Another Post Promoting Direct Brush Pen Sketching: It’s So Fun

January 18, 2021
Sketches of my lunchtime pepper, using a brush pen. (Flexbook journal that’s about 8.75 x 11 inches.)

Yep, every so often I write a new post to convince everyone to use a brush pen for direct sketching, i.e., just draw with it, no pencil sketch, no net.

It’s just too fun.

So it’s the new year, and the Pandemic is still raging, and I thought it would be a good time to encourage you to pick up a brush pen.

There are a couple of reasons I can think of off the top of my head why you need to do this. It’s fun, the bristles of the brush pen allow textural differences to the line quality depending on the pressure you use, the texture of the paper, and the inkiness of the brush. All things that you can make work for you.

You can see more examples of my brush pen work in this post My Love Affair with the Pentel Brush Pen. (Just a heads up, that post contains some links to currently unavailable posts, and I don’t have a schedule for when I’m going to fix them—but there’s still lots of fun stuff to check out.)

The Pentel Brush Pen with pigment ink is also great with watercolor.

If you’ve taken brush pen sketching classes with me you know that my favorite thing is to mix the pigment based brush pen which is waterproof or water resistant on most papers when it dries, with the dye based Pentel brush pen’s watersoluble ink (or with sumi or other ink washes). You can see a short video of some sketches I made with these two pens one weekend when being visited by two black and white dogs here.

Which Brush Pens Do I Like To Use?

I have a post here that describes the various brush pens I like to use.

In this post from 2009 I discuss the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and the Color Brush

A couple years ago the PPBP came out in two new colors that you might want to check out.

Some times I can’t resist an ultra fine pen and then I turn to Pentel’s Artists’ Brush Sign pen, but remember this is a dye based ink, just like the Colorbrush line they make, and those colors are fugitive.   

I have tried every type of brush pen I could get my hands on, either through local companies or online, or friends traveling to Japan. (Use my blog’s search engine to find reviews of other brush pens I’ve tested.)

I’m sure I’ve missed some. But I’ve always come back to the pens I’ve listed above because the ink does what I want it to do, and because the pens handle the way I want them to handle. Equally important the ink from these pens doesn’t have a chemical odor, either when you first lay it down, or when it gets wet. That’s a huge deal for me. I don’t want to get a headache while I’m working.

Why Do I Care If You Use A Brush Pen Or Not?

I believe that when you start drawing directly with a brush pen you start to think carefully about your choices because the line can be so strident—but you also develop a sense of play—you can be light and lyrical here, heavy and bold there. It’s great fun. With quick strokes you can capture a gesture of a fast moving bird or animal, or the likeness of a person.

The ability to think quickly and get something down on paper is a useful skill to have. And it’s a skill that everyone who uses a brush pen puts his or her own unique spin on. 

I think it’s important that everyone experience that. And it is very liberating to overcome any fear of a strong bold line that might not go exactly where you intended it.

I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t pick up a Pentel brush pen. I do this because it’s simply so much fun.

Tip To Remember: When you first start sketching with a brush pen it will feel odd. You’ll be managing pressure and ink, and the world may seem to speed up because the brush pen is so “fast,” especially if you’re using it on a smooth/plate surface as I enjoy doing. Just remind yourself that if you practice with intention you’ll get the hang of it. That means that you’ll need to practice stroke making to get a sense of the pressure needed. It’s worth it. But also remember, that if you haven’t worked with a brush pen before the end result might look “off” to your eyes. Put your work aside for a week or so and then get it out and review it with your fresh eye. What jumps out at you? What do you need to work on? Most of all what do you like about your work? Always find something that you like and enjoyed doing in a piece so you can aim for doing more of that. 

Over time, when you practice you may find that the brush pen becomes your favorite tool too.

Where Can You See Me Demonstrate This Type of Sketching?

Join me on my Patreon Subscription blog and you will see videos of me working with a pigment brush pen sketching and ink wash method creating a chicken portrait.  I also sketch with ink wash on Patreon, sometimes on toned paper like this approach to direct brush sketching with ink wash.

Where Can You Get These Pens?

I  like to buy my pens at the local independent art supply store Wet Paint, in St. Paul. (They do mail order so you could buy from them too even if you’re from out of town—I’m not financially connected to them I just love supporting an independent art supply store that gives so much back to the art community.)

You can also buy the pens I’ve mentioned through Jet Pens online.

    • Maven
    • January 19, 2021

    I love your enthusiasm for the brush pen, esp the Pentel one, and I do believe you are the reason why I now own four (two sepia, two black). And I totally agree on the “no pencil, no wire, no net” adventure–I stopped using pencil for regular drawing as well, but with brush pen it does feel like even more of a challenge.
    I watched some Seth Godin interview last night on youtube and drew him with brush pen, pretty barebones but I was happy with it nonetheless.

    1. Reply

      Maven, it makes me so happy to know you have brush pens because of me! YAY! It’s working my incessant harping on it. And I’m so glad that you draw directly with the brush pen. I draw directly with all my ink pens but find it particularly satisfying to do it with the brush pen. I’m glad you used your YouTube viewing time to sketch a portrait with the brush pen. Keep on finding all those moments for fun and practice.

    • Tina Koyama
    • January 25, 2021

    My preference is to use the “hairy” type of brush pens (like the Pentel) for all the reasons you name. But when I’m out on the street (literally — a safe place to sketch in my neighborhood because cars are so rare, and I stay out of the way of pedestrians, too, though they are rare, too) or, in the Before Times, on the sidewalk, I prefer the brush tips made of some kind of formed material. Not quite as fun, but a bit easier to handle when standing. They still have a nice thick-and-thin line quality, though.

    1. Reply

      Tina, I find this really interesting that you make a decision base on where you’re sketching, whether you’re seated or standing. For me the decision to use a “hairy” brush type or a solid fiber tipped pen is based on what I want to accomplish on the page and scale. For a solid fiber tipped pen I use the Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen FB (fine brush). I didn’t even mention it here because I write about it so many other places. But the FB is pretty much my go to scale for a lot of things, in a lot of books based on the page size. It has pretty much replaced similarly scaled Staedtler pigment liners, in part because the constant double vision I have now makes using the pigment liners to get a smooth line more difficult and I find it’s easier to just work quickly with the FB and live with the type of restatement lines it gives, which are more pleasing to me or more interesting to me, than the pigment liner restatement lines (though I still to use PLs, I’m fickle). But I mostly stand when I’m sketching and I love sketching with the Pentel Pocket brush pen, or the thin squeezy gray barreled version they make also with pigmented ink when I’m standing at the zoo, Fair, anywhere. I love the quick boldness of it. In fact I love the squeezy version so much that I have at times used it to the exclusion of all else and for so many hours in a day, and then days in succession that I’ve given myself tendonitis, and then have to go through withdrawal and not use one at all for a long period until I heal. During one of those recovery periods I found the FB and found also that it kept me so happy to have the scale and the brush effect of strokes (albeit without the lovely individual hairs influence on the stroke) that since I started using it I’ve balanced how much I use the other and haven’t had any tendonitis, or felt any depravation.

      But it all comes down to which scale I want to work in for me. And then of course paper—If I am working on a smooth surface I cannot help picking up the “hairy” pen whether I’m siting or standing. I just have to feel that brush moving across the paper. Savoring those strokes as I move across the paper and it starts to turn into something is so fun and fast, especially compared to dip pen (which starting at 10 was my tool of choice for almost 2 decades).

      I love hearing how and why people have different preferences. All the more reason to keep experimenting, but with a healthy dose of brush pen in one’s diet.

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