Pen Pals Interview: Arlen Dean Shares Incredibly Detailed, Microscopic Line Art

An interview series featuring notable people whose lives intersect with the world of pens. Arlen Dean is an artist from Sonoma County, California who takes pen perfection to the next level with his intricate artwork.

Arlen Dean’s Flickr Portfolio, “Alkaline Samurai”

Arlen Dean

Please tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Arlen Dean, I am a 31-year old freelance artist and illustrator living in Sonoma County, California.

My work ranges from large canvas or poster board drawings, to exquisitely detailed ink works that I have to produce with the use of a microscope. Some of my other work involves hand drawing using a digital tablet, but in general I use traditional pen and ink more often.

I love creating detailed patterns and abstract line drawings, and I enjoy the process of careful design work.

I would say that I approach art with the intensity of someone that intends to spend his life perfecting his craft. My style isn’t really aligned with any identifiable school or genre, but I do set a pretty high standard for myself by seeking perfection in every stroke of my brush, pen, or marker.

I started drawing in 4th grade, simply copying a few cartoon characters. Then, inspired by graffiti, I soon got into lettering and fonts. I practiced drawing colorful three-dimensional words, using great care to produce an image as clean and as interestingly composed as possible. I would continue practicing lettering and other line drawing techniques throughout high school.

My artwork changed dramatically after high school when I began to experiment with different styles. I started using almost exclusively abstract shapes and patterns, rather than words, as the focus of my work. I started using finer details and would fill up whole notebooks with patterns and lines extending to the edges of the page.

With some more experimentation and practice, I began to change my process and began using the inks to describe the negative space in a piece of art, while letting the white of the paper describe the subject or patterns. It’s kind of a reverse process, and it’s still featured in most of my artwork today.

During the last 10 years I have been refining the quality of the lines in my art. It is important for me to always work toward developing more control of my hands, so I can produce smoother curves and more consistent lines. I spend time each day practicing various techniques and hand control exercises. I am definitely beginning to see results, and am exited to keep improving creatively and technically so I can produce more interesting and complex pieces.

Much of my art is produced without advance planning. The forms and shapes emerge as a part of the journey, and that allows for constant surprise. Though my work is continually evolving, I’ve come to develop identifiable motifs, themes, and symbols.

However, like the mystic poet and artist William Blake, my symbols and motifs are personal, deliberately vague, not intended to strike universal themes…they simply proceed directly from my subconscious.

I think they are a combination of my various interests in nature, science, martial arts, dance, culture and history, among other things, coupled with wit and a sense of humor.
You can see this in the “Candy Bunnies” collaboration piece I did with a lovely Croatian artist named Asja Boros.

I use ink pens as my primary medium, and I prefer brush tip and fine tip multiliners. I also use gel ink pens quite often, and alcohol ink markers on occasion. My favorite brands include Kuretake, Sakura, and Copic.

On most of my recent works, I’ve been using the ZIG Clean Color Real brush pens. Some of my other favorites are the Gelly Roll line of pens from Sakura Color; I prefer the medium point, and especially the Moonlight editions because they give me great results, are very fun to use, and have very saturated, vivid colors.

I am pretty much addicted to inks and pens and have used everything I can get my hands on, and I am always looking for new things to try.




You can find more of his work over on his Flickr gallery, “Alkaline Samurai”.

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