April 26, 2009

This week: Torso muscles

This week we begin adding muscle to out basic shapes. This is where using these basic shapes, as opposed to the tradtional ones, really pays off. Because the NH basic shapes are based on real anatomical relationships, you can hang real anatomy on them, or use them to check anatomy that looks wonky.

I've drawn these diagrams both with the NH basic shapes and with a reasonably accurate skeleton, to show you how the muscles on a real body will match up to the muscles you'd sketch in with your basic shapes as a guide. (And I'd like people to note that I drew the "realistic" skeleton using the basic shapes shown- no tracing off a photo.)

This first week I'll focus on what is both the most important and probably the most mis-drawn and poorly understood region of the body, the torso. Understand please that I am NOT seeking to convey a complete or entirely accurate lesson in anatomy here. I'm just teaching you the biggest muscles that are visible in almost every body type. I don't have a physician's knowledge of anatomy. But using the proportionally scalable basic shapes I've shown you so far, I can now give you a guide for hanging fairly accurate anatomy on just about any body you'd care to draw, in a way that can be useful to cartoonists working representationally or very cartoony alike.

So, starting with a clean plate, heres the skeleton and our basic shapes:
The back has many layers of muscle, and I've leaving a lot out in favor of showing the most visually prominent ones that have the most effect on surface features. Closest to the bone are two powerful columns of muscle that run up either side of the spine and form the dip in the center of your back, and in some can be seen through the skin of the lower back, disappearing as they head to their root on the tailbone. Another muscle everyone has probably seen but which many mistake for fat is the lowest and largest of the external obliques, along with the internal oblique. These form a wide ridge that rides along the top of the pelvic bowl. Even very skinny people have these in some capacity, and any torso drawn without them looks wonky in a way that's often hard to put one's finger on if they don't know what's missing. The external obliques wrap around your sides and eventually meet up with your abdominal muscles on the other side. Unless you're drawing someone VERY ripped you don't need to concern yourself much with them. In someone like me they seem to form a uniform sleeve of muscle around the sides of my torso.
Covering most of the back is the largest and probably most visually important muscle of the entire back, the latissimus dorsi. If you've ever seen a body builder, it's the muscle that makes them look like they have webbed arms and gives them their triangle shape. It's insertion into your humerus forms the back of your armpit. You can draw it easily by drawing two lines swooping up from the middle of the pelvic ridges and then wrapping tightly across the ribs (so much so that on many people, myself included, the ribs can be seen through the muscle) and then reaching out to connect high on the humerus. The top edge should be placed so that is actually covers the bottoms of the shoulder blades. Look closely and you'll see that the latissimus dorsi actually twists as it inserts into the humerus. This gives it a little extra leverage for the many motions is performs or helps perform.

Note the HUGE diamond-shaped sheath of connective tissue over much of the muscle that connects it to the pelvis. To draw this feature, simply draw two curves starting from halfway in between the pelvis and ribs up to the top of the latissimus. You'll need this feature if you're going to be drawing back muscles in any detail, as this feature if prominent in surface anatomy.

Next comes the trapezius muscle and the back two lobes of the deltoids, which shape your neck and shoulders in the back almost entirely. You can see how when you add these the skeleton stops looking like a skeleton and more like a body with the flesh stripped off the limbs. These both look complex, but they're both stupidly easy to draw with the basic shapes.

For the trapezius, start with a did in the center of the back right where the dip of the ribs meets the spine. Draw two straight lines from there up to the top inside corners of the shoulder blades. Now the muscle spreads out and covers the entire top edge of the shoulder blades, and part of it curls forward to tug on the outside third of the collar bone, which you can't see. From the shoulders it sweeps up to the bottom of the back of the head, forming the entire back surface of your neck. It's a lot like a cowl that's been trimmed.

To draw the back part of the deltoid, take the bottom of the top side of the shoulder blade, and from one end draw the muscle going out over the shoulder joint and down the humerus, inserting a little over half way down, and from the other side draw a diagonal curve to meet it. No matter how much muscle you have, the collar bone and the top edge of the shoulder blade will always be near the skin, and if you flex those muscles or if you raise your arms the muscles form a valley as they swell up around the bones.
Here's how many of these muscles may look as seen through the skin, depending on many factors sch as fitness and weight. On some people you can see the top edge of the latissimus dorsi as it crosses the shoulder blades, and on some people there may even me a little muffin-top swelling of shoulder muscle squeezing out over it. The diamond of the trapezius is often visible. The place where the fascia sheath of the latissimus begins may form two swooping edges that may be mistaken for the bottom of the ribs, or if you've very skinny they may in fact be the bottoms of the ribs. You can also see where latissimus reaches under the arm to form the back of the armpit and gives shape to the back. You can see the erector spinae as they form two distinctive columns of muscle. You can also see the two dimples where part of the pelvic ridge meets the skin. And you can see where the external oblique muscles (which is also often capped with some fat) forms the wide and thin parts of the waist. In a pinup girl, the thin point on top of the muscle would be the center of her hourglass figure.
Here's those muscles all labeled out and exposed so you can compare with above.
Now we move on to the front. Again, starting with the skeleton/basic shapes:
The important , visually dominant muscles of the front aren't terribly complex and are very easy to draw.

To start, think of the collar bone as divided into thirds. Lots of different muscles pull on the collar bone and this will let you sort them out. On the back inside third of the collar bones you have the sternocleidomastoid (1) muscles, which reach up from there to just below your ears on your skull. They're probably the most prominent feature of any human neck and BOY does it look strange when they're drawn wrong, as they so often are. Don't just throw lines on the neck every which way- if you don't know where a line is coming from and going to, learn it or don't use it. The outside back third of the collarbone is pulled on by the trapezius (2), which reaches over your shoulder to get to it.

The front outside third of the collar bone is pulled on by the front of the deltoid muscle, which you draw, of course, by having it go meet up with the others on the humerus.

The last muscle pulling on the collar bone is the pectoral (4), and this is where it gets cool: The top part of the pectoral pulls on the center and middle thirds of the front of the collar bone. From there, it goes down the ribcage to just above the top of the arch in the front of your ribcage. Then it turns around again and attaches to the ribs about as far out as it went before. That was all lust one end of the muscle- then the muscle tapers to a point and attaches to the humerus. As you can see, just like the latissimus dorsi it twists before it inserts, and in very ripped people this twist is so prominent it looks painful. The insertion of the pectoral into the humerus forms the front of your armpit. Now we have a complete armpit!

It's sort of misleading when people refer to abs because what they usually mean is actually one huge, long muscle that's squished into eight bulgy segments by connective tissue. It starts right at the base of the ribcage and it goes all the way down th the pubic ridge of the pelvis. Drawing two straight lines down is enough to draw most people's, but just so people don't start gong all Rob Liefeld and giving their characters 20 or 30 abdominal bulges, there are EIGHT in total, two long ones below the belly button and six above. If you draw a character with 12 because "He's an alien, man", I will beat you about the face and neck with a lead-filled shillelagh. The external obliques (remember them?) all attach the the sides of the rectus abdominus muscle with connective tissue.

Just under the pectorals and actually interweaving with the external obliques are the serratus anterior muscles, with spread like fingers out the backs of the shoulder blades and wrap around your side under the arm. In very well developed people they are visible. I actually don't know much about drawing them, but if you have to draw them in detail you REALLY should look them up and find out how they actually are. I'm just warning you, they're there.
Here's the muscles of the front with the basic shapes visible. You hang stuff off them jst like you would bone. Great for working out a pose or checking one that seems wonky.
And here's how those features will often look with skin over them:
These main muscles will look pretty similar in just about any figure. To prove it, here's the Hulk:

The erector spinae and the bottom of the latissimus are both protruding in his lower back, and you can follow the line of the latissimus right up under his arm. His trapezius is active, forming two mountain ranges up both sides of his upper spine and up to his neck. You can see the deep valleys formed by the tops of his shoulder blades where, even on him, the bone comes to the surface. And you can see the external obliques over his pelvis on either side.
From this angle we can see latissimus forming the back of Hulk's left armpit. Trapezius and deltoids are both clear and bulging, and the lower external oblique can be seen peeking out of the shadow under the wing of latissimus.
From the front the twist of the pectoral as it inserts is clear as day, and looking at the front edge of his collar bone you can see that it really is divided into thirds and shared by deltoid and pectoralis. On the back of the collar bone you can see trapezius reaching forward to pull on the outer third.

Make your figures as skinny or ripped as you like, as realistic or cartoony as you like, the muscles will still be in the same relative places.

Next week: The arms.
Just lettin y'all know, this one's gonna be a Sunday post. I had some errands today that left me more behind than I thought they would.

April 18, 2009

Comic Tools readers assemble!

Comic Tools reader Anton sent me this email (edited slightly) :

"Hi Matt,
I've got a question that I thought I might throw out to you and perhaps the good readers of the blog: I've got the Ackerman Pump Pen, but I find that after about an hour the flow starts getting erratic, and it needs to be rinsed - which is a messy affair. I really love the smoothness and fast action of the fountain pen for sketching. I'm considering getting a Pilot Namiki Falcon with a Binder/Mottishaw modified nib for more flex (in Fine I think). I've done a bit of research, and this seems like the best option for an affordable modern fountain pen. Apparently you still don't get the full flex you do of vintage FP's or dip pens, but I want an easy pen to chuck in the pocket - no fuss.
Have you or any of the readers had experience with this pen? "

I've never heard of or used the thing, and as much as I'd love to buy one and tell him what I think of it myself, money's tight and they retail for over a hundred bucks, so that's not an option. Anybody ever used one of these? Here's a photo of the thing:

This week: Basic Bones.

Like many young artists I know, my life drawing doesn't have much bearing on my ability to draw figures in comics.

I went to art school, SVA to be specific, and while I was there I not only took classes but also drew the figure from life in my spare time rather a lot. I went to free sessions in one of the droms, sometimes audited classes, and drew people I saw out and about. And though I'm no Rembrandt, I was notably good at it. I know how to observe something and put what I see to paper. But I never learned anything from life drawing, and when I'd draw comics I'd find that being able to see what I wanted to draw was a crutch, and without it I wasn't very good at all.

I've always been a little baffled my the disconnect from my ability to observe the figure and my inability to generate it from whole cloth in my head. Of course, as I said last week, I recently had an epiphany about this. I realized that the way I'd been taught anatomy was rather like someone saying to you "Here's how to draw the earth in great detail: First, draw a circle. Now, look at the earth until you can draw all the stuff inside the circle from memory."

I reject this method as old and busted, and have proposed my own New and Hot method.

My goal here is not to teach absolutely correct anatomy. I'm not even qualified to do so- I can't tell you from memory how many ribs you have, and I often have to look real quick to remind myself of exactly where many leg and arm muscles insert. But most cartoonists don't need totally correct anatomical knowledge. Most people I know struggling through their figure drawing, myself included, just want a guide to getting the basics right every once and awhile when we're drawing someone muscular or drawing an unusual pose, and we have deadlines and we're ignorant and we can't afford the time to go and do hours and hours of research just to learn how to draw one pose in one panel in a comic we're drawing. We have jobs, we have schedules, and we need fast mental tools to help us make our art better and faster. Furthermore, as cartoonists, we often draw figures that don't quite match correct human anatomy. But that doesn't mean we wouldn't like to be able to connect everything up correctly, if for no other reason than it looks better and makes us have to re-draw a pose less to make it look right.

The anatomy lessons I'm giving here are not totally correct, but they're scalable, easy to remember, and produce results that will allow you to draw and reposition bone and muscle easily. Quick and dirty, just what the cartoonist needs.

So, this is where we left off last week:
If you don't remember how we got here, please go back and re-read the entry before going on. These lessons are cumulative. You'll notice that on the right I have a figure that is clearly out of proportion. I'm using it to illustrate my point that these mental tools will work for any character of any degree of distortion- you don't need to be drawing photo-realistically to be using this to understand your character's internal structure better.

So, we have our basic shapes, a ball indicating the round mass of the top of the skull, a rounded cone for the ribcage, a hoop pulled out so it touches the front and back of the cone and whose ends extend beyond the sides, and a pelvic bowl.

We'll draw the pelvis first.

In the last lesson I said the pelvic bown should always be a little wider than the widest part of the ribcage. It is true that in some men, especially men with wide torsos and narrow hips, the measurement is actually a tad narrower. And in many men it's equal to the width of the ribs. In woman, they're rather noticably wider. But everyone's hips are different. You should play around and see what works best for your characters. But generally, the pelvis should be slightly wider than the ribs.

Start by drawing a notch about a third of the way down the pelvic bowl, representing where the spine would meet the sacrum, or the spiny-looking part of the pelvis that the tail bone comes off of. Now draw two arches from the sides of that notch to the sides of that bowl. You've just drawn the iliac crests, which form the ridges of your waist. Draw two small little loops below the hip dots, having them come down as low as the bottom of the bowl. You've just drawn the ischums, which in addition to making the pelvis look instantly pelvis-like, are also the key to drawing the muscles later on. Now draw the dots for the greater trochanters- the bendy part of your femur that you probably think of as your hip joint, even though your hip joint is far deeper. Draw the dots lower than the sockets but not lower than the little loops. Connect them to the sockets with a line, and draw a line that slants inward for the femur.
Voila! Pelvis.

Nw on to the shoulder blades. Shoulder blades seem soooo daunting, but they're not at all. They follow very simple rules about where they're placed. All you need to do is find where the bottom point should go when they're at rest. Draw two dots just slightly above halfway up the ribcage. The dots should be half way between the spine and the edge of the ribcage wherever you place them.

Now draw a curve going up from those dots up to the shoulder joint dot. Now draw a straight line from the dots on the ribcage to the joint dots, and draw a line that curves out a little as it goes up from the dots on the ribcage to the top edge of the hoop. (It's important to use the top of the hoop- the bottom indicates where the collar bones should go.)

At this stage you can also go ahead and mark off where your elbows will go- remember, at rest, they should always come between the ribcage and the pelvis.
Now you have your arms! The shoulder blades move as your arms move, but the tops of the blades stay stuck on the hoop. If you lift your arms way up, the hoop bends and the bottoms of the blades stick out sideways, but the tops are still on the hoop, as are the collar bones. The collar bones and the tops of the shoulders are like a yolk that sits atop the rib cage. It may bend, but it keeps it's essential structure. The hoop can never come unstuck from the front and back of the ribs, and neither can the centers of the shoulder blades or collar bones.
Now let's draw the ribcage. Measure the cone into 4ths and draw an arch 1/4th of the way up. This is where the ribs arch up to in the back. This is a very important point for drawing muscles in the back.
Now draw an arch at about 1/3rd the way up (between a half and a quarter) and draw a hole going from the top of the cone to about 1/4th of the way down. This is the ribcage from the front. From the bottom of the hole to the top of the arch is the sternum.

Draw two slightly bowed lines from the top of the sternum (bottom of the neck hole) to on top of the shoulder joints- that's where the collar bones go. They actually connect at the top of the ribcage, so it's important to get that point right, especially when you want to draw the pectoral muscles and the front of the deltoid, both of which connect to them.
You now have all the important structure needed to hang all the muscles of the front and back torso, neck, arms and thighs.

Next week, part one of New Hotness muscles.

April 13, 2009

MK reminded me about another blog I'd meant to link to here but had forgotten about, Austin English's 20 Questions With Cartoonists.

April 12, 2009

Comic Tools reader Coop has a Frankenstein's monster art project thingie that he wanted other Comic Tools readers to get in on, so I'm passing it on: http://apatchworkofflesh.blogspot.com/

Oh, and folks who've been into the archives or who read Comic Tools back when MK was doing it might remember that this used to be an all-interviews blog, asking various artists what tools they use to make their comics. Bill Turner missed that so much he made his own blog called The Tools Artists Use. Here's the description from his blog:

A couple of years ago I came across the site Comic Tools where the weblog author would ask various comic artists about what kind of tools they used to create their artwork and comics. I found this fascinating, being a bit of a pen and notebook nerd myself, and was disappointed when the interviews of artists stopped.

Fast forward to December of 2008 and I picked up the book An Illustrated Life where the same types of questions were being asked of artists of all kinds. Although almost all the art in the book was focused on the notebooks of the artists featured, it showed me how many ways an artist can express themselves with a wide variety of tools.

With the Comic Tools weblog now focusing more on comic art tutorials, I felt that a site focusing on what’s used in creating art was missing. Plus, I want to include artists of all kinds and not just comic artists. I’m always curious what types of pens or paints or paper that other artists are using to create their art. Whether the artist is a self-taught notebook doodler or a RISD-trained professional illustrator, the process of creating art fascinates me.

It's an interesting blog to read, although I do wish he'd ask the artists about HOW and WHY they use the tools they do. It's all well and good to know someone uses a certain pencil, but I'd like to know why that pencil versus another, and what effects it produces in their final art that they enjoy. But if I was curious enough about something he didn't ask, I could always interview the artist for Comic Tools myself. What's great about Bill's blog is he's interviewing a lot of great illustrators and non-comics people, some of whom I've never heard of but whose work I love and will follow now.

Anyway, MK, if you're reading this, it seems you were missed enough that someone sprang up to replace you. If that's not flattery I don't know what is.

April 11, 2009

This week: Ball, hoop, cone, vase.Surely everyone on the internet is familiar with the internet saying "old and busted/new hotness", as in "Toasters are old and busted, bread-seeking lasers are the new hotness."

For cartoonists who don't draw pure stick figures or totally realistic anatomy, but rather something in between, how to draw anatomy books are next to useless. In every book I'm familliar with, (including books made specifically for cartoonists that should know better) the basic-shape figure consists of a tallish rectangle to represent the mass of the ribcage, a squat, slightly wider rectangle to represent the general mass of the hips, a ball for the head, a line for the spine, and the joints are at the corners. Generally the next step in complexity is a quantum leap up to fairly complex anatomy, with no real in between offered except the recommendation to "study the figure." It's like those how-t0-draw-animals books where you'd draw a circle, an oval, some sticks, and then it would tell you to draw a tiger over that. I could have drawn a stick figure of a tiger if I'd wanted to, and if I could fill the anatomy in over those basic forms on my own, I wouldn't need a fucking how-to-draw book. The lack of any in-between information about gross anatomical structure is maddening for the artist who only wants to draw a cartoony muscle man whose muscles fall roughly in the right places without needing years of study to do it. The old basic shapes are old and busted, big time.

Allow me to tell you how I found the new hotness:

A couple weeks back I drew this to warm up before thumbnailing some pages:

I realized as I was drawing it that my back anatomy was getting pretty rusty, so I did an exercise that I often find useful for brushing up: I have a book with a drawing of just a skull, ribcage, spine and pelvis, no shoulder blades or femurs or anything. And I then fill in everything that's missing as best as my memory will serve, adding the missing bones and muscle and connecting everything up. When I can do it a few times correctly without looking for assistance, I know I've got it again.

It was while I was doing this this last time that I realized why there's such a huge gap of competence and ease with my real figure drawing and my cartoon figure drawing. I always start my cartoon figures with boxes with joints at the corners, like all the books say to, but the basic shapes of a real body are actually like this: And like a flash, I realized all the troubles I have drawing figues in comics are because I start with false basic shapes, that I have to spend time and mental energy correcting for. If you start with the right basic shapes, you don't HAVE to fix them later.

The ribcage is like a rounded cone. The pelvis is like one of those paper cone cups, squashed slightly. The shoulder girdle of the shoulder blades and clavicals is like a hoop, pulled so that the closest parts touch the back and front of the cone, and the farthest ends are the joints. The new basic shapes are the new hotness.

My figure drawing improved dramatically and immediately, both in speed and quality.

Here are two figures:
They both look serviceable. That is to say, neither looks so awful that it would attract attention. As you can see, the one on the left is drawn with the old and broken basic shapes. The one on the right is built with the new hotness shapes.
With the new hotness come new rules for finding your joints. They are easy and anatomically correct to an actual human:

-Shoulder joints are slightly, but not a lot, wider than the rib cage. Wider for men than women. It doesn't matter if the ribcage you start with is wide, or narrow, or tall or short. As long as the joints are slightly wider, but not too much wider, the figure will work.

-The pelvis is always slightly wider than the ribcage. It doesn't matter how fat, thin, tall or short the ribcage you start with is.

-Hip sockets are halfway up the vase formed by the pelvis. It doesn't matter if you draw the pelvis wide or narrow or tell or squat, the anatomy will always work out if you follow this.

-Elbows are always in between the pelvis and the ribcage.

The image below shows all the kinds of problems facing an artist using the old and busted basic shapes, and how the new hotness shapes solve those problems.

If you're trying to draw clothing on a character, the incorrect joints on the OAB figure make it difficult indeed to find where to put the fold of the sleeve into the armpit. It's just as akward figuring it out naked- you wind up with these boxy shoulders that you can't seem to pose correctly, or that look okay until you try to draw collar bones or shoulder blades on them. And what about drawing the pectorals? Where do you begin? Nothing on the figure looks like it should, so you re-draw and re-draw with what knowledge of anatomy you have until it looks passable, or you settle for a wonky figure and just assume you "cant draw people."

The crotch is the same tragic story. The hip joints start in the wrong place and using a box to represent the "mass of the hips" is of no use to anyone if they don't know what the anatomy of the hips is, and hip anatomy is counter-intuitive, complex, and hidden. So you do the best you can, and it looks funny. If you draw the figure nude their genitals hang from an odd squarish gap. You try to draw them in underpants and it's hard to tell where the waist and leg cuffs should go, with nothing to guide you. And if you try to draw pants, it's impossible to tell where the creases of the crotch should go.

Now look at the NH figure on the right- the NH basic shapes TELL you exactly where to put all these details. Muscles fall easily where they're meant to because the basic shapes actually act as a guide to where they should go. the NH basic shapes TELL you what the next steps of your drawing should be, instead if telling you "Next step, learn to draw anatomy." They already ARE anatomy.
To really show how fucked-up the seemingly okay OAB figure is compared with the NH figure, I drew the muscles of the front and back of the body on them, following the basic shapes.

Does the OAB figure even resemble any sort of muscles you've ever seen? Then how in the hell are you supposed to draw anything with them? Look how the muscle lays naturally on the NH basic shapes, because the NH shapes are real anatomical shapes.

"Now Matthew", you say, "It's all well and good for you to draw these shapes, you already have some anatomical knowledge. How am I supposed to get the basic shapes right?"

That's just it- the NH basic shapes function with flexible proportions. As long as you follow the rules listed above- shoulders and pelvis slightly wider than ribcage, elbows between the pelvis and ibcage, and hip joints halfway up the pelvis, you can draw the shapes as distorted as you like, and they'll still compliment each other and fit together so well you can actually lay muscle on them if you know how. Observe:

Both of these figures started off with nothing more than the ball, hoop, rounded cone and vase, and the shapes used could hardly be more different. And yet, because they followed the rules, they relate to one another proportionally correctly. I have done many drawings such as this and I cannot find any way of distorting the NH basic shapes so that they will not produce an anatomically viable figure, provided they follow the rules.

Furthermore, I've found that using the NH basic shapes makes is easy to render once difficult structures like the pelvis in perspective. By starting with the squished vase and adding two joints halfway up, you're guaranteed of at least a somewhat correct structure, regardless of drawing ability.

This week is only part one in a multi-part anatomy lesson tailored specifically for the cartoonist, who may not want, need, or be able to invest their time in studying all the complexities of anatomy, but who would like to at least be able to understand the basics of the figure. Next week I shall demonstrate how to build the pelvis, shoulders, and ribcage off of the NH basic shapes using very simple rules (which all scale in proportion, so it doesn't matter whether you draw the shapes exactly- perfect for cartoon anatomy) and then in following weeks I will show you how to draw the largest, most visible muscle groups, equally as simply as what I've shown you already.

April 5, 2009

This week: Tiny little metal ball

So most of you probably recognize this:

A Pentel Pocket brush, the finest brush pen on the market. Real bristles made of some sort of high grade polymer that maintains a razor-tip after years of use. Cartridge-loads with that special super-fine pigment Japanese ink that can sit in bristles for weeks without clogging them, and it's waterproof (when allowed to cure for a day) to boot.

If you're like me and you go long periods without using a tool though, you may have trouble with even the Pentel's finely ground ink settling a little bit. Unless your cartridge has a tiny metal ball in it.

About a year after first purchasing my pocket brush nearly 5 years ago, I needed new cartridges, so I went and got some, and found that the new cartridges I bought all had tiny metal balls trapped inside, to stir the pigment when moved or shaken, like a spray paint can. Needless to say having another little bit of cool gadgetry added to my favorite drawing tool delighted me. The cartridges I'd bought before had no metal balls, so I assumed that the metal balls were a new upgrade, one I was very happy with.

Next time I needed new cartridges, I bought them, opened them, and...no...balls.

Thank god I had the thought to rifle my garbage for my last cartridge. I cut the little ball out and jammed it into the new ball-less cartridge, and it worked great. There was no design difference except one was missing a ball, and the flexible plastic allowed me to push the ball in without damaging or expanding the cartridge and ruining the airtight seal.

I have never since found cartridges with balls, and I check every time I'm in a store that has them. They must have been discontinued for some reason, perhaps expense.

So, if any of you should ever be lucky enough to buy a pack with the metal ball inside, here's how you keep hold of it:

Go to a sink, because you'll need to be someplace you can get dirty and easily clean up, and you'll also need to do some rinsing.

First, unscrew the back off and pull off the cartridge lust like usual.

Now tip the cartridge open-end down so the ball is on the open side, and cut the butt end off with a sharp exacto. This is the part where being near a sink is really useful.

Now you can tip out the tiny metal ball. Cute, isn't it? Now quickly, rinse it off.

Now fetch a new ink cartridge. I keep mine in an old cigarette case that belonged to one of my great-grandparents.

Put the tiny metal ball on the end just like this:

If you somehow had access to a stainless steel ball-bearing of the same size, then you could use that.

Now, with the ball in the end of the cartridge, push it back in place. It will be forced through the seal and into the cartridge with no harm to any of the parts, I assure you.

Now close the pen like usual!

Next week: hoop, cone, and vase