Fountain Pen Sketching: Behind the scenes

December 23, 2015 | 38 Comments

Just when you thought I had finished with fountain pens and would move onto another topic… I pull another blog post out of the hat! But I felt that I needed to put this together as a way of winding down from the excitement and obsession of the last six weeks. Yes, this current series has been a six week project and it has certainly taken over my life. So I thought I would share a few photos that I took during the process – photos that include pen caps everywhere and dirty fingers!

If somehow you have missed the previous parts – the full index is here.

It all started a few months ago when I first expanded my idea of a single blog post entitled “Why EF, Why Lamy?”  to a series that would include an overview of a number of pens. I went through the pens I had, and sorted them into the ones I use and the ones I don’t. I then contacted Madigan from Goulet Pens to tell her about my idea AND to see what good sketching pen options I didn’t have!

Not surprisingly this email exchange ended up with an order of pens – five in total! Those of you that follow my Everyday Pages feature on Mondays might have seen these sketches and realised that something was brewing!

Of course once I had new pens in my possession I had to start testing them! This was certainly a lot of fun, but also had a little bit of pressure attached – I had to use them enough to give useful comments. As you will see, constantly sketching with different pens to test and compare them with each other has been a HUGE feature of my life during the past month.

Next came the planning stage, using my morning cafe visits for some clear thinking time. I also spent time designing an image that I could use to test all the pens – something that would highlight different line types and that I could draw 20 times without getting insanely bored. Of course it had to be a teacup!

One of the really big positives for me doing this series has been setting up a ‘photo booth’ at home and getting to know my camera a little better (it is a fancy compact – Sony RX100 Mk3 – great for video but not so good for macro shots!) Lack of south light in my studio is a big deal (remember I am in the southern hemisphere and the sun travels east to north to west) so it was very exciting to discover that there was a little space next to a south facing window in the adjacent room that I could use and leave set up for the entire month.

I took all of the photos myself (taking continuous shooting mode photos for my ‘action pen’ shots) except for the ones involving a syringe! I will also admit that I had fun doing some ‘pretty’ pen photos as well. My yellow Lamy and Orange Kaweco Sport certainly stole the limelight!

I ended up taking over 1000 photos in total (blame the continuous shoot mode for that number!) so then had a big job culling, cropping, editing and adding hand written labels – whose CRAZY idea was that?

And speaking of cropping, just because I don’t take myself too seriously, I will share this shocking photo of my inky finger! Seriously, this is embarrassing… but I did just pull out a nib and feed in a fully loaded pen so what do you expect?

I spent hours watching Brain Goulet’s videos – write on!

I also sent copious emails to Goulet Pens to double check some details – huge thanks again to Madigan!  I ended up learning a heap of new things about fountain pens and filling in gaps in my knowledge as I prepared the content.

And then did even more research watching other fountain pen reviews on Youtube.  BTW Whatever you do, DO NOT watch that video by Parka on the Duke 551 Confucius – it is way too tempting!

The pen cleaning and refilling then started in earnest!

This photo shows my desk and side bench ‘cleaning station’ – ready to clean and refill at any time. On my desk (actually is it is my old drafting table) you can see all the ‘feature pens’ in my sorting box, pen testing pages, handwritten headings and lots and lots of scribble sheets!

 I continued to use my morning cafe visits to plan out my photo shoots and proof read my blog posts and even managed to get caught up in a photo shoot as the cafe’s ‘resident artist’.

And every day, before leaving the house I would pick out a new pen or two, to test that day. I might have done a lot of similar latte sketches recently but I don’t think any two sketches were done with the same pen!

And of course the same thing applied when I went further afield – testing 3 or 4 pens in a single sketchbook spread!

The editing and proof reading occurred on the train too and as for my cafe visits… some days I bought half of my collection with me!

Back home, as much as I tried to have a totally organised system, I couldn’t stop my pens from scattering everywhere!

So, did I ever get a break?

Of course! Before dinner every night I went for a 20 minute walk in my area, enjoying the glorious pink colour of the new bark on the Angophora trees, dodging the wild bush(brush) turkeys and having lots of wonderful fountain pen thoughts!

And then after dinner it was time to sketch some of my pens!

Oh dear… it has been a little crazy but in the best possible way.

And just for all you fountain pen nutters out there… here is a photos of the pens that didn’t make the cut! Oh ah… that will get you going discussing the merits (or identity) of these pens!

BTW the first pen is the Sailor Fude Profit which I mentioned in Part 7 but didn’t photograph… nothing wrong with this pen at all (works exactly the same as my Green Sailor but with a more normal pen design) but it was just a little camera shy and so missed the photo shoot!

Ok… that’s it, I am finally stopping this series now!

Thanks again for being part of this fun project.  I am looking forward to some time over the Xmas break to focus on actually using my pens a little more, and testing out some new brushes! Ah! It never ends!

Happy Fountain Pen Sketching everyone!

Once you have a fountain pen you will have to start drawing with it!
If you would like to learn the fundamentals and the start urban sketching please check out my Foundations online course.

Subscribe to my mailing list for my monthly newsletters for first news of new courses and face to face workshops in Australia (and overseas!)


  • Joanne McCabe says:

    I thought that inky finger was just modern, wearable art, but what do I know? 😉

    Love the tenacity you've demonstrated toward this (and every other subject). It rather makes me want to both stay with my current kits longer (to really acclimate to what they do, or to find their "sweet spot," as you said), but to not become so comfortable that I fail to try out other things.

    One silly impression I had (although I don't know why) was that, once you had landed upon a watercolor kit, that you were stuck there for life. And how could I ever start watercolors, since I had no idea what colors to choose, which would serve me both now, and 20 years in the future? There are so many options in the art catalogs!

    Seeing, once, that you'd adopted a new kit, with different colors, was a light bulb moment for me: "I don't have to get set up FOREVER. Just what seems fun to work with now, for a little bit." Like with colored pencils. I can grab a handful to work with this month, to learn what they do and how they interact, and then next month, I can jump in with another — until, over time, they become my friends, and I intuitively know which one to use when. (I'm a long way from that point, but each sketch teaches something, no?)

    Have a blessed Christmas, and take time to bask in the love, warmth and divine approval of that mangered Babe!

  • B.D.M. says:

    Thank you for this series! Like one of your other readers, I am relatively new to sketching but old to fountain pens. I think the fountain pen geeks out there would greatly appreciate this extensive tutorial; I hope they find it.

  • Josu Maroto says:

    great job!!!! keep on sketching!!!

  • Brenda says:

    Thanks Liz for a fantastic series! Have always been a fountain pen fan but have never thought of them for sketching…mind changed for ever! Have a very blessed Christmas! Brenda J

  • What a great pen tutorial. It was a huge amount of work for you and very valuable for your audience. I bought 2 new pens and 3 new inks but saved time and money because I knew exactly what I wanted thanks to your informative blog post. Now I can go mix my Raw Sienna. thanks so much, Liz!!

  • MiataGrrl says:

    It's so cool that you documented your entire massive blogging process! Yesterday I said that reading your series was like watching a fave TV show. . . and now this post is like the "making of" special feature on the DVD! 🙂 As you know, my "epic search" series took quite a bit of time too, but I only did one pen at a time, so it didn't seem burdensome (and I didn't spend nearly as much time on photography — your images are gorgeous!). Peeking at your "rejects" lineup, I see at least 3 pens we have mutually eliminated! Great hands think alike. 😉


  • Jim Serrett says:

    Thank you for all of the hard work, it was so interesting and informative.
    You are certainly very passionate about the topic and it is contagious.
    Happy Holidays.

  • Thanks so much for these posts, Liz — what a labour of love! I found myself looking forward to each new one in the series! I love all those latte sketches!

    As a new sketcher (but regular fountain pen user), I really appreciate how you explained everything. It's given me all sorts of ideas of how to use the pens I love for sketching! And now I want a fude nib!

    Thanks, from one Fountain Pen Junkie to another!

  • Barkleigh2 says:

    What an inspiration to use all of my pens more often in the coming year! And what an incredible effort on YOUR part, Liz. Thanks

  • hfm says:

    hfm = Helena Monteiro

  • hfm says:

    Thanks, my dear Liz, for this extensive explanation that has tought so much to me. Great, great job.

  • mctan says:

    Thanks Liz for this informational series! I'd thoroughly enjoyed it and always looking forward to the next one. How about a series on another favourite tool – brushes!! 😀

  • Liz Steel says:

    all the headings are done with the green 55 deg sailor

  • Liz Steel says:

    I hope so too!
    Thanks BDM!

  • Liz Steel says:

    have fun Patricia – and I am glad that my post help people spend their money wisely!

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks Tina – more 'snap' hey!

  • Liz Steel says:

    my pleasure Brenda- hope you have fun with those pens of yours

  • Liz Steel says:

    oh no – don't tempt me… ha ha! (good idea though I will admit!)

  • Liz Steel says:

    my pleasure – me passionate??? really! ha ha!

  • Liz Steel says:

    So pleased it has given you all sorts of ideas… thats what I want to achieve!

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks Barkleigh2 – have fun with your pens!

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks Helena – my pleasure!

  • Liz Steel says:

    thank you Josu – hope you keep sketching too!

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks Joanne – and Happy Holidays, New Year to you!
    Yes, we don't have to set something up forever…. I am always changing and evolving… and coming back to previous choices as well. that is all part of the journey!

  • gack says:

    Which pen/nib did you use to write all the labels on your photos?

  • George bacich says:

    I’m going to buy a lamy pen what do you suggest , I like the fine nib on my art pen(rotting). Thanks george bacich San Juan Capistrano / split Croatia

    • Liz Steel says:

      have a look through the whole fountain pen series – click on the image on the side bar to access that and there should be lots of ideas there.

  • Ben Kelley says:

    I see you have a Rotring “art pen” in the pile that didn’t make the cut. I’m curious what you didn’t like about that pen? Thanks for the info, opened up a lot of doors!

  • Chas says:

    I’m catching up on you drawing with fountain pens series and was a little amused to see your slightly self deprecating comment about your ink covered fingers. When I studied Cartography at the Uni (back in the days of Leroy pens and India ink) we were taught by a couple of ladies from the Geography Department’s Cartographic Unit. Those ladies had come to accept that their fingers would be almost perpetually covered with ink stains and so had proudly adopted the sobriquet of “the inky fingers brigade”. I visited the Uni recently and dropped by the Cartographic Office and discovered that despite changes in personnel and technology ink is still part of the job and the name has stuck!
    Ink, wear it proudly!

    • Liz Steel says:

      thanks Chas -thats a great story. I have certainly accepted it much more lately… its a sign that I am an artist!

  • Chas says:

    Rereading my previous comment I realized that the last sentence could be subject to misinterpretation. So, let me state unequivocally that I’m talking about ink from pens not tats!

  • CJ SUN says:

    As a relatively newbie to fountain pens, I found your site when I Googled “fountain pen tripod” and I followed links to several pictures.

    Not only do you show a leftie using a tripod hold of a fountain pen beautifully, but OMGoodness I’m wow’d by the beauty in your art AND in your handwriting.

    Thanks for the many inspiring moments of beauty!

  • Mariette Brown says:

    ? great series! I love everything you have said and put good stock in your reviews.
    My over-riding impression is that you are a woman obsessed, and the FP world is better for your attention to details and enthusiasm!

  • Ginie Udy says:

    It was so lovely to read this post after seeing a capture on Pinterest of it. It was so interesting. I loved that pic of you editing your blog post on the train. I know you put so much thought and effort into everything you do but this was a lovely glimpse into your character and commitment.

    Thank you for the Livestream of Teacups this morning. It was great to be reminded about measuring. I’ve already improved my sketch of my happy hour drink because of it! I also realised that a comment I wrote this morning in the Chat could be misinterpreted. I think I said I’m not taking the current run through of Tea Cups seriously. What I meant was I’m not doing it thoroughly or ‘seriously’ this time round. There’s no way I would be flippant about what you offer Liz.

    Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place.

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