Different strokes for different folks

I’ve fallen head-over-heels for brush pens. Here’s how their expressive (and oftentimes unpredictable) strokes are helping me become a more flexible person.

Different strokes for different folks

When I began my sketching journey a few years ago, I was a dyed-in-the-wool graphite user. I worked exclusively with pencils (particularly, mechanical pencils) and my only exposure to pens had been limited to the office variety. I was picky about my pens and used only one type: the Uni-ball Vision rollerball pen. If you’re familiar with the Uni-ball Vision, it’s a nice, straightforward, predictable inker. It’s limited in both its line variability and expressiveness (pretty vanilla as far as pens go) which is exactly why I loved it.

In life, I tend to gravitate toward the predictable. I’m a sucker for systems and routines, and while I do occasionally enjoy veering off course to choose my own adventure, I prefer life to remain fairly steady. This preference for predictability also carried over to my sketching style. Mechanical pencils and fine-tip rollerball pens were predictable and I knew exactly what to expect each time I touched pencil or pen to paper, however, all that predictability came with a lot of unnecessary constraints which confined me creatively.

When I began experimenting with watercolors, I quickly found the medium to be surprisingly cathartic for the very nature of its unpredictability. There was something about being “on the edge of control” as artist Paul Clark puts it, that helped me get lost and loosen up. In time, I began worrying less about trying to make things a certain way and in turn, my sketches became more expressive. Watercolor is an excellent teacher of flexibility and acceptance.

Brush pens have helped me enter this space more easily due to their simplicity. Imagine all the expressiveness and unpredictability of a watercolor brush, but in the form factor of a capped pen.

More and more often lately I find myself reaching for my brush pen over my standard pencil. I’ve begun illustrating the biggest takeaway for each day alongside my long-form daily journal entries. I like the overall effect of how the strong, bold lines and loose drawings stand out on the pages, and how, from a strictly tacticle sense, writing with the brush pen feels.

My favorite brush pens so far are the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and the Pentel XP5F Brush Pen. Here are a couple pages from my journal:

Reflecting on our culture’s obsession for unchecked consumption without limits on a planet with limited resources. 😒

While constraints are an important tool for managing our lives, we also need outlets for shedding them to embrace expression. For me, art is where I turn to loosen up, get lost, and let go of any hope of perfection. It’s where I go to be okay with things just being as they are and to let go of trying to make things be a certain way. Art is where I go to flow.

As I work to become a more flexible version of myself, I wonder how art will help shape my responses to life in other ways in the years ahead, but for now, I’m overdue for another session with my brush pen.

Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and the Pentel XP5F Brush Pen.