Friday, August 1, 2014

How to Refill a Water Brush or a Fountain Pen

Here's a still frame from my upcoming video called "Watercolor in the Wild," which releases as a DVD and a download on August 11. The whole first section of the video covers materials and methods.

One segment shows how to fill water brushes and fountain pens with the ink colors you want.

Water Brushes 
I've tried several brands, but none seem as reliable as Niji Water Brushes. I recommend the ones with round tips, but you can also get them with a 12mm Flat Tip. I normally carry between three and five water brushes. One is filled with water, which fills easily under a normal faucet by unscrewing the handle and squeezing the barrel.

The others are filled with blue, black, brown, and gray. I mix the gray myself, put it in an empty bottle, and mark the bottle. To identify which water brush is which, I paint the back end tips with acrylic (see lower left of photo above).

The ink in a brush pen should be water-soluble so that it doesn't clog the brush fibers. I use Higgins Eternal Ink(black), and an old bottle of Sheaffer Skrip Ink. The color in my 30-year-old bottle is mellow blue-black, which I believe is no longer available. The Waterman Fountain Pen Blue Bottled Ink is a bolder blue. For a brown color, I use either the Higgins Sepia Fountain Pen Ink or the Waterman Brown Ink, the latter of which has a redder cast. If you mix two colors of ink, you should mix the same brands.

Refill Tool
Several different tools will work for refilling water brushes. My favorite is a Syringe with a Blunt Tip Fill Needle. You can also use a Syringe with a Tapered Plastic Tip (center of photo above). A Glass Eyedropper doesn't always work as well because the tip isn't small enough for getting inside the chamber of an empty fountain pen cartridge or water brush.

Fountain Pens
I use a relatively inexpensive Waterman Phileas Fine Point Fountain Pen (top) for written notes. In the USA, you can buy refill cartridges in black and blue, but it's not easy to find brown or gray or other colors. As with the water brushes, you can refill them with your favorite color. The pen comes with a piston converter insert, but if you don't have one of those, you can refill empty cartridges with the syringe.

When I need to use waterproof ink for my line work, I like Micron Pens. They come in many colors, and give a constant indelible line, similar to the classic Rapidograph pens. For a brush-style tip, I've used the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, a waterproof brush-tip pen with replacement cartridges. A caution about the Pentel: the ink can bleed through some thinner paper.


Anonymous said...

Hi James I am following your blog for about two years but this is my first comment so far(Your and Andreas Deja's blog are my favorite) Thank you for sharing. I do apologize for this irrelevant question and request that I am going to ask but I am really desperate to understand this subject. I have read almost all of your posts about light and color and Googled about it but I didn't find any clear answer for this question. Could you please explain about "complementary shadows". do you use it in your painting? Is it real? How do you implement that. Some says its complement of light's color that we should consider and some says its local color of the surface, or both and also some other artists says its not true at all or it's not always true. Some attribute this(complementary shadows) to impressionist habit in painting the reflected color of blue sky in shadows and others attribute it to simultaneous-contrast. Would you please write about it? I do apologize again for asking this irrelevant question and also for bad English.

James Gurney said...

Arbi, it' a good question, and I'll try to answer it in a week or two.

Jean At Home said...

Hi James,
I love the Niji water brushes, except for the flat one, which hasn't worked well for me.

To fill them, I remove the hard plastic tip at the end of the water barrel instead of squeezing the barrel. It seems easier to me and I can fill it the whole way, which I find difficult to do when using the squeeze method.

I've not tried refilling ink cartridges, but may give it a go.

I keep on Niji filled with the Higgins Brick Red. It is adaptable and blends well with black.

And the last secret in my portable backpack arsenal is a selection of Foray Rolle ink pens. They come in a good selection of colors, bleed/blend well and. used with a water filled Niji, they are a good alternative to carrying a watercolor pallet.

jeff jordan said...

I got some glue syringes not too long ago, and that was a really key element in using the water brushes at all. One thing I might recommend, place the syringe completely in the reservoir when you're filling. Press hard enough to block any leaks. I had trouble with getting Jackson Pollock/Ralph Steadman splatters on my clothes and face before that. Fine, now.

krystal said...

Dang. Nostalgia! We had to use Fountain pens in Primary school and the Waterman ink to dip! Then we moved on to cartridge pens, with the roller ball (I used to collect them :)). We had the holes in our desks and everything with the divot up top to rest the pens! Cursive writing in Primary school..I wonder if it is taught much anymore; penmanship! In Secondary school, we climbed the back of our school (which was on a hill, of course) and cut off pieces of bamboo from trees in the back of the school and made our own calligraphy pens! (We also used the bamboo to make tables and chairs in Girl Guides). Thanks for the memories!

Jim said...

First, I'd like to thank you for all the information you have gifted us with. I have learned more from your blog and book than I did in 4 years of architecture school and 2 years of art school. Thank you.

Second, I was surprised to see that you don't use Noodler's Bombproof ink. It works great in fountain pens and is is the best.

You are absolutely inspiring and I look forward to your video.


Unknown said...

Another option is converting a cheap fountain pen to a eyedropper pen using the barrel for the ink reservoir. The one draw back is if you accidentally unscrew the the barrel taking off the need to be careful. It is great way to carry a lot of ink. You just need o rings and silicone grease. This is the video I learned to do this:

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