Learning to draw with a Brush Pen in London and Prague

A funny thing about drawing from life is that while I’d think of myself as a pretty good draftsman generally, I actually fall into this comfort zone where I draw everything in the same pen (a Unipin 0.3, thanks for asking) and I freak out when I try to draw with any new medium. My good friend Alice B. Spicer recently gave me one of those fancy Pentel Japanese brush pens which every comicbook artist under the sun uses, so I thought I’d try it out in a lot of observational drawings.

Also I’ve just been on holiday, so that’s where I did the drawings. You know how being talked through someone else’s holiday photos is the most boring thing in the world. This is definitely the opposite of that.



This adventure begins where all great adventures begin: In a supermarket, buying supplies for the journey. It may have been omitted from the final manuscript of Lord of the Rings, but I’m fairly certain that Tolkein penned a section where Frodo goes around the big ASDA near the Corn Exchange buying energy drinks to fuel him into Mordor. I was in a Morrisons in Wetherby and I bought a bag of prawn cocktail crisps. This is the lady who on the checkout.

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Then we got the train down to London and went to the British Museum in the hope of seeing their Shunga exhibition, but unfortunately it hadn’t started yet- this was the first of several disastrous mis-plannings of my trip (I also managed to leave my girlfriend’s passport and laptop on a bus at one point).

The British Museum is full of exciting and fascinating things, but when you’ve gone with the expectation of staring at Hentai in public under the guise of high-brow artistic intrigue, anything less feels like a bit of a disappointment.

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We spent the next few days loitering around London and I drew lots of pictures in coffee shops. As you can see my ability with this new brush pen is definitely what one would describe as “fumbling”. I’m also using one of those magic pencils with three different-coloured leads in the middle. You can buy them in the gift shop of the British Museum, if you’re killing time because your favourite erotic exhibitions haven’t yet opened.

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This is Luton airport departure lounge, in front of a shop selling boots. There is little of interest to say about this scene, so think of it as a little intermission.

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THIS however, is PRAGUE. Prague is one of my favourite cities, and I was so excited that I leapt off the airport bus in the middle of the night without remembering my girlfriend’s aforementioned bag with everything valuable you could possibly imagine in it (ie. laptop, passport, all her clothes, etc). After a riveting day of trailing round police stations and the British embassy, we finally got it back though. I’m now an expert on Czech police stations.

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Once we had got the bag back though, it was time to be proper adventurers. We sloped around town eating and getting drunker and drunker- this is a picture of the big church by Malostranska Namnesti. At this point it was late and I had had several glasses of hot wine, so although I carefully wrote “Prague at night”, what I have drawn there is actually Prague at day time under indifferent and bland lighting conditions, with a shapeless black mass later scribbled around it.

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Here’s a token pub drawing, because after this they just became so bad I can’t show anyone. I actually tried to draw two prostitutes by a bar, but the page wasn’t long enough so I just shortened their legs so they looked like dwarves in miniskirts. I’d like to pretend it’s because I’m still not great with this new brush pen, but really it’s because I’m an idiot.

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But just when I was having those melodramatic drunken thoughts about how I couldn’t really ever draw again and all hope was lost, I made this. This is actually not such a terrible drawing. It is an old man slumped across the bar. This is the last drawing I made before I was also slumped across the bar.

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So the next day, with a hangover, it was time to move back to the safer territory of 0.3 fineliner pens. Call me a creature of habit. We were eating one of my favourite eateries in Prague, and I really love drawing people eating. Eating is a funny thing in our visual culture, because although we do it all the time, obviously, it’s very rarely shown on TV and movies and things- in most food adverts you’ll see people sitting around “enjoying a meal” but rarely is the food put into the mouth, and we never see chewing. This is because everyone looks stupid when they eat, and advertisers rarely want their food to be associated with morons and their ugly chewing faces. But I love drawing people eating.

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The other thing is that you can smoke indoors in a lot of places in the Czech republic. While I’m generally cool with smoking in pubs because I’m a horribly liberal and like feeling like that famous photo of Camus, it’s actually quite annoying when I’m trying to enjoy my lunch. It puts a decidedly unhealthy slant on my otherwise delicious chicken-stuffed-with-blue-cheese-and-bacon-and-chips experience.

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Here is another old man sitting outside a pub, nestled in the flowers. I don’t think I’ve admitted this before but I secretly love flower painting, though Geraniums like these annoy me because the petals are too square.

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That’s pretty much it for Prague. You’re probably thinking “you haven’t draw Prague you fool, only a lot of silly people doing things in Prague” but surprisingly I made quite a few large scale drawings of the cityscape and a lot of tourist attractions. But they were bigger than my suitcase so I left them there. (You’ll have to ask Stella Vallon to photograph them and put them online (Stella, whose real name is Anna Mastnikova, is my wonderful artist friend who I stay with in Prague. She’s an animator and illustrator and taught me most of what made my drawing any good when we studied together in Strasbourg. Look at her website because it’s fantastic) )

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By now it was time to scamper back to London, with only minimal disasters by this point, though I did later miss my train north. I spent the following day bumming around Shoreditch drinking coffee and before getting the train back to Aberdeenshire to continue doing my proper work. I was trying to draw pretty girls, because that’s the thing I’m worst at, and it showed me that I am indeed still quite bad at it.

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But then on the train, I made some more drawings with the brush pen. And would you look at that! They’re actually quite good! So it just goes to show, kids, that the only way to get good at doing something is by doing it again and again. Except more brush pen drawings from now on! Yippee!

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Filed under Illustration, Sketchbook

2 responses to “Learning to draw with a Brush Pen in London and Prague

  1. andthisiswhyiwilldiealonesurroundedbycats

    I very much enjoy the picture of the Morrisons check out lady.

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