as flexible as I like for sketching.

Eventually, under the influence of my friend Hannah, who does some amazing things with a ball point pen, I tried sketching with just the basic black Bics that you can always find lying around. (Side note: this is the same friend who once gave me a complete henna tattoo on my arm, during a digital illustration class in the computer lab. We had lots of fun in that class...) I had realized from watching her that you can actually get a pretty good range of value and shading if you're careful, and the ink smudges just enough to create a smooth finish if you want it (though your fingers will end up covered in ink). You can do some cool things with line and texture too. And (after a few minutes anyway) your drawings won't smudge every time you turn a page!

It wasn't a huge step from there to drawing with my four-colored pen since I always had it with me anyway. I found that it was great for practicing more exploratory sketching, because I could draw with the green tip and sketch a few shapes, then go over with the blue tip once I had something I liked, then finish off with a solid black outline when I knew where I wanted to end up. Now I like to draw in just four colors and see what kind of look I can create. It's interesting to have just enough range to convey light and shadow, warmth and coolness, without a full complement of colors. And I find that I like having all the different colors in my sketches if I go to paint them in Photoshop later. A little bit of green in just the edges of a face can add a neat look, and I would never have thought to put it there on purpose.

Now the four-color Bic is my favorite tool for pretty much everything. I color code my shopping lists, doodle multi-colored knots, draw red flowers with green leaves over and over again... I highly recommend it for every endeavor. Color all the things!

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