This week on Art Supply Posse, Heather and I spend the episode trying to describe bookbinding basics using hand gestures and rattling tools you can’t see. So we’ve got lots of links to videos to help illustrate our points. We also talk about the best basic tools for bookbinding like paper, string and pointy things. All super technical. Show notes are available here.
In part 1 of the brush pen series, I covered felt-tipped waterproof pens. This review is about 11 brush pens with similar compressed-fiber tips but containing water-soluble black inks.
In general, I’d say the tips behaved in the same ways as their waterproof-ink counterparts of comparable size. One of my goals with this series is to find pens that don’t mush down from my heavy-handed abuse, and as it turned out, I didn’t find any in this category with the slimmer felt tips that did tend to flatten in the waterproof group. Most in this review have either a relatively stout bullet-shaped felt tip or a small, firm plastic or rubber tip, and both styles stand up well to my heavy hand. However, the points of the broad end of the Tombow ABT Dual Brush Pen and the Sakura Koi Coloring Brush did flatten after a relatively short while, which surprised me because they look sturdy.
The pens that are the most resilient tend to make a strange squeaky sound with slight pressure, such as the two Zebra pens (both double-sided and single-sided), the Kuretake No. 55 Double-Sided Brush Pen and the Kuretake No. 33 Brush Pen. Perhaps the squeakiness is related to the type of material they are made of. I know that’s not a very helpful characteristic if you haven’t bought and used the pen yet, but for me the squeak is a good indication that the tip will last. I’ve been using the four named above for a good while, and they are all still pointy and going strong.
Both the Sakura Koi and the Winsor & Newton Watercolor Marker have tips that are a bit too broad for my uses. Even held vertically, I couldn’t get a fine enough point for detailed work (and since the Koi started mushing down quickly, its tip got even flatter). On the other hand, when held at a sharp angle to the paper, the Winsor & Newton marker makes a very wide swath of ink that covers a lot quickly. For that reason, I enjoy using it at life drawing practice with larger paper.
Ink Color & Solubility
Now, on to the inks. My favorite way to use brush pens containing water-soluble ink is to make a line drawing and then use water to wash the line slightly for shading, and I usually don’t add color afterwards. So the quality of the washed line is important to me.
One interesting thing I learned from comparing these pens was how variable the term water-soluble can be – and how long water-solubility lasts. To test solubility, I made a scribbly line on Canson 98-pound mixed–media paper. Within a minute, I ran a waterbrush through the line to see how much it dissolved. (Those water marks are shown on the right side of my test sheets close to the names of the pens.) Although all the inks are roughly the same shade of black when applied to white paper, some look very different after being washed with water. Often the wash is much bluer, and in a few cases turns brownish. The Kuretake No. 14 Pocket Brush and the Pentel Fude Touch Brush Sign Pen both washed with such pale smears that I don’t really consider them water-soluble for my purposes (yet neither is described as being waterproof by JetPens). If I’m going to wash a line for shading, I want the shading to be rich and strong, which is the case for most of the other pens. The Sakura Koi, the Tombow and the Zebra pens all washed to particularly dark shades.
Long-term Ink Permanence
The big surprise came a couple of weeks after I made the test sheets. Experimenting with a drawing I’d done earlier, I realized that the ink that had washed previously was now permanent. Curious, I went back to the test sheets and made a new waterbrush mark (shown on the left side of the test sheets) on each of the original lines. Most still responded in the same way as before, but the Zebra Double-Sided Brush Pen, the Kuretake No. 55, the two Kuretake Fudegokochi pens (regular and super-fine) and the Pentel Fude Touch Brush Sign Pen all diminished in solubility. In fact, the two Fudegokochi and Pentel pens were essentially waterproof after the passage of those weeks, showing no solubility at all.
Since I generally finish a sketch in one sitting and wash lines immediately after making them, the delayed permanence is not a factor I would consider as long as I knew an ink was soluble to begin with. But if you make a line drawing first and continue working on it quite a bit later, it’s something to consider. And the delay might be a favorable feature if you want your work to be insoluble for the long run.
All inks behaved well and showed no feathering or significant bleed-through on Field Notes 60-pound Finch Opaque Smooth paper. Even though I know this Field Notes paper is not intended for wet media and has performed poorly with water in the past, just for kicks, I put water on the test lines. As expected, the beautiful washes I got on the 98-pound paper were nearly non-existent on the 60-pound Finch. (My experience with other Field Notes papers is that this difference is primarily due to the sizing on the paper’s surface, not the weight. For example, I get satisfactory washes on Domtar Earth Choice 60-pound paper found in the Field Notes Lunacy edition.) However, even where water was applied, only the Winsor Newton ink bled through.
Although I tested only black inks in this review series, it should be noted that the Tombow, Sakura Koi, Pentel Fude Touch Brush Sign Pens and Winsor Newton markers all come in a zillion colors, and their water-soluble qualities make them ideal for blending like watercolors.
As with the waterproof felt-tip pens, I experienced the same crankiness with some caps that have to be reversed before they can be posted! This time the guilty parties are the Kuretake No. 55 and Kuretake No. 33 (which will both most likely suffer an early demise because I keep inadvertently jamming their tips into the wrong end of the caps when I replace them after posting).
My favorites from this group? Despite that cranky cap, the double-sided Kuretake No. 55 is my overall fave because the two distinctly different tip sizes offer a remarkably wide range of marks in one convenient pen – important for an urban sketcher like me who carries her studio in her bag. (Conversely, the two tips on the double-sided Zebra and double-sized Winsor Newton are too similar to offer the same range.) Its ink washes beautifully, and the Kuretake No. 55’s notably squeaky tip is also standing up well to my firm pressure. For richness in wash color as well as a good range in line width, I also like both the single- and double-sided Zebras and the Kuretake No. 33.
This week Heather and I get a little goofy with the charming and effervescent illustrator, and lettering artist Kathy Weller on Art Supply Posse Ep. 24. We talk about ugly sketches, Wacom tablets and CINTIQs and some of our favorite art supplies too. We talk a lot so you’ve got plenty to listen to on that long drive to Grandma’s.
First, I’d like to welcome Tina to The Well-Appointed Desk and thank her for stepping in and helping with reviews. This is her first (and hopefully not her her last) review here. I’m thrilled to have Tina on board bringing a new perspective and point of view. Please give her a warm welcome! –Ana
As an urban sketcher who draws way more often when I’m outside my studio than inside, I value any product that’s portable and can be used easily and conveniently in the field. And if there’s one drawing medium that piques my interest, it’s a brush pen that gives me the variable marks of an actual brush without the fuss and mess of bottled inks.
Art material junkie that I am, I have tried quite a few brush pens. A major issue I have is that some brush pens mush down on me relatively quickly. They still have plenty of ink in them, but I don’t want to use them after their formerly sharp tips turn into fuzzy flatness. I don’t know if the types of materials brush pens are made of tend to wear out quickly, or I just have a particularly heavy hand. In any case, I have made it my personal quest to find brush pens that can stand up to my abuse long enough to use up the ink they contain, so that’s one focus of this review series.
The term “brush pen” is used for two primary types of tips: those made of a compressed fiber or rubber that flexes slightly (I’ll use JetPens.com’s term “felt tips” to refer to them), and those made of natural or synthetic hairs or bristles like an actual brush. Some contain waterproof ink while others contain water-soluble ink. Given that I have nearly four dozen brush pens to compare (and that’s only the ones with black ink!), Part 1 of this brush pen series covers only the 14 felt tip pens containing waterproof ink.
The scribble/waterproof testing was done on Canson XL 98-pound mixed media paper. The bleed-through testing was done on 60-pound Finch Opaque Smooth paper in a Field Notes notebook.
First, let’s talk about ink. All pens in today’s review contain black inks that are completely or nearly completely waterproof within a couple minutes of application. The hard tip Pilot Pocket Brush slipped onto my test sheet inadvertently because I assumed it had the same ink as its soft tip counterpart, which was indicated on JetPens.com as having waterproof ink. It turns out that it only becomes waterproof after several days. I generally use a waterproof ink when I’m thinking I might want to apply watercolors or some other liquid medium afterwards, and I’m definitely not going to wait several days to do that, so I consider that ink to be water-soluble.
All inks performed comparably with no bleed-through on the 98-pound paper, as expected. They also performed surprisingly well on the Field Notes paper, although several bled through at points where I paused briefly or, in the case of an actual sketch, colored some areas solidly. (None of the inks bled through at all under any circumstance on Field Notes Lunacy’s Domtar Earth Choice 60-pound paper, however, which has a very different sizing.)
As expected, the biggest difference among the 14 pens is in how their brush tips perform or in the marks they make.
The pens tested here include a wide range from fine (such as the Tombow Fudenosuke and the fine Kuretake Bimoji) to bold (such as the bold Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen). You’d probably choose a tip based on the size and type of work you do and personal preference. I tend to favor bolder marks, but that means I want the tip to retain a fine point so that I can get a full range of marks from it.
I also like the medium side of the fine/medium Pilot Futayaku double-sided brush pen, but for some reason, the fine side is scratchy and acts like it’s out of ink, even though I store it horizontally, so I know it’s got the same amount of ink as the medium side.
I’ve also learned that since these stouter brush tips don’t flex as much, I have to vary the angle they are held to the paper to get a wider range of marks – the more perpendicular they are held to the paper, the finer the line. Now that I’m used to this, I can get a pretty good range, but it took a while to train myself.
The bold Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen has a sturdy tip that would probably also hold up well, but something about the cap design gets ink all over the inside of the cap, which then transfers to the rear end of the pen when I post it – and then when I cap the pen again, the inky rear end makes a mess on my hands and bag. I stopped using it early in testing because that mess annoyed me too much.
One characteristic of most of these pens, probably due to the material their tips are made of, is that they can make a split or dry-brush-like mark when dragged quickly on their sides, especially the finer-tipped pens. In some cases they can look like they are running out of ink. It’s a nice effect if you want it, since it mimics an actual brush. If you don’t, the Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen and the broader sides of the two-sided Pilot, Sailor and Mitsubishi pens are more likely to retain a consistent stroke.
I have one idiosyncratic quibble: pen caps that don’t post properly – or that post backwards! The caps on the fine/bold Mitsubishi double-sided brush pen post insecurely, so they are always at risk of falling off while I’m in the field (and a brush pen without a cap is going to die very quickly). And the two Kuretake Bimoji pens and the fine/medium Kuretake Disposable Pocket Double-Sided pen have caps that must be turned around before they will post. Needless to say, I have absent-mindedly jammed those tips into the wrong end of their caps many, many times (probably shortening their lives, even if they haven’t mushed down on me yet).
This week’s Art Supply Posse episode is all about Copic Markers and features my good pal and co-worker Hannah spent some quality time in Japan where she acquired an epic set of Copic markers and a crash course in how to use them. She also colored this week’s awesome artwork which is a terrarium coloring plaque from Hallmark using Copic markers.
Hannah talks me and Heather through some tips and techniques for using Copics in new and better ways. Check out all the notes on the Art Supply Posse site.
This week on Art Supply Posse, Heather and I are joined by Bob Atkins from Skylab Letterpress (true confession, my darling husband) to talk about letterpress printing and the somewhat circuitous route to finding your calling. We also go through some listener feedback and talk a bit about Inktober.
Get all the show notes on the web site and leave your comments and feedback!