People sometimes come to this blog to read about fountain pens and how to care for them and use them for drawing and hand lettering, so I thought I would share with you what I do to get started with a new pen.
First, of course, I do what I do with any new tool– unpack it carefully, make sure it actually is what I thought I was buying: in the case of a pen, that means that it is the the correct brand, model, body color and nib size and type. (Always do this before you fill a pen with ink, since returning it after it has been filled can be difficult if not impossible. If you detect the voice of experience in this, you might be correct.)
Then I check to see if all the accessories (if any) are included, and inspect it for any damage or obvious defects. If I was sensible at the time I bought or ordered the pen, I made sure to get a converter at the same time, so the next step is to try to fit the converter and establish that it actually is the one designed to fit the pen. If it is, I can go on to the next step. If not, I can always go to the parts box and see if one of my spare converters happens to fit. If so, next step, if not, the wrong converter goes into the parts box (it will be right for something sometime) and the pen goes in the drawer while I try to order the correct converter.
Once the converter is fitted, correctly I hope, I fill the pen with ink. There are those who suggest a fill with distilled water first, to establish that everything flows properly and that there are no leaks or blockages. This is probably wise advice when dealing with an old pen or one of unknown origins, but I have never had a problem with a new pen from a reputable manufacturer, so I usually don’t bother. Plus, I am eager to draw with my new pen. So ink it is, always Aurora black, a high quality ink which seems to get along well with all pens. If a pen won’t run Aurora … well, you probably have an issue to take up with somebody. Fill, wipe, and then the moment of truth– those three hatched lines on the pad of scratch paper with the grocery list on it. If the pen works at all, it’s on to the next step. (If not, beat on it a bit ’till it does work. Check the fit of the converter and make sure there is pressure and that it is pulling ink out of the bottle. If you can’t get a seal after wiping and refitting, get another converter. You are much, much more likely to get a dud converter than a dud pen.)
But let’s assume when you tried to make a line, you got a line. Then it is on to the sketchbook. I make a page like this for every new pen I get. At the upper left hand corner are “chicken scratches” of various kinds– lines, hatching, spirals, squiggles, sometimes circles. Those are to make sure the nib is wet and the pen is dropping ink from the reservoir through the nib and onto the paper– not too much ink and not too little.
If everything works, then I move on to lettering. Lettering is a microcosm of everything that goes on in a drawing or on a page of comics: straight and curved lines, circles, diagonals. If a pen will letter, it will draw. Rather than starting with “the quick brown fox” or the Preamble to the Constitution or some other fixed text, I generally describe the pen, its nib and body, adding comments on its behavior as I go along. I vary the size and style of the lettering as much as I can, trying to figure out the exact width of the lines the pen produces and how big and small I can go with it without getting either stringy or muddy. Mistakes get covered up with a form that gets shaded in; that is a test in itself.
If I can get clean, blotless freehand lettering out of my new pen, I know I can draw with it, so I do. The final piece of every test page (if there’s room) is a freehand drawing with no pencils underneath it. If there’s a lot of room, as there was in this case, I can add further notes to the lettering section as I learn more about the pen. As I did in the lettering I try to vary what I do with the linework in the drawing: different line weights, large and small scale motifs, different kinds of shading and hatching and fills, building up various levels of blacks and so on.
The advantage to using my drawing of the day sketchbook for this project is obvious. The records for each pen are preserved safely and their dates of acquisition are easy to look up. Plus the test drawing counts as the drawing of the day, thus hitting two artistic birds with one stone. This is “The White Bat In Flight”, and I think he and his cat creature prove that the neon red Safari is going to be just fine.