Drawing with the "Any Ink" Fountain Pen Was an Eye-Opener
We had illustrator Sara Rabin spend a couple weeks with a Wink Pen, the clever glass fountain pen that lets you write with any liquid. This is her story.
Kim Kardashian, rendered in the artist's urine. All illustrations by Sara Rabin
This article contains adult content.
When we first wrote about Winkpens, our readers’ biggest question was, well, do they work? Fast-forward through a successful Kickstarter campaign, and the First Edition Wink Pen arrived at our office, ready for the testing. We handed it off to artist and illustrator Sara Rabin, who spent a couple weeks exploring the ins and outs of the clever glass fountain pen that lets you write with any liquid. This is her story.
The first time I used the Wink Pen, I was at work.
I am an illustrator and also a waitress. I draw a lot on receipt paper, observing things around me, which in turn inspire my drawings. They’re stream-of-consciousness, nothing delicate about them, so my initial feeling is, “I am going to break it.” The Wink Pen is pretty, but fragile-looking: the glass is thin and I’m intimidated because I need to look at instructions to build it. This pen works totally differently from anything I’ve ever used. It doesn’t have a continuous flow—you have to force whatever liquid you’re using down through the nib by turning the top of the pen. This plunges the ink you’ve loaded in through the chamber. It flows generously, which makes it very sensitive, but it’s see-through, so you can see how much ink is moving. Also, you have to control a lot of factors, including how fast you plunge it, how much is coming out of it, and how much ink enters the chamber.
As for ink, I decided to use the beet juice the restaurant makes. It’s thick, and, as I’ve found out too many times, it stains. The resulting markings come out looking very experimental. Next I tried using hot drip coffee. This was too watery, so I decided to move to espresso. The markings are pretty, like watercolors.
Later, after I had practiced loading, twisting, plunging, and gauging the speed of the ink, I began to think about materials I would use and what I wanted to draw. I like to draw people. Sometimes I draw myself, pop culture figures, little comics, all definitely figurative drawings. I wanted to gather materials first, and later decide what to draw with them. I decided on pee, blood, semen, and tears. (I didn't get to tears, sadly, as I had as no reason to cry at the time.) Semen was easy enough because my boyfriend was willing to collaborate. For blood, I was thinking that I could cut myself with a sharp object and collect the blood. I don’t recommend it, having cut myself very deeply for a disappointing amount—scooping blood with shaky hands into tiny jar was one of my dumbest moments in art-making. But I did end up with a little bit of blood and diluted it with water. As a result, I was able to make a small illustration. Next time, I’ll have a better way. I actually have a doctor’s appointment next week, so I’ll just ask for a sample.
I was going to leave town anyway, so I packed up my leftover blood and semen and stored them in the family freezer inside a brown paper bag, with express instructions that my parents not examine its contents. I didn't want to explain anything, and still hope they don’t read this article, but that’s inevitable.
As someone who considers herself still working on becoming an artist, I don’t often think about process-based work, versus the immediate art I normally find myself making. Here’s where the Wink Pen came in: having to approach drawing from a material-comes-first angle, and on top of that, having to come up with an idea of what to draw, became my greatest challenge. I took all of my samples from the freezer and left them defrost for a day. (Yes, I was worried that it would smell.) I was worried that the semen wouldn’t show up on white paper, so I bought some India ink to dilute it with. JonBenét Ramsey happened to be on the cover of everything at that time, so I mixed a little amount of ink to semen and loaded the pen.
The drawing process was smooth, like a rollerball pen but nothing like a brush or fountain pen. Instead of dipping, you have to spin the top of the Wink Pen, and it takes a bit to get into the pattern of movements; to feel when the pen is going to run out, and to get used to drawing with one hand and spinning the pen with the other. Also, there is only one line weight, and shading isn’t easy.
It would be nice if I wouldn’t know what it was made of. JonBenét was the portrait of innocence, and now I feel bad about drawing her with jizz. She deserved better! But she was what I felt like drawing at the time. Drawing Hitler with semen, and Kim K in urine, had a little more intent.
I started to think about the next drawings. I drew myself because i wanted to keep practicing with the pen. Then I started to think about someone who deserves to be drawn in semen: Hitler. After that, I decided to switch mediums.
My next drawing was made with urine. I used a small syringe to fill the the pen and added a tiny bit of ink. My drawing was of Kim Kardashian. It turned out alright, although it smelled a bit. In this drawing, I could see the clear difference between organic material and ink. If you look at the stroke, you can see how it’s surrounded by piss. It smelled for a while, so I had to store it inside of my wardrobe. I really hope my family doesn’t read this.
I tried to use diet coke, but I didn’t think about carbonation—which takes around 70% of the pen’s space. I wasn’t able to load the pen with it, and will next time wait for it to become flat first.
Generally speaking, the results look very minimal, but my experience with the Wink Pen was eye-opening. Process-based work is hard. I needed to step my game up in order to use the materials properly, even when the work was simple. I want my future illustrations to be great, and in order to achieve that, will have to put on different hat as an artist.
I want to have a specific project in mind and to have a better understanding of how to achieve different line weights. The Wink Pen gave me lines that are generally thicker than I normally use, so I couldn’t make hatch-marks to start. I also want to work larger and discover more materials I don’t have to add ink into.
Ultimately, the Wink Pen is challenging but fun. You have to get physical with it. You have to be intuitive. You need to notice when it needs to be loaded again, know how to clean it properly. I would recommend it to anyone who is trying to push themselves as an artist. It becomes an extension of the body more than any other pen I’ve used, which forcing the artist to communicate more intimately with their drawings. In order to get the best use out of it, it has to become a real part of you.
You can order your very own Wink Pen here.