Pens Paper – Daniel Eatock’s collected felt-tip works

New book Pens Paper records 20 years of artist and designer Daniel Eatock’s work made solely with felt-tip pens, sheets of paper and the passage of time

Pantone Pen Print process, 2006

To make his felt-tip prints, Daniel Eatock uses tools familiar to commercial art production – the pen sets he employs had their heyday in the design studios of the 1970s and 80s. In favour of his own subjective expression, he exploits the properties of these artistic materials, with the pen tips resting on the paper for different periods of time.

“Because I don’t make drawings, I wanted to find a way of making marks but without the subjectivity of moving the pen across the page,” Eatock explains in a video filmed for the Walker Art Center’s Graphic Design: Now in Production exhibition in 2011 that featured his work.

In each project featured in Pens Paper, published by Sydney-based Formist in an edition of 1,000, Eatock transfers the power away from the designer/creator and towards the ‘process’ itself, or even other participants. The artist is, as the Walker’s Andrew Blauvelt writes in his introductory essay to the book, “not so much in the work as behind it”.

Eatock’s methods are simple enough and involve placing pens onto paper, or standing them on end with their caps off and placing sheets on top. In each case, his intervention is minimal; he lets the ink be absorbed by the paper – and the results range from colourful dots or blurred rainbow sequences, to Rorschach-like patterns.

His first foray into this technique was Bleeding Art, a project completed at the Royal College of Art in 1998. Sixteen pens were held upside-down in a jig for over 24 hours with the inks seeping through 32 sides of a folded sheet of 80gsm uncoated white paper.

When groups of pens are set with their tips upright (the reverse of how they ‘work’ conventionally), the sheet laid on top ‘wicks’ the ink out and affects how the colours appear on the paper.

Pen Prints, 2011, installation view, UTS Gallery, Sydney. A complete set of Pantone markers stand on their bases with their nibs facing upright. Single sheets of 200gsm paper are placed on the bed of nibs. Each print is left for twice the duration of the previous print, giving the gradually drying pens more time to mark the paper. The pens are re-arranged for each print
Pen Prints, 2011, one of edition of 15

“What it shares with conceptual art, if anything, is a distancing of the artist’s hand from the fabrication of the work – it makes its own marks,” says Blauvelt of Eatock’s work.

“‘The idea becomes a machine that makes the art’, Sol LeWitt famously proclaimed in his Paragraphs on Conceptual Art (1967). Eatock subtly shifts the equation by making a machine that produces the art.”

Prismacolour Pen Prints, from edition of 31, 2008. A set of 156 Prismacolour markers are arrange following the manufacturer’s numbered chart. The pens are held within inverted glasses, over one ream of 60gsm paper in two stacks – over 39 days
Pantone Pen Print, 2006. A complete set of Letraset TRIA Pantone markers are arranged in the order of the colour spectrum. The pens are rested nib-down on a stack of 500 sheets of 70gsm uncoated white paper and left for one month

It’s at once a mundane yet beguiling process, a colourful record of time. Blauvelt notes that “this movement from order to disorder is of course the inverse of any recognisable design process” – a nice summation of Eatock’s intent to subvert using the simplest of means.

Pens Paper is published by Formist ($66 AUD). A series of Preface Pens Prints are also available in an edition of 25 and can be purchased with a copy of the book ($300 AUD), See

Marker Marks (Felt-Tip Prints), 2001. Two complete sets of Pantone markers stand on their bases with their nibs facing upright. One at a time, sheets of paper are carefully placed to rest on the bed of pen nibs. Once the paper absorbs the ink, the page is re-positioned to rest on the second bed of pen nibs, after being flipped or rotated
One Minute Circle, 2012. Twelve freehand sections of a single circle, each made in exactly five seconds, are drawn simultaneously by 12 participants in a clockwise direction without the pens leaving the page
One Hour Circle, 2012. Twelve freehand sections of a single circle, each made in exactly five minutes, are drawn simultaneously by 12 participants in a clockwise direction without the pens leaving the page
Cover of Pens Paper. The book is designed by Mark Gowing

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