I recently had the privilege conducting my newest mini-workshop for the San Francisco Bay Area Urban Sketchers as part of their USk 10×10 series for 2019. I had a gloriously fun time. The Bay Area USk chapter was completely welcoming, helping me with getting the word out, logistics, and organization. They couldn’t solve my silly confusion of the north and south entrance to the Palace of the Fine Arts … but that was all me!
My Ink Pen & Brush Pen USk SF Bay Area workshop @ the Palace of the Fine Arts
Our gathering at the wonderful Palace of Fine Arts was on a sunny, cool, and breezy Spring Sunday and we sketched for three hours. I enjoyed the location quite a bit and the participants were a joy to work with!
The participants and their final sketch at the USk SF Bay Area workshop
The focus for my workshop was on using ink pens and brush pens; that is the subject of this post too.
the final stage of one of my workshop demo sketches (5×7, using ink pen, ink brush, and water brush)
First let me tell you that I think sketching and drawing with ink is an adventure!
Yes, I know some folks worry; even get anxious about drawing with ink. If you are using a dip pen, you might get a bit uneasy about where your elbow is in relation to that open bottle. When using a permanent (non-water soluble) ink, do you worry about making a terrible, uncorrectable mistake? Using a re-wettable, water soluble ink, we might fret over the possibility of destroying some great lines with an errant drop or smudge of water.
All those are valid, quite reasonable, concerns!
I think it’s ability to be one step away from those disasters may just be part of ink’s allure! That, ink’s luscious value shifts, and its ability to be bold, fragile, subtle, and sensuous by turns add to the jeopardy and joy of working with ink.
Fountain Pen Inks
Over the years, I have experimented and used just about every type or classification of pen and ink. that artists have made or bought. I have even made my own pens and my own inks on occasion. Those have been great experiences to learn from.
At the same time, I can not pretend to have tried every single pen, fountain pen, or brush pen; there really are thousands manufactured and offered up for sale every year. So, I am going to concentrate on the basic types of pens and a few inks that I keep on hand and use regularly.
Above you can see the marks of four of the five types of fountain pens that I have in my sketch kit. From left to right are marks of a Sailor Fude (De Mannen), a Waterman Phileas (equipped with a medium nib), a Pilot Varsity, and a Platinum Preppy.
The Sailor pen is designed with a 55 degree angled/bent (Fude) nib that makes creating varied thicknesses of line quite easy; a real advantage if you want to write calligraphy. It also makes this Sailor a wonderful drawing pen as well. I have it loaded this Japanese pen with a cartridge of Sailor’s own Jentle Ink, a soft black ink that rewets easily with water. When re-activated, the ink flows easily and produces a fairly even grey wash that seems to lean a little towards a slight blue-ish cast.
The Phileas, made by the French Waterman company for about 20 years, is my favorite writing pen and I carry another one in my sketch kit as well. My Waterman Phileas is currently outfitted with a medium nib though I also have back-up fine, wide, and extra wide nibs too. The ink is also by Waterman, their Intense Noir. It flows readily and when it comes in contact with water you can see that it will quickly break down into it’s violet-blue and yellow-brown components. When I use the ink to create a wash from lines I have laid down while sketching, the ink puddle ends up drying to a slightly uneven purple grey toned wash.
The inexpensive Varsity and Preppy pens both have much finer nibs but they are also of the short, stubby nib style so they are not very flexible. A more flexible nib makes a fountain pen have a greater range of line width/quality when you press lighter or more heavily as you move the pen across the paper. I would say that the disposable Pilot Varsity, has almost no flex to its nib but you can get a thinner line by turning the pen’s nib upside down. The refillable Platinum Preppy has just a minimal flex in the nib’s thinner tines.
The Varsity’s ink is a fairly standard writing pen ink; it is totally soluble in water. Like the ink that I have in the Phileas and the Sailor, the Varsity ink lines can be nearly obliterated if submerged in water or touched by a wet brush. The Preppy, I have loaded with a nearly permanent ink, Platinum’s Carbon Black. Only a tiny bit of the ink is reactivated with water and a brush. The lines will stay in place and the small amount of ink that dissolved into the water allows for the creation of subtle grey washes from the ink lines.
As a sketcher, I love the portability of fountain pens. And, I have to admit that I have been a devotee of the fountain pen ever since the 60s when I was in 2nd grade. That is when we began to learn cursive writing, penmanship, and the use of the old Sheaffer school fountain pen. (Mine had a clear red barrel; by the 3rd or 4th grade I was trying to do even my math homework in pen!) Most of us don’t write with fountain pens anymore but they have had a resurgence among sketchers and other artists.
When I studied drafting, as well as commercial art (the predecessor to graphic design and visual communication design) we used highly crafted mechanical pen to create consistently fine or bold lines. They were called technical pens and these beautiful tools have mostly given way to the computer stylus. Now, almost all artists today have switched over to the very much simpler and far less expensive mechanical pens equipped with a roller ball or hard felt/fiber tip.
These modern substitutes for the technical pen do not produce quite as crisp a line but are far easier to use. Most are disposable rather than having complex and sometimes messy refilling and cleaning processes. Brands that are popular among sketchers today are the Pitt Pen, Sakura’s Micron Pigma, and Multiliner by Copic. Younger artists, and those who can not as easily access more prestigious pens, may also decide to use the Ultra Fine Sharpie.
The line work that each of these pens create is pretty regular and consistent. When you want a larger or thicker line, you have to choose a pen with a wider nib/point. All of these pens use inks that are highly water-resistant or even permanent. Above you can see that when I added water, very little ink was dissolved from either of the two samples of Pitt Pen line work. Even less of the Micron Pigma ink was reactivated; the Sharpie appears to be completely permanent.
There are a few pens in this category that are exceptions to rule of line regularity. The Pitt Pen with the Bold tip is large enough to be turned off of the point and to make a slightly wider mark on the side/edge of the nib. The mark may be larger but it is often not as “clean” and crisp (almost like a dry brush type of mark) because the flow of ink will be slightly less than even. That is the same thing you might get from another hard fiber tipped pen … the old Flair pen.
The Flair, has an ink that is quite readily wettable. So it can give you smooth lines, dry brush/broken lines, and a wash when activated by water. That is a pretty versatile ink and pen!
Another type of fiber tipped pen is out there … the brush pen. Instead of a hard fiber tip, it employs a long soft fiber tip formed into a brush shape or a group of longer polyester fibers that are an actual brush. Some of these pens use a sealed ink source and a disposable; others are refillable with ink cartridges. Depending on the style, they can deliver a much broader range of marks; all the way from the finest line work to large bold areas of ink and dry brush. The refillable nylon fiber brush version of brush pen have become one of my favorite ink tools because of their great variety of line quality!
The brand that I like most right now is the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, It is a very portable, pocket sized brush pen and, after it dries, its ink seems to be highly water resistant. The manufacturer says it is completely permanent but, as you can see above, mine ran a quite bit the first time I dropped some water on it. Many permanent inks, those known as as “bulletproof” inks, are dye-based and are made with special chemicals that cause the dyes to bind permanently with the cellulose fibers in the paper. Because I was using a watercolor paper, the paper’s internal and external sizing may have kept the ink’s chemicals from coming completely into contact and fully binding with the paper’s fibers. (I’ll experiment with it on more standard drawing papers and post those results soon.)
There are a number of other excellent brush pens out there; Copic, Pilot, Zebra, and Kuretake have all gotten good reviews. I have also been seeing a lot of my students starting to use the new Arteza Watercolor Brush Pen in black.
(By the way, if you like the idea of using a brush pen loaded with watercolor based color inks, there are lots of interesting brush pens out there now. My first experience with these was the Tombow (dual end) brush pen. It has a hard felt marker tip on one end and a larger, more pointed and somewhat softer “brush-tip” on the end. A year or two ago I also ran across the Winsor Newton Watercolor markers; they are shorter and stubbier than the long Tombows. As I suspected with a long time watercolor manufacturer, these have excellent color in a range of deep rich hues. Here is a link to the Jet Pen website which has a really good comparison of watercolor based brush pens. They don’t seem to have tested the new Arteza yet but the site has great info and a larger list of brush pens than I was aware existed.)
the final stage of one of my workshop demo sketches (5×7 using ink pen, ink brush, water brush, and dry watercolor leads)
Well, I think that I’ve rambled on a bit long today. I hope you have gotten some good and helpful info about ink pens that are suitable for sketching. Please give me some feedback, even some insights about new materials you are trying out or are using.
Until next time … try to keep you fingers from getting too inky!
Waiting at the DMV, Waterman fountain pen and Pentel brush pen over pencil, 3″ x 4.75″, (created in a Brooklyn Art Library Sketchbook Project sketchbook)