Dip Pen Nib Try-outs

After a 20+ year hiatus while I focused on oil painting (which I’ll still be doing because I love that too), I’m circling back to my first love…pen and ink. Particularly dip pens, which is what illustrators and artists have largely used from the early 1800s until well into the early/mid 20th century. (Fountain pens came along in the 1850s, followed by the ballpoint pen in 1938 and since then also technical, gell and other pen types.) So I’ve been on a bit of a nib buying spree, based on recommendations from accomplished pen artists of the past who’ve written instructions that include specific nibs, including Arthur Guptill, Henry Pitz, Charles D. Maginnis and Joseph Pennell. I’ll be writing more about all of them in the future but for now I want share the try-out sheets I done the last couple of days. I used Strathmore 300 vellum bristol, 12×9″.

My intention is to use them in the field, just like I do my pencils, watercolors and other pens. Having a stable ink well is something I’m also working out.

Generally speaking pen nibs are not expensive or hard to find. There are dozens and dozens of different brands and models available on eBay and Etsy, besides retail sellers like John Neal Booksellers and Pendamonium.

But for artists in the US and England, there are tried and true brands that have stood the test of time…Gillott, Hunt and Esterbrook, so those are the ones I’ve focused on acquiring, vintage if possible, but some are still being manufactured today. One can also purchase batches of one or two each of 20-30 different nibs from some sellers and that’s where the fun starts, getting to try out nibs from other countries. So far I’ve gotten nibs from France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Netherlands and Russia (the latter via a seller in the Ukraine, which used to be part of the Soviet Union; there must have been quite a few pen factories located there).

There are fascinating stories and history behind many of them, which I’ll be sharing in future posts, but for now, here are more test sheets.

Nib test sheet 2

There are very specific things I’m looking at when trying out a nib. How much ink does the “gravity well”, the curved area at the top of the slit, hold? What kind of line does it make? Is the vertical line a different width than the horizontal one or the diagonals? If I push against the nib will it go or will it snag and maybe even spatter ink? How smoothly will it make lines done fairly quickly? How flexible, or not, is it? How does it do on tiny parallel lines? Is the tip fine enough to do gently curved lines like one might want for clouds? Can it move quickly and loosely for doing foliage like trees or bushes? And finally, can I just scribble with it however I want? And for some, will it lend itself to lettering? Some of the artist and mapping nibs don’t do that very well, but are great for drawing.

Nib test sheet 3


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