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Back to the Basics – Black and White

By January 31, 2017Adventures
Getting Ready for Tarpon

“We all have 10,000 bad drawings in us. The sooner we get them out the better.” ~ Walt Stanchfield

I think it’s safe to say that most artists begin their artistic journey with the most basic of mediums, paper and pencil.

Unfortunately, as many artists develop and mature these common tools are often left behind, demoted to simply capturing ideas or developing compositions for more ‘serious’ work.

While I enjoy quick, spontaneous renderings, journaling, sketches, and preliminary studies, I’ve grown to appreciate finished pencil work even more. A sensitive and well-executed drawing has all of the elements of every other art form… except of course, for color.

And for me, that’s the interesting aspect of drawings. As in black and white photography, working with the absence of color requires a hypersensitivity to values, the range of lights and darks throughout the composition. While artists working with color often use a shift in chroma to define a space, or the edge of an object, those working without it are faced with more difficult challenges. I find the solutions to these problems very appealing.

One thing I look for in a well-managed drawing is the absence of outlines and a sense that the drawing was ‘painted’ with pencils.

“Prairie Still Life” – pencil on archival paper – created to illustrate, “My Favorite Lunch”, in Shooting Sportsman magazine

I enjoy drawings that allow light to infuse the image. In other words the white space of the paper is invited into the composition by avoiding an outline.

“For the Dog Work” – pencil on archival paper – used as an illustration in Ted Lundrigan’s book, A Bird In The Hand

While I value a perfectly blended passage in pencil, I particularly appreciate the marks of pressure and relief left behind by the artist. I think of these as ‘sacred marks’ and value them in much the same way that I do brush strokes in a painting.

“A Place In The Choir” – pencil on archival paper – used as an illustration in Ted Lundrigan’s book, A Bird In The Hand

I find a simple elegance in grey scale, or black and white renderings. I’m drawn to them because, without color, I feel that my mind and imagination are engaged on a more basic and deeper level. In much the same manner that impressionistic paintings allow the viewer to “complete” the image in one’s mind, a black and white impression engages my imagination and invites me to look at the world differently. A successful drawing evokes a sense of color in my mind’s eye.

While, I produce my grey scale images with graphite and pen and ink, there are a myriad of ways that such images can be rendered.

  • Drawings on a light background are executed in charcoal, graphite, metal point (the essential metals used are lead, tin and silver), or ink. Some artists work with a light mark on a tinted or dark background.
  • Prints are produced in a multitude of methods, including woodcuts, engravings, etchings, drypoint, and lithography, etc.
  • Scratchboards are a form of direct engraving where the artist scratches off dark ink to reveal a white or colored layer beneath.

Many of my artist-heroes worked in a wide range of methods and techniques, and while their works in color are perhaps more widely known and recognized, I find their grey scale and black and white renderings to be equally compelling.

Some of the artists whose work I admire are…

Lynn Bogue Hunt – pencil


Francis Lee Jaques – scratchboard and ink


H. Albert Hochbaum – pen and ink


Les Kouba – pen and ink


Richard Bishop – etching


Frank Benson – etching

Of course, there are many others.

I hope to continue the grand tradition of working in multiple mediums and looking at the world in color, black and white… and its many shades of grey.

Paul Klee once observed, “A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.”

I’ve always believed that where one starts a journey is not necessarily a bad place to finish it.

Please click here, if you’d like to see some examples of my work in pencil and ink.