Sometimes you are given a gift which enables you to try something new and exciting.

My father was an automotive engineer, designing car and truck parts starting in the 1950s. This was a time before computers were widely used, so everything he designed was drawn by hand and measured with a ruler. The gift I mentioned above was my father’s (now vintage) drafting tools and measuring rulers he gave to me after he retired.

Today, these drafting tools are considered vintage. Most people, myself included, would not know where to begin using these drafting tools; they are so complex, I was both intimidated and in awe of my father for using these every day at work. With pride I removed them from their case and inspected each piece to try and implement them in my artwork or art classes. I still had no idea what they were called.

They looked like the compasses I used in school, had hand adjustment knobs, arms that bend, and several accessories which went with them. My first thought was, “if I could get a paint brush tip on one, I could paint perfect circles.” So, I disassembled a small paint brush tip and managed to attach it. From there I had some fun tinkering around and making curved lines with acrylic paint.

A friend came by and I showed him my father’s draftsman kit, with all the tools I still didn’t know the names of or how they were intended to be used. He picked up one of the tools and turned it around in his hand, clearly familiar to him. I asked, “What are those?”

He replied, “We used to use these when I worked for an architect, for drawing blueprints,” and further explained that the way to use them is to dip the tips in ink and draw precise lines as the ink moves forward through the tip.

His description reminded me of the pens we used in grade school many, many years ago; ink-cartridge pens. Those had little cylinders of ink encased in thick plastic, which were inserted into the pen and ink was dispersed through a metal tip.

He didn’t know the name of the tools either, so I jumped on the internet to try and figure it out with the new information my friend had given me. I quickly found what I was looking for! They are called ruling pens.

I was shocked and amazed that ruling pens have been around for over 400 years, and are still being made new today. The modern ruling pens come in many different sizes and styles, but I still prefer my father’s vintage tools.

I spent some time practicing with these and was thrilled at how neat and clean the disbursement of ink was. It was smooth; there was only occasional leaking and dripping when my movements were too quick or I angled the pen too close to the paper.

I wanted to emulate some simple, cartoonish drawings for my first shared experiments using my ruling pens, so the steps for these drawings are basic.

The tools I used in my ruling pen drawing are:

  • White paper
  • Colored markers
  • Black ink
  • Ruling pens

Step 1: Using colored markers on a white sheet of paper, I quickly drew a detail-free bird and made sure it was mostly filled in. I didn’t worry too much about getting it exactly right, because a little messiness here will just add to the interest of the finished product.

Step 2: After I completed my colored sketch, I used ink with my ruling pens to draw the outline and details of the bird. I made sure to include: wings, beak, feet, eye, and feathers.

I was very happy with the result!

Ruling Pens are still used today in precision line drawing and lettering, like the kind artists use for comic books and graphic novels, and if you’re interested you can purchase them at specialty art stores or look for vintage sets at online auctions, estate sales, or secondhand stores. I am not done dreaming up new ways to use these wonderful tools so I will continue to experiment, play with, and expand my abilities using my ruling pens. So far, they have given me total creative satisfaction, along with the satisfaction of knowing my dad would be proud of me.

Update 8/13/21:

I created a couple more of these creature drawings using my ruling pen, ink, and markers. Check them out below