It’s just my opinion, but I think ballpoint art is one of the most exciting types of artwork being made today. Ballpoint pens are a fairly new invention, all things considered, meaning it’s a real possibility that an artist can create a type of ballpoint art no one has thought to try before.
Ballpoint is also fun because of how ordinary it can seem. Everyone has used a pen for writing, and some artists embrace the challenge of taking something so common and using it to create something extraordinary.
Enough talk — let’s look at some awesome ballpoint drawings. The following three artists are featured in the summer issue of Drawing magazine, which is devoted to ballpoint art. If you find yourself saying, “Wow, a ballpoint pen did that?” know that you’re not alone. We’re saying that, too.
Ape, by Guno Park, 2014, ballpoint pen, 65 x 45.
In most of his drawings, Guno Park takes a monochromatic approach, working in one of the “traditional” ballpoint colors of black, blue or red. His varied subjects include portraits of passengers sleeping on public transit, dramatic depictions of animals and detail-packed views of city streets. He sets many of his subjects against stark white backgrounds, causing them to seemingly jump off the page.
Underwater Plants, by Guno Park, 2015, ballpoint pen, 21 x 21.
Park has been drawing with ballpoint since he was young. “Even as a kid, before I started drawing more intensely, I was using the pen quite a bit,” he says. “As I learned more and more, I stuck with it. The pen was always in my pocket, and it became this very comfortable medium to draw with. I use other media as well, but I think that the pen creates a type of tone that no other writing or drawing tool makes. The ink has a sheen and a glow that I enjoy.”
Nicolas V. Sanchez
Magnus, by Nicolas V. sanchez, 2016, ballpoint pen on toned paper, 5 x 7.
Using ballpoint in an array of colors, Nicolas V. Sanchez crafts strikingly realistic portraits of people and animals. Pen has been the artist’s medium of choice for as long as he can remember.
“I’ve always been drawing and sketching,” he says. “My dad taught me how to draw when I was very young, and he always had a pen in his shirt pocket. I didn’t really recognize that as an influence at the time, but having a pen on hand found its way into my routine.”
Midwest Grass, by Nicolas V. Sanchez, 2015, ballpoint pen on toned paper, 6 x 8.
Ballpoint eventually became Sanchez’s primary medium for finished work as well. “It allows me to draw with tone and with a range in value,” he says. “With ballpoint, I can draw lightly or create heavy lines. That’s very different from Micron pens, for example, which create only fine lines.”
Joo Lee Kang
Chandelier No. 1, by Joo Lee Kang, 2017, ballpoint pen, 26 x 33. Courtesy Gallery NAGA.
The drawings of Joo Lee Kang take us to a strange realm where mutated flora and fauna run rampant over what appear to be decaying still life tableaux. Her images feel simultaneously modern and steeped in art history — in particular the work of Dutch still life painters of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Still Life With Insects No. 9, by Joo Lee Kang, 2014, ballpoint pen, 25 x 32. Courtesy Gallery NAGA.
“I like ballpoint pen for three reasons,” explains the artist. The first has to do with ease of access — she can buy ballpoint pens anywhere and carry them easily. Second, ballpoint is well-suited to crosshatching, which is Kang’s preferred shading technique.
Finally, like many artists who create ballpoint art, Kang enjoys the fact that you can’t erase it. “Once I grab my pen, I just go and go and go,” she says. “I want to never give up or erase, so the pen being nonerasable is very important for me.”