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Bees in pen and ink: Dip pens

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Here are my latest drawings of the bees. Earlier posts showed my sketches of  ‘bee characters‘ as well as some bee drawings using the Rotring Rapidograph. Here I’m using a dip pen to draw in detail the head of a bee.

Dip pen and Indian Ink:

Above: The drawing is from a photograph of a leafcutter bee emerging from the nest, which I took I think in 2009. The nib I’m using is the Gillot 404 which I used for the ‘bee characters’. I was surprised to find that used carefully and slowly I can achieve quite a lot of detail, as you can see if you click on the thumbnail images above. The ink is again the Winsor and Newton Liquid Indian Ink, which is non-waterproof. I have found it is ideal for this work. I use a very small amount of ink on the nib each time, dipping a very little way into the ink, or applying with a small paint brush. This way I have found there have been (so far!) no disasters with blobs of ink, and it flows almost like using a pencil, if the nib is used gently and relatively slowly. Every so often, once the ink starts to dry on the nib, I rinse the nib in a small cup of water and dry it on a lint-free cloth. Paper is Bristol Board.

This is the technique I’ll be using for a while now on the bees. Despite being quite slow work, it is in fact much quicker than drawing with the Rapidograph. It also allows me to make a variety of marks including stippling, and the lines also have more variety of thickness.

Above, left: Some quick sketches of a newly-emerged leafcutter. Above, centre and right: close-up views of a larger study of a leafcutter bee, showing the variety of lines used.

Above: Gillott nib looking slightly worn – I just hope that when I start using the next one it gives me the same results, or I’m going to be very disappointed!

The close-up of the nib above was taken with my new compact camera, which I’m hoping to use to take some better photographs of the bees. I have been struggling with the older photographs of the bees I’ve taken, since they don’t have the detail that I want to record in these drawings. At the moment I’m enjoying the weather, chasing insects around the garden and getting used to the camera. I have been really pleased to find miner bees digging in my garden for the first time this year. I don’t know whether I’ve missed them before, or they’re here for the first time.

I’ll post a few of the new pictures in the photography part of the site soon. For now, there is a link below to take you to some of my earlier photographs, and information on the solitary bees.

Bee Pages with photographs and illustrations |

All images and text ©Christine Farmer

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Bees in pen and ink: Bee characters

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Something of a different take on the bees, and probably as far removed from the Rapidograph drawings as I can get.

A label:

Above: Back in February I did a couple of quick sketches of bees on labels and cards for a gift. It was just a little sketching, using the same nib I used to address the envelope. But I realised that these bees had all the character I was looking for in my more serious drawing, and I think this is where the idea for the bee characters originated.

Bee characters – a few early drawings:

Taking notes one day from one of Fabre’s bee books, my mind was wandering with regard to what the bees might think of our notions about them, and I found myself doodling these bees on the page.

Above left: First doodles with gel pen in my notebook. Above, centre left: Work on the bees using the nibs I’d been using to practise my writing, and Indian Ink. After a little experimentation I found that the Gillott 404 nib with Winsor & Newton liquid indian ink were ideal for these tiny sketches, as you can see from my note on the page. This ink is less ‘sticky’ than the Indian Ink I’ve always used before, and I’ll write more about that in my next blog post on the bee drawings. Above right: Two shots of a couple of the early characters – the one with the pen gives an idea of scale. I added some ink wash, as you can see.

Above: Combining some of my lettering with the bees. This combination of lettering and small drawings is one I’ve been using on my family trees. Since these first efforts I’ve drawn many more ‘characters’ engaged in photography, writing their own books, looking through telescopes and what not. Not sure where it’s all going, but it’s fun playing about with them!

My next post on the bee drawings should be up next week, and looks at my most recent drawings using the dip pens – a return to more ‘serious’ bee studies.

All images and text ©Christine Farmer

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April 21st, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Farmer family tree

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Following on from my previous post on a family tree I drew for a friend, here is one of the sketches I’ve been doing based on my own family tree – click on the thumbnail for a closer look. I’ve used a dip pen for both the handwriting and the little sketches. I used a calligraphy nib for the handwriting, and a Gillot 404 for the sketches. It’s a lot faster than using the Rapidographs, but I’m quite nervous using them at the moment.

The sketches are based on some photographs I took of places connected with my family history. They are both public houses in Belbroughton, Worcestershire — my immediate ‘Farmer’ ancestors were maltsters and publicans. My Farmer cousins also lived in Belbroughton and Halesowen, and were farmers. They lived in various farm houses, most of them still standing, drawings of which I’m also going to include on the family tree when I’ve ‘finished’ researching it. Unfortunately the earliest farm house that I know they lived in up until the 1870s, ‘Howley Grange’ in Halesowen, was demolished to make way for a school. But there is at least one sketch of it in existence that I know of, to attest to its original appearance.

The difficulty will be in knowing when to stop researching and begin work on the finished drawing, knowing that there will always be further information coming to light which may alter the picture.

All images and text ©Christine Farmer Please contact me if you wish to use any of the images.

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February 10th, 2011 at 2:15 pm

A family tree

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I’ve really enjoyed the research I’ve been carring out on my own family tree for about a year now. So I was excited to be asked to help with some genealogy for a friend, who also wanted a drawing of the family tree to give as a gift. The research I found of course fascinating – it is hard to explain the joy of searching through those pages of census records, and the piecing together of family relationships from birth and marriage certificates. When it came to the drawing itself, I wanted to present the diagram as a ‘real’ tree, with bark and leaf details. I found it quite tricky to arrange all the ancestors in such a small space, and yet have their relationships readable. In the end this fan-shape seemed to work really well, both to present all the family members, while maintaining the overall shape of a gnarled old tree.

Above: Here are some photographs of the tree, to show some details of bark and leaves, as well as the fan arrangement of the entire tree. Click on any of the thumbnails for a closer look, especially of the entire tree, the overall shape of which can’t be seen in the thumbnail. To draw the tree, I first printed the names onto the paper in the fan arrangement, and then drew a border around each name. I then sketched the tree shape around them in pencil, while the final drawing was completed using a Rotring Rapidograph pen.

Above: The finished drawing was mounted and framed. A few weeks after I’d completed the drawing, I was completely surprised to receive a really touching note from the recipient of the tree, who was really happy with the results.

I plan to draw out some of my own trees in the same kind of way now, working on pedigree trees like this, as well as descendant trees, and all kinds of variations. I will also be adding little details such as drawings of places they lived, their houses, perhaps tiny maps, items connected with their trades, and so on. Not all of them will be based on ‘real’ trees, as I am thinking of using perhaps chains for my chain-making ancestors, as well as other ideas. I also want to experiment with dip pens rather than the Rotring pen, and to write the names out by hand.

All images and text ©Christine Farmer Please contact me if you wish to use any of the images.

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Written by Christine

January 24th, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Dining room chair and some smaller clouds

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Above is the almost finished lower right hand section of the drawing Dining Room Chair and Window. As you can see there are still some pencilled-in clouds which I’m uncertain about at this moment, and there are more of them in other parts of the drawing. It will be a little while before I decide whether or not to ink in these dark clouds.

Above are some scans taken as this section of the drawing progressed. The landscape is an interpretation of the view from Clee Hill, with Malvern in the distance. As you can see, I was still changing my mind on the shape of some of the clouds quite late in the drawing. However, there is not much room for alterations, as with pen and ink once a mark is made it cannot be gone over and altered to make it lighter. Similarly, I was not sure about the foreground until quite late in the process, and had originally thought of having liverwort creeping into the picture. In the end I decided on these bare floorboards. Click on the thumbnails for a closer view.

And here above are some close-up views of the smaller clouds in this part of the drawing, and of the landscape. They give an idea of the patterns of stipples that I use to build up the image. The entire sky is made up of these stipples, which take a lot of patience and concentration to keep relatively even. It is a method of stippling the sky which I only began doing with this drawing – before this I had been stippling much more randomly. For some reason I find it immensely satisfying to make these patterns. The new drawing, which I’ll post some pictures of soon, includes stippled skies and clouds again, along with the ivy, and some new elements.

Earlier posts describing the progress of this drawing can be found here. They include a post about the photography for this drawing, when I took the dining chair to Clee Hill.

All images and text ©Christine Farmer Please contact me if you wish to use any of the images.

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Finished clouds in the Dining Room Window drawing

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Here is the finished sky at the very top of the drawing. And below are progress scans which show the development of the clouds. Click on thumbnails for a closer look.

I think that this drawing is almost finished now, but I will perhaps put some darker clouds lower in the sky before I’m happy with it. I’ll post some updates soon of other areas of the drawing, and when I think it’s complete I’ll post a picture of the entire drawing.

More on stipple drawing.

All earlier posts on this drawing, in which you can see how this area of sky fits into the entire drawing!

I’ve already begun my next drawing, which is considerably smaller, but is almost certain to feature clouds. More updates soon.

All images and text ©Christine Farmer Please contact me if you wish to use any of the images.

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Ivy through the window

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A few work in progress scans of my current drawing. This time it’s the lower half of the dining room window, with the flowering ivy. If you look closely, there are some honey bees, huge numbers of which come every year to feed on the flowers. If you click the thumbnails you can see close-ups of the drawing.

Ivy through the window I Progress on the ivy through the window Progress on ivy through the window Progress on ivy through the window

And here are a few other views and a close-up on the right in which you can see the stipping, and probably also the bees:

The ivy almost complete the drawing on the drawing table Close-up of the ivy, with bees

Go here to see earlier posts about this drawing, and here to read more about my drawing technique, and stippling and here to read about the Rotring Rapidograph pens I use.

All images and text ©Christine Farmer Please contact me if you wish to use any of the images.

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A dining room chair in pen and ink

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detail of the stippling on the back of the chair

As some of you will know, progress on the new drawing has been very slow due to my troubles with a frozen shoulder, which has made work extremely difficult. However, I thought I’d post some of the photographs I have of the most recent work on the dining room chair in the bottom right of the drawing. The picture above is a close-up of the back of the chair, to show the stipple detail of sky and chair. As you can see if you click on the thumbnail, I’m using a kind of pattern in the stipples which gives a nice texture to the sky. The chair is first stippled to give the tone, and then the woodgrain effect is added using small lines made with the Rotring pen. This can be seen in the upright on the far right of the chair back, and in the final picture at the foot of the post.

Click on the thumbnails for a closer look:

outline in pencil inking in the back of the chair stippling the main part of chair the main body of the chair complete

The pencil marks behind the chair are where the clouds will be. I pencil in the parts I want to be light, and stipple around them, removing the pencil and adding ink details later. Below is a photograph of a section of the drawing on the drawing table, which gives some idea of texture and scale. There is also a clue as to what is outside the window, the detail of which will be revealed in a future post.

chair drawing with scale

Follow these link to see the overall design as well as earlier updates on this drawing and reference photographs. And go here to see more drawings in my gallery.

All images and text ©Christine Farmer Please contact me if you wish to use any of the images.

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Progress on the pen and ink drawing of window and clouds

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Another two weeks has gone by since I last posted an update, and as you may imagine, my feelings at the moment are that the progress is slow and painful. I spend most days with a magnifying glass in my left hand as I work gradually across the paper, going back and back again over clouds, deepening the shadow each time. I haven’t kept an exact tally on the hours I’m at the drawing board, or even the weeks now. Here are scans of the progress so far (click on images for detail).

stages of the entire pen and ink drawing, I stages of the entire pen and ink drawing, II stages of the entire pen and ink drawing, III stages of the entire pen and ink drawing, IV

The first section of the drawing was the quickest and easiest: the sky through the window (below) was based on some evening clouds I photographed out of my bedroom window, which for some reason became twisted up and not how I’d really imagined them. I knew I wanted them to be threatening, distorted and unusual, but they came out even more surprising. They remind me of something seen through a microscope, or telescope.

the sky through the window, I the sky through the window, II

I’m still not certain what I want to have through the bottom half of the window. My initial ideas were of hands pushing against the panes, and even to use real fingerprints to form clouds. I have left them blank for the time being and it will become clearer to me later in the process what needs to go there.

The skies around the window (below) are a different matter. They’re made up of clouds I photographed on several days this summer, some on Clee Hills where I took the initial photographs of the dining chair, some from my garden. The process with these clouds, as they are so detailed, is very slow and quite agonising some days. The good news is that my headaches have actually reduced over the past months, and so I’m fairly certain they’re not down to eye strain, which was a concern of mine initially. Anyway, here are some closer details of these clouds, none of which are anywhere near completion yet.

building up the clouds in pen and ink stippling, I building up the clouds in pen and ink stippling, II building up the clouds in pen and ink stippling, III

Here’s an idea of what I see when I’m drawing (below). Some days I do wonder why I’ve set myself such a task: why I don’t just pick up a pencil and do things that way. It’s quite difficult to give an impression of what it’s like sitting here and being absorbed into a world of clouds upon clouds. It’s irritating, and compulsive. And sometimes it’s even satisfying… but I haven’t got to that stage with this drawing yet. There’s still far to far to go, and what I mainly see is white paper and things that need fixing.


All images and text ©Christine Farmer Please contact me if you wish to use any of the images.

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Inking the summer skies

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A week after my previous post and the top two panes of the window are now more or less complete – I won’t know whether more inking is needed on that area until I’ve completed the skies outside the window, the early stages of which you can see in today’s pictures.

The two images on the left show the development of the summer skies: far more shading is needed at the moment, especially within the cloud which needs a lot more depth. The picture on the right shows a close-up of the stipples in this area. Click on the thumbnails for a closer look.

inking the clouds outside the window three days later... stipple detail of clouds

At this stage the early worries about whether or not I’m putting too much ink on and destroying everything are gone, and the biggest issues are different. The main thing to deal with is the eye strain, looking at something so small through a magnifying glass, and the frustration of slow progress while every stipple needs to be in almost exactly the right place. It has been a long time since I drew anything quite so detailed, and I had forgotten just how demanding it is. Still, it’s begun now and I am anxious to find out how it’s going to look.

The one thing I’m fairly pleased with at this stage is the overall composition, and I’m glad I spent so long getting that right. At the moment I’m uncertain exactly what I’m going to put in the foreground, but my early idea is to put in floorboards and perhaps mosses. I will have to take more photographs for that stage. What I’m doing at the moment is continuing across the top part of the summer skies, while darkening the clouds on the left, but not too much, as I want there to be a complete contrast between what is through the window, and what is around the window.

All images and text ©Christine Farmer Please contact me if you wish to use any of the images.

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