Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Super Moon

The Super Moon was a few days ago, but I wanted to finish inking before posting this.

When the news touted Saturday’s moon as a ‘Super Moon – the largest in twenty years’ I thought to myself, “How can that be?” I thought I remember ‘the biggest moon’ happened two or three years ago. I went to bed Friday night pondering that .. and a little bummed because with our Oregon rains I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get to see it.

I guess I had a touch of the lunar madness that used to give unsettled people the name, “lunatic.” I couldn’t sleep. At 1 AM I realized moonlight was pouring in my bedroom window. I got up and headed out onto the deck to fully appreciate it. The clouds had parted. There, so bright at first I needed to squint, shone the big full moon above me. It was Saturday, so doesn’t it count whether you enjoy it at 1 AM or 11 PM?

I came back into the house itching to draw it, but not feeling durable enough to brave the near freezing temperature – I’m getting over a rotten cold. Instead I started sketching and pretty soon had a little black and white piece started ….. a barn owl flying in the moonlight. Somewhere out there a barn owl is taking advantage of the bright night to prey on little beasties. Barn owls are so pale they almost look like ghosts flitting about in the moonlight. I drew for awhile, inked for awhile, and finally said ‘Good Night’ to that big, beautiful moon. By 2 AM an ethereal haze was taking over the sky and softening its vibrancy.

In morning I did some checking. It’s a little confusing as to which moon is ‘the largest.’ The moon is biggest when it is at perigee – the point at which the moon is nearest to the earth in its elliptical orbit around the earth. The exact course of this orbit shifts a little too. How far the moon is from earth varies by 31,000 miles … depending where it is on its orbit around the earth. To have a Super Moon, the full moon needs to be very near perigee. At that time it is 14% larger and 30% brighter than during a ‘lesser’ full moon.

To further complicate the matter, technically the moon is full for only a moment, not a full day. So on Dec 12, 2008 the moon’s orbit came within 221,559 miles of earth, but it’s moment of fullness was about 4 hours from perigee. Saturday’s moon reaches fullness only about an hour from perigee so, by a hair’s breath, it is a larger Super Moon. There are other calculations to toss in there, but I’ll accept that the astronomers say this is the closet the full moon has been to earth since 1933. The moon will make its closet approach in 18 years, but won’t be quite full when closest.

Does it matter? Not really. The tiny moment in time happens before dark in North America. I’m not going to bother to figure out which section of the earth gets the best view. Some airline pilot will be even closer. I’m sure I can’t tell the difference between that perfect moment in time and what I saw last night. I do know it shone big, bright, and beautiful. And if it is cloudy tonight, I will have very nearly seen perfection anyway.

Postscript: I did get to see the moon Saturday evening, but though varying thicknesses of haze – beautiful, but not the awesome view of the night before.

This is how much I got done in the middle of the night. I bit off a lot of inking but enjoyed taking my time while working on it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Exploring Fountain Pens and Ink

One more post on art materials, then I hope to get back to nature notes for awhile.

Varied thrush drawn from life through my front window using a fountain pen and Pelikan Fount India ink.

At the end of my last post I mentioned that discovering a world of fellow artists on the internet and that lead me to realizing I wanted to try sketching with a fountain pen. Cathy Johnson uses a fountain pen a lot and has posted some very informative help: http://www.sketching.cc/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1353. You can see a lot of her work on http://naturesketchers.blogspot.com/ or you can go to her www.flickr.com images.

I’ve long appreciated a good pen, but never thought of them as an art tool. I hadn’t even owned a fountain pen for years. I looked locally … one for over $100 and one much, much cheaper. I bought the inexpensive pen and promptly lost it! Hummmm ! This definitely isn’t about saving money. It is about finding a wonderful drawing tool.

On my next trip to ‘the big city’ I dared to buy a better pen, a Pelikan M200 with a fine nib. I lucked out with my first ink. Fortunately I bought it in an art store and they sold good stuff, Pelikan’s Fount India, an ink designed for fountain pens. That pen and ink has been a love affair from first stroke. For years I looked for a disposable pen with black ink that bled. I never found quite what I wanted, but here was a relatively fine line and the delicious ability to come back over my lines with a water brush or wet paint brush and make soft grays. Sometimes I come back in with water color. Either way, I find this pen and the Pelican Fount India a great tool. (Don’t let the name of that ink mislead you. This is not India ink! India ink contains shellac and is a sure invitation for a clogged up fountain pen. )

A very quick sketch using a fountain pen and Pelikan Fount India ink … and a water brush.

The new pen and Pelikan Fount India ink kept me happy for over a year …. Then I decided to explore some more. I was hoping to find a permanent black ink so I could have a choice between the soft grey tones or ink that stays put, a Sepia ink that bleeds, and a fine line.

I found the Goulet Pen Company -- http://www.gouletpens.com/ -- a web site that carries a wide range of pens and inks and even offers small samples for less than $2.00 per sample. I read somewhere that Noodler’s had an inexpensive fountain pen with a flexible point. I ordered the pen from Goulet’s and several ink samples. Frankly I was disappointed with the pen. After years of using a fine and flexible nib on a dip pen, this hardly has any flex. But one of the inks seems to be a real winner -- Platinum Carbon Black. Per ounce it is one of their more expensive inks, but when I think of how many Pigma Micron pens it will keep me from using up and throwing away, the ink is cheap.

Here is my array of black ink samples: Pelikan Fount India, Platinum Carbon Black, Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, and Private Reserve Invincible black. First I tested to see if I could erase fairly quickly without disturbing the line; and then I added a slosh of water to see if the ink bled. Pelican Fount India dries quickly, and gives the wash. Platinum Carbon Black dries quickly and become impervious to water. The Noodler’s took forever to dry and still bled the next day. The Private Reserve still bled the next day.

Brown inks: Noodlers Polar Brown, Diamine Saddle brown, Caran d’ ache, Noodler’s Kiowa Pecan, Winsor and Newton Peat Brown. I still haven’t found a brown ink I am happy with. The first four are all fountain pen inks but obviously not intended for adding a wash. Some of the components of their color bleeds farther than the rest, giving a weird glow. The Winsor and Newton didn’t have the subcolor, but it isn’t a fountain pen ink. I can use it in a dip pen only.

http://www.richardspens.com/ is a great source of information about pens and he has an extensive selection of pens. His Pelikan ‘fine’ point isn’t all that fine, but then I ordered xxF. Wonderful! When I want a skinny line I have it. I’m sure there are other pens that are equally wonderful. One thing I like about the Pelikan is I can change nibs … and I can do it without spilling much ink if I so desire.

This little piece in only six inches tall …. So you can tell the line is quite fine; and the nice juicy wash I flowed over the whole piece didn’t disturb the ink. Pelikan pen with an XXF nib and Platinum Carbon black ink plus watercolor.

I won’t know for two or three months if the Platinum Carbon Black holds up to a lot of sunlight on my windowsill, but I am optimistic. First the sun has to shine …… and that has been hard to come by lately.

One more comment before I end this. The paper one works on is also a factor. I wasn’t able to find information about the sizing of sketchbook papers, but I found a chart about the sizing on a variety of watercolor papers. It said all watercolor paper is sized to some degree. It does vary what it is sized with. Without sizing the paint would soak in too much. Think about trying to do a wash on construction paper. I doubt it has much sizing. I don’t know enough about it, but I think ink tends to ride on the surface of heavily sized paper and takes longer to dry. I do know that the same test with the same ink behaved very differently on these three papers.

In each one of these samples I made a wet spot on the paper, then took my pen and scribbled back and forth until the wetness ‘grabbed’ the ink. All three were done with Noodler’s Polar Brown Ink. The Papers are from left to right: Strathmore 140# Cold Pressed – ‘lightly sized’; Aquabee Sketchbook – no information on sizing; Aquarius II –‘heavily sized’. …. Very different result.

If anyone knows of a good brown ink that doesn’t separate into different colors, please let me know.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Exploring Pens

Swainson’s Thrush -- India ink with a dip pen on Strathmore High surface drawing paper.

For those of you who come here for a peek into nature, I hope you won’t be disappointed that I am going to write about art materials. To be honest it just seems to rain or promise to rain here -- day after day. We have not been getting out as much as usual. Meanwhile I have had time to gather together my information on pens, fountain pens and ink; especially as it relates to field sketching. I know some of my artist friends will be interested. This post will be on pens. Fountain pens and ink come later.

But first I’ll mention that prior to blogging virtually all my published black and white work was drawn at home using India Ink and good paper. A good nib and dipping into a bottle of India ink still gives me the most control over my line and is archival—but it isn’t a handy sketching medium.

In my mind field sketching pens should have the following qualities:

1. Variety of line
2. Dry quickly so if I have started with light pencil lines I can erase them, or come back with a wet wash
3. Draw quickly so I can sketch rapidly when needed
4. Not break the bank
5. Be reasonably archival just in case I draw something I really like

Aspen scarred by black bears in Yellowstone -- field sketch in journal with ball point pen.

It sounds simple enough, but it isn’t all that easy to meet all those requirements. One of the simplest choices is a good old ball point pen. For a long time it was my favorite tool. … but how archival? Ball point pens usually don’t bother to let artists know how good they are. ....Closeup

Uniball pens are wonderful is that they have liquid ink and I can sketch very rapidly with them, but the line is just a little heavy for my taste.

Another bear scarred aspen in Yellowstone -- field sketch in journal. I can’t remember for sure, but looking at the original I’m quite sure I used at least two sizes of Pigma Micron pens.

Pigma Micron pens are almost the answer. They come in a variety of widths, are developed for art, but are just a little dry , i.e. ‘slow’. I can’t sketch as quickly as I would like and they get expensive.


For a brief period I was delighted with the Pilot G-2 - .38 pen. So fluid and a nice fine line. Almost too good to be true.

Fortunately a little voice niggled at me wondering how good is the Pilot G-2 pen?
My simple archival test is to put a sample on the sunny window sill of the bedroom that faces south. Two months of summer sun and I have a pretty good idea if the ink / paint I’m using is lightfast. It a pretty crude test compared to proper testing, but look at the results.

I wrote six samples on index paper. About two months later the results were shocking. Three faded so much I can barely read the original writing. I’ll never buy another G-2 pen. Testing one ball point pen really doesn’t tell me what other brands will do, but I’ll know to be very wary. Any of these inks will probably last forever inside a journal, but not if I happen to want to frame the art.

It has only been about a year and a half ago that I discovered a world of fellow artists on the internet. I soon realized some were sketching with a fountain pen, especially Cathy Johnson. That sounded intriguing. More about fountain pens and ink in the next post.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cormorants Fishing

Plat I Reservoir, Douglas County, OR

Winter gray sky. Winter gray water. No breeze. Quiet on this small reservoir, Plat I (‘I’ is pronounced ‘eye’). A gathering of slow swimming cormorants ease across the quiet water, cutting silver streaks. They remind me of a group of sophisticated snobs promenading along a river walkway. Their noses are in the air; their gait unhurried; all flowing in one direction. One has been fishing and now holds his wings aloft for a couple of minutes as he swims with the rest. A great blue heron stokes by, heading in the opposite direction.

Not much fishing going on, but one cormorant slips into the dark water and comes up with a large bullhead, too big to swallow quickly. He adjusts and readjusts the fish. Is he trying to kill it, or just positioning it head first so he can swallow it? After at least a minute he finally has it head first, but it is no easy swallow. He gulps and gulps again. Another cormorant rushes over. The first drops the fish. Down it goes. Gone. No dinner for either cormorant.

I go back to sketching until I am interrupted again, this time by deep, guttural croaks. It is cormorants again. Another has caught a fish and two are rushing over to it. Once again the fish is dropped, but this time all three dive. When they pop up I can see one has a big lump slipping down its throat.

Soon after a third bullhead is caught, this one a little smaller, a little easier to handle. The cormorant flips the fish about until it is head first in the cormorant’s mouth. Down goes the fish before any intruders arrive.

Raindrops start to dimple the water. By good fortune I picked one of the few picnic tables that has a roof. I can sit quietly and let paint dry while the grayness gets darker. My cormorants swim to the far shore and all gather on the muddy bank.