Sketching With Graphite

I’ve been doing a lot of drawing with graphite.  Mostly this has been done in a 4×6 book I carry everywhere.  I have come to a couple conclusions:

1) I think I prefer using graphite IF I approach a sketch as a watercolor, not a line drawing.

2) I don’t have enough patience to use graphite as an end product drawing tool.

Let me explain these one at a time.  I started running down this road because Shari Blaukopf showed me what is possible if you allow watercolor and not ink pen lines to define the edges of a drawing.  Clearly she is right.  She’s Shari Blaukopf after all (grin).  Thus, I won’t throw my pens away and I’ll use them to do line drawings, but if I’m going to do color, I’ll switch to pencil so I can take advantage of the power of watercolor/gouache.

Ok…number two.  I’ve done a few drawings where I’ve used pencil work to tonally create objects.  To do it right, it just takes too darn long for sketching.  Throw on top of that the fact that the graphite gets smeared either during sketch creation or while it sits inside your sketchbook.  I don’t like it, not at all.

So, what are the alternatives?  Well, there’s not much that can be done about the second problem as long as you want to stuff your sketchbooks in a pocket or backpack but it is possible to simply be faster in the sketch creation.  This means speeding up the toning process and accepting the compromises it entails.  Everyone has their own thresholds for when these compromises are unacceptable.

Here’s one such compromised drawing where I’ve added tones more quickly in a scribble fashion.  This produces a sketch more quickly but I’m not happy with the messy results.  And yes, I know that with practice I can get better at this but, why bother when watercolor over pencil layout brings so much more to my sketching.

I can always wield the pencil the way I do my fountain pens.  In my opinion, however, the results are not as nice as if I’d done them with a fountain pen.  Not bad, not good.  But if I’m going to do a line drawing, I will pick up a fountain pen.

The “Forgot About It” Experiment

Outside the scientific community the most commonly executed “experiment” is the forgot-about-it experiment.  The experimenter places leftovers in the refrigerator and then forgets about it.  Alternative approaches are ignored pieces of fruit or vegetable.  Weeks later someone, finding the item, pulls it from the fridge with the exclamation of “Ewwww….yuck.”

We’ve all done these experiments and they don’t lead to much insight,but we’re prone to do it again…and again.  Today, however, I want to talk about a forgot-about-it experiment that did yield some interesting results.

First, an aside.  As reported here, my leg problems caused me to shut down my street sketcher activities and COVID resulted in multiple postponements of knee replacement surgery.  BUT, it finally happened and I have to say I’m thrilled with the results.  I’m regaining my energy levels and starting to walk, climb stairs, etc. like I haven’t done in years and to do it without pain.

Ok…what’s one got to do with the 0ther?  I started digging through my sketching stuff, trying to get things in order.  What I found initially scared me – my own forgot-about-it experiment.  In this case it was two of my fountain pens (my daily users) still sitting in my sketch bag.  They’d been there for SIX MONTHS.  Surely they were dried up beyond use.  These pens were:

Platinum 3776, fed from a Platinum Carbon Black cartridge

Wing Sung 3008, fed from its piston-filler with DeAtramentis Document Black ink

There has been a lot of digital ink spilled about how pigmented (ie waterproof) fountain pen inks require lots of maintenance.  I’ve always argued that this was not true, citing the fact that the only time I clean my sketching pens (with these pigmented inks) is when I’m going to store them or if I’m changing colors.

The rebuttal has always been “Well, you’re using them daily and that’s why you have no problems.”  That was true  and I was defeated by their logic.  Today I present some evidence to contrary.  I have two pens that haven’t even seen the light of day for six months and each carried one of the two most popular waterproof fountain pen inks used by sketchers.  And while only a quick scribble, here are the results when I opened each of these pens.

No dipping water or shaking was required.  Both of these pens just wrote.  How can that be?  There are two reasons, I think.  The first is that all the fears of using pigmented fountain pen inks are exaggerated.  I do think people have become less concerned about this than back when they were first introduced and so I’ll talk about the second reason.  Both of these pens seal VERY WELL.  Unlike pens that us a simple rubber washer seal, each of these pens have an inner seal that wraps around the nib.  In addition to that, the cap itself sports a fine-thread (screw on) attachment to the body of the pen.

I know we live in a “facts don’t matter” world and only opinions/beliefs are important, so take this observable evidence in whatever way suits you, but I want to make one more point.  You CAN buy pens that work like this.  These two pens cost me $150 and $4 respectively.



Blackwing Sharpener Review

I just got back from a sketching trip to Montreal.  I’ll talk about that once I get a chance to scan my sketches but today I want to show you what I found while wandering around Mile End.  I went into a tiny store called Boucle & Papier.  l didn’t have high expectations as the place is full of greeting cards but they had Blackwing pencils, which was a pleasant surprise.

The BIG surprise, though, was that they had the hot topic in the pencil world right now – the Blackwing sharpener.  I was hot to get one of these but shipping costs really limit my ability to do so.  But I have one now.

Before I talk about it I need to provide a bit of sharpener history for those who are saying “it’s only a sharpener.”  In the pencil world, particularly the people that carry pencils wherever they go, have never been satisfied by the cheap sharpeners you can buy anywhere.  There are reasons for this but the big one is that these sharpeners produce a very short, high-angle tip and if you want to write/draw with a fine line, you’re constantly sharpening.  The long tip you get from a wall sharpener is what we want in our portable sharpeners.

There have been several solutions but the reigning favorite is the Kum Masterpiece sharpener, a 2-step sharpener that requires you to remove wood in the first step and then carefully sharpen the point in the second.  It works great, though the 2-step approach isn’t convenient.  More important, however, is that the shavings aren’t captured by the sharpener.

The Blackwing sharpener has come to the rescue.  If you haven’t been convinced by the cost of the thing, the packaging should give you the idea that you’re holding something special.  It impresses when you hold it in your hand as well.  Very solid and the black anodizing is beautiful.

The sharpener disassembles into three pieces.  You unscrew the top and then you can pull the actual sharpener out of the housing to empty the shavings.  The sharpener hole is offset to allow shavings to easily flake away from the blade.  Sharpening is done by simply holding it and twisting the pencil as you would with any simple sharpener.

Here’s a comparison of the results from the Blackwing and Masterpiece sharpeners.  Note that the exposed graphite length is very similar but the Masterpiece removes more wood.  The reason is that the Blackwing sharpener cuts the pencil into a curved shape similar to the Pollux sharpener that is popular with some, though the Pollux  has a reputation of being picky about what pencils it will sharpen.  I haven’t exhaustively tested different pencils but I’ve tried Ticonderoga, Blackwing, Tombow, Mitsubishi, Mars Lumigraph and even Col-Erase pencils and the Blackwing sharpener handles all of them well.

This is just a close up of the results.

In the end, this sharpener is now part of my sketching bag and I just love it.  A happy surprise from Montreal.

Edit:  Tina Koyama asked for a comparision to the Blackwing 2-step sharpener.  Here it is.  Top pencil is a Mars Lumograph sharpened with the new Blackwing and the bottom pencil is a Tombow Mono 100 sharpened with the Blackwing 2-step sharpener.

Wing Sung 3009 Fountain Pen (review?)

I’ve gotten a couple emails asking me what a Wing Sung 3009 pen was.  I’ve referred to several times in my posts.  This isn’t a real review of the pen so consider this post to be just an answer to that question.

As far as I can tell, if you’re in North America, the only place you can buy a Wing Sung pen is through eBay with the product being shipped from China.  There are positives and negatives to this.  The positive is that the price of most of the pens is less than a latte at Starbucks and shipping is typically free.  I paid $3-4USD for my Wing Sung 3009s.  The downside is that instant gratification isn’t served well, because if you order a pen it’ll take several weeks for it to arrive.  I’ve had good luck ordering this way but I have to order and forget about it cuz standing by the mailbox will wear you out.

Ok…so what’s a Wing Sung 3009 and why do I use one given that I own Namiki Falcons,  and lots of Pilot and Platinum pens?  As I’ve said, it’s a $4 pen made in China.  It comes with a fine nib that’s similar to a Lamy nib (they’re interchangeable) but finer.  It has a clip that’s similar to a Lamy Safari but that’s where the similarity ends.

The Wing Sung 3009 is a transparent pen so it’s easy to see how much ink you’re carrying.  It is piston-filled and holds a lot of ink.  These two things combine to make it an ideal pen to carry on location.  And did I mention that it only costs $4?  No big deal if I lose it.  I now own three of them, just in case (grin).

There’s another thing that’s invaluable beyond description, but if you’ve drawn with fountain pens for a while you’ll understand.  This pen has a rubber casket that’s similar to the Lamy Safari, but unlike the Lamy Safari, the cap screws onto the body of the pen and thus, it seals VERY WELL and there is no ink evaporation which is a big problem with Lamy pens.  This is particularly important if you’re using pigmented inks like many sketchers, including me, use because they’re no concentration of ink over time.

So, that’s the reason I’ve been using this pen.  It’s wonderful.  The only drawback is that I have to explain why my $250 pens are sitting on a shelf while I draw with my $4 pen (grin)

Why I Like DeAtramentis Document Inks So Much

When I started sketching, like most people, I gravitated towards using Noodlers bulletproof inks.  They promised a waterproof ink but that promise isn’t fulfilled if you’re using them on papers with a significant amount of sizing (i.e. – watercolor paper).  Like so many others, I found that Noodlers’ Lexington Gray was best, mostly because the gray didn’t make such bold marks when it smeared.  Nevertheless, I eventually moved to Platinum Carbon Black, a pigmented ink that worked in fountain pens and provided completely waterproof performance.

When DeAtramentis released their Document inks the sketching world went nuts for them, as did I.  Finally there was a line of colored inks that was waterproof.  I took out a second mortgage on my house and bought a bottle of each and a bottle of the dilution fluid.  I think that was about three years ago and I’ve learned a bit about my needs and the inks so I thought I’d share a few heavily biased points of view.

First, I should say something about why I’m not using other pigmented fountain pen inks (e.g. – Sailor, Platinum Carbon, Roher & Klingnor SketchInks):

Sailor: I’ve never had access to them so I’ve never tried the “nano” inks they produce.

Platinum: This ink works great.  It’s VERY black and dries somewhat shiny.  I’ve never been a fan of either of these attributes.  Also, when it’s cold this ink takes a long time to dry, leading to smearing while sketching on the streets of Quebec in October.

Rohrer & Klingnor SketchInks:  I like these inks..a lot and they’re less expensive than other pigmented inks for fountain pens.  They come in several toned down colors and dry quickly.  When it hits the paper it’s great that it dries quickly.  When its on a pen nib and the pen doesn’t seal perfectly, it can be annoying.  If I use these inks my Pilot or Platinum pens everything works great.  Put them in a Lamy, Noodlers or other lesser pen and you’ll have starting problems.  This can be resolved by dipping the nib in water but I don’t like to mess with reluctant writers.  I do still use these inks, however.

DeAtramentis brought to my sketch bag something the others do not – the ability to mix and dilute without changing the viscosity of the resultant ink.  I used to thin Noodlers inks too but there was always a compromise between getting the color I wanted and changing the flow characteristics of the ink because of the water being added.  But DeAtramentis sells pint-size bottles of their ink without pigment in it so you can add this “dilution solution” to any of their inks, thinning them with respect to pigment load without making them actually thinner, if you get my meaning.

This allows me to mix grays by adding dilution solution to black and so my  go to ink is a black/dilution mix (1:3).  It’s still a very dark gray but not the hard black line of a true black ink.  Of course I’ve always got full strength black available too if I need it.  Having the two values is handy at times.

Another problem is getting a good brown.  Noodlers bullet proof browns all seem to dry in the nib, though you can add water to solve most of that problem.  But most brown inks are too red for my taste, even DeAtramentis Document Brown.  But, I can add some Document Black to the Brown and get a really nice brown/black that serves me well.

So that’s my ink story.  I’ve gone through several bottles of these inks so I feel confident in saying that they work well in all the pens I own (at least a dozen brands).  I’ve used these inks mostly on Arches, Fabriano Artistico, Stillman & Birn papers but also on all sorts of cheap papers with success. These inks work in my pens in spite of the fact that I rarely clean a pen (only if I’m changing colors or putting it away).  Give them a try if you haven’t already.