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.
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.
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.
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.
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.