All Thumbs Studio

The Lowly Ruling Pen

Calligraphy. Letter forms. Asemic Writing. All reference the writing implement. I like tools of the trade. I especially like the wide variety of writing tools that calligraphers use.

One tool I have been exploring is the lowly ruling pen. This drawing tool comes from the engineer/drafters who used these simple prongs to ink their drawings. They provide very fine lines with very consistent and adjustable widths. It took talent and time to use one. They were eventually replaced by the technical pen and then the plotter, and today with the digital print head.

When I taught in a junior college, I made sure every student of mine had a standard ruling pen in their kit. I then gave my students a quick lesson in its use.

I was using Wusious Wong’s 2D design book. We worked our way through the “contrasts.” One way to get very precise lines for the at-home projects was to use the ruling pen with India ink. It certainly was an added bonus that once color was introduced into the class – gouache works very well in these ruling pens. It wasn’t long before adventurous students were making great pieces using these pens.

Use is simple: For Ink, use the eyedropper that is in the cap of India ink and place a drop between the adjusted prongs. If you use a ruler – make sure it is raised above the paper with either a cork bottom or tape pennies to the bottom. Otherwise, the ink will capillary splotch under the ruler.

For gouache: I mix the gouache color and water it down to the consistency of light cream (I am revealing my scenic theater background) and use the brush to load up the pen.

Traditionally, the pen is drawn with the pen tips top and bottom drawing from right to left. In a later post – I will talk about the other ways people are using these ruling pens for different effects; effects the engineers might have never thought of.