Every good art pen should be archival.
...And most of them are. I've purchased a lot of pens, but my favorite, far and away, is the Pilot V5. This pen's handling qualities are unequalled-- supposedly due to the patented tungsten rollerball tip. (It turns out this tip doesn't quite have an direct equivalent, even in the world of the highest of the high-end pens). Pilot V5s sing on the curves, whip and sail on the gestures, and are fine enough for the detail lines that one might make when writing or drawing. However, there was one major drawback. Until recently, no information was available from Pilot as to whether their ink was archival. This lead me to a quest for a drawing pen that satisfies both my performance and ink requirements (lightfastness and ph balance) which are essential for fine art use. Here we'll discuss what led me to putting my own ink into a Pilot V5, and why you, too, might want to dive into the wild world of retrofitting your own.
Prestige Pens, Indelible Inks, and the Heart of Darkness
It was mid-afternoon, and I found myself in the small home-office of a pen specialist. In every profession there are experts, and it turns out that when it comes to pens, this industry is no exception. I was serious about finding an answer to my problem, which to find an archival alternative to the Pilot V5. My search for the right art pen lead me to a consultation with Marie, whose passion for pens led her to start her own company, Sign with Prestige. I was ready to make a serious investment in a suitable solution, since a drawing pen is a tool that I use daily, and because archival ink (for lasting artwork) is a core value of mine. I was amazed by selection of both pens and inks, and asked Marie all of my most pressing questions (for example, about finding a true opaque white- a subject for another post). It turns out that the secret to the V5's performance is the patented tungsten rollerball tip. While I wasn't able to find a suitable alternative to the V5, Marie introduced me to the world of refillable pens and specialty inks. The most noteworthy for my purposes was Noodler's Heart of Darkness "Bulletproof" black, which I purchased that afternoon.
It wasn't until later that I began to experiment with combining the Pilot V5 with the Heart of Darkness Ink. But before we discuss tearing pens apart (a how-to project for the next post) I'll let you in on what what was going through my head as I assessed the array of fine art pens, and introduce you to refillable inks.
A Short Guide to Fine Art Pens
Ok, I'm going to pretend we're sitting down for coffee, and share with you what goes through my head when I'm sizing up an array of fine art pens. You as the artist are picking an extension of yourself-- something that will translate your thoughts and impressions to the paper. So, what makes a great fine art pen? There are two main things to consider: how an pen handles and the quality of its ink. I'd add bonus points for being able to add your own ink, since it gives an artist more control over the finished product.
- Tip Durability: if you draw a lot, durability becomes a factor. Over time, pen tips wear down, and so the ability to handle frequent use is an important consideration.
- Tip Handling: Each pen handles differently. Many fine art pens have flat tips, which are infamous for skipping out when drawing with any kind of rapid motion. Some even require being held perfectly parallel to the paper, which makes capturing quick, gestural lines tricky. The handling is a combination of the pen construction and the ink flow, which deserves its own section below.
- Ink Flow for Gesture: Gesture work is fast and fluid. As mentioned above, if this is part of your process like it is mine, you're going to need a pen that has enough ink flow to make a steady line, and a tip that will allow being held at multiple angles.
- Ink Flow for Slow Detail Work: Ideally a pen will be able to handle high output for gesture, but not bleed onto the page during slow, detailed work. Part of this depends on the paper, but it is nice to have a pen that can handle both speeds.
- Hand Feel: If it doesn't feel natural in your hand, you'll find yourself fighting your pen the whole way. Hand-feel is essential, and highly personal, since peoples hand sizes and shapes vary.
- Ink Quality: This may be the most overlooked but most important feature. If your ink is not archival, you might be facing an unexpected fade or bleed that creeps over your beautiful handiwork in a matter of a few short years-- in short, it is something you will be paying for later, somewhere along the continuum between unhappy surprise and utter destruction.
- Ink Refill Option: This is a bonus on a lot of levels. First, there is the environment to consider-- it is a tragedy to toss out a perfectly good pen (like the Pilot V5) because it is out of ink, but that is part of the master plan on the part of many low-end pen manufacturers. Second, if the pen you select offers ink cartridges, that is a decent option, but still limits the artist to the available colors and ink properties selected by the company. There is still a certain amount of unnecessary waste (as the cartridges are tossed out). A fully refillable pen is ideal, if you can find one that meets your other specifications.
The drawing sample of mine (above) illustrates these points. Notice the hair-thin rapid stokes and the controlled detail strokes (which don't bleed). This drawing was made with a Pilot V5, and I have yet to find a pen that truly equals it.
An Education in Ink
The main take-away from my meeting with Marie was an education in ink. As I was a total novice when it came to the world of prestige pens, it was news to me that only certain inks are suitable for use in fountain pens. Let me say that again: dip pens (think traditional nib pen calligraphy) require a totally different kind of ink. If you put India Ink (used for a dip pen or painting ink washes) into a fountain pen (think normal pen) it can easily ruin it. Marie introduced me to Noodler's Inks, an American company committed to creating high-quality, and sometimes unusual ink formulations. Noodler's also makes pens, some of which come with the bottle of ink.
Bulletproof Black, P.s. impervious to lasers
Noodler's Heart of Darkness Ink is an ink formulated for fountain pens, and has the following qualities:
- "Bulletproof" meaning it is UV and Bleach Resistant
- Archival and fade resistant
- Forgery resistant, impervious to lasers, alcohols and solvents. (What?!)
Here's a bit more explanation on what Noodler's means by "bulletproof", quoted from their site:
“Bulletproof” refers to any Noodler’s Ink that resists all the known tools of a forger, UV light, UV light wands, bleaches, alcohols, solvents, petrochemicals, oven cleaners, carpet cleaners, carpet stain lifters, and of course…they are also waterproof once permitted to dry upon cellulose paper. ...All [colors with this designation] are equally bulletproof with one exception: the resistance to strong industrial bleaches to the point where the paper structure itself decomposes. Reds are prone to more fading when exposed to strong bleaches (sometimes fading to a yellow) than the other colors.
So just so you know, if you're trying to wipe out my drawings with carpet cleaner, it won't work... just telling you ahead of time.
But seriously, though these positive traits hail from the realm of preventing check forgery, in my opinion, these qualities make for a very attractive fine art drawing ink.
I would love to read that some other fine art pen brand (insert favorite pen name here) was boasting that its inks were "resistant to strong industrial bleaches to the point where the paper structure itself decomposes." That's quality!
Plus, Noodler's has a strong commitment to reducing environmental waste. Part of why they ship a quality pen with each bottle of ink is to cut down on the disposable pens that accumulate in landfills. While that wasn't my primary motivation for looking into Noodler's in the first place, for me a this point there is no turning back.
In the end, I discovered how to retrofit a (disposable) Pilot V5 with Heart of Darkness ink-- solving both my pen and ink requirements. I will cover the "how-to" in the next post-- in short, the amendment made to the Pilot V5 involves taking the top part of the pen off with pliers and inserting new ink with an ink dropper. This is fast and easy (so far as the newly replaced pen insert doesn't leak "bulletproof" ink on things), and opens up the magic of the v5 to a whole world of alternative inks.
Have you found a drawing ink that you love? I would enjoy hearing about it! Share your experiences in the comments below.