Is Ballpoint Pen Art as Relevant as Oil Paintings?

Many times I’ve been told by family, friends and people that enjoy my ballpoint pen art: “Why don’t you try painting with oils?” I found that question upsetting at first, but then I felt amused with it as time went by. I felt that they were implying that I should get “serious” about creating art, and that I should buy more formal materials, to be taken “seriously” as a “serious professional artist”.

After some time I realized that what I thought they were implying was exactly what they meant, because painting with oils is more traditionally accepted as the official and formal art medium.

Plus, we have grown accustomed from having it in our art history books when referring to the works of the Great Old Masters.

 During my teens I tried oils, and I learned a lot from that experience. I loved it and still do; even though I haven’t touched oils in a while, I know there might be a time when I play with them again. I painted with oils when I went to an art academy called Galería Ríos (Ríos Gallery). There I had the room to be messy, where the smell of oils and thinners was part of the ambiance.

But back in my parents’ house there was no room for such mess, so I didn’t paint with oils again after that period during my mid teens. But that was OK, because I always found new media to experiment with, especially during my time at the University while majoring in Graphic Design.

After graduating with a Cum Laude licentiate degree in Graphic Design, I left drawing almost altogether and tried other things: Music, set design, web design, video editing, 3D modeling, digital painting, and many other disciplines. I felt like I wanted to try it all, and in a way I did.

I also tried other things, like getting into a turbulent relationship that lasted several years, traveled with her, married that person, divorced her, went and lived in a spiritual community in Utah, came back to my country and then went back again to Utah. And then came back again to Guatemala, my home country.

All in all, I noticed there was just too much going on in my life, and due to my curiosity to experiment and try so many different things at once, I lost complete focus of what I was supposed to do with my life.

Towards the end of all those years I was filled with inspiration, though I regretted the many years I spent experimenting, trying to make my life exciting and new at every second. The experience inside a spiritual community helped me so much to reconnect with my truer essence of what matters in life, and what inspires me.

I discovered it was profundity in simplicity, and that the path had to be art.

So I decided to retake drawing and painting, and started to work with what I had at hand, which was my laptop with a digital tablet, and my pencils. Digital is always so awesome because it keeps it simple: my laptop and my digital tablet, period. My pencils were nice too because I could focus more on the shapes and details of people and their textures, while not becoming distracted with too many colors. It was more about the essence that can be captured just with black and white.

It felt really good and appropriate to come back to pencils, which I loved so much for much of my artistic life. Then I noticed my ballpoint pens I used when I started working again as a university professor, which I used to correct the art students’ work. A student’s work is traditionally protected (at this particular university I worked in) with a translucent piece of paper on top of the drawing to serve as protection, and as a surface upon which the professor can draw corrections and write annotations and feedback for the student. I always enjoyed sketching corrections and annotations with a ballpoint pen. The flow and the color of the ink looked always really cool and vibrant in those sketches.

So naturally I asked myself “What if… I try drawing with ballpoint pens?”

But at the same time I felt it would too big of a challenge, mostly because ballpoint pens are not made to draw with them. And my preferred style of drawing and painting my whole life has been realism. So I did what any other unsure artist would do before attempting something: I Googled ballpoint pen artists. And there they were!! Ballpoint pen drawings! And not just doodles, but fully shaded and realistically textured artworks of the human figure. The two most impactful artists I found were the daring and bold Spanish artist Juan Francisco Casas. He has a way of capturing a raw unplanned moment with such detail and realism with a blue ballpoint pen. The second one was Samuel Silva, with his highly detailed and color filled renderings of people and animals. So I asked myself once again, feeling very excited and inspired “Am I up to that level of proficiency in drawing to dare to try ballpoint pens?” And I answered back “I’m not sure, but why not play with it and give it a go?”

So I contacted a wonderful model, Erin Shea, which I drew once with pencils, and asked her to make a photo shoot for me, but with something I had not seen in her usual fantasy and medieval themed stock photography: running water under a shower. I always loved water and the female human figure, which I painted in different occasions before, mostly with pencils.

But now I wanted to try the most difficult and preferred subject I could think of, just to see if what I had in mind was possible with a regular Bic pen.

What I first noticed was the amazing fact that this had to be the single most awesome drawing tool that was ever unintentionally created on planet Earth. It gave me such a complete range of tones, from the light ones to absolute dark and solid tones. Instinctively I knew how to use the pen, because it did feel familiar to the pencils and pigment liners I had used before. It was like the coolest child that came from a kinky night from these two media (yeah, that’s right).

I fell completely in love with the ballpoint pen. It was the perfect tool  because it gave me the simplicity and capacity for expressiveness I was looking for.

I didn’t have to worry about tubes with colors, thinners, solvents, half dozen pencils, sharpeners, and so forth. I didn’t need much space to work on a single medium sized piece either. It was just perfect.

And so my first piece was finished after some 50 hours, which was this one:

Stillness 01 - Ballpoint pen drawing
“Stillness 01” – Ballpoint Pen on paper

The funny and unexpected part was that that drawing went viral in a couple of days, something that never happened on that scale to any of my artworks before. It was shared everywhere after I posted it in DeviantArt and my Facebook fan page, which had just a couple hundred followers during that time. I wasn’t really sure it was for real because it was an experiment, and I felt that I still had a long way to go to perfect the technique.

Instantly I recognized that the Universe was letting me know that I finally found my path in art, especially because my ballpoint pen artworks where not only shared everywhere online, but also people were buying them as soon as I finished almost every single one of them.  

So I haven’t thought that seriously about going back to oils after working with ballpoint pen, even though I still work with digital and pencil. But nothing compares to the joy of the simplicity of working with one ballpoint pen to create a piece filled with emotion, detail and quality. I’ve never felt more at home and happier with any other medium either. So is ballpoint pen art as relevant as any other traditional medium? My answer is: It is for me. I find it as fulfilling and capable as any other media I’ve tried before.

Though the other question I get often is: “Why do you only paint women?” But that will have to be left for another post.

• Do you think ballpoint pen art is as relevant as paintings with oils? Why? Please let us know in the comments section below 😉







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