2 December, 2004
UPDATE (08.16.10): A lot of time has passed since the article was first posted. After you check out my first impressions on Pentel Brush Pen below, go here to get some more current information about this wonderful drawing tool.
I have a confession. I have an unhealthy obsession for brush pens. The perfect brush pen has long been my holy grail. Anytime I enter an art store, or visit one online, I immediately head to the pen section to check out their selection of brush pens. Even when I find ones I like, I keep looking. Because somewhere out there, the perfect brush pen is waiting for me to discover it.
To understand my obsession with finding the perfect brush pen, it is important to start at the beginning — with real brushes themselves. I love drawing with a brush. I love looking at lines drawn by a brush. When I use a brush (typically my trusty Winsor-Newton Series 7 Number 2 sable brush), I really feel like I part of a long lineage of cartoonists. You just can’t beat using a brush.
But for all of their splendor, brushes have some disadvantages. First of all, they are messy. A brush is nothing without a well of ink and some water for periodic cleaning. This setup isn’t such a big deal at the drawing table, but it becomes more problematic when you are out and about. Plus, brushes are difficult to master. I’ve been using one for years and I still don’t feel that confident when I use one. Mastering a brush takes constant practice. Unfortunately, I can’t chain myself to my drawing table all day to practice. I got to go to the day job. It’s just not practice to think you can just throw a brush in your backpack and whip it out at a moment’s notice for spontaneous sketching. If only I had a brush I could take with me wherever I go, without worrying about spilling ink or cleaning bristles. If only there was a more portable alternative…. Enter, the brush pen.
For the uninitiated, brush pens are exactly what they sound like — a pen that has the qualities of a brush (or vice versa). They typically are markers with a flexible end designed to enable the user to get a similar line quality that they’d get from a brush. Similar, but not quite the same. Most brush pens feel more like markers than brushes. Sure, the nib may look like a brush in some ways, but it doesn’t draw like one or feel like one.
My first experience with a brush pen was a very positive one. I picked one up at a local art store. It was from a Japanese manufacturer and was supposed to emulate a Japanese Sumi brush. It had a thicker nib at one end and a thinner one at the other end. Both nibs were very brush-like and the ink was dark and strong (another important consideration when finding the perfect brush pen). I loved that brush pen and went through several in a couple of months. Then one sad day, I went back to replenish my supply and they were gone. I tried to order them, but they were no longer available. I have never been able to find that brush pen ever again.
Since then, I’ve tried many inferior brush pens, trying to either replicate my earlier success, or better yet, exceed it. My journey has produced many near misses in the search for brush pen perfection. The Sakura Pigma Brush pen was useful. It sports a nice fade proof ink and a responsive nib. However, it was way too delicate. It’s pretty decent “out of the box”, but the nib becomes frayed and loseWeight Exercises it line quality far too easily. Another near miss was the Faber-Castell PITT Brush Pen. This brush pen was a bit more durable and used even better ink, but still wasn’t quite as “brush-like” as I would have preferred.
I think I would have probably been satisfied with the PITT if I didn’t know that there were tantalizing alternatives out there somewhere. I would get cryptic hints of near mythic brush pens from interviews with pros and discussions about inking. The one brush pen that kept coming up was the Pentel Brush Pen. Supposedly, this brush pen was a brush pen in the truest sense of the word. Its tip was comprised of individual bristles and it used ink from refillable cartridges. I was intrigued. I wanted this brush pen. The only problem was that it apparently was not available in the United States. I tried numerous vendors with no success. Finally, I got tipped off to a company in England that specialized in calligraphic tools called Scribblers, that sold it on the web.
After figuring out the exchange rate, I sent off my order and soon received the fabled Pentel Brush Pen. And let me tell ya, it was certainly worth the wait. Out of all the brush pens that I’ve tried, this is the first that truly feels like a real brush. Heck, the thing is essentially a brush with a built-in ink cartridge. Before I got it, I worried that the ink would often clog, but I haven’t noticed any interruption in the ink flow. It works like a dream.
I’ve had the Pentel for a couple months now and it still has yet to disappoint. I can take it wherever I go and often jot off a quick brush sketch without having to worry about spilling any accompanying ink containers. Working with the Pentel has helped me become a bit more confident using a real brush as well, since I can pretty much draw with it anywhere. In a meeting. At my desk at work. Or on a lunchbreak, like this quick sketch for example:
In short, I’ve found my holy grail. And yet a part of me feels empty. I think the search for the perfect brush pen was just as much fun as the actual finding of the perfect brush pen. Art stores no longer seem as fun to rummage through. I no longer need to search for hidden gems online. I guess it kind of like if Lucky the Rabbit would have ever gotten to ear a bowl of Trix, or if Wile E. Coyote ever would have succeeded in catching that smug Roadrunner.
Well, fear not gentle reader! A sane person would have probably looked for new mountains to climb, but who wants to be sane? I have decided that the quest must go on. My Pentel will continue to serve me well. It will always hold a place in my toolbox, however, there is always room for improvement. I have already heard whispers of hard to find brush pens that are even better than my trusty Pentel. And I will find those brush pens, or have at the very least have fun trying.