Friday, March 02, 2007
The Art of the Inked Line: Hank Ketcham
When I first became intrigued with drawing funny pictures, I used whatever tools I could find, which usually meant inexpensive ink-dipping pens, the kind you see in post offices and banks.
Louise and [Noel] Bud Sickles dropped by my Connecticut studio shortly after our mutual release from "active duty." I was just getting a toehold on the free-lance market in New York and was anxious to show them samples of my labors. Bud had always been most supportive...he always bolstered my confidence and made me feel good.
I recalled an early correspondence art course from the W.L. Evans School of Cartooning that suggested I start out with a Ladies Pen, the Gilotte #170, manufactured in England. It had a flexible and durable nib, a much different feel than the brush, but with a little practice I soon felt almost comfortable, gliding delicately across the two-ply plate-finish Strathmore. I wanted to show Bud how I was progressing.
"Looks as though you're scared of that pen." he chuckled. "You seem a bit tentative, afraid you might hurt it."
"Well, I guess I don't want to bear down too hard and splatter the ink all over." I wasn't quite sure what he meant.
That copper nib is perhaps the cheapest thing you've got in this studio; if you lose a few, it's no big deal."
He pulled up a stool, sat down, and rolled up his sleeve. "Now, here's what I like to do as sort of a morning warmup: put a new nib in the holder, rub it with a soft graphite pencil, dip it deep into the ink, wipe it clean, dip again, and then attack the drawing paper with a variety of swings, cross-hatches, swirls, and thick and thin arcs like this, bearing down in an effort to actually break the nib. See? Sure, it'll crack, but only under extreme pressure, probably much more than you're willing to exert."
All I could utter was a raspy "Wow!"
Sickles handed me the pen. "Here, give it a whirl. It's not only fun to be freewheeeling, but you'll discover a few new wrinkles and, more importantly, you'll know the outer limits of the pen's performance and not be afraid to vacillate between a lacy thin line and a gutsy swath that looks like a bold brush stroke."
He had me try holding the pen differently, even turning it upside down for a special effect. I was thrilled. Boy, the stuff they never teach you in art school!
From The Merchant of Dennis - The Autobiography of Hank Ketcham
©2005 Hank Ketcham Enterprises Published by Fantagraphics
All these images and several more can be seen at full size in my Hank Ketcham Flickr set.