Thursday 5 May 2016

Pens, pencils & paper...

'Playing Ninja Zombie with Shadow' 2013

When creating artworks from start to finish I use a range of pencils, pens & markers. I also use different qualities of paper. 

My Rotring retractable mechanical pencil is the only pencil I use to sketch. It has a nice weight to it and although I'm able to buy different strengths of lead I tend to use a basic HB. Once the sketch is finished and tweaked I begin to ink it. 

'Moon tree' 2013

At Christmas my son bought me a set of Unipin fine liners in a range of nib sizes. They're comfortable to use, are water and fade proof, and are pigment ink which doesn't shift when coloured over with alcohol markers. Before this I used either a Letraset fine liner 0.7 (waterproof, non fading pigment ink) or a Rotring Tikky Graphic 0.5 (pigmented ink). The Rotring has a lovely soft touch on paper and I'll be looking to build up my collection of these.

After watching a couple of artists on YT and Vimeo I purchased a Pentel GFXP brush pen. Using this is an entirely different technique but I find keeping it upright like a Japanese ink brush works best. The hand and wrist movements needed to work fluently take a bit of practice but the effect is good and the quality of the brush and ink excellent. I mostly use it to accentuate outer lines after colouring an artwork. A nice touch to the shiny black casing is the foiled Japanese symbol on the cap.

To add highlights such as light catching on a character's eyes a white pen is best. Mine is a Uni-ball Signo broad (pigment ink, UM-153) which is a tried and tested pen, a bit like a high-end gel pen.

I've tried out a number of different alcohol markers to colour my line drawings. An all-time favourite to date is the Copic ciao, double ended with both super brush and broad nib. The brush gets the most use as it's very flexible and can carry ink into the finest of areas. The ink can be built up to create a very smooth, almost dense effect. They can be pricey but I'm currently searching for a good deal on refill ink which should mean making my art is more affordable. My local arts supply store tell me that there is a shortage of Copics because of the rise in Manga art but I can't say how accurate this is.

'Moon tree' coloured 2014

I have a number of Letraset Promarkers which have stood the test of time well - the Promarker seems to have been taken over by Windsor & Newton so whichever name you purchase it's the same product. The pens are also double ended with a small point on one end and a broad nib on the other. The quality of ink is very good and loaded with pigment and a handy design touch is the nub on the pen cap which prevents the marker rolling off the desk when not being used. 

Another option is the Flair marker by Letraset. This has both brush and broad nib although the brush is nowhere as flexible as that of the Copic. The ink is passable but doesn't compare to that of the Promarker.

A very cheap option is the Stafford, usually less than half the price of others. For the price it's not bad but the continuity of quality does not run the same from marker to marker. It has a both broad nib and point though the latter can sometimes blunt quickly through use. Some bleed more readily than others which can ruin an artwork if not careful. And often the ink colour does not match the label. However they're a great 'first' alcohol art marker and can come in handy if you're a strapped-for-cash artist. Using these to colour larger background areas can save your more expensive markers.

using Sharpies - Oh Hello Stationery Co drawing challenge 2015

I couldn't resist the chance to try out Sharpies and have a range of permanent markers with neon and metallics within my collection. The shape and point of nib can vary from marker to marker which I find very hit and miss. Colours are always intense but often don't tally with the colour of the marker cap. Coverage is also good but not quite the same flat colour as the Copics. I have completed online art challenges only using Sharpies and they've been fine but I wouldn't use them for my artworks.

Days 21 & 24 from Listers Gotta List/The Reset Girl Jan challenge 2016

Ballpoint and gel pens also have a place in my art materials. Pen points are usually fine to medium on ballpoints and when used for an overlapping shading technique the eye then mixes the colours. A small collection of pens can therefore produce many more blended colours. Gel pens are great for building up colour and creating patterns on top of patterns.

My Dad had a set of coloured pencils which he used to tint drawings for an architectural course he studied. And I now have his Mars Chroma pencils (by Staedtler of Nurnberg). 13/6 (13 shillings and sixpence) is the price written in pencil on the box so they're pre-decimal - an expensive purchase in the 60s. They're water resistant and almost gleam when shaded heavily over copic marker or gouache. And I have to be extra careful when sharpening them as the vintage leads can and do easily break. I've kept any broken leads as I'm sure I've seen some kind of gadget with tiny claws which might grip them, allowing me to use every morsel of colour. I love having these pencils even though the box is battered and suffered water damage some years ago. 

My first sketches are done on 150gsm paper which can take a lot of heavy erasing but I like the quality of 250gsm Bristol Board which is very smooth to work on with alcohol markers and I end up with a very durable final piece. I find mixed media is usually better done on watercolour paper 150gsm+.

I'm constantly trying out new products on the market to extend my repertoire and I'm finding that I discover new favourites. YouTube tutorials and reviews are an excellent place to learn about what the art companies are producing. Plus your local art store is worth dropping in regularly to test out and get the feel of markers and pens.


Tomorrow's blog: 'History of an artist (me) Pt1'

Copyright © 2016 by Roisin O'Hagan/bloowabbit
All rights reserved. The artworks/illustrations or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the artist except for specific permission granted with a free downloadable.


  1. I wish I was capable of drawing anything better than a simple doodle. Lol. This has been a very informative post. Awesome job!

  2. I wish I was capable of drawing anything better than a simple doodle. Lol. This has been a very informative post. Awesome job!

  3. I can barely draw a stick man, let alone something like these...WOW

    1. Someone said that to me the other day and I reminded them of LS Lowry, artist famous for his stickmen !! :)