Meditation on Quill Pens

I just found this great piece  over at the Shrine of the Holy Whapping. Here’s an excerpt (but, really, go read the whole thing):

I’m in a drawing class right now where we’re copying the techniques of the old masters—sanguine pencil, quills, ink-and-wash. Perhaps there’s a certain magisterial nostalgia at work here, tapping into the methods that made men like Bernini and Borromini so great, but it’s more than that. The quill, this thing that was walking around on a goose a few months ago, is actually pretty easy to use once you slice off the tip and fall into the regular rhythm of dipping and scrawling, tiny mucilagenous pools forming unexpected and delightfully serendipitous shadows at the edges of your sketch. Or you turn it sideways and the line goes down to a milimeter with absentminded, scratchy ease.

Three pens in one, thick, thin, thinner, and perhaps in the end a lot nicer than all the fancy rapidographs and micron pens you can get at the store. At least for some jobs. It could get to be a pain after a while, but like the tiniest of scalpels, it’s good for those small, quick, delicate jobs. We look to the past not because of a mere love of ancient things, but because they knew what they were doing.

Perhaps we’re not willing to give them credit. As with quills, so with a million other things, including old stories, old books, old tradition, or old philosophy. We invent superstitions like those nebulous Dark Ages to discredit Aquinas and Augustine or pretend the ancient Egyptians were too stupid to build pyramids on their own without construction foremen from Planet X. The ingenuity of the human mind is so easily forgotten in the days of push-button publishing. Perhaps things are too easy. The past is safely cordoned off, behind glass, to be studied in a safe and sterile laboratory. Medieval man lived face-down in the mud, and the cathedrals and castles came out of nowhere. C.S. Lewis speaks of the incredulity modern folk have when asked to read an old text—Piers Plowman, perhaps, or Bo�thius. What does that have to do with me? Don’t we have historians to deal with that? And so we continue to repeat past mistakes, in higher and more extravagant pitches.

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