My current favourite mark-maker is a bamboo dip pen.
I love the free-flowing lines that can wander around the page, and it’s great for ‘blind drawing’ of foliage, clouds etc. It delivers big juicy lines that can merge into forms if you want (see the brown and blue leaves below), but also fine lines when reversed and running dry. The amount of ink from each dip gradually runs out adding a further level of line variation, and the need to dip the nib adds a degree of deliberation and commitment to every line drawn.
The ones I buy are cheap (about £4) but benefit from a bit of tinkering to make the most of their potential, improving their ink-flow and nib feel. Here’s one straight from the shop next to one I’ve tinkered with.
I widen the ink slit and add a twisted wire reservoir, ensuring that the nib can both hold more ink, and deliver it consistently to a smoother tip. Here’s how to do it…
1 – First I use a small knife to open the ‘breather’ hole, and then ensure the nib slit runs all the way back to the hole. Then I use very fine wet/dry sandpaper to widen the slit, running the edge of a unfolded single sheet back and forth within the slit on both sides.
2 – You’ve now got a slit that’ll deliver lots of ink, but it’s too wide at the tip! So notch the two sides and use a short piece of fine wire to pull the sides together, twisting the wire on the reverse of the nib until the slit is closed at the tip.
3 – This length of wound wire then becomes the extra reservoir for the ink. Tuck the twisted length of wire back up into the nib’s ‘breather’ hole. Here’s the view from underneath…
The wire twist holds a larger drop of ink, in the way that the reservoirs below do on metal dip pens.
4 – Finally I use some extra fine grit paper (or a piece of cardboard, surprisingly abrasive!) to ‘run in’ the nib tip. I run it back and forth, round and round, upside down etc, until I’m happy it’s smooth in all directions, and that it’s producing the width of line I’m after (fat and juicy the right way up, much finer when reversed)..
Here’s the newly adapted bamboo pen next to the previous one I did. And a test sheet showing how long it will write on a single dip of ink.
Wow, that’s pretty impressive. You are very creative in more ways than one.
Thanks! I suspect it’s an avoidance strategy, I should really be sketching…
I love your hacks! You’re a genius!
Ever thought of fitting one of the metal reservoirs on the tip if the bamboo pen?
That would be far too easy! (I did try, but it couldn’t clip onto the edge of the nib, and the bamboo pen seems happier getting ink from below the nib)
Woo, tinkering! I still have (and use!) the one I got from the Manchester Symposium. For one pound it was a hell of a bargain. I’ve heard you can “draw” directly with watercolour if you make enough of a wash to dip the pen on it. One question, how do you clean the pens?
Bargain! I’ve tried a watercolour wash, but it takes a while to mix, and my palette wells aren’t deep enough to get a good dip, so it wouldn’t work for sketching ‘out and about’. Also, the ink’s waterproof which makes further washes a bit easier.
Very clever. I can hardly believe the length of line you get from one dip!
Thanks Viktoria, well worth having a go
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Love the images & tweaks. £4/£1? Couldn’t you just cut your own pens out of piece garden bamboo? We have some bamboo growing in the garden – perhaps I should try it! And feather quills.
Hi Tony, I’ve tried with garden bamboo but it wasn’t as dense/hard and the nibs split too far… I’ve had success with a goose quill, but that’s a much more flexible nib. Well worth having a go though, with either. Let me know how you get on. There’s nothing to lose, except possible ink stains!
That an amazing length of line! I live near a dense canebrake with plenty of suitable reeds from which to make pens (which I sometimes do); I’ll have to try your resevoir mod.
I’ve elsewhere seen a skinny strip of aluminum shaped into an “s” and fitted into the hollow of the reed with the other end near the nib. Have you ever tried that arrangement?
Very Useful tip.. Thank you for sharing.
Hi, I loved your video! One question, how do you clean the bamboo pens?
Hi Diana, I just run them under a tap and let them dry out before using again. But mostly I just let the ink accumulate!
In Google this tells me this this Website is going to teach me how to make ink. But instead it shows me pictures not how to Make it.
Hmm, best take that up with Google! What sort of ink are you trying to make? I’ve had a go at walnut recently…