PICK PIECES The Ballpointer staff choose the artwork and let the artist explain it in their own words ・ posted March 8, 2021
Aaron Robert Baker・Chicago, Illinois・
Head, 2021 2021 ・ 13 x 11’’ (33.02 x 27.94 cm) ・
ballpoint pen on paper
illustration by Susan May for The Ballpointer
Missing the Ball Point
Dimes-to-donuts there's a ballpoint pen within reach of you right now. Reliable friends, always there when you need them; on standby to scratch a Hitler mustache onto The President or blacken the teeth of the covergirl dujour. Your grade-school composition books were probably filled with more stream-of-conscious creative filler than actual studies. But this proletarian tool is no longer just for signing checks, writing postcards or doodling sweet nothings.
The origins of ballpoint artwork echo the humble origins of art itself. Caveman roots; the universal, instinctive urge to create. For some, an irresistible force; to express oneself, to leave one's mark, to teach, using whatever tools are available. All that's necessary is the will to do so, pressed by a bit of creative curiosity, aided by ingenuity. ''Let's see what happens when I do this.'' Galleries, museums and art critics enter the equation much later.
There you sit, a dozen-thousand years later, surfing through the daily barrage of viral news. A headline grabs you: Starving Artist Illustrates The Bible on his Bedroom Wall Using Ballpoint Pens. Well, ''starving artist '' doesn't mean much anymore; with the amount of aspiring artists art schools churn out every year its a miracle anyone goes onto a career. ''Illustrating the Bible ''? Hasn't that already been accomplished in any number of formats any number of times in any number of languages ? ''On his bedroom wall ''? Children cover walls with masterpieces daily, to their parent's dismay, worldwide. And ''using ballpoint pen''? Now there's a story, right ? Well…
News outlets worldwide still report about artwork created using ballpoint pens as if, in the half-century since its invention, the pens have never been given any artistic consideration. Prior to the advent of the internet and social media, their ignorance could be forgiven. Nowadays ballpointers are everywhere, in every corner of the world, and the so-called ballpoint Wow Factor in and of itself carries less weight. The internet and social media are these days awash with ballpoint art blogs of every stripe, although with varying content. Ballpoint art classes may already be part of a curriculum somewhere. But the birth of the internet didn't mark the beginnings of ballpoint innovation; if anything, it merely serves as proof of how commonplace it has become, or how it has been all along ・・・
RECAP originally posted in installments throughout 2015
Andy Warhol @ Christie's online auction series, 2015
I usually only have a vague idea of what I want to do, and sometimes no idea at all, so I just see where the process takes me. Once I have a basic structure in place, I switch to my pen and start stippling. This is actually where most of the decisions happen. I allow the dots, and how they look as they accumulate, to determine whether a shape is on top, underneath, concave, convex, etc. The plan, if there is one, often changes significantly once I start the shading. A good example of how a drawing changes and develops is my choice to insert a Darth Vader mouth into this one. I had made a series of moves that led to a blank, triangular space where the mouth should be. I felt stuck. After mocking up several different options and feeling unhappy with them, it occurred to me Vader’s mouth would fit perfectly. I don’t typically reference pop culture so directly, but it just felt right this time.
Last year, in 2020, I came
across that original drawing.
It still made me smile.
I decided then and there
that I would make more of
them and this gave birth to
the Heads series. This
drawing from 2021 is the
latest installment from that
group. I give them all the
same title, Head, as a nod to
the systematic process I use
to make them. I use the same
egg-shape outline for each one,
alternating it so that the wide part
is on the top for one drawing and
then on the bottom for the next one. They’re all the same size. I use a
pencil to draw circles and lines
inside the outline until something resembling a face starts to emerge.
''This drawing is from a series called Heads, which has its origins in an
artwork I did over twenty years ago
when I was in art school; a little,
stippled picture of a character
that had a sad face and was
mostly forehead with only two,
stumpy limbs. One of my
professors looked at it and
told me it was 'nice', but that
I should put it aside and
'make some grownup art',
which, being a well-behaved
art student, I did. It was way
too cartoony, he explained,
too small (real art is big!)
and the stippling technique
I used was too, ahem,
'illustrative'. I kept it, though,
and it always made me
happy to look at it.
I started stippling when I was in the 5th grade. I remember it clearly. I was asked to enter the Texas Wildflower Drawing Contest. I drew the flowers with colored pencils and wanted to put dark shadows on them afterwards. A ballpoint pen seemed like the obvious choice. I didn’t know how to do gradations with it, so I just started making little dots. I’ve used stippling in nearly all of my work ever since. As for my pen, I've traditionally used whatever ballpoint pens were easily accessible. This drawing was made with a hybrid — a Pentel Hybrid Technica, .03 mm point — which I love because it has the bold, black richness of a gel pen but still allows for the lighter touch and subtlety of a true ballpoint''・
・ Aaron Robert Baker's ballpoint stippling is on display in Los Angeles through April 25 as part of the Onward 2.0-Portraiture & Figuration Biennial at La Luz de Jesus Gallery ・ for more art, info & contact : aaronrobertbaker.com・ Art © Aaron Robert Baker・