Friday, August 25, 2017

The Picture That First Changed My Perspective on Art

Ink drawing by Alphonso Dunn, included in his book, Pen and Ink Drawing: A Simple Guide.

Early on in my art development (that is to say, six months in), I bought Dunn's book on pen and ink based on the Amazon reviews at the time. At this point in time I was highly selective about which books to buy, while also being entirely clueless about what to get. Since Dunn's book was highly rated by beginning artists, and since the excerpt seemed to feature someone who knew what he was talking about, I went ahead and bought it—despite being skeptical about how much one could learn from a non-erasable medium.

At the time I was still learning via digital art programs on the iPad, and I was convinced that the only way one could truly learn to create art was through some medium with infinite undo capabilities.

The book included this picture of a simple blush brush changed my approach to art, and my perspective on creating art, entirely.

I knew by this point how difficult it was to draw and render even simple objects, even when I had all the digital tools I could ever want.

But with just pen and ink—not even an expressive brush and ink—Dunn crafted a brush I could believe in. This drawing wasn't even the complex hatching and pointillism in realistic pen and ink I'd seen before, where you fill in the space with the pixels from the model, carefully observed and copied.

Instead, there was a sheer beauty in how Dunn accomplished, with only the "palette of line," something... somehow more real, somehow more graspable, than all the realism I'd seen. There's skill here, exquisite artistic decisions, I'd not seen touched in realism or even naturalism—nor in caricature and cartooning.

Dunn had secrets. I wanted to learn these secrets. There was something there.

Working with the palette of line has been illuminating. Even now I forget how important strokes and texture are, and I find that I need to return to the palette of line to shore up my painting and pencil techniques. The puzzle of how to use strokes to play with the presentation of the subject is one I'm still trying to solve.

I need to return to ink part-time for a while.

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Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.