I have been experimenting with pen and ink for years. I started with Rotring technical pens doing fine stipple and line drawings. They came in sets from 0.1 mm to 1mm and I had the whole set. The only problems being that if you wanted to change line thickness you had to change pens and the mark was unvarying. Also they were a devil to maintain, constantly blocking or getting their delicate innards damaged. The very opposite of expressive!
Then one day I passed by Philip Poole’s pen shop in Drury lane and he sold me a mixed box of Victorian drawing nibs made by Gillott and a couple of dip pen pen holders. The difference was wonderful. A Gillott 404 can go from 0.1mm to 1.2mm all in the same pen! Suddenly all sorts of new effects and textures were available. The nibs are wonderfully responsive. The disadvantages being they wore out quite quickly and required very careful handling if you didn’t want to drop a blot on to your paper. There is also the constant dipping that interrupts the flow. Also the paper had to be very smooth, ideally Bristol board.
Then for many years I did no pen work at all as I moved from illustrating books to designing and building things. Then a few years ago I started doing sketches out doors using fibre pens which was very convenient. I soon got dissatisfied though. The fibre pens had the same problems as the Rotrings, no feel at all. It is possible to get a grey line by moving the pen quickly so it skips but they have a very dead quality to the line. I had some old Rotring “art” pens which used cartridges but had possibly the nastiest nibs ever made by man!
No problem, I thought in my innocence, I’ll just go back to the dip pens. The experience was not great. The sharp nibs didn’t like the slightly rough high sized paper from Ruscombe Mill and handling ink bottle etc too made the whole process too cumbersome. The rough paper catching the nib and even wind was enough to dump the whole contents of the reservoir on your masterpiece at any moment.
Looking on the web I found that old fountain pens had flexible nibs. Skipping to ebay I immediately bought a 100 year old Waterman 50 which when it arrived had the most wonderful nib. Alas a little more research showed that if I used my nice paper the high size would soon wear away the tip and then the gold in short order. Great on Bristol board but not on my paper of choice. Mind you it is still far and away the best pen nib I have found for responsive feel and variety of line.
Back on line I found a range of fountain pens with the unlikely name of Noodlers. They has a pen called the Nib Creaper that looked just the ticket. It had a steel flexible nib, so tough and no rust. It was also very reasonable so I bought a few to play with. The first impressions were pretty good. The variety of line was there you just had to use a little more pressure than a Gillott. As the nibs are tipped they also could negotiated the rougher paper with no issues. The only difficulty for me was it was too small for my hands. Still I did lots of drawings with them.
Looking again I found Noodlers made some larger pens called Ahabs so I got a couple to try. The pens were very nice when they came but the feeds could not keep up with fast drawing. Here is where the Noodlers pens come into their own, Nathan Tardif who is Noodlers Ink made the pens to be easy to modify. This means they come apart very easily. Also bless him he sells spare parts, nibs etc. It only took a few moments to cut away a couple of ribs on the feed and hey presto my Ahab was delivering ink like a champ.
I still missed the wonderful delicate lines a Gillott 303 could deliver. I actually put a 303 in the Nib Creaper but I knew it would rust even though it worked wonderfully. So I got a Nib Creaper nib and sharpened it up. I just used a diamond stone so very fast and care needed not to over do. I did it withe the pen inked so I could check progress as I went along. I finished and smoothed on an Arkansas stone which is very quick and easy as you just write and scribble on the stone until it feels silky smooth. The result is great with a very fine line but still plenty of flexibility.
My final act was to buy the rather more pricy Neponset which has a three tined “music” nib. It is quite expensive but alas I found too hard and not good to draw with. No matter very nice to write with. The Neponset does have a very large body though which I like as I don’t hold a pen where you would to write when I draw. I hold it halfway up or even at the far end from the nib. I immediately spotted the Ahab nib would fit so a few minutes fiddling and I had done a transplant! I’ll put a few samples below.
Here are our dramatis personae, now below what they can do on paper.
One I did not mention is the brush pen which is a Frankenstein creation using a Pentel brush pen with a Pentel waterbrush reservoir grafted on. Once filled with the same ink as the pens it makes solid darks and expressive foreground strokes a breeze. The ink is Noodlers as well Nathan makes a wonderful array of colours but only some are suitable for drawing. For drawing I like an ink to be light fast and also fairly waterproof. Just to be awkward I don’t want it totally waterproof a want a bit of colour to wash out. Noodlers make inks they call bulletproof which pretty much fill all those requirements. Below a set of links to suppliers etc.
Noodlers Ink Nathan Tardif’s site: Lots of interesting info for modifiers!
Pure Pens Noodlers pens and ink supplier in the UK.
Gillott Nibs alas they don’t make dip pen holders with brass tongues that act as reservoirs any more but it is easy enough to make one out of copper or brass sheet.
Ruscombe Mill Lovely paper, the link will take you to the calligraphy papers which I use, but other papers they make might well be good for pen.