Saturday, January 11, 2014


The power to recognize beauty in the backside of a goose should not be taken lightly.

Jack Unruh has that power, and what's more he came by it honestly.  He has probably spent more time hunting and fishing in the wild than any illustrator since Audubon.  As John Cuneo wrote, "Here is a man for whom 'back to the drawing board' usually involves pissing on a campfire."

Unruh's time spent in nature seems to have left him with an intense, granular appreciation for nature's textures and patterns.

I like the way Unruh contrasts extremes.  He'll use a sharp Gilotte pen nib to compose delicate fields of microscopic hatch marks, then reach across to the opposite end of the spectrum for dense black shapes applied with a bold brush:

Unruh makes no attempt to homogenize the two extremes.  Each retains its essential character


By themselves, his small, lacy marks would probably be be too refined for my taste.  Those rough black additions contribute power and structure.

There is nothing rustic about Unruh's work.  When he returns from pissing on campfires, he does highly sophisticated (some might even say urbane), surrealistic or whimsical pictures:



These pictures are nothing like the art of more conventional wildlife illustrators, such as Audubon, Bateman, Meltzoff or Matternes.  Kinda makes you wonder what Unruh thinks about, out there in the wilderness at night.  For clues, his web site is divided into "what is real and what is not."  


etc, etc said...

Great wildlife art.


Now there's a word whose gentry have moved out of its semantic domain.

MORAN said...

Those details of the beak and neck are incredible. I've heard of Unruh but I never understood how he achieved that look.

thecrossancreature said...

The further I scrolled down this page the more I fell in love; Gorgeous stuff

Laurence John said...

the caricatures remind me of the work of David Levine, David Hughes, and Ian Pollock.

Molly said...

His Texas Monthly pieces always delight. Nice to see this up-close study.

David Apatoff said...

etc, etc-- I don't know Unruh but I suspect my use of the adjective "urbane" would give him hives.

MORAN-- Agreed. Unruh at the microscopic level is a totally different kind of experience, and an excellent one.

Thecrossancreature-- Glad you like Unruh's work, too. He has a long career of work out there for you to explore and enjoy.

Richard said...

Diggin' these pictures, but I get the impression to really appreciate them we ought to see them in person.

David Apatoff said...

Molly and Richard -- Agreed. I wish it was easier to see Unruh's fine lines and spatters up close. We miss a great deal.

Laurence John-- I enjoy the work of Levine and Hughes; with Pollock I still have some growing to do.

Richard said...

Unrelated to the topic at hand --

I'm wondering if any of you fine knowledgeable souls knows much about fountain pens suitable for drawing?

Everything I've seen thus far suggests that to get a pen with enough line variation, enough to be adequate for drawing, I'd need to purchase a pre-WW2 "wet noodle" gold antique pen; especially the Watermans, Parker, Wahls.

Is that definitely true?

What about with dip pens? I've had very little luck with the ones I've purchased -- either they're too "scratchy", not enough line variation, or the nibs break too easily.

What is an artist drawn to ink supposed to do, outside of working with a brush?

Thanks in advance!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful drawings.


António Araújo said...


as for dip pens, there's a bunch of good ones, but it depends on what kind of line you want. I used to enjoy the hunt 101 imperial for general stuff, also a bunch of the gillots (303,404,...) and for really fine stuff (like stippling or fine crosshatching in scientific illustration) I liked the hunt 104. I used the get a bunch of these pretty cheap at, but you'll get it cheaper by choosing a local supllier since you are in the US.

I haven't used nibs for a while, so I hope I'm recalling this well. Kev should know much more about this stuff.

This about nibs, but if you need something to use "on the road", they get pretty clumsy. For portability you can either get one of those legendary pre-ww wet noodles (if you are rich), or you can try the noodler's flex pens, which are pretty cheap. They are not like the old "wet noodles" but they have reasonable line variation. I have a couple of the smaller ones, but they are kind of fiddly (more so if you have big hands). I find I prefer the one they call the "Konrad", though it is a little bit more expensive. I can't recommend the biggest one, called the "Ahab". It doesn't really flex so well and the one I got had a leak.

The noodler pens you can get online at

Also, there is the namiki falcon. It is also not a wet noodle, but pretty flexible. It is much more expensive than the noodlers and I hear it is not much more flexible, but I don't own one. You can have it modified, though, and then it can get superfine and extra-flexible, but that will take more money and someone reliable to fix it. There's a forum where people discuss all this ad nauseum, I'll try to look it up for you. :)

António Araújo said...

The forum is this one:

There's lots of comparisons of old wet noodles, noodler's pens, falcons, you name it.

Oh, since you mentioned a brush, if you need a portable one try this:

It's a marvel that will never let you down. I've used one for years. I noticed Kim Jung Gi seems to use them a lot:

Here's the link to the Noodler's pens. The "creaper" are the smaller ones (at 14 usd), the "Konrad" are the medium ones (20 usd) and are better in my opinion. If you get a creaper be careful not to accidentally rotate it at the back, as it will drop ink onto your drawing. The Konrads are safer in that respect, as they use a piston held inside the pen.

As for ink, the noodler black eel is pretty lubricated, which helps with the flow and avoids "railroading" when you flex, but I find that it takes too long to dry and makes watercoloring (or erasing pencil lines) hazardous, especially in cheapo papers. I started using platinum carbon ink to avoid that (it is a pigmented ink) but then I have to use the pen everyday (which is fine, because I do anyway) or the pigmented ink will dry up and possibly ruin the pen. The noodler black eel never seems to dry, you can forget it inside the pen for a month and it will work perfectly as soon as you pick it up. There's also a fast-drying noodler black, but I didn't like it because it feathered a lot in bad paper (I use bad paper a lot for daily sketching).

António Araújo said...

forgot the link to the pens:

António Araújo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
António Araújo said...

This is a drawing I did with the Konrad (well, of the Konrad, with the Konrad). You can sort of see the line variation if you compare the outline of the catfish with some of the inner lines.

I'll try to get you a better example when I get home. Or you can go on and register on that pen forum and see a proper test, with videos of those standard exercises in calligraphy.

António Araújo said...

Ok, found some videos:


Namiki (Pilot) Falcon:

Richard said...

Love the drawing.

How large were you working?

Richard said...

Also, judging by those videos the Noodlers are easily comparable to the Namiki Falcon, barring some railroading, so I suppose I'll be trying out the Konrad.

I've used the dip pen nibs you're suggesting. I guess I'm just using them wrong. Oh well.

Thanks for all the suggestions!

António Araújo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
António Araújo said...


you're welcome!

I don't quite recall the size of the drawing. It was bigger than A4, smaller than A3 (I remember I cut a part of an A3 sheet). I don't usually work very large, for logistical reasons.

As for the nibs, I don't recall ever breaking one of those, so be careful with that noodlers if you get it, maybe you have a bit of a heavy hand from using other types of pens/tools? Try a light touch at first, then see how far it can go. At least if you break a Konrad it will be only 20 bucks, not the price of a falcon. :)

Actually in that forum I mentioned some guy said he would get more line variation from the noodlers than the falcon, especially because with the noodlers he wasn't so afraid of breaking the thing and losing a bundle of money, and therefore he pressed harder. :)

Another thing: if you get a noodlers do watch those videos. They are fiddly when fresh. You need to wash them by loading and unloading with water and a drop of dish detergent, then washing it again with just water, then letting it dry - all this to clean the oily remains from the manufacturing process. It makes a huge difference. Also, you may need to give it some use or even fiddle with the feeder like that guy on that video did before it works perfectly. It can get pretty irritating, so don't brake that nib in a fury before it's time. :) I had a couple of reluctant ones that now draw beautifully. The only real dud I ever got was the Ahab, which I can't recommend at all for various reasons. By the way, my Ahab was a prototype, so you have to discount that, but a very experienced guy I know bought an Ahab the other day and gave it very bad marks also. But apart from that one, I love those noodlers.

Happy drawing! :)

Richard said...

>As for the nibs, I don't recall ever breaking one of those, so be careful with that noodlers if you get it, maybe you have a bit of a heavy hand from using other types of pens/tools? Try a light touch at first, then see how far it can go.

Interesting. I know I draw too quickly, maybe I draw too heavily as well. This is going to be frustrating!

>Another thing: if you get a noodlers do watch those videos. They are fiddly when fresh. You need to wash them by loading and unloading with water and a drop of dish detergent,

That reminds me, last time I bought some pen nibs they weren't writing very well -- bad flow. A guy on the internet had suggested I soak them in white vinegar to dissolve the protective coating on them. Forgetting my elementary school science class lessons, I did just as he suggested, but forgot them in the glass. Came back a couple days later, and they had all dissolved entirely!

António Araújo said...

Chemical warfare too? I'm starting to wonder if you secretly hate those nibs. :)