A Prickly, Tickly, Sticky Situation

With today’s prompt words — tired, ship, prickly, tasty, tree — our search went directly to the prickly ash tree. In Monopoly parlance, we did not pass GO; we did not collect $200.00. We just went straight to the prickly ash. Not surprising, really.

Nor was it surprising that I chose to use a reference photo of a single stick from the prickly ash. I love drawing sticks. Just last night, in fact, my husband and I were walking through the yard, and I picked up two different sticks. “Now, what are you going to do with those?” he asked. “I’m going to draw them,” I explained. Sticks are fascinating, you see. Perfect subjects for those slow-paced, detailed, meditative graphite drawings I’ve come to enjoy so much.

But, back to Inktober, and back to the prickly ash with its deadly-looking thorns. You would not want to meet up with a prickly ash in a dark alley late at night, I’ll tell you that much. Truthfully, you wouldn’t want to accidentally meet up with a prickly ash anywhere.

The surprise about this drawing was that I decided to do it with a dip pen. Yes, you read that right. Me. Using a dip pen. For an Inktober drawing. Yeah. Right.

Why? Well, this is where the tickly part of this comes in. Not only is it a tickly situation whenever I pick up a dip pen — tickly as in ticklish, meaning a bit challenging or fraught with potential disaster in this case — but my approach to drawing my prickly stick of ash with its sticky thorns was to use tick marks.

Is there an official artistic definition of tick mark? In fonts, editing, and general jargon, a tick mark is a check mark. That’s not quite what a tick mark is in art. I define tick marks as random little marks going this way and that with no apparent purpose. Tick marks are very useful. I use them to create the illusion of grasses and other ground cover in graphite landscapes. I’ve done the same thing with ink, too. Tick marks can also be useful when drawing sticks, or at least, I figured they could be if I were going to try drawing a stick with a dip pen.

Before attempting the drawing, I practiced. I did lots of stippling with a dip pen — which is similar to making tick marks, just neater. Only my dipping and stippling is never very neat — remember that awful, rotten pear? — so let’s just agree that I was really practicing tick marks.

Now, give me a ballpoint pen, or give me one of my fine-tipped Pitt Artist pens, and I can make tick marks ’til the cows come home, but who’s worrying about cows right now? Let’s just hope they don’t run into any prickly ash trees in the pasture. Enough about cows.

While practicing, I had a little epiphany. Not one of those major, mind-blowing events, just a little realization. Instead of thinking about the dip pen I was holding, I could just pretend I had a ballpoint pen in my hand, and immediately I eased up my death grip. I relaxed. My tick marks got a little better.

There’s a lot of difference between a ballpoint and a dip pen, of course, but pretending I had one and not the other proved to be very helpful for me.

That’s not to say that my prickly ash drawing was a success. It’s not very good, but it gave me something else I could tick off on my list of Inktober objectives. For weeks now, I’ve been telling myself that before Inktober ended, I would somehow do at least one dip pen drawing.

So, here it is.

Inktober 24 - Prickly Ash Drawing (2).png
Beware of the Prickly Ash – Dip Pen Drawing by Judith Kraus

I know. You can see pencil lines I didn’t erase, and you can see ink splatters. Ask me if I care. Do I care? Nope. I’m just glad I completed the drawing. That’s one good thing about it, you see. It’s done.

Now, I intend to put my dip pens away for a good, long time. Maybe I’ll get them out now and then just for a little practice. I doubt that I’ll ever be very good with them, though, so why not just stick with my Pitt Artist pens, or for that matter, why not just grab a ballpoint? I’m comfortable with both of those, and comfort, I’ve learned, is an essential element of good art.


  • Box
  • Squeak
  • Stretch
  • Dark
  • Tree


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