Two years ago, I made a video reviewing Zen Brush 2, the iPad app that lets you digitally mimic sumi brush strokes using your finger or stylus. The results aren’t perfect, and there is a lot left to desire when it comes to the look and feel of the brushstrokes. However, my biggest praise was how easy it was to practice brushing kanji without the hassle of setting up a station, waste paper, and cleaning afterward. Lots of time I just want to brush a kanji only a few times without spending too much time on it. The mere thought of dealing with setting the table, prepping the brushes, pouring ink and cleaning at the end prevents me from doing quick, spontaneous practice sessions. I don’t have a problem when I know I’m in for a whole night session or when working on a commission, but for a quick sketch sort of speak, there’s got to be a better way! Zen Brush 2 is excellent for this; I enjoyed it and used it a lot.
Unfortunately, my iPad morphed from being a work tablet (a device I used for work and the studio) to be my kid’s entertainment device. Nowadays, my old 4th generation iPad only plays Netflix, PBS Kids, Fruit Ninja and my first grader’s IXL app for his homework. While I am happy that the kids have access to a decent tablet to watch their shows and do homework, it has left a void for my needs to have spontaneous calligraphy sessions without making a big mess in the studio.
About a month or two ago, I decided to try a brush pen. A brush pen is a pen with a brush tip. The bristles are synthetic, and you ink them by squeezing the pen with the tip down. I had bought one of these a long time ago, but then I didn’t know how to use them; I think I ended up throwing them away actually.
I bought the Fude Brush Pen by Pentel on Amazon. It’s made in Japan, and with a $10 price tag, it’s a pretty good option for doing scribbles on the fly. It comes in different sizes, but I decided to go for the medium one since it looked to be the one better suitable for brushing small to medium characters.
At nine inches long, the pen feels like a normal one. Instead of inking the bristles in a well of Sumi ink like a traditional brush, you ink the bristles by squeezing the ink stored in the plastic handle. It is hard at first to regulate how much ink you need. In the beginning, I ended up flooding the bristles, and the strokes bled heavily on the paper. Once you see the strokes go dry, a gentle squeeze is all that is needed to get more ink in them.
I don’t know what kind of ink this brush is using, but I doubt it is traditional Sumi ink. When I used it to brush on Hanshi or Kozo paper, the ink bled and feathered a lot, and I found it quite annoying. To avoid this I tried not to ink the bristles too much, but then the strokes came out dry. However, when using regular cheap printer paper, the strokes came out beautiful.
Because the bristles are synthetic, it always comes back to a tip after each stroke. This feature makes it easy to practice hard strokes such as migi harai or the right down harai (spatula) stroke. There is no cleanup needed. When you’re done, just put the cap on, and you’re done!
The Pentel Fude Brush Pen lasts quite a bit of time. During the 30 Days of Shodo Challenge last August, I used it for almost all of my daily calligraphies. I got through about two-thirds of the month with just one pen. Keep in mind though, while I was posting only one picture of my daily calligraphy I had actually brushed several versions before deciding on one. One thing I did notice was that once the ink started to run out, for whatever reason the pen bled and I got ink all over my hands. I’m not sure if this happens to all pens (I hope not!) or if it was a fluke. Since the August challenge I had bought three of them, and so far I haven’t had this problem again.
All in all for $10 the Pentel Fude Brush Pen feels comfortable in hand, it stays clean for the most part, and it makes it easy to draw strokes you otherwise find challenging with a traditional calligraphy brush. It does take a little bit of time to figure out how much ink to squeeze into the bristles, and due to the ink’s tendency to feather on traditional calligraphy paper, I wouldn’t recommend you use it for final pieces. However, it is an excellent tool for quick practice runs and sketches when you just don’t feel like sitting down at the table and go for a long session.
If you would like to give it a try, click here for my Amazon (affiliate) link where you can order one. If you do end up buying one, let me know what you think after using it and whether you liked it or not.