Inktober: free FLOWING ink pens for Graphic Design

I recently read that every blog post should contain something educational.

It’s a Truth, Universally Acknowledged

So, I’m going to tell you that you can’t use a Rotring pen to ink in a lot of lettering on top of chalk and charcoal.

You need read no further as that was today’s lesson, but, nonetheless, I shall recount the hell of my first few weeks at art college which led me to this conclusion.

Graphic Design and ‘Illustration’

I started a course in ‘Graphic Design and Illustration’ for all the wrong reasons.

  • I could get home every weekend to work at the stables and so pay for my horses’s keep
  • I thought it would include a lot of illustration.

WRONG: it included a lot of Graphic Design and most of it was typography.

Stay Loose

My flat mate and I had come from a foundation course in Art and Design where it had been drummed into us that we needed to paint loosely – I repeat LOOSELY, that’s LOOSE – with a broad brush.  We should never – NEVER – use a ruler or the colour black.

Imagine our horror when we went into an ‘art’ studio and were allocated drawing desks with parallel motions and spent the first four weeks learning how many points in a pica* and hand lettering in black ink (this was the early ’90s and pre computer graphics packages).


Our first brief was to design a poster to advertise a typographer.  We were allocated a typographer each.

Most of the other students on the course were boys who had all done a foundation course in graphic design and lived for typography and fonts.  Letraset books were their choice of bedtime reading.  They were all very talented and are now no doubt all successful and rich graphic designers.

The boys took us to a local art shop and steered us away from the oil paints towards the Rotring pens.

David Kindersley, of Course

I was allocated David Kindersley who I’d never heard of but, who apparently did a lot of stone cutting and the like, and used to hang out with Eric Gill.

Went to London

We were all sent to London to research our allocated designers and the Course Tutors told me to go to Dorling-Kindersley’s offices which I believe were near Covent Garden.  The Tutors told me I had to go here because the man ran the company.  This led to a highly embarrassing visit where we, a bunch of scruffy art students wandered into Reception and the power dressed Receptionist looked at us as though we were insane and made a phone call.  Then lots of their staff came downstairs to Reception in a group and stared at us and told us that the company was run by David Kindersley’s son, was absolutely nothing to do with him and they couldn’t help with any research.  As we walked back up the road they were still laughing at us through the window of their office.

Grave Mistake

The only idea I could come up with was to design a poster like a gravestone.

So, I think I did an actual rubbing of a gravestone with chalk and charcoal, hand drew the lettering and off I went.  I have no idea why I left it to the last minute to meet the deadline but the night before our ‘crit’, found me lying on the floor in my bedroom of our student digs on a not too clean pink carpet trying to ink in all the letters with the Rotring pen which gave up on every third stroke and had to have the nib cleaned and then had to be shaken violently to persuade it to start again.  I didn’t even have a board to lean on and had to rest the A1 sized paper on a paperback book and move it along under the paper to colour in each letter.

Art College Brief
Art College Project: Poster to publicise exhibition at the Design Museum

If I’d had any black paint with me I would have given up on the pen and painted all the lettering but I didn’t have any paint and we’d been told that we had to have the finished piece ready for our crit the next morning on pain of death and being thrown off the course.

Yes, but it’s Still a Pass

I finally finished inking in the letters to some degree at 3am.  Next day the tutor curled her lip at my effort and awarded me the heady accolade of a Pass minus grade.

Anyway, I didn’t get thrown off the course and it did get better and I learned to love my parallel motion desk, but it has left me with a life-long aversion to Rotring ink pens, typography and Dorling-Kindersley published books.

*There are 12 points in a pica (so that’s two things you may have learnt from this post!)

PS. This is no criticism of Rotring ink pens. I’m sure they are excellent in the right hands!

© Michelle Le Grand


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