Drawing With Fountain Pens: Why, How, And Which One?

Fountain pens aren’t just for writing letters.

When an artist embarks on a creative journey to make something new, one of the most effective ways to find a path forward is to go beyond the conventional tools and methods. Keith Haring brought art to the streets of New York using chalk on empty advertising panels. Jackson Pollock dripped and splattered paint on canvas. Sarah Sze uses mundane objects, like office supplies, to build her mixed media sculptures and art installations.

Fountain pens aren’t nearly as common to an artist’s toolkit as pencils, markers, acrylic paint, and watercolors, for example. This article makes the case that they should be considered expressive, versatile, and durable tools for drawing. If you’re an artist looking to take your craft to the next level, learning to use a fountain pen can strengthen your work.

The qualities that make fountain pens a top-shelf choice for handwriting also apply to those who use them for art.

Why Do People Love Drawing with Fountain Pens?

Line Variation

To create a connection between a piece of art and the viewer, the artist imbues their creation with emotional intensity.

In the drawing, lines carry the weight of the artist’s message. Overlapping lines create the illusion of 3-dimensional depth on a 2-dimensional surface. Expressive linework conveys the mood of the piece and tell a story.

How can a simple line convey anger, excitement, calm, sorrow, and fear? “Line variation” is the language spoken on a canvas or a comic book page. To achieve line variation, the artist’s tool must be able to change its line thickness as it is being used.

Monoline pens, like ballpoint pens or gel pens, generally cannot produce line variation unless one presses hard upon the point, which also becomes strenuous on the hand. A flexible nib or stub nib fountain pen is better suited to achieve expressive linework.

Ergonomics

When browsing the aisle of an art supply store, an artist finds a wide selection of colorful pens, markers, pastels, and pencils. While the colors and point sizes may differ, the utensils are usually the same, featureless cylinder shape.

Pigma Microns are a staple for illustrators for their quick-drying, waterproof ink. However, when it comes to ergonomics, they offer very little. When we interviewed comic artist Creees Lee about his favorite pens, he showed us his Micron fineliner pens, which had layers of tape at the grip area.

When an artist works several hours a day, ergonomics becomes incredibly important. Rather than jury rig a more comfortable grip for a disposable pen, getting a fountain pen that best suits your hand will be a more effective, long-term solution.

Ink Variety

One pen - nearly limitless ink color possibilities.

A fountain pen is like a brush in that you can use virtually any color you can imagine with it. Although you could certainly dedicate a particular ink to a fountain pen, no pen is married to any ink color.

Fountain pens usually come empty or with an ink cartridge to start. So, you can fill it with any fountain pen ink color you can dream of - even with ones that shimmer.

Longevity

Fountain pens are built to last. The nibs are often made with stainless steel and have a hard-wearing iridium ball at the tip. Unlike some dip nibs used for calligraphy, fountain pen nibs will not corrode over time.

Just how long is the life expectancy of a fountain pen? It might surprise you to know that pens made in the early 20th Century (before computers and typewriters - the “Golden Age” of the fountain pen) are still being used by collectors today. That’s right, not just being collected, but written with as well.

Plus, the advantage of today’s cartridge converter pens is that, if a nib or the converter should break, the pen could be easily repaired by purchasing a replacement compatible nib or converter.

Style

Unlike the uninspiring, generic design of the typical art supply drawing implement, a fountain pen has personality. There are so many choices of form, design, color, material, and theme. There are fountain pens that follow the German Bauhaus minimalist design school. On the other hand, there are pens so flashy and ornate that they glitter and glow in the dark.

Choosing a fountain pen manifests our identity and personal taste. In finding the ideal fountain pen, an artist can deeply connect with their purpose and aesthetic preferences.

Image from Mattias Adolfsson's sketchbook: website link

The Urban Sketching Scene With Fountain Pens

In addition to the traditional artistic disciplines of still life portraits, figure drawing, and illustrations, urban sketching has recently become a popular way to draw.

Similar to Plein Air painting, Urban Sketching forces the artist outside of the studio walls and into the environment which will serve as their subject.

Urban sketching is like a visual diary, documenting the city life, architecture, and the feeling one has when living the experience. Sketches often showcase the diversity and unique character of different cities, making these works a fascinating blend of art and urban exploration.

Just like the innovation of tubed oil paint made Plein Air painting possible in the 1800s, the invention of pocket-friendly art supplies like fountain pens, miniature pans of watercolor, and portable sketchbooks make Urban Sketching possible today.

Fountain Pen Drawings and Fountain Pen Art

To find inspiration from artists who presently use fountain pens in creating their art, check out Mattias Adolfsson, Liz Steel, Toby Urbansketch, and Peter Draws.

According to his website Q&A, Mattias Adolfsson creates imaginitive fountain pen drawings using, "a Sailor Ebonite F, Pilot Falcon EF, a Pilot custom 92 F, and a sailor 1911 EF." For ink, he uses, "DeAtramentis document ink, I also use Noodlers American Eel and Platinum Carbon ink, but for me, deAtramentis works best."

Nearly 1 million subscribers follow Peter's videos on YouTube. Yet, he's not the type of person you would associate as a "YouTuber." He humbly describes his occupation as: "I draw and make videos of my drawings, I record them and speed them up, sometimes with a little commentary and I do things like pen reviews, stuff like that." Although he makes a living from his art, he's reluctant to call himself an artist, "it felt so blatant and presumptuous. Plus there are a lot of weird connotations that go along with the words ‘art’ and ‘artist’ which I was wary of, but I think I was being too hesitant. I encourage anyone to call themselves an artist if they create things. Or at all, for any reason."

He inpsires his viewers to create art with traditional pen and paper, using a fountain pen that he helped design with Nahvalur. The Peter Pen Artist's Edition features Peter's original linework engraved and filled in the barrel.

Liz Steel is ready to put ink on a page anytime, anywhere! In her website bio, she writes, "I’ll sketch any time, anywhere – even if I’m in a gondola! I’m much more interested in the experience, in having fun sketching on location, than I am producing a masterpiece."

She lists her favorite fountain pen as the Lamy Joy, which is the same model as the Lamy Safari only with a tapered barrel end meant to mimic the form of antique desk pens. Normally, the Joy fountain pens have a stub calligraphy nib installed to start. Liz swapped hers out in favor of an LZ55 14kt gold nib to provide more softness, line variation, and responsiveness while drawing.

For ink, she echoes Mattias' recommendations for pigmented, permanent black inks - Platinum Carbon Black, DeAtramentis Document Inks, Noodler's Bulletproof, and Super 5.

In the video above, Toby Urbansketch gives a quick tutorial on how he sketches using a fountain pen, particularly the Lamy AL-Star fountain pen, inked with Platinum Carbon Black.

If you’d like to learn more about how to draw, sketch, and illustrate, each of these artists makes educational content for social media and YouTube, as well as lessons offered, for a cost.

What Are The Different Types of Drawing Fountain Pens?

Regular Round Nib Fountain Pens

This type of nib is commonly found on most standard fountain pens built for writing. The tip of the nib has an iridium ball fused on the end, which is then cut with a fine slit down the middle. Ink travels from the pen’s ink reservoir, through the feed, and to the tip through a force called “capillary action.” When the writer/artist, touches the tip to paper, it will leave a round, uniform mark. Moving the nib in any direction of the page will produce a uniform line.

Round nibs are offered in a variety of tip sizes to best suit the writing/drawing preference of its user. Similar to clothing sizes, fountain pen nib sizes vary based on the nib manufacturer. Japanese brands like Sailor and Platinum, for example, make an extra fine nib that is finer in line width than European pen brands.

When looking for a fountain pen nib that would best work with your current tools and workflow, consider the line weight of your current pencils, pens, and brushes, etc. While round fountain pen nibs are capable of only one line width, a flex nib fountain pen like the Pilot Falcon is capable of a range. Compared with the Sakura Pigma Micron fineliners, the extra-fine Falcon nib (without flex) is capable of drawing a line that is just as thin (if not thinner) than the 0.2mm Pigma Micron fineliner.

Extra Fine Nibs

For most fountain pens, the extra fine nib (EF) is the thinnest nib size option. In terms of gel and fine-liner pens, an extra fine fountain pen nib line width ranges from roughly 0.25mm to 0.35mm. An extra fine has the most conservative amount of ink flow.

Extra fine nibs are great for wispy, thin lines, small details, and fine textures. It’s also more beneficial to work with an extra fine nib if you have a small, technical style of drawing and work in a smaller format (A5 size page and smaller).

Fine Nibs

A grade higher than extra fine, a fine nib (F) provides a slight degree broader line width, smoothness, and ink flow. A typical fine nib line width measures approximately 0.40mm.

If you enjoy the fineness of an extra fine line but want a little more flow and smoothness on the page, try a fine nib in your artwork.

Medium Nibs

The most common fountain pen nib is the medium point (M), which measures a line width of about 0.5mm. The medium will be noticeably smoother with a more generous flow than the fine or extra-fine nib size.

Although a medium nib won’t achieve the intricate details of a fountain pen drawing like an extra-fine would, it is better suited to quicker, heavier lines. You could use a medium point to capture a quick, gestural sketch. If you have only 10 minutes to draw a landscape, a medium point will be up to the task.

Broad Nib Fountain Pens

If more smoothness, ink flow, and line width are desired, then a Broad (B) is the next nib grade to try. Broad can be glassy smooth with an ink flow that challenges most standard papers. So, be sure that your drawing surface is up to the task of handling the ink. A broad nib quickly fills in large areas and can sketch out a landscape, figure pose, or idea with great speed and fluidity.

Double Broad (BB)

You thought broad was the thickest you could go, eh? Some fountain pens are available in Double Broad (BB) and a few Triple Broad (BBB). Ready for a wet and wild, slip and slide around the page? That’s what you could expect with these bold nib sizes. These nibs' rapid, wet flow might be hard to tame - if you want to tame it.

Flex Nib Fountain Pens

Up to this point, the round nibs we discussed produce a monoline, meaning they produce the same line width no matter the pitch, angle, or direction you move the pen around on the page. Flex nib fountain pens introduce the concept of line variability.

A flex nib provides line variation by gently pressing only on the downstroke. When a flex nib is pressed, the tines open to yield a thicker line of ink. The nib returns to its regular line width when pressure is removed. Generally, flex nibs start at an extra fine or fine line when unflexed, making them versatile for an artist who wants to draw fine details, adding expression, dimension, and weight when needed.

As a fountain pen shop, we often get the question, “Which is the best flex nib fountain pen for beginners?” This is difficult to answer as there aren’t many true flexible nib options that are approachable for the beginner. Many affordable (<$100) steel nib pens, like the Noodler’s Ahab or the Conklin Omniflex nib, are either not flexible enough to produce significant line variation or have inconsistent ink flow.

The first viable option we suggest is the Pilot Falcon fountain pen with its 14kt gold soft nib. The gold nib flexes under gentle hand pressure, laying a thicker line of ink as you please. It also recovers quickly (called “snapback”) when not flexing. If you’re looking for more flex nib recommendations, check out our article on how to write with a flex nib fountain pen here.

Art students might have already experienced using flexible dip pens during the course of their studies. Flexible nib fountain pens perform much differently. The biggest advantage is that fountain pens carry ink inside the pen and continuously feed the ink to the nib. As the name implies, dip pens have to be continuously dipped in bottled ink. Plus, dip pen nibs tend to corrode over time and use whereas fountain pen nibs are made of more durable materials like stainless steel or gold.

Fude Nib Fountain Pens

At first glance, a fude nib looks like someone dropped the fountain pen on its tip. The very end of the nib is bent upward at an angle. For a fude nib, this is part of the design. Like the flex nib, the fude nib is also capable of line variation - just in a different way.

Depending on how the artist holds the nib angled to the paper’s surface, the fude nib makes a different line width. The more acutely the nib touches the paper, the broader the line.

Much like the flex nib, drawing with a fude nib will take some time to master and can produce amazing results without needing an array of pens in different tip sizes.

A fun, low-cost way to try a fude nib is to get the Sailor Hocoro Dip pen. True, dip pens don't hold ink like fountain pens do, but it’s a great starting point for you to try using a fude nib with your artwork.

Which Fountain Pen Nib is Best for Drawing?

Much like there isn’t one “best” nib for writing, there isn’t one nib that suits all artists. Finding the best nib for your drawing or writing style requires you to get a pen and put the nib on paper. From the experience of creating art, sketching, and designing with a beautiful fountain pens, you’ll start to observe the characteristics you like or don’t like about using the pen.

Once the artist understands how a fountain pen can benefit their art creation, they can continue the journey toward finding the most ideal nib.

How to Draw with Fountain Pens

How to Hold Your Fountain Pen

With most traditional ballpoint or felt-tip pens, the pen can be held at a straight 90-degree angle to the paper surface. Most fountain pen nibs don’t like that angle. The sweet spot for a fountain pen is generally in the range of 35 degrees to 60 degrees, which offers some accommodation for the way the artist holds the pen.

Unlike ballpoint pens, fountain pens require almost no finger pressure to make a dark mark on the page. Don’t hold your fountain pen with a vice-like grip, ready to punch a hole through the paper. Hold it with a loose, relaxed grip, letting the barrel of the pen rest on the area between your thumb and forefinger.

Creatively Using the Fountain Pen Nib

As mentioned above, the fountain pen usually has a “sweet spot” where the nib performs fluidly and consistently. Some nibs, like the fude nib and the naginata togi nib (made by Sailor) change the line weight based on how you angle the nib to paper. Even round nib fountain pens can sometimes perform “reverse writing” if you flip them upside down, resulting in a thinner, drier line.

Get to know your fountain pen nib by using it at different angles, on different papers, and with different inks. Finding the perfect trifecta of pen, paper, and ink is a process that takes some experimentation to find the ideal setup. When you do find that perfect combination, the pen becomes an extension of your mind and a conduit for your artwork to flow right on the page.

Having Fun with Fountain Pen Ink

The wide selection of fountain pen ink available opens a whole new dimension to your artistic expression. One application for illustrators, comic artists, and urban sketchers is to use waterproof fountain pen ink to create expressive linework. Then, layer washes of watercolor over the top without smearing the line art.

Alternatively, there are fountain pen inks that exhibit a high degree of shimmer or reflective sheen - effects that add a little glitz or flash to your art.

One could also use fountain pen ink with a brush or a dip pen. Many fountain pen enthusiasts find it easy to test and swatch many colors of ink using these tools. Broadly apply inks to your artwork using a watercolor brush. If you need to use multiple ink colors, a dip nib pen might be more beneficial than a fountain pen because a dip pen is easier to clean between color changes.

Many artists might be accustomed to mixing their colors from tubes of paint. While most fountain pen ink is available in the perfect hue you need already, some inks are mixable, allowing the user to create their custom ink color. Platinum has a full range of “Mixable Inks” that encourage mixing to find your perfect pen ink color.

Giving Lines Weight with Flexibility

Artists make it look easy, but it’s a challenge to make a 2-dimensional image look 3-D. One technique is to use line weight to suggest a shape’s volume. A flex nib fountain pen accomplishes this with a gentle press on the downstroke. When drawing the underside (side that is away from the light source) of an object, add a thicker line using the flex nib to suggest a drop shadow.

Using Different Nib Sizes for Different Types of Work

One of the key benefits for an artist to use a fountain pen is the wide selection of nibs. As we detailed in this section, each nib grade has its potential usefulness in creating a specific type of line. Much like a painter doesn’t use just one size of paintbrush and a carpenter doesn’t carry only one drill bit size in his toolbox, an artist should consider creating art with multiple fountain pen nib sizes.

Let’s say you’re an urban sketcher who wants to quickly draw a historical building. To lay out the composition and dark, shadow areas, you might use a fude nib fountain pen or a broad nib to quickly get the fountain pen drawing started. Then, you could switch to using a fine or extra fine nib to fill details and texture.

Drawing Fountain Pen Inks

Platinum Carbon Black & Chou Kuro

Drawing black and white line art is a key component to many illustrations, especially those in the comic Pop Art or comic book style. Naturally, artists who create this style of work will need a dark, black that won’t smudge or fade once it dries.

One of our most popular waterproof black inks for artists is Platinum’s Carbon Black bottled ink. If that isn’t a dark enough black for you, there’s “Chou Kuro” - the blackest black, which is 46.8% blacker than Carbon Black.

Both 60ml bottled inks include a removable inner reservoir cup that makes refilling from the ink bottle easier, especially when the bottle becomes emptier.

Noodler’s Bulletproof Black and Bulletproof Inks

While the premium Chou Kuro bottled ink can cost a pretty penny per ml volume ($1 per ml), Noodler’s Ink has always been about providing a high value. Based in Massachusetts, Noodler’s Ink formulates many colors of what they call “Bulletproof” Inks. These inks are waterproof once dry on the paper, fade-resistant, and resistant against the solvents and tools of forgers.

Noodler’s Bulletproof Black remains a best-selling black ink and one of our overall best-selling inks at the Goldspot Pens store. Not only does it provide a dark, waterproof black, it does so with an economical cost of $14 per 90ml bottle ($0.15 per ml). If you need more ink, there’s also a 4.5-ounce option with an eyedropper cap.

Sailor Kiwa Guro & Ink Studio Inks

To ensure that Sailor nibs meet the incredibly high standards of writers around the world, they employ a nib master to oversee production. Sailor similarly crafts their ink formulas. With an experienced ink master at the helm, formulas are carefully and precisely blended to ensure a consistent, exceptional experience.

Sailor’s pigmented Kiwa Guro fountain pen ink is a deep black, waterproof fountain pen ink that artists can use safely in their fountain pens. To color your lineart, we suggest selecting several inks from the Sailor Ink Studio collection. These inks range from the supersaturated to the light and multi-chromatic shading inks.

Graf von Faber Castell

Although this brand is less talked about than the others mentioned on this list, it’s certainly worthwhile to note that Graf von Faber-Castell has a wonderful line of fountain pen bottled inks that are water-resistant, UV-resistant, and fast-drying. Whereas some of the aforementioned options (like Chou Kuro and Noodler’s) can take longer to dry, these GvFC inks dry quicker and are available in a wide array of colors.

Fountain Pen 101 Q & A

How to Fill a Fountain Pen with Ink

Unlike disposable Pigma Micron fineliner pens from the art supply store, fountain pens are built to be filled and refilled many times over, making them a tool you can use for years if not a lifetime.

Filling a fountain pen can be a little tricky, so we’ve provided resources on how to fill a fountain pen to guide you on how to fill your pen’s particular filling mechanism without creating a huge mess.

How to Clean a Fountain Pen

To keep your fountain pen running at top-notch performance and protect its lifespan, some light upkeep is needed. Not too much, but you’ll want to know how to clean your fountain pen. The steps to clean your pen vary based on the model and filling system, which is why we created a video guide to show the basics.

Fountain Pen Parts

For artists who want to know their tools inside and out, the fountain pen has a simple design that delivers ink from an inner reservoir to the tip. The parts of a fountain pen vary based on the type of filling mechanism and model.

Below, you'll find a diagram that points out the parts common to a cartridge/converter filling fountain pen.

Here are the most common parts of a fountain pen:

  • Nib

    • Tip

    • Slit

    • Shoulders

    • Breather hole

    • Brand mark, nib size

  • Feed

  • Nib unit housing

  • Grip Section

  • Barrel

  • Cap

  • Pocket Clip

  • Converter

Fountain Pen Paper

Artists know the importance of working with a quality canvas. Not all papers are created equal. Fountain pens and their water-based inks require a surface that can handle the generous flow of ink. Chances are, artists who already work in markers, watercolor, or paint already have the types of papers that can handle fountain pen inks as well. Bristol board, watercolor paper, and heavy stock drawing paper should play well with ink.

If you’re looking for more traditional writing papers, we have suggestions for fountain pen-friendly notebooks and other surfaces that handle ink well.

Top Picks for Sketching Fountain Pens

Regardless if you're an artist who already uses drawing pens or a writer who is looking to get into the hobby of making fountain pen sketches, here are some of our best picks for instruments to broaden your fountain pen sketching experience:

  • Lamy Safari fountain pen - The ergonomic, Bauhaus-inspired Lamy Safari fountain pen is more than just a simple pen holder for your nib. The ABS plastic front grip section is shaped to promote a proper tripod grip. Cutouts on the barrel allow you a glimpse into pen's ink reservoir. Nib sizes available : EF, F, M, B, 1.1, 1.5, 1.9, and Chinese Calligraphy nibs.
  • Kaweco Sport fountain pen - Perfect for urban sketchers and artists who need an on-the-go pocket fountain pen, the Kaweco Sport is a portable instrument that can accompany your sketchbook wherever you feel the inkling to draw. Make fountain pen sketching your favorite pastime of relaxation. The screw off, faceted cap reveals a stainless steel nib that fills by cartridge or Sport piston converter. Nib sizes available: EF, F, M, B, 1.1, 1.5, 1.9, 2.3, and Twin Calligraphy nib.
  • Pilot Falcon fountain pen - Provide more emphasis and line variation than a simple fineliner pen using the soft, flexible 14kt gold nib of the Pilot Falcon fountain pen. The gold content and unique nib architecture of this pen yields on-demand line thickness whenever you want to add emphasis in your linework. Nib sizes available: SOFT EF, F, M, or B
  • Sailor 1911 / Pro Gear fountain pen - Artists appreciate the precise, controlled ink delivery of a Sailor nib. As a sketching fountain pen, the Sailor 1911 or Pro Gear delivers on a consistent line which competes with the finest fineliner pens. Sailor's nibs are finer than most other nibs. So, when you draw with an extra-fine Sailor nib, you have one of the finest points for your ink sketching. Nib sizes available: EF, F, M, M-F, B, Zoom, and Music.
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