Brush Pen Sampler


A web site I like called sells a variety pack of brush pens. I've been interested in using brush pens more in my illustration work so I bought the sampler pack to see which ones I liked best. There are five pens in the review all together: two which resemble brushes, and three which are more like soft, flexibly-pointed magic markers. From among the soft pens, I preferred the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen for my style of work. From among the harder pens I liked the Tombow best. All of the pens are good, but some will suit individual tastes more than others.

Pentel Pocket Brush Pen for Calligraphy

This is reportedly the most popular brush pen. The tip consists of synthetic bristles, and it is very brush-like. I like it, but I find it a little too out of control for the way I like to draw.

Pilot Pocket Brush Pen - Soft

The tip of this pen is one solid, spongy, conical mass, so it doesn't break up into individual bristles of you sweep it hard and fast on its side. From among the two "soft" pens with large variable stroke width capabilities, this one gives me the control I like best.

Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen - Soft

This is the softest of the three "hard" pens, and I like it the best of those three. It has line variation, but it has control, as well.

Kuretaka Disposable Pocket Brush Pen - Fine

This pen, which is a bit harder, is already verging on too hard for me. I miss the line width variability of the above pens.

Zebra Disposable Brush Pen - Super Fine

A good pen. Useful for many artists. Too much like an ordinary magic marker for my liking.

See this video for a closer look at the pens in action.


I was intrigued with a technique Glenn Vilppu demonstrated recently in his New Masters Academy video, Drawing with a Fountain Pen and Waterbrush. What he does is draw with a fountain pen, usually a Pilot Namiki Falcon pen, which has a nice semi-flexible "soft fine" nib. Then he goes back and reactivates the inked lines into a wash using a Niji or Pentel waterbrush. I came across a youtube video from 5 years ago, Drawing from the Old Masters, lesson 166,  in which he was using the technique, so he's been doing it for some time.

In his New Masters video Vilppu uses mainly a Namiki Falcon pen, and a Pilot Vanishing Point pen. He also uses primarily Pelikan Brilliant Brown ink, although he gradually mixes in other inks as convenient. I also noticed Steve Huston drawing with a fountain pen. In his case the pen was a Faber-Castell LOOM pen. Fine nib.

I was curious to try out their drawing methods, and on the strength of the fact that Vilppu and Huston wewre using those pens I bought them for myself. I got the Faber-Castell LOOM pen first, and I enjoyed using it. When I got the Pilot (formerly Namiki) Falcon I found that it definitely provided a better drawing experience. The flexing was minor, and required a bit of effort, but the smoothness and ease of drawing was greater in the Falcon. When I returned to the LOOM I found it was somewhat scratchier on the paper.

My main concern was with the inks. I wanted something that behaved in a manner similar to what I had seen in the New Masters videos. Normally I guess one wants an ink that dries fast and is relatively waterproof to the extent a fountain pen ink can be waterproof without ruining the interior of the pen. In my case I wanted the opposite: I wanted an ink that could be 'reactivated,' and possibly even erased, through the addition of water onto already dried lines.


To do my test I used a Namiki (Pilot) Falcon, a Faber-Castell LOOM, and a dip pen with a G nib. I tried two papers: Fluid 100 Hot Press Watercolor paper and Speckletone 80 lb cover stock Oatmeal color paper. The hot pressed watercolor paper was smooth and white, while the Speckletone paper was a heavier version of what Steve Huston uses in pad form in his New Masters Academy video, Introduction to Sketchbook Techniques and Materials. I tested four fountain pen inks, all in the brown/sepia family, because I wanted the drawings in conjunction with the oatmeal-colored paper to have a bit of an "old masters" tone.

Waterman's Absolute Brown

This was the first ink I tried. I think it's the one Steve Huston was using in his sketchbook techniques video. It worked well for me. I particularly liked how un-waterproof it was on the page. I was able to reactivate and even erase the lines I had drawn with it. I would have preferred a less red, more orange-yellow hue, but I was happy enough with this color. Losing the drawn lines turned out not to be a problem, since any really important lines can be re-drawn to reintroduce or strengthen them.

J. Herbin Lie de The
I agonized over this one for a while, since many of the online samples I saw of it seemed too green for my taste. In the end I sprang for a bottle, and I quite liked the color. I don't think I'll use it for the waterbrush reactivation technique, though. The color is too faint in a wash, disperses into hue overtones I don't like, and the ink is too water-resistant. The lines stay too visible, although they take on a weird semi-opaque white covering. I like this ink a lot on its own coming from a pen. I don't like it after it receives the waterbrush treatment.

Pilot Iroshizuki Tsukushi
After a few passes with the waterbrush this ink looks a lot like a more color saturated, more water-resistant version of Waterman's Absolute Brown. That makes it slightly less useful for my particular needs than the Waterman ink, even though it is much more expensive. I'll use it both as a pen ink and as a wash ink until it's gone, but I won't race out and replace it.

Pelikan Brilliant Brown
This is the ink Glenn Vilppu recommended in his video. It diffuses into slightly odd, bright colors when activated into a wash, and it has a similar 'white opaque covering' that develops over some of the lines similar to that created by the Lie de The ink. I like it in a pen, but less so in a wash.

For me the winner was the Waterman's Absolute Brown. I like how mysterious and watercolor-like it can become, erasing most of the lines and forming a moody tone. I also like how I can always go back and redraw or reinforce any important lines that became too weak or vanished.

I have a great iPhone 5 app called L'Ecorche which I like to use to study anatomy. The only problem is the iPhone screen is a bit smaller than I would like, I don't have an iPad, the Android version doesn't easily run on a Kindle, and there is no PC version. A PC is what I use for my desktop computer.


I figured out that I could run L'Ecorche on my iPhone 5 and mirror the iPhone to my PC using an inexpensive app on my PC called Reflector to wirelessly mirror my phone to my PC. If I mirror the phone in 'full screen' mode and 'always on top,' I can run it on top of Photoshop and sketch what I see. That's a rough Photoshop painting on the left.

So I control L'Ecorche with my phone, view it on my big PC monitor, and can paint along in Photoshop all at the same time.

I love it.

View in high resolution on youtube

While it's true I was able to previsualize and execute this workflow I'm actually surprised it worked. In fact, it barely worked, as you'll see when you watch the video. Many of the noise function inputs are strangely ignored by Maya. So here is a glimpse at 'The Maya that Could Be'

I first noticed this issue right when Maya was first introduced. I didn't discover it by accident. I assumed Maya would work this way, and I was extremely disappointed when it didn't.

I tried to discuss it with them, but I could never get past junior level people who just kept trying to 'solve my problem' with alternative workflows, as if my main goal was to have a crater texture with ripples.

Custom Procedural Maya 3D Shader

Revisiting something I first did using slightly different methods 9 years ago.
Make some waves with this custom Maya shader which uses a MEL script to generate concentric spherical waves of animated light and darkness. It's a 3D texture, so it will flow over any objects you create. The waves emanate from a Maya locator.

Watch in 1080p on youtube.


I'm experimenting with the new Topaz Impression Photoshop plugin. Normally what that software does is turn photos into paintings or line drawings. In this example I am using it to make a Maxwell Render displacement map. I'm starting with a simple blurry circle and running it through Topaz Impression in order to make this painterly texture of overlapping brush strokes which in turn makes a very convincing layered, flaking hole.


Topaz Labs Topaz Impression as a means of making animated motion graphics. Because the GUI sliders more or less of a parameter in a coherent way it's possible to animate the effect.



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