It’s Not Waterproof until It’s Waterproof

March 11, 2009


Above: An ink-test page from my current journal which uses Velin Arches (formerly Arches Text Wove) for text paper. I was concerned about bleeding ink lines with pens usually dependable in their waterproof qualities. (My rubber chicken puppet Gert is always willing to be a test subject.) The page size is approximately 6.5 x 8.5 inches. The right side of the page spread didn't fit on the scanner, but it isn't crucial. The page tab in the center of the spread is from a page I removed when I started the journal; something I do to make room for eventual collaged items. Click on the image to see an enlargement.

So is it bad Karma or the phases of the moon, or more likely the change in humidity as the earth gives up the last of the melting snow moisture into the air? And of course one can’t discount manufacturing tweaks and changes in the products and papers used. But whatever is causing “the change” in how my pens have been working on Velin Arches the last two weeks, it has made me out of sorts. My favorite waterproof pens have been bleeding when I paint over the ink lines.

Here’s the deal: I count on the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen for waterproof hair-brush (synthetic, but individual bristles) lines. I count on the Staedtler Pigment Liner for lines of rock solid, not bleeding a bit, waterproof quality (in a variety of line sizes; I like the .3, .5, and .7).

About a week ago I started a new journal with Velin Arches for text paper. I love this paper because it is lightweight (120 gm/m2—with that 2 being a superscript). It has a lovely pebbly texture and is simply wonderful to sketch on and then paint over with watercolor or gouache. Anyone who visits my website or my blog will have seen lots of examples of me doing this in various journals. I also happen to love the way this paper takes watercolor and the way the sizing smells when wet! The only negative to this paper is that because it is lightweight the opacity of the sheet is sometimes less than ideal, especially when I use something as dark as the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. After years of weighing back and forth whether this was a deal breaker I decided that opacity wasn’t my main goal. Having a great time with a paper that does what I want it to do is. (I sound like the original party girl, but it’s much more serious, surely!)

In the past when sketching on this paper with the pens mentioned I would start watercolor washes or gouache washes immediately after sketching and everything would be fine. Upon occasion there would be a slight bit of bleeding when I first started to lay the washes in, if I started where the freshest ink lines were.

Now in the current book it seems that no matter what I sketch, it is taking forever for the ink to be waterproof. (Forever for me in this context is 5 to 10 minutes.)

Recently I “lost” another paper to manufacturer’s changes (more about this on another day, that wound is still too deep and painful), and so my first thought was, “OH NO, now this paper is changing.”

Well that may be the case, but I took a moment to do two things. First I did the test page that you see at the opening of this post. I wet the lines with a Niji waterbrush immediately after sketching, then a minute later, a few minutes after that, and so on. Then I went to an old journal with this paper, one from a couple years ago so I knew the paper was from a different batch, and on the back page where my index is I drew in a few lines of ink and did a bleed test right there. Just to check myself, my memory, my desire for something to be a certain way.

My mind keeps coming back to images that I sketched on this paper and had no trouble with ink bleeding when I painted. What’s changed? When I think about some of those images I also recall that often I was with someone and talking and probably didn’t start to paint as quickly as I recall painting. Some of these painting sessions were also on hotter days or dryer conditions.

My tests the other day show that the inks are waterproof if they are allowed to dry fully.

My point in writing about this is to point out that the sizing, which is the coating (though some papers have internal sizing as well) which goes on paper to keep it from absorbing the ink or paint put on it, or to allow the paint to have certain characteristics (such as watercolors flowing) will effect ink as well and you have to be aware of it.

Don’t freak out and give up on a paper (or a pen for that matter) until you have done some tests. Even if you have used the paper in question many times before and it suddenly doesn’t work as you expect it, don’t freak out, do some tests. (Yes papers do change and you may have to deal with that ultimately, but test first.)

So my tests calmed me down. My tests made me realize that I’m sketching faster than I have been, and am pushing to get the watercolor on. This realization is a handy one to have because maybe I want to slow down a bit? It’s always good to look at how your working habits are evolving.

More important, the tests showed me that my paper wasn’t defective or changed and my favorite waterproof pens could still be considered such.

Also important, the whole incident of coming back to this paper and finding this “situation” allowed me to deal mentally with the issue of “what if I can’t get the same results?” I’m pleased that my response was, "Well I can cope with what I’m getting here." (This is a letting go of rigidity or “perfect” expectations which I try to do a little bit of every hour.)

Most important, by staying calm and testing I don’t have to run around and look for alternatives in either the pen or paper category; a journey which is fun, but also time consuming when you have some things you just have to get done with the tools at hand!

By writing about this today I wanted to encourage you to keep a couple things in mind.

1. Things do change, but not always on the day we think they do. (As for dealing with the change when it happens, well, tests are always a good starting point, and then after that, remain calm and start doing some more tests.)

2. Pens labeled waterproof are tested under certain conditions that you may or may not be replicating when you are using them. Take those labels as a strong guideline, but always expect pens labeled “waterproof” to bleed a little. Then do a couple tests like I did on the page spread shown and see where your tolerances lie. In most instances you really need to learn to live with a little bit of bleeding. It can be a good thing, a fun thing, an interesting effect in your ink and wash work. Breathe and enjoy it. If someone else recommends a pen to you and it doesn’t perform as “waterproof,” ask them what paper they were using and other pertinent facts, such as how long do they wait before applying paint? They aren’t crazy to say it’s waterproof, and you aren’t crazy to find that it’s not; you just aren’t comparing apples and apples.

3. Papers do change from batch to batch and sometimes the variation will be subtle and sometimes it will be extreme, but if you can accept and embrace the small changes you will actually, from a habit of working on that paper, know when the real and substantial changes come. You’ll be able to assess whether it’s time to walk away.

4. Which ink and which paper you use together will make a difference. I belong to a couple of Yahoo art lists and every few months there is discussion about Noodler’s ink on them. Dick uses Noodler’s inks in his notebooks. (I think he has 8 colors that he uses all in a system of his own devising.) He buys commercially made, sewn signature journals. (I don’t make books for him because he doesn’t like the papers I use, which are suitable for painting. He wants a lighterweight and even slicker surface. He has found this in some commercially made books at a cost I can’t even touch for materials, let alone labor, not that I would charge him—but if I’m making books for him I’m not doing something else, you get the idea). When it comes to Noodler’s the ink has always been waterproof on any of these papers. When I take Noodler’s, which is supposed to be formulated so that it is waterproof on any paper made of cellulose, it doesn’t always perform that way for me. Why isn’t it working for me? Well sometimes the papers I use are sized in such a way that the ink is held up off the fibers of the paper (the point after all of sizing) and it doesn’t get to bond in the same way. There are so many variations of this that you really do have to try your inks and papers together.

Bottom line, it isn’t waterproof until it’s waterproof. And even then it might never be. Go figure!

Let go of the concept of an ink that doesn’t bleed at all and you can start washing on that color a little bit sooner, and capture that animal as it moves out of view, catch the color of the wing feathers, express the shadow on a person’s cheek.

Love the way the ink feels when it is applied to the paper and the way the paint moves across the surface (or in some papers doesn’t) and relish the interplay of what you are seeing and feeling between your hand and your eye. Enjoy that.

Really enjoy that.

Your journey as an artist is going to be an accumulation of the understanding these nuances and your responses. Understand that change is coming. Know that you can adapt. (But do a lot of tests first just in case you don’t have to change quite yet!)

    • Nita
    • March 11, 2009

    This is the best statement ever about what making art is for me: Having a great time with a paper that does what I want it to do.

    Dancing with the paper comes to mind. Sometimes it trips, or steps on your toe. Sometimes it glides perfectly in rhythm. And sometimes the music just isn’t what you wanted to hear.

    Enough metaphors? 🙂

  1. Reply

    great post, roz!

    • Roz
    • March 13, 2009

    Thanks Ricë!

  2. Reply

    I’ve never found that Noodlers Ink that promises to be permanent and waterproof to be either. It ALWAYS bleeds when I add watercolor, which is the reason I stopped using my fountain pen (and the Noodlers).

    • Roz
    • March 23, 2009

    Jana, I’ve found Noodlers to be waterproof on some papers. I think it really depends on the sizing and how it gets down to the papers. Dick uses it in fairly “normal” sketchbooks with nothing special paper (they are sewn sigs so he uses them) and he is very happy with about 10 different Noodlers ink colors.

    You are not alone in having problems with Noodlers!

  3. Reply

    I have discovered a truly waterproof ink for my fountain pens called DeAtramentis Document Ink. I have only found it at It comes in a limited variety of colors but it is DEFINITELY WATERPROOF.

  4. Reply

    Brett, I’m glad the ink is really working for you. It will still depend on the paper you use it on, for exact moment of waterproofness. But yes, people are really having good success with their inks on a variety of papers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Cookmode

Pin It on Pinterest