Materials: Ballpoint Pen

Do you remember my Trees? Here are my attempts at drawing Lenny or Tree 2.

First, I did a really bad wash, then trying again, I made the mistake of using a sharpie, as a short cut, which isn’t waterproof… LOL. Then, I tried again, but I noticed — finally — that my pen work was very heavy handed. Here’s a close up of the first and third images from above.

In person, it’s much worse. I learned, eventually, that you just have to have patience with the medium. The ink won’t come out faster because you’re putting more pressure onto the paper.

I also learned that you can do a lot with a pen, like varying the intensity of the color and even shading in areas the way you would with a pencil. In fact, it’s very much like using a pencil, but the color won’t smear and it shows up more easily on digital files… yay!

Trees 2c crop

I’ve also practiced using two different techniques: hashes and randomly filling in all the little white spaces. Okay, the second one isn’t really a technique… but I think it works better, or once your hands get accustomed to doing it that way, you don’t have to be as mindful of what you’re doing. I mean, it’s easier, overall, to get an even finish.

I used hashes for the above and randomly filled in all the white spaces for the one below.

Tree 2c scan resize 10

For the record, the images at the top of the page are of the 2nd to 5th attempts and the two directly above are from the 5th and 6th attempt. They were both scanned with a setting of 600 dpi. The 5th has a wash of tea, so it’s more yellow, but as far as how smooth the color is, I’m much more pleased with the 6th.

It may be that if I had better skills at using hashes, the 5th would’ve been better.

Trees 1

Here’s an attempt of another tree (George or Tree 1). I used hashes, and I think I was doing a pretty good job, but at one point, I got a little antsy and wasn’t happy with how dark one of the sections was getting, so I desperately used a Pearl Pink eraser to try to erase some of the ink.


Above is a close up of the hashes and below is a close up of where I applied the eraser too harshly.

Trees 1, crop b

I allowed myself to do this, because an eraser can actually be your friend when using a ballpoint pen. I used the Pink Pearl eraser to get the textures for Don or Tree 3c, below.

Tree 3c scan resize 10

It did do some damage to the surface but not so much that I couldn’t keep applying ink and erasing some more. Very sturdy paper (Strathmore watercolor, series 400).

With the hashes, if done well, it looks a little like cloth, with the eraser, it reminds me of stressed denim (I don’t know why), and with randomly filling in the white spaces, it looks the most polished.

By the way, you can find the following trees on Saatchi: two versions of George or Tree 1a and Tree 1b, one version of Lenny or Tree 2c , versions of Don or Tree 3b and Tree 3c (although Tree 3b is only for show) and Val or Tree 4a.

Tree 1a scan resize 5Tree 1b scan 5
Tree 1a and Tree 1b

Tree 2c and Tree 3c

Trees Val 2 102218

Tree 4a


Trees Don 101818

Here’s another version of Don. Getting better acquainted with applying ink onto paper. Very flexible medium. Training myself to be as gentle as I can be… like a whisper of dandelion blowing through the wind… sigh… Or like a machine set at a certain height above the surface. Any random shake or spasm in the hand and you have to do another layer of ink to make up the difference in how dark one line is compared to all others.


For a discussion about Don and previous versions, please see Trees and More Trees.


Ink (Blic fine gel pen)

Water color paper (Strathmore 400)



Trees on Patreon

I’ve created a personal account on Patreon, where I humbly offer a limited edition of George, Lenny and Val for sale.

It’s been a learning process but these trees have come a long way. They are each a product of automatic drawing, as well as some minor editing.

George (above, left) has not gone through much editing, or none for which I have pictures… and I credit beginner’s luck. But Lenny (above, right) has been a a bit of a problem child. (Please see “More Trees” for Lenny’s story.) Then there is Val (below). She’s also received some editing.

Trees Val 1, Val 2 102218.JPG

The one on the left is Val 1 and on the right is Val 2. I made some small changes to the line work, so the distribution of the black spaces can flow better. I also gave it a lighter wash.

Moreover, the ink has a smooth finish. Before I was very heavy handed, like I was molding the paper like it was a sculpture. Now, the end result has no grooves (that I can see) and the ink is more evenly applied… although with the close-up, I can see there are some small specks I still have to fill in.

Trees George scan detail 102218

Above is a close-up of a scan I took of George and below is a close-up of a scan of Val.

Trees Val 2 Scan detail 102218

George was the second tree I drew. Only when I did a second version of Don did I realize how smooth the ink could be. (More about more about Don later. I have bigger plans for him.)


Water color paper (Strathmore 400)

Fine gel pen

Tea (Best Tea, as a wash)

More Trees


You could say this past week has been a lesson in the value of knowing my materials before committing to them. As you can see, the ink on the version on the left leaked out of the lines after I applied a wash (Lipton tea), so I redrew it.

This is Lenny, by the way. Between the two versions, above, the line work and where I applied the ink is a little different but… it’s still Lenny… or Lenny 2.

Trees Lenny 101518To the left is Lenny 3 or Lenny 2 with a wash. I applied the wash seven times, so I could see the difference between using the tea for George (seven washes of Best Tea, a Taiwanese brand) and Lipton. If not for this little experiment, I would’ve stopped at four or five washes, because at six, the lower left hand corner started getting splotchy; as in, the tea started to stain the inside fibers and made it darker than the rest of the surface.

On the far left is George and in the middle is Lenny 3. On the far right is a close up of the lower left-hand corner of Lenny 3. I guess I could just trim the edges, but… there’re also the tea streaks. I don’t know if you can see them. They’re finally beginning to fade after the seventh wash. This happened with Val and Don (below) as well, and all after the first wash. No additional streaks stained the paper after any additional washes were applied. I’m guessing that after the first wash, the fibers have been saturated… ?

Sigh. Knowing how to apply a smooth wash seems basic, but it’s proving more tricky than I thought it would be.

Trees Val 100618Well, moving on. To the left, we have Val. She is also a brand new tree.  (Yay!) For the ink, I went back to a fine gel pen, which I also used on George. It does not leak, but applying it can wear down one’s hands because the ink doesn’t come out as readily as from the other pen. Time flies by once I get going, even when my hands are sore. I have to remind myself to take breaks and to not apply so much pressure. Moreover, lighter and more abundant lines will yield a smoother finish.

Trees Don 101218To the right is Don (who first appeared with other trees in the previous post). He and Val have similar proportions, but Don has bigger moves. He’s also bigger in size. He is 12 3/4″ x 13″ and Val is 9 3/4″ x 11.”

I knew the ink would leak before applying the wash, but I wanted to see how it would turn out. The verdict? Not as well as it did for Lenny. I can pass off the leaks in Lenny 3 as Lenny being in the rain or fog or being a willow tree, but I can’t make those excuses for Don, because (a) he doesn’t have as much detail and (b) he didn’t have as much of the water soluble ink (as I’d used a Sharpie to fill in the larger areas), so, as a result, the leaks occurred more sporadically and did not do enough to create patterns or develop into a language of its own.

Overall, I think the trees do pretty well as smaller drawings. Lenny is, by the way, 8 3/4″ x 10″ … give or take a couple millimeters.


Lenny 1 (with leaks): Bic fine gel pen (for outline), Pilot “Precise V5” rolling ball, extra fine (for larger areas), Lipton tea (applied as a wash x4).

Lenny 2 (without leaks): Bic fine gel pen. No wash.

Lenny 3 (without leaks): Same as Lenny 2 plus Lipton tea (x7)

Don (with leaks): Same as Lenny 1 (but Lipton tea was applied five times) plus a black Sharpie.

Val: Same as Lenny 2 plus Lipton tea (x7).



Meet Simon. He’s one of a handful of trees I drew this week.

Initially, I only wanted to draw something in ink and then add a tea wash. In other drawings, the tea wash made the ink brighter, like it was glowing. I wanted to see if I could do it again.

After applying ink, I wasn’t very happy with Simon. The trunk was too thin. The branches seemed too safe, in that they stayed away from each other; there was no interaction. And then, the black of the trunk just stopped at the circle, so that the circle seemed to be doing something I didn’t intend for it to do.**

I immediately drew another tree on another, larger surface. Even while drawing Simon, I was getting ambitious… and a little side-tracked.


The first tree, George, is on the bottom-left. Frank, who I drew on a separate sheet of paper before transferring him to the same surface as George, is on the upper-right. And Don is in the middle. There is a balance I need to find between the trees, which I haven’t yet, so this is as far as I’ve gotten.

Trees Simon 092918

I’m thinking of putting leaves over parts of George, because he has a little too much detail, and I like the bigger moves of Frank and Don; there are fewer lines and you get more cohesiveness. It’s a case of “less is more.”

(The first drawing of Frank is to the right and, below, there are now four trees, but it looks a little crowded.) Trees b

I’ve also transferred George onto a smaller surface and have gone back to my original idea of making a simple ink drawing with a tea wash.

I added some line work to the trunk, to break it up a little, which developed into another motif and its interaction with the branches. So there are the following interactions: the line work (branches vs. trunk, branch vs branch, line of trunk vs. line of trunk), the color distribution of the branches vs the color distribution of the trunk and, overall, the path of the black spaces vs that of the white.

Trees George 093018 d

This is George with about seven washes of tea. I somehow made the wash for the other drawings much darker, a golden brown, but I also made them splotchy. I had to stop adding more washes to George because the bottom edge seemed to be getting darker than the rest of the surface, meaning it was starting to seep into the inside fibers and is on the brink of getting splotchy.

Trees George 093018 d (2)

Here’s George next to a clean surface. It’s about a shade darker.

I got a clean, even wash (finally) by swiping my brush once across the very top edge and working my way down. With each swipe, I cleared the excess tea while applying more. Lines appear when you let the edge of a new wash dry in the middle of the surface, or when you use something to blot out the wash. This sounds obvious… but it took me a while.

** I have since decided that Simon is simply Simon… and I shouldn’t be so judgy. I have also realized that I’ve subconsciously made circles a default motif; if I can’t think of anything to interact with a given motif, like trees, I’ll add circles to represent, in this case, sun light or the circles you might see from staring at the sun directly. It feels very natural, but I’m weary of getting lazy.

Moreover, I don’t think I would be so conscious of this and any decisions regarding circle motifs if it weren’t for this blog… so that’s interesting.


Ink (fine gel pen, black)

Water color paper (Strathmore 400)

Tea (as a wash)