The pen is mightier than the brush. The best pen art and drawing pens revealed.
September 11, 2018

Photo Credit: Albrecht Durer (Source)

You've got to respect the pen artist...
They work with no margin for error and, unlike most other mediums, have no real way to erase any marks.

Respect the pen artist

You've got to respect the pen artist.
They work with no margin for error and, unlike most other mediums, have no real way to erase any mistakes.
This is true whether their pen art is:

Crafted using fountain pen and ink.
Delicately hatched with fineliners.
Beautifully expressed using the prosaic biro.
Making its mark with markers.
Or creating emotional depths with felt tips.

Far from being seen as a flaw, the indelible nature of art pens and drawing inks is seen as heroic virtue.

'Erasing is, in one sense, a safety belt that protects the artist. But it can also be a crutch that impedes him or her.'

- Jason Franz, Pen Art Teacher

Let's take a look at some of our favourite pen artists and the enduring artwork that they have created. Let's also introduce some of the finest tools of the pen art trade to help you create your own masterpieces. And, along the way, let's throw in some pen art tips to help get you there. Here's to the power of the pen.

Isn't it time you (re-)discovered how it can, indeed, be mightier than the brush?

Our favourite pen artists

Our pick of the pen artists who have made their (indelible) mark takes you from the pen pioneer illustrators working for book and magazine publishers in the early years of the 20th century to the self-publishing Instagram inkers of contemporary culture.

Back-in-the-day pen art pioneers

Aubrey Beardsley

The original rock and roll pen artist – complete with tragic young death – produced drawings in black ink, heavily influenced by the style of Japanese woodcuts, that explored themes of the grotesque, decadent and erotic (usually simultaneously).

David Stone Martin

Best known for his jazz album pen and ink illustrations from the 1950s, David Stone Martin's work communicates the same dexterity and improvisation that jazz music celebrates. His quick and gestural pen drawings are characterised by their immediacy and vibrancy.

David Gentleman

David Gentleman has worked on many well-known projects, including the iconic mural in Charing Cross Station. His cover and illustrations for the cookbook Plats de Jour was published in 1957 and remains a source of inspiration to many pen and ink artists today.

Contemporary pen art creators

Tim McDonagh

The artist, Tim McDonagh is a freelance illustrator whose love of detail is evident throughout all his meticulous pen and ink line work. Look at how his lines create the effect of a lustrous shine on this fierce leonine.

Stuart Patience

Stuart Patience's work is never less than weird and never short on exquisite detailing. His pen art centres on surreal narratives, strange situations, curious animals and odd characters.

Inspirational Instagram pen artists

August Lamm

We love August's humour – their miniature art is large on wit. Their Instagram page is packed with inspirational tips for mastering the art of drawing with pens that are scattered among their latest creations.


Another Instagram wunderkind, Tim is not alone in his obsession with the Sakura Pigma Micron Pen, but he does take his fixation into the realm of the highest art. Check out the contours crafted through cross-hatching on this hand.

Olivia Kemp

Working with the finest of pens (Uni Pin), Olivia's detailed cityscapes and landscapes have all the precise attention to detail of an architect. Yet, they give the lie to the oft-repeated maxim that the fine lines of pen art are only suited to pictures on a small scale. This is art you can lose yourself in for literally days – check out her Instagram page but, better still, go see her work 'in the flesh' as she regularly exhibits in London.

Liam Hipple

And if there's more brilliant, intricate architectural observation that you need – Liam is most definitely your man.

Pen art tips to sketch like a master

There are two things you need to sketch like a pen art master and, because we're nice like that, here they both are.

The first is some expert tips to give you the courage to go forth and create like a pro.
The second thing is expert advice on the best art pens, finest inks and most magnificent markers out there.

Here are the top tips (and the best nibs will follow).

Felt tip pen tips

When using felt tip pens it is the line quality, or thickness and thinness, that can create fantastic effects. Try varying your line quality to add depth to your pictures.

Check out Holly Wales for more felt tip art inspiration.

Marker pen tips

Marker pens are ideal for going large and creating dynamic, looser, rougher sketches rather than all those delicate or precise lines.
Many markers can be used on a much wider range of surfaces – so you can experiment on wood or metal rather than plain old paper and cards.

Fountain pen and ink tips

Remember to only pull or drag your pen to make marks: pushing will cause splatters.
You only need to apply the slightest change in pressure to alter the thickness of your lines.
Draw structures in shadows with thicker lines, and structures in light with thinner lines.

Ballpoint pen tips

Ballpoint pen ink is fairly translucent. This means you can layer two or more colours together to achieve subtle variations in hue.
Depending on how much you layer a single colour you can produce many variations from light to dark.
Wipe the pen tip occasionally to remove the accumulation of ink and paper fibres that can smear or become blotches on your artwork.
It may be indelible but ballpoint ink is not permanent. It will fade over time when exposed to air and light.
Scan or photograph high-quality images of your finished drawings.

General pen tips

The simplest way to add an extra dimension to your art is to change the way you hold your pen. Try it yourself – for instance, holding your pen at the back gives very loose lines and introduces an element of chance and fortuitous accident.
There's no rule against sketching with a pencil before applying ink if this feels more comfortable for you.
For the vast majority of textures, you can use cross-hatch, usually in minuscule, very lightly applied lines.

Our favourite pens for creating pen art

Many pen artists align themselves so strongly with one type of pen that they often obtain sponsorship from the brand. Our advice is to experiment widely before you settle – and we've selected the best pens to start experimenting with.

Browse our entire range online and find the perfect pens for all your graphic, art and design needs – our fineliners, felt tips, beautiful brush and fountain pens are all from brands you can trust, such as Rotring, Parker, Sakura, LAMY and many more.

Rotring Rapidograph Technical Pen

Highly precise and exquisitely thin-tipped, Rotring's Rapidograph Technical Pen offers the last word on detailed image creation. You'll never have to clean the ink helix as, along with the pressure equalisation system, it's replaced each time you change the cartridge. The pen is available in nib sizes from 0.1mm to 1mm and each is engineered for precision art.

Sakura Pigma Micron Pen

Inspiring obsessional devotion among many pen artists and garnering rave reviews regularly, Sakura Micron pens are bang on for sketching – if not always as consistently accurate as of the more neurotically-inclined Uni Pen. Smear-free and a no bleed-through performance are produced by an acid-free, chemically stable, waterproof and fade-resistant ink. And they flow like a river after rain.

Also worth a shot is Johanna Basford's favourite – the ultra-reliable Staedtler Pigment Liner.

Copic Markers

Copic Markers are 'the markers created for creative people'. Put them to the test – there's no ink bleed, they blend colours as smoothly as a Moulinex and they feel just right as you work with them.

Posca Markers

For those wishing to experiment with creating art on different materials, it is Posca that wins the Oscar. Metal, glass, plastic, stone, fabric, photographs and many more surfaces prove receptive to these markers' gentle touch. And, what's more, when dry they will cover the layer below, making those inevitable mistakes a breeze to disguise.

Pentel Colour Brush pens

The sheer variety of strokes that the Pentel Brush pens lend themselves to – from the ultra-thick to the delicately-detailed is what makes them so versatile and expressive. Perfect for freestylers.

Kaweco fountain pens

For fountain pens our first choice is Kaweco for their comfort, responsiveness and performance – although it's a very close call between Kaweco and many pens in the reliable Parker range.

LAMY Rollerball pens

There really is only one winner when it comes to rollerball – and we're not talking about the 1975 sci-fi film with James Caan here. When it comes to pens LAMY wins hands-down every time. Feel it glide with grace and elegance.

Drawing inks

Winsor & Newton are our preferred inks for drawing, although we also reckon that Dr PH Martins also comes through the wash pretty well.

Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens

We love the varying thicknesses of these Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens. Granted you are not going to gain too much colour in your image with them, but you will gain an expressive intensity. And there are plenty of other quality felt tips to choose from to fill in the blanks.

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Remember to share your creations, tagging @londongraphiccentre