When Zachary Newton moved back to Whidbey Island, he was searching for a way to preserve the history and culture of Langley, where he now works, through his art.
The result? A mural-style artwork – drawn entirely by ballpoint pen – on a 17-by-13.5-inch sheet of paper.
“I haven’t found a lot of specific murals about Langley itself,” Newton said. “I wanted to try and include a lot of different things in one.”
The drawing is replete with historical figures and local wildlife alike. Those who are appreciative of history may recognize William Shelton, the last hereditary chief of the Snohomish people, and his daughter, who are both depicted. Jacob Anthes, an early settler of Langley, and Helen Coe, the city’s first female mayor, make appearances. An owl, an orca and a rabbit are also featured.
The more one looks, the more small details rise to the surface: Capt. George Vancouver’s ship, historic Langley storefronts and a banjo representing Djangofest, a popular annual music festival.
Newton completed the drawing in 120 hours over a two-and-half-month period. He’s on a mission to draw more towns bordering Puget Sound in a similar style.
A 2004 graduate of Oak Harbor High School, Newton first started using the ballpoint pen as his chosen medium in high school art classes after some encouragement from a teacher.
“It doesn’t smear as easy as charcoal or pencil does,” he said. “I like the pen because it’s really clean and precise. I’ve learned to get a lot of shades out of them.”
He doesn’t use an eraser and has learned to turn mistakes into something good if they do happen.
Newton’s family was always on the move when he was a kid. Drawing became his outlet to get through school.
“I’ve always come back to artwork because it’s something I can really express myself through,” he said.
According to Newton, there are few renowned ballpoint pen artists. Most stick to blue ink, but he prefers black. Working in black-and-white, he explained, lends a “semi-realistic photo feel.”
In fact, he is hoping to focus on offering commissioned ballpoint pen portraits. He’s turned down tattoo artist jobs in the past in order to do what he really wants with his unique style of art.
“This is kind of the beginning of me building a new portfolio of who I am and what I’m doing now,” he said.
He plans to make a limited number of prints of his Langley drawing, to be sold for $220 each. The original will also be up for sale for a price likely 10 or 15 times as much as that.
Newton acknowledged that his style of art is not everyone’s cup of tea.
“I don’t expect everyone to like my artwork,” he said, adding that some perceive murals to be “busy.”
“Langley is definitely a tougher town for artwork, because there’s a lot of artists here and a lot of artworks and a lot of big opinions,” he said. “I haven’t really seen anything else like my style around here.”
Newton has deep roots in Whidbey, with his family having lived on the island since 1895.
“I care a lot about the island and the people here and the history,” he said. “There’s a lot of amazing things about the island and each individual place here. It’s exciting, putting together the story for each town. I can’t wait to do Coupeville and get over to Oak Harbor as well.”
He’s content to call Langley his home – for the time being.
“I appreciate anyone who takes the time to stare at it for a few minutes and pick out all the details,” he said of his drawing.