If you’ve kept up with my blog for a while, you know that I
have a mild obsession with all things fude
(perhaps it was even here that you learned that fude is the Japanese word for brush). From my favorite fountain pen nib of all time to its various knock-offs and wannabes to all the many, many brush pens I have used, writing instruments of the fude kind interest me for one primary reason: They are designed to mimic
the tapered and variable lines that can be made with an actual bristle calligraphy brush –
and I simply can’t resist the beauty of those lines.
Given this obsession, I occasionally visit JetPens.com (the
largest American source of Japanese brush pens) and put “brush” in the search
line just to see what new products come up. After scrolling past all the pens I
was already familiar with, imagine my surprise one day when I came upon the Uni Mitsubishi brush pencil.
Say again? How can a dry instrument like a pencil mimic the
fluid line of paint or ink? And almost as curious, why in the world does one
pencil cost $7.50? My curiosity got the better of my pocketbook; I clicked “add
(Incidentally, I wondered if the name “brush pencil” was
nothing more than JetPens’ marketing description. When I received the pencil, I
used my kindergarten-level Japanese reading skills to decipher the characters
stamped on the pencil, and I found that it says, fude enpitsu, which means, literally, “brush pencil.”)
Straight out of the package with its pre-sharpened point,
the graphite brush pencil has an extremely soft and dark 10B core. Admittedly,
I’m not much of a graphite user, but I had never seen a pencil graded 10B (the
highest grade I’ve seen in other brands is 8B). What really caught my
attention, though, was how thick that core is – much thicker than average
writing pencils and even most colored pencils.
The marketing copy says, “Adjusting your writing pressure
allows for exquisite variation in darkness and line width, mimicking the
elegant sweeps and tapers of a traditional Japanese calligraphy brush.” I wasn’t
quite getting those elegant sweeps and tapers yet, but I could see that with
some practice, one could get a lot of line variation. My interest was piqued!
|I sharpened first with a sharpener to take the wood down, then|
cut the chisel tip with a knife.
Over coffee one day, I showed the pencil to a friend, and
she mentioned that she had once seen a YouTube video in which an artist had
sharpened the point of a pencil into a chisel shape. Light bulb moment! I didn’t
even bother to search for the video – I just got out my knife and cut that
extra-wide core’s point flat!
With that cut, I can use the corners to make fine lines and
the flat, broad end to make wide, dark strokes – and moving it around gives me
everything in between. What’s more, the core is so soft that a line can be smudged
easily with a fingertip for shading. You may recall that I hate using charcoal (I won’t touch it
without gloves), so smudging with a finger is not my favorite sketching technique.
But I have to admit that I love the look that results.
Although the brush pencil
smudges as any soft graphite core will, thankfully, very unlike charcoal, it doesn’t transfer too much to the opposite
sketchbook page (at least in the signatures of paper I carry, which don’t allow
the pages to rub together much). (Edited 12/12/16: Never mind. . . it transfers quite a bit. I've begun skipping pages in my sketchbook to avoid the mess.)
|10/23/16 graphite, colored pencil|
Of course, because the core is so soft, it wears down pretty
quickly. After making several sketches with it at Zoka Coffee (the man working
on his laptop is one), the sharp corners and edge were well rounded by the time
I left. Stopping on the way home to sketch the street scene (top of page), I realized I didn’t
have a knife to recut the chisel shape, so I used my usual pencil sharpener
instead. The sharpening exposed a big wedge of graphite on the side, which I
then used to make heavy shadows very quickly. So either cut with a knife or
sharpened traditionally, the thickness of the core can take as much credit as its
softness for producing fude results.
Like I said, I haven’t been much of a graphite user, but
with this “brush pencil,” I may be!
Now – about that $7.50 price? I cruised through all of Uni Mitsubishi’s
pencils on JetPens, and I spotted one in its Hi-Uni line that also has a 10B
core. (According to JetPens, “Hi-Uni is Uni Mitsubishi's best-selling
highest-level wooden pencil line with an incredible selection of 22 hardness
grades.”) While not inexpensive, this pencil is $2.50. Hmmm. It’s not a “brush
pencil,” but its core is the same grade and made by the same manufacturer. The
next time I placed an order, I put one of those Hi-Uni 10Bs in my shopping
Spoiler alert: As far as I can tell, the two pencil cores
are exactly the same. The gold-body brush pencil is prettier, and the beautiful
finish feels like lacquer, but I’m good with a regular Hi-Uni for $2.50 instead.
|Top: Mitsubishi "brush pencil"; bottom: Mitsubishi Hi-Uni pencil|
While I was searching for that Hi-Uni 10B, I spotted a Staedtler Mars Lumograph with an 8B core,
and from the photo, its core looked plenty thick, so I put one of those ($1.80)
in my shopping cart, too. I just gave it a chisel cut. I haven’t sketched with
it yet, but its initial scribble test is just as dark and feels slightly waxier
than the Uni-Mitsubishis. I’ll probably report back on that someday, too.
|The Staedtler Mars Lumograph 8B with a chisel cut.|