The other day I was talking to a friend about drawing in pen and ink. The medium is essentially a linear one and tonal contrast is generally achieved by cross hatching. Ruskin in ‘The Elements of Drawing’ sets a very tedious exercise asking the student to cover a small square with lines to achieve gradations of tone. I’ve tried this several times and however hard you try – varying the line spacing, varying the density of cross hatching – smooth gradation of tone is very difficult and time consuming requiring waiting for each stage to dry.
Studying the Whistler etching in Walsall's Garman-Ryan collection the thought occurred that some of the qualities of the print could be reproduced in a pen drawing. An etched plate is often dipped in the acid bath several times. The length of time in the bath determined the depth of ‘bite.’ A deeply bitten line holds more ink than a shallow one and results in a darker line. A similar effect can be achieved by using dilute ink for the most delicate lines in the drawing. Turner used dilute ink in his small watercolour in the Garman-Ryan collection for distant detail. It’s a simple idea which is rarely used and when applied sensitively broadens the scope of pen drawing.