An April Art Update: Dip pens

It’s been a few months that I checked up with you fine folk about my art journey. Last time I spoke about rediscovering watercolors. I’m still having fun with them, though I haven’t done it as much as hoped. While one can do watercolors quickly, I like reserving a couple hours for painting. Pen and ink is still my main jam, and I can do it quickly.

I’ve been trying out a bunch of new tools and techniques. One of the biggest shakeups in my kit is the switch to using fountain pens vs. tech pens. A fine point fountain pen with waterproof or water resistant ink has been my daily driver, I use it in my journal comics all the time. The regular line width (comparable to a 0.3 tech pen nib) is what I mostly use. I can get some variance with line width but not a hell of a lot of it.

Then I saw a few posts by azorch over on Just Sketching about dip pens, aka crowquills. Dip pens, along with a brush, is the “traditional” way to ink. Like watercolors, it’s something I had to use in high school art classes, but I never got on with it. Tech pens just suited me so much more. I realize that some pen and ink purists look down on them. I definitely felt that a bit in my early days of drawing minicomics, feeling the “side eye” from the “real” inkers. But I feel (then and now) that it’s the result that matters. I mean, would you rather read a bad comic that was drawn with dip pen/brush, or a good one drawn with Microns?

But here’s the thing: Tech pens are pretty boring. They only make one line width. If you only use tech pens, you’ll need to get at minimum three different widths for them to be useful. And if you want any sore of line variance, you’ll need to meticulously (and obsessively) go over each line, again and again, until you get the line you want. When I first learned this technique via my friend Mike around 1997, I was into it. Twenty-five years later? Not so much.

My token dip pen (nib and holder) had gone M.I.A. many moons ago, 1 so new tools were in order. Through JetPens (my main art supply source these days) I got a nice Tachikawa wooden and rubber holder and a Tachikawa Model G “Manga” nib. The holder is so much better than the plastic generic one I used so many years ago. The nib is nice and flexible, and I’ve gotten good line variance. And it amazingly feels good, so much better than holding a Micron. The great thing? It’s still pretty cheap. The holder and nib came under thirteen dollars, and a bottle of Speedball Super Black India Ink set me back about five bucks. That’s a lot cheaper than the Copic Multiliner SPs I just got, which go for about ten bucks a pop.

I still have to be careful, though. Dip pens can get messy if you are not paying attention. And a sharp nib means a more “scratchy” feel and the possibility of carving through the paper if you get too hot and heavy. These are the things you never have to worry about with felt tip pens. This is probably why Bristol board is popular with trad pen and ink users. But despite all that, I liked the experience.

I’ll be playing around with this dip pen, perhaps try out a couple more nibs. And I should try out a brush or two as well. It probably won’t be a regular in my travel kit: though there is a cap for the nib (to protect the nib and my fingers), I just get worried about traveling with a bottle of India Ink. The Speedball Super Black vessel is plastic and supposedly hard to break, but I’d still want to put it in a Ziplock if I did travel with it.

1 Though amazingly enough I’ve probably had the same bottle of Higgins India Ink for a couple decades.

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8 thoughts on “An April Art Update: Dip pens

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  1. A couple of thoughts and/or suggestions relating to using a dip pen… The quality of some nibs is a little bit hit or miss. If you buy a Batch of the same point there can be variance from one point to another. That’s part of the charm and frustration for me. On the one hand you are rediscovering the medium every time you change nibs, and on the other hand… Well… You are rediscovering the medium every time you change nibs! Most points come to you brand new with a slightly oily or waxy protective coating. Those in the know, especially calligraphers, will wash those points first to remove that coating. The upside to doing this is a point that’s much smoother more quickly, and an ink reservoir that holds a little more capacity. I haven’t done so myself, but there are others Who have advised me to polish up a new point where it contacts the paper using a super fine emery cloth. If I ever get up the gumption to walk out to the shop and open one of my tool drawers, I may pull out a 3000 grit and give it a shot myself.

    1. Thanks for the thoughts and suggestions. I can see how dip nibs appeal more to the “tinkerer”. Most people these days just want something to work reliably right out of the box. It’s one reason why I primarily used Micron-style felt tip nib tech pens for a quarter century. (Don’t get me started on my PITA experience with Rapidographs!)

      1. I used to swear by (and at, of course) my kit of Rapidograph pans. That was years ago, creating newspaper and magazine illustrations. I had to work on Denril vellum to get super crisp lines. For the better part of the last decade my main stay has been a Uni-Ball Vision.

        1. Swearing by, and at Rapidographs seems to be a common theme. I’m amazed by those who just love them. I got crap from someone once when I said that I use Microns. Their take was “Microns are bad because they are disposable”. It’s true that the environmental impact of disposable pens is not good, but I decided long ago that I didn’t want to struggle with Rapidographs. I’ve found a good middle ground in the Copic Multiliner SPs–felt tip like Microns, but use replaceable cartridges.

  2. Oh, and by the way, I don’t carry my bottle of ink with me into the field very often. I don’t mind mess… Up to a point, anyway. But I don’t wanna get ink all over my handlebars!🤣🤣🤣 I think some Sketchers like Mark Taro Holmes do carry it into the field. They are much braver than me.

  3. I have been a fan of dip pens and nibs since I was a teen in the 70s, I mainly use markers these days for speed and travel, but will pull out the pens and ink for nore detailed artworks.

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