Hungarian newspaper editor László Bíró filed a patent for a ballpoint pen in 1938, and while there is some dispute over its invention, his name is now synonymous with this modern writing instrument. Cheap, convenient and often disposable, the biro has become ubiquitous in the Western world and is used for all manner of writing and mark making.
Artists and illustrators have embraced the humble pen, with the draughtsmanship of practitioners such as Boo Saville and Juan Francisco Casa demonstrating the amazing potential of biro art.
1. Residual Condition [Boo Saville, 2008]
Boo Saville is an artist with an evident fascination with the human body after death, producing meticulously detailed biro drawings sourced from archaeological digs, scientific textbooks and forensic photography. This drawing shows the face of Tollund Man, a mummified corpse recovered from a peat bog on the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark. Although Tollund Man died during the 4th Century, the peat bog preserved the body, and Saville masterfully portrays his apparently serene expression.
2. Shi [Boo Saville, 2008]
Saville’s biro drawings depict human remains, a subject matter that could be repellent or disturbing, but she manages to create an overwhelming sense of drama and natural beauty in these compositions.
3. Indefinate Series [Boo Saville, 2008]
Image: Whitehot Magazine
In this triptych, Saville shows a crumpled cadaver, with the pleasing confusion of textures minutely detailed. Boo Saville is the sister of figurative painter Jenny Saville, whose work is also concerned with the human body, although her subjects tend to be living.
4. Hereandnow [Juan Francisco Casas, 2008]
Juan Francisco Casa is a Spanish artist with a background in portrait painting. One day he decided to make a large-scale photorealist image using a simple blue biro. “I guess it started off as a joke, to try and make something so realistic that people would think is a photo … for me it’s not that different from painting. I was trying to show that it doesn’t matter what material you use, it’s what you do with it.”
5. Sarajevosupriseattack#1 [Juan Francisco Casas, 2008]
Image: Juan Francisco Casas
Casas bases most of his biro art on snapshot photographs of his friends enjoying nights out. His work has become increasingly ambitious, with some pictures measuring a staggering 10ft tall, meaning he gets through plenty of pens in the production of each piece.
6. Balloon Beard [Laith McGregor, 2008]
Image: Bendigo Art Gallery
Melbourne-base Laith McGregor specialises in beard-themed artworks rendered in blue biro on paper. Balloon Beard is a self-portrait of the artist with a “ridiculously huge beard. I was thinking about the beard being this prosthetic substitute for a male authenticity, with phallic connotations. It still makes me laugh.”
7. Hex [Laith McGregor, 2008]
McGregor’s portraits feature the biro beards of the historically hirsute, along with images of the artist’s family and friends.
8. Fly Futues [James Mylne, 2008]
Image: James Mylne
James Mylne uses ballpoint pens to produce exquisite compositions; his work often reflects his interests in Eastern cultures fused with graffiti and urban art motifs.
9. Polo Pony 1 [James Mylne, 2008]
In his drawings, London-based Mylne has developed a crisp realist style, as shown in this portrait of a polo pony.
10. Samurai [James Mylne, 2008]
Mylne’s biro technique realistically describes the fine details of this Japanese samurai’s armour and skin.
11. Forest Creek [Kitty Alea, 2008]
Kitty Alea’s scene conveys the forest atmosphere of trees and trickling water, all created with a biro pen.
12. The Bridges [Ian Robinson, 2007]
Image: Art Evolution
Artist Ian Robinson creates realist biro images of Newcastle’s characteristic architecture. This view shows the city’s famous bridges over the River Tyne.
13. Theatre Royal [Ian Robinson, 2007]
Image: Art Evolution
In this image, Robinson depicts Newcastle’s Theatre Royal, capturing the perspective and weight of the building’s structure.
14. Untitled [Edward Leavy, date unknown]
American artist Edward Leavy uses his biro to create an enigmatic image with a moonlit church emerging from the night sky.
15. Psycho [Allan Barbeau, 2009]
Image: Allan Barbeau
This close-up self-portrait by French artist Allan Barbeau demonstrates the possibilities of coloured ballpoint pen drawing. Biros are available with a range of different coloured inks; artists can achieve a remarkable spectrum of hues by blending these pigments.
16. Nightly Conversation [Dirk Dzimirsky, 2006]
Portraitist Dirk Dzimirsky uses skilful cross-hatching to create the tonality and form of the face in this biro drawing. Drawings such as this, and all of the above, establish the biro pen as a perfect tool for artistic creation.