Monday, June 17, 2019

Product Review: Pentel Pocket Brush Pens (and Weaning Myself of Grisaille)

Gray and brown Pentel Pocket Brush Pens

For more than a year now, I’ve been using various markers, most often Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Brush Pens, to serve as a grisaille with colored pencils. (See my tutorial on this method.) The gray marker tones establish the values, and I then color over the grisaille with colored pencils. If the marker is waterproof (as Pitt pens are), I can then choose to activate watercolor pencils if I want to.

Recently I’ve been trying to wean myself of relying so heavily on the marker grisaille and instead learn to convey values directly with colored pencil hues. The biggest challenge is the darkest (near-black) value, which is difficult to achieve with colored pencils alone, especially on location (with limited time and other constraints). I consider myself still in transition: I use a marker grisaille now only for the darkest value until I figure out a better way to achieve this. A second issue is that I’ve never cared for the streaky, “marker-y” look I get with Pitt pens (or any hard-edged marker).

I got excited a couple of months ago when Roz Stendahl reviewed new colors in Pentel Pocket Brush Pens – gray and sepia. I’ve been using a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen with black ink for years (it was included in my review of seven “hairy” brush pens several years ago), and it’s one of my favorites. The synthetic bristles hold up well, even under my heavy hand, and the ink is easily refillable with cartridges or fountain pen ink. The brush pen containing dark gray ink that Roz showed seemed like an interesting alternative to a hard-edged marker, especially if it was waterproof. I decided to give the sepia a try, too. (I got mine from Wet Paint, which seems to be one of few stores carrying both new colors. I’ve just recently seen both on Amazon, too.)

The pens have the same fountain-pen-like body (above) as the original black. The only indication of the ink color is the end of the cap (which I appreciate when I store them cap end up in my bag) and the narrow center band.

Bristle brush tips

Like the original, the brush tips are very flexible bristle brushes (not formed felt or other fibrous materials) that can produce a wide range of line widths. (See Roz’s blog for beautiful drawings that take full advantage of the brush effects.)
A wide line variation

After waiting about five minutes, I put a waterbrush through the thickest part of my scribbles. The gray ink was nearly waterproof, but the sepia bled considerably. After another hour, the inks still bled the same. The gray is acceptably waterproof for my purposes because the little bleeding won’t alter colors substantially. I’ll still use the sepia when I want an ink that washes, but I probably won’t use it as a grisaille.
Washed with water after about 5 minutes. Scribbles made in Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook.

Shown below are several recent sketches (most of which youve seen previously) that include the gray Pentel. The ink stays wet on the paper’s surface just long enough for the edges to blend a little, which reduces the marker-y look that I want to avoid. I really like using the tiny brush tip to achieve fine lines and marks, which I’m not able to get with a Pitt brush marker (which starts out sharp when new but mushes down fairly quickly under my heavy handedness). Conversely, if I lay it down on its broad side, the brush can make a wide stroke. It takes a little practice to handle a bristle brush instead of a marker, but I’ve always preferred the versatility and organic line of an actual brush to the more graphic look of markers.

Until I wean myself completely of the grisaille method, the gray Pentel is my pen of choice.




5/30/19 I used the Pentel brush pen only on the darkest shadows. The shading on the yellow parts of the
excavator was done with a gray colored pencil acting as a grisaille under the yellow.

4/30/19 In this sketch, I used the Pentel brush pen both for shading and to draw the foreground tree branches.


  1. I wasn't aware that they were making a grey and sepia. I'll have to check that out.

    1. Yes, check them out! I'm using the gray frequently, and I like that it's a little softer than stark black. I sure wish the sepia were waterproof, though.


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