Three-in-One Review: Chinese Brush Fountain Pen, Dragon’s Napalm Ink, and Tim Wooton’s Book

June 19, 2011

See the complete post for details on these three things.

110614DragonsNapalmTest Left: Test of Noodler's Dragon's Napalm Ink using a Chinese Brush fountain pen and doing an exercise in Tim Wooton's "Drawing and Painting Birds." (He has you drawing in simple lines from a photograph, and then adding details.)

Today, in image and post, I'm going to deal with the three items mentioned in the post's title and the image's caption.

To begin with there's the Noodler's ink: Dragon's Napalm. The label says it is a sepia which shades to carmine. At least that's what I think the label says but since the Noodler's jars always come so full to the brim, and this one was difficult to open, the label on the bottle is obscured by the spillover stain.

You can see immediately, by looking at the image, that it's a lovely color. A vibrant orange-orange that has some earthiness to it. Is it lightfast? Don't know. Is it waterproof? Nope—see the washed over areas at the bottom left of the image where I wet my text. There was some blue paint on my first stroke, that's not the ink.

I just saw this ink in the store and liked the display card. So I brought it home to play. I've been doing a lot of pen testing lately and it made sense to have some different colors of ink.

Next there's the matter of a Chinese Brush-tipped fountain pen I picked up at Wet Paint about a month or 6 weeks ago. I've lost the packaging, but I just found out from Wet Paint that it is called the Masters Water Brush Pen. (Which is odd because it's for filling with ink—at least that's what I've been doing with it.) The pen comes in a small, medium, and large. There is very little difference in size between the medium and large brush visually. The small looks about the size of the brush tip on the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.

Here are a great things about these brush pens:
1. They are fountain pens so you can fill them with your favorite fountain pen inks and do brushwork with them. This will be particularly useful for calligraphers and of course for anyone who likes to sketch with a brush pen (I do!).

2. They cost under $10.00 so if you want to experiment it isn't going to break your budget.

There are some potential negatives depending on your persnickety-ness:
1. The barrel and cap aren't "finely" made and so some people might be put off. I have had no leakage outside of the pen so the beauty of them isn't an issue for me. (I did have leakage from the brush into the cap in both my pens, so you have to be careful when you're taking the caps off that you don't put droplets of ink on yourself.) For under $10 who cares!

2. I was at Wet Paint when they first arrived and Liz tore one out of the package, wet it with water and we started testing it. They come with their brush tips solidified with some sort of stiffening agent that you have to rinse out. It protects the hairs in transit. Well be careful when you do this. I don't know if it was indicative of the larger brushes or just too quick a softening up, but hairs actually fell out of that brush tip as we started to work with it. (No hairs have come out of either of my brush pens yet; and even knowing that was a possibility, at less than $10 how could I resist? So you decide.)

3. The inkflow in these pens can be uneven, sometimes delivering more ink than you would like. But you can counter this with doing some test lines to start a drawing session and "equalize" the flow, and then just being careful—as you would with any stand-alone brush.

The sketch that illustrates this post was made with the SMALL. That's my favorite. I also have the medium, but it is a very large brush and I only like to use it on very smooth paper for large sketches. As I said earlier, no hairs have fallen out of either of my pens.

People who work with the Noodler's Bullet Proof inks that are waterproof might enjoy loading up one of these brush pens with their favorite color and going out to sketch. (Obviously you can do this with watersoluble inks as well, but the ink will bleed when you wash over it.)

Finally today I wanted to say something about Tim Wooton's Drawing and Painting Birds.

First my favorite bird drawing and painting book is John Busby's Drawing Birds.
I keep meaning to write a review about it and never get around to it. If you like to draw and paint birds or want to learn, I suggest that you get a copy of Busby's lovely book. It is filled with his own illustrations and the works of other talented bird artists. It's an amazing book.

Then if you are still interested in reading more and seeing more eye candy, I recommend you pick up Tim Wooton's book. Wooton is obviously a fan of Busby too, because not only does he include some of Busby's art, but Wooton also has a similar approach. (Like Busby he makes a paper bird model to use when learning to draw flying birds from all angles.)

Wooton organizes his book in much the same way as Busby too, covering the bird's structure and such—but you expect that from anyone seriously trying to convey helpful, sound information on drawing birds (or drawing animals or anything for that matter).

The book begins with some interesting drawing exercises to train your hand to do repetitive things in an accurate manner. I thought it was fun to see these; and they are useful for bird artists trying to capture repetitive patterns and structures on a bird. (Useful for any artist training his hand.)

The design of the book is a bit clumsy, with san serif text being irritating to read and side bar material or quotations called out with only rules looking like just so much more text. Too many page spreads seem to have no anchors (or in terms the book's author would understand: no skeletal structure on which to be built). Art pops up and out of the running head area and columns break at the most inopportune moments. There is also a tendency for captions to be set centered or flush left. If  you have a simple title centered below an image that's fine, but a block of text comprised of several sentences with each line centered below an image, well it becomes painful to read and actually makes your eyes dizzy. On page 121 this propensity to switch back and forth between styles resulted in a column of 3 stacked images all with centered titles and captions above one caption set flush left at the base of the column  (it is the caption for the image in the left column). Putting a caption opposite an image like this is not an issue. But mixing the caption styles within one column of text looks sloppy.

A small thing you say? Not when getting information out of a book is hampered by the design and execution of the design of a book. The end result of such a free-form approach to book design and application of formatting styles (captions, text) is to create a hodge podge of visual noise which distracts from the main game—the drawing and painting of birds and all the wonderful images the book includes. This author should be seriously upset with his designer who has done him no favors.

I hope that the book is popular enough to warrant a second edition printing. I encourage Wooton to lobby for a redesign in his contract.

Despite the unfriendly visual landscape created by the design Wooton's book is lavishly illustrated with superb works (sketches and paintings) by renowned bird artists. For that reason alone you probably will enjoy adding this book to your art how-to library.

  1. Reply

    Roz, those look like pens I bought from Blue Heron Arts at I bought this seven pack. I love the idea of these pens and they *are* cheap, but they’re put together like someone’s crazy engineer uncle made them in his garage. Lots of bristles fell out, many bristles were tweaked before I even washed them so I had to cut them off, the caps won’t even slightly stay on… these are not a quality made product. That said, I had fun playing with them, and would probably get some use out of them if any had reliable caps.

  2. Reply

    Oh, Kalina, I forgot the writing on my pens looks different too.

    • Frank Bettendorf
    • June 19, 2011

    Brushes that I’ve purchased from Japan and China “glue” the bristles together with sizing, more like wheat or flour paste, and you have to be careful to use cool or warm, not hot, water to get it clean.

  3. Reply

    The smaller brushes I got from Blue Heron had metal caps, here’s a different picture at the website – They really look the same as these “Masters” brushes, but if your caps are staying on, either they aren’t the same or they have been redesigned – my caps fit so loose that they fall off if you just tilt the pen horizontally. I bought mine sometime last year – I wonder if this company is working on their product & image, and doing better work now.

  4. Reply

    Kalina, my caps are metal and stay on SO TIGHTLY that when I took the cap off my brush containing Dragon’s napalm I looked like I had the measles—spots all over my arms, and a favorite t-shirt.

    I think a lot of manufacturing (from what friends in various businesses tell me) in China is in flux a lot, subcontracted, often pirated from someone else’s design, so you can get almost the exact same thing, but it can be very different in execution. And redesign for a product flaw is always a good thing!

  5. Reply

    Frank, thanks for the info about the glue in the bristles. I think Liz was using cool water, but I’m not sure. Most of the brushes I get these days seem to have something like this in them initially.

    I hope all is going well with you. It seems, from our weather here lately that I’ve moved to your neck of the woods!!!!

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