Over a century ago, the crow quill pen was developed as a tool for draftsmen and lithographers to achieve super-fine details. Quill pen nibs are tiny and strong, which means they easily produce whisper-thin lines. This feature is handy in many projects, but today I’m going to talk about three specific crow quill-friendly activities: writing a letter, sketching, and making an intricate line drawing. After you read the tutorials — and likely get excited about trying out a quill for yourself — you have an opportunity to enter to win an artisan-made crow quill pen from The Straight and Narrow! If you have any questions about the techniques or projects in this post, of course feel free to comment; otherwise, enjoy!
1. Writing a Letter
I should probably preface this usage suggestion by saying that it’s totally unnecessary to use a crow quill pen to write a letter because, obviously, you can use any pen you want to put your thoughts on paper! But, if you want to be able to use any ink under the sun to write your letter, write at nearly the same speed that you would with a regular pen, and feel cool and traditional while doing it, then crow quill correspondence is for you. I love using walnut ink on blank Rhodia paper with a lined piece of notebook paper underneath it so I have some guidelines; I think it adds to the antique “vibe” of the piece!
Letters created with a crow quill pen have a delightfully vintage feel to them. While modern ballpoint and gel pens have a very smooth, bold stroke, using a crow quill will give you very thin and spidery script that’s reminiscent of olden times in the best of ways!
The kicker with using the crow quill to write a letter is you’ll need to work on smooth, non-fibrous paper. Otherwise, your nib will more than likely get caught in the fibers once or twice, resulting in ink spatter. Personally, I think that adds to the effect and further hints at the unique tool you used to write — but life admittedly is easier if you can use smooth paper. I used Rhodia paper to write this letter, but papers like Clairefontaine or Tomoe River will work just as well!
While you can certainly address your envelope using a crow quill pen, I like to add to the vintage-elegant feel by supplementing it with a pretty dip pen calligraphy style like the Janet.
The crow quill pen is fantastic to sketch with because it can create super-fine lines; and if you add a bit of pressure, it will respond with wider-stroked lines. The built-in variation in stroke width sets it apart from its modern drawing pen cousins. The great thing about the quill, too, is its tubular nib holds a lot of ink! You won’t have to re-dip your quill in ink much, which is convenient when you want to make a quick, no-fuss sketch.
I love using crow quill pen sketches on envelope art, so that’s the context I’m going to use to show you this concept today. First of all, you’ll want to pick out a subject — anything works! Today, I’ll be drawing a Harry Potter lego figure since I’m writing to my six year-old pen pal, Parker, and I know he’s a big fan. I’m the kind of person who likes using a photo to look at, so I used Google image search to find some photos of Harry in lego form. You should feel free, however, to just draw whatever comes out of your head or draw from life! The real name of the sketching game is to draw the impression of what you see, whether that thing is really there or is just in your mind.
“Draw what you see” is much easier said than done, so try to think of yourself as a projector. You’ve got input coming into your brain, and it’s your job to convert that input into output on the paper. Sketches are quick and unofficial, so if (really, I should say “when“) your sketch doesn’t look exactly like your subject, you shouldn’t feel dissatisfied with it. Quite the contrary! The goal isn’t perfection; you’re just rendering your impression of the subject on the page.
If you have waterproof ink to sketch with, all the better! Once your artwork is finished, you can add a pop of color with watercolor paint.
When your paint dries, you’re finished! If you used your sketch on mail art like I did, you can add a complementary calligraphy style (and possibly watercolor calligraphy) to write the address. I like the way that Kaitlin Style script adds to the messy yet harmonious theme of the envelope!
Of course, you don’t have to use your sketching skills for mail art. At the risk of sounding redundant, sketching is great for sketchbook journals! You can also use it as art to display in your home, or use it to add visual interest to a letter you’re writing. Whatever you want to do with the concept, I’m sure it will turn out cool!
3. Line Drawing
A line drawing is an illustration that uses only lines to let you as the observer know where the shadows depicted in the art piece are (or aren’t). To make a line drawing, I generally start off with a photo reference to save time. You can use a bright window or a light box to make a quick pencil outline of your subject. If you’d like, you can do this tutorial with me! Go ahead and print off this reference photo, which I took this afternoon and am glad to share with you.
Once you have drawn your pencil guidelines, dip your crow quill in a waterproof ink such as sumi or India ink, and draw over the guidelines. I like to exert medium pressure as I’m doing this so the tines of the nib spread slightly and facilitate a bolder line than if no pressure were exerted.
After you have drawn over all your pencil guidelines, it’s time to start drawing in your shadows, a.k.a. shading! Shading is the reason I like working off of a photo reference rather than real life; in real life, shadows change, but in a photo, they are static. First, you’ll take a look at your photo to identify your medium-toned shadows. Next, draw parallel lines spaced relatively far apart to represent those shadows.
I love using a crosshatching technique in line drawings. Crosshatching means that you use lines that criss-cross each other in order to show shadows. Thus, your next step will be crossing the horizontal lines you originally made with vertical lines.
Now it’s time to build up the darker shades! To do that, use your crow quill pen to make dense crisscrosses where the darker shadows are.
Continue to compare the reference photo against your artwork in order to see if you’ve missed any shadows! You can also add very, very light and sparse crosshatching to white areas in your subject like I have done in the tines of the fork below. This is just a stylistic preference; you don’t have to. I personally like the way it fills up the negative space a little bit, though!
The final step is to go through and add very dark lines and values where necessary. For example, you can see that I’ve added shading to the left side of the top three tines and the right side of the bottom tine. I did that because I noticed there were shadows in that area of the photo. That added a lot of dimension! I also added some bold lines to the neck and handle of the fork to make it “pop” a little more.
Line drawing isn’t a super-simple concept, and the technique is subjective depending on what you’re drawing; so if you don’t get it right the first time, don’t worry about it! Just keep trying, be patient with yourself and your quill, and you’ll form an understanding of how to make a beautiful line drawing.
If you’re wondering what to use your line drawing for, there are several things you can do with it! You can frame it and display it in your home (or give it as a gift). If you scan it into your computer, you can use it as clipart for snail mail and scrapbooking. I’m a big mail art lover, so I printed few of my Parisian-themed line drawings onto card stock to make intricate printable cards!
Line drawings, while gorgeous, do take a chunk of time to make. With this in mind, I have made a printable bundle of Parisian line drawing stationery so you can make your own très chic A7 cards, envelope liners, and gift tags. Feel free to add a pop of color and/or some calligraphy!
Crow Quill Pen Giveaway
As you probably know, Rodger Mayeda is one of my favorite artisans and a wonderful human being in general. For the past couple of years, he has been using his woodworking skills to make my favorite calligraphy pens. A few months ago, he started developing a crow quill pen with a dreamy grip and a smooth-as-butter finish. Compared to the quill I was using before I converted, Rodger’s crow quill is amazing!
When Rodger realized he couldn’t keep his Etsy shop (Rodger’s Pen Box) open more than a day or two per month due to the overwhelming number of oblique pen orders, he teamed up with his friend Christine to make an Etsy shop that is open 24/7: The Straight and Narrow. “TSandN” carries Rodger’s artisan-made straight calligraphy pens as well as his innovative crow quill pens.
Rodger and Christine have been kind enough to offer a crow quill pen package giveaway! Here’s what the winner will receive:
- An artisan-made Purpleheart wood crow quill pen ($45.00 value)
- A couple of crow quill nibs, including the Hiro 800 (a nib with great flexibility that is ideal for drawing) (~$5.00 value)
- Nib guide
- Ink sample
To enter the giveaway, you may submit an entry in the Rafflecopter widget below!
As with all TPK giveaways, anyone, anywhere is eligible to win; we’re happy to ship domestically (USA) or internationally! The giveaway will end Tuesday, October 20th at noon MDT (Denver, CO, USA time zone), at which point a winner’s name will be announced on the widget as well as on the TPK Facebook.
I hope that you gained some inspiration from today’s blog post, and again I want to say thanks so much for reading! It’s my absolute and complete pleasure that you’re here. Enjoy your day, and if you get a chance, try out a crow quill in the near future!