Mastering Brush Pens: Not Yet!

My typical sketching tool is a fine nib fountain pen filled with waterproof ink.  I like it because I’m not an artist, I just draw stuff and I like the detail a fine nib permits.  I often add color to my sketches by using them like a kid uses crayons, keeping the color inside the lines.  In the two years I’ve been trying to learn to draw, I’ve ignored all of the nuance of ‘art’ and concentrated solely on line and contour.

But winter is encroaching on Quebec and that means I’ve got to give up my daily wandering and location sketching.  It’s just too darn cold.  So I’ve decided to spend the winter sketching in museums AND trying to learn more about alternative approaches to sketching.

To that end I bought a Pilot cartridge brush pen.  These come with soft and hard tips and I bought the soft one.  I also have a Pentel brush pen and I love doodling with it but it’s so soft that I find it impossible for my shaky old hand to control.  The Pilot soft tip is a bit stiffer than the Pentel but I still have a hard time controlling it.  I’m interested, though, in producing sketches with varied line width and in using washable inks to provide shading and texture.

2013-11-03PilotBrushPen_72When I received the brush pen, and using the Pilot cartridge that came with it, I drew this little sketch from my imagination and while sitting at my desk.  I was pleased with the result and I could control the pen adequately, though my penchant for thin lines raised its ugly head and gave me some frustration.  I used a waterbrush to pull pigment from the lines, some drawn specifically for that purpose.

2013-11-04PilotBrushPen_72Then it got ‘warm’ here.  I think we got up to 5C one day so I went out sketching.  I found it much harder to control the brush pen while balancing the sketchbook on my knee, mostly because in addition to directing line creation, the pen is very sensitive to pressure and maintaining that to achieve thin lines was hard for me.  Again, I used the waterbrush and things went ‘ok’ – good enough to suggest that with practice I might be able to master the tool.

Then I decided to add some blue to the building and the ink further exploded in some areas.  Some might see this as ‘artistic.’  My response was “eeeek!”

2013-11-04Kaweco_BernBlack_72I had to feed my penchant for a bit more detail so while I was out I swapped tools.  I have a Kaweco Al-Sport filled with Noodler’s Bernanke Black, a washable ink that dries quickly.  I use it regularly as a writing ink so I thought I’d try it as a sketching tool.  I did this sketch of a downtown building.  Lines are thicker than my norm and they responded well to waterbrush.  I liked the results of this approach – something of a compromise to my typical approach and a more loose sketch.  Lots of potential here, but not a brush pen sketch.

2013-11-07GeraniumPilotBrushPen_72That night I was watching TV and decided to work on control of the brush pen.  I started drawing geranium leaves and, fairly quickly I had a geranium plant.  I felt I was gaining some control over line width, though I had to think about this a lot, which interfered with my ‘seeing’ process.  I guess I’m not good at multi-tasking (grin).  When I added a bit of color I got what I felt was a pleasant bit of washing of the lines by being careful with the brush.

All of these sketches were done in a small (4×6) Strathmore Series 400 drawing pad.  I have not yet used any of these approaches on better quality papers.  I suspect the results will differ but mostly I need to do a couple dozen sketches with the brush pen to see if I can gain better control over it.  What are your experiences with true brush pens (not pointy felt markers like Tombows)?

 

Uniball Signo UM-151 For Sketching

I’m a fountain pen guy but I’m a sucker for a new pointy device regardless of type.  Pete Scully, a well-known urban sketcher swears by Uniball Signo UM-151 pens and uses them regularly.  I’ve never found any of the fine tip versions in the stores around here but I finally decided to order a couple from Jet Pens.

And I’m glad I did!!  I’m a fan of Pilot’s Hitec-C3 and C4 pens as they’ve got very fine points, don’t wear down like the nylon-tip pens, and they have replacable cartridges.  Unfortunately, they’re not waterproof so I can’t use them when I want to use watercolors with my pen/ink sketches.

SignoUM151

The Uniball Signo UM-151 pens, in .28 and .38 mm sizes solve that problem as their inks are pigment-based and thus are waterproof.  I bought mine in ‘brown-black’ as I wanted a dark brown pen and haven’t been able to find a brown/waterproof fountain pen ink that makes me happy.  I should say, up front, that I don’t understand Uniball’s tip dimensions except to say that the line width is less than the size of the tip, which is fine but it’s hard for me to report the actual line width for comparison to other pens.

Mitsubishi, manufacturers of Uniball pens says that their .7mm pens produce a .4mm line.  I couldn’t find a similar description of the .28 and .38mm pens.  What I can say is that the .28mm line is significantly finer than that from a Micron 005, which is claimed to be .20mm.  In any case, it’s fine…and when hatching a small sketch, it’s just dandy…or ‘peachy’ as my dad used to say.

I’ve only had the pens a couple days so I can’t say much about long-term performance except to say that the rollerball should hold up better than the fine nylon tip pens, which I find wear down annoying fast.  As replacement cartridges cost only $1.65 from Jet Pens, ink capacity isn’t much of a problem either.

2013-07-05SignoTestHere’s my first test drive of the pen.  I used the .28mm on this tiny Rhodia pad (3×4).  The pen doesn’t skip a beat.  Stippling works better than I expected from a ball-tip pen, though if you stipple a lot, you need to roll it occasionally on a piece of scrap if the ball goes dry.  Otherwise it’s a point-and-shoot device.

I was sitting on my porch, waiting to head out for a day of sketching in the country, and I used the Pilot Signo to draw this Impatiens flower in a Strathmore Series 400 “Drawing” sketchbook.  Notice that even with the pink, there’s not bleed from the brown-black ink.  Makes me very happy.

2013-07-06Flower

These pens come in a bunch of colors and after seeing a couple sketched by Pete where he used the dark green, I can’t wait to get my hands on one of those.  For myself, the .38mm is a better pen for sketching 5×8 or larger but the .28mm is a treat for details, hatching, and when you’re working small (eg – 3×5).

The best part of these pens is that they’re CHEAP!!!  From Jet Pens they’re only $2.50 and replacement cartridges only $1.65.  The bad news is that individual cartridges are only available in blue, black, red and, blue-black.  I’m hoping they make brown-black available ‘real soon.’

2013-07-07Apartment

Today I went out for an early morning walk along the river.  I sat down on a bench to watch a family of ducks and before you could say ‘fanatical sketcher’ I had my little Strathmore doodle book in hand and I was scribbling out this sketch with the Uniball UM-151-28 pen.  It’s about 3×5 in size and all I had was a small waterbrush to add color.  Given the small amount of time consumed on this quick sketch, I like the result and my new UM-151 pen.