Category Archives: Pen and Ink

Renderings, drawings and sketches done in freehand ink with pen. Some with technical pen some with crowquill and some with speedball fine points.

Making a point

Sailing-point-to-point_web  Sailing point to point 8″x10″

Technical pen and ink on Bristol one ply paper

I have found doing small ink pictures of sail boats is really fun but time consuming. Doing them in pointillism (small dots) does give a different look, but It is very labor intense. The use of this technique is an artistic rendering choice more than a media selection for best way to render this image.  Many great pieces of art have been rendered in pointillism and in color as well. When in color the mixing is done in the human eye more than in the paint. For black and white the grey tones are mixed in the eye as well and that is where the artist must use their experience to create a tonal expression of the image. This image is not a total pure pointillism image, there are pen line passages, and total black field fills within it. At best it is a mixed technique with major pointillism passages.

Pointillism often seems to point to the artist work and skill more than the image developed. The only time pointillism really works is when you don’t notice that it is pointillism or don’t notice the artists hand in it until you get done looking at the image and then see that it is rendered this way.

I love doing pointillism, for a really successful image, the artist should disappear and the idea should emerge, when properly done the use of pointillism is fantastic. These images work better from a little distance.

Here are some great examples of pointillism

Eagles Above Bluffs

Cliff-Side-Eagles_web Eagles hunting from the bluff; Dip pen and ink. 7″x9″ on bond paper.

This was an onsite rendering in Duluth, Minnesota.  Plein air ink work is tricky but fun, and usually requires both touch up and clean up back in the studio.  I seldom do very large or complicated pieces in the field, not because of the complexity of dealing with wind, sun, rain and the tools, but because the time spent drawing in ink could have been used to sketch two or three ideas that could be rendered better, later.  Little time was spent on the eagles, but on forming a good likeness of the rocks.  I render as I go, so it is a little slower.  The spontaneous outcomes cannot be recreated later though, nor can the lighting conditions.  With a little research on the eagles, this will become a more refined work in color.  Looking up past pines on the bluffs, the sky can be a very striking blue behind the tree green and gray-black bedrock outcroppings.



Pool of Possibilities

Pool-of-Possibilities2_web Pen and ink on high bond paper 17″x22″

The easy part of this type rendering is no one can tell if you get it wrong, unlike a portrait or even still life of a bowl of fruit.  The hard part is less obvious; it is difficult to render an image that has never been seen before so it must carry enough information to tell its own story.  There is little room for sloppy pen work as it will detract from telling that story. Unlike abstract or stylized work in other mediums, pen and ink has a very strong line personality and must be either extremely loose, or extremely tight to carry off an idea image.  Once you have decided what is being rendered, and chosen a loose or tight rendering style, it must be followed throughout without mixing styles.  If done well, no one will notice any of this – they just see the idea and the image as art.  Hopefully that is what is here.



© John Michael Cook

Duluth from Canal Park

Cityscape-from-canal-park_web India Ink with quill pen 8″x10″ on illustration board.

View from Canal Park looking at Duluth downtown. This is a plein air (on-site) ala-prima rendering.  Open pen ink drawing is difficult enough in the studio, and usually out in the field a technical pen is more expedient, but the pen personality of an open pen is so distinctive and yields such a different outcome, that sometimes I just grab it and go. There is little room for error in this style because the vertical lines betray any slip of the hand.  In the trees and even flags, some margin for error exists.  Yes, I did use a straight edge for the flag poles, so?

Wind and shifting conditions, along with sunlight eye glare on white paper can make it even tougher.  When you are done, the results are not as smooth as a studio piece, but a freshness exists that makes the rendering more . . . well, you say it.



Anchor Retired and Lighthouse Still Working.

Lighthouse-anchor_web  Pen and Ink on Illustration board 8″x10.” Plein air sketch rendered 2005 in Duluth, MN

As so many lakeside studies, there is a seagull in the picture.  Working in ink, it is difficult to capture a good likeness of the busy birds.  Duluth has many opportunities to capture these birds, and much added scenery with lighthouses, bridges, and lakewalks.  So, one must work out the seascape-landscape aspects and add a bird in, making sure that it will go into the background as erasing in ink is not possible.  If you are not feeding the birds, you must wear a hat.



Seagulls Through the Masts

Pen and Ink on Illustration board 8″x10″

Seagulls are great self-pilots and acrobatic performers. I did not realize that these two were in a “dog fight” (term for in-flight combat). But I had watched one stealing the food out from another, then take off through an obstacle course of sailboat masts with the other in angered response, and it donned on me there is a constant show going on amongst the birds. They are not unlike children in the sand box.


Adventure Fleet

Great adventures about to sail.  Original art pen and ink on 9″x14″  sepia ink MICRON 001 & OO5 pens on high toothy art drawing paper. Paper was a bit over absorbent and the pen had to travel without stopping or it would leave a stopping mark dot.

These [Micron] pens are great when they are new; 3 or 4 drawings later, they are good for post it notes. Maybe I am too heavy handed. (Anybody else?)


Geese Mate for Life !

\Geese Pair-2 Geese Pairs Heading South (Illustrated 2013) Crow Quill pen with India Ink on Crescent Illustration board 7.5″x10″.

After living in Minnesota for many years, the geese in flight and their honking arrivals and departures, have become a  familiar bird watching experience.   It is always exciting to watch and also to illustrate.  Geese are a messy bird and some would say a bother.  True, if they are on your front lawn, but in the air they are magnificent.  This bird mates for life and flock as a group for life as well. Wildlife painting requires good research information and observation, sometimes seeing the geese fly gives enough inspiration to go do the research or get the camera, or sketch pad out. Bird watching is not only a great and popular hobby, it is a great wildlife painter pleasure too!