Sometimes the pen and ink fever just grips me and I end up staying away from pencils or digital tools for months at a time. This feels like one of those times. It’s not that I don’t love graphite or my Apple Pencil; it’s just that there’s something so special about the feeling of running a tip of metal on paper, and ink flowing out of it. Crisp, hairline thin, delicate whispy lines or bold, wet flourishes- it’s the one medium that excites the child in me even after all these years.
Now whenever I feel I’m getting too timid with my mark making after long months of working digitally, I break out the trusty old fountain pens. And this pen that I used for these sketches- this pen is old. You can see the gold plating on the little hooded steel nib wearing off, and the gold lettering on the body has faded, too. This is the Platinum Carbon Pen, which was my first ever fountain pen, my introduction to the world of fountain pens. It’s so old now that it’s apparently no longer in production, which sucks because it was a cheap and reliable workhorse for artists or even just writers with tiny handwriting. I used this pen to doodle and sketch in class, to annotate all my printed out poetry and photocopies texts as a literature student, to take notes in class and even to write exams. I’ve always had small, spidery handwriting, and hated fat gel pens. The Platinum Carbon pen suited me perfectly. I’ve gone through several over the years, and this is one of two that I still have. This one has gotten wetter/ bolder over the years, though, no longer as fine as it once was- so I recklessly sanded off the edges of the nib to grind it finer, and it kind of worked.
The sandpapering ground away the tipping, making this as rough and scratchy as a dip pen. But honestly I’ve always kind of liked that feedback, and the trade off- being able to lay down thinner lines- is worth it to me. I want to develop both these sketches into illustrations, but I probably will use my favourite spoon nib and dip pen for the rest of it- and my new Tachikawa fountain pen!
Having said that, if any fountain pen owner is reading this: I do not recommend sandpapering your nibs to make them finer! This is something I only did because I have two Carbon pens lying around, and both were cheap, so I decided to ‘experiment’ on one. It definitely affects the smoothness of the nib, and is only something I’d do for a cheap, designated drawing pen. I wouldn’t dare tamper with my beloved writing pens. Here is a macro shot of the nib:
The reason why I knew it would kind of work is because the Carbon pen’s nib is fairly springy/ slightly flexible. So I knew that even if I ground the point finer, I would be able to get a thicker line by pressing harder. And I knew, and know still, that even if I’ve ruined the pen that it’s not a huge loss- and without that knowledge I would never have proceeded to do what I did.
I have been listening to The Lord of the Rings audiobooks as I sketched, and it’s something that I think is working really well to help boost creativity. I always feel sad about nearing the end of a reread of a dearly beloved story, like LOTR or Harry Potter, because finding quality fare to sustain me afterwards is so difficult. But I think this time around, I’ll try Tolkien’s other work- which, barring The Hobbit, I haven’t read at all. From there I think I’ll go on to Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet. I’m kind of done with George R.R Martin after the fiasco that was Season 8 of Game of Thrones, but I don’t want to let that taint my enjoyment of fantasy literature in general.
I do typically prefer reading and being able to soak in the words at my own pace, but audiobooks for ‘rereads’ is are rather comforting. They leave my hands and my eyes free to do their own thing while the narration engages parts of my brain that would otherwise be spewing anxious thoughts. It’s somewhere in between having fond company and comfortable solitude, the two best places to be.
Here is a small pencil sketch of one of my very favourite LOTR characters: Peregrin Took. Pippin is so cute. Some of my favourite Pippin moments are when he throws a rock into the well in the mines of Moria just out of sheer impulsive curiosity, and Gandalf admonishes him saying ‘This is not a hobbit walking party!’ Or when he steals the palantir from a sleeping Gandalf and looks into it, seeing Sauron, who asks him who he is, and he squeaks back ‘I’m a hobbit!’ Or just the fact that he’s a knight of Gondor and disobeys his lord on his first real day of duty to save Faramir’s life. Or the classic: ‘We’ve had one breakfast, yes. What about second breakfast?’ Really anytime Gandalf cries out any variant of ‘Fool of a Took!’ I’m fangirling hard over whatever naughty thing Pippin has done. This reread I’m loving Pippin almost as much as Sam, which is saying something.