Michael Duncan (right) goes over the fine points of pen-and-ink drawing in his class. Photo, Mike Chouinard/Campbell River Mirror

Penwork is a very fine art for students

Campbell River artist Michael Duncan leads class through drawing with ink

A pen might not be the first tool that comes to mind when making art.

Still, the tool does offer plenty of creative possibility. For a small group of students at Impressions Gallery and Custom Framing these past couple of weeks in March, artist Michael Duncan has been showing them the techniques to produce beautiful pen-and-ink artwork.

“Pen-and-ink has quite a history in the art world,” he says.

Some students are beginners, others have more experience. At first, some people can find pen-and-ink a little intimidating.

“Each stroke they do, if you don’t do it correctly, you cannot eradicate it, you cannot erase it,” Duncan says.

Under his guidance though, the students will produce two works over the six weeks of the course of the class. A couple of weeks in, the students are showing confidence in their touch.

“You have to have a lot of patience and a lot of willingness to keep going,” he says.

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Pen-and-ink drawing is, after all, a very fine art. The pen can produce detail and shading one might not expect. Sometimes it’s in the handiwork, but sometimes the details can depend on how much ink the pen has used already.

“It’s very meticulous. People don’t realize when they start,” he says. “Pen-and-ink is unique in the way you can do incredible detail…. It’s very dramatic.”

It’s also a very affordable way to create artworks and easy to do anywhere.

“It’s very cheap. You can go anywhere with your little pen and sketch pad, you can sit on the beach and you can sketch,” he says.

Pen-and-ink is especially ideal, he says, for cards or book illustrations, particularly in light of how expensive it can be to produce books with colour illustrations.

Another fringe benefit, unlike media for drawing and painting, is that pen-and-ink tends to run pretty clean – no washing up or cleaning off grey smudges from the side of the hand.

Duncan is an accomplished writer and artist, and he has taught many different classes in the arts. He also worked for years as an art director in Canadian television, back to its early days, so he’s used to working in black and white.

“When it switched to colour, I had to study from NBC New York on how to do my murals in colour,” he says. “Before, I did it in eight shades of grey, white and black…. I’ve been doing it for a long, long time.”

For the pen-and-ink classes, he is even using some of his own work as models for the students to copy. These come in the form of art cards he’s created for Quadra Cat Rescue.

“They have taken my originals and reduced it down to art cards,” he says. “It’s a very worthwhile organization.”

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This project allows Duncan to mix two of his loves – the arts and animals. He became an advocate for animals after adopting an Australian shepherd, Ellie, that had been beaten and abandoned in northern B.C., surrounded by eight dead pups.

She, in turn, helped him to grieve over the loss of his wife.

He has since he had to say goodbye to his beloved dog, but he is no less determined in his efforts to raise funds through his artwork to help other animals through his cause, Artist – Helping Abused Animals (A-HAA). Through this, he donates artwork to help organizations raise funds to help abused animals.

Quadra Cat Rescue sells his cards to raise money, and on the back, they include information about Duncan’s own A-HAA organization.

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