Answers to frequently asked questions.
I hope they're helpful, if you have others that aren't answered here, drop me a mail.
What kind of pen do you use?
Like most illustrators / drawists, I'm a pen geek. I own more of them than I need. For the most part, however, I rarely use anything but a Lamy Fountain pen. Whilst the Safari (plastic) and AlStar (aluminium) models are, in terms of function, identical, I prefer the slightly heavier AlStar.
The nibs of Lamy's AlStar and Safari are easily removed and replaced. This is good because most pens are sold with a medium nib and I prefer to retro fit a broad nib (these can be bought from most specialist pen shops and amazon for a few pounds). It also means that if you break or bend a nib, your pen can easily be rescued. If you're buying a nib from a shop, hold it up to the light and examine the thin feed channel that runs down the length. You're looking for a clear gap - a hairline of uninterrupted light. I have 9 or 10 broad nibs, one of which is my favourite and is recognisable by having the clearest channel. After each fill of ink this channel tends to be less than clear, it's important to clear it out before you refill.
I'll write separately about my cleaning and maintenance methods (below) but I'll add that I dismantle and clean each pen with every refill; if a pen does suffer from poor ink flow, in use, I find that this is cured, 9 times out of 10, by sliding the nib off and giving both it and the feed a quick clean with a damp tissue. For that reason, I keep a sheet or two of folded kitchen roll in my pen case.
If you use Lamy pens and have an issue or breakage with any part, Lamy's site has details of their repair department and in my experience they are fantastic at getting your pen back in working order.
Which ink do you use?
Every now and then I add watercolour to my drawings, for this reason I use waterproof ink in all of my Lamy pens. I know that fountain pen specific watercolour inks do exist and like you, I've read a thousand online reviews of them but I've always balked at the cost - and never really seen one that everyone agrees is great (or actually waterproof).
Indian ink is widely available but is no good for pens, as it contains shellac which kills fountain pens in no time; BUT some years ago I discovered that Winsor & Newton's Indian ink does not contain shellac! I bought some and risked it. My pen was fine. On it's own W&N's Indian ink is too thick and won't flow very well (or at least that's been my experience) but mixed with some water, it works really well. Play with your own ratios - I like a runny ink that blobs and gathers, so I go for about 1/1 between ink and water; sometimes edging more toward 3/2 in favour of ink, if I want a darker line. I got a half litre bottle of ink for under £20 which means that mixed at a ration of 1/1, I have a litre of usable ink. That's good value for money when compared to those fountain pen specific waterproof inks.
For all of the naysayers, I've been using this ink / water solution in my fountain pens for years, and have yet to experience a full-on blockage or dead pen.
As I carry several Lamies at any one time, it would be cost prohibitive to stock them all with one of Lamy's refillable reservoirs. I go for a more cheapskate approach. Lamy ink cartridges are easy to find - your pen comes with one - and are relatively easy to refill. They also hold more ink that the reservoir, so won't run out as quickly. I'll detail my refill process and the kit involved.
When my pen has run out, I like to give it a thorough clean before refilling. Here's how I do:
Completely dismantle the pen - the only parts I don't separate are the feed & front part (the bit you hold when using the pen). I read that the small parts that make these two pieces 'click' together can wear out if taken apart too frequently, so I don't risk it unless a pen is actually blocked. Soak all of the parts in warm, soapy water. I use a plastic drinks bottle with a few drops of washing liquid. If possible, I'll leave this over night, perhaps changing the water a couple of times.
The kit I use for refilling are:
Ear syringe cleaner bulb thing
Small ink bottle
Once the pen has been soaked (you'll spot little bits of gritty, dry ink in the water) rinse then dry it all off. I use the ear syringe to squirt water then air through the feed to get the excess dirty water out.
Use the blunt syringe to rinse the ink cartridge you are going to refill. Fill the syringe with water, slide it into the cartridge and force the clean water in. This will rinse the dirty, inky water out. Once it's looking clear use the syringe to suck all the contents out, ready to be filled with ink. If you're using a cartridge for the first time, you'll have to use the pen's own mechanism to first puncture the cartridge and then the syringe to suck the ink out and give it a clean.
As my ink is in a large bottle, I use a small bottle to mix and hold the ink/water solution that I will be filling the pens with. Working with the large bottle would almost certainly lead to spillage disasters. It's simply a process of mixing an amount of ink and water into the smaller bottle and then using a syringe to carefully fill cartridges. It's not as fiddly as it sounds but is best done at a sink (just in case). Lay a few pieces of kitchen roll out for keeping things dry, wiping syringes, absorbing disasters etc.
When all of my cartridges are filled, I give the syringe a few rinses, otherwise I'll be putting dry ink particles back into the pen the next time I fill it up.
What kind of sketchbooks do you use?
I've kept sketchbooks for over 20 years - when I decided I wanted to go to art college , I asked a friend who had already been, what I should do to help me get a place? "Keep a sketchbook", was his advice. I got one, filled it, got another, filled it, and I haven't stopped since.
In all those years, I've only ever used a handful of brands. First I used Seawhite of Brighton. These are hardback, use good quality cartridge that suits most purposes without being too specific to any one and (this is important) incredibly good value for money. As a student I must've burned through 40 or 50 of these, almost exclusively A5 portrait but with a few forays into landscape, A4 and square.
Next I went through a Daler Rowney, phase. These look a lot like the Seawhite but are slightly more off white. My main reason for the change was that they have considerably more pages and for a long while a particular shop was selling them with heavy discount, making them even better value than the Seawhite.
More recently I have been using Leuchtturm1917 sketchbooks. There's a few reasons for this.
The main reason is the paper stock. Previously I would have opted for paper that was more off white and had more tooth, but after trying the Leuchtturm1917 just once, I was sold. It takes ink really well and offers a good amount of feedback without being either too smooth (pen slides about) or too textured (pen lines are somewhat detoured by surface texture).
Here's a few other reasons: the pages open flat. Getting hand cramps from trying to constantly hold a sketchbook open whilst you sketch can ruin your drawing time. Secondly the Leuchtturm1917 has a useful pocket inside the back cover where I store random ephemera - I used to make and add my own from old envelopes but now I don't need to. I love looking through old sketchbooks and finding train tickets, restaurant receipts and other bits and pieces that take me back in time.
The last reason is simply that they feel and look great, the colours are a nice change from the usual black.
Do they take watercolour well?
The Leuchtturm1917 is not a watercolour sketchbook. If you want to use traditional watercolour techniques, you really need a watercolour specific sketchbook. If, like me, you want to quickly add colour and have some fun, then you can use watercolour paint without issue. The paper has a chalky surface that is quick to absorb the paint, meaning it can take a bit of getting used to at first but on the plus side the heavy stock keeps bleed through to a minimum and when dry, the page doesn't cockle much.
Do you draw in pencil first and go over it in pen?