Saturday, January 7, 2006

PERRY No.366

this is about nibs. I am not sure if most of you probably
younger readers know what I am talking about. they are
made out of steel, very sharp and pretty small. you dip
the sharp end in ink and in case you have a good day, you
can do some damn good sketches with them. some of my
favourite artists like ronald searle, ralph steadman,
sullivant, heinrich kley and a lot more used
them. they call the result - a PEN AND INK DRAWING.

since I started my studies I got kind of hooked on
these little things. with the right chinese ink you
could create some really interesting drawings, with
splatters all over the sheet - what gave it a real
expensive art look. the good steel nibs were hard to
find. the cheaper brass or tin ones broke very
fast, and the drawings did not look good either.
at least that's what I was convinced of.

in 1985 me and my wife spent our first christmas vacation
in MADEIRA, a beautyful portugiese island in the southern
atlantic ocean. we had enough of the cold german winter,
and madeira was like early summer. anyway
it was a shocking experience as well, to be confronted
with so much poverty, hopefully that has changed in
the last 20 years.
in funchal, the capital of the island, there was the
only major store, like we had seen them in germany
in the early fifties. it was a store, not very big,
that sold everything, and in one corner I saw a
glass case with some boxes of nibs, they looked like
a 100 years old, together with some english parker ink.
I was hynotized.

finally I asked one of the sales ladies how much
the nibs were. she misunderstood and told me after
a long search the price for a single nib. I forgot,
but it was about 2, 3 cents. my god, I could not
believe my luck. I said to her, I buy all 4 boxes.
maybe about 800 nibs. she just stared at me. like
we might stare at an alien. after a while she said
she could not sell them all. why? well,someone else
might need some. I was really surprised. I had not
heard something so human in a while. I tried to
convince her - but they are in that glass-case for
a 100 years and you did not sell too many of them,
at least you don't have to worry about future sales.
she had to ask her boss. to make it short, I bought
them all. took me 2 hours. but it was worth it.
and I bought some of the very old ink bottles as well.
there were 2 or 3 where the ink was a solid block in
the beautyful glass. they did not want to sell those -
why? told them, I love the bottles. - but the ink is dry!
I don't care, just want the bottles -it went on and on.
had to come back. and I got the bottles as well. still
have all that stuff. today - after 20 years. and use it.
gave a lot of the nibs away to friends.
but I keep most of them as a treasure.

now the 2.part of the story continues in london
in 1987, when I worked there on ROGER RABBIT. by pure
accident I found this tiny shop near covent garden in
a side street. it had tons of nibs in its window display,
as you can see in thepicture. very nice decorated.
nibs hundreds of years old, made from porcellane,nibs in
all sizes and materials. the shop owner looked more like
a doctor in his white coat, he must have been about 70 years
old. and he loved what he had in his shop. boxes and drawers
full with nibs and inkbottles. I just stared speechless.
after a while we started to talk, and he showed me some
very special nibs. most of his clients were some of the
most famous drawing artists from all over the world, like
ronald searle, ralph steadman and gerald scarfe.
of course he showed me ronald searle's favourite nibs.
and I bought 10 of them, hoping that my drawings might
improve now. and he explained some of the most precious
porcellane pieces and how they were used. it was like
being in ali baba's treasure cave, with the genie showing
me around. the nibs I bought were way more expensive than
the madeira ones. but they had a magic spell, at least
I hoped they had.
a few years later I tried to find this magic toy shop again.
but it was gone.I wonder what happened to the
genie and his treasures.

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