That’s hooey. Special tools don't make all the difference—just look at what Marty Harris can do with a simple ball point pen.Yes you know that already, but every so often your critical mind might try and tell you this, might suggest that your drawings or paintings or quilts would be better if you had the Wonder Pen 3000, the Ultra Brush FS (fine stuff), or the Magical Motion Revolving Quilting Arm EX (excellent, as opposed to the SP model which is only super).
What’s really happening is a form of procrastination.
If you have any old tool and you work consistently with it for a set amount of time the improvement you see will be greater than any improvement you see if you have the Wonder Pen 3000 and only use it on holidays! (Remember what Malcolm Gladwell says in Outliners.)
Left: Another State Fair sketch, ©Marty Harris, using the Pilot Better Retractable Pen and a bit of marker. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
To prove my point (well it doesn’t need proving—but to illustrate it) I offer work from the extraordinarily talented Marty Harris. (You can see more of Marty’s great work with a ball point pen [and other art tools] at his Flickr site. You'll also find links to the various Moleskine exchange projects he coordinates. Be sure to check out Marty's raccoons!)When you read about James Jean on the internet you’ll find more than one person longing for the magic pen. Sure they really know there is no magic in the pen he uses, it’s James Jean. And yes it is alright to fall in love with someone’s line and style and wonder how you might replicate that line if you had a similar tool—because it’s through that experimentation that you find your own unique style.
What isn’t good is to wait until the right tool comes along—or to simply keep buying more and more tools which you never put enough effort into using to gain any proficiency.
Look long and hard at your collection of art tools and materials today. Are they stacking up unused? If so, then now is the time to use them with abandon. Burn right through them—no waiting for anything, in fact, hardly draw a breath. Because those unused and “precious” (Oh, I’m saving that for a special occasion) supplies will just weigh you down like so many lost opportunities—just like the chains that weigh Jacob Marley down.
If you’re frustrated that your friend Bob is a master of the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen don’t take your brush pen out once or twice, have a go, and put it away in disgust. Instead take out that brush pen for 15 to 60 minutes every day for three weeks and really learn to employ that tool in your art. See what line quality you can get, how you have to adapt your normal shading methods, what size constraints you have to adjust to…
If a brush pen seems ambitious, just grab a pencil, a 3B to 6B which can be smudged with your finger for shading. Use it every day for 15 to 60 minutes for three weeks and discover a new affinity for a tool many folks over look.
This holds true of paper as well. Perhaps you’ve been frustrated by a particular paper not yielding the results you want. Examine whether or not you are using a tool suitable to that paper—for instance people who use Moleskines often talk about the sketchbook paper version not working well with watercolor. Well if you’ve found that to be the case then maybe it’s time to find a paper that works well with watercolor, since that’s important to you. Or if the Moleskine is more important, then find pens that you enjoy working with on that surface. Chances are the simplest of pens will not only be your best starting point in this experiment, but will prove the most useful. Soon you’ll find an office supply pen that is readily available to you, inexpensive, and provides the line you want. All because you took an actively aggressive approach to finding out what works for you—which is different from simply gathering “potential” materials together.
I hope you’ll be inspired by artists like Marty Harris. It isn’t about the tool, it’s about drawing, and drawing, and drawing.
Make 2010 about using what is at hand and about focusing on learning how to use what is at hand. If you do, when you look back on 2010 a year from today, you'll see a progression in your art—real progress. There will also be a new freedom to work with what is at hand, and to work more often, without delay.
Have a great 2010.