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Prepping for the Minnesota State Fair—Testing Sakura Pigma Sensei Pens

September 28, 2015

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Left: Quick sketch using the .3 Sakura Pigma Sensei Pen on white Stonehenge. Yes, most pens work fantastically well on Stonehenge (I can't think of one that doesn't right now), but the Sensei works particularly well, giving you a line that looks reminiscent of using a dip pen. When you blow up the image it might seem that the pen is skipping, on the very faint lines, but I was using very light pressure, and it's going over the paper texture and lightly hitting it.

Today's post is a little bit shocking, or will be to long-time readers of my blog. I actually took a pen to this year's Minnesota State Fair OTHER than the Staedtler Pigment Liners!

So let's back up a bit and look at the whole picture. 

I've loved Staedtler Pigment Liners since the 1990s when I finally gave up my technical pens for sketching and for technical drawing. Everything technical could be done on the computer. That beat cleaning 9 pens all the time. 

I tried the various Rotring disposables and I really enjoyed them, but they became more and more difficult to find. I tested a lot of pens. Most of the waterproof pens my friend were using for sketching had ink that was too smelly for me.  

I kept looking.

I really liked the Nexus Rollerball pens with India Ink. Even when one out of four leaked horribly after little usage for me, I still looked for them everywhere. I still will buy them when I find them. Filled with black or colored India Inks, these pens were lovely to work with on almost all the papers I used. They dried quickly and allowed me to go right to watercolor. (The Payne's Grey was a particular favorite of mine.)

But mostly I kept using the Staedtler Pigment Liners (SPLs) and the Faber-Castell Pitt Calligraphy Pen. (SPLs came in 3 sizes of calligraphy tip years ago, but they were discontinued. Sigh. They were all smaller than the Faber-Castell Pitt Calligraphy Pen's [F-CPCP] tip.)

While I still love the SPLs for just about everything, I knew I was going to work on watercolor paper for the Fair. On some watercolor papers the SPLs don’t dry quite as fast and they bleed every so slightly if you wash over them before they dry in those conditions.

150819-Sensei_TestPoint4WCLeft: A of various sizes of the Sensei in different thicknesses of nib, on creamy TH Saunders/Waterford 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper. Note that in the face at the bottom left the shading is a mixed neutral watercolor, not bleeding from the ink lines. I was playing with which size of tip I prefer sketching with and working on a 9 x 12 inch sheet. See below for a detail of the upper right.

I was at a friend’s for dinner and she had used the Sensei on Arches watercolor paper for a project. I thought that with that heavy sizing on Arches, if she didn’t experience bleeding it would be worth testing.

I had to call around town and no one had them. Then I ordered them from Jet Pens. (Since then I’ve found them at Art Materials, and Wet Paint has sets, and may stock individual pens—I hope so. I’ll keep you posted.)

Armed with a set of 8 I started experimenting. The set of 8 comes with a .3 mm, .4 mm, .6 mm, and a 1.0 mm drawing tip, and a 1.0 mm, 2.0 mm, and 3.00 mm chisel tip. The final piece in the set is a mechanical pencil. It’s not a great pencil, so for me that’s a throwaway. I recommend you buy open stock and get exactly what you want.

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Left: Detail of the watercolor sketch on the TH Saunders/Waterford 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper. The sketch was made with the .4 mm tip and the thicker lines at the outside of the sketch are the 1.0 mm tip. Click on the image to view and enlargement. 

These pens were made for Manga artists. The ink they contain “is archival quality, smear- and feather-resistant, waterproof, chemical proof, and fade-resistant. It also does not bleed through most papers.” (According to Jet Pens website. In all of my drawing tests I’ve found that they are indeed smear-and feather-resistant and waterproof.)

The tips are fiber/felt type tips, but I found that the .4 mm has what looks like a plastic tip and the .3 mm has a metal tube supporting the fine tip. The .6 mm and 1.0 mm are all fiber/felt and you can also turn them on edge to create a bolder line. The ink has a slight chemical smell, but nothing as overpowering as a Sharpie. I found that I could use them for long periods of time with no headache or any other odor related issues. Most people I surveyed didn't even notice the odor.

UPDATE 9.30.15: Jet Pens just sent out a note about Drawing Pens. They state that the tips of these pens are made of PLASTIC. (That explains my confusion when looking at the different tips in this line.) They are not fiber/felt type tips. Interesting for me to know this after all these years using the Staedtler Pigment Liners and thinking they were a fiber-tipped pen.

Read what Jet Pens has to say about the category of Drawing Pens, and see the different examples that they recommend.

My friend was charmed by the 1.0 mm, because she misses having a large, firm tipped pen to replace her love of the non-archival sign pens she used in the 1980s and 1990s. (The drawings she did with those sign pens have since all turned green because the inks were dye-based and blended. She’s thrilled this ink is pigment based.)

Since my purpose for testing new pens was to find one that worked well on watercolor paper I was pleased to find the ink waterproof almost immediately on my pre-Fair tests. 

At the Fair, despite very high humidity which made the paper soft, the pens continued to work well, produce clean, unfeathered lines, and dry quickly so that I could add watercolors pretty much immediately. In areas where I laid in multiple lines a small amount of ink may have, from time to time, released into a wash applied before the ink could dry (given the humid conditions), but I would rate them highly for being quick to dry and not bleeding when washed over.

I never thought I would find a pen that I loved as much as, or even a little more than (in some situations) the SPL. But there it is. There were some times at the Fair when I didn’t even want to add color because I loved working with the pen so much. I also have a side-by side comparison that I’ll post on another day.

If you like this type of pen for sketching and like a firm, hard tip in the smaller sizes, and a firm tip in the larger sizes. I think you should take a weekend sketching trip with a handful of these pens and your favorite paper and see what you think. Or stay home with them and try them on all the papers you have at hand.

The ink is rich and black. It holds up well against the watercolor. You won't feel the need to go in and restate lines.

If you don’t like scratchiness at any point in the life of your pens then you probably won’t enjoy working with these pens. The smaller tips and the calligraphy tips at least start out stiff and scratchy, even if they don’t all stay that way.

I was very excited about the 3 calligraphy tip options in this line. You’ll see images sketched with those pens in later posts. I love using them and have already replaced my original calligraphy pens, I used them that much. I will just say that the tip wears down more quickly than the F-CPCP. But because this pen line has 3 sizes, all smaller than the F-CPCP, they are worth exploring. They may seem rough at first, then they break into a great working mode. Finally they wear out and aren’t really any different from the regular tips in the lines they make. 

I think that calligraphers using the pens for writing will find they are more resilient. For me, using them to draw, I’m probably harder on them than most people because I’m using a corner edge, then the full edge, and quite frankly working so fast that the pen probably doesn’t know what is going on.

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