What is a comic book inking brush? That is a question that I answered in a video for my art blog but I thought I’d write about it too. In general the brush used to ink comic book drawings is watercolor brush. A sable hair watercolor brush that comes to a point. It’s really important that it comes to a sharp point otherwise you could use any old blunt brush. The most used one by comic book inkers is a Winsor Newton Series 7 watercolor brush. I like a size three but some people prefer the slightly smaller size two. A size three being slightly bigger means I can make bigger lines with it and that it hold more ink in its bristles. That means longer lines with less dipping of the brush in ink. I’ll take that.

The main problem with inking with a sable hair watercolor brush is that India ink isn’t good for them. India ink will slowly break down the hairs of the brush and make them fall out. A watercolor brush that only touches watercolor will last a lifetime but not one dipped in ink. All throughout my twenties I tried my best to keep my ink brushes as clean as possible. I even tried to keep the ink out of the base of the brush hairs and washed it with soap and water after every time I used it. I was vigilant. I really wanted all that cleaning to matter but in the end I don’t think it made the brush any better and sometimes it even seemed to make my brush wear out faster. I finally decided I was better off leaving it alone.

I wish I could find where I read it but once or twice I ran across a story about cartoonists Will Eisner and Joe Kubert discussing how to clean an inking brush. Will Eisner was all for cleaning one but Joe Kubert’s take was the only way to clean a brush was with a pair of scissors. Cut off the bristles. He meant there was no way to clean an ink brush. I’ve come around to that side of the argument. I never clean my ink brushes anymore. I rinse them off in my jar of water when I’m done using them, otherwise they’d harden up and become unusable, but I never take soap and water to a brush anymore. That seems pointless to me now. And my brushes may have lasted longer but I’m not sure of that. It’s hard to tell.

A Winsor Newton Series 7 watercolor brush comes to a nice point. That is what you want in an ink brush. It allows you to make a very sharp and precise ink line. You’ll know the brush is done for when it no longer comes to a point. Instead it will split and you’ll have two points. That is no good for precision. I don’t throw away my wrecked brushes though. Instead I keep them and use them for oil or acrylic paints. Paint is much thicker than ink so I don’t need the brush to come to such a fine point. Plus the really wrecked brushed are good for various dry brush techniques. I make my monster face drawing with a brush so wrecked that it usually has half a dozen points. It makes weird monster lines then.

Since I also use watercolor brushes for watercolor I have to keep track of which brushes are for ink and which are not. I figured out an easy method years ago. I carve a narrow ring around the brush just below the ferrule (the metal part of the brush that holds the wooden handle to the brush hairs). I take my X-Acto knife and run the edge around the brush handle with just enough force to scrape away the paint in a narrow ring around the brush. One ring means it’s a good ink brush. Once the tip starts to split and the brush is no good anymore I carve a second ring around it. That makes for easy identification. One ring, two rings, or no rings.

For the last couple of years Series 7 brushes have been hard to get. For some convoluted bureaucratic reason the sables that are uses to make sable hair brushes found their way onto some sort of endangered species list in the USA and therefor their importation was banned. Except it’s a different sable that’s endangered. It’s all so confusing that I’m still not sure if there is a ban on the brushes or not. But art stores ran out of Series 7 brushes a while a go and just got some new ones in recently. The price has gone up on them too. I used to get a number three brush for around twenty dollars but now they are ten dollars more than that.

I’ve tried a few different brands of sable brushes over the years. The second best is Raphael brand brushes. I’d say they were slightly below the Winsor Newton ones but if I could get them for a good price I always did. I never had any complaints about the Raphael brushes. They’re also the same size as the Winsor Newton ones. That’s one of the problems I’ve had with ordering brushes from a catalog. Sometimes one company’s size three isn’t the same as another company’s size three.

I recently bought a size three from a company called DaVinci and it was more like a size two. That means the brush will hold less ink and make a slightly narrower line. Plus I found the DaVinci brushes has less spring-back than I was used to. That means as I put pressure on a brush against the paper as I release the pressure the brush should resume its original shape. Instead it just stayed bent over a little as if I was still pressing on it. That’s not the end of the world since it still holds its point but I have to be careful which way I touch the brush to paper the second time. Things can go sideways.

I love a good brush. When it comes to comics some people like to ink with pens but not me. I’m a brush person. Hopefully they’ll keep making them.