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)?


7 thoughts on “Mastering Brush Pens: Not Yet!

  1. I have a Pentel brush pen as well as the very similar Kuretake brush pen. My main experience with both pens has been loose portraits based on old family photos. I was trying for the look of traditional Chinese and Japanese sumi-e paintings. I’ve only used them with waterproof ink, but I can see how nicely they would take to water-soluble ink washes, as you’ve done. I’d sort of forgotten about my brush pens, but you’ve rekindled my interest. Here’s my blog post from early this year with a couple of the photo-based sketches I did:

    • Thanks for the reminder of your post on brush pen portraits. I really liked those sketches, which caused me to buy my Pentel brush pen. I’d forgotten that you used a Kuretake brush pen as if I’d remembered, you would have gotten an email from me 🙂 Do you find the Kuretake stiffer or the same as your Pentel? I think I’m just too old and feeble to use the floppy Pentel but I want to order a Kuretake.

      Cheers — Larry

      • I’d say the Kuretake is almost identical to the Pentel. I had gotten the Kuretake first, not knowing about the Pentel. Then I kept hearing about the Pentel from other artists (like Marc Taro Holmes, who uses it beautifully), so I wanted to try it, but I don’t see much difference. One benefit of the Kuretake is that the Platinum Carbon Black cartridges fit in it, so if you want to use it with a waterproof ink, it’s really easy. You’re not too old and feeble! 🙂 The trick is to move the brush relatively quickly. Your lines may not be as straight as they are when you move slowly, but the thick-and-thin qualities of the brush will really show beautifully. So any loss in straightness is made up for with expression. 🙂

        – Tina

  2. I’m always up for trying new sketching tools and I need very little excuse to send an order to Jetpens. I got the Pentel Brush Pen a while back after Roz raved about it. It’s fun to play around with but I have a shaky old hand, too, so it has not become a favorite tool. So I went for the hard point Pilot and I like it. Definitely easier to control the line, but still variable.

    • Glad to hear the Pilot hard point brush pen is working for you. It’s in my Jet Pens wishlist. I’ve been doodling with my softer Pilot pen and getting a bit better at it, though still far from proficient. Maybe some day. Maybe not. It’s all fun just the same 🙂

      Cheers — Larry

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