Friday, August 26, 2016


One of these days a pencil will be an object of curiosity in a museum somewhere.

These are my two favorite kinds of pencils

If you visit an art school, you will walk into rooms filled with computers with students creating magical designs using various design apps. You will be hard pressed to find a pencil except at the instructor's desk.

My letterpress instructor explained to two other (younger) students that in the 'old days,' art students had to learn to draw typefaces (now called fonts) by hand. They would draw them on tracing paper, rub the back of the paper with their graphite pencil, lay the tracing on top of a good piece of paper, and transfer the lettering to be finished with India ink, watercolor or gouache.

The first sketch to lay in the background

The second sketch to add the main figure

The finished watercolor.
All three of these steps now can be created on a computer

As I sat listening to the discussion, I knew  he was talking about someone like me. As a graphic design student, I had learned to design with paper and pencil. I stopped doing art in my thirties, taking up writing instead. It wasn't until we moved to Japan that I was tempted to try my hand at making art again. I chose a class in botanical illustration and loved the precision of painting flowers with that technique.

Sitting in the letterpress class though, made me realize that my return to the art world after a twenty-year hiatus was like being a visitor from another planet who didn't know how to use the equipment. I still pulled out pencil and paper instead of naturally reaching for computer programs such as Photoshop, inDesign, or Illustrator. When I took an Illustrator class, the instructor asked me, "Why are you taking the class when you already know how to draw?"  I didn't have an answer at the time, especially since I knew I would need to devote many additional hours to become proficient at Illustrator. (I haven't done that yet.) But now I know: these apps allow me to be creative in the same old way and also can enhance my designs beyond what I could do by myself.

I am taking an etching class now at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley. Etching is a process that dates back to the 1500s, but it has also evolved with the help of design apps. I need to know how to use Photoshop in order to make the transparencies that I use to expose my design on a photo polymer plate. This plate is the one I will rub with ink and print on a press that still looks like the ones that were used by artists such Albrecht Durer. The other students are using photographs to make plates. My designs start as pencil drawings. I am making a leap into now-common practices, yet I am still one of the 'old days' artists.

I started with this sketch

Did another of the stages of the chrysalis

Put them together, but I didn't like the etched result

Still using pencil, I went back and changed the design.
All of this could also be accomplished with a good design app


  1. big go girl! I can't even manage the screen on my laptop.

    1. Don't you begin to feel like such a dunce after awhile. Computer stuff is just a struggle!

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  3. My husband has those very same issues with wood working, and I think it’s sad because there is something to be said about understanding the process from start to finish with the basic tools. The world is a different place now and I guess we all have to adapt.

    Good luck learning Photoshop!

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  5. I enjoy the tactile sensations of contact with pencil/brush/chalk on paper too much to give it up. Altho the flexibility of computing cannot be denied. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Hugs, Toni

    1. Toni,
      Good to hear from a fellow artist. I agree. The hand is an important tool in the art process -- at least to me!

  6. Haha the only things I don't use pencil for is signing checks or greeting cards!!!

    1. Another artist heard from! I feel we are losing something, but every new invention is a disruptor, isn't it?


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