An inventory of my current stable of pens. They are all waterproof and under $10. Each drawing was done with the corresponding pen.


Dip pen: I love to write with this pen. It’s a little scratchy and there’s something very organic and wild about dipping it in ink. I never know entirely how the pen will react, whether it will stammer or buck and so it makes me draw in a very particular way. It’s my favorite thing for ‘calligraphy’ and turns any writing into a decorative element. I’ve saved a lot of boring drawings by scrawling with it. I’ve used various cheap nibs; this one is the most expressive. I hate italic nibs and think they should only be used by people who really know what they are doing. Otherwise, you look like some fancy 8th grader.

pen-pigment03Staedler Pigment liner 03 – Roz recommended this pen to me and I like it a lot, The line isn’t perfect like a technical pen but it’s reliable and consistent. The flow is smooth but not luscious and the nib responds to pressure so you can vary the line thickness somewhat. 03 is the right gauge for me most of the time.

pen-pigment07Staedler Pigment liner 07 - There’s also an 05 but I tend not to use inbetweens. This pen is good when I want to loosen myself up and draw big and chunky. My only complaint about pigment liners, in fact all technical markers of this type, is that if I hold the pen at too extreme an angle to the page, it rubs the metal part of the nib and causes the line to suddenly thin down and skip. That’s of ten a good indication that I’m drawing too fast and should pay more attention to what I’m seeing.

pen-rotringRotring Rapidoliner: I am really in love with this pen these days and I never would of thunk it. I first tried Rapidographs when I was a teenager but they always clogged and leaked and were a pain to fill. I was forever dismantling the nibs and washing them in the sink and finding ink blots on my shirts. This pen is perfect. My nib is the finest they make and the pen just won’t clog or skip. The guts are disposable, for $4 you get a fresh new nib and supply of Indian ink. I have been drawing with this pen every day for two months and am still on my original cartridge. The pen’s feeling is ultra smooth, a little creamy and a little brittle, like icing on a cupcake. The best $10 I ever spent.


Faber- Castell PITT – The best brush markers, hand down, far more robust, consistent and black than Sakura. I like the whole PITT series, including the pens. Waterproof, Indian Ink, highly lightfast and most of the colors are quite good. They’re just being introduced so you can get them at incredible prices. I bought a set of 24 for a little over $30.


Sakura Pigma Micron: D.Price first turned me on to these pens and I used them exclusively for years. They come in sizes 005 to 08 and are archival. The point is a little hard and the pens aren’t terribly robust. I think I strayed from my exclusive relationship with Sakuras for tiny reasons: the type on the pens wears down over time and it can become hard to tell at a glance what the size of a pen is as they all look alike, I wrap mine in tape to preserves the numbers. I still use them but have diversified.

Penstix: this pen’s nib is plastic and yet it has a fine feel. The ink is a little less opaque and ultra black but it’s nice to draw with, almost crayon like sometimes. I get in the mood for it and tend to use it for a week at a time then it gets lost in my pen box.

pen-artistsGrumbacher Artist pen. This little hypodermic syringe is ultra sharp and precise, the finest point I know. It’s a 25 like the Rapidoliner but it seems frailer and more spidery. This pen makes me draw teeny details and endless crosshatching. The design is awful — the cap won’t go on the weird sticklike barrel and the pen can, after time, leak a bit. They’re hard to find but I hoard them when I can find them. About $6 and last for ages.

The Old Bamboo


My passion for my Rotring rapidoliner deepens. Unlike any other technical pen I’ve used, it is always on the ready, never clogs or sticks or leaks and I’ve never even had to shake it one time to force ink to the nib. The ink itself is deep black, fairly quickly drying and water proof. The drawings I do with this pen are detailed and full of crosshatching. Occasionally, I catch glimmers of the sort of line that r.crumb coaxes out of his Rapidographs and those are very exciting occasions to me.
Still the pen tends to make me draw and see in a particular way — I find myself looking for immensely detailed things to draw, elaborate building facades, the interiors of overflowing closets, or else to do lots of postage stamp pictures crammed on the same page. To shake things up, I switch hit with the crudest, most blunt drawing instrument of all, a bamboo pen.


This pen is just a stick carved into a point on either end. I dip it in Higgins waterproof ink. The line is surprisingly smooth and responsive to my pressure, delivering lines of different thickness.It makes me draw far more gesturally and to switch my vision to a different focal length, taking off the microscope of the Rapidograph and seeing in sweeping outlines, forsaking the miniscule details I could never render with the bamboo.
I am drawing from one of my favorite sources, the 1955 yearbook of Spalding Institute of Peoria, Illinois, full of hundreds of well groomed Catholic faces. I have a shelf full of yearbooks, picked up a for a dollar or two at flea markets, and they give me a great range of faces to study, all similarly composed, sharp and clear, covering the 1930s through the 1970s.

Jonesing for a 000

mumsbirthdayMy mum’s house sits nestled in the middle of several acres of wild forest and is full of stuff to draw, including her cat, Fred, and the family collection of stone Buddhas, many of which my grandfather acquired in Pakistan years ago. As we all sat around and she unwrapped a basketful of birthday gifts, I drew anything within eyeball reach with an old/new pen.

Old, because I used to love its fine, sharp line and hard-as-a-hypodermic nib until I decided it was bad for me and gave it up years ago. New, because I was craving it again and bought a fresh one last week (Grumbacher “Artists Pen” very hard to come by).

Why ‘bad‘ for me?

Well, the pen is so fine and hard it makes me draw in a very particular way that appeals to the most anal retentive part of me and I make these would-be photorealistic drawings that are so tight and rigid and tiny and, while that’s all well and fine in small doses, I ended up tossing the pen when I started wanting to do teeny tiny postage stamp drawings full of stippling and cross-hatching and little else.

But it was my mum’s birthday, so I gave myself a break.

Am I nuts?

P.S. I do quite like this page. Is it too small to read?