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September 2006

September 2006; School



  • Healthy Green Artists:
    Can't spell 'Paint' without P-A-I-N
  • Myths and Symbols:
    The Tree of the Thunder Gods
  • Behind the Art:
    Caring for Your Pens and Nibs
  • Wombat Droppings:
    Painting Surfaces
  • EMG News:
    September: School


  • A Few Things to Consider When Publishing to Magazines
  • Moon Glow: A Watercolor Tutorial
  • Writing for Comics
  • Collecting References
  • Absolute Matte Walkthrough


  • Fiction: Countess


  • Movie: Snakes on a Plane

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  • Caring for Your Pens and Nibs
    Behind the Art
    by Annie Rodrigue

    I remember doing a tutorial on inking a while back at While I knew a little bit about cleaning up artwork with pencil and digital inking, I knew almost nothing about pens and nibs. I still tried my best to give some instructions on how to use them even though I honestly thought they were a pain to use! Today, I cannot live without them! I ink with my pen and nib for almost every watercolor painting that I do! I've learned quite a few things about them with time, too. I'll try my best to cover the subject in this column!

    What material to buy

    The good thing when using pen and nibs is that I consider them to be very cheap compared to other art tools. For roughly $10-$15 you�ll get your pen, a couple of nibs, and good quality ink. You won't have to put tremendous amounts of money on replacing parts and you can easily find these tools in any art or craft store. So we could say that they are very convenient!

    a) Pens

    You will find two types of pens. Depending on what kind of drawing or painting you want to do and the level of detail you want to achieve, you will have to choose one over the other. The larger pen will hold "half-moon" types of nibs. If you look inside the pen, you will notice that there are four small metal parts and they are easily to push and pull. These metal pieces are there to hold your nib. Buying a good qualitly pen of this size is important, because these metal extensions will be of better quality. Since they are what will be holding your nib, stronger metal will make sure you won't have any trouble while inking. (My larger pen in the photo is a good example of what not to buy. I stopped using it a while ago because the metal is too flexible. But it is still a good example of what a pen looks like!) When installing your nib in the pen, you have to test it to see if it holds still. Try putting a little bit of pressure on your nib to see if it moves too much. If it does, you will have to move your nib around until it feels tight.

    The second type of pen is much smaller and made of plastic. I have yet to find these smaller pens in wood or other material, but the plastic is very strong. I still use the very first pen I have bought and it is still in perfect condition. If you look inside this small pen, you see no metal, just a hole. It will only hold round nibs. Simply fit the nib in the hole and you'll see that the nib will be very tight. (Note: you might stumble upon a small plastic pen that will hold small half-moon shaped nibs. While nibs will hold very tighlty in it, not every nib will fit this pen, so make sure the nib you buy with it actually fits it!)

    b) Nibs

    You will find nibs for all kind of specific work. Keep in mind that the half-moon shaped nibs will come in a very wide range of sizes. You will first come across the calligraphy nibs, which are the largest nibs available, to my knowledge. Of course, they are made to write fancy letters. You will find a great deal of books which will teach you how to execute beautiful writing. If you look closely, you will also see that there is a extra piece of metal on top of the nib. Do not play with it -- it might loosen it. You can remove it gently to clean you nib when you are done, but you need to make sure that the metal always touches the nib. This little piece of metal will help you hold extra ink so that you do not need to dip you nib as often.

    You will find other half-moon nibs that are used for drawing. Anything that fits the larger pen, will draw larger lines, so if you are looking for rougher, stronger lines to draw, these are the nibs for you. If, on the contrary, you are looking for nibs that will do tiny details, you will want to look for round nibs that will fit the small pen.

    You are not sure what nib you want to buy? You will find some great kits by Speedball that will offer you a pen and many nibs of different sizes to try. But considering that nibs usually cost around $0.99$-$1.50 each (calligraphy nibs usually cost a little more though), it's easy to buy a few to try them out without paying a fortune for them.

    c) Ink

    I cannot stress enough how the quality of your ink will have an important impact on the durability of your art. If you are planning on keeping your art for years to come (or if you are planning on selling your work and you want your customer to have a quality product) be prepared to spend a few extra dollars on good ink. Let's try to see what we should look for when we buy our ink:

    First, you want to make sure the bottle you are buying has a label. This may sound silly, but afterall a bottle without a tag means that you do not know what's in the bottle. Most of the time, unlabeled inks are the cheaper inks. Stay away from them!

    Are you planning on doing a watercolor painting where your line is inked? Then, you will need waterproof ink. If you are unsure of the permeability of the ink, there is a easy way to test it: ink a quick line on a piece of paper. Wait for it to dry. Take a brush you have dipped in water and go over the line. If the ink bleeds all over the place, it is not waterproof. Any good quality ink will clearly mention on the label if its ink is waterproof or not.

    Last thing you want to check on the label: is your ink made of carbon black pigments? Is is of archival qualitly? Inks made of carbon black pigment are permanent inks. They will last for years. Inks to stay away from: any inks made of dyes like Windsor & Newton's Drawing Ink or Dr. Martin Inks. These inks will fade with time. My ink of predilection: Speedball inks. You can buy them in a 15ml bottle for roughly $5.00 but they also offer the option of buying a 947 mL bottle for only $16.00!

    How to care for you pen and nibs

    I used to think that I needed to wash my pen and nibs with water and soap to keep them clean. But I soon figured out that it was the reason why they kept rusting all the time. And rusted items are just no good to draw with! You should first know that you shouldn't need to wash your pen at all. Unless your fingers dirtied the pen, it should stay clean. If you've put ink on your pen while dipping, then you've dipped it too deep and chances are that the ink will literally drop on your sheet of paper and waste your beautiful work. Never try to wash it with water because the water will go inside the pen, rusting the metal extension. The metal extensions will also keep the water stuck inside. Next thing you know, you pick your pen for a new drawing, start tracing your line and rusted water spills out of the pen and onto your work!

    Instead, keep a sheet of paper towel ready to clean your material as you work. Even if the bottle of ink says it's non-clogging, the ink will clog after 5-10mins. When you see that your ink doesn't flow correctly through you nib, clean it up with your paper towel.(Sometimes, this will happen after a few lines. It's perfectly normal.) You'll notice that the ink will wipe itself out very easily! No need for water!

    To make sure I don't loose any nibs, I keep them safely in a beed container, seperating different types of nibs in each section of the box.

    Why throwing your nibs away isn't always a bad idea

    Nibs are not made to last for years. It is perfectly normal that you have to change your nibs after a few drawings. Experienced inkers will even change it after every drawing! If you see any defects in you nib, do not waste your time trying to fix it. Buy another one instead. They do not cost a lot for a reason. The metal starts to change shape after a while and since the two extensions have to be aligned perfecty well to work correctly, it is almost impossible to give it shape by ourselves. I always stash a few extra nibs with me so that I don't have to go back to the store every week. Don't try to save a few dollars with your nibs. You have better chances of damaging you art by doing so!


    I know we haven't really covered anything on how to use the pen and nibs in your work, but that is again, a matter of patience and practice. To make sure they do give the result you want them to acheive, you have to know what what you are buying and you have to take good care of them. As long as you have archival quality material and that you do not use any water to wash the metal parts, you are on track!

    What�s Next?

    We will cover watercolor material! What brands to look for, the color codes, the differences between tubes and cakes, and also to palettes to use to carry your paint around!

    Annie Rodrigue

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