Things That Make My Life/Art Easier: Pens

As s.e. wrote about in a post earlier this week, I am a cartoonist in addition to all the other crap that I do. I’ve been drawing (and writing) for most of my life, and finding the perfect pen has been something of a wild turkey-chase with mixed results. I know that an entire post devoted to pens may seem silly, particularly given the more serious things that I have written about here on FWD. Re-reading some of Amanda‘s Things That Make My Life Easier posts has inspired me to write about…well, writing (and drawing) implements, because the right ones do make things easier for me.

I first read about the pain-reducing benefits of felt-tip pens in the second edition of Starlanyl and Copeland’s Fibromyalgia and Chronic Myofascial Pain: A Survival Manual; the authors, both medical professionals, include the use of felt-tip pens in a lengthy list of tips designed to reduce pain on an everyday basis. Felt-tip pens tend to be easier on the hands and joints. My one huge issue with felt-tips, however, is that many of them produce stronger lines than I would like. This is more of a problem when I attempt to use them for artistic purposes, as I don’t mind a little more heft in my hand-written notes and scribbles. I do use felt-tips on occasion in my cartoon work — especially for panel borders and heavy lines — just not very often.

Felt-tips are good for writing, but depending upon what sort of lines you’d like in your artistic works, the ease of use that felt-tips produce may be their only advantage. Obviously, they’re not the greatest for detail work. I tend to shy away from brushes and pens that require the use of an inkwell or a separate bottle of ink, as the gorgeous lines one can produce with those tools so often translates into absolute hell on my hand and wrist joints, plus a lot of repetitive motion from dipping the brush or pen into the ink and bringing it back to the page (which often equals further hell).

Ball-point pens that don’t have a lot of ink “flow,” in my experience, aren’t great for cartooning either, though they can be useful for storyboards and quick sketches. The ball-points that have worked the most effectively for me have been the “business”-type pens that most folks associate with actual business work. Perhaps people in business have to write things quickly and therefore cannot depend on crappy ball-points and/or face the frustration that inevitably arises when said crappy ball-point runs out of ink. Non-crappy ball points, such as the Uni-ball line of products, may be a bit more expensive than “traditional” ball-points, but if you want a smooth line that is not going to translate into extreme wrist or hand pain, a “business” pen of this sort might be for you.

Another pen type with which I have had some success has been actual drawing pens; many brands are available at art-supply stores or bookstores. I have found that experimentation with different types of pens is a good bet, if you’ve got the time for it (and assuming that you are cool with dropping a couple bucks on pens that might be either awesome or a total disaster). The Preppy fountain pen, made by Japan’s JetPens, may be a good bet for people who would like to experiment with fountain pens and the lines that these pens can create, but who may not have the time, energy or inclination to use a more traditional fountain pen (it has a reloadable ink-cartridge system that is very convenient). There is also the Stabilo brand, which I discovered quite by accident in the clearance rack of an art supply store (I bought a couple specifically because they were on sale). I use the Point 88 type because it’s light, comfortable to hold and can do excellent detail work, but your artistic/writing mileage may vary.

There is no “perfect” pen, of course, but there are some damn good ones out there if you’ve got the inclination to experiment.

8 Comments

  1. I agree wholeheartedly on the endorsement of the Uniball brand. One of my favorites is the Uniball Deluxe Micro. It’s a very expensive pen considering that it’s disposable but it’s also a very good pen that travels over the paper much more easily than most other pens I have tried. It’s also one of my favorite sketching pens of all time. I just finished handwriting a 10 page paper for an exam on shoddy blue-book paper. I would not have been able to get through that test without my favorite pen. My wrist is still in a lot of pain, though.

    I would use felt tipped pens and you’re right about them being easier to use but with my handwriting which is barely visible as it is…

    One thing as an autistic person I’d like to see resolved a little bit with my pens, and one area where the Uniball and other expensive pens actually seem to do worse: I’d like to see a pen that doesn’t leak when I’m being absent minded and hand-flapping while holding my writing implement… (cue splattering ink)

  2. Oh, another thing. Have you ever tried COPIC Multiliners? They’re technical pens except that they have fiber nibs (fiber encased in metal). I tend to like technical pens for drawing fine detail but the f$)&@ things jam on a regular basis and cost a small fortune to boot.

    I think technical pens hate me BECAUSE I hand-flap with them without realizing it. You shake those girls at all and the vent holes fill with ink and they just stop working. Not autie friendly at all.

  3. I found myself wondering if you’ve ever gotten your hands on rapidograph pens. They used to be used for art drafting that is now mostly done by computer; I was given a set by one of my father’s coworkers when he worked at a magazine company because they were no longer useful in that industry.

    If I’m doing single-color work, I haven’t found anything like them for line control. They require a similar amount of pressure to felt-tips, but come in all widths of nib, from thinner than anything else I’ve played with to about the width of a felt-tip. Their only real downsides are that you have to load them yourself, with liquid ink, and you have to empty and clean them if they’re going to sit without use (and periodically even if you are using them constantly). They’re also a bit pricey – mine are Koh-I-Nors, which I think is kind of the standard rapidograph pen, and they run about $20 each.

    But oh do they ever lay down a perfect line. They were designed specifically to do perfectly even line width, and that they do.

    ~Kali

  4. When I was newly disabled, I had a really interesting moment when I had my first-ever visit from someone else with MCS.

    She said, “I love how your apt is so MCS.”

    I was surprised, because I didn’t see a lot of overt signs. After all, I wasn’t living in a ceramic trailer with everything wrapped in aluminum foil. She pointed out some things, and one of the first that struck her: “You have all these mechanical pencils around, and no pens.”

    Which was true. At the time, I couldn’t tolerate pens and certainly not wood pencils, so the right mechanical pencil (especially with the eraser *covered*) was my holy grail. For signing things that had to be in “ink,” I used washable crayola children’s markers. I was also cartooning at that time, so I did everything in pencil, and then at the very end, donned my mask to do the ink and erase all the pencil.

    Now I can use pens, and I find it joyous, but it’s always a quest for the kind that smells the least, is easiest to hold, writes the fastest, and doesn’t smear. My current favorite is Sarasa Zebra 0.7 pens in blue, black, or red ink.

  5. I’ve found that fountain pens are a lifesaver when my RA is acting up in my hands. The thicker-bodied German school pens (which can be found online for very reasonable prices) are perfect. Easy to hold, ink in snap in cartridges that don’t take much strength to change, and the ink flows out of the nib with no pressure from the user. In fact, you shouldn’t use any pressure if you can help it, just touch the paper with the tip.

    Coupled with Black&Red brand notebooks, which are the only normally-priced American brand with paper that is heavy and smooth enough to stand up to wet ink, I can take notes again!

  6. Mmmmmm, office supplies.

    I was a pen-and-paper drafter in a civil engineering firm (uphill, in the snow, both ways), and I used Koh-I-Noor and Mars Staedtler Rapidograph pens on a daily basis. The plus side is they can handle the truly opaque India Ink. The minus side is one must spend at least 30 minutes a day cleaning & coddling them. (Also lead-holder’s like Sharon’s, which are still working and still awesome.)

    Nowadays there are drafting-quality felt-tips with metal ferrules Alvin calls them “technical markers.”. Unless you’re duplicating your drawings with UV lights (“blueprints”) they’re dark enough, and they don’t stink like Sharpies do. On the other hand, they’re skinny as a snake, so I slip on a soft cushion to make it more comfortable in my hand.

    But back to pencils: most folks only know the utility grade #2 or HB pencil, but in the Western art-supply-shed, there are around 20 steps from really soft/smushy to really dark/hard. As anyone who’s freed up a frozen lock with a graphite spray can testify, pencil lead can be very slippery. Some pencils now come in deliciously comfy softened triangle profiles, and they won’t spatter if you slide into flap-flap-flap mode.

  7. @Jesse the K: Oh, it’s absolutely wonderful to know that it’s not just my sorry butt that had trouble with those buggers. I swear, everyone kept telling me I was either doing something wrong or had damaged my pens in some way (they’re in excellent shape) and that technical pens weren’t supposed to take nearly as much maintenance as I was having to give them.

    I suppose I blame my end on the fact that I twiddle and flap with my art supplies so I was probably getting ink in the vent holes about 15 seconds after filling but it’s good to see that someone who’s used them professionally has had the same frustration.

    I have always, always liked pens more than pencils, though, even when they do give me difficulty with hand-flapping. Being a lefty, especially with the softer leads, the graphite transfers from the paper onto your hand and then smudges the heck out of your writing. One thing I learned to do for testing forms is to have a blank piece of paper under your writing hand so that the graphite didn’t transfer and smudge. Also, the grey lines rather than black just don’t make me happy.

    Also, professors hate it when you write in pencil for some reason.

  8. Ah, Untoward, I can give you the answer for that one!

    When you have to read 75 essay exams or papers or whatever, reading them in pencil gives you a headache. Also, reading through that many would get my hands filthy, which annoyed the hell out of me. Especially as I was very thorough and tended to read each exam twice.

    When I was a history grad student, I used to grade papers. Something I emphatically do NOT miss! (Nevermind that my dream job is to some day be a law professor, heh)