Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Frank Frazetta’s Pencils

The fountain pen provides a wonderful, convenient on-the-spot drawing instrument. Combine the fountain pen with a sketch pad and you’ll have a portable studio. Wherever and whenever you find yourself with even a few minutes, you can react spontaneously to all the visual stimulation around you.

Unlike the ballpoint pen or roller-tipped makers, the flexible point of the fountain pen offers a line that responds to your individual touch. The amount of pressure you exert on your drawing surface will create a thick and thin line of an extremely personal nature. This results in differences similar to those of your individual handwriting. Anything that helps separate your work from another artist’s is important to making your statement that much more personal.

When my instructions in class were still met with moans and groans, I would introduce the work of Frank Frazetta, a popular artist and a close friend. Frank, Angelo Torres, and I were part of a small group of young men who played ball and hung around together in Brooklyn. We also shared drawing interests and occasionally attended life-drawing sketch classes at the Brooklyn Museum and the Art Students League.

Frazetta had little formal art education, but he was a “natural” from the very start. Invariably, someone in our classroom would approach him during the break, look over Frank’s shoulder, and ask him about his drawing materials. Some of them actually attempted to buy his “miraculous media” with which he had captured the living form so beautifully and effortlessly. Frazetta never understood why anyone would want to buy his chewed-up pencil stumps!

“They don’t even have erasers!” he said incredulously.

How absurd to think it was the drawing instrument and not the artist’s hand that was responsible for remarkable drawings.

I like pencils. I mean, I like pencils.

I own, literally, hundreds of pencils.

I have graphite pencils. Pastel pencils. Watercolor pencils. Colored pencils that are wax based. Colored pencils that are clay based. Charcoal pencils. Thick pencils, thin pencils, hard pencils and soft pencils. I even have some high tech pencils that dissolve in water and look like an ink wash.

My thinking and use of pencils has changed a lot over the last few years.

Back when I used to spend days and days creating a single cartoon in pencil [“Stacy Wanted To Cry”] I tried many different types and brands of pencils. But I eventually settled on using only Derwent graphite pencils. I used to do endless stumping and erasing to create careful value ranges and gradations. Every brand of pencil I tried—except Derwent—eventually started looking dirty and clumpy as I worked and re-worked the graphite on the paper. But Derwent remained beautifully clean, pure and smooth. I don’t generally recommend one brand over another, but in my experience for very careful, very demanding work Derwent is uniquely well made.

However, that being said, over time I moved away from spending hours and hours spread over many days on a single image. I tried to loosen up, to accomplish useful results more quickly.

Now I find myself almost never using a pencil that needs to be sharpened. Now, in fact, I almost never use “art” products but stick to simple materials that I can find in office supply stores. Most office supply stores sell a wide variety of mechanical pencils in a range from .5mm through .9mm. That makes a nice range for scribbling through to fine, detailed work. And, although these pencils are invariably sold with a medium hardness graphite, I do make a trip to a real art store now and then—craft stores don’t cut it—and I buy little packs of soft and hard graphite sticks in .5mm, .7mm and .9mm sizes. I use that rather than the stuff that comes with the mass-market pencils. The quality of the graphite on paper after even a little stumping and erasing isn’t as great as Derwent pencils, but it is generally okay. And I really have become accustomed to not having to sharpen the mechanical pencils. I don’t want to go back.

My favorite pencils now are Papermate Clicksters. They come in colors (the pencils I mean, not their leads). They hold the graphite sticks very firmly. And they have a great feel in my hand. I’ve only found them in .5mm and .7mm sizes so I also use some BIC varieties of mechanical pencils to get .9mm points. I’ve found it pays to try many different types of mass-market mechanical pencils because some simply feel awful whereas some feel great.

I’m pretty happy using mass-market mechanical pencils.

For color, now, I generally use oil pastels or mass-market ink markers or even art store inks or paints of one variety or another.

But I’ve got a whole cabinet full of a dozen or more different kinds of pencils that are great, but when you use them they need to be sharpened.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with them.

Normally I think of myself as very happily living in the past. But there are some aspects of the past I feel no imperative at all to re-visit.

I don’t want to go back to sharpening pencils.

1 comment:

Brandon Mckinney said...

What are your thoughts on Staedtler Lumograph? I put them to a test side by side with Derwent and found Derwent lacking. the Lumograph lead just evenly lays on the paper with a even tones. Derwent goes on dark, but I have trouble getting it to spread out as evenly over coarse texture like cold press.