Yes, time to write about yet another drawing challenge! This one is pretty well-known by now, and it’s led by Marc Taro Holmes and Liz Steel, taking place once or twice a year, each over a five-day stretch. It’s one of my favorite challenges to do, as it closely aligns with my daily practice during my commute to and from work. This year, the first instance of this challenge took place on March 5–9.
I think I’ve participated in this challenge a few times already (I’ve lost count), but the last two times I used brushpen almost exclusively to do the gestural drawings — they’re fast, expressive, and give varied lines and textures. This past March, however, I decided to use mostly fountain pen, with perhaps only a little bit of brushpen (resistance is futile). For me, anything without a brush feels *really* slow, and the lack of line variation from a hard nail of a nib means sometimes going over an area a few times. (Unless you use a springy or flex nib on your fountain pen…which I should probably consider for next time, hmm.)
I didn’t bother with watercolor — my commute is via bus, and space is limited, even with a pocket-sized palette and waterbrush, and truthfully, I’m mindful enough of my fellow passengers not to impose on them that level of rudeness. And no café sketching for me, either, because lunchtime during the workday is only a half hour for me and there are priorities, like food and my tenth mug of coffee. After work, I’ve only enough time to catch the bus home, as alternative routes will only add to my already-lengthy commute time, and that would just make me grumpy. There are some things even sketching fails to cure.
This particular March, NYC was hit with near-weekly snowstorms. This has become normal now, this shift of seasons, and even as I type this on an early morning of April 2, we are in the middle of a snowstorm that’s already dumped three inches of snow. Yes, April.
So one of those days during the challenge, I drew no people. I was inside all day, looking at snow. Yes, you could draw people from television — I did this a few times — but I just didn’t feel like it. So I doubled up the number over the last four days to make up for it, which intensified the challenge for me. Helpfully, everyone was bundled up, so there were lots of big winter shapes. Snow on the ground meant traffic, a slightly slower-moving bus, and slightly more tired, slower-moving New Yorkers.
Using a fountain pen with an extra-fine nib, my lines had nowhere to hide. I couldn’t drag my pen on the paper to provide texture and mask the wobbles. And my lines had to say a lot with very little time, so they had to stylize and abbreviate and expand the shapes at the first strokes, with details added last.
I also didn’t bother to compose the pages. Limited time means very little consideration for composition, though sometimes I was lucky and the floating figures and heads actually turned out looking fine on the spread.
I made sure to work on paper I liked and was familiar with. I didn’t have to think about the properties and how it would react to the pen and its ink — I already knew. For this challenge, I used a softcover Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Art Journal, which is my latest favorite, and a good old reliable for taking both ink and watercolor beautifully.
And since the challenge? Well, I reach for my fountain pen more often for these quick gestural drawings, and add brushpen strokes for contrast, large dark spaces, and textures. My brushpen has enough of a fine tip to have a wide range of stroke weights and could easily be the only drawing tool I can use, but a rickety bus widens everything, and I’ve grown fond of the contrast the fine, shaky lines and thick, dark swaths bring to the drawings.
I highly recommend participating in this challenge when it happens, or on your own. It’s a fun way to develop your line and memory, and effectively put some of your time into your sketchbook, wherever you are.