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Author Archives: Zebra Pen

Octopus ballpoint illustration with F-402 Ballpoint Retractable Pen beside it

Mark Making Fundamentals: The Object, Illumination, and the Technique

By Guno Park of @gunopark

Guno Park is a Brooklyn, NY artist whose works have been widely published in books, magazines, and other publications and hangs in many public and private collections worldwide. His primary focus is in observational and imaginative drawing and sketching.

In the blog post below, Guno explores the fundamentals of mark making from his own artist perspective. This includes discussion on the object, illumination, and technique.

What is Mark Making?

Mark making is the process of using a marker or a pen to create illustrations that convey light/shadow, form/volume, and texture to make believable graphic images. Techniques such as cross-hatching and contouring are used by artists to enhance the look and feel of a drawing or painting. It can be bold or delicate, depending on the artist’s interpretations of their vision.

Ever wonder how a drawing can look so real? What kind of spell or magic had to be cast over the surface of a drawing to portray illusions of textures and light that are so seemingly real?

Over hundreds of years, artists have been wrestling with mark making techniques to create flat surfaces that mimic the forms, textures, and atmospheres that we witness with our eyes every day in dimensional space and atmospheric light. There are countless ways to create visual illusions on the surface of the paper to do just that.

In my humble opinion, drawing can be described as “mark making.” That is all it is—making a bunch of organized marks. Whether they’re long strokes, short lines, dots, ticks, smears, or hatch marks, every way of leaving a mark on the page can be used strategically to visually explain information, to tell a story, or to express a feeling.

Here, I’ll attempt to share my thoughts about drawing convincing shapes and forms using our eyes. Then, I’ll continue to apply visual elements such as value and texture to further enhance the experience of sketching believable subject matter.

In order to explain how I use marks to create my drawings, I have to first think about what I am drawing. The object.

Illustration showing forms and volumes

The Object

Whether I’m drawing a portrait, a landscape, an animal, or a forest, I have to think about its forms and volumes as a whole in order to build the space in which the objects take up. I can begin thinking about its shapes isometrically, which are essentially the silhouettes from various angles—or vantage points. Then my visual calculation can begin connecting secondary and tertiary shapes within the isometric shapes like shown above in Fig. 1.

A mountain can be seen as a big cone, a tree as a lollipop, the ground as a flat plane, and the human head as an egg shape. The clearer I can understand the object’s shapes, the better I can represent the light that is illuminating it.

Illustration of simple shapes

To practice this, I like to take the simple shapes and use a very limited set of shades and divide planes. I can start with just 3 values—white, grey, and black. Once I feel comfortable with those 3 values, I can divide them further into 5 shades, then 9 shades, like shown above in Fig. 2.

Illumination

Understanding the illumination of a drawing has a lot to do with seeing the shapes of light and shapes of shadows, but it also has much to do with understanding the behavior of light. Light is what provides us the ability to see anything at all. And the different types of light can show us the same objects in different ways. The practice of finding the various shapes and values mentioned above, is essentially finding where the light is hitting the object the brightest, creating the darkest shadows, and everything in between. The closer an artist can get those values to organize themselves harmoniously, the more illumination an image can possess.

After understanding the mechanics of visually finding the shapes of the object and studying the behavior of light, the next step is to practice putting that understanding into use using different variations of techniques. Seeing the effects of these visual variations of mark making, an artist can selectively use these tools to create the atmosphere and textures of form and space they choose.

Mark making greyscale

The Technique

There are countless ways to make marks in creating sketches and drawings. The basis of how I like to think when I sketch is through cross hatching. More specifically, I like to think of it in two ways of cross hatching; one way is to create patches of hatch marks to cover an area with varying levels of patches to control the values. The other way is to use the directions of the surface contours of what I’m drawing to convey two things at once like the planes of the form and how the light is touching that surface. In many cases, I will use a combination of these two ways of cross hatching to develop a drawing, as shown above.

If I can think of the surface information to a small enough degree, my marks can be directed in the ways of very fine details such as hair, wrinkles, and even differentiate between shiny and dull surfaces.

Examples of different shading techniques

I believe that the best way to understand any drawing technique is to be able to see and understand the simplest version of the image that is being created. Going back to practicing the three values, if I can simplify my observation, I can simplify my sketch. Then after that, it is just a building up of values and textures. Fig. 4 above shows this theory in action.

In the time lapse video below, I show how all of these concepts can be applied. For this octopus ballpoint illustration, I used the STEEL F-701 Ballpoint Retractable Pen.

For more, check out my previous blog posts with Zebra Pen, Urban Sketching: Simplifying Perspective and Designing A Fluid Composition and Ballpoint Illustration Tips from Artist Guno Park.

Ballpoint illustration of a bridge landscape

Quoting the Past: Contemporary Landscape Ballpoint Drawing

By Luis Colan of @luiscolanart

Going back to my days as an art student, I always looked at the art of the past for inspiration and guidance. When working on still life paintings I was looking at Chardin and Vermeer, and as I moved to landscape imagery, I researched the different art movements through art history surrounding this subject. The French painters of the Barbizon School and the Impressionists served as the main source for my approach to painting the landscape. 

After several years of working with oil paint, I was in search of a new approach, something that would make my work feel more contemporary. I stopped painting and to keep my brain sharp and my hands busy I picked up drawing. I began drawing in my sketchbook more and more. I tried different pens, not just for the quality of line and tone, but also because of their design. It’s always nice to have a good-looking product in your hands. 

I came across the STEEL F-301 Ballpoint Retractable Pen, a sharp looking ballpoint pen with a stainless-steel barrel which called my attention due to its slick design. Holding it felt great, it was light weight, and the shape and size fit nicely in my hand. I was able to test the pen in the store, and automatically I fell in love with its glide. I didn’t see any skipping on the paper, and I realized that I could use it in my drawings. From that point on the STEEL F-301 has become an important tool and companion. 

Last year I decided to make a full drawing outside of my sketchbook. This drawing, on cotton rag paper, would be used as an exhibition piece. I picked up a sister pen of the STEEL F-301, the 301-A Ballpoint Retractable Pen from Zebra Pen. This ballpoint pen offers the same qualities of the STEEL F-301 but features an aluminum barrel instead of stainless-steel barrel.

With this new pen, I went out to Central Park to capture the perfect scene. I settled on a view of Gapstow Bridge, which from my point of view was reminiscent of a Corot painting. 

Hand illustrating with the 301A Ballpoint Retractable Pen

I began my drawing onsite by quickly sketching the composition. Using gestural lines, I moved about the paper trying to capture the whole effect. The key is in the movement of your wrist and the amount of pressure you apply on the pen. Always keep it light and keep it moving. Once you have the composition that works for you, you can begin by defining shapes better.

Incomplete ballpoint illustration of a bridge

After getting my compositional lines on the paper, I continued to work on the drawing in my studio using a reference photo. At this point, I chose one element of the drawing I was very sure of, and I began to further define its shape and tone by lightly layering lines. I always start light and move on to dark tones towards the end. This allows me to make changes as I go along. It also builds soft tones and gives the drawing the feeling of light and atmosphere.

Hand on paper in the middle of illustrating a bridge in ballpoint pen

My work style focuses on the effects of light. To achieve this, I first began blocking in large areas of the drawing by using soft, light lines to build an even tone. From there, I added the darker elements; the closer things are to the foreground, the darker things get. This gives the drawing an atmospheric effect.The lighter tones recede in space, while the darker and sharper lines push forward in space. 

Ballpoint illustration of a bridge with the F-301 and 301 Ballpoint Retractable Pens beside drawing

Landscapes can be overwhelming to depict because there is a lot of information to process. It all comes down to simplifying and problem solving to reach a certain outcome. We are all aware that trees are made up of million leaves. We all know the general shape of a leaf, but are you going to draw them all, one by one? That would take too long, and it would also make your drawing look stiff.

What you are really seeing are groups of texture, and it’s always good to find these groups and break down the drawing into these larger shapes. 

Some of the things I always keep in mind when working with a ballpoint pen are:

  • Always clean the tip every few seconds on a separate piece of paper or paper towel to avoid any ink bleeding and keep clear, crisp lines.
  • Hold the pen lightly like as if holding a magic wand. Hold the barrel at the middle or towards the end. Do not hold the pen tight towards the tip; that hand placement is better for writing. 
  • To get soft and light lines, I always watch how much weight or force I’m applying on the pen. Since I don’t hold it tight, I let the pen fall on its own weight and let it gently caress the surface of the paper.    
  • Patience and practice are crucial!


I hope you enjoyed learning more about my journey as an artist and my tips for drawing with a ballpoint pen. For more ballpoint illustration tips, check out 4 Tips for Creating a Scaled Ballpoint Illustration from artist Cat Spilman.

Flat lay of a desk including a paper that maps out 2022 Goals

How to Set Realistic, Achievable Career Goals

Setting goals is key to advancing your career and feeling fulfilled by your job. Whether your employer requires you to set goals as part of your performance-review process or you take the initiative on your own, it can help you to plan out your professional future.

Below we show you how to use a SMART goal framework to set realistic, achievable career goals.

As you walk through these steps, answer the questions on paper with a reliable pen. The STEEL F-701 Ballpoint Retractable Pen features a weighted stainless-steel barrel for a premium writing experience. If you prefer gel, reach for the G-350 Gel Retractable Pen. It has rapid dry gel ink technology that dries in less than a second, and comes in three fashionable barrel colors.


1. Specific

Be as clear and specific as possible with the goal you want to achieve. The more specific your goal is, the more you’ll understand the steps necessary to achieve it.

Below are 4 questions to ask yourself when defining the specific details of your goal:

  • What is my objective?
  • Why is this goal important?
  • Who is involved or responsible?
  • What steps will I take to achieve this goal?

2. Measurable

The next step is to identify how you will assess the progress of your goal to ensure it is measurable. Quantifying your goal makes it that much easier to track progress.

A measurable goal should address questions such as:

  • How much or how many?
  • How will I know when the goal is accomplished?

3. Achievable


Although your goal can be ambitious, it still needs to be realistic and attainable to be successful. Make sure your goal is not dependent on factors outside of your control.

An achievable goal should pass these questions:

  • How can I accomplish this goal?
  • How realistic is the goal, based on other constraints?
  • Are there factors outside my control that would impact the success of this goal?


4. Relevant


Next, double-check that the career goal is related to your mission, values, and bigger long-term goals. If a goal doesn’t contribute toward your broader objectives, it might be best to reevaluate.

Below are questions to ask yourself to make sure your goal is relevant:

  • Is this goal important to me?
  • Is this goal aligned with my values?
  • Will achieving this goal help me in my longer-term goals?

5. Time-bound

SMART goals don’t stretch into infinity–they have a deadline. Instead of leaving your goal open-ended, create a timeline, and set important milestones along the way.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my goal timeframe?
  • What smaller milestones will help me stay on track?
  • What can I do immediately to jumpstart this goal?

It is never too late to start setting goals and look at where you can make changes in your professional future. Use the SMART goal framework to help you move forward in your career. For more professional tips, check out How to Make More Productive To-Do Lists.

Canvas framed ballpoint illustration of a building

4 Tips for Creating a Scaled Ballpoint Illustration

By: Catherine Spilman of @catgreenart

When I first started sketching tiny houses, I used the STEEL F-301 Ballpoint Retractable Pen because Jordan Spilman, my late husband, had an extra one and let me use it. He had always extolled the virtues of the pen and I had rolled my eyes assuming he was exaggerating, however five years later, it is my tried and true, my go-to, my all-time favorite pen.

Today, I’ll be walking you through how I create an illustration in ballpoint with the STEEL F-301 and providing my own tips along the way. All you’ll need is the STEEL F-301, a reference photo, and a sketchbook or piece of sketch paper.

Journal and light ballpoint sketch

Tip 1: Begin a Light Outline

The best thing about the STEEL F-301 is its versatility. When I start a drawing, I do a very light outline to try to get a handle on the proportions and the pen allows me to make lines that are almost like pencil, but more concentrated and delicate. When I paint, I block in the entire image in highlight and lowlights, and then work from there to develop detail. When I draw, I use the opposite approach and work usually from left to right filling in form.

Ballpoint illustration of a buildling

Tip 2: Fill in Detail from Left to Right and Don’t Forget to Blot

I work from left to right because until the ink is completely dry, it is possible to smudge or smear it with your hand. For this reason, I also rest my hand on a separate piece of paper (this also prevents the moisture in my hand from wrinkling the page.) On this separate piece of paper, I blot the pen from time to time. This keeps the ink running smoothly and avoids blots on the image.

When the house is basically blocked in and it’s time to finish up details like windows and shadows, the STEEL F-301 is amazing for achieving deep black marks. It is capable of so many different line weights which are particularly helpful for indicating shadow, texture, or foliage.

Partial illustration of a building halfway drawn

Tip 3: Use a Photo that is Already Scaled to the Size You Want for the Drawing

I don’t use rulers or any form of straight edge because in my opinion they make the drawing stiff. What I do use to maintain some sense of scale is my phone. The image on my phone is usually a similar size to the image I’m drawing, so I can look from phone to paper to double check my proportions.

Finished ballpoint illustration of a building

Tip 4: Use a Reliable Pen

The drawings can take a few hours and during that time it’s important to have a drawing instrument that’s comfortable to hold. The STEEL F-301 is smooth and comfortable to use for extended periods. I’ve used it in very warm climates and in the snow and the ink distributes remarkably smoothly in both extremes. The steel barrel is resilient and made to last and luckily ink refills are easy to access and to install.

I’ve tried other pens throughout the years but for these reasons and more, this is the pen for me. As Ferris Bueller said, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

I hope these tips help you with your ballpoint illustrations. For more sketching inspiration, check out Urban Sketching: Simplifying Perspective and Designing A Fluid Composition by Guno Park.

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A Guide to Brush Pens for Beginners and Hobbyists Alike

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The Mechanical Pencil Guide

When you anticipate mistakes or don’t want to commit to ink, a mechanical pencil is the perfect option. Zebra Pen offers a wide variety of mechanical pencils that are available in both lightweight plastic and durable metal styles designed for students, professionals, and everyday writers.

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How to Color Code StudyGram Notes

It’s that time of the year again—back-to-school season! Amid all the preparation for the new school year, it’s also time to get back into the routine of taking notes. In this tutorial, we’ll go over a step-by-step guide to color code your StudyGram notes!

Hey everyone, this is Christine from @studybeanthings on Instagram, and today, I’ll be showing you how to create study notes that will not only be visually pleasing, but also aid in comprehension for whatever subject you’re studying. This article will include some tips and tricks to keep your notes organized to your preference, while keeping them fun and stimulating to look at. Color coding is especially important in taking notes. With so much information on one page, this guide will keep you focused and excited to study for your upcoming exams!

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Sarasa Grand and G-450 pen laying atop a desk beside a letter board, spelling out "Resume Tips 101"

6 Steps to Creating a Resume That Gets Noticed

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Essential School Supplies Every Student Needs for Back-to-School Season

It’s officially back-to-school season. The new school year is almost here, which means it’s time to shop for school supplies. Whether you’re shopping for your child or need some supplies for yourself, we’re going to break down the best Zebra Pen back-to-school supplies for students (and people) of all ages.

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3 DIY Birthday Cards That Will Make Their Special Day Even Better

Hi there! It’s Christine Asciutto of @twinkleplansherday. Today, I am going to show you how to make three colorful, custom birthdays cards in under 20 minutes. These cards are simple to make and are great to have on hand for any last-minute birthday parties that pop up!

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