​​​     PENNAMES  by O. Lebron  posted November 14, 2017

Teacher's Pen Learn from a Pro・City, Country

Above : Slideshow sampling of recent ballpoint drawings by workshop hosts  Nicolas V. Sanchez  (USA)África Fernández de Castro Hoyos  (Spain), Allan Barbeau  (France) &  Ler Huang  (Taiwan). All artwork ballpoint pen on paper, 2017  (slightly cropped)  © Respective artists

Far left  : Spanish cover of  Matt Rota's 2015 book  The Art of Ballpoint, cover art byChamo San.  © Matt Rota, Chamo San, respectively.   ​

Below  :  Illustrations & cover of Allan Barbeau's 2016 book  The Art of Drawing with a Ballpoint Pen, including one example of  'lightfast'  ink tests the artist conducted himself  (bottom)  © Allan Barbeau  


It used to be that the creative use of ballpoint pens was merely a by-product of classroom boredom. Most of that by-product was usually as disposable as the pens themselves, ending up as gifts to the apple of ones' eye and/or push-pinned to a wall until fading away under direct sunlight. Classroom boredom surely still exists, but I can't vouch for what youngsters of today do with it; probably spend it sneaking in social media updates. Ask anyone over the age of thirty, however—ballpointer or not—and you'll hear plenty about such humble origins begetting ballpoint genius; mini-masterpieces scratched into spiral notebooks as teacher droned on about civics or algebra (unless those subjects kept you captivated enough to  not  doodle).

clear of ink blobs, the bane of all ballpointers. Both obstacles are of greater concern to ballpoint purists following the path of ballpointers such as Nicolas V. Sanchez, Lennie Mace and others who go  ballpoint-only  from start to finish. ''Like walking a tightrope without a net,'' is how Mace often describes it. Mace, it should be noted, has also 'tutored ' students, at times, but privately and having more to do with creative thinking, a topic he has also lectured about at art universities in Tokyo. Barbeau has also started teaching actual classes, but, for now, not in ballpoint. As newly-appointed president of a local charitable organization, he is starting where most important things start: with the kids, to whom he is teaching ''the basics of drawing : proportions of the face, the body, the hands, composed on the page to create a character and scenery in the background.'' He hopes to further this course into adult workshops and the use of ballpoint pens.

Click on an image above to read the fully archived article. 

Barbeau is high on the list of ballpoint photorealists, and his full-color use of the pens places him in the so-called 

'hyperrealist ' category. As with Sanchez and de Castro Hoyos, ballpoint portraiture currently makes up a lion's share of Barbeau's output. He balances that with illustration work which has recently included logo and label designs for a brewery, and designs for a set of tarot cards. Barbeau refers to his portraits as ''illustrated '' portraits; ''I build a story around the face of the subject.'' A recent example shows a young boy as a pirate. ''That's what this boy would like to be.'' Meanwhile Barbeau, who had been based in Ireland for some time but is now back in France, is also currently working on a piece which may set a new bar for ballpointers to come: ''I'm creating big ballpoint 'pentings' of the nature around where I live, but the way I see them ; full of big and little magic creatures.''
     Yes, back in the day, mastering ballpoint pen drawing meant killing ones' time in class creatively over the course of a school semester or two; a learn-as-you-go matter of trial and error, progressing as time, imagination or personal ability permitted. That makes it seem a little odd for artistic ballpoint usage to become a 'taught ' medium, but we're not talking about learning how to doodle, after all—anyone can get that far without any instruction or special skills.
     Meanwhile, the lure of the ballpoint continues literally drawing  attention in mysterious ways

The first such workshop to come to the attention of The Ballpointer was that of Taiwanese artist Ler Huang, whose stylishly colored photorealist fashion illustrations had already been published on the website. Huang had conducted an informal workshop in 2015, which paved the way for a specialty course held weekly over two months in early 2016 at Fooyin University in Kaosiung City. As covered in a Ballpoint Brief  in Feb, 2016, approximately 20 students enrolled for Huang's  Ballpen Fashion Illustration. Taiwan's O Kin Kon pen company provided pens. Huang taught ballpoint color blending, creative thinking and basic principles in composition. One attendee of Huang's workshop began submitting her ballpoint drawings to The Ballpointer  and has become a site favorite: Ms. Chen Zhen's work appears on the PICKS  page this month for the second time.

French artist Allan Barbeau had already put it all in writing with The Art of Drawing with a Ballpoint Pen, a veritable bible of ballpoint drawing 'exercises' (the textbook to turn to, at least). Self-published in his native French in 2011, its English edition unfortunately didn't become available until November, 2016. In it, Barbeau skipped histories of the pen and its art practitioners and cut to the chase: teaching from experience about drawing in ballpoint pen. ''I was determined to show that this tool could be used for art. At that time (circa  2006, when he dove into ballpoint usage), no book showed the processSo I started to write about the way I draw in a way that was very easy to understand, and illustrate it. It took me a couple of years in the thinking, and a full year in the making.'' As with Rota's book, some of Barbeau's exercises cover ground general to drawing, overall. Truth be told, ballpoint pen drawing  does  follow those same basic principles—to a  point, so to speak. There  are, however, characteristics unique to the usage of ballpoint pens as an art medium for which some prior instruction from someone in-the-know is helpful. Barbeau covers that ground, illustrations included.

Two decades into this overtly technological 21st century, newcomers to this comparatively primitive medium not only have heroes to aspire to, but they now also have the option of turning to a pro for pointers in fine ballpointing. With their popularity as an art medium it was inevitable that instruction of the artistic uses of ballpoint pens would arise. The Ballpointer  publishing partner Ronald Bell had even speculated the existence of such courses in an editorial published in the introductory edition of the website in 2014, postulating that ''ballpoint art classes may already be part of a curriculum somewhere''. That prophetic editorial continues to run on the PICKS  page as a kind of manifesto of ballpoint art as The Ballpointer  sees it. Lessons in advanced doodling now occur somewhat regularly; workshops where doodling is not only encouraged but the teacher has hands-on experience and is on hand to help guide yours. No need to quickly hide your doodles from these teachers.

In these Autumn months of 2017, Spain is the unexpected hotspot for

aspiring ballpointers looking for guidance, with two workshops occurring within a month of each other teaching the creative application of ballpoint pens. Actually, it's not much of a surprise, given the popularity of ballpoint photorealism coming out of the region by artists such as Pepe Lozano and Juan Francisco Casas, among others. Full-color ballpoint photorealism, in fact, is a common denominator among artists conducting workshops, constituting plenty of ballpoint 'wow ' factor.

    PENNAMES  by O. Lebron  posted November 14, 2017

Teacher's Pen   ArtistCountry 


Barbeau does a fine job of explaining, in layman's terms, topics such as how to achieve fine shading using ''veiled '' gradients of crosshatching. He also offers solutions for dealing with ballpoints' intimidating, unforgiving inability to be erased (an aspect which makes ballpoints an advanced medium, of sorts) and how to steer

​Artist África Fernández de Castro Hoyos held a one-day ballpoint pen drawing workshop on October 19th during her ''Miradas'' ("Glances") exhibition in Zaragoza, a small but culturally rich city located halfway between Madrid and Barcelona. The exhibition ran from October 5th to November 3rd, and served as backdrop for the 2 hour workshop. The Paris-born artist displayed a selection of personal work along with commissioned portraits, all photo-realistically rendered in full ballpoint color. The venue was the Youth Library CUBIT, which makes its exhibition space available to local talent. ''It is not a public library and specializes in young people, although accessible to the general public,'' explained María Cruz Acín, director of the space. ''There is never a fee to participate,'' she added. For de Castro Hoyos' workshop, 25 people between the ages of 14 and 62 participated. ''There would have been more people,'' the director added, ''but space was limited.'' The exhibition and workshop were considered a success, and Cruz Acín hinted at the possibility of hosting more ballpoint workshops for people who were unable to enter due to limited space. BIC Iberia provided all the 4-color ballpoints attendees would need, thanks to contact by CUBIT administrators leading up to the event. A local stationary store also provided pens and other supplies.
     In promoting the workshop, CUBIT hit the ballpoint 'wow factor' nail on the head in describing the pens as ''a medium everyone has used, but known more for writing or rewinding cassette tapes than making art''. With the attraction being the creative use of an implement not thought to have any, they posed the question ''What happens when the ballpoint pen becomes a brush?'' Covering the basics of ballpointing, with a particular emphasis on mixing colors, de Castro Hoyos and her artwork provided answers. Her technique mostly consists of a kind of pointillism known as 'regatino', whereby existing colors are applied in short, sharp strokes to form even more colors. A yellow base color gives many of de Castro Hoyos' drawings their golden glow. It is also ballpoint, but, the artist explains, the color has become harder to find. She often asks friends to bring them back from travels, or has them sent from places where the color is still available.

Visit the website of La Galeria Roja  for more info about the ballpoint pen drawing workshop in Seville,  Spain.

Visit the website of  Nicolas V. Sanchez  for more artwork and information about the artist

Visit the website of The Book Edition  for more information about  The Art of Drawing with a Ballpoint Pen  by  Allan Barbeau

Continuing from  ABOVE ...Sanchez, who alternates between painting and 'pointing, is a quintessential sketch artist and usually has a 4-color BIC within reach. Art 'selfies' he takes of his sketches are a mainstay of his social media accounts and have been showcased in several art publications over the past year, including as a slideshow in  The Ballpointer. An inherent understanding of color evident in Sanchez' paintings is also clear in his expert layering of limited ballpoint colors into 'full ' color. Color limitations are the prime challenge for ballpoint photorealists. To achieve as full-color results as possible using available ballpoint colors* one must have that understanding—how the eye  perceives  it and how the hand may  achieve  it. (*oil-based inks, by the way; not the rainbow palettes of color available in watery gel inks, which cannot achieve the same subtle gradations as viscous oil-based inks.) 
     Mr. Sanchez is among the artists who were featured in the book The Art of Ballpoint, by Matt Rota. Originally published in English in 2015, it has since been translated into French, Italian, German, Chinese and Spanish. Its Spanish edition is among the books available at Youth Library CUBIT, where it became recommended reading in the wake of Ms. de Castro Hoyos' workshop. Ballpoint artwork by Spanish illustrator Chamo San is featured on the cover of the Spanish edition. Rota, a professional illustrator, also teaches drawing at School of Visual Arts in New York, and drawing 'exercises ' make up chapters of his book. Art professors once frowned upon the use of lowly ballpoint pens in their drawing classes, but, it would seem, that may no longer be the case, at least with instructors like Rota.

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For those in the area who missed out on de Castro Hoyos' workshop, there may still be time to reserve a seat at another ballpoint workshop in Spain, albeit a bit farther south. New York ballpointer Nicolas V. Sanchez will spend three days teaching ''drawing in ballpoint pen, the use of color, mark making, and artist intention'' at La Galería Roja in Seville. Sanchez, who has no ties to the area (''Just a great opportunity,'' he says. ''Never been to Spain.''), will be teaching a select group of students over those three days, totaling approximately 20 hours. Reservations are necessary and there is  a fee for this workshop, which is not tied to an exhibition. The artist stresses that he will be ''teaching people to  not  draw a preliminary drawing with pencil under a ballpoint pen drawingthat's not a ballpoint pen drawing.''
     La Galería Roja, which bills itself as 'a contemporary art exhibition space and artistic studies center,' approached Sanchez about the workshop and are fully accommodating him during his stay. ''I am an art lover and I knew Nicolas' work because I am fascinated by this type of work,'' explained David Rodriguez, a co-director at the gallery. Sanchez tells us this is his second such workshop; he had also conducted one in the Dominican Republic. When asked about future workshops, Sanchez tells us that he has already received offers but La Galeria Roja is the only to have offered to cover all expenses to host one. Sanchez has no intention of broadcasting nor recording his workshops.   
Continues  BELOW ... 

Promotional art & images for the ballpoint pen drawing workshops of : Ler Huang, Taiwan2015  (top);  África Fernández de Castro Hoyos, Spain, 2017  (center); Nicolas V. SanchezSpain, 2017  (bottom). Artwork/images  ©  Respective artists