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.
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.”)
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.)
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.