Even though this drawing is dated 1963 I can still remember sitting in a corner of the art college studio under the eagle eye of Miss Hopwell… she was the hard working and enthusiastic tutor during my pre-diploma year at the Openshaw annex of the Regional College of Art and Design, as it was known then, later becoming the Manchester College of Art and Design, and I think now probably a part of the sprawling university campus known as the Manchester Polytechnic.
Miss Hopwell gave interesting exercises, all meant to try and test our techniques and skills. Here – judging by the feint traces of inked lines – she would have told the group to draw directly with pen and ink with no initial sketching-in of shapes and proportions with pencil, which could easily be erased later if mistakes were made. This is a good test of co-ordination of mind, eye and hand.
From memory I think the initial sketching was made with a fine mapping-pen, with a much thicker nib used for the stronger outlines and shapes; and the ink colour looks as if I used Raw Umber, Sepia or Vandyke Brown… all favourites then as today with soft pastels, although I haven’t adopted that grouping from the colour palette for my acrylic works. Maybe those “browns” are more traditional, and my current abstract subject matter doesn’t suit such earthy tones.
I wonder if artists at college today still use pen and ink to the same extent as we did as students 50 or more years ago – and of course as most artists would have used for hundreds of years before that. Nowadays artists have an incredible range of materials at their disposal from Sharpie markers in several colours to Faber-Castell PITT artist’s pens and Pigma Micron pens… the list is almost endless! However, our bottles of pure inks in the 1960s were probably a lot safer than the Sharpies of the early 1990s which used toluene and xylene, two substances both harmful and characterized by a very strong smell. Today, the ink is usually made on the basis of alcohols, e.g. 1-propanol, 1-butanol, diacetone alcohol and cresols… Hmmm, think I’ll stick to water-based liquids!