A May art update: More dip pen action

Esterbrook 356 nib, once used by Carl Barks (not this nib, but the nib in general)

Hello folks. Last month I let you all know that I got back into dip pens. After pretty much avoiding them since high school, it’s been fun to work in the true “pen-and-ink” medium. I started off with a Tachikawa wooden and rubber holder and a Tachikawa Model G “Manga” nib. Then I decided to experiment a little more, since nibs are usually pretty inexpensive. I saw that “Robot of the Day” was using a Brause #361 nib, also known as the Blue Pumpkin nib. I got one and like it a lot!

So I dug a little deeper. I knew that pretty much all mid-century cartoonists used dip pens and nibs. What nibs did they use? Charles Schulz famously used an Esterbrook 914 “Radio” nib. Or shall I say, infamously: The story that’s been told is when Schulz learned that Esterbrook was discontinuing nib production, he bought up the remaining stock from the company! Whether or not this is true, Schulz really liked the nib. Maybe I should try the pen that Peanuts was drawn on?

Well, online sellers know that story too, so Esterbrook 914 nibs are at a premium. Nothing ridiculous, mind you, but more than I care to pay right now. But looking up Esterbrook brought up another notable cartoonist, Carl Barks, the “good Disney duck artist” and the creator of Uncle Scrooge. His nib of choice was another Esterbrook, the 356. The prices on these nibs are significantly cheaper than the 914, probably because Barks is not as famous as Schulz. As someone who emulated Barks when I was younger, picking up a couple 356 nibs was a no-brainer.

So how is it? Well, different. It’s way more scratchier and way more flexible than the two other nibs I have used. And it was a pain to letter with, but to be fair, both Barks and Schulz did their lettering with Speedball nibs. 1 I don’t know if I like it yet, but I’ll keep on trying.

I also decided to get another fountain pen. I’ve been digging drawing with fountain pens, but they are only so flexible, so line width variation is minimal. I wanted a fountain pen with a flexier nib, so I wouldn’t be tempted to bring a dip pen with ink bottle when travelling. (It can get messy.) I decided on a Noodler’s Konrad pen, which is pretty affordable at a hair over $22. It’s got a built in reservoir, so I can easily use bottled ink like my Noodler’s black. It’s a bit messier than a cartridge pen, though not outright leaking–it made it from Portland to Minnesota via train then back via plane with no issues. (I did make sure I carried it in a zip-lock bag, though.)

And how does it perform? Quite well, thank you. The postcard art I drew below (you’ll be getting this soon if you are in Postcard Club) was drawn with it:

And I just want to say something about this art: I’ve never cared much for my own artwork. I think this happens with a lot of artists, we bang out something to get it done, take a quick scan to make sure it’s passable, and move on. But every once in awhile we do something that manages to wow ourselves, makes us go “Did I just do that?” The Pedalpalooza 2022 postcard is one of those moments. The fact that I got it done in a few minutes is also great, it was no belabored “work of genius” constantly worked over again and again. I just did it.

Why do I like it so much? Well, it’s the quality of line, the way it looks. It reminds me of the mid-late 90s alternative cartoonists that I cut my teeth on when starting out. Artists that I clumsily tried to imitate, but couldn’t just yet. Perhaps it’s because I was using Microns, belaboredly going over each line again and again “to get it right”, sucking the life out of my work? Perhaps.

The art above to me has a very Adrian Tomine vibe to it, an artist I admired then and now. And the fact that I got that vibe so effortlessly is ironic, as Tomine was one of the most uptight, anal artists back then.2 I can understand why, he was just a year older than me and being held up as a “genius”. I’m sure there was a lot of pressure to perform. Me? No one has heralded me as a genius, so no pressure. And I hear that Tomine is a lot less uptight these days, so it all works out in the end.

Anyways, I’ll be playing around with these dip pens and the Noodler’s Konrad for now.

Like my stuff? Go to my Ko-fi page to buy me a coffee!

1 Barks’s wife Garé handled lettering and things like black fills for the later part of his career.

2 Tomine was living in the Bay Area when I was there in 2000-1. I never met him, but a lot of cartoonists I knew also knew him. And “Adrian Tomine is uptight and anal” was a favorite topic of conversation. One story stuck out: He drew a comic set in a local cafe. He finished the pages, then went back and realized that they rearranged things. He tossed those pages and redrew it to match the cafe’s current layout. Now I don’t know if this is true, so take with a grain of salt.

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6 thoughts on “A May art update: More dip pen action

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  1. When I was in High School (1970s) I learned that many comic books were inked with a Windsor Newton Series 7 Number 3 brush, I used that for a lot of stuff. I met Barry Smith who said he was using a crowquill pen and as any teen who knows too much, I got into an argument and he had me tossed out of the con!!! I have over the years used many different dip pens and brushes in combo!!!

    1. I’ve heard about the Winsor-Newton brush, and am also tempted to try it out. What’s put me off is the attitude that some cartoonists have about it–if you are not using a brush, you’re not “doing it right”. And the issue of traveling with a bottle of ink definitely apply. My art kit is designed around portability, so I use brush pens instead.

      And getting kicked out by Barry Windor-Smith, oof!

  2. I’ve been thinking about acquiring a Noodler’s Konrad but haven’t really given it serious consideration. After reading about your initial experience with it I may have to finally “add to cart”!

    1. Do it! One thing I’ll note is that the cellulose they use gives off a funky odor that’s supposed to go away with time. On mine I don’t notice it unless I put it close to my nose, but other people downright HATE the scent!

  3. A good writing (in my view) always has me reflecting on my own life, be it fiction, a historical account, an anecdote, or whatever. You never fail to do that, Shawn. I’ve learned quite a bit about a tool I was exposed to in my youth, and took for granted, because it was part of my environment.

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