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My Love Affair with the Pentel Brush Pen

July 24, 2017
Pentel Pigment Brush Pen on the smooth, slightly yellow, card stock pages of the Dylusions journal. The brush pen is great for quick sketches when you’re watching TV. And for making bold, black ink passages, whenever needed—as for bushy eyebrows perhaps?

I love the brush pen so much that I write about it almost constantly. Every so often I make a concerted effort to get people to try it. That’s what this week is about. My blog posts are all brush-pen related.

I’d like to begin by mentioning that I didn’t always like the brush pen. I tried the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen first in the early 2000s and didn’t like it. Sure, the ink was waterproof (or at least resistant on all the papers I used it on; see It’s “Not Waterproof Until It’s Waterproof” if you don’t understand what I am writing about). I could put watercolor or gouache washes over it almost right away.

Pentel Pigment Brush Pen and watercolor washes on Canson Watercolor Board. It doesn’t matter if you are making bold strokes or putting in a little mustache stubble, the Pentel Brush Pen performs. My eye grew accustomed to the bold lines contrasting with the light washes and now this is one of my favorite ways to sketch.

But it was very strident in its line, even the hairlines came across as crisper and richer and darker black ink than other pens I used. I think my eye was simply overwhelmed.

It was also hard to control. There was a bounce and a lilt that you had to lean into and I wasn’t quite ready to do that.

Note: Links to the past posts before 2017 will not have enlargeable images because of the incompatibility of the old blog’s storage system and importation issues. I don’t have plans to redo these 2100 plus posts at this time, but you can still see the artwork and product photos even in the smaller images; and benefit from the information in the the posts.

I decided to come back to it by sneaking up on it. I started using the Pentel Color Brushes. 

A particular favorite was the Magenta Color Brush. I would sketch quickly with the dye-based ink (which is also fugitive, keep that in mind if you use them) and then go in with my gouache paints. The gouache, which is ground more coarsely than watercolors would mix with the water-soluble dye-based ink in interesting ways, and settle with interesting textures.

I love textures so I started to use it more and more. I even took it to the 2004 Minnesota State Fair.

In those examples you can see I’m still getting used to the movement and flow of the line. I’m also playing with how much line to put down knowing that the paint will come in and dissolve some of that line.

Shortly after that I decided that I preferred the PPBP’s non-watersoluble line. I liked the fact that I could build gouache layers on top of it and hide the line or let it show.

In this post I actually worked with the brush pen lines exposed for one portrait and covered for another on the same spread. Both approaches leave opportunities for stylistic tweaking. The portraits are on Nideggen which is a tan toned paper. (I was watching “The Irish RM.”)

This portrait was also made using the water-soluble color brush. I love the way you can pull shading out of the line. Sometimes I stroke the tip of the brush pen with my water brush and pick up diluted ink so that I can apply shading without a line on the paper.

I still use the water-soluble Color Brush from time to time, as you can see in this project where I sketches a bunch of actors in an “historical” movie.

I also enjoy drawing from life with that pen because you can quickly get shadows and shapes and partially “erase” or minimize lines that might not be working. You can see this in some dog sketches I made when two pups came to visit—there’s a little video flip through of my 2 1/2 day production. 

I have tested most brands of brush pen. All the ones I can find at least. I always come back to the Pentel lines.

I use them because I think they have the best ink flow (whether you’re using the PPBP or one of the squeeze-bodied pens). I think their ink also performs the best for my needs. If I want water-solubility I feel I get more leeway with the Color Brush line. The ink is more malleable and less wimpy or weak. It breaks into component parts for shading in a range that is most pleasing to me.

All of there pens also seem the right balance for my hand. Their brush tips are resilient and long lasting. (I frequently keep the brush tip on the squeezy pens and replace the barrels up to 3 or 4 times—with that same tip. And I’m hard on brushes.)

A quick brush pen sketch from a Sktchy app “muse.” Sometimes you just have to end the day with one more flourish of the brush pen. It reminds you how much fun can be had creating a visual vocabulary for hair. The stroke and specific drag (depending on the paper you’re using) of the pen across the paper is both exhilarating and calming. It’s like vitamins. You need some everyday.

And of course their inks don’t have odors wet or dry—this is huge for me. Several other brands do have annoying and sometimes even strong odors.

If you do decide to start using a brush pen I recommend you start with the Pentel lines. Then when you are comfortable with using the tool, branch out and test all the different brands. 

The Pentel lines all have great brush tips with lots of bounce. You’ll master control with it quickly (with practice!). After that you might find that you enjoy the softer natural bristles of some of the competing brush pens, but you’ll have the basic control skills necessary to work with managing the extra limp-ness of the brush tips in other lines. (Note: you may also find some lines with stiffer tips. Experiment like Goldilocks.)

How Do I Decide To Use One Pen Over The Other?

It depends on my mood, whether I’m going to add paint, how I want that paint to look, and of course the paper I’m working on.

When I test a new paper 99 percent of the time the very first test I do is with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen or the Fine-Tipped Pigment Brush Pen also from Pentel.

If I don’t like the way one of those pens feels on the paper then that paper already has a strike against it, because there is never a day that passes when I don’t do at least one sketch with the Pentel Brush Pen.

I’ll have more to say about brush pens this week, including the sepia and color ones. I’m only asking you to think about them…because I think you would have fun with them.

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    • Tina Koyama
    • July 24, 2017
    Reply

    I’m already on the brush pen train — I love almost all of them! I love the squeezie Pentel best at life drawing sessions. It’s the only tool that seems to keep up with me during the really short poses (I hate charcoal) because it flows so well — like paint but without the time-consuming dipping into the paint. Will look forward to more posts on brush pens!

    – Tina

    1. Reply

      I know you love the brush pen too. The squeezie is great at life drawing.It makes gesture drawing seem so effortless, with no charcoal dust!!!!!

    • Jennifer
    • July 25, 2017
    Reply

    I try to fall in love with the brush pens, but the “strident” quality you describe, especially in the PPBP (which I understand is the pen’s selling point– dark, smooth and consistent lines) keeps me from wanting to use them all the time. In your last sketch, would you mind explaining how you got the lines between the eyebrows, and the lines going from left to right down the arm/sleeve that go from black to “brushy” (my word for a dryer brush)? Did you use a squeezy kind of pen? Are you wiping off the bristles at all, or waiting for those dryer lines like between the eyebrows for when you are just about to squeeze more ink again?

    1. Reply

      The stuff that you’re looking at is all pressure Jennifer.

      The stuff at the top of the nose going from brow to brow is all light pressure and being up on the tip of the brush. The strokes down the arm/sleeve from left to right are pressure too—starting the line with medium pressure and then as the line continues I’m releasing the pressure on the tip by raising my hand as I go, until there isn’t enough pressure on the tip to push it into the paper and the body of the tip drags across the paper and shows the texture.

      No squeezing of the barrel at all during all of that, in fact you don’t want to squeeze during that if you want really light lines.

      I think people squeeze way too much. I might squeeze once at the beginning of a drawing like this, get it all in, starting at the eyes, maybe squeeze once when I go in to darken the hair shapes and I’m done.

      I am not whining off the bristles at all. I never wipe the bristles off.

      Give it another go.

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