Friday, December 9, 2011

The quest for the perfect brush.

Normally when I ink, I use a nib pen for the whole thing, and only consider touching a brush if there's a particularly large area that needs some ink slapped on it. I've been going on like this for years, not really considering the brush to be a primary tool so much as a convenient afterthought! However, when I inked one page in particular of Little Red Men, I realized that I'd need HUGE lines from the getgo, and decided to ink the whole thing with a brush on a whim.

This just so happens to be that very page! I'm permitted to share up to 25% of the comic before it's published, and given how sparingly I've teased you, I feel like this is permissible. ANYWAY, the only brushes I had available to me at the time were some pretty worn down, beat up, and desperately depressing white nylon brushes that did the trick, but were less than desirable. Even still, I noticed that my inking time had been virtually cut in half with each stroke! And while I did sacrifice quite a bit of stability and control by giving up my pen, I suddenly had an extremely varied number of line weights that I could make in a single stroke. So, I decided it was time to experiment with brush work.

Once I got it in my head that this was a viable method, it became pretty much obvious that I'd need to upgrade my materials... So I fired up the ol' Googletron 9000 and asked it what brushes were best for inking. The internet seems to unanimously praise the Windsor and Newton series 7 [in particular, sizes 2 or 3] brush and claim it to be the one brush to rule them all. Then then in their next sentence speak of how there truly is only ONE brush to rule them all as the company has gone downhill and serviceable-much less actually perfect-brushes from W&N can no longer be found. Besides, it's roughly $20 or $30 per brush, apparently, and I don't really have that kind of scratch lying around for one single brush that may or may not work.

Enter Rosemary and Co. The internet has mixed feelings about the company, and just a few years ago they were praised as being phenomenal brushes at outrageously affordable prices... But something has clearly happened to the company. Perhaps they have become exceedingly popular and can not keep up with demand? I decided to take my chances and looked into their brushes. Not really knowing what to get, I decided to e-mail Rosemary and ask her for some advice on which brushes to purchase based on how I like my brushes to feel, and that I was planning on working with ink. She got back to me nearly immediately and was extremely helpful!!! So I ordered my brushes that night and despite them being shipped from Europe, received them within three days! Holy crap!!! Not only that, but a free catalog that has EVERY SINGLE BRUSH THEY MAKE photographed at real-size?!?!? Wow. The customer service at Rosemary & Co. is certainly not lacking, that's for sure. However...

See that blurry phone photo? [Sorry, but my digital camera is broken and this is the only thing I've got that takes pictures right now.] See how the left side looks kind of... lumpy? Perhaps even... separate? This is one of the four Rosemary brushes that I ordered, which after shipping, only cost $30. Two are Kolinski sable, and two are Red sable which means that at basically $20 before shipping, this is a pretty pimp deal. Well, in theory it is.

You see, pretty much all four of my Rosemary brushes have problems, this one in particular had the most drastic problems because the bristles were caught in that stupid protective plastic sleeve thing and bent backwards over the handle. I trimmed the super-deformed bristles as close to the ferrule as I possibly could so I would be able to jump right in and try them without having to wait a couple more days for a replacement... Which would have been free, but which actually... I don't even want any more. This photo was taken AFTER I trimmed the brush, and after I used it for the first time. The darned thing went completely coo coo! Hairs were just splaying out everywhere depending on what they wanted to do at any given stroke! And it wasn't the only one! Essentially every single brush I ordered from Rosemary is absurdly frustrating and discouraging to use because of how poorly it functions! Not only is the belly pretty thin, making the ink-reservoir in the brush pretty minimal, but every single one of them has this curiously specific point. I gather that it is good when a brush comes to a point that is essentially one hair, but the lengths to which Rosemary & co. went to ensure that was the case is just ridiculous! There was one single hair at the tip that seemed to be ever so slightly longer than all the rest, causing it to actually be more of a pain in the butt than an advantage! That particular hair would always go off on its own adventures and come back later to tell everyone else they were doing it wrong and attempt to garner more support for the rebel army! I inked a verrrrrrrrrry simple piece with those brushes that I'll share with you all in the near future and I could not WAIT for it to be over just so I could put them away and NEVER USE THEM AGAIN.

The brushes on the right are the ones that are from Rosemary, and the one that is to the far left is basically the only one that's even remotely usable... And I do mean remotely.

Because of how awful my experience with these brushes was, I decided that it would be wrong to tell you all about them and not offer an alternative, so last night I went to Blick with my friend Mike and rummaged through their brushes. I found this GREAT brush that I think was made by a company named Isabey or something along those lines, but nearly had a heart attack when I saw that it was $75 for just the one brush. I shit you not. It seemed like an actually really good brush due to the springyness of the bristles [which were, of course, sable], the verrrrry full belly, the tight crimping of the ferrule, and the fact that it came to a splendid point and had no flyaways or clipped bristles anywhere. When I sulked back to the spot where the expensive dream brush was supposed to live until some more fortunate artist that I hope knows how to show a brush a good time comes along to claim it... I noticed that Blick has their own line of brushes. The three brushes on the top of that photograph are the ones from Blick's line and I've got to say... They're pretty darn good.

That is NOT to say that they are AMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAZING, but they are good enough that I'm actually really excited to keep playing with them, and I am super grateful that I didn't want to gouge my own eyes out with them. If you can see well enough from the picture, the bellies are quite a bit fuller in the Blick brushes than the Rosemary ones, which was super duper nice of them. Not only that, but I have not yet had to deal with a flyaway!

The springness of these brushes is great, and even though I had that tiny little size four brush, I actually ended up using the ten for the bulk of the piece, only really going to the four for the eyes and suuuuper tiny fiddly bits. The 16 that I got was superb for filling in huge spaces and actually also came to an impressively fine point! They were also great for little bits of dry-brushing, and did not even for a moment complain about being abused so early in their life-springing back to a perfect point the instant I dipped them in some good ol' water. Did I also mention that together, these three brushes only cost me $25? Yeah. I'd say I got more than what I paid for in this case. These brushes were a joy to work with and for that price, there's really no reason NOT to stock up on a couple and at least try them out!

I know that I've still got a long way to go before I've mastered the brush, and I really think that my only obstacle is learning to let go of my incessant need to tightly control each line, but I definitely believe that having actually found some decent brushes is the best favor I could have done for myself.

So, to recap, Rosemary & co. = no go. Generic Blick-brand brushes? Get 'em. Also, my Totoro inkwell continues to be the coolest darned thing ever. I've been abusing that thing and shaking it around like crazy and spinning it and all sorts of crap and it not only takes the beating, but doesn't spill a single drop of ink. I friggin' love this thing.

Here's the finished image that I used to test the brushes. Thank goodness these ones weren't duds, because this piece is for Billy! Our anniversary is next week, and it's about time I gave him another art. Two years in, and loving him is still the most magical adventure I've ever been taken on.

... I might change the coloring, though.


  1. I'm like you in that I prefer to ink with nibs usually. But instead of a brush, I've found folded ruling pens (aka cola pens) do great for laying down some big lines and can offer plenty of variation in your line. John Neal Booksellers carries a nice one and there are plenty of tutorials on making your own out of a coke can if you'd rather. It's a definite go to for me.

  2. I've actually got a ruling pen! I know it's basically a tool that basically nobody's ever heard of, but I got one in college when I had a professor that was suuuuuuper into clean, straight lines. I haven't actually thought about mine since then, really, but I did just happen to find it again last night while I was looking for some 'white out' for the piece in this post. Kind of a kooky coincidence, eh?

    Oh man, making one out of a coke can?! That just sounds fun, honestly. Thanks for the advice, Beyla!

  3. Great work and good composition.!!.Interesting what you say about brushes..I am a dip pen waterbrushes and penbrushes for larger areas..

    1. Thanks! Personally, I love a good dip pen... I've been using (and abusing) them since high school, and I almost ALWAYS have one within reach... But experimenting with using a brush entirely has actually been a great experience so far! I LOVE inking things, and it's basically my favorite part of any piece, but... using a brush has made it even MORE my favorite part. Even the speed at which I'm able to ink a piece with a dip pen doesn't compare to the speed at which I can ink with a brush... Which was a very useful attribute this holiday season as most of my gifts were handmade and done so very, very close to the deadline. The only thing I really do miss about inking with a pen is the meticulousness of it that allows for an exceptionally good zone-out session. But I'm enjoying learning to commit to a line quickly as well. I would very much recommend experimenting with a brush if you haven't already, if only to see how it works out for you!

    2. You probably noticed from my blog that I don't 'ink' as such..i.e. on top of pencil,I just go straight into ink, either with a dip pen or a fountain pen. It changes the way you draw...if you make a mistake, you incorporate it or you lose it on photoshop.

    3. Oh man, I love doing that! It's kind of amazing and badass when you manage to take that one part that anyone else would start flippin' out over because they consider it a mistake, and use it as part of what makes the finished piece awesome. For that kind of work, yeah, toooooooooootally tech pens/dip pens are the way to go because I really do think they give much more control and precision and are easier to persuade a solution out of. I think it would be interesting to see if the same result could be coaxed out of a brush, though. Using a pen is basically like sketching, which we're all comfortable and well-versed in but... using a brush is like painting, which for someone who is used to that feeling might be an advantage, but for someone who isn't.... hm. Might be worth experimenting with....