Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Update: Favorite Brush Pens

It’s been more than two years since I wrote my first comparison review of “hairy” brush pens (ones with bristle tips) and well over a year since my similar reviews of “non-hairy” (compressed fiber tips) and waterproof/refillable brush pens. At the time of those reviews, while I liked some pens better than others, no clear favorites rose above the rest, and many seemed very similar.

Over time, I’ve found myself reaching for the same ones repeatedly because they have brush qualities I favor, outlast the others, or simply feel good in my hand. Some of the non-refillable kinds ran dry relatively quickly and were tossed (making me feel guilty about adding more to the planet’s endless trash heap). Worse yet, many others (especially the non-hairy ones) had tips that mushed down and went flat long before they ran out of ink. So, after a year or two of solid use, five have risen to the top for various reasons. Here they are:

Four of the five have hairy tips – still my favorite type of brush pen for its full range of line variations. The disposable Copic Gasenfude contains solid black waterproof ink and a very responsive brush tip. I like to recommend this one to sketchers who have not yet tried a hairy brush pen because it’s less expensive than the Sailor Profit (see below) but still very durable for a throwaway.

6/22/17 Sailor Profit brush pen, graphite
Even better is the refillable Sailor Profit brush pen, which has a form factor that looks and behaves just like a fountain pen. As my main go-to brush pen these days, I like to fill it with the same waterproof Platinum Carbon Black bottled ink that I use in my fountain pens, so it’s both economical and less garbage-producing. In addition, its brush tip is replaceable, making it an even better value (although I’ve been using the original tip for years and have yet to wear it out). The pen’s barrel is slightly thicker than the Kuretake No. 13 (see below), another refillable pen, and I generally find larger barrels more comfortable.

6/8/17 Pentel brush pen
The Pentel brush pen with prefilled ink in the reservoir barrel has become my favorite for life drawing sessions. It comes in several colors besides black and is refillable. The soft barrel can be squeezed to push more water-soluble ink to the brush, which means you can vary the line quality from a dry brush look to a juicy paint look. I love how freely it flows during one- and two-minute poses when speed is of the essence. Kuretake makes a similar one that’s just as good. (Caution: This type of brush pen with ink in the reservoir is the type I never take on planes or to high altitudes. I learned this lesson the hard way, so it stays at home in my life-drawing kit.)

The previously mentioned refillable Kuretake No. 13 brush pen was the first hairy brush pen I tried and has been a long-time favorite. Available in black or red, the slender barrel is a little less comfortable to use than the Sailor Profit, so once I discovered the latter, I started using it more. But I still keep the Kuretake as a backup, especially since Platinum Carbon Black cartridges fit in it, so if others are dry and I need a brush pen in a hurry, I just pop a cartridge in. In fact, I bought a second Kuretake to fill with water-soluble brown ink. (I don’t recommend changing ink types once you fill a brush pen. Unlike a fountain pen, the brush is difficult to wash out completely.) Although I tend to use waterproof ink more often, it’s still fun to have a water-soluble option sometimes, especially in an alternate color.

7/1/17 Zig Mangaka brush pen
The only non-hairy brush pen on my list is the Kuretake Zig Mangaka. I have tried more non-hairy brush pens than I care to admit, and while most have no distinguishing characteristics other than slight variations in the size or shape of the flexible tips, many seem to share one annoying tendency: They mush down quickly under my heavy hand. I have flattened many tips long before I’ve used up the inks. Favored by manga cartoonists, the Zig Mangaka is the one exception. I used one nearly daily for more than two months before the waterproof ink started to dry up, and the tip is still holding up. It’s my brush pen of choice for most of the sketches done in Field Notes. It comes in sepia as well as black, which is a nice alternate color. Although it’s time to replace the pen (you can see it’s going dry in my scribble sample above), I’m going to keep the one that’s running dry. I discovered inadvertently in KK and Melanie Reim’s workshop that a nearly-dry brush pen is sometimes useful for subtle, brushy shading (an effect that KK gets from a stencil brush).

A strong runner-up in the non-hairy category is the Zebra disposable. It, too, has a sturdy brush, though I haven’t been using one long enough to know if it holds up as long as the Mangaka. It comes at a great price -- while it’s $2.50 at JetPens, I got one at Daiso for a buck-fifty.

So that’s my roundup of my current favorite brush pens. If you’re still interested in even more brush pens, check out the series of reviews I wrote for the Well-Appointed Desk:

Note: Although most links in my post refer to JetPens, they are not affiliate links. Many of these products are available at less cost on Amazon and elsewhere, but JetPens provides excellent product information. 

Monday, August 21, 2017


This morning I am somewhere in Oregon, either viewing the solar eclipse, stuck in traffic trying to, or disappointed because the sky was so overcast that it obliterated the darkened sun. Regardless, Weather Bunny is ready. 

(I’ll be back in a few days to tell you about it. In the meantime, I have a couple of posts scheduled this week.)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Maple Leaf Park: Old is New Again

8/18/17 Confluent Boulders sculpture at Maple Leaf Park

“The biggest and best highlight is a completely unobstructed view of Mt. Rainier – possibly the best within the city limits!”

That’s what I wrote on the Urban Sketchers Seattle blog to promote yesterday’s outing to Maple Leaf Reservoir Park. Perhaps I oversold it just a tad, as the cloud cover never did reveal The Mountain. Still, a good turnout of sketchers found plenty to sketch in “my” neighborhood park on a beautiful morning.

Sketched in March 2014: Same view, very different style
As you know, I sketch at this park regularly, so I was bound for a redux, no matter what view I chose. But it had been more than three years since I sketched this view of Confluent Boulders and the iconic water tower behind it, so it didn’t feel old. (At right is my sketch from 2014 just to show how much my style has changed.) It was especially enjoyable this time with the warm sun at my back and Natalie and Anne for company. 

As I was just saying about the sketch I did of the Interstate 5 overpass near Green Lake, familiar views feel fresh when I try to imagine them being seen through the eyes of a newcomer. Maple Leaf Park was new to everyone who joined the outing yesterday, so it was fun to imagine seeing and sketching it for the first time.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Familiar Yet Fresh

8/17/17 I-5 overpass, Green Lake neighborhood

Like many other urban sketchers visiting Chicago last month, I found myself compelled to sketch the El’s supports and infrastructure. Certainly they were visually interesting, but seeing things with fresh eyes makes everything more interesting. The typical Chicagoan seeing us sketching on Wabash Street probably wondered what could possibly be so captivating about that scene so familiar to them. 

The I-5 overpass across Weedin Place Northeast near Green Lake is a scene I see nearly every day. Yesterday as I was driving home from an errand, I was suddenly captivated by the broad stripes of dark and light formed by the freeway and its shadow. For just a moment I took off my native Seattleite’s eyes – now blind to most things I pass every day – and put on a fresh pair belonging to a visitor. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Two Sketchbooks Bound

My Chicago sketchbook

My sketchbook from my week in Chicago is thin – only two signatures of 16 pages each – but it’s thick with memories. As I did last year with my UK and Manchester symposium sketchbook, I bound the symposium program right into the sketchbook between the two signatures. On the covers are two of my favorite street scenes – the El tracks at Wabash and Congress, and Michican Street looking out toward the pointy blue Two Prudential Tower.
The symposium program is bound right into the book between the two signatures.

While I had my bookbinding supplies out, I also stitched together my signatures from May through the beginning of August, including our short trip to the Twin Cities. On the covers are the walrus on the Arctic Building sketched at the beginning of summer and the construction going on outside our Minneapolis hotel. Looking back through the sketches as I bound the book, I have to say it’s been a great season! 

If you detect a bit of wistfulness, it’s because I’ve been seeing traces of yellow and orange in some trees just lately. At the first signs of fall, some years I either panic or go into denial; other times I’m ready to let summer go. This year I feel mostly the latter: We had one of the best summers on record, weather-wise, and I sketched the heck out of it. (And now we could certainly use the rain.) Still, the outdoor-sketching season is always shorter than I want it to be, so the waning days of summer are also bittersweet.

My sketchbook from May through early August

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Keeping Up

8/5/17 Maple Leaf neighborhood

The couches are appearing so often in my neighborhood that I can hardly keep up. The top one is probably the most ornate one I’ve sketched so far. Rather charming next to the yellow picket fence, don’t you think? 

The one below – let’s just say it lacked charm, though it was appropriately placed next to the trash bins on trash day. On the driveway behind the easy chair were more overflowing trash and recycle bins. The “free” signs were written on torn-off notebook paper and scrawled in pencil.

8/7/17 Wedgwood neighborhood

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


8/10/17 Skyline from Harvard Avenue East on Capitol Hill

While we were in Chicago, smoke from wildfires in western Canada began blanketing the Pacific Northwest. By the time we returned home on Aug. 4, some of the smoke had dissipated, but not all. When looking at the sky it was sometimes hard to distinguish smoke from a white overcast, but the light coming through windows had a distinctly yellowish cast to it. Sometimes eerie, sometimes beautiful (at sunset), the smoky air was nonetheless disconcerting.

All last week I was trying to figure out how to sketch that disturbing haze. On Thursday morning I was on my way to Capitol Hill when I saw a particularly gloomy skyline, despite the otherwise sunny day. I remembered that Harvard Avenue East, which parallels Interstate 5, has a panoramic view of that skyline, so I pulled off the freeway and drove over to the lookout I had in mind. Two years ago Greg and I had explored this particular spot as a potential site for fireworks viewing, and I recalled sketching the Olympics behind the Aurora Bridge and Lake Union. This sketch looks a bit further south than my previous sketch, and all I could see were the gray silhouettes of skyscrapers and the Needle – no mountains anywhere. 

Fortunately, the next day the last of the smoke finally started to dissipate, and we had clear skies for our extravaganza sketching weekend (well, except for the normal overcast on Sunday).
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