I rarely leave the house without a sketchbook and this beat-up, old, faux-suede-covered pencil case. I’d have preferred black, but it was a gift so who am I to complain?
Anyway, at home I’ve got shelves loaded with art supplies (and, of course, my trusty computer). But what if I have to go outside?! The horror! Well, this case has everything I need if I want to make some art on the fly. People have asked before what tools I use to draw, so I figured I’d lay it out here in this exhaustive post that is for drawing nerds only. The rest of you will fall asleep. So. What’s in the case?
Organized, right? But this is just the first side. This case has a second compartment ’round back:
I’ll run down most of the things in here on the off chance you wanna try ’em out for yourselves. I’ve burned through a lot of different tools over the years, and this is my current set-up because they get the job done. Maybe there’s better stuff out there – and if you’ve found different favorites, feel free to let me know – but so far these are my go-to tools. Let’s get to it!
Pentel Finito X-Tra Fine (Pentel)
We’re starting off slow. This Pentel Finito X-Tra Fine was given to me by a Pentel rep as part of a sample package and, though I don’t use it often, it’s a great pen with a fine-fine tip that’s nice for detail work in a pinch. I also like to sign artwork with it because it’s just a nice pen in general. Very precise, but no give or variation in stroke. Perfectly workable all-purpose fine-tip pen, though. And not expensive.
Pentel Sign Pens (Pentel)
The Sign Pen Variety Pack is an all-purpose set of pens from Pentel. Two of the pens are basically regular felt-tip pens with medium to heavy nibs. Neither one has a ton of flexibility. The best pen in the pack is the brush tip with the speckled barrel. That one has a great little felt brush tip that offers a good deal of variation in line weight. Here’s some quick scribbles:
The first two Bigfoots were done with the felt tip sign pens. They’re klunky. Good to have if you don’t want variation in your line, or if you’re filling in small areas with black. But that third Bigfoot that I sketched with the brush-tip pen? You can tell the line just feels more natural on the paper. You get a pretty broad range of thick-and-thin considering how inexpensive this pen is. You can buy the 3-pack, but honestly, that brush-tip pen is the only one I really use. When these dry out I’ll likely just replace that one.
Pilot Precise V5 and Mystery Pen
Look, sometimes you just need to write something. Not draw. Write. These are just pens I use to write/sign with. The Pilot Precise V5 (extra-fine) is a great everyday pen. So is its brother, the Pilot Precise V7 (fine). They both have these teeny-tiny needle points that are great if you like to write small. If you’re one of those people (like me) that’s always looking for “the perfect pen” then give these Pilots a try.
That other pen? I have no idea what it is. It was part of my sample pack from Pentel. Take a look at the odd point, though. What’s going on with that point? It’s like a weird spear-head with a nib threaded through the center. I have no idea what pen this is (the markings have all worn off), and I only keep it around because it’s a mystery I’d like to solve. So if you know (and if you understand what that weird tip is all about) leave me a message in the comments. I rarely use it and I’ll probably ditch it soon unless I can figure out what the heck it’s for.
Pencils & Erasers
Nothing to see here, folks. Just a mechanical pencil I use sometimes (with a darker 2B lead), some regular pencils (4H, very light) and erasers. There’s an old-fashioned pencil holder/extender because I’m too cheap to throw away short pencil nubs. I also keep a 6-inch ruler and a small pencil sharpener handy.
Now, the real workhorses in my inking workflow:
White Gel Pen (Sakura)
Lots of different folks have lots of different solutions for white ink pens. I’ve tried a few different brands, and this Gelly Roll White Gel Pen by Sakura has proved to be the most effective and reliable. It lays down a smooth, opaque line, and unlike some others I’ve tried, the gel doesn’t dry out too quickly. I’ve thrown away white pens half-unused because the ink dried in the barrel. So far, the Gelly Roll has stayed fluid the longest. And they’re inexpensive.
Pigma Brush Pens & Graphic Pens (Sakura)
If you’ve read through my recent Bigfoot/Star Wars post, you know I recently discovered these Pigma Brush Pens and that I love them. They come in three sizes (fine, medium, bold), have a lot of bounce to the tips, and lay down a very nice variable-width line. The ink is waterproof and dries quickly. No refills, by the way. Like most of the pens in my case, these are disposable. Here’s a look at their felt nibs.
And if you’re looking for a bold, consistent line, the Pigma Graphic Pens are great.The #1 brush is your basic, bullet-tipped felt pen, while the #2 pen has a broad, chisel tip. Great for lettering too!
And I don’t know what to call this version of the Pigma Brush Pen to distinguish it from the other Pigma Brush Pens above, but the felt nib on this version is long and wiggly.
Not quite as bouncy as the three Pigma Brush Pens above, so my control with this isn’t as great, but it lays down a nice thick-thin line. This brush pen (and the #1 & #2 graphic pens) boast archival ink.
You can see this nib is getting a little chewed up. I’ve had it a long time. And since finding those other Pigma Brush Pens, this one might work its way out of rotation. But, in a pinch, it’s a nice brush pen if you can’t lay your hands on anything else.
PITT Artist Pens (Faber-Castell)
I use the PITT Artist Pens from Faber-Castell a lot. They’re great technical pens that lay down a consistent line. I mean, if you fiddle with your hand pressure a bit you can get a teeny-tiny bit of variation in the line, but mostly these are great for solid, consistent lines. There are different sets available, but the one I always pick up has four sizes: Medium, Fine, Super-Fine, and Extra-Super-Fine. Kooky size names, but great pens.
Now, the ink in here is said to be “water-resistant” and “permanent”….which may not be quite as good as “waterproof and archival” but the ink comes out so smooth and solid that I can’t give them up. Somewhere in my art shelves I have a set of Sakura Pigma Technical Pens…maybe I’ll dig those out and see if they’re waterproof and archival. I may be switching up if that’s the case. But aside from that, I really love these pens.
And their brush pen (above) is also a nice felt-nib brush pen. Good responsive tip. One drawback I’ve found with this brush pen – and maybe it’s just me – these tips seem to lose their points quicker than any other brush pen I’ve used. They mush down and get a little ratty. Maybe I’m pressing too hard? Maybe when I’m out the cat’s messing around with my brushes? I don’t know. But that’s been my experience.
Pocket Brush Pen (Pentel)
Finally, probably my favorite (and a lot of people’s favorite) brush pen, the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. Yes, the Sakura Pigma’s are great and I love ’em. But this pen is the closest I’ve come to an actual brush feel without digging out my Windsor-Newton and bottle of India Ink. The tip isn’t felt. The tip is actually made up of synthetic bristles that fill with ink once you snap in the ink cartridge. You can lay down a line that has amazing dynamics – from a razor sharp fine line to a really thick, heavy line. It’s a very expressive brush pen and it may take some practice to get used to how live the tip feels. Lots of play in those bristles. But if you want something close to a brush, you should give it a try.
As I mentioned above, the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen is refillable. And they sell the refill cartridges in these handy six-packs.
So that’s what’s in the case. I got to this point by constantly experimenting with different pens and brushes from various companies. But just putting this post together made me realize some stuff in the current line-up could be replaced with some new heavy hitters. Maybe there’s something out there I’d like even more. If you think there is, drop a note in the comments and I’ll probably give it a try. I’m always on the lookout for ways to make my workflow flow more smoothly. -v
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