Review by Tina Koyama (and Ana Reinert, with art from Hannah Carey and Cory Say)
Here at the Desk, we love brush pens, and we also have a penchant for white ink. Imagine our excitement when a white brush pen appeared on the market!
By way of explaining the product’s unusual name, JetPens describes the East Hill Tombstone white brush pen ($8.25; also available in black and vermillion) as “originally designed for repairing the engravings on Japanese tombstones and stone lanterns.” Very similar to the form factor of the Kuretake Zig Cartoonist Brush Pen, Pentel Art Brush Pen and other such pens, the East Hill pen contains ink in a soft reservoir.
Squeezing the barrel pushes ink from the reservoir to the brush tip.
I was pleased to find that the water-resistant, pigment-based ink is opaque and fast-drying. I especially like its opacity on toned paper (this opacity test and my sketch sample were done in a gray Stillman & Birn Nova sketchbook).
However, I was disappointed that the ink doesn’t flow as smoothly as I would like it to when sketching. In my sketch sample, I tried to “paint” the sky behind the trees, but I think the ink is a bit too thick for that type of application. It’s good for a “dry brush” effect, though, if that’s the effect you’re going for. A calligrapher or fancy letterer could probably make some beautiful effects on dark paper with the thick/thin brush strokes.
In an ongoing struggle with flow, I found that the ink tends to clog. I assume that was the problem, anyway, when squeezing the reservoir barrel sometimes resulted in the ink over-flowing from the edge of the ferrule instead of flowing into the brush. If you squeeze too hard, an unfortunate drip of ink may result.
Now that I see that the Kuretake Zig Cartoonist comes in white, too, I’m optimistic that more opaque white brush pens will become available.
Now, it’s our turn to weigh in about the East Hill Tombstone Brush Pen. My friend Hannah (you might remember her from Episode 22 of Art Supply Posse) mentioned the Tombstone pen to me and we set about prodding JetPens to find it on their next sourcing expedition. They were able to locate them, much to our glee. Clearly, many other artists wanted it too, so it sold out as fast as they stocked it. Finally, we were able to procure a couple white pens and black pens.
Hannah agreed to test out one of the pens and see if it lived up to her memories. She was happy with the results and got some pleasant shading. We got to see one of her cool illos.
Cory took a white one for a spin. He got some good opaques and shading but said he had some difficulties getting the ink out as well. He still made it look easy.
We all had the same issues with the white pens bubbling that Tina did and I found the ink super dry. Hannah had a little better luck with the black pen. Either way, the Tombstone pens have the advantage of being waterproof when dry.
At one point, Elaine (at JetPens) cooked up a workaround since the Tombstone pens kept selling out. Using Dr. P. H. Martin’s Pen White ($12.25) in a water brush pen ($5.75) works exceedingly well for most cases where you might need opaque white. Of course, P.H. Martin’s Pen White is not waterproof but when added to the brush pen with a little bit of water, it’s so much easier to apply. The Tombstone was a bit of an ordeal to apply and felt chalky.
If you are adding eyelights, highlights or just doing lettering on dark paper and don’t need waterproofiness, I’d recommend making your own brush pen with Pen White. Since Pen White is soluble with water, it can be used for shading too. It will probably ruin the brush pen or it will probably be the only thing the brush pen can be used for. One bottle of Pen White can fill two water brush pens so it’s an even value to the Tombstone pens or you can go halfsies with a friend.