Jim Woodring's giant dip pen project

Boing Boing fave cartoonist/fine artist Jim Woodring wants to make a massive giant steel dip pen and penholder. If you're not familiar with Jim's work, I highly recommend The Book of Jim, Seeing Things, and his latest, Weathercraft. I have an original drawing by Jim hanging in my office and just one glance triggers an instantaneous dream state. The idea of him wielding a massive dip pen is delightful and strange, just like his art. Please help Jim raise the funds to make the instrument. From ProjectSite:
 2005-Mar Current Images Jw Jimwoodring 3 The dip pen is a bit of fetish item for me (as it is for many pen users). The pen is extremely difficult to master but ultimately allows for an extraordinary degree of expression. The well-constructed pen and ink drawing is a monument to perseverance, requiring tremendous patience and control. I am thrilled by the challenge of creating such drawings in public and introducing new audiences to the allure of the medium. The pen (nib) itself will be approximately 16 inches long, made of steel and fully functional. The holder will be six feet long and made of wood with a metal sleeve insert to hold the pen. Nib and holder will resemble as closely as possible the actual implements on which they are based.

Once the pen and penholder are built I will train myself to ink with it; and once I've done that, I will arrange at least two public performances in which I will use the pen to ink large graphite drawings on 3' x 5' sheets of bristol.

Jim Woodring's "Giant Steel Dip Pen and Penholder for Demonstration and Display" (Thanks, Bruce Stewart!)


  1. Wouldn’t the surface tension of the ink just cause it all to run right out of the pen? I’d imagine that the amount that actually sticks to the tip wouldn’t be much different than a regular sized pen.

    1. To overcome poor surface tension vs. scale of the pen tip, he should use a magnetic material for the tip, and a ferrofluid for the ink..

  2. I second Unmutual.

    Isn’t the whole reason these pens work the surface tension of the ink? Seems unlikely unless you have extremely thick ink.

    Unless it’s just designed as a massive pen with a tiny standard sized tip on the very large tip.

  3. I don’t think his large pen will work.
    My experience with nibs is that the surface tension that facilitates the movement of the water-based ink will only work at small scales.

    1. No offense to the physics pendants who commented on this story, but who took a shit in your happy mutant breakfast cereal this morning?

      Yes, if you’ve ever used a nib then you know how the ink works. There are plenty of ways to solve this issue. Baring alterations to the materials or ink themselves, the inside of the giant nib could be modified to hold and dispense the ink or a smaller nib fitted to the forefront of the large nib. Easy to use? No. Practical? No. But Impossible? No.

      Even without watching the video, Jim states that the pen is ‘fully functional’ which I would assume means that he has worked it out on some level.

      Jim’s an incredible artist, and rather than stagnate he’s trying something new. Coming up with new and interesting ideas all the while being true to yourself is a difficult task… unfortunately pointing out the obvious (of which the artist in question is already well aware) is painfully easy.

  4. I third the first two posts. For the giant dip pen to work as giant pen (making giant, scaled up lines) it will need the physics of the ink scaled up, too. Otherwise it will essentially just be a giant handle for a regular dip pen, drawing regular lines. But, it may be possible to just make the ink very viscous. I’ll be interested to hear how it turns out.

  5. I’m fairly sure normal dip pen inks (which are typically thickened with gum arabic to increase viscosity and thus the amount held by the nib) would be disappointing in this nib. Perhaps a syrupy ink, like screen-printing ink, would do better? Gum arabic is pretty easy to find, too, so a custom mix is always a possibility. There are definitely ways to make this work, and I’m curious to see the end results.

  6. I agree–the surface tension of the ink doesn’t work the same way at that scale. Same reason a water-strider can walk on the surface of a pond and you can’t. And thick ink, unless it’s just right, will be clumpy and unwieldy. This is exactly why big paintbrushes were invented. Not to mention how hard it will be to flex the nib!

    On the other hand, if anyone can pull this off and prove us all wrong, Jim Woodring can.

  7. Agreed. It just needs a sufficiently viscous ink. That one in the pic would probably do fine with printers ink, if not something thinner.

    Just remember foolks, don’t put dip-pen ink in yer fountain pens. RIP Frank Dubiel (wish I still had my copy of Da Book).

  8. I don’t know if anyone watched the entire video, but he mentions the surface tension problem himself

  9. I forsee DISASTER.

    In attempting to even
    a) BEND the nib and
    b) get the tarry ink to flow

    Jim will fatally impale himself on the pen, proving the old adage once and for all re: swords v. writing instruments.

  10. Definitely a fluid mechanics fail. Even if you “buckingham-pi” the viscosity up to scale, you still have the problem that the porosity of the paper will be unchanged. The globs of ink will sit on the page like chocolate mouse on a hardwood floor.

  11. yeah he mentions it, and then says there will be some kind of mechanism to replicate the effect . . . whatever that means. Seems like a high tech solution to pay tribute to such a low tech device. . .

  12. Utter fluid mechanics fail.
    Even if you do “buckingham-pi” the surface tension up to scale. There’s the porosity of the writing surface to deal with as well. The interplay between vicosity (a length-cubed property) and surface tension (a length-linear property) will probably mean the ink would sit up on the paper like chocolate mousse on a hardwood floor.
    You know what this is useful for? As a PhD candidancy exam question in mechanical engineering.

    1. whoops. I screwed that up. I meant “The interplay between density (a length-cubed property) and viscosity (a length-linear…). But I think the intuition is correct.

  13. Jim already KNOWS the physics involved concerning the scale and fluid issue you are all bringing up. If you had watched his video, you’d know that! I think he’s probably got a pretty good head on his shoulders about it and am down to pitch in and see what he makes of it!

  14. he should proposition a state college sculpture class to make that pen. He would at least get it done a lot cheaper.

  15. Instead of a new ink to work in a giant reservoir, I immediately thought of a reservoir made of a fractal pattern of normal-sized reservoirs, like a river delta.

  16. The question of how the ink will be made to adhere to the pen and still come flowing between the tines is still being worked out but I’m confident I can make it go. A series of stacked baffles with a delta feeder, perhaps, or using magnetic paint (the kind you can paint on a wall and then stick magnets to), with some rare earth magnets strategically placed on the nib. At any rate the figuring out will be fun. If anyone has any suggestions they’d care to share please do.

    I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that USAPS has all sorts of interesting projects on it. See for yourself: http://projectsite.unitedstatesartists.org/

    1. Or perhaps hundreds of tiny stargates, coming from a world made of ink? I think that would be more likely to work.

  17. Surface tension and other bothersome aspects of what we casually refer to as the “laws” of physics matter not to one such as Woodring. He’ll do it. It’s only a matter of time.

  18. For the doubters: the man deals with ink for a living; he understands it thoroughly. Art is all about doing stuff like this and putting engineering in the back seat for a while. Don’t misunderstand – engineering is vital, but at times the idea needs to be in the forfront and let the engineering catch up. I’ve frequently found the how-to only after seeing the finished piece in my sketchbooks.

  19. Say “hi” to Dorman for me, Jim.

    Also, as an amusing aside, the Dorman link on your Wikipedia page directs to an NYC Fire Commissioner.

  20. A ball-point pen of that scale does work.
    My son, for a 7th grade project, built a working scaled-up model of a pen, 6 times actual size, so that it ended up being about 3 feet long. The body of the pen was 3″ PVC pipe (left over from our potato cannons), the tip was cut to size from a funnel and glued into place, the roller ball was a large (about 1/2″ steel ball bearing dropped from the inside into the tip so that it was held captive but still protruded), and finally, he put a small finish nail just behind the ball bearing to keep it in place in the bottom of the tip. Black spray paint on the whole thing made it look like a pen.
    He used tap water with food coloring as ink and he could write pretty well with it – at least as legible as his ‘normal’ writing – the key was to have just the right amount of pressure on the ball for it to roll freely. It would drip a little (about one drop per every three or four seconds), but I imagine that wouldn’t happen with a more viscous fluid.

    Total cost: Two dollars (all items except the funnel were garage scavenged).

  21. The giant pen won’t happen unless we all donate to Mr. Woodring’s project. He still needs a little over $2000 to make it happen so tell your friends and let’s fireball this across the interwebz http://bit.ly/aUIjYQ

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