I love old art supplies. I love new supplies too, but sometimes old is more interesting.
When I was a kid, my dad gave me a set of ruling pens and technical pens that belonged to my grandfather. I come from family of architects and engineers on my dad’s side and some of the tools of their trade were these neat old pens. My grandfather helped to engineer some of the roads that are still used between Arizona and Utah and he used these pens.
|WRICO lettering technical pens|
You can buy some really nice ruling pens today, but they take a little time to break in. The paper will wear off the little burrs and make them butter smooth, but if you can get an older set that has been used already, I recommend it. Search on ebay and you can find some great old sets.
Ruling pens work by capillary action, storing ink between two metal tines and releasing it as the paper breaks the surface tension of the ink. You can adjust the screw to increase/decrease the distance between the tines and change the width of the line it draws. They are great for technical drawings and cartography and are also used in calligraphy. If you have wondered how some old drawings and maps had thick accurate straight lines, they probably used a ruling pen. Of course they are still used today (James Gurney used one when making some of the drawings in his Dinotopia book), but computers have displaced much of their use.
There is an analog quality to their lines that I find very warm, but still precise. There are many kinds of ruling pens too. Here are some of the pens in the set I inherited from my grandfather.
Some quick lines. 1-3 are done with a normal ruling pen. 4-5 are the technical lettering pens and 6 was done with the Swedish ruling pen. You can easily adjust the line width. The circles were done with the ruling pen compass.
While you are waiting for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you can watch this very exciting video showing how some of the pens function:
If you are interested in doing some ink work and haven’t played around with traditional tools, be sure to pick up some ruling pens and technical pens as well as a crow quill, a good rich ink (I like Speedball Super Black India Ink) and get your fingers black!
Bonus: the other day while browsing around the net I stumbled across this site which catalogs old art materials: The Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies. Many of the tools are still in use, but there are some fun items there. Definitely check out the ‘Novelties’ section.