Brush With Nature

Posted by Mark in Mark's Sketchbook

My latest kick, inspired by this guy’s blog, is sketching with a brush pen, which literally has bristles instead of a felt tip or a nib. Up until this year, actually, I had always associated sketching with pencils, and was surprised to find ink, in various forms, provides a more pleasurable sketching experience. And of all the implements I’ve used recently, I think the brush tops them all.

I think what it comes down to is that when you sketch with pencil, you run the risk of being too “precious,” as my drawing teacher says. In other words, you get caught up in refining little details until you’ve sucked most of the spontaneity out of the drawing. With something as indelible and hard to control as a brush, you have to live with what you’ve slapped on the page.

Since there’s no “undo,” as with a computer or a pencil, I can’t dive right into these loose sketches. I have to measure, and really think about my composition before I start drawing. After laying down a few conservative strokes, I measure once more. It may seem to contradict the notion of spontaneity, but really it’s about setting the stage for the next phase, where I let my eyes and hand have at it, and my brain checks out.

I’m not very skilled with the brush yet, but I can say that these drawings in pencil would have taken longer, would have resulted in more frustration than meditation, and wouldn’t be as fun to look at afterward.

Eventually, I plan to dive back into a comic strip, and although I’ll probably ink it digitally, I’m toying with the idea of using the brush pen for background art. I’m always amazed at how artists like Walt Kelly and Milton Caniff were able to render things like foliage with a few well-placed strokes of the brush.



  1. Trev Stair

    Wow! Thanks for the name check!You seem to be really picking up the brush pen pretty fast! Looking forward to see how it goes when you get more time with it.Brush pens (and brushes, for that matter) are tricky tools. They can take awhile to get the hang of (I am still trying to feel like I know what I am doing with them), but the rewards are definitely worth it. Nothing beats the look of lines rendered by a brush! I know you are a digital guy, but I know some cartoonists do rough “pencils” with a wacom, print them out as non-repro blue lines onto bristol board, and then ink them traditionally with a brush (or brush pen). It’s a couple of extra steps, but you can get good brush line quality, while retaining some of the advantages of working digitally. Alternatively, I know some comic artists work totally digitally and still are able to give their work a real brush-like quality (Cameron Stewart jumps immediately to mind, for example).Regardless, I am excited to see how it all turns out!

  2. Mark M

    Thanks for the encouragement, Trev! Just looked up Cameron Stewart; great stuff. Somewhere on his blog he mentions that he can ink digitally so well because he had so much practice with the real thing, so I guess this is the way to start.