The Akashi-ya Bamboo Barrel Brush Pen: Some Tests

September 13, 2010

The post reviews this brush pen.

Left: First sketching test with the Akashi-ya Bamboo Brush Pen, with some first impressions. (Sketch of Gert
with Schmincke pan watercolors, in a handmade journal made of Nideggen paper.)

About a month ago the folks at Jet Pens were kind enough to send me an Akashi-ya Bamboo Barrel Brush Pen for testing. Since they put absolutely no restrictions on my review I was happy to oblige. I love working with brush pens (specifically the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen) and am always curious to try brushes I haven't come across.

Left: Photo of the pen. Shows the cap off, the tan synthetic hair bristle tip, and an ink cartridge.

Of course I started with a sketch of Gert (my resident life model: a large rubber chicken puppet) and since you can read some of my initial thoughts on the page scan, note that some of them will be revised in this review, because of additional work with the brush.

The pen, when closed is 6-3/4 inches long. Once you remove the cap, which CANNOT be attached to the back of the barrel, the pen is just under 6 inches long from brush tip to end of barrel. It has a fat barrel with a circumference of 2-5/8 inches. Compare that to the more slender Pentel Pocket Brush Pen which has a circumference of 1-1/4 inches!

For all this visible bulk, however, this is not a heavy pen. It balances nicely in the hand. If you are someone who positions your fingers back on the barrel you will find this a particularly nice pen to hold. Holding on to the bamboo, behind the long black nib extension creates a lovely balance in the hand ideal for quick, light work. And long working sessions. If, however, you like to choke up on your nibs you may find that your thumb will be constantly aware of the bamboo edge. It all depends on how you work.

I was worried art first, that it would be too long a pen in my hand, but then I went to attach the cap to the back of the pen and found you can't do this, so it's a moot point. If you like to attach your pen caps to the back of your pens, for balance, extension, or simply so you don't misplace them, note that you won't be able to do that with this pen.

Initially, also I thought the pen was too heavy in my hand, but I came to realize it was actually that I wasn't used to the new balance. After I used the pen for an hour or so I had no such impression.

Another first impression that has been corrected with longer use is the sense that this tip is stiffer than the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. Straight out of the box the brush tip of the Akashi-ya Bamboo Barrel Brush Pen is stiffer than a new Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. I took this to mean that the shorter brush tip of the Akashi-ya was simply stiffer than the Pentel. After hours of use, however it is clear that the stiffness was simply a result of newness. I think it is actually too close for me to call. Both are springy, and that's really what I care about.

When I did my Gert test I was very pleased to see that the rich black ink of this pen dries quickly and allows for the immediate application of even sloppy-wet washes with very little bleeding. (I have to say "very little" instead of "no" bleeding, because on some papers there was a bit of bleed—but that's consistent with other pens of this type and no better or worse than the PPBP.)

I made one initial observation that proved to be very important. "Point on this pen doesn't seem as uniformly sharp as that on the PPBP…Don't know how long it will hold up."

The very tip, when examined closely looked as if a couple hairs were bent, very subtly. This allowed me to fiddle with my lines in some interesting ways, getting even thinner lines if I used only the bent hairs. But over the course of time using this brush those variances were worked into the rest of the brush and I found after about 3 hours of use that the really hairline thin lines I like to get with a brush pen were no longer possible with the Akashi-ya Bamboo Barrel Brush Pen, regardless of how much I throttled back on pressure.

Don't get me wrong, you can still get delightfully thin lines with this pen, and everything all the way to fat, thick lines. I just found that once I had used the tip for only a few hours I could no longer get the same ultra thin lines I got when the pen was brand new. And now, if I want thin lines I have to think more with this brush pen than with some of the others I use.

On the other hand, if you like dry brush effects even when your brush's ink cartridge is full you'll be pleased to know that it easier to achieve dry brush strokes with this pen. I think it must have something to do with the shorter hairs and the way you can get them to spread while you wield the brush.

100812Gooser2 Left: Quick gestural sketch of a goose showing the ease with which the tip will deliver dry-brush effects, e.g., on the back and just under the wing. Note that there is a slight wavy-laid texture to Nideggen which makes it particularly fun to work on in this way. However on smoother papers the same effect can be achieved. See also at the bottom center of the spread at "A" on the verso page, there is some rub-off of ink from the recto page. See comments above this below.

I need to say something more about the ink that comes with this pen. I already stated I had no trouble washing over it with watercolors. I also need to point out that like the  PPBP and many other black ink pens there is a danger of intense, dark passages of ink rubbing off on the opposite page. I didn't find that this happened to any greater extent than with the PPBP. (I'm talking about dry ink rubbing off in the course of carrying and using the book and turning pages and having pressure applied to that page.)

On the same papers (toned and white) the ink of the Akashi-ya Bamboo Barrel Brush pen looks darker to me than that of the PPBP, which has always looked pretty black to me.

It's a subtle difference which may be as simple as one ink not being as reflective as the other. If you are looking for a brush pen with rich black ink cartridges, this pen is definitely in the running.

Who should try this pen?—people who like very dense black ink; people who hold the pen well back on the barrel; people who work on large works and don't need ultra fine lines; people who don't clip the cap on their barrel when working; people who like a lot of "dry-brush" effect in their line work.

For me, the pen will remain a studio pen for large works where "ultra fine lines," because the scale of the drawing, is redefined. Also I really need to be able to clip the lid of the pen on to the base of the barrel when I'm out in the field. I sketch standing and have enough to juggle.

But I also see myself picking this pen up when I want those dry-brush streaks and am sketching in my journal at home. (Then if I drop the cap I'm almost sure to find it.)

Ultimately, how suitable this pen is for you will depend on how it feels in your hand, not only in balance, but in the way it aids you to create the line you want.

All my PPBPs have held their ultra fine tips over months and months of daily usage. I can't tell for sure if some of the issues I had with the brush tip on the Akashi-ya Bamboo Barrel Brush Pen are common with the product or unique to this individual sample. If I weren't totally happy with the PPBP I would buy several of these to test over time because it has distinct possibilities.

I have purchased pens from Jet Pens and found them to be quick and responsive, with excellent prices. (They didn't even ask me to say that much! But I have added it in case you are worried about buying your pens through the internet.)

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