Getting to Know Your Nibs

You’ve just bought a batch of dip pen nibs, a holder or two, a bottle of ink and a pad of paper because you’re finally going to try out this old and honorable method of picture-making. Where to start? The image above is how I solved that problem. I’ve done 14+ pages of these now and they’ve turned out to not only give me an idea of how good the nib is but what kind of line it makes and how flexible it is (I’ll be doing a separate post on just flexible nibs in the near future). They’re all done freehand by eye. I chose this one because it has examples for all the artist nibs that Esterbrook and Gillott made (I only use vintage nibs, not new and that is also a topic for a future post). I pretty quickly established a pattern for trying out various characteristics. All of them are done on 9×12″ Strathmore 300 Vellum Bristol. The ink is mostly Carbon Platinum.

This is the test page I created to try out Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay inks. I tested them using a sturdy nib (which I didn’t identify, argh), also on Strathmore 300 Cold Press paper, to try them out for writing, quickly made lines and what happens when I add water using a small brush. I really like them but haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to use them yet.

I test my nibs for drawing by, well, drawing with them. A variety of small drawings using different nibs gives me a quick reference. These are takhi/Przewalski’s horses that I saw and photographed in Mongolia. They were all done freehand with no pencil underdrawing.

I did this page to specifically try out nibs that I think would be suitable for beginners. They’re all quite sturdy except for the Esterbrook #354 but suitable for a beginner with a light touch. These were also done directly from photos from my travels.

I had fun doing this page of just birds, also freehand.

Finally, here’s a full scene using a Russian nib and in made in Russia that I bought from an Etsy seller who lives in Moscow, PopelPen.

So I hope this has given you some ideas on how to move forward. Great for a rainy day. There’s no substitute for knowing your tools and media but it doesn’t have to be a drag. Have fun!

If this was helpful or you want to share how you do it, let me. know in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Getting to Know Your Nibs

  1. graysummers

    Thank you for your insights. I can write ok with the dip pens, but cannot draw very well at all. That’s an understatement. But I do want to try. I use lining wallpaper of a heavy grade for practicing writing. Cut up into A4 size. A little similar in recording information as you do. But not as organised. Once a decent nib is found, I forget the lining paper and use on the decent handmade Khadi papers. I do like what you are producing here. And once again, thank you for your insights into how you achieve your artwork. Much appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. foxstudio

    Thank you for your kind comments! You might want to try a smooth cartridge paper also. As I mention in the post if you can find vintage nibs they are better quality than new ones. Gillott nibs have been used by artists for over a century. I wish you all the best and please keep in touch! Susan

    Liked by 1 person

  3. graysummers

    Will do. I have a fair few dip nibs of different sizes with the ‘round addition’ on the end too. Have seen artists drawing on YouTube with those too. Also have a fair few Rotring Graphos nibs. However. Will keep it simple initially and look at sourcing Gillott nibs. Thank you and all the best.


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