I wrote a short synopsis of what my book “Dogs by Sue Clancy” is about and I showed the synopsis, an early copy of the book – containing my dog portraits like what is currently at the Caplan Art Designs gallery – to friends in real-life. These friends can be counted on to have-my-back regarding my artistic efforts and I know they’ll ask good questions! Their questions often help me refine my artistic efforts. Valuable friends!
Here’s the synopsis I showed them:
“Featuring all kinds of dog breeds artist Sue Clancy whimsically combines man’s best friend and many of life’s pleasant experiences by drawing them using a dip pen, a brush and Sumi ink.”
One of the first questions was “What is a ‘dip pen’?”.
A dip pen has a metal – often steel – nib which is inserted in a holder. You can see three nibs to the left in the photo. Also on the left is a long brown nib holder with another nib inserted in the holder. The term ‘dip pen’ is slang for ‘metal-point drawing pen’ and I think the term ‘dip pen’ is more descriptive of what kind of pen it is.
That led to the next question which was “How often do you dip it?”
It depends on how large the nib is as to how much ink it holds at a time. The very small finest nibs (like what is pictured in my brown holder), that I use to draw doggy whiskers, eyebrows and such, would probably be dipped into my ink-well (the green bottle in the picture) 2 or 3 times when drawing fine detail work on a dog. I mean very fine details like the soft muzzle fuzz, eye-lashes and whiskers – and areas needing lots of short to medium strokes to convey fur. A larger pen nib like the one in the picture nearest the pen holder may not be dipped quite that often – and it can do a longer line at a time. I’d use a larger nib, for example, when drawing the detail of a coffee cup and saucer.
An oriental brush – the kind of brush pictured to the right of the pen nib holder – may be dipped into the ink once or twice to draw an entire dog with lines of varying thickness. It’s dipped again into a water and ink dilution when I need to make a tonal shade. The brush is used the most and does most of the work on each portrait – the dip pen is just for details too small to draw with my brushes.
The third question was “What is Sumi ink?”
This question is a bit harder for me to answer because the first reply that springs to my mind is “awesome wonderful good elixir-of-life stuff!!!!” and that answer doesn’t really tell anyone anything other than the fact that I really like the ink!
Sumi ink is more commonly known as a Chinese calligraphy ink. But both Chinese and Japanese artists use Sumi ink to do all kinds of things from text based documents to large works of visual art. Invented well over over 2000 years ago the ink is often made – and is even today made – from vegetable soot, carbon soot, lamp black, camphor and sometimes a glue-binding agent.
For my artwork I use both the liquid-in-a-bottle style of Sumi ink as well as the stick form. The stick form of the ink is pictured in the middle towards the bottom of the photo on top of the red box I keep the ink stick in. I’ve been using this same stick of ink weekly, if not daily, for perhaps 10 to 12 years – and only about half an inch of the stick has been used up.
The black square next to my ink stick is an ink-stone. I put a bit of water and “grind” the ink stick until I’ve a pool of black liquid ink. The surface of the stone has a grit or tooth to it so I say “grind” but it’s not like grating cheese nor even like rubbing a bar of soap on a stain – it’s more meditatively moving the stick in small circles in the water using a very light touch while I think about what I want to draw. Then when the pool is black enough I get to work using the newly formed ink!
The ceramic dishes in the photo are where I put water and varying amounts of ink so that I can have a gradation of tones within my drawings. The liquid kind of Sumi ink is in the green bottle in the photo. Both forms of this ink at their blackest – least diluted with water – feel and look like a small pool of honey.
While Sumi ink and the brushes I use may be of the kind associated with Zen Buddhism and Asian art in general – I’ve done my own thing with the Sumi ink medium; my dog portraits are my own invention. Due to my subject matter I’ve needed crisp details like whiskers so I use the dip pen in addition to the brush-and-ink techniques.
I do, in the philosophical sense, enjoy a kinship between some of the Zen Buddhist ideas related to this Sumi-ink art form (chiefly: relax! breathe! let-go!) and my own desire to artistically explore joy, beauty, whimsy, visual story-telling and concepts related to good-mental health.
As I’d talked and tried to answer the questions each of my friends took turns looking through the early copy of “Dogs by Sue Clancy”. When I stopped talking one of them said “It looks like a real book!”
“Oh! What a great comment!! Can I quote you on that?” I asked.
“Yes.” was the reply.
You can see some of my Sumi ink dog portraits on my dog portraits page on my blog: https://sueclancy.com/dog-portraits/
There will be more in upcoming blog posts about “Dogs by Sue Clancy”
Sue Clancy’s art supplies used for her dog portraits: dip pens, oriental brushes, Sumi ink (liquid and stick) and mixing dishes. Handmade paper isn’t pictured.