Thursday, March 17, 2011

Exploring Fountain Pens and Ink

One more post on art materials, then I hope to get back to nature notes for awhile.

Varied thrush drawn from life through my front window using a fountain pen and Pelikan Fount India ink.

At the end of my last post I mentioned that discovering a world of fellow artists on the internet and that lead me to realizing I wanted to try sketching with a fountain pen. Cathy Johnson uses a fountain pen a lot and has posted some very informative help: You can see a lot of her work on or you can go to her images.

I’ve long appreciated a good pen, but never thought of them as an art tool. I hadn’t even owned a fountain pen for years. I looked locally … one for over $100 and one much, much cheaper. I bought the inexpensive pen and promptly lost it! Hummmm ! This definitely isn’t about saving money. It is about finding a wonderful drawing tool.

On my next trip to ‘the big city’ I dared to buy a better pen, a Pelikan M200 with a fine nib. I lucked out with my first ink. Fortunately I bought it in an art store and they sold good stuff, Pelikan’s Fount India, an ink designed for fountain pens. That pen and ink has been a love affair from first stroke. For years I looked for a disposable pen with black ink that bled. I never found quite what I wanted, but here was a relatively fine line and the delicious ability to come back over my lines with a water brush or wet paint brush and make soft grays. Sometimes I come back in with water color. Either way, I find this pen and the Pelican Fount India a great tool. (Don’t let the name of that ink mislead you. This is not India ink! India ink contains shellac and is a sure invitation for a clogged up fountain pen. )

A very quick sketch using a fountain pen and Pelikan Fount India ink … and a water brush.

The new pen and Pelikan Fount India ink kept me happy for over a year …. Then I decided to explore some more. I was hoping to find a permanent black ink so I could have a choice between the soft grey tones or ink that stays put, a Sepia ink that bleeds, and a fine line.

I found the Goulet Pen Company -- -- a web site that carries a wide range of pens and inks and even offers small samples for less than $2.00 per sample. I read somewhere that Noodler’s had an inexpensive fountain pen with a flexible point. I ordered the pen from Goulet’s and several ink samples. Frankly I was disappointed with the pen. After years of using a fine and flexible nib on a dip pen, this hardly has any flex. But one of the inks seems to be a real winner -- Platinum Carbon Black. Per ounce it is one of their more expensive inks, but when I think of how many Pigma Micron pens it will keep me from using up and throwing away, the ink is cheap.

Here is my array of black ink samples: Pelikan Fount India, Platinum Carbon Black, Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, and Private Reserve Invincible black. First I tested to see if I could erase fairly quickly without disturbing the line; and then I added a slosh of water to see if the ink bled. Pelican Fount India dries quickly, and gives the wash. Platinum Carbon Black dries quickly and become impervious to water. The Noodler’s took forever to dry and still bled the next day. The Private Reserve still bled the next day.

Brown inks: Noodlers Polar Brown, Diamine Saddle brown, Caran d’ ache, Noodler’s Kiowa Pecan, Winsor and Newton Peat Brown. I still haven’t found a brown ink I am happy with. The first four are all fountain pen inks but obviously not intended for adding a wash. Some of the components of their color bleeds farther than the rest, giving a weird glow. The Winsor and Newton didn’t have the subcolor, but it isn’t a fountain pen ink. I can use it in a dip pen only. is a great source of information about pens and he has an extensive selection of pens. His Pelikan ‘fine’ point isn’t all that fine, but then I ordered xxF. Wonderful! When I want a skinny line I have it. I’m sure there are other pens that are equally wonderful. One thing I like about the Pelikan is I can change nibs … and I can do it without spilling much ink if I so desire.

This little piece in only six inches tall …. So you can tell the line is quite fine; and the nice juicy wash I flowed over the whole piece didn’t disturb the ink. Pelikan pen with an XXF nib and Platinum Carbon black ink plus watercolor.

I won’t know for two or three months if the Platinum Carbon Black holds up to a lot of sunlight on my windowsill, but I am optimistic. First the sun has to shine …… and that has been hard to come by lately.

One more comment before I end this. The paper one works on is also a factor. I wasn’t able to find information about the sizing of sketchbook papers, but I found a chart about the sizing on a variety of watercolor papers. It said all watercolor paper is sized to some degree. It does vary what it is sized with. Without sizing the paint would soak in too much. Think about trying to do a wash on construction paper. I doubt it has much sizing. I don’t know enough about it, but I think ink tends to ride on the surface of heavily sized paper and takes longer to dry. I do know that the same test with the same ink behaved very differently on these three papers.

In each one of these samples I made a wet spot on the paper, then took my pen and scribbled back and forth until the wetness ‘grabbed’ the ink. All three were done with Noodler’s Polar Brown Ink. The Papers are from left to right: Strathmore 140# Cold Pressed – ‘lightly sized’; Aquabee Sketchbook – no information on sizing; Aquarius II –‘heavily sized’. …. Very different result.

If anyone knows of a good brown ink that doesn’t separate into different colors, please let me know.


  1. Dear Elva,
    Beautiful paintings and your passion for pen & drawing is amazing. The web suggested by you, Cathy Johnson was interesting. Thank you for sharing wonderful works and info.
    Cheers, Sadami

  2. Great post Elva,
    I was curious whether you would mention "Mattias Inks" and his Namiki falcon fountain pen with light fast noodlers ink.

    As to coloured inks (all not light fast I believe) we have here in Europe Herbin. They do some nice browns.

    I have used a small Cactus pen by Jean Pierre Lepine for years now. It is hard to draw with it but I liked it too much. The line is very coarse and also not all black inks would go through it.

  3. Loved reading about all of your testing. And your birch tree is exquisite. I use Fabriano Artistico extra-bright 140 lb watercolor paper and the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen never becomes completely water-resistant on it because of sizing. When I discovered this, online artists were sure that I got the wrong pen, the wrong ink cartridges, a bad batch, etc - but it is now clear that it is just my favorite paper. Please keep us informed about your quest for a perfect brown.

  4. Hi Elva, a very informative post, and thank you for the mentions! I have a Namiki Falcon and like it a lot, but it doesn't have the flex I was hoping for. I have three old Waterman 52 vintage pens with wonderful flex, but even reconditioned, they want to leak. One leaks badly, too...

    I loved the Platinum Carbon ink BUT it wants to thicken with age. Not sure what to do about that, but I don't think I'd store it on a windowsill. I'm wondering if I should have been shaking it before filling my pens each time.

    Most Noodler's "bulletproof" inks won't work well on my watercolor paper, for me. (They do for Vicky Williamson, so go figure, same paper, same ink.) So far, Lexington Gray works well...

    And your eagle is gorgeous! Love those negative spaces...

  5. Hi Elva,
    I love this post! I have been playing with pens and inks too. My goals is to find a sepia ink that does bleed to use with my watercolor journaling. I have been using dip pens with nibs but would like to try the fountain pen but know nothing about them. Do you buy cartridges or dip them into the ink bottles? When I travel to France, I always seem to end up at a store that has a huge supply of fountain pens. I never know what to buy and the price can range upward to very expensive. I will be there in May and would like to be able to make an informed purchase. If you use ink from a bottle, you may like the Sennilier brand. Can you tell me if you use a fountain pen like a pen with nibs? Also, are trying to find a permanent ink?

  6. Gosh, this is all so interesting Elva. Thanks for all the info, now I need to go ink-pen-hunting again. I have one but it is SO water-soluble, it goes all over.

  7. ok
    i have been poking around and want to try this. I see that you really liked the Peliakan fine writing pen, m200, (fine?). Would you recommend this for someone new to fountain pens, like me? I am also excited to try that Noodler's Kiowa Pecan!

  8. A very interesting post on pens. I need to get my notebook out and write some of this down to have with me when going shopping. I only dable in pen and ink right now tho. but its fun never the less. Your drawings are great and your Thrush is wonderful. Wonder why we don't see them around us here when we aren't that far from you. Or maybe I'm just not notcing them. and Yes I too am REALLY sick of all this rain we keep getting. ugh.

  9. I read that the varied thrush is in decline! I had one in the yard yesterday and looked him up.

  10. Thanks for sharing this info, Elva! Pens, inks, bleeds, no, bleeds, flex nibs, fine nibs, my head starts to swim after a while. Thanks for helping to sort some of this out.

    LOVE that eagle! Beautifully done!

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  12. To Papierflieger ... thanks to you I just discovered --- wonderful ink work, especially his bug and other nature critters. And thank you for mentioning Herbin inks. Next time I order samples I think I'll try their Cacao du Bresel.

    To Cathy ... ooops! I didn't mean I put my bottle of ink on the windowsill. I put my chart with my different ink samples. If my lines fade I know to be careful how I use the ink.

    To Jacqueline: Reading the comments I see two people like "Namiki Falcon' pens .. and I certainly like the Pelikan M200. My Pelikan is filled by dipping the nib into the ink and twisting. Other pens have cartridges of ink which I suspect limits the variety of ink you can buy. Be sure and read my Feb post, "Thoughts on Keeping a Journal" for warnings about how to travel with a fountain pen.

  13. Thank you Elva, for having shared your experience and your desire to experiment!It's always a pleasure to visit your blog!

  14. I think my Noodler's Flex pen very good (for the price), it's nothing like vintage flex but fine and flexible enough for a modern pen.

    I also wanted to add that Herbin's inks aren't waterproof. Platinum makes a Brun Sepia ink in their Pigmented line so it's supposed to be waterproof like Carbon Black, the only thing stopping me from trying it is the price :)

  15. Elva, thanks for all the research and information! The eagle drawing is lovely and I like the ink and wash sketch! I'd like to try that out sometime! I like a really fine point and found one that I like very much at It's a Sailor HighAce Neo Beginner's pen. Doesn't cost much and is nice and thin so it fits in my little hand nicely. The point isn't flexible but draws nicely. I use Noodler's Polar Black in it and when I'm outside in the winter it doesn't dry fast enough to watercolor over. Inside it dries just fine, though.

  16. I had not heard of the Peliakan ink. Thanks for the info. I use a Lamy fountain pen that I love with regular fountain pen ink than wash the sketch with water and a brush. Love your sketches.

  17. Hi Elva, I'm no artist, but I LOVE the Varied Thrush piece.

  18. Just found this post - it is wonderfully helpful - Thank you!
    Your sketches are inspiring