As well as the brushes used to apply paint (see below) there’s also a whole world of brush-pens to explore. They are interesting because they bridge the gap between pens (drawing lines), and paint (covering areas). Very little in the world really has an outline as drawn with a pen, but going straight to paint in a sketch can feel a little strange. Brush-pens are the middle-way, allowing you add line, shape and tone at the same time, making them a great tool for speedy sketching. They also offer a flexibility of line thickness that can’t be approached by even the most flexible pen-nib; this makes their line very expressive, responding to the slightest twitch or pressure. They are much more common in Japan, and I suggest checking out Russ Stutler’s very informative pages on this subject. And JetPens has a brilliantly detailed overview of many brush-pens and their various qualities here.
If you want to try ink-brush/brush-pen sketching I highly recommend the very cheap and very excellent, Kuretake #8 ,which has a firm and springy nylon brush-tip, it’s on the right of the photo. It’s got a long barrel, which I just cut down, and no clip on the cap, so I add one (here’s how I did these modifications).
There is a more expensive version, #13, with exactly the same tip as the #8. Then there’s the Kuretake #40 brush-pen, on the left in the photo at the top, which has an exquisitely fine and responsive sable-hair brush-tip. I find this longer and softer tip harder to control in smaller sketches, so prefer the #8. Like the #8 it’s best value bought straight from Japan (and there’s a more expensive version for this one too, #50, which has exactly the same sable brush-tip as #40, just a fancier barrel!).
The cheapest way to try brush-pen sketching is by filling a ‘detailer’ water-brush with ink, in the middle of the photo. Whichever you choose they all have much better ink flow than the popular Pentel brush-pen, and the brushes on #40 and #8 are much finer. Go on, have a go!
Testing, testing… Here are some of the various brush-pens I’ve tried before settling on the Kuretake ones. I’ve included some with ‘false/felt’ brush tips:
From the left:
- Sakura Pigma ‘Brush’ pen – Good waterproof ink, but a false-brush/felt-tip which feels odd and hasn’t lasted long.
- Faber Artists brush-pen – Available in lots of colours, a waterproof ink which can be layered, but another felt-tip that feels strange and doesn’t last. Don Colley uses them brilliantly.
- Pentel – This seems to be the brush-pen that most people have tried. It has a real brush tip, good for detail, and runs on lovely rich black ink. It’s relatively cheap and you can refill the cartridges with your preferred ink. I don’t use them as their ink-flow is very sparse, fading away mid-line.
- Platinum – A more expensive version of the Pentel pen, with a metal barrel. Another good brush tip, but runs dry in the same way.
- ‘Real Brush’ pens made by Zig/Kuretake – These are cheap, have a wide range of colours, but the ink’s not waterproof. I’ve used the grey ones a lot, and although they’re disposable you can sort of refill them by removing the barrel cap. The tip is a real brush, good for detailed work, but the ink-flow dries up fast.
- Fine-tipped (‘detailer’) Kuretake water-brushes – These are brilliant! Cheap, refillable with any ink you fancy and you can regulate the flow of ink by squeezing the barrel. The tips are fine enough for very detailed sketching, and when they start to get a little shredded are easy to replace. In these three one has sumi ink in for a rich black, one has Lexington Grey, and the last has diluted Lexington Grey. Lexington grey ink’s waterproof so you can build up subtle tones by layers of washes, but also paint over them. I use it almost every sketch I do. (Dilute Carbon ink would also work, but the fine particles will gradually block the tiny filter in the brush barrel.)
Water-brushes/brushes For most of my small-scale watercolour painting (A5/A6) I use basic water-brushes, usually the broad tipped ones made by Kuretake. I’ve tried the Pentel ones and they’re much the same, if a little ‘wetter’. Water-brushes are the key to portable pocket-sized watercolour kits; they’re easy to clean, fairly robust and cheap to replace when the brush tip gets a bit rough.
For larger scale painting you need real brushes. I have 2 Da Vinci Kolinsky brushes, extravagantly expensive, but lovely to use and very high quality. These sable hair brushes hold an amazing amount of paint and maintain their tips well, allowing both large washes and finely detailed work. They unscrew and the brush is stored inside the handle.