I’ve recently been falling back in love with pens in general, and fountain pens in particular. In my fledgling comic drawing days, I was all about Microns and cheapo brush pens, loving the portability and reliable effect. Then, a few years ago, my Dad got me going with nibbed dip pens. Amazing! I loved the feel of the traditional tools, and the ritualistic processes of pouring ink into a well, preparing your pens, cleaning the nibs out afterward. Plus, the unpredictability of the line (at least in my hands) would lead to many happy accidents. And the ink! So richly midnight black! I was hooked.
So it has been for the last several years. I’ve especially loved the product of a dip pen for my big pieces, and intricate projects. However, I have observed that it ties me more and more to my art desk. I love working in my space at home, and can be incredibly productive there, but having part time jobs and life on the go means that often there are other opportunities where I might draw, if only I had the materials. This is where the dip pen began to fail me. It’s not that you Can’t transport it, it’s just that it is a bit more cumbersome, requires a tad more pre-meditation. And those fun little rituals began to feel like chores, and the thing about me and chores is: I don’t like to do them. Which has lead to an inevitable drop off in productivity, for pretty much anything other than formal projects and pointless doodles.
Enter the Pilot Parallel Pen. On a recent excursion to procur art supplies, I came across some of these in the craft store. I went home and did some research, and while there was little mention of them as drawing pens (they are intended mainly for calligraphic purposes) I said “What the heck” and gave one a shot.
Truly, truly, fun to draw with. The edge of the pen gives a nice fine line, and as you swivel you can pick up some wonderfully varied line widths. You can draw with just the bottom corner, if you are looking for uniform thin lines, whilst hatching perhaps. And the broad strokes make it a breeze to do larger Fill areas. I originally purchased a 1.5 mm pen, the smallest of their four options, but I think a larger one could draw just as well, and give you even more options for wide lines.
The big seller for me is that it is ready made to load with your own choice of inks. I am sick and tired of finding that the point on one pen is better, but has crap ink, or another pen draws a terrible line, but has perfect blackness. The PPP is designed to use proprietary cartridges (comes with a black and a red) but I cannot speak to their quality, as I have not used them. It also includes a simple squeeze-bulb converter, listed as being for Cleaning Purposes, but I found it to work fine for loading my own ink (I have seen talk online about some converters not fitting snugly, so this may be a case by case issue, though I have purchased two now and have had no real problems. A drop or two might leak into the casing, but never out of the pen itself. If it truly concerns you, there are better official converters you can buy) At first, I loaded it up with my favorite of favorites, Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Black. This has been my old standby for dip pens, a wonderfully thick dark black, and incredibly waterproof. On the first go it worked wonderfully, and I actually had some mild fits that evening, professing my undying love for a sliver of plastic and metal. However, it turns out that India inks are a big No No for fountain pens of all varieties (I’m teaching myself as I go here:) and it dries quite quickly in the works and can cause long term damage. So, I quested for a replacement ink. The real difficulty is that I need a waterproof jet black, and it seems that the very properties that make India ink so wonderful are what makes them bad for the pens; namely, the shelac used as a binding agent. I played with Higgins Waterproof Calligraphy ink, which had a nice flow and was suitably waterproof, but dries a little light, seeming just a few shades shy of real black. Then, I lucked across what seems to be a fix, and luckily under the umbrella of my favorite brand. Dr. Ph. Martin’s Black Star: Hi-Carb.
- Done with PPP and Black Star ink (the graying in the bottom corner is due to poor photography, no fault of the ink)
Perfectly black, gloriously waterproof, and lacking the cursed shelacs that had so vexed my nibs. Success! I have been using it the past two days, and have had no issues. Loaded well with the converter, flows nicely from the Parallel Pen, and starts up quickly after being set aside. Flow can be a bit wet, but I don’t work on incredibly porous surfaces, so it has not been an issue. They also make a Matte version, not sure of any real difference, although the label doesn’t specifically mention the lack of shelac the way the Hi-Carb does. So, for now, Black Star it is!
I was lucky to find all of this at my local Hobby Lobby (Cookeville is a bit lacking in the art store department). The Pilot Parallel Pen actually came in a bit cheaper than many online stores, at a fair $9.99 (which is a great use for the one-shot 40% off online coupons they often offer) and the Black Star was only a few bucks more than my regular Martin’s, at $8.99. I recommend you give them a shot, and let me know what you think! (although, perhaps, in a less rambling way than I…)
Edit (5/16/13) : It’s been a year and a half since this post, and I’m still loving this pen! Using the exact same one, and no issues at all. It’s a workhorse, takes well to the occasional scrubbing but doesn’t require constant fiddling. The Dr. Martin’s Black Star continued to work well for me, but I recently swapped to Noodler’s Bulletproof Black in my smaller pens, and so I switched the PPP as well to keep ink cohesion across the board. The Noodler’s works great, and is even a little richer black, to my eyes. Also, I stopped using the bulb converter some time ago, and just went with the eyedropper pen method. The body is so large that it takes a substantial amount of ink to fill it, but it only required a little silicon grease on threads and it has been completely ink-tight. I dig this pen!
(I have no affiliation with Pilot Pens, I am merely an enthusiastic supporter of a quality product)