Jim Woodring's giant steel dip pen project is fully funded

Great news! Jim Woodring has raised the funds required to build and demonstrate a giant dip pen (David wrote about it in July).
201009061232 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.

The money raised will go towards the engineering and manufacture of the steel nib; the creation of the pen holder, which will be hand turned and lacquered with a cork wrapping and metal insert with spring retainer; the supplies to create the public drawings (ink, paper, graphite, eraser, and); and the creation of the drawing table itself.

Don't miss the video where Jim describes the project.


  1. Controlling a 16-inch pen requires a lot of skill and practice. However, the results can be extremely satisfying for all involved…

  2. Check out some giant fountain pens here:


    Owning a “super dreadnought”-class pen sounds empowering somehow! I guess Woodring’s pen would be a “Deathstar”-class fully-armed and operational monster.

  3. I haven’t seen the video yet. I wonder how large this could scale before the surface tension of the ink-on-steel prevents proper ink flow?

  4. I really don’t think ordinary ink would work in the giant pen. You would need to add a thickening agent of some sort, so that the ink would be more like a gel. The chemistry of the ink will be just as important as the design of the pen itself.

  5. I am a scientist/artist. I’m constantly sticking my foot in my mouth when I post comments on Boing Boing. I’ve read the comment’s on Davids original post, I’ve watched the video, I’ve looked at the schematics…

    This thing can’t possibly work? Seriously? Surface tension doesn’t scale. Others have said it and I’ll say it it again, there is no way “ink” will flow down the nib on that scale. I think by Woodring’s mention of “acrylic ink” he’s referring to a high quality latex paint. But I’m still skeptical. I love dip pens, but I’m afraid that this demonstration will better prove how difficult they are rather than the artistic usefulness.

  6. besides, how are you going to maneuver the piece of blotter paper and blotter block large enough to do the all important last step?

  7. I don’t think it will work. I’ve worked with steel nibbed pens for forty years, and I used to work in exhibits, which meant I made a lot of over-sized replicas of things, many functional.

    Besides surface tension in the reservoir – which is actually solvable – the real problem will be the way the two tines of the nib move apart to allow the ink to flow in a normal pen. This is also a function of surface tension, but more importantly of the deflection and return of the tines under pressure. A normal nib pen, resting on the paper, sitting in the artists’ hand, is not heavy enough to press the tines apart. The pressure needed is what makes ink pens so incredibly subtle. But a large scale pen, exceeding the size manipulable in a hand would require constant lifting to prevent the weight of the pen from forcing apart the tines, and dumping the ink.

    The reservoir problem could probably be solved with thousands of reservoirs in a structure that would allow them to flow to the nib, but that flow is ultimately controlled by the pressure on the nib.

    The odd thing is that these qualities – particularly the way the pen so effortlessly expresses the most subtle movement of the hand (angle and roll are also key, and they won’t work either) is exactly what makes pen drawings beautiful. Missing these will make for a five minute YouTube diversion, not much more, I expect.

  8. This project is all an elaborate setup to give the artist an excuse to register the URL for the accompanying streaming-video site, “Jim Woodring’s 16-inch Pen is Live.”


  9. I appreciate all the thought and concern people have put into whether this will work. I’m not a total idiot. I know that the pen will require special modifications to work at this scale, and I’ve done enough experimenting to believe it can be done.

    Nobody would go so far as to say making this pen work is impossible, I’m sure. The question is whether I can do it. The answer: stick around.

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