Every now and then, I would see these incredible portraits and drawings on the Esterbrook Instagram account. Stunning interpretations that capture the person so well you can feel the spirit of the subject between you and the screen. I spent a lot of time looking at them and admiring their detail and level of realism. It takes a special sort of talent to be able to be able to execute a portrait of Charles Schultz AND a perfect Lucy from his comic strip “The Peanuts.” Andrew Lensky is this kind of talent and what makes his work even more exceptional is that he is not wielding a brush, his works come to life through his collection of fountain pens. I was so excited to be given the assignment to tell Andrew’s story as the next Storyteller subject. I think that you will find that his answers say as much about his art as they do about his insatiable curiosity and quest for learning. He was a very humble interview subject who has a giant capacity for kindness and limitless artistic ability.
Herewith, is our Storyteller conversation:
KK: When did you start drawing and do remember what inspired you to do so?
AL: I started drawing after I got carried away with fountain pens at the end of 2016. The pens fascinated me a lot, and because I write very little, I asked myself “how they can still be used?” Then I remembered an old dream of mine of learning to draw by hand :). I have worked as a video designer for music television and printing, and SFX for music video. So the pens themselves helped and inspired me.
KK: Do you have formal art training? If yes, can you tell us about it? If not, can you speak about teaching yourself? If both, tell us about that, too!
AL: No, I have no academic education, not even primary. I have an older sister, she is an artist, as a child she was fond of drawing and attended art school. For me , I was assigned a sports and mathematical direction; two artists in a family is a lot :). But I liked to look at how and what she drew in the classroom, I overheard the theory and tried to implement it in my one education, but got low marks :). The teacher told me that I was given low grades because I could draw better, even though I drew better than the other children in the classroom. I was born and studied in the USSR 🙂 and I know it is hard to understand this teacher’s assessment for the rest of the world, especially her ideology :).
KK: How did you get interested in drawing with fountain pens?
AL: Actually, as I mentioned above, I became interested in drawing because of my interest in fountain pens, so I had no other choice of a tool:). While discovering theory on forums, I searched for books and almost immediately found the wonderful book “Rendering by pen and inks” by Arthur Gaptill. Actually, the basics of the drawing are considered in it specifically for ink and pen (dip pens, but it does not matter :)). This book has become my handbook. Now I have 4 editions of this book, including the translated last edition by Susan Meyer (and the English version too) and the first(!) original edition, which I was lucky to buy on Ebay.
KK: Do you remember which fountain pen was your first?
AL: Of course I remember, but here it is worth clarifying the period. As I wrote above, I was born and studied in the USSR, and got engaged with a fountain pen in 4th grade (this is roughly the last grade of elementary school in the USA). It was my grandfather’s pen, very simple, with a sac filling system without a lever, button or anything else, only by finger with a large openly steel nib. I still have this pen, but alas, when I started to get carried away with pens, I decided to clean it and accidentally broke it. There was a lot I didn’t know then. It is still in this condition and I am waiting for the opportunity to fix it. A year later, in the 5th grade, my father gave me my own fountain pen. It was a pen with a gold nib of the Parker 51 type, but of Soviet production from the Soyuz factory. I wrote with this pen until I left school. In my childhood, there was not a large variety of inks. In stores there were only violet, blue, green and red inks. I remember it gave me great pleasure to refill an uncleared pen from one ink with another, mixing new colors :). After school I went to university and I do not remember what I wrote with, but most likely it was with an ordinary ballpoint pen. After the institute, the era of PC came and there was no need to write at all :). So the first stage of getting acquainted with fountain pens ended :).
In the summer of 2016, for one of my projects, I needed to create calligraphic lettering. I wanted to do it in the original way without using PC-fonts. I immediately bought some kind of cheap Chinese pen for $1.5. When I filling it and tried to write it, I realized it was not what I wanted and I began to look for information and read forums. It turned out that I could work in two ways: a dip nib in a holder or a vintage fountain pen with a flexible nib. I went with both :). I “set sail” and my first serious fountain pen was a German school fountain pen Geha Schulfuller 705 (I still have it and I love it very much). But old pens are often sold in poor condition and require repair – so I began to study this, too. I began to disassemble and repair fountains pens and I fell in love with them. :).
KK: What nib size do you prefer for drawing and why?
AL: Well, this is pretty simple – I love detailed drawings, maybe I am a follower of the school of realism :). Therefore, I prefer extra fine and ultra extra fine nibs :). Since in the modern FP industry only two manufacturers make ultra-thin nibs (Platinum UEF and Sailor Saibi-Togi), I had to study nibmeisters to learn how to re-grind nibs into any sizes and shapes (Sorry, I digress :). I really like the technique of quick sketching for which wide nibs and contour lines are suitable, but so far I do not have enough time to learn and train in this technique :). Maybe a little later 🙂
KK: How did you become interested in drawing portraits?
AL: When I learn something, I always try to learn to do something very difficult, almost unattainable. And the further I delve into the theme, the more difficult tasks I set myself – this is a standard learning process(I think). I know that the most difficult thing in drawing (remember, my sister is an artist) is portraits and the hands of people (and for photographers, by the way too). These are the elements that you need to learn all your life. At first, my portraits did not look as good, it was very difficult and incomprehensible, but I didn’t stop and I tried again, and again, and again. In the end, it’s one thing to draw a portrait of somebody and show it to another, and quite another thing to draw a portrait of a famous person whom everyone has seen. Then you draw it again, and again, and again, then again and again, and again, until at least my family begins to recognize it :).
KK: How do you decide who or what your subject for a drawing will be?
AL: I’m very spontaneous. Basically, I draw my sketches to review the fountain pens that I service, repair or just discover and test. And in such cases, I try to find a theme close to these pens, for example, for Italian pens, it can be Italy, or even some specific area like a Bassano del Grappa for the Montegrappa brand. But when I can’t find anything suitable, then I sketch portraits of what is around me, that I myself might be interested in if I saw the work of another artist. In general, I have no clear plan :). I draw what is around me and what I like at the moment.
KK: Do you have tools that you can’t live without for your drawings?
AL: Yes, there is even an interesting story. About 3 years ago, a friend requested that I re-grind a nib on one of his pens. I did this job, but I liked this nib so much that I literally persuaded my friend to sell me this pen. It was a Pilot Capless Vanishing Point( now with an UEF nib). I have this pen with me all the time, and if I do not test another pen, there is a high probability that the next sketch will be created with it.
KK: If we opened your daily carry what would we find?
AL: I always have at least four fountain pens in my case, but I would love to have more. The first is usually the Pilot Capless with a custom UEF nib for drawing. The second is an Aurora Optima Riflessi (already with EF nib :)) for everyday writing and notes when necessary. The third is a vintage flexible nib for lettering and calligraphy. It can be a Geha Schulfuller 7xx, any Waterman or vintage Pilot 53RT, or some kind of French vintage fountain pen, but always with a flexible nib and some unusual ink. I take many pens back and forth with me from my relatively large collection. The one that came to me most recently is the Esterbrook Estie Cobalt:) – I like this pen, because it is very comfortable for me.
KK: Do you have any tools on your wishlist?
AL: Yes, yes and yes! As you can understand from my long sentences above, pens are my passion, and passion constantly wants more. So yes, I always want to try something else, and more, and more, and more and it is almost impossible to stop. I don’t always want to have it, but I want to try almost everything that I haven’t tried yet :).
KK: Can you share some of your daily creative and writing practices?
AL: Any free time I have I devote to either fountain pens or penmanship. I have not yet mastered Spencerian, Gothic or classical Italian cursive, but I practice it whenever possible. I publish all my practices (or almost all of them) on my website (arts or design or photos theme) and duplicate them in short form on Instagram and Facebook, so welcome!, watch and comment!
KK: How would you describe your style in three words?
AL: I don’t think I have my own style due to a lack of academic education. I am constantly in the learning process and I am still looking for my own style :). My current style is realism.
KK: What other interests do you have aside from your art and fountain pens?
AL: Well, I’m an ordinary person and that says it all :). In addition to my family and my fountain pens, I love active sports: table tennis, badminton, volleyball, roller skating, scooters, cycling; I love music: (old school) Rolling Stones, Doors, Aerosmith, Nirvana, AC DC, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, U2, etc. (new school) Nickelback, Cooldplay, Hurts, King Of Leon, One Republic, Reamon etc . I love portraits, landscapes, genre, black and white and travel photography; and finally I love the cinema :).
KK: Do you do custom portraits?
AL: Yes of course. If someone requests it, I try not to decline, but I always warn them that a drawing is not a photo and that there is no such thing as absolute similarity.
KK: If so, how can people engage with you if they’d like to commission a portrait?
AL: Usually people ask me in personal messages about this on social networks or on forums, but they can also contact me through the contact form on my website or through messengers. The coordinates are in the contact section. I am always open to communication.
KK: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
AL: I want to wish everyone peace, to be kind and to love openly without any convention! Live here and live in the now! Keep your health, especially right now!