D.T. Pennington

Writer – Photographer – Creative Coach

Ink Is A Forgiving Medium

I’m still on a quest to figure out why drawing ended up being the answer, but I’m still at it and improving, I think. Whatever the case, my workspace is a perpetual mess of papers and inks and stubs of pencils. More brushes keep surfacing.

desk blotter calendar covered with ink and little drawings
My “content calendar” desk blotter I bought to help resolve some of my ADHD organizational issues. As you can see, it’s going great.

Maybe, through it all, I just wanted to sit across from a beautiful, nude woman for a few hours. Likely, there is definitely something deeper at play. I try to get into Colourfield at least once a week to shoot the shit and sketch out whatever is in front of me. It has been a great way to get through the backstock of Blackwing pencils and get some of the fountain pens out of the back of the drawer, refilled, and moving again.

We tell ourselves that pencil is a forgiving medium because there is an eraser at one end. Maybe this is what we told children as they are learning to write – you can’t erase pen! Or that was the request of thousands of mothers on the PTA who were tired of their kids coming home with pen marks on their clothes or, worse yet, pulling blasted pens out of the washing machine after the spin cycle.

To this day, I can’t do a load of laundry without pulling a pen out of the washer. Fortunately, the gel inks of the Pilot G2s aren’t terrible at staining things. For now I’ve been careful enough to not wash any of my fountain pens. For years I had a fascination with the preciousness of fountain pens and inks. It was something I had never touched before working at Paradise Pen for $10 an hour while selling people with untold riches a $5,000 pen.

That was nearly two decades ago. The only thing that carried through are the rock-solid reliability of the Lamy Safari pens and my allegiance to ink – even if it is an “unforgiving medium.”

Pencil has a place. So does pastel and graphite and charcoal and ink. Different mediums, different paper, different outcome. When it comes down to pen/ pencil, there are two considerations: 1) I have a mercilessly heavy hand, and pencil is better when laying down light layers and 2) I never use an eraser. Nothing ever needs to be so neat.

Ink, I’d argue, is far more forgiving of a medium. If you “mess up” you can lay down another line or make it even messier until it starts to look something like art. As I have to keep reminding myself: If I want the end result to look like the subject in front of me, bring the camera along next time.

Plus, ink is just so damn beautiful. The flow, the drip, the smear, the splatter. I love the look of a Steadman or Crabapple piece – the chaos of ink telling out a story. I love the way it can mix and bleed with things nearby, I love how the tips of my fingers are stained with that day’s ambitions. I love how it is just so inherently messy. Pencils are nice, but how we tend to be so precious with it. 

Draw what you see. Then, maybe, draw what you’d like to see.