Friday, June 02, 2017

Inking in the Railroad

Pen and ink is a medium that seems to be fading into antique. Digital drawing is often quicker, easier, and less likely to stain one's hands, drawing board, or studio. Still, drawing with a dip pen or technical pen is a worthwhile trip into the past. Ink drawing usually means careful planning, strict attention to ink handling and and a set of skills that aren't always translatable to digital media.

Several years ago I put together a portfolio of drawings done using an old-style dip pen and ink, intended for a railroad nostalgia organization. They gave me access to photos from their archive as source materials. Many of the photos were made by the railroad for various purposes. The images are all from the early to mid-20th century. I posted a handful of these about a year ago. Here are a few more of those drawings. They are all about 7x11 on 2-ply Bristol board.

"In the Station"
The era that railroad buffs call the age of steam ended in the middle of the 20th century in this country, and pretty much everywhere else. China did continue to build steam locomotives into the 1980s, but so far as I know no new steam engines have been built since. Steam power now is generally relegated to museums, although the third world does continue to use coal-fired locomotives. This is one of those locomotives standing at a classic, victorian-era station.

"Highballin', Winter"
Steam power was overthrown by diesel in the first half of the century. Diesel engines had a more streamlined silhouette, a more modern look that seemed in keeping with the designs of the times, emphasizing sleekness and speed. This kind of locomotive was a common sight in the latter half of the 20th century. Here the train is passing by in winter, pulling a really long passenger train, which of course is also a thing of the past in this country.

"Setting the Watches"
The next two are figurative drawings done using reference photos from the historical organization. The ink is a kind of sepia-colored compounding called "iron gall ink," an old formula that has been used at least since the Middle Ages. It tends to have a sepia color when dilute, but is black at full strength. The engineer and conductor are synchronizing watches--trains run on a strict schedule; the strictness was originally for safety's sake. Watches used by railroad men had to be the most accurate ones you could buy and had to adhere to strict standards of accuracy to ensure separation of trains. (There was no other way to do it in the days before universal and instantaneous communication.)




"In the Yard"
Finally, here is a switchman, moving a track switch in a rail yard. Switches allow rolling stock to move from one track to another, such as a siding. Today rail switches are moved electrically or hydraulically, but a few require manual operation even now. This was drawn using iron gall ink, but a bit less thinned, so it looks darker. Incidentally, in all of these drawings I used ink with a small round brush to fill in dark masses after making an initial pass to set up line details.















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Previously on this topic:
Working on the Railroad
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