Sometime about seven years ago I started doing most of my preliminary drawings, my “idea generating” drawings, in ink rather that in pencil. Prelim drawings are the sketches that aren’t meant to be seen by people. The stage where making the drawing pretty and presentable shouldn’t be a priority. But priorities can get mixed up.

One of the problems with being a young artist, as I was in the decade or so before I switched to ink, is that you want everything to be presentable. As a young artist there is a lot to learn and a lot of insecurity. So you try to make everything as great as you possibly can. You judge yourself and expect to be judged on every stage of your artwork. This leads to spending an inordinate amount of time on getting a hand just right in a prelim drawing when you should be spending the time getting the entirety of the idea right. The hand’s time will come later so you shouldn’t be sweating it now. The hand could change entirely by the time the idea is completed so there is the potential for a lot of time to be wasted. And I sure wasted a lot of time like that. As did plenty of others. What can I say? It’s a tough stage.

Drawing the preliminary sketches in ink and not pencil means that I can’t erase. This is a good thing. It means I can’t noodle away at some small aspect of the drawing and then erase and draw it over and over again. Instead I work at the general idea of the drawing, the big gestures and meanings, saving the craftsmanship for later. This way I can also work on getting as many ideas down on paper as possible. Where I used to get hung up on one thing I can now work on twelve things and choose the one I want to make into a finished piece later. Freedom from the eraser is liberating.

I’m also a tool guy. I have a ton of different pencils and pens plus plenty of specialty tools that I use for only certain occasions. I’ve used different basic pencils, pens and brushes over the years but generally find ones that suit me and stick with them for a while. I am always on the lookout for new black markers to try out and use for my prelim drawings. In that spirit I just purchased one of those new Sharpie retractible click pens. It’s like a ball point pen. When you click the button on the end and the point retracts. Like most markers I try I didn’t like this one too much. It stinks (literally) like all Sharpies and I never liked working in marker fumes. I’ll take a water based ink any day. Since the tip was close to the thick end (where the tip retracted into) I had a hard time seeing and maneuvering the business end of the pen. The barrel is a little to thick and clumsy for me. Nope, a swing and a miss.

I still haven’t found anything to match my favorite preliminary drawing marker: the Pentel Sign pen. It’s an unpresumptuous little thing that I never would have suspected would become my favorite. I remember them being all over the place in the 1970’s when there were fewer marker types to be found. And none of these archival, pigmented ink, ten different tiny size, semi-professional markers we have today. It was just a mass market black marker for whoever needed a writing size marker.

I like it’s smooth consistent line. It has a fairly hard tip but not one of those that is like a rock. The tip wears down over time and gets a little harder and wider but it stays consistent. When it starts running out of ink I even refill the little sponge in the back of the pen with india ink. It just keeps going. That’s how I’ve worn down so many tips on them. They go for a while.

The Pentel Sign Pen is remarkably hard to find these days. It used to be everywhere but not anymore. I get mine at and at just over a buck a pen it is a bargain. So if you are looking for a drawing marker to try, something with around a medium point (it’s not nearly as thin as all those .05 or so Pigma markers nor as thick as a basic Sharpie), track down the humble Pentel Sign Pen. It’s done me good.