Where it all began
I probably made my first quill when I was about 6 or 7. Whilst on a trip to Phillip Island with my family my sister and I found a large albatros feather. When we go back to where we were staying she showed me how it could be cut on an angle and turned into what she explained was called a quill. She told me people used to write with quills long ago before we had pens like we do today.
I couldn't wait to try it out. When we got home My sister grabbed out some paper and a bottle of ink and we started to play around with it. She was quite good at writing with it, I wanted to draw with it. I wasnt very good and probably far too young to have the dexterity and patience to get accustomed to it and quickly I gave up. Not realising a spark had been left inside me dormant waiting to be re awoken years later
Some time later
Around the ages of 14-15 I was in High school. I had a terrific boyfriend who was also very creative, he was a fantastic technical illustrator. He was very supportive of me wanting to be an artist some day. We loved each other and he was pretty nice to me. I had been working hard developing my figure drawing skills and I was trying hard to create my own style. I would obsessively scribble out pictures of faeries (one of my staples) When I say faeries they were not the delicate faeries you find illustrated in a children's book, no delicate wings with perfect proportions(not like tinkerbelle). I drew faerie warriors and pixies, with rough faces, weapons and ripped of wings sometimes no wings at all. If they had no wings this meant they had been lost in battle! I had a whole folklore devised for my fiery, feisty rough and tough ladies!
My boyfriend noticed me kind of struggling with developing my style using pens, markers, pencils and crayons. He brought out a calligraphy pen with drawing nibs and bottle of black ink and suggested I try my fantastic, rouged beauties with pen and ink. Immediately and I mean right of the bat it started to work for me. It was like my fiery beauties were waiting inside the reservoir of the pen, poised and ready for me to release them onto the page!!
I visited my sister and showed her how my style had been developing and I told her about how I had begun to experiment with pen and ink. She was impressed, she immediately left the room and returned with a big grin on her face holding a little cardboard box. She handed it over to me still smiling and said "I don't really use these these" In side was a set of beautiful small ink bottles I think 12 in total. They were such vibrant and beautiful colours.
With my newly found passion and bottles of ammunition I set to work creating all kinds of wonderful faerie creatures, forest spirits, nymphs and pixies.
(I look up to my even sister to this day especially for her artistic opinions of my work, she is a most fantastic illustrator and artist)
Drawing at university
I began my studies at university aged 17, when I interviewed I was offered to enrol in any disciple (not often offered at that time). Looking back perhaps I should have chosen drawing but I was enjoying sculpture at the time. Much to my delight all disciplines had to attend regular drawing classes including life drawing. Our drawing lecturer was a lovely french gentleman named Jacques. He Immediately singled me out noticing that I was in his words a "habitual drawer"
and had developed quite a unique style. Being our teacher it was his job to challenge us so we would continue to develop our artistic skills. One thing he did was make me spend a whole mornings session only drawing one thing, it could be just an ear, foot, eye, nose etc. this was to slow me down a bit and make me concentrate more on the details. The other thing he did was give me different instruments to draw with. I really enjoyed drawing with sticks of various lengths with either a brush or crayon tapped to the end. I began to experiment around with different things at home. At t around this time, my nieces found me a feather at the beach, I became reaquainted feather quills and I've pretty much always had them with me in any drawing class or studio I just love drawing with them.
I think they must have symbolised some hope to me at the time and I think it's such a gift to still have these pictures today.
My current quill and organic pen collection and how I got them
About a year ago I completed my apprenticeship in horticulture working at the Melbourne zoo. Part of my daily routine working there included a morning pick up of rubbish and a general inspection of the gardens. I took a lot of great photos of birds and plants during these mornings and I found lots of feathers. I also often found feathers after completing garden work in an avian enclosures. I collected around 50 in total. The zoo had a huge supply of fresh bamboo and elephant grass to cut and make pens out of as well! So I have quite the collection now and have found them all to really different from each other and some that I have found like the pelican feathers are amongst the best quills I have ever used. I feel lucky to have such a great collection to experiment with.
So enough rambling lets look at some of my collection. I will give you some tips on what I have learned in my experiences using a some of these feathers and bamboos to draw with. I'll talk inks and paper at the end.
Please keep in mind this advice is just based on my personal experience
Night heron feather- Measures 39 cm. I find the tips of these comfortable to draw with, The quill or tip is pretty soft to cut and holds a good amount of ink. They are big and draw quite fat lines when you apply pressure, and still draw thin lines when you are light handed. They split eventually but you can still draw with them or if you want to keep a finer line you can recut them as the quill part is pretty long.
I think this is from an albatros, I am not sure though- Measures 31 cm, I found this one at the beach in New Zealand not the zoo. I included it because I love how its quite big to hold but has a small quill. The end is supersoft and I have had it for 5 years and it hasn't split. Its really great for fine drawing. I have found most feathers from birds that live by the sea to be the most durable (I don't know why)
Swan Feather-Measures 40 cm, This is fantastic to draw wit, holds a lot of ink but it's hard and scratchy against the paper causing ink spatter if you use too much pressure. Because the quill is so hard it can be very difficult to cut, I have split many trying but it has a long quill so you can have few goes at cutting it, I used a box cutter (stanley knife) to cut this one where as I usually use very sharp pair of secateurs, but swan feathers are far too hard and brittle for this method.
Pelican Feather- Measures 38 cm, In my top two quills to use I love it! Super comfortable to hold, it holds a lot of ink. The quill has the perfect balance of soft and hard I have never had one of these feathers split or break. You can do fine light handed drawing and messy expressive mad man strokes spattering as much or a little as you want. It is the most versatile of all my feathers.
Curassow Feather- Measures 30 cm, This feather is great for doing fine lines, but there not so great that its worth while trying to get your hands on one. They are a little bit brittle can split quickly and don't hold heaps of ink. If you live in areas where they are found (Eastern Mexico, through Central America to western Colombia and northwestern Ecuador.) Then they are still worth trying out.
Peacock Feather- Measuring 35cm, So you might be thinking that's not a peacock feather! well I do have a huge collection of tail feathers however they dont make fantastic drawing utensils. This is a body feather. I originally thought it was a ravens feather but was corrected by bird expert. It is the other feather in my top two. This is fantastic for writing as well as drawing, its quite precise and has a good balance of softness and hardness in the tip. I have had this one for a while and I use it frequently, I hasn't split. It doesn't hold as much ink as some of the much bigger quills but I find that it makes up for it in how smooth it is on the page and that it doesn't often spatter when you don't want it to or drop ink down too fast on the page.
I cut one end on an angle and frayed the other end in to a stiff brush
Inks, paper and cleaning
So there are many kinds of inks out there you can try. Heres my quick run down on the few that I use.
- Chinese Ink- This is cheap it cost me like $6 dollars Aus. It can gets thicker in the heat but you can just water it down a bit. It has a slightly glossy finish when it's applied undiluted and is also awesome to paint with.
- Mystery Ink- THese were about$3 dollars Aus. I am pretty sure this is for refilling fountain pens but I can't read the chinese writing on the bottle so I cant be sure. I like this stuff, its thin but brightly coloured it doesnt have a gloss finish but it's works well. Ive used it for writing, painting as well as drawing.
- Sumi drawing ink It's pretty much the same as the chinese ink I have. Its cheap about the same price, it handles the same way on paper. I included it because the special bottle it's in is designed for refilling brush pens which are also great fun. Also you might only be able to find either one or might be tempted to but both not knowing they are pretty much the same ink
- Dervan Matisse- This stuff's pretty fantastic, its vibrant, very glossy, it handles well on many kinds of paper, and comes in heaps of colours including silver and gold. Its expensive this small bottle cost me $16 dollars Aus.It does last quite a while, but if you're on a tight budget (like me) it's something you have to accumulate slowly.
- Windsor and Newton- This Ink handles quite similarly to the Dervan Matisse. It has shellack added to the ink making it incredibly shiny and is available in fantastic range of vibrant colours. It is super expensive though ranging from $18-23 dollars a bottle. It seems to last a while though I have had those two bottles for about two years.
I am not going to say a huge amount about paper as its pretty simple thicker is better and not too porous, smoother is better but if the surface is bordering on shiny it will be very difficult to draw on as the ink wont be absorbed by the paper quickly. You can use rough paper if it's thick like home made paper, watercolour paper and paper for oil pastels etc. Printer paper, butchers paper and other porous thin papers are not ideal. I like paper that's about 200gsm
You may think from my photos that I don't clean my quills them at all. Well you're right for the most part. I am pretty lazy I get caught up in the moment when I am creating an art piece and often make a huge mess that I don't clean up for days. I do keep a few special quills very clean and If you are using a high gloss ink you don't want it to build up and destroy the tip of your quill or calligraphy pens. (Keep in mind your quills will stain with a lot of use over time)
Bamboo and elephant grass I just clean with water and dry with a rag. Calligraphy pens and quills I use warm soapy water and rinse then dry of with a rag. Its really Important you dry the metal nibs for your calligraphy pens thoroughly or they will rust, some people oil them lightly in between use with a thin oil.
Quick tips for fine drawing
For the most part I prefer making scribbly rough manic messy drawings but I know not everyone is like that and I find doodling a fine pattern relaxing and rewarding. So here is
a few tips I've learned on the way, Take your time and wait for things to dry when you need to. Have a scrap piece of paper for testing on. Use the lid from a jar to dab off excess ink which can be used again when you only want to load a tiny bit more onto your pen or quill. I discovered if you get an empty take away drink cup and put a rock in the bottom its perfect for cleaning excess ink from your quill and a good holder if you need to put it down in the middle of a piece to go do something or you want to change what your drawing with. (you dont want to dump it down on the desk and go check your dinner and come back and it's leaked all over your work or your desk)
* This pattern was drawn with the a quill which I believe to be an albatross feather (picture and discussed above in the section on feathers)*
Firstly a shout out to @carlgnash who inspired this post with a question he asked on my tree spirit post and @Aaldi for his post "how to center images on your posts" (it's a great post and super easy to understand I looked at a few by others and I found them super confusing but his was straight forward.)
So this was super challenging and took me quite some time so I really hope you have enjoyed it, learned something new and found it interesting. I hope you get inspired to experiment on your own. I would like to hear if you have something different you like to draw with. Let me know what you think of this post below, I would love to know!
If there's anything I didn't cover that you want to know about just ask me in the comments.
Now to take a deep breath and push post!