If you’re an ‘arts’ enthusiast, then you might have come across work by James Mylne. James is a Biro Artist. A Biro Artist has the ability to create a work of art with nothing more than a Biro pen. It sounds like such a simple craft but actually the intricacy, patience and discipline it takes to do this, is crazy! I came across some of James’ work back in 2011 when he was featured at a joint exhibition with a group of other artists at the Signal Gallery in Hoxton.
There were quite a few talented artists on the bill for that exhibition but his work jumped out at me straight away and I actually thought they were paintings, only to be corrected and then schooled on Biro art by a passerby. So anyway, I became quite interested in this art form. I’ve tried drawing many times but failed; miserably. See exhibit A… Yeah.
With his busy schedule, I managed to catch up James at his studio in Battersea for a chat about him, his work, his inspiration and all the other stuff. James introduces himself as I wrestle with the iPhone.
Introduce yourself, who are you, what are you, what do you do?
I’m James Mylne, drawing is what I do… but I focus mainly on Ballpoint drawing or Biro art as some people call it.
What is Biro Art, how would you define it?
It’s fine drawing, some people say it’s a form of painting. In fact one artist calls it PINting- because you’re using one stroke at a time and using a pen like you would a brush.
There is no real deep and meaningful, it’s a technique. It’s like a new medium of fine art. It’s starting to get quite popular and I find it really fascinating. Back in the day, I type in Biro art… all the search results would be my work would. Nowadays you see work from other artists also. It has become a movement; it’s nice to think that I was one of the artists that started it. I stay in touch with other ballpoint artists I meet, would love to do a Ballpoint art group show one day.
When I was at university, they didn’t like the idea of me doing Ballpoint art. I did a Drawing BA and they didn’t like the idea of me drawing. I’ve got issues with the curriculum and how some art teachers approach it, they’re all coming from the conceptual art mode which is okay, but there is going to be a loss of the traditional types of arts like fine drawing, fine painting. Abstract conceptual art is great, but you need to “get there”, there is a process of getting there. You start off learning how to draw and if you’re not very good at the start, you carry on; you’ve got to get through that process. You can’t dive straight into conceptual art at the age of 19, but that’s what they do- they push you in that direction. They actually thought I would fail the course because I was so steadfast with my drawing…
So why Biro art?
You get the finest stroke from the tip of a pen; it’s so much more precise than pencil and charcoal. It gives a more realistic finish, it does takes forever but it’s worth it. Especially when you’re working on black and white contrasting bold imagery. It fades from black to white like a shadow in half tones… once you get your technique right.
I’m at the point where I’ve mastered the technique so I’m experimenting with other mediums like spray painting, infusing more colour into it, thinking a little bit more about what I’ drawing and the composition of my work.
It doesn’t look like have a particular subject matter when you look at my work, which is fair enough as I’m not looking to make any political statements- there is nothing I need to say. I work on sublime beauty, people that are peaceful, catching people in the moment. It actually reflects what I feel when I draw, peacefulness and extreme concentration. I wouldn’t say I switch off, because I’m being creative and constructive, but I’d say I lose myself- my mind is 100% occupied doing something.
James has been drawing since his teens; he took me through his portfolios showing me pieces he had drawn dating back to the 1996. One thing I noticed, there was definitely some Japanese and Buddhism influence in his work. Also, naturally his technique would have improved over the years. Next I had to ask about his technique, the influences and of course how long these things take! Can you guess?
Looking through all of the work you’ve just showed me, I can see some Japanese influence in there. Is that one of your influences?
Well I did martial arts for 6 years, Ninjitsu. I was quite into it and earned my blackbelt. Eventually I had to stop because my art work demanded a lot of my time; it’s my full time job. Also, there were a lot of wrist locks and grappling involved in Ninjitsu, so that wasn’t very good for my wrists.
But yes there is definitely Japanese influence in some of my work. Like in one drawing, I’ve added a Samurai clan logo but I also add a western touch, you can also see some influence from modern street art and graffiti in my work.
It was good to hear about his interest Japanese culture and how he has incorporated it into some of his work- we continued on a tangent about Japanese weaponry and marital arts for a bit. Samurai swords, Bokens, Sais, Jo Staffs etc..
So those are your influences, are there any other artists that you look out for?
Basquiat is one and it’s more because of his character than his work to be honest. But I have taken some inspiration from his work in using brighter, bolder colours. He was one of the first street artists. D*Face is another, also one of the first street artists.
Going back to your work, you must have developed a technique for this. Do all Biro artists go by the same code?
Actually someone from Hi-Fructose magazine was writing a piece for Wikipedia about Ballpoint art techniques and how it came about. He got in contact with myself and 2 others. It turns out that we all came up with the same technique 15 years ago, one in Japan and one in America.
The technique… it’s just tiny pen strokes that get lighter; you put each stoke parallel to the other. This is the practical application of using a pen; the talent is actually having the will to do this! Also it obviously helps to have a creative eye and know what looks good.
I have to ask, how long does it take you to draw one of these?!
One drawing can take up to about 6 weeks, evenings and weekends.
*My jaw drops* PAHDIN!?
Yep! I can’t do more than 5 hours a day though and I break it up so I can do other things in the day. I’ve actually got repetitive strain injury! So it does start to take it’s toll after a while, especially when working on darker areas of an image because that’s when you apply the most pressure… to create the dark. Less pressure on lighter areas obviously. So if I have to fill a gallery with 15 of these *points at A2 image*… 15 x 6 weeks, there is absolutely not enough time in the year to do that. So I have varied sizes, I have a show in October actually so I’d better get drawing!
What do you think it is that draws people to your work?
People want to see the artistic values and the effort that goes into a piece of work. I think that’s what people appreciate about my work. Which is great because people are fascinated with the patience, the dedication and the discipline that goes into creating a piece like this.
And if you weren’t an artist…
I do art literally all of the time so I don’t have time to explore much else to be honest. I just wouldn’t not do art; I’d be an architect or something similar- something creative. Although I did want to be in the army when I was kid… which isn’t very creative I’m sure you’ll agree!
I’ll end this one with a short clip of James in action, creating one of his famed pieces. You can connect with him below, he’s also represented by Rook & Raven Gallery so keep an eye if you’d like to go to one of his shows.