Art · Sketches

Hope Burns Bright With A Ballpoint Pen In Hand

Occasionally, I’ll draw with a ballpoint pen to force myself to commit to any marks I make on the page. As a drawing medium, ballpoint pen is interesting in how it straddles the line between pencil and pen. Like graphite pencils, a single pen can cover a wide gamut of values, use variable amounts of pressure. However, as with most ink mediums, every mark from a ballpoint pen is permanent. Unless you use white ink or paint, erasing isn’t possible. This opens up a number of possibilities for mixed media work. I’m fond of using watercolors with my ballpoints and I like the effects I can get when incorporating. For the sake of this particular sketch, I focused on a commitment to any marks I made.

A full page of ballpoint pen sketches. In the center is a full body Jake Fox, roughly drawn. In the surrounded spaces are various doodles of his face, an arm, and some potential logo designs. Scattered throughout the drawing are various five-pointed stars and triangles.

An overall look at the ballpoint pen Punk Pyro

In the past, I’ve been pretty bad about filling out my sketchbook pages. I’d draw something like a figure or a portrait with maybe a few extra details here and there. Then, I’d move on to the next page, leaving behind a bunch of negative space. As I did with “Jake Fox, Burning Internally“, I tried not to focus too much on consistency in Jake’s design. Over-adhering to consistency feels a bit like being shackled. It makes my work feel stiff and prevents me from really going all out.

For this drawing, I started with the main figure in the middle. Jake’s whole body is engulfed in flames as he fervently pursues his target. Playing around with his expression, I tried to give Jake furious eyes and a genuinely joyous smile. His pose was meant to feel imposing as he leans towards the viewer and blocks the path beyond him. Overall, it wasn’t quite what I was aiming for so I moved on to drawing in the space around him. Since I wasn’t satisfied with the central figure, I used the surrounding area to try again. Only this time I would focus on a few parts at a time.

Since a simple upward pointing triangle is the alchemical symbol for fire, I filled some empty space with them. Stars were for fun.

Focusing on his expression

After the main figure, I moved on to revisiting his expression on the upper left side of the page. Jake’s expression was meant to have a certain dissonance to it. His eyes, would show genuine rage and intimidation; maybe they’d almost look empty even. But then his smile would be happy and unbothered; out of synch with the rest of his expression. On the main figure, I focused too much on the intensity of his expression. I ended up over working it and lost his face in shadow. Upon revisiting it here, you can see his face completely; but I didn’t push this dissonance concept far enough. I ended up with an expression that just looks kind of maniacal instead.

On a more positive note, I’m fairly proud of how the flames going up his forehead turned out.

A ballpoint pen sketch of Jake's arm in a foreshortened perspective.

A look at Jake’s arms and shackles.

The ballpoint pen pulled a lot of weight on this one.

This might be my favorite drawing on this page. Jake is a very muscular guy, but he’s also a dwarf. This means I have to exercise a certain degree of stylization in his anatomy at times. To give his body the impression of having raw power, I have to exaggerate certain features. I didn’t like how his arms came out earlier, but I didn’t want to revisit the whole pose again. Instead, I wanted to focus on the anatomy itself. I also wanted to get a feel for the weight and bulk of the shackles he wears.

Blocking out basic shapes, I started at the head and then worked my way out towards his hand. After blocking out the arm, I then added the shackle on his wrist. I imagined him looking away from the viewer, holding his arm outstretched behind him as he begins to conjure flames. His hand is relaxed but the rest of the arm is bearing the weight of that shackle. Drawing limbs in a foreshortened perspective can feel really awkward. I drew it this way because I didn’t want to draw the shackle in a simple flat view this time.

I attribute a lot of the success of this sketch on the medium that I used. With the ballpoint pen, it forced me to approach this sketch in layers, gradually building them up until completion. Since there was no erasing allowed, I had to really feel this drawing out as I went along. In a way, it almost felt like I was carving him out of the page.

Getting the flames just right

When Jake gets excited, he unconsciously unleashes his magic in the form of fire. The more amped up he is, the more his flames envelop him. It usually starts as a small flame on his left ear and then spreads out from there. For the figure in the middle, Jake was supposed to be consumed in fire. The problem is that I overdid it on rendering his body. There wasn’t enough room in his silhouette to draw flames. I would’ve had to use white paint or ink to incorporate them onto his figure. However, I didn’t really want to stray too far from the original exercise.

For this sketch, I started with Jake’s face and worked my way out. Just as I did with his arm earlier, I had to feel this part out. First I blocked his bust out using basic shapes. Then, I rendered his face and shoulders using harder linework. Next, was the challenging part. When Jake’s hair catches fire, it gets difficult to distinguish between what’s hair and what’s flame. To portray that idea in this sketch, I drew both hair and fire as one object. Every mark I made for that part of his head was either hair or fire. However, since I wanted the flames to be dominant here, I treated every line as if it was fire. Back and forth, hair, fire, hair, fire, until I was done.

Admittedly, after I finished, I went back in and used a little white ink to make a little change. Specifically, I extended some of the flames on his head onto his face. You can see it on his left side as well as on the other side of his face. This is probably my second favorite drawing on this page.

Close-up shot of a Mage Punk Archives logo drawn in ballpoint pen

Titles and Epithets

On the upper-right and lower-left of this page are two hand-drawn logos. One is for Mage Punk Archives on the upper-right; while the other is for PUNK PYRO on the lower left.

When it comes to Mage Punk Archives, I’m a little indecisive about the appearance of the main logo. The intention behind Mage Punk has changed considerably over the course of time I’ve spent working on it. So too, has the meaning of the name Mage Punk changed a lot. It used to be an intended nickname for Jake. A title he would earn as he built a reputation for himself, as a member of the Final Flame. But then I realized that it could be something much broader than that. As such, it could no longer belong solely to him.

That’s where PUNK PYRO comes in. While Mage Punk is a title he might share with other characters, PUNK PYRO is an epithet specific to him. Originally, I came up with the name because of an implausible scenario that popped into my head. A hypothetical situation in which I might have to stop using the name Mage Punk for some silly reason. That aside, I don’t feel a need to elaborate on the name itself or how I came up with it. Simply put, I just think it sounds really fitting and cool!

The little details make a big difference

A ballpoint pen is great for learning to accept imperfection

It was nice to make proper use of my negative space for a change. After I finished with the main sketches, I wanted to take it a step further. After all, there were still nooks and crannies of space to fill all throughout the page. However, I didn’t want to spend anymore time on this drawing, so I drew the easiest thing I could: shapes!

Since fire magic is a key theme here, I peppered triangles and stars throughout the negative space on the page. An upward pointing triangle is the alchemical symbol for fire, so I drew a bunch of those. Then, I added five pointed stars as a symbol for magic. Filling all the extra space out with all those little shapes was fun to finish this sketch off. I feel like it made for a more fun and energetic composition overall.

This drawing isn’t the first time I’ve used a ballpoint pen and it’s probably not even my best. Nevertheless, I’m really pleased with how this sketch page turned out in the end. Historically, I’ve been pretty terrible about filling my sketchbook pages. It’s something I’ve always felt I was weak in and this page felt like a good step towards overcoming that.

Additionally, not everything came out perfectly and the pen really helped me accept that and move on. As artists, it can be easy for us to obsesses over the little things and hyperfixate. This fixation can paralyse us without us even realizing it. However, I didn’t run into that problem with this drawing. If I made a mistake, I accepted it and kept going. I didn’t let the Despair of my mistakes hold me back. Instead, I moved forward with the Hope that the next time would be better.

Thanks for reading~

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