REVIEW: Ballpoint Art

Front cover of the book Ballpoint Art

I'm interested in any art and design books, I'm not fussy, but what I really enjoy is an art and design book that can surprise me, and what is more surprising than an inspiring book dedicated to art made by the humble ballpoint pen.

From just looking at the front cover (art by Thomas Müller) you would expect to find impressive content inside – and I haven't been disappointed. The book begins with 'A Condensed History of Ballpoint Art', which I thoroughly enjoyed, it’s not too long but has just enough detail for me to absorb and keep it interesting, (the ballpoint was first patented in 1888 for marking leather, but developed fifty years later when Hungarian Journalist, László Bíró, put fast drying newspaper ink into a pen with a sphere at the nib). We are also introduced to some of the first artists to adopt the biro as a medium for some of their work.

Internal image taken from Ballpoint Art showing Still Life With Sea Shells by Joo Lee Kang

Still Life With Shells by Joo Lee Kang

The rest of the book explores the work of thirty artists from around the world, who either use the ballpoint pen in their work, or have used it for specific artworks at some point. The artists are divided in to two chapters, 'Spaces and Structures' which focuses heavily on patterns and the abstract, and 'Creatures and Characters' which sees ballpoint pens used more figuratively.

Internal image taken from Ballpoint Art showing untitled piece by Lori Ellison

Untitled by Lori Ellison

We are given the name, date of birth and birthplace of each artist, and a brief summary which includes information such as personal history and background, the artist's thoughts on their work and on using the ballpoint pen as an art medium. The text is accompanied by two to six pages of images by each artist. I think the work that caught my attention the most revolved around content that I found familiar; we've all used ballpoint pens for doodling so I was drawn to repetitive marks and patterns and characters, as I felt most connected to the medium used in this way. I adored the mesh-like gradients of Il Lee and the detailed organic patterns created by Lori Ellison. Bill Adams was another artist that caught my eye, as his fuzzy creatures make me think of broken, abandoned, fraggles with attitude.

Internal image taken from Ballpoint Art showing Johnson Wax Factory Screen by Rebecca E. Chamberlain

Johnson Wax Factory Screen by Rebecca E. Chamberlain

Then there are the works which I thought had wonderful ideas behind them and pushed the boundaries of the medium, such as those pieces by Jan Fabre who we see covering buildings, baths and woodwork in the recognisable blue hue. I was also fascinated by Rebecca.E. Chamberlain's cool office interiors, capturing a still half light, and Thomas Müller's glass inspired undulating and twisting structures.

Internal image taken from Ballpoint Art showing an untitled piece by Thomas Müller

Untitled by Thomas Müller

It appears that many of the artists were drawn to the ballpoint pen as a medium because it is cheap. They are also drawn to it because it is it so simple and they are already familiar with it (which makes it all the more satisfying to create something spectacular with). Other reasons included the recognisable colour of the ink, the sticky texture, the sheen, it's layerability, and the fact that it can't be erased. After being so inspired by the images it is tempting to see what ballpoint pens I can find lying around myself, but another shared opinion is how difficult it is to use, so as simple as it first appears, the humble ballpoint is actually quite a challenge to master.

The book is well written, it is intelligent and flows fluidly so it doesn't feel like all the artists have been asked the same questions. There is a lovely variety of work included, whether it be expressive scribbles, precise lines or fine figurative drawings. I think it is a wonderful book which I have found quite mesmerising, it can inspire you when you need to think a little more outside the box or when you are considering spending a fortune on art supplies, as it makes you pause and reminds you that you can get creative with just about anything that makes a mark.


Ballpoint Art by Trent Morse
Published by Laurence King Publishing

RRP: £17.95

ISBN-10: 1780678525
ISBN-13: 978-1780678528

All images copyright of Laurence King Publishing