Picking a Pen to Suit Your Paper

October 1, 2018
Using the Sakura Pigma Profesional Brush Pen FB (fine point brush) on the OLD Gutenberg paper in a handmade journal.

I write about picking your art tools and media to suit your paper (canvas, etc.) a lot on the blog. 

Lately I’ve been working in one of the journals I bound in #2017BigBind that I made with the OLD Gutenberg paper. (This is the Gutenberg paper made before 2017, before the cancelation of the paper and the subsequent reboot of the paper at the end of 2017. The new paper of this name doesn’t match the earlier paper I’m using, so I stipulate “old.”)

I love the old Gutenberg for a number of reasons, but one of the reasons it is really fun to work on is that its slightly pebbly texture is great with pens of all types—giving an interesting line texture. This is especially true of pens like the Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen FB and the Faber-Castell Calligraphy pen (not used in today’s sketches) when they are running out of ink. You get some lines that look almost like graphite in tone and texture. 

Detail of today’s image. The flecks contained in this paper, which add visual interest, are clearly visible, as is the texture.

I’ve included the close up view of this sketch so that you see the fiber flecks in the paper, as well as the texture. The paper has a creamy color.

When you purchase a new paper I encourage you to try all your favorite pens first thing on that paper. Make lines, dashes, hatching—all the marks you typically make with a given pen. You might find that working with a pen on a new paper opens a new set of options for your use of that pen because of how they work together.

Pen sketch using the Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen FB on Arches Text Wove (Velin).

This summer, because I was deciding on which type of paper and which size journal to take the to Minnesota State Fair, I had another journal in use at the same time as the one filled with old Gutenberg paper. 

This second journal was filled with Arches Text Wove (now called Velin in the US). It’s a light weight paper weighing in at 120 gsm. However it comes in large sheets (19.5 x 25.5 inches) is 100 percent cotton and acid free, and it folds and tears down nicely for binding. Despite its light weight it is a tough sheet that takes wet media and mixed media. I love working in journals I make with this paper because I can make a journal with lots of pages but still have a thin book to carry around with me. 

In the third image today you can see that same pen, the Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen FB, at work on the Arches Text Wove (Velin). This time the pen is even more dried out and that of course effects the line quality. But the most noticeable effect is the influence of the pebbly texture of the paper when you use this pen.

Watercolor over the inked drawing on Arches Text Wove (Velin).

Of course I like to use wet media on my pages, and as I just wrote, Arches Text Wove (Velin) is great for wet and mixed media. I use it for watercolor, gouache, water-soluble wax pastels, Montana Acrylic Markers, and the Art Graf water-soluble graphite and carbon black. (The OLD Gutenberg is good for all those media as well, however, I do not know if their new paper is as the samples sent were too small to test and looked and felt nothing like the original paper.) 

I’ve included a scan of the same ink sketch with watercolor washes added on the Arches Text Wove (Velin). 

Fun dry-brush results are possible on this paper because of the slight pebbly texture. 

Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen FB on Arches Text Wove (Vellin).

The final sketch for today is another Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen FB sketch on Arches Text Wove (Velin). 

I also include a detail of the image (below) so that you can see the wonderfully fine strokes-dots you can make with the Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen FB. It has a lovely flexible tip that really lasts through hours of sketching.

And when it starts to go dry, I recommend you keep the pen for doing your preliminary sketch work (capturing the gesture and general proportions of your subject) before you go in for detail work. This fine-tipped solid-fiber-tipped brush pen has become quickly become one of my favorite pen choices because the lines it makes are so variable. 

Detail of the third sketch.

Take some time today to think about the papers you use and the pens you use.

What effects can you get right now? What effects do you want to be able to get?

Are you working with a weak paper that pills when you wet it? Or lets paint and dye seep through it? If that’s the case, do yourself a favor and start using a better paper. You will find it easier to get lovely results and will be less frustrated. 

Do you need water-resistance in your pen ink? I find the Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen FB waterproof on most papers. (On some heavily sized watercolor papers it dries a little more slowly so you may experience a little bit of bleeding if you go directly in with your washes. I find this only happens rarely—I sketch quickly and go right in with my washes.)

Based on your answers to the questions above it might be time to explore some more paper and pen options?

If you don’t like to bind your own books check out the following commercially bound journals that love the Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen FB (and the Faber-Castell Calligraphy Pen too).

The Hahnemühle Watercolor Sketchbook  (That link takes you to part one of a three-part review; you can follow the blog navigation at the bottom of that post to the continuation.)

The Hahnemühle Nostalgie Sketchbook

The Field Artist Watercolor Journal 

The Handbook Watercolor Journal  

The time you spend testing out your pens on different papers will help you make choices about the way you want to work and the effects you want to achieve. It will make you not only more efficient (something that is useful when you are out and about sketching live subjects) it will make you less grumpy!

There are few experiences that dispel “grumpiness” as quickly as putting a favorite pen to a favorite paper.

Note: Both the papers used for sketching in today’s post are lighter weight than most watercolor papers. You may, depending on you water use, experience some buckling. I find this happens with Arches Text Wove (Velin). Buckling isn’t something that bothers me. You are still able to work on the next page (if you have bound the paper into a book). I think books with lightweight paper pages covered in wet media have a delightful texture to them, and a wonderful sound when you turn the pages. Someone’s hand has changed all these pages. Someone has lived in this book. If strong lightweight papers aren’t fun for you, keep looking—but the point is to look.


    • scone
    • October 3, 2018

    I just got the Kuretake no. 40 on the theory I can use any ink, as it takes a converter. To my surprise the cartridge ink it comes with dries much faster than the PPBP on every paper I’ve tried, light or heavy. It’s almost instantaneous, which could make it great for travel. I’m going to test it further with 90 lb. watercolor paper, the Arches drawing papers (110 lb and 123 lb.), and Stonehenge Kraft. Since the Kuretake was designed for Asian writing rather than drawing, I imagine it would work well with all sorts of thinner papers. We shall see!

    1. Reply

      I’m glad you found something that is working for you.

      I don’t tend to have any problems with my PPBP ink drying. The exception is heavily sized papers which float the ink, but then I just don’t rush into painting and give it a little more time. (So thin or thick papers aren’t an issue for me.

      The only issue I would have with the PPBP on thinner papers is an opacity issue. I’ve never had it bleed through thin papers, but when I scan art on thin papers I have to put a black sheet behind the page because the dark black lines show through the paper. This will be an issue with any dark black ink on thin papers.)

      I’m not sure which Kuretake ink you’re using as I’m not up on all their number/names. My recollection is that there was something about the ink odor that I didn’t like as well as other inks.

      Happy experiments.

    • scone
    • October 4, 2018

    The Kuretake ink is the cartridge that comes in the package. I can’t tell you the number as it’s all in Japanese, and I don’t read the language. There’s no smell I can detect.

    I’m not scanning, so that’s not an issue for me.

    The main problem is the PPBP can stay somewhat soluble for several minutes after it’s on the paper, and worse, I can’t tell when it’s completely waterproof just by looking at it, e.g., it doesn’t go completely matte, or change color. So if I want to be absolutely sure the ink is dry, I might have to wait more than five minutes before going in with another wet medium, or even just turning the page. If I’m out in the field, or sketching rapidly, that’s too long for me to wait.

    In fact I sometimes use the semi-solubility of the PPBP on purpose, drawing something, then going in with a water brush, like sumi-e. I wonder if that’s exactly what it was designed for: writing Asian characters, along with some ink and wash. Whereas, maybe the Kuretake is aimed more toward Westerners, especially given the converter option and the sable tip.

    I’ll test the Kuretake some more, but at first blush it looks like a better choice, at least on Western style sized watercolor paper, and when bleeding is not wanted.

    1. Reply

      Wow, I just do not have the same issues with the PPBP as you do. I wonder if we are talking about a different pen. The only time I have any issues with the PPBP not drying and being water proof right away is when I’m on a heavily sized paper. Otherwise no problem.

      Both pens were designed for the Japanese writing market. And my understanding it that both are popular.

      So glad the ink you’re using isn’t smelly. Now I’m curious I’ll have to go dig out the journal I tested Kuretake in and find out what my issues were with it. (Don’t know when I’ll be able to do that—it’s in storage.) Going on memory I could have sworn it was smell and drag difference…

      That’s why it’s good to keep a journal.

      Best of luck with your Kuretake!

    • scone
    • October 5, 2018

    I believe my PPBP is authentic, it came in authentic looking packaging. It’s possible I got a bad batch of ink. It’s also possible the humidity here in New England is playing a role. Doesn’t matter.

    Bottom line, the Kuretake dries almost instantly. Yesterday I made a drawing on 300 lb. Kilimanjaro paper, and went in with watercolor just a couple of seconds after finishing the last ink line. Just long enough to pick up a brush, load it, and put it down on the paper, even on the last few lines of ink. The PPBP simply can’t do that, in my experience.

    My tools have to cope with the indoor and outdoor climate I’ve got, and they have to work well with sized watercolor paper— that’s what I use most. If the PPBP doesn’t get the job done, and I have a better alternative, the PPBP is off the team. No excuses.

    So unless there is some “insanely great” unique use for it that I’m not aware of, something to justify keeping it, I’ll likely donate it to a local art teacher— they really need supplies!

    1. Reply

      Scone, you seem to have misunderstood my replies. I’m not encouraging you to use something that doesn’t work for you. In fact that’s why I told you I was glad the Kuretake ink was working for you.

      I think donating your PPBP to a local art teacher is a fabulous idea. I’m always passing along the items I test which are like new but I can’t use to teachers. They never have enough of a budget to buy things and test things. Whereas my testing is just part of the cost of doing my business and my experimentation.

      Happy sketching.

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