Penwork, my nemesis- Zen doodles

Overglaze penwork is not a new technique for me but  I feel I need to improve. Whenever I think of penwork I feel a slight uneasiness set in. So many overglaze painters love penwork and find it relaxing, so this week I’m trying to do penwork every day to see if I can change my feelings toward it and find out why it causes me problems.

Firstly I gave some thought as to what I feel is wrong with my penmanship, it is the quality of the line I’m unhappy with.  When I paint with sugar syrup I often draw with a twig as I like the quality of the resulting line, it’s broken and unpredictable. This isn’t what you want to achieve with penwork and got me thinking about an exercise I did years ago for City and Guilds; to find and draw as many different ‘lines’ as possible, like  twisted wire , bouclé wool, a twig. Drawing each item as a ‘line’ impressed upon me that the character of line can be infinite. But with penwork I’m looking for a precise line, smooth, even, and unblemished, that is what I hope to improve upon. This is not my usual way of working as I like to paint freely.

There was nothing for it but to dive in, I imagined what would be the most daunting subject for penwork. I decided on something George had suggested to me during the summer and do Zentangles ( which is copyrighted ), or Zen Doodles. as others call them. I  didn’t know what a Zen doodle was at the time so I did a Google and found a huge amount of images and information, which only made the task feel more daunting.

For those who don’t know about china painting, powder enamel paint is mixed with a medium and applied to the china with a mapping pen. There are many penwork mediums and methods out there but Jackie Halhead does some of the finest penwork I’ve ever seen, she uses waterbased medium and so that is my choice, also it dries and so you can go over it with oil based paints if you wish.

Kiln Fired Art

Tools for penwork

The choice of nib is obviously important, I decided to use the standard one for now but I have some finer Hunt nibs to try later. I find I am heavy handed and tend to put too much pressure on the pen, this splays out the point so I will have to try and use  lighter pressure.






Kiln Fired Art
Divide up into smaller areas

Once the plate was divided up into smaller areas it didn’t seem so daunting to fill in one area at a time. I was unhappy with the look of the lines but thought I’d persevere. I learnt that to get a consistent colour I had to stir the mix each time I loaded the nib.  I used a brush for that part of the process. Lines can be cleaned up before firing with a wooden skewer.


Kiln Fired Art

Filling in the doodles

Once I started filling in the doodles I found myself enjoying penwork I even discovered that ‘Zen’ part of the process, when you find a place in your mind that takes you out of reality into your own world. I’m sure any artist, (or doodler ) will know what I mean.



Once all the penwork was complete I realised something happened along the way, there is a point when the individual line is not so important, design and pattern take over,. All those little nuances relating to the quality of line that I dislike in my penwork no longer mattered. The perfect line was no longer important in this piece of work.

I cleaned up the edges and did some scraffito with a wooden skewer and fired the piece. Of course if I want to go over any areas I can do so, and re-fire.

penwork plate

After firing

I did another plate yesterday, I’m speeding up as it only took me a couple of hours to pen this one.

Hand painted china

Plate after firing

I shall continue my penwork endeavours this week, I’m working on mugs today and I have a couple of square plates to transform.

a work in progress

work in progress

Come back later in the week to see how I’m doing, I will be using the Hunt nibs to see if I can achieve a finer line.

I don’t think my penwork has improved yet but my attitude towards it has changed.

I’m still on a quest for the perfect fine line, maybe my style as an artist is just too loose to get there but I’ll keep trying every day this week.



I finished the mug last night and it’s in the kiln now. This morning I thought I’d try out the collection of nibs I have in my possession seeing the adjustable pen arrived from Held yesterday.

So far I have been using the Leonardt nib but I am looking for something finer. I had some Hunt nibs I bought because I heard a lot of people raving about them, I know I’m heavy handed but even with the lightest pressure I found they splayed out.

Then I had to get out the magnifying glass to find out who manufactured the other nibs, I may not have their names entirely correct but this is what I thought of them.

Joseph Guillots, this one splayed out as well.

Heini Blanker, this one was ok and gave a fine line

Feustel Qualitat, this one was ok too.

The mulit tool nib , ok.

Zebra, ok.

Conte, this was my favourite nib, of course some of the others could be worn as they have been in my stash for years but the Hunt nibs were brand new. Unfortunately they are just too soft for my liking.

I have other nibs form interior design and drawing courses, I’ll dig them out and have a try.

This exercise just shows what works for one person doesn’t work for another and why we should try things out ourselves. I’ll post the mug tomorrow, but now I have a few more pieces to doodle!


Penwork can be relaxing !!

I have realised that producing a perfect line is not so important as I thought, these are hand worked pieces,  for perfection a decal would suffice.



I’ve been playing with Held’s aniseed medium, with one of their new fine nibs, I liked them both very much , and found I could pen a finer, longer line with them

Here is their new aniseed medium, and this is the new nib


About eganj1

Obsession making arts crafts, and all things creative
This entry was posted in ceramics, china painting, hand painted, overglaze, Overglaze ceramics, penwork, zen doodles, zentangles and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Penwork, my nemesis- Zen doodles

  1. BRIQUET Francoise says:

    Dear Jill,
    I received your first mailing from your blog.
    I appreciate all your comments and description. and yes penwork can be arduous.
    I really like your mug. It is a great idea.
    Many thanks
    Francoise, Melun, France

  2. Laurel Owen (Aussie Lozie) says:

    thank you Jill, what a great lesson especialy for introducing new painters to penwork, my penwork problems are just like yours so I was with you all the way. I shall now go and do a ”
    Zen” penwork plate . Aussie lozie

  3. Jeanne Sandeno says:

    Please add me to your email list .. I enjoyed your pen work Zentangles so much.

    • eganj1 says:

      Hi Jeanne, there is a link on the right hand side of the page where you have to enter your e-mail address to be notified of any blog updates.

  4. shelby leinen says:

    Please add me to your e-mail list:

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