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Pen and Ink and Coffee

Thursday, 4th October 2001, West Yorkshire

silver birch saplingEVEN I don't take my watercolours and sketchbook absolutely everywhere, but this morning, when we set out for Ikea, I pop a little notebook and a pen in my pocket and sketch this birch as we sit with a coffee.

pen topRotring Art Pen

The pen is an old Rotring Art Pen with a sketch pen nib. I've stuck a piece of masking tape with a brown mark on the barrel to remind me that this is the one that I fill with brown Waterman fountain pen ink. This is soluble in water, or in this case soluble in the dregs of the coffee. A toddler on the next table watches, fascinated, as I dip my finger into the mug and rub at the drawing. No doubt his parents will wonder where he's picked up a bad habit.


notebookI love different kinds of sketchbook - spiral bound, bound like books, pocket sized to A3, cartridge or watercolour paper - but this little notebook is simply eight sheets of the ordinary 80 gsm A4 paper which we use for printing invoices and business letters. I guillotine them in half, add a sugar paper cover, and staple them with a booklet stapler to make an instant A6 notebook that I don't mind slipping in my pocket and getting dog-eared.

Which brings me to Tessa, a half-collie-and-half-who-knows, that our friends Jill and John chose from a dog rescue centre. Even on such a small spread as this I've got the chance to move from one drawing to the other as she, Tessa that is, not Jill, moves about then relaxes.


Yes, it's frustrating that she keeps looking around before I can finish each pose, but I find drawing from the living breathing animal more fun than drawing from a photograph, or, worse in many ways, from a stuffed animal (don't listen to this bit Tessa!).

looking up, probably while scratchinglegWe don't have a dog, partly because we like to be able to set off in a moments notice without organising pet care, but I think having a pet is a very good way to become familiar with the anatomy and the character of an animal. As I look at these sketches I can remember our springer spaniel Vache, which my father kept as a gun dog when I was a child. I remember the feel of the dog; the knobbly bit on the back of his skull, the little whiskers beneath his chin and the articulation of his front legs.

facefaceMuch as Tessa is charming I have to admit that I'd rather draw a wild animal. Look at those floppy ears, they're like pompons; she's had the wolf bred out of her, to some extent at least, and she's halfway to being a lapdog (I just hope she doesn't read this, she's such a sensitive dog; she starts trembling when she hears thunder, Jill tells me).

that dog againSome books on drawing animals advise you to sketch out the basic shapes first; ovals and sausage shapes. It's good advice, as concentrating on details can lead to out of proportion drawings, but it's advice back of the headI hardly ever follow, not consciously anyway. There isn't time when the animal is moving about like this and ideally I try to, well just get what I see down on paper with the least amount of messing around. I don't try to impose my own style, just try to let the animal appear on the paper.

I like pen and ink because I feel I have to be more decisive than with pencil; there's no rubbing out.

Sketchbook versus Folios

settling downI classify myself as an illustrator rather than a fine artist, so there's an implication that I'm trying to tell a story. A sketchbook always seems to me to tell a story more than a series of drawings on separate pieces of paper in no particular order. And I've got plenty of folios of work in no particular order in my plan chest and in the farther reaches of the attic. At least when I put my hands on a sketchbook labelled, for instance, 'Iceland, August 1974', I know I'm getting the whole page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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