I tackled another big 20×28 inch ink drawing today. I’m on a roll with them. This one was giant monster face. Unlike my other big ink drawings the monster face didn’t involve any markers, French curves, or straight edges. This one is all brush and ink. And it was a broken down and busted up brush instead of my usual good one.

My busted brush technique developed over the years due to happenstance. I use sable hair watercolor brushes with my ink and they serve me well except for the fact that India ink eats away at the brush and degrades it over time. Usually a brush is good anywhere from months to a year. Not a terribly long time. And those watercolor brushes are expensive; $20 to $30 a pop. I hate to throw them out. So I have a lot of old brushes lying around.

When a sable round brush goes bad what happens to it is that it no longer comes to a point. It splits into two points which is pretty useless if you’re looking to make one line. But eventually I found a reason to want to make two lines. Around five years ago I bought some 5×7 inch watercolor paper. The problem was that it was the roughest watercolor paper I had even seen and I found it impossible to draw on. So that paper sat around for months. Then I got the idea to try drawing on it with one of my busted brushes. Two out of control tools might add up to something that neither one of them could do alone. It ended up being a success and my “On the Rough” and “Monster a Day” series of drawings were born. I’ve been doing busted brush drawings ever since.

I’ve probably drawn monsters of some kind all my life but it really didn’t become a theme until I came up with this technique. I can trace my monster drawings back to two sources. One is obvious. Comic books. There have been lots of monsters in comic books and I have been reading comics all my life. The second source is more obscure. I was in college in 1988 and we went to a show at the Brooklyn Museum called “The Art of New Ireland”. New Ireland is an island in the Pacific near Papua New Guinea. The show had in it a small sculpture of a monster. It was about a foot high and scary looking. We were told that the people of New Ireland would make such sculpture in order to remind them to be morally straight. Otherwise monsters were waiting for them. That idea and that monster stuck with me.

Most of my busted brush drawings are small. Somewhere around 5×7 to 6×9 inches. I’ve made some 11×17 inch busted bush drawings but in general I think they work better at a smaller size. After all the brush isn’t very big. So when the idea popped into my head to make a large scale busted brush drawing I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. That’s a lot of paper to cover with one small brush but I’d have at it.

I don’t do much preliminary drawing when it comes to these monster faces. Since so much of the drawing is done with the brush there isn’t a lot of use for an extensive under drawing. Instead I will either make a quick small drawing to work out some details or I will pull out a bunch of my old monster drawings and look at them to get some new ideas. Then I sketch in the broad strokes of the face in pencil. Since there ends up being so much ink on the paper there isn’t a whole lot of room for details anyway. I’d say the pencil stage only takes about half an hour. This is considerably short compared to the pencil stage of most of my work.

One of the little drawing tricks I did with this monster face was to duplicate one eye twice. Often with a big face drawing that’s symmetrical I find myself spending too much time making sure the eyes match each other. If I’m no paying close enough attention one can be slightly higher, lower, smaller, or bigger than the other. The easiest way to avoid this is to draw one eye, get a piece of tracing paper, trace that eye, flip the tracing paper over, use the graphite of the drawing to transfer the flipped eye into place as the second eye. This is an easy way to insure that second eye is right. I did that here and it saved me a lot of time especially since the eyes were drawn in a sketchy manner. It’s actually tougher to match loose sketched eyes than fully drawn ones.

After I finished the pencil sketch I just went at it. Brush and ink. This is what takes all the time. It’s tough to describe what it takes to make one of these drawings since it takes so much building up of brush strokes. It’s all about trying to figure out and build the forms of the face but doing in such a way that they’re defined by darkness as much as or even more than light. I’m always making the drawing darker and darker.

I try to work all over the drawing all at once. I can’t finish one area and then move onto the next. I have to draw all over until it reaches a level of darkness and then start again working on the next stage of darkness. I have to do this four or five times until the overall drawing is finished enough to start working on individual areas like the eyes, nose, or mouth. It’s a method that takes a lot of patience and I have to psych myself up to not get discouraged. I have to trust that it will all come together in the end.

The end was about six hours later. That’s a long time to be putting ink down on a single piece of paper. There is so much ink on the paper that there is actually a bit of surface to it. I can feel the ink when I touch the paper. That’s unusual. But it did come together in the end and that makes me happy.