Going Analog: Part 2

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There is, my awesome little Kaweco Sport~

I’d only just started dipping my toes into the vast, deep waters of the world of fountain pens when I wrote my post on zero waste (ish) art supplies, and had only used the Kakuno at that point. I guess I’d been so used to writing with cheap, dry, ballpoint and gel pens that just about any fountain pen felt better in the hand! And while the Kakuno does write like butter, I had no idea what was in store for me once I started going down the rabbit hole.

So if the $12, kid-friendly, relatively cheaply made Kakuno is like butter, then the Kaweco Classic Sport, a design that’s been unchanged since its debut in 1935, writes like a chilled glass of Laphroiag.

So.

Fountain pens.

Nobody really uses them anymore… except when they do. Fountain pen people are loud, proud, a little obsessive, and I’m beginning to see why. If you’ve resisted the keyboard creep in our lives, and refuse to let go of your analog note-taking or calendar-planning ways, then you really ought to take a gander at what these things have to offer you. They’re not made for chicken scratching on the backs of receipts or in the margins of some report or another, they’re made for writing. (And drawing.)  And even the cheapest of them are an absolute joy to use. They don’t cramp your hand from needing too much pressure or having too thin a grip. They don’t go dry like ballpoints do. They don’t skip like gel pens do. And what’s more is that they’re made to be used for a long time.

Sturdy construction coupled with a dizzying array of inks to refill your pen with and spare (always metal) nibs to choose from mean that some of these pens will outlive their owners – and not photodegrade into a million bits of plastic too, if you opt for a metal piece.

Bea Johnson and a lot of other prominent zero wasters use them, and I can now count myself among their ranks. I probably won’t have to throw a drawing pen away ever again, once I phase out use of the disposables I already have!

The Kaweco Classic Sport ran me $25, but I wanted to use a special waterproof drawing ink with it, so I shelled out another $20 for a bottle of Platinum Carbon Ink, and a couple extra for an ink converter and plastic syringe to fill it with. Ink converters are basically do-it-yourself cartridges that you can fill with whatever sort of ink your heart desires (and your pen can handle) that are made to be reused. These are handy for using inks that come in bottle form rather than cartridge form, and also handy for us zero waste types who don’t even want to throw cartridges away if we can manage it. (Though cartridges do last a while, even the small kinds, and the generic ones are very cheap.)

What sort of pen might you, dear reader, find useful? Well, I’ve only ever owned two fountain pens in my life, so I’m not the person to ask. But Jet Pens, my go-to for all of this stuff, is. They have a good number of very informative blog posts about their products, how to use them, how they compare to each other, and how they work under typical conditions. Here are a few that you might find informative:

And the article that helped me settle on my brand of ink:

I started with the Kakuno, which is still super fun to write and draw with, but I chose to graduate to the Kaweco (versus a Lamy or similar) for a few reasons. One, the Sport is compact – very important since I work out of the house a lot of the time and sometimes live out of a duffel bag. Two, I just like companies that have been making the same product for many years. In this case, about 80 years and change, to be exact. It’s got a bit of that timeless vintage flair that I love so much, but most importantly, it means that the design has stood the test of time and needs no improving on. And third, it’s because I mostly wanted their brass Sport which runs $90+, and I wanted to make damn sure I was doing to like it LOL. I will probably get a Lamy at some point, as having an “indestructible” pen that wouldn’t break my heart to lose will come in handy for me. These cheaper Kawecos are still a slightly cheaper plastic, after all, and though it may take years, it’s still only a matter of time before they start showing stress cracks.

Take a look at the links above if you’re interested in getting yourself a pen! And if you want to dive right in with a Kaweco, I’m not going to stop you. (By the way, Jetpens is great for US folk, but there are other companies that are better suited to other buyers – I think Cult Pens ships from the UK, f’ex.)

So how, exactly, does it feel to use? What’s the real difference between a fountain pen and a normal writing or tech pen?

(Warning: Art nerd alert.)

As I said in part 1, I never really thought of digital art as something that had a lot of value – I certainly didn’t value all the hundreds of crappy digital drawings that I did for the sheer convenience of the medium rather than for any particular love of what I was doing – and so for a long time I’d saved the disposable pens for the more disposable work. Up until only about 2 years ago did I stop drawing comics in pen and nib, and right away I noticed a difference in what my hand was doing.

Nibs force your hand to move in a certain way, and it forces the development of a particular kind of muscle memory. Felt-tip, ballpoint, technical pens, and the like, do something different to that muscle memory. My impression is that this has almost entirely to do with the fact that nibs are not omnidirectional (for lack of a better term): they do not lend themselves to moving any which way whenever you want. You have to build up a kind of inertia otherwise the ink will skip, or the tip of the nib (for very fine tips) will catch on the grain of the paper, and you have to use them at a certain angle and hold the pen a certain way. Now, very rarely is any of this conscious or frustrating – your hand will quickly intuit what the pen can and cannot do after using it for a few seconds – but it is a vastly different way of making marks on paper than the sort of ugly, hamfisted way that a ballpoint might. And this is the beauty of fountain pens!

Drawing with a fountain pen is slower, but because of the way it restricts the movement of your hand, it also creates a pretty zen-like experience of mindfulness. I’d lost that mindfulness when I stopped inking with nib. When my pen could do whatever I wanted it to do at a moment’s notice, I didn’t have to think so hard about where I wanted my next line to be. I’d just draw something approximating what I needed, hoped for the best, and for an embarrassing percent of the time, that line wound up wrong. It’s in this way that my draftsmanship started to slip. I lost my eye for specificity and my got lazy, and as a result the details particular to one thing or another became less habitual. In other words, the visual language I might have employed to distinguish, say, a rock from a brick started blurring. (Apologies if this is all too esoteric!)

I’ve done a few pages with the Kaweco so far, and already I can feel my old hand coming back. It’s forcing me to slow down and think about what I’m doing. It’s forcing me to be meticulous. And now that I’ve been filling in my blacks (the parts of comic book line art that are, well, filled in with black) with brush and ink, instead of doing it in Photoshop, I’m slowing down even more. I’m having to commit to the lines that are on the paper much more than before. I’m not thinking in terms of “Oh, I can just fix that up later after I scan.”

And guess what? I’ve barely made any mistakes on these pages so far, when I routinely make quite a few at least. Sometimes to the tune of having to redraw half of an entire panel. It’s at least definitely saving me frustration, if not time, and my originals are once again becoming pieces of art on their own terms rather than a means to a digital – and ephemeral – end.

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I’ve got a long ways to go before I stop doing anything but color correction and pre-print formatting on the computer, though, and in the meantime, my closer “daunting” goal is to get away from Adobe products as I make the jump to free and open-source alternatives. I’ll be experimenting much more with GIMP in the near future as my current gig wraps up, and writing about that experience as well.

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One thought on “Going Analog: Part 2

  1. Love love love this, and I forgot to reply to your reply about the pens but I really appreciated you discussing this and showing me stipple examples. I actually met my first fountain pen artist at a flea market last week and the lines she was making was SOOO FINE and intricately detailed on maybe an 11×14 canvas at the most, which helped convince me that I need to upgrade to fountain pens. Her username is Asunder on deviantart.

    What you said about having to move your hand a certain way and be mindful is exactly what I felt when using my older pens with the flattened nibs, cause they’d do different strokes depending on how you hold them and the direction they’re used. They’d make the best pics imo.

    Time to go down another rabbit hole!

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