Tag: nibs

Inking Advice

Recently, I’ve been going through the old Famous Artists Course handbooks. If you don’t know, this was an art course first devised in 1948 and it involved teachings by artists like Norman Rockwell, Austin Briggs, and Robert Fawcett. There was also a course designed specifically for cartoonists (you can get pdfs of that course here). I just recently started reading the lessons for this course, and the other day I got to part three, the section on inking, and I encountered the following picture:

It reminded me of my old post about how to hold a dip pen. As you can see, these cartoonists– Al Capp, Milton Caniff, and Rube Goldberg– all hold their pens at a comfortable distance from the nib.

Lesson 3 has a lot of other little pieces of advice about inking and I thought I’d share some of what the lesson says, along with my own insights. Much of what I have learned is from trial-and-error and hopefully I can save you some of the frustration.

One thing I have learned to do is to not ink my nibs too much. Lately, I barely dip the point of my nib into the ink well. I just get enough ink to make a good line or two. In the past what I’ve done, as you can see above, is to run the bottom of the nib against the ink well before I start drawing. This removes excess ink. Why do this? Well, too much ink and you will have ink drops on your paper. Also, an over-inked nib produces a heavier line. And lastly, less ink on the nib helps the longevity of your nibs.

As the Famous Artists Cartoon Course points out, you have to be careful about the surface you are drawing on. Even if your hands are clean, oils from your hands can get onto the page and resist the ink. This is one reason many animators wear gloves. Another idea, and one that I often use, is to have a piece of scratch paper beneath your drawing hand. You have to be careful when you lift up your hand though, or you can send the scratch paper skidding off through your wet ink lines.

As the course also mentions above, it is better to let the ink dry before you draw through it. If it is wet, the the crossing lines will drag some of the wet ink with them, making for dark spots where the lines intersect.

Along the same line (pun intended), you have to ink in a direction that doesn’t take your drawing hand through wet ink. So right-handed artists need to ink left to right. Left-handers, right to left. And if you have pencil lines that you want to erase, make sure the ink is completely dry before you do so. And I use a kneaded eraser when I erase, because, as the course says, it takes away the pencil and not the ink.

Last but not least, it is extremely important to clean your nibs when you are done. I find that water by itself isn’t effective and you always need to be careful with water and metal, since it can lead to rust. So I have a cloth that I use to wipe my nibs with.

Good habits make for a less frustrating drawing experience. If you have any frustration at all, it should come from not being able to make what you are imagining a reality and not from having to fight your tools. Also, good habits will make those tools perform better and last longer. And, as always, this is advice that is intended to help you create. Use what does that and disregard the rest.

Four nib review

I needed to order some new Brause 511 nibs, so I decided to get a few others and try them out just for fun. Here’s what I got and what I thought…

bank of england ledger nib

The Bank of England Ledger Pen is a larger nib. It has a solid feel and reminded me a lot of a G pen, though stiffer than the Tachikawa G. It’s a nice nib and easy to use, and it feels like it would last a long time. It’s not as expressive as I like in a nib, but it feels strong and reliable.

cito fein lines

cito fein nib

I love Brause nibs and the Cito Fein is no exception. This nib has a gold finish and a solid, smooth feel. I’m considering using this nib as my standard lettering nib. It has a fairly small line, but allows some nice line variation. Yet it’s so solid that it’s easy to keep the line from modulating if you don’t want it to.

tachikawa school pen lines

tachikawa school pen

The Tachikawa School Pen creates a very fine line. It is a solid nib that doesn’t allow for a lot of line modulation. If you are looking for a reliable fine-line nib, this may be the one for you.

vintage hunt 100 lines

vintage hunt 100

As I’ve said before, the Hunt 100 used to be my preferred nib but has given me the most headaches of any nib. So when I saw that Paper & Ink Arts had a vintage version of the nib, I decided to see if it was any different. Basically, the metal feels a little stronger, but it’s the same Hunt 100. This nib has the most incredible flexibility, making it capable of some extreme line modulation. But it’s also a pain in the ass. The tiny tines tend to catch on the paper and it is finicky, not always wanting to work even though it was a brand new nib. So no, I won’t be going back to the Hunt 100 any time soon.

j. herbin belle epoque

I also purchased a J. Herbin Belle Epoque pen holder. I didn’t really need a new nib holder, but this one looked nice and I really like the J. Herbin Perle Noir fountain pen ink. I have to say, I really like this holder. It is a bit heavy, which I prefer. So many holders that I have tried recently have been very light, which makes drawing feel odd. I like a little heft to my drawing tool and this holder provides it. So if you want a really solid nib holder I highly recommend the J. Herbin Belle Epoque. It fits mid-sized nibs, like the Brause Cito Fein. The BOE Ledger fit, but the nib was so big it didn’t fit snuggly. The Hunt 100 also fit, but was so small that it was a tad loose.


My previous post about nib comparisons.

And my post about G pens.

And my discussion of nib holders.

P.S.
I got all of these nibs through Paper & Ink Arts.

G Nibs: a comparison

The G nib is probably the most fabled nib among people interested in the creation of manga. So what is a “G nib” exactly? Basically, it’s a Japanese-made pen nib that has cuts in its shoulders that make a “g” shape. This nib is large, but capable of creating fine lines for its size. It is also slightly flexible, making line modulation possible, but at the same time it’s stable and so feels solid and capable of lasting a long time.

As of this writing, three makes of G nibs can be obtained in the U.S.: the Nikko, the Zebra, and the Tachikawa. So which is the best? As with anything, it comes down to personal taste. But let me run through the three versions and tell you what I think.


 


Nikko G

The first G nib I ever purchased was the Nikko G. The metal of the Nikko feels a bit tinny and is the lightest of the three G nibs. When drawing, it feels a bit stiff and tends to be capable of less line modulation than the other makes. If you are new to dip pens, this may be a good thing because that stiffness would make it easier to control. However, it’s a tad scratchy. I personally love a nib with a smooth feel on the page. Overall, this may be an okay G nib if you are a complete beginner, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a more experienced pen-and-ink artist.



Zebra G

This is the second G nib I tried. Straight away, I noticed that it offered a much thinner line than the Nikko. Its line is even slightly thinner than the Tachikawa’s line. It is more flexible than the Nikko, but shares its scratchiness. Overall, I think the Zebra is better than the Nikko. Still, I don’t like the feel of it on the page.



Tachikawa G
I don’t know if these only recently became available, but I only got a pack of the Tachikawa nibs a little while ago. The Tachikawa is closer in color to the Nikko, but looks more like brushed steel than tin. While its line may not be quite as thin as the Zebra’s, this is the most elastic nib of the three. It swells much more easily, which I like. Overall, the Tachikawa feels much smoother than the other two G nibs. It’s simply the easiest to draw with. So if you’ve got a firm hand with pen-and-ink, this is definitely the one I’d recommend.


Final thoughts

While all these nibs are flexible, and the JetPens guide even warns people that they may be too flexible for some people, I find all the G pens to be pretty stiff. Yes, they offer some line modulation, but for years I used the Hunt 100, which is the squirrelliest nib out there. So I’m used to the other end of the flexibility spectrum. These days, I tend to use Brause nibs, especially the 511. These nibs tend to be more flexible and just flow better. So while the G nibs are perfectly fine and are pretty easy nibs to use in terms of skill, I find them limiting. I just feel cramped and stiff when I use them. Again, this is a matter of personal taste and my own nib using history. I just don’t want people to think they have to use G nibs just because their favorite manga artist does. They are not necessarily the best nibs out there.

Buying the nibs

These nibs are now easy to buy on-line. Both JetPens and Paper & Ink Arts have all three makes.
JetPens: Nikko, Zebra, Tachikawa. Paper & Ink Arts: Nikko, Zebra, Tachikawa.

If you buy these in a store, let me offer a warning about the packaging. Not only is it in Japanese, it can be a bit misleading. For instance, the Zebra G nibs can come in a package that says “IC Comic.” The Tachikawa package doesn’t have any English on it at all besides the letter G. Still, in both cases you can just look at the nibs themselves. All three makes have their names embossed on them in English.

 

Lastly, here’s a similar comparison of the nibs, but with a focus on using them for calligraphy (spoiler: the author agrees with me about the Tachikawa).

Nibs: a comparison

When I got into regularly drawing with dip pens, nibs were easy to find at the local art store and I could get them for thirty cents a piece. So it wasn’t too hard to try out different kinds. These days, not all art stores carry nibs and they tend to be around one to three dollars each. They’re still pretty cheap for an art supply, but you have to actively seek them out, usually from on-line retailers (I’ve listed some at the bottom). Since trying out different models takes a bit more effort, it helps to narrow your search a bit. One way to do that is to find out what nibs your favorite pen-and-ink artists use. The other way is to look at guides like this one.

Finding a nib you like is a matter of taste. But there are certain qualities to look for in any nib (in each category a spectrum is possible):

 

Thin line – Thick line
What is the size of the line produced when standard pressure is applied to the nib?

Smooth – Scratchy
How does the nib feel on the page?

Stable – Flexible
How does the nib feel as you increase pressure on it?

Steady – Elastic
How quickly does the nib return to its original shape?

High modulation – Low modulation
How much variation can you get out of the line created?

The following is a brief overview of a few pointed pen nibs. This is by no means an exhaustive list; it’s just a few of the more common nibs I’ve used and enjoyed. This list moves roughly from thick line nibs to thin line ones (or right to left in the image above).

 

Brause 76
I hadn’t heard about Brause nibs when I started out. What I have discovered is that the Brause nibs are consistently the best made nibs I have ever tried. The 76 is also called the “Rose” due to the little rose embossed on the shaft. It’s a fairly large nib and so creates wider lines, but it is incredibly flexible. The 76 is the closest thing to inking with a brush of any nib I’ve tried. It’s a lot of fun.


Hunt 512
This is a stiff, not very flexible nib with a smooth feel. It has a “bowl tip”: meaning that the point is rounded slightly. This makes drawing curves easier. I used to use this nib for all my lettering, but have stopped because it seemed like the 512s were getting scratchier and more frequently defective. I feel that the Hunt nibs have really gone down in quality over the years.


Leonardt 30
This is the nib I use for lettering now. Leonardt nibs have recently made a comeback. The 30 is solid and stiff, which works well for consistent lettering. It’s a lot like the Hunt 512, but with a bit more modulation possibility and a smoother feel.


Zebra G
Comics artists inspired by manga are often turned on to the fabled “G” nib. In my limited experience, the Zebra G nib is better than the Nikko G nib. It’s not very flexible, but delivers very controlled lines. For a larger nib, the line it creates is actually fairly fine. The nib feels strong and it lasts a long time. Personally, I find the nib a bit too scratchy and inflexible for my tastes. The Tachikawa G is slightly more flexible (maybe I’ll post a comparison at a later date).


Gillott 303
This is a reliable nib with a bit of flexibility. While there are smaller Gillott nibs, I’ve found that the 303 actually can produce a thinner line than many of them. So this is a good nib to start with if you want to try a nib from Gillott. Overall though, I find the 303 a bit too scratchy for my taste, and this is true of all the Gillott nibs I’ve used.


Esterbrook 356
I got this nib on eBay. Esterbrook was a standard line of nibs once upon a time. From what I’ve tried, all their nibs are solidly built. The 356 is a bit stiff and doesn’t offer a lot of line variation.


Brause 66ef
I used this nib when I drew Carnivale. It produces a fairly fine line, but has a very springy feel. Even so, it is easy to create a stable line with the 66ef. When you vary the pressure on the nib, the line fluctuates evenly. It doesn’t suddenly swell or drop off. I think this is due to the quality of the metal used to make the nib. While the point of the nib is fine, it is also slightly rounded, like the Hunt 512. That means that you can almost draw a circle with one stroke, versus composing a circle from two strokes as you have to do with most nibs. It also has a good ink capacity, so you can create long, flowing lines. Overall, it’s a nice nib and would be a good nib to start with if you wanted a fine line.


Brause 511
This is my favorite nib and the one I draw with most often now. When I first used this nib I liked how smooth it was, but I thought it was a bit too unyielding. Yet this was due to the fact that I was coming off using the Hunt 100, which is the most elastic nib out there. The Brause 511 is not very elastic, but capable of a nice bit of variation if you apply the pressure. Don’t be shy with it; bear down and see what it can do. Since it is more stable and steady, when you apply pressure, the nib smoothly comes back to a thinner line. You might be able to see the contrast with the Hunt 100. With the 100, the line drops back quickly to a thin line, making for a little cliff after the large swell. The 511 modulates at a more consistent rate. So this nib offers a lot of variability while not sacrificing control. And it feels like a dream on the page. This is why I love this nib so much.


Hunt 100
At one time, the Hunt 100 was my main drawing nib. What I love about it is it’s incredible springiness. The nib is very elastic and flexible. Because of this, it takes a steady hand to control it, but it is capable of making some very expressive marks. Yet the flexibility of the nib also means that it’s not very good for hatching, at least if you want a consistent size to your hatch marks. There are two main reasons that I no longer use this nib. One, it wears out fast. The elasticity of the nib is due to the lightness its metal and this light metal wears out quickly. Second, this nib has made me want to scream one too many times. There is nothing more frustrating than wanting to draw but having no ink flow from your pen. I’ve had this problem more often with the Hunt 100 than with any other nib I’ve ever tried. When I was more inexperienced, I thought the problem was me (and sometimes it was). But I’ve since realized that it’s mostly the nib. So, this is an expressive nib, but not one that you want to rely on. Honestly, this nib has caused me more frustration than any other.


Hunt 102
This is a small tubular nib, which, unsurprisingly, creates a very fine line. So if you want small marks, this is a nib to try. I’ve found though that at a certain point, lines can get so small that they don’t reproduce well. Since I create comics, this is a concern for me. So I find the 102 too small. The Brause 515 is a similar nib, though not quite as thin, yet with a much smoother feel.


 

On-line nib retailers:
JetPens
Pen-and-Ink Arts
Scribblers

Other on-line nib guides:
Beepily
JetPens

(written December 23, 2016)