This week’s guest blogger in our guest series Beyond the Pen (a focus on fountain pen ink uses outside of the fountain pen) is Jamie Williams Grossman, who has a terrific sketching blog called Hudson Valley Sketches. I recommend checking out her blog for lots of great art and advice on sketching, painting, and watercolor art. Thanks Jamie! ~Brian Goulet

If you’re already fond of fountain pens and ink, maybe it’s time to get creative with them in a different way! By adding just a waterbrush, like the kind that comes with some of the Noodler’s 4.5 oz inks, it’s amazing how expressive and quick a sketch can be. Whether you’re just doodling while talking on the phone, enjoying a quiet afternoon out on the deck, or recording your travels, there’s nothing faster to work with and more convenient to carry than a pen, waterbrush, and paper. In fact, if you’re into fountain pens, you probably already have two out of the three on your person at all times!

Aside from lots of practice, there are three components that will determine the outcome of your efforts. They are:

  • The type of pen you choose
  • The weight, sizing and finish of the paper
  • The washability and saturation of the ink

You’ll want to use a pen that lays down a lot of ink, so that you’ll have enough ink in the lines to create your washes.  I’ve had good success with the Platinum Preppy fountain pens with the 05 nibs, and they are inexpensive enough to keep an army of them filled with all my favorite sketching inks. I either empty and refill the cartridge that comes with the pen with the ink of my choice, use the Platinum converter, or do an eyedropper conversion with the pen. The Lamy pens and converters have also worked very well for me. I use one of those little label-making machines to label the barrels of the pens so I always know what’s in which pen.

Inks for these “ink and wash” sketches need to have a high saturation, due to the fact that you’ll be diluting them with water from the brush to create your darkest areas and shadows.  “Bulletproof” or “water resistant” inks will not work well for these purposes. Some inks wash better than others, but the trial and error is part of the fun and exploration of the process. Thank goodness for ink samples!

The paper you select also plays a role in determining the outcome of your sketch. Well sized watercolor-type paper lets the ink sit on top of the page, so it washes easier and retains more brilliance. A smooth, “plate” finish with good sizing allows the pen to easily glide across the surface and makes the wash flow effortlessly, but good sizing makes textured paper possible as well. I happen to like all of the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks (can’t even choose a favorite because they are all so good) for ink and wash work, and the Fabriano Venezia book.

The sketch above was done with an ink that many artists seem to love — Private Reserve Velvet Black. I did this sitting in front of the gorgeous courthouse in Hudson, New York. First the line drawing was done with the pen. Then I took out the waterbrush, and using the ink from the lines I drew, I pulled out the shadow areas of the building, leaf clusters on the tree, and gave some halftones to parts of the grass and path. This was done in a 10×7″ Stillman and Birn Beta Series sketchbook, which has very heavy, bright white paper that can take a beating. If you prefer ivory paper, their Delta series has the same heavy weight paper and great sizing in the ivory color. What I love about this Private Reserve Velvet Black ink is that the wash is a bit violet-tinged, with some subtle shades of pink. The complexity of the color, high saturation, darkness, and ease with which it washes make it one of the indispensable inks for my sketchbooks.

This sketch was also done on location, this time at the old Tioronda Hat Factory in Beacon, New York. If you look closely, you can see that it was done across a two-page spread of a stitch-bound sketchbook, which is my preferred way of working. In this case, it was a Fabriano Venezia book, using Noodler’s Nightshade, another of my favorite washable inks. I find it colorful without being garish, and the high saturation makes it a natural for ink and wash techniques. A Lamy Safari fountain pen with Medium nib was my weapon of choice here, followed by the waterbrush.

Private Reserve Chocolat (above) is more toward the reddish brown spectrum than Noodler’s Nightshade, and also washes very well. Above is another street scene from Hudson, New York.

If you’re too shy to go out sketching in public, just look around your house! I had a nice time last weekend relaxing on the porch while sketching my patio tomato plant, using Noodler’s Sequoia in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon Series Hardbound book. The paper in the Epsilon book is a fountain pen aficionado’s dream.

In addition to the ink and wash samples shown above, I have many other favorite colors that you might like to try for your doodles. Many of the Noodler’s inks work very well because they are so saturated. I’m always exploring and trying new inks, with a preference for subtle colors that don’t scream too loudly. Here’s a list of some of my current favorites for ink and wash work (including the inks showcased in the sketches in this post) in no particular order:

Noodler’s Sequoia
Noodler’s Nightshade
Noodler’s Midnight Blue
Noodler’s Purple Wampum
Noodler’s Brown
Noodler’s Zhivago
Private Reserve Velvet Black
Private Reserve Chocolat
Private Reserve Midnight Blue
J. Herbin Cacao du Bresil
J. Herbin Poussiere de Lune
Caran d’Ache Grand Canyon
Iroshizuku Yama Guri

In addition to all the brands and colors currently available, it can be fun to mix your own colors. Brian has warned me that mixing different inks can cause pen problems, so don’t experiment with your favorite expensive pen! Private Reserve Chocolat and Private Reserve Velvet Black mix together in various ratios to form fabulous neutral colors. Below is a mix of mostly Chocolat, with about 1/4 Velvet Black. The result is like a very highly saturated version of Iroshizuku Yama-guri! (This sketchbook is a Stillman & Birn Beta Wirebound.)

Back in April, I did an experiment based on the April Ink Drop. Those of you who are Ink Drop members will remember that was the Easter Egg Hunt month. I took equal proportions of the five inks from the hunt, mixed them together, and called the result Scrambled Easter Eggs. It’s a gorgeous muted blue that washes into tones of pink, blue and violet. Who knew!

Keep in mind that while fountain pen ink is wonderful for use in sketchbooks, it is not archival. My own lightfastness tests have indicated that none of these works could be framed and hung in a room with even indirect sunlight without fading after a period of time —- sometimes a short period of time! Enjoy them in your covered books, and when working on pieces to hang on your walls, turn to lightfast, archival alternatives in artist grade mediums.

Fountain pen use for artists doesn’t stop with ink and wash. I use some of the bulletproof inks with watercolor for colored sketches. I also use gray and black inks in brushes to create multiple values without using the ink lines to get the wash color. But those applications are for another post someday! Those interested in seeing more of my sketches and techniques can follow along with me on my blog, Hudson Valley Sketches .