In this post I would like to share an experimental approach for training to draw straight lines. [Edit 19/06/2020: To avoid any misunderstandings, please note that the use of this assembly (wheels on pencil) can be seen as a part of warming up exercises and the idea is purely experimental. Please do not expect a discussion on ruler vs wheel assembly vs freehand drawing. If you have a curious and an open mind and prefer lengthy/detailed blog posts, then this post is for you. If not please stick to using a ruler or please look elsewhere for help. Thank you for your understanding.]

In my previous post on drawing straight lines, I compiled a list of useful advice from various artists on youtube. I began with a rather ambitious plan of drawing 1000 straight lines a day, which unfortunately I was unable to do so. I was busy with making paints and learning to paint in watercolours. It sort of took over. I am comfortable drawing long straight lines exceeding 15 cm horizontally and diagonally, and short vertical/perpendicular lines (10 cm in length) freehand. However, I struggle with drawing vertical long lines (exceeding 10 cm, target is at least 20 cm) freehand without the use of a straight edge. I also want a way of keeping myself motivated and making the warmup line drawing exercises fun.

Today, I returned to practising drawing straight lines, and I came across a youtube video advertising a pen which has wheels on it, to assist drawing straight lines and circles. There were a few shortcomings with this Straight pen by Lainova/ Jetraider first, the wheels are a permanent fixture with the pen, so it’s fine as long as one wants to draw using a ball point, and secondly, it’s not available in the EU. The reviews on this pen were mostly positive but some of the reviewers pointed out that drawing long straight lines were not easy. However, this pen inspired me to experiment and I am very excited to share my idea and experience so far.

First, I would like to clarify that I do not have any intention of copying the patented Jetraider Straight Pen, this DIY setup is inspired by it and shared here for educational and training purposes. This set up also differs from the commercial “Straight pen”: 1. the wheels are larger, 2. The angle between the wheels and the writing instrument is different, 3. The wheel attachment is not a permanent fixture of the pen/pencil, technically any writing instrument can be placed using some putty rubber or bluetac. 4. Unlike the commercial straight pen, this attachment can’t be used to create circles or circular shapes.

Using parts from Lego Mindstorm/Technik, including the wheels (or in one case I used the gear cogs) I created a simple cradle/attachment shown in Figure 1. I made two different attachment with different wheel diameters.

I attached Faber Castell 2B and 6B clutch pencils in the Lego attachments using some putty adhesive (Figure 2). The advantage of using the putty adhesive is that the pencils are only temporarily fixed to the wheel attachment, and should I wish I can use a variety of mark-making instruments such as fountain pens, technical pens, graphite pencils, charcoal pencils. I will experiment with my synthetic e-sumi brushes in the future.

Figure 1: Wheel attachment for writing instruments made using Lego parts. Please note that the apparent patterns is a result of drawing lines over an uneven surface rather than the marks made by the wheel.
Figure 2: Faber Castell Clutch pencils 2B and 6B attached to the wheel assembly. Please note that the apparent patterns is a result of drawing lines over an uneven surface rather than the marks made by the wheel.

Straight lines in different angles can be drawn with little effort. The wheel attachment with the larger wheels is more comfortable and I was able to draw long straight lines.

Figure 3: Vertical straight lines drawn with 6B clutch pencil on wheels. A4 printer paper 160gsm

Figure 4: Lines drawn mostly with “pencils on wheels” in various directions. Printer paper 90 gsm.

After a few pages of drawing straight lines with these wheel attachments, I now feel that Drawing is like cycling on paper. I view the “wheel attachment” like stabiliser wheels when learning to ride a bicycle. With some practise with my “pencils on wheels” I have felt an improvement with drawing long (over 10 cm) vertical straight lines (this is what I struggled with most). I can feel a change in how I use my shoulder and arm when drawing straight lines freehand (without any rulers or wheels).

This is also great for shading, and my hand and arm doesn’t hurt as much. I used 160 gsm printer paper to practise. Of course, this is great for doing rough studies, as the wheels would I think abrade the paper. But I think it has some great potential for outdoor sketching and conceptual drawings perhaps.

I will try and share a weekly update on this experiment and if/how these “pencils/pens on wheels” improve my ability to draw long lines in various directions.