Evaporating ink and fountain pens

I thought I was imagining it – an empty pen – I was so sure I had inked it just a few days before. Cleaned it, re-inked it, again it dried out. Rinse and repeat. Several times. Several pens. So, I set up an experiment. Every fountain pen I own: all cleaned, all fully filled, all left in the same drawer for a month.

The bad ones:

  • Hero 86
  • Lamy Safari
  • Noodlers Nib Creaper
  • Noodlers Ahab (two of them)
  • Pilot Kakuno
  • Pilot Prera
  • Zinhao x750 (two of those as well)

The keepers:

  • Platinum Preppy
  • Rotring ArtPen
  • TWSBI Eco

Granted, good or bad, my pens are all from the modest end of the fountain pen spectrum, but it appears that cost has nothing to do with the problem – the two Pilots weren’t that cheap and the humble Preppy is a bargain. (And it’s a available with an almost needle-like 0.2 nib… Just saying.)

The manufacturers and resellers don’t take this issue seriously. It matters, really matters, because good ink is expensive. Telling me I should keep my pen empty unless I want to use it straight away doesn’t cut it. These aren’t collector-pens or vintage pens but modern ones made with modern materials. I expect to be able to have them inked up and ready to go.

That Pilot Kakuno is marketed for kids. A beginners pen. It dries out to a totally empty cartridge within a week. Whatever the reason, it’s going to leave an entire generation, and their parents (and the aunty who bought the kid the pen), thinking fountain pens are unreliable. What were Pilot thinking?

The evaporation isn’t limited to plastic pens: the Zinhao are metal. (Very cheap on eBay, but there are Chinese cheapies that are fantastic. Price does not indicate quality in fountain pens. I bought these intending to replace their nibs with the flexible ones from the Ahabs. Won’t bother now.) That’s useful information because I can hereby quit daydreaming about the metal version of the Pilot Falcon, never mind the lovely soft nib, until it’s proven (by someone else) that they don’t evaporate the ink as fast as plastic Pilots.

I use my pens. Or rather, I used to use them. There are nine which will now be cleaned up and stashed away for winter. Useless. It doesn’t leave me with much for the rest of the year. OK, I heard that. Why would anyone want that many pens? Black, a couple of greys, a green or two and definitely sepia – in both waterproof (to use with watercolour) and water-soluble (think pen & wash). And that’s before thinking about statement-making bold line vs delicately spiderweb fine.

To ease the disappointment I’m getting a Platinum Plaisir in Gunmetal Grey. It’s just a metal Preppy. When it gets here I’m going to fill it with my very favourite Noodlers Lexington Grey. (Waterproof grey. Beautiful. Doesn’t look like a watered down black. Yes, there is a difference.) Now, I hear someone muttering that Noodlers ink isn’t expensive. Well, it is in Australia and far too much of mine has ended up dried up, soaked off and washed down the drain, along with so much of so many others. Not happy.

Munsell tutorials on video

Paul Foxton, from Learning to See, has released two video tutorials over the past month. Each one features a beautiful little flower painting, is hands-on practical, self-contained and easy to follow. Which would I recommend? Both!

They are available at Gumroad for “pay what you want”. I will add that the suggested $10+ is a bargain. Be generous.

Time’s Unfolding: A Flower Painting Demonstration

Time’s Unfolding, the first of the two tutorials demonstrates a flower painting from setup to finish, covering everything from sight-size, grid-assisted drawing to value control and the thoughts behind the motif. What I like about the way Paul teaches is his way of breaking down complex ideas into practical steps that can be applied to any subject. (He’s a master at skipping the mumbo-jumbo. A rare skill.)

The point he really nails in this one is that it’s about slowing down and taking the time to look (with the aid of a few simple, home-made tools to help figure out what you’re looking at).

Secret Treasure: A Munsell Painting Demonstration

Paul Foxton's video "Secret Treasure"

The second video, Secret Treasure: A Munsell Painting Demonstration, builds on the first, and as the title says, is much more about what Munsell is and how it can be used to assist in making a painting. It begins with a practical guide to describing and analysing colour, before using Munsell as a tool to mix and match the colours needed to make a particular painting.

The delicate transitions in his little flower motif are exquisite, but the point he makes is that matching them it isn’t rocket-science, it’s about taking care in comparing one patch of colour to the next. Munsell is used to describe the differences between each mix very clearly in terms of hue, value and chroma. Again, no mumbo-jumbo, it’s about learning to see the variations and use them.

I’ve been using and writing about Munsell studies since 2007 (my ‘colour theory’ category should find most of them), but Paul’s video is a much easier way to learn!

Drawing board upgrade

Inspired by the pinboard on the wall, I upgraded my drawing board by gluing a piece of pinboard on it. There will be no more bulldog clips to get in the way of the painting at this easel!

drawing board using pins instead of clips

The softboard/firebreboard/whatever glues down with PVA and can be cut with a Stanley knife. I glued first, weighed it down with books overnight and trimmed it once fully dry. A quick sanding of the edges to tidy up. No more tape, blutack or bulldog clips and it’s a very nice surface under both paper and unstretched canvas. (And I can still turn it around and use the MDF side anyway.)

I’m attaching canvas or paper with the simplest dressmaking pins, like so, because I paint right in around them.

drawing board pins closeup

Home made plywood palette

I took a little time off painting to make something. This is shaped to fit me and be both bigger and lighter than anything I could buy (that I could afford, anyway). I had forgotten how much I enjoy making. See, all that time studying sculpture wasn’t totally wasted.

homemade plywood palette
Home made palette

It’s made from two pieces of 3ply laminated together to prevent it warping, so it should last a long time (or until I can find even thinner plywood to make an even lighter one.) The most difficult part was making a cardboard template that felt just right. Then cutting and sanding to make sure there are no sharp edges. I gave mine a coating of linseed oil to get it started but that isn’t strictly necessary because it will develop a patina from the oil paints as it is used. It is almost dry… I am feeling like a kid on Xmas eve. Kudos to Ron Francis for the instructions.

My first go with it felt strange but good. Untethered from my the glass tabletop palette, plus no underdrawing and no pre-mixed colours – such unaccustomed freedom. All I need now is a beret.

Painting of a plaster bust
Diana, oil on unstretched canvas, 30x40cm

No more sticky acrylic lids!

Someone asked about coping with the lids of acrylic jars that stick. It’s not surprising that they do that since the basic stuff does promise to stick anything… read about it on any jar of acrylic gel medium!

My solution is cling wrap (Saran wrap in the US?) – just a small length folded in half so it’s a couple of layers – put it over the jar then screw the lid on. Works a treat, lasts a long time.

Cling wrap to prevent sticky acrylic lids on jars of paint

Steering wheel easel goes viral

OutdoorPainter Magazine website

Almost! When I posted a few pictures of my steering wheel easel online I was hoping to encourage other Australian plein air painters and sketchers to keep at it through the winter. I hadn’t counted on it escaping overseas to find people wanting to make them as far away as the United States and Europe.

First up, James Gurney mentioned it. (Yes, that is the James Gurney who wrote Dinotopia. If you’re not following his art blog you should be!)

Then Plein Air Today, the enewsletter sent out by Plein Air Magazine, published an extended article. You can subscribe to the newsletter and read their story on the Outdoor Painter website.

I’m delighted, hopefully lots more people will find it a little easier get outside to draw and actually do it. 🙂


Instant diffusion

Something important that I learned while visiting Adelaide was that the enormous windows in Hans Heysen’s studio are ground glass not clear. Nora’s, on the same property, are white washed to get a similar diffuse effect.

Heysen's studio


Hans Heysen’s studio

Gobsmacked at the soft quality of their light I just fixed mine with a couple of rolls of Plain Frost Window Film from the hardware store. Less than $35 all up for my glass doorway. What a difference! From glaring light to gorgeous in an hour. Now to move my easel…

Instant diffuse light

Instant diffuse light

Goulet Pen Company

Goulet Pen Company packaging
Goulet Pen Company packaging

I am most impressed with Goulet Pen Company – 12 days to Western Australia, not a drop spilled AND a surprise Tootsie Pop : )

Even though I opted for the lowest cost shipping it was still expensive. The ink itself was a lot less than any Australian supplier so it didn’t end up being that much extra. If I had ordered a couple of items it would probably have worked out about the same. Noted for future.

I did try to order in Australia first but no one had it in stock.

Testing Noodlers ink
Testing Noodlers ink

These are all Noodler’s inks. The only one that doesn’t create a wash with water is the Lexington Grey. That matters a lot for pen and ink if I want to add watercolour. The others are a cool effect too. All are safe in a fountain pen.


Making of… : Part 2

As promised: part 2 of the making of The Bystander Effect (a short film which was part of the Hollow City Chronicles).

The set for the animation was intended as a sculpture rather than a set. The decision to use it for a film came later.

Animation set from above
Animation set from above

The puppet was made using the ever-popular wire and cushion foam technology. (Nick Hilligoss has a fantastic series of how-to’s on Picturetrail) The puppet, then, was too big for the set (and couldn’t, workably, be much smaller with that method of construction) so she was filmed against a green backdrop – made by painting some cheap canvases and a piece of 3mm MDF.

Animation stage
Animation stage

The canvases stand up with the aid of small clamps.

Clamps hold the animation backdrop together
Clamps hold the animation backdrop together

While the puppet stands up with help from a magnet – a small but powerful rare-earth one from an electronics store.

Magnet holds the animation puppet in place
Magnet holds the animation puppet in place

The series of photos were then fed into Cinegobs a wonderful freeware utility which removes the green and spits out an AVI file ready for editing with an NLE such as Adobe Premiere. (Yes, Premiere does do chroma keying but, strangely, not as well as Cinegobs!)