Marta Scythes tells little stories, makes fun of herself, and has no qualms about saying “Cool!” when one of her demos looks pretty great. She’s been teaching pen and ink techniques for years, and last Sunday marked her 20th using her engaging teaching style in aid of the KSOA. Marta’s workshop paid tribute to Helen Stannard, who was a founding member of the art school and a studio member in Marta’s printmaking class at St. Lawrence College before the visual arts program there was cancelled.
I, along with eight other men and women, had signed up. Spending a day drawing with pen and ink was a good way to support the school, I thought, and to rekindle an interest in a medium I had used early in my career as a graphic artist. Back in the 80s my first professional income came from doing editorial cartoons and illustrations for small magazines and newspapers. So, out came my 30-year-old bottles of India ink (with caps that needed a good soaking to loosen), pen nibs, nib holders, pencils (4H to 6B), soft-brush pen, hard-nibbed pens (0.3 and 0.5), sketchbook and paper.
Okay, so some of these items were more recent acquisitions, and some I didn’t even use during the workshop. Too busy. Marta introduced us to 10 pen and ink textures; she had us making small tonal studies using whichever texture we fancied, and then we created a complementary decorative border; she had us drawing with sticks (see the accompanying sketch); we laid down ink like watercolour; she had us spraying our paper with water before and after drawing to create sometimes moody, sometimes unpredictable, and sometimes uncannily realistic trees, creatures and faces.
“Open workshop for the next half hour,” Marta would call out as we went back to our spots after a demo. Some of us had brought photos to use as reference material. I spent some time creating spontaneous images that allowed me to stand and move—my preferred method of making marks on paper. But then I buckled down and found a corkscrew to draw. It provided a suitable challenge and prompted me to use a tool I hadn’t really mastered—a soft-brush pen.
By 4pm each of us had a small portfolio of pen and ink drawings using various techniques, all different according to our own styles and interests. Thank you, Marta, for your initiative, generosity and enthusiasm.