Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Thoughts on Pelikan Fount Ink

Draw on Ampersand’s Clayboard – spendy but awesome to work on.

Every once in a long while I post something about art, rather than ‘field notes.’ This is one of them. I’m a member of “The Sketching Forum” ( )and was preparing a demo for them when I realized it might be of interest to some of my readers here too.

Years ago I happened upon a cheap throw away felt tip pen that both drew a relatively fine line and, when touched with a brush full of water, bled into beautiful greys. I don’t think the manufacturer wanted the pen to ‘bleed’, I think it was just cheap ink. But I loved that pen and felt something had been taken away from me when it ran dry. I couldn’t find another.

So what is wonderful about a pen that bleeds? Light and form are part of what makes art alive. Masters have drawn with charcoal for years because they have a whole range of values at their fingertips. Pencil does it too, but in a quieter fashion. For some reason pencil sketches have never floated by boat … and I make a mess with charcoal.
Head of a female ruddy duck drawn with a ball point pen

Ball point pen is a pretty good second best. I can get light lines and dark lines … and if I take the time I can get a good range of values. Ink is still my first choice.

I must have bought a dozen pens over the year ensuing years, hoping to find a pen that behaved in a similar fashion. Most don’t bleed and those that do tend to have too thick a line for my taste. About two years ago I found my tool …. This time with a fountain pen filled with “Pelikan Fount India – black ink.” It is very important to note that this is not ‘India ink,” the kind of ink one uses for nibs that one dips into ink. Traditional India ink will quickly gum up a fountain pen and may be impossible to clean.

Pelikan Fount India is wonderful stuff. When I want I can just make a pen and ink drawing. In short order the ink is dry and if I’ve penciled first, I can erase the pencil lines.
If I want grey values I just come back in with water. Whether I’m at home or in the field I usually use a Niji waterbrush when I add the water . A waterbrush is a synthetic brush with a hollow plastic handle that can be filled with water. When I got to the big city and spotted one a couple of years ago I thought to myself, “What on earth is this?” But once in awhile I buy an experiment. Michelangelo would have loved one of these!
I can even paint with the waterbrush, but I usually get out a jar of water and real brushes if I’m going to add color. Often I like adding color over the the Pelikan Fount India ink even though the ink smears a little. Here are factors that affect the quality of the bleed.
1. The paper
2. The amount of ink I lay down
3. How wet I get the ink when I smear it
4. Most important: how quickly I add the color. Don’t give the ink a chance to soften up
The paper I use is an important factor when using the Pelikan Fount ink. Some paper is much more absorbent that other paper. When the ink soaks into the paper, there isn’t as much riding on the surface of the paper waiting to be carried to new places with the water. If the paper is really slick, the ink may form a hard line when it redries (Example #3 and 4). If the paper is too absorbent, it may hold on to the ink and limit my ability to get dark grays (example 5). Not surprisingly a good watercolor behaves the best (#1 and 2)
I posted these chickarees on my last blog post. Here is more of the page they came from. I was working on fairly porous paper and wasn’t getting as dark a bleed as I wanted, so I just scribbled off to the side and dipped my waterbrush into the scribble to bring more grey over to the squirrels --- rather messy in my journal, but I don’t try to keep a tidy journal. Getting the art the way I want it is more important.

For those of you who look at a lot of my sketches, remember they aren’t all done with Pelikan Fount India. When I want waterproof ink I use Platinum Carbon. I also use Pigma Micron pens (waterproof) and sometimes a Uniball Vision. My long history of very careful work was mostly done with a dip nib and India ink.


  1. Hi,Elva,
    The first owl is awesome! Really a masterpiece.
    Thank you for sharing the precious information. Intersting. I should explore pens more.

  2. Wonderful article on ink. Love the sketches.

  3. OK I can now comment only because I sent it to my other server and it wont show who is sending this. But its Cris, Artist in Oregon. I forget what I wanted to say now. oh yes. I dont think I could keep all those pens straight. I guess you have been at this for so long its second nature. Now I will see if this works this way. Cris

    1. It worked Cris. Sorry you are having trouble commenting the normal way. I wonder how many other people are???