For thousands of years there was very little choice in choice of which pen to use , you could cut a reed & sharpen it to a point or you might use a feather from the end of a birds wing .
Nowadays it is pretty confusing; artists can choose different types of pen from many different manufacturers .
Each has different characteristics, different thickness of lines, different types of ink that will fade in no time when you put a drawing into a frame for display, some types of ink are waterproof allowing you to use watercolour paint with them, some are convenient to use , etc.
I wouldn't pretend that my views & experiences are not reflected this piece, pure objectivity is difficult when considering such a subjective & personal thing but hopefully it might give you an idea of some of the options.
Perhaps though one of the most important considerations for any artist when choosing a pen is how they FEEL in use; if it doesn't feel right to you- then that pen is no good to you .
Any specific model pen which I mention I will have used myself ,there will be other makers of pens available of course, some of which may very well be their equal, but I haven't personally used them.
Ballpoint pens , (biros if your British & old school !) are everywhere & there's always one to hand when you need to make a sketch. They're great! - you can make a deep rich dark line or you can make a really light barely visible mark.
If you start your drawing slowly using these really light marks & then slowly build up the drawing this pen can take the place that a pencil might have taken when just starting a drawing, doing all those early construction & perspective lines, tentative outlines before you commit to the final dark bold line .
Working this way it is entirely possible to make a photo realistic drawing with a ball point pen .
They will work well on even the cheapest, horrible paper possible as a bonus. This sounds GREAT! & many artists fall madly in love with ballpoints for drawing BUT BEWARE ! - she is a pen fatale which will deceive you & the affair will be short lived !
The problems are -
1. That ballpoint pen ink regardless of the colour ink it has or which brand you try will fade terribly very quickly unless you press on hard to get the blackest line possible. All of those delicate tones that you took such pains to
create will fade to a pale shadow whether it is exposed to the light or not , leaving you with a drawing where all of the tonal balances are ruined.
This serious shortcoming is confused by manufacturers having the official ISO.(international standards organisation) stamp. This standard refers to the pen being used in normal writing conditions & not how an artist would use it.
2. The unique character of ballpoint pens makes them a poor learning tool if you wish to improve your skills because of their ability to draw a cautious , nervous & unconfident line faintly without the decisive commitment demanded of any other type of pen. The result is that while you appear to be progressing in your pen work, you are not! You are in fact developing bad habits that hold you back when it come to using any kind of proper artists pen.
A further problem is that in order to get a good black line you have to press down really hard compared to any other type of pen .
Please note, I have never said that you can't do great drawings with a ballpoint or that they don't have some roles to play in sketching - they can, but I cannot recommend them for serious drawing nor to anyone with the slightest interest in developing their all round pen & ink drawing skills
DISPOSABLE TECHNICAL PENS OR FINELINER PENS
as they are also known.
FineLiner pens are perhaps the most popular choice for drawing they are clean to use & well behaved , the ink they have in them is permanent & fade proof. Drop one of these cheap disposable pens into your pocket with a sketchbook you're ready to draw anywhere.
There are always different sizes of line width choices & in some makes ranges of colours to choose from too. They are the ideal choice for a beginner & the first choice for many a professional illustrator as well .
The line they give is of a single unvarying thickness & the ink is very thin , it is not the darkest looking black ink . Originally intended to be a technical pen used to draw up plans & with a ruler they are designed to be used upright or nearly so.
The thin fibre tip can be damaged if used with a heavy hand. Over time it can wear & when that happens it gives a wider line than when it was new .
This type of pen also suffers from the tip drying out if you forget to replace the cap any time you are not using it - be warned!
One area of confusion when selecting pen line thickness choices across different manufacturers is that some specify the width of the line a pen gives whilst others give the size of the actual tip which is a different thing !
It means that one manufacturers pen of 0.1 makes a different width line to another's 0.1 ! I can't pretend to have tried out every single manufacturer to give you a definitive comparison but the Micron line width sizes are in fact slightly wider than a pen called exactly the same number in the uni-pin & copic ranges.
A well known tried & trusted brand are "Sakura pigma Micron"
who offer a wide range of colours too.
are an excellent brand that are usually a bit cheaper yet are every bit as good as any other brand, in particular their 0.05 & 0.1 sizes are extremely crisp & very fine lined.
do a wide range of options in this type of pen, they are a high quality pens but their tiny 0.03 size pen was perhaps too ambitious as it never lives as long as its ink supply.
I want to keep emphasising that the choice of type of pen is extremely personal & very subjective. Many artists use a technical pen/fineliner all the time ,they have for years & find it totally satisfies their every drawing requirement.
Some artist don't like these FL type of pens feeling that they have weak & characterless line, with little feel to them in use compared to other alternative types - Well lets see what else you might use !
NON DISPOSABLE TECHNICAL PENS
are the main manufacturer of this kind of pens nowadays, they deliver a very precise width of line in their own special ink which is light fast & waterproof. The line width is exact, constant & a good dark black .
These pens are expensive to buy & most artists find that they are very fragile especially in the smallest of line widths , they can refuse to start & it is important not to leave them lying around full of ink for long.
The problems stem from the fact that they rely on the ink to be delivered to the paper via a very fine tube with a hair fine wire within it to regulate the flow, it's not without good reason that they sell spare replacement "nib units" separately!
They have to be used fairly vertically & the contact with the paper is slightly scratchy.
There are still some artists who will put up with the high maintenance & fragility of these pens as there is no other pen that will deliver such a regular width line which is dark & permanent.
It all depends on what your drawing style & even your temperament requires of a pen .
Gel pens are not very widely used by artists but have some advantages & disadvantages over disposable technical pens .
A gel pen has a roller ball which rotates very freely if you get the right brand & model , their main attraction is their thick , rich black ink.
They make a lovely sketching pen ,the model made by "Pilot"
in the US. & sold as G-Tec-C4
in the UK , it is perhaps the most popular amongst artists .
The ink is not permanent or light fast ,their coloured inks fade very quickly indeed. The black ink though is quite robust & lasts better than any normal fountain pen black ink in my ink lightfast fading tests.
- I have now completed a two year long lightfastness test on the G4 gel pen & can report that it is fully lightfast & can compete favourably with any fineliner declared as lightfast of the same line width . Further I have also learned that this pen uses carbon particles as the pigment suspended in the gel - definitely I would be confident to use it on a picture I intended to sell for wall hanging. ONLY in the black colour though.
The 0.4 roller ball on this pen makes a 0.2 width line, it does take a little while to dry though & is not waterproof.
Another model of interest is the UNI-BALL Signo
which is available in a number of line widths, the 0.38 size roller ball gives a line width of 0.2 . The ink used in this brand is very lightfast & waterproof , although I still prefer the feel of the C-4 above.
One great strength of any gel pen is that they can make their line on any quality of paper whatsoever & it will not spread or bleed at all, good paper is expensive & can inhibit an attitude to experimentation, that factor alone should recommend gel pens to any artist at least for some work.
Fountain pens are a delight to draw with their sensual wet line just seems to encourage creative enjoyment gliding effortlessly over the paper !
They can be cheap to buy & run compared to any other type of pen, every colour ink in the rainbow is available.
They are available in a number of line widths & with certain models you can get an even thinner line by turning the nib upside down & using the back to draw with.
Fountain pens are a much loved tool of artists everywhere,you can slip one in your pocket along with your sketch book & discover the delights of working outdoors or when you have a spare moment on the train commute to work.
Most of all it is the the feel of drawing with a fountain pen that makes them a favourite drawing tool of so many artists.
There are hundreds of different fountain pens to choose from & they are made by a lot of different manufacturers, many are very expensive but most of that expense is tied up in the cosmetic appearance .
To find reviews of any fountain pen ever made or any ink you should go to http://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/
I will recommend just a couple of pens which are very popular with artists universally & are cheap but very good pens, I have owned maybe 20 or 30 different models & agree with the consensus that these are eminently suitable for drawing.
"Platinum Preppy" as the name suggests this is a cheap pen that can be had for the price of a disposable "micron" yet it is a lovely pen to draw with. I like a really fine line & the
extra fine nib size Preppy will give you a line of 0.2 when you use it normally, if you use the back of the nib you can get a really fine hair line. It is available in a wider line version, medium (0.5line)
"Lamy" Safari model (or any model they all have the same quality of nib & internals). This pen is a little more expensive but will last a lifetime. It is a joy to use with its wet ink feed & again you can use the back of the nib to get a thinner line; this is the best sketching pen I've ever used. I like the Extra fine size nib , Note
. -it makes wider lines even though its still called an extra fine, than the Japanese "Platinums " extra fine - there is no standardisation of European & Japnese sizing.
The LAMY pens are available with a number of thicker lined nibs too interestingly you can buy any size Lamy nib & they click on & off very easily so trying out a few sizes of nib is not too expensive.
You should be aware that you MUST use an ink specifically designed to be used with fountain pens, as many a person has found out the hard way!
You CAN NOT use Indian ink, acrylic ink or the vast majority of pigmented inks because they will kill the fountain pen . "Platinum carbon ink" is one of the very few alternatives that are lightfast & waterproof.
So you are very largely restricted to dye based inks which are not lightfast at all, nor waterproof , the pretty coloured ones are particularly prone to fading away on exposure to light.
However be realistic , if the work is away from the light in a sketch book or folder & you are prepared to deprive future museum going generations of your work! there's no problem.
"Pelikan 4001 Black"(not the coloured versions of this ink) is a good dark ink that fares pretty well when exposed to light .
"Noodlers " inks are tested here- http://hudsonvalleysketches.blogspot...tness%20tests&
many come out well in Jamies lightfast tests.
Fountain pens usually come with their ink in a cartridge , all cartridges are broadly speaking specific to only the one manufacturer, you can usually buy a converter again specific to your model of pen, which will allow you to use bottled ink from any manufacturer. This opens up options & saves money.
An even cheaper way of doing this is to get a syringe intended to fill printer cartridges & use that to fill an empty cartridge.
You do, with fountain pen,s have to give them a rinse through under running water after you have used a cartridge or two to keep them running smoothly.
To give a pen a really good clean , steep the nib section in a bowl of water overnight & rinse it through.
Dip pens first became widely available in the 1840's, before that you used a reed or a birds feather sharpened to a point !
Why on earth would an artist of the 20th century use such an apparently primitive tool ?
Well quite simply no modern pen can make such a variety of different kinds of marks as a dip pen, consequently in practiced hands no pen is more artistically expressive. You can start a line very thin & make it get broader and broader or you can start at a very broad line & taper it smoothly down to the width of a hair. When you apply a tiny bit of pressure on the nib
(which is made from springy steel & has a slit cut down its length) the ends open up & a wider line results.
So you can, with practice, make any mark between a hair's width & say 2mm (3/32"). This infinitely variable line width combined with the feel of the spring of the nib transmits every tiny nuance of feeling from the artist's head & heart to the page both consciously & subconsciously. The fall of light can be suggested more subtly, ,calligraphic marks can can add interest & life to a drawing, No pen can draw like a dip pen can.
There is a downside however; in this modern world where we are used to ease of use & convenience from our tools, a dip pen feels awkward, unruly, unforgiving & demanding compared to any other type of pen. It would be best if you learned how to draw with another kind of pen first & then went on to try a dip pen, even if you were a great draughtsman already you might still find dip pens just too much hassle to be worth bothering with.
Assuming you could already draw reasonably well it might take a month or so to get into the swing of using a dip pen.
It is not practical to take them outside to draw, you would need somewhere to balance your bottle of ink & some water on hand to periodically
clean your nib.
Personally speaking I learned to draw mostly with a dip pen then got sick of the hassle, went through all of the types of pen I've previously written about
here & have now fallen back in love with its unique charms some years later! I can definitely say more with it , but also instumental in my return to
dip pens was that I tried out a lot of different dip pen nibs that I hadn't tried before & found some that seem more cooperative , that didn't fight back. I also tried out some new types of ink & found some that looked OK. & were easier to use.
CHOOSING A NIB
There are loads of different nibs you can buy, each one has a different feel, it is good to try to develop a very light touch when you draw with dip
pens, a sensitive touch. Some pens flex readily & others need a bit more pressure to make them get wider , when buying them it is called high elastic
& low elastic. Small very fine dip pens are so sharp that you just can not make a line in certain directions of travel -it will just dig in the paper & leave a blot !
I don't want to have to think about direction of travel too much , heck, drawing is hard enough anyway !
As these pieces are meant as introductions to different types of pens I will restrict my comments to nibs that are the smoothest & easiest to draw with & which offer a good degree of line thickness variation BUT I can only comment about the ones I have used before , so there may well be others as good I haven't tried , however I am discounting 20 or more that I have tried.
I very much like the "Brause 66 EF "
also known as the arrow because of it's shape.This nib makes a very fine line with light pressure & when some pressure is applied the transition to making a wider line feels very much in control , it is the smoothest nib I know for its line size: for its size it carries a lot of ink so your flow of drawing is interrupted less by the need to dip your pen.
I also really like the "Brause 361 Sterno"
known as the pumpkin! This is a large looking nib which gives a very fine line but it can swell to give a bold line too, it carries a load of ink & moves very smoothly across the page.
I should mention also the "Gillot 170"
, it is a fine nib which is reasonably smooth & well suited to drawing , it will swell its line fairly freely & in a controlled manner.
The first 2 nibs are my favourites & would suit a beginner just trying out dip pens & would give an old hand at pen & ink an extremely pleasant surprise - all these years , it didn't have to be that hard!
When you get a new nib it is covered in a thin film of either oil or a resin to prevent rust forming, you must remove it by giving it a very gentle scrub with an old tooth brush using detergent or white spirit,rubbing alcohol etc.
INK FOR DIP PENS.
The ink for dip pens must be of a certain minimum thickness in order to cling to the nib, this excludes most fountain pen inks.
Indian ink is THE traditional ink to use it is very black , thick & sticky. It is totally lightfast & waterproof after it has dried for an hour or more. In use it is wise to have a a small tumbler of water on hand & a bit of chamois cloth or tissue to clean th nib every 15minutes or so to prevent the ink drying onto the nib & inside the tiny slit; it will quickly ruin a nib if you neglect to do this.
Acrylic inks from various manufacturers will also work well , they are also lightfast & waterproof & available in many different colours, in use they are thinner than india ink & you must still wash your pen periodically.
There are a few water based inks which may be used which do not require you to wash out the pen frequently , "Higgins Eternal "
is a good choice , it is lightfast pigmented ink but is not waterproof.
If you intend adding washes of watercolour or diluted ink you must use waterproof ink.
Personally I prefer to use the Higgins ink because there is no washing the pen to interrupt the flow of work & your pens last much longer. Others like to use the india ink because it is so thick & rich a line, you can actually catch your fingernail on the raised line of india ink, there is nothing like it.
You will find that you can definitely NOT use cheap paper with dip pens! Bristol board
is the classic & still the best choice. The hard surface resists the digging in of a sharp pen & the ink will not spread so that your sharp lines are preserved. You can rub out pencil underdrawing ( with a soft putty or polymer eraser) without fear of damaging the paper & the thick board will resist being handled over the sometimes extended time that a tight pen drawing can take.
Good cartridge paper is also OK. as long as it has a smooth & hard surface although it does lack some of the advantages of bristol board. Many a paper maker will claim that their paper is good for pen work but often it was not dip pens that they had in mind when they made the claim so beware.
Calligraphers use a very thin paper which allows them to see their guide lines for lettering through their paper, this paper is designed to be used with dip pens. An artist can use this paper to ink up a lively sketch he has done in a different medium or just roughly , he can place this paper over the sketch & hopefully retain the spirit of the sketch , I suppose he could use a photo using this method too, although I don't approve of that !
Artists find that if drawing anything taking a while the natural oils that come out of your skin can soil a drawing; to prevent this they
have a small postcard sized piece of scrap paper underneath their drawing hand, it also helps prevent any smudging of ink that hasn't dried yet or is not waterproof.