White on black pens/pencils for plein air?

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Andre Jute
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White on black pens/pencils for plein air?

Post by Andre Jute » Sun Jul 15, 2018 4:00 am

WARNING: My remarks about the Uni-Ball Signo Broad White UM 153 appear, on further tests with a new pen, to be mistaken. It grows first water-resistant, then with more time waterproof. See further into this thread for the test. In addition, Matthew has identified and tested the similar Sakura Gelly Roll, which delivers a similar result. Read the whole thread before you make up your mind!

Every time I put a "full" sketchbook aside, it brasses me off that the remaining unused pages are all black or dark colors. I'm not cheap about art materials, but I'm a Calvinist and we don't waste, and paper is pretty pricey in cost and postage anyway.

This waste doesn't happen because I have something against black and dark papers. On the contrary, every time I make a new sketchbook, I hopefully put in some black/dark papers, and also some lighter tints. But even the lighter tints, while there will be work on them, are not always used to their fullest potential. I also have a superb "Ebony" sketchbook from Daler Rowney just sitting on the shelf gathering dust.

All of this happens because a) I do quite a bit of plein air work, on my feet, and in a hurry (for me anyway -- nothing like pressures on urban sketchers and commuters such as several contributors here) because rain might fall at any moment in Ireland, and b) because I simply don't have the right tools to do reverse images. I have white pencils from Derwent's rubbish Inktense range (they're not lightfast even in a blacked-out room), Faber-Castell's Albrecht Durer range, and a 6901 white from Caran d'Ache because there isn't a white pencil in their Museum Aquarelle set, which is my fave watercolor pencil, never mind a white outliner i.e. a waterproof white pencil; also a Uni-Ball Signo UM 153 which claims to be a white pigment pen, but is also infuriatingly permanently water-soluble; in addition I have the usual sketcher's chalk pencils and carres from Conte a Paris, which can be set with a small amount of water but is also forever vulnerable to getting wet; I use a White Oil (Weiss Fett) pencil from Cretacolor (apparently available only in their imaginatively named "Tin of six oil pencils") when I want a waterproof white outline. Also, I have W&N's white Calligraphy Ink, which they warn you not to put in fountain pens, but I can't carry a bottle of ink and a dip pen into the field with me: it's a recipe for disaster. Even when I get something down, it looks like I'm some lackadaisical amateur who didn't plan his outing, because all these individually inadequate tools (in these circumstances -- they're generally the best available when correctly used) just fight each other.

All of these are essentially makeshifts because the Signo isn't waterproof, so:

What I really want is some white pen which uses ink that, once set, is water proof. It would be nice if it could be even slightly washable until it sets, but I'm prepared to compromise on that and in any event always have a waterbrush with me because it is part of my permanent bike kit, so I can prewet part of the page and draw wet into wet if I want a bit of flow.

Any ideas? I've bought an A4 buff pad (260gsm; Clairefontaine calls it "Naturel", presumably meaning unbleached paper) and a stack of A4 Mi Teintes and am in the process of folding them and putting in interleaves to make up signatures to insert in several of my A5 sketchbooks, so I'm looking urgently for a convenient white tool I can use standing up*, rather than sitting at my desk (where I have the good options of white gouache with a brush**, white pigment ink with a dip pen or brush, even white acrylic with silicon color shapers).

Didn't Matthew once show some sketches that he made in a car on the way to Philadelphia, white on toned paper?

*How's that for throwing your bread on the water, making sketchbooks before you know which tools you will use in them!

** I'm so desperate, I've even been contemplating the little-known fact that gouache is rewettable, if not as conveniently as watercolor pans, and can thus be made up into pans... But I suspect trying to use a brush to pick up enough dried, rewetted gouache from a pan to make an opaque layer on a black page will be a frustrating business.
Last edited by Andre Jute on Sat Jul 21, 2018 6:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: White on black pens/pencils for plein air?

Post by Rebecca » Sun Jul 15, 2018 5:03 am

I would have tried the Uni-ball Signo Broad gel pen, but it sounds like your tests rule that out.
JetPens in the US has some comparative discussions about white pens:
https://www.jetpens.com/blog/the-best-w ... ens/pt/340
Probably won't help. This is something I have needed from time to time.

Maybe lurkers have an answer?
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Re: White on black pens/pencils for plein air?

Post by mdmattin » Sun Jul 15, 2018 4:16 pm

A subject dear to my heart! After much testing and experimentation, I settled on the Sakura Gelly Roll Gel pen, which I carry everywhere and use for toned paper sketches in my Montanapolitan Croptic sketchbook. I used it for this recent set of sketches from Cape Cod. I think it meets all of Andre's requirements and more - it puts down a brilliant white mark, is portable and reliable, inexpensive and long-lasting, is waterproof after set up ( I haven't tested exactly how long the setup time is, but I think it's a matter of days, depending on the paper, humidity, etc) but washable for some time after use. On the first pass, there is a limit to how much you can build it up in layers, because the upper layers rewet the lower layers, but once it sets up, you can apply more layers for more brilliant whites. Besides washing it with a waterbrush, you can also scrape it down with a knife to achieve subtle gradations.
On the white pencil side, I use the Creatacolor white pastel pencils, or the leads that go into 5.6mm lead holders, which are pretty nice. The thing about these is you have sharpen them often as you work.
I do use gouache squeezed from tube into a pan and rewetted for my life drawing sketches. The trick to this is to give the pan a squirt and stir it up a bit 10 or 15 minutes before you are going to use it, so its ready when you need it. It takes some practice to manage the density and consistency using just a water brush and under a time constraint, but the results can be very nice when it's all working right.
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Re: White on black pens/pencils for plein air?

Post by Andre Jute » Mon Jul 16, 2018 3:04 am

Rebecca wrote:I would have tried the Uni-ball Signo Broad gel pen, but it sounds like your tests rule that out.
JetPens in the US has some comparative discussions about white pens:
https://www.jetpens.com/blog/the-best-w ... ens/pt/340
Probably won't help. This is something I have needed from time to time.
That's a very helpful reply, Rebecca. I've tested the Signo Broad White again, because it comes first to your lips and JetPens are so enthusiastic about it, and it still doesn't meet any of the praise JetPens (and others!) heap on it, but in reading roundabout it, I've discovered that my old Signo Broad White is a UM153 whereas the pen JetPens sells is probably the UM153-1. I wonder if this is a significant developmental difference.

In addition, JetPens lists the five best of the gel pens, so there's at least a bigger choice (and Matt has good experience of one of the other four, which is always a consideration).
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Re: White on black pens/pencils for plein air?

Post by Andre Jute » Mon Jul 16, 2018 3:49 am

mdmattin wrote:After much testing and experimentation, I settled on the Sakura Gelly Roll Gel pen, which I carry everywhere and use for toned paper sketches in my Montanapolitan Croptic sketchbook. I used it for this recent set of sketches from Cape Cod. I think it meets all of Andre's requirements and more - it puts down a brilliant white mark, is portable and reliable, inexpensive and long-lasting, is waterproof after set up ( I haven't tested exactly how long the setup time is, but I think it's a matter of days, depending on the paper, humidity, etc) but washable for some time after use.
It'll probably be smart for me to try the Sakura Gelly Roll, at least long enough to establish how much time it needs to set smudge proof. I wasn't thinking in terms of days, but rather minutes, not even half an hour. Most of my field sketches are ten minutes max, because the people I ride with become restless. I certainly want to add whatever else goes onto the page -- watercolor or whatever -- on the same day, preferably on site, meaning within minutes. And to think I went off acrylic (besides its garish, cheap shine) because it dried so fast my brushes were always in danger of being ruined before I got them home for a thorough soaping...

Reminded of it by your remarks, I looked up a sketchbook in use in 2013-14 in which there are illustrations and notes with the Signo, and after 4-5 years the Signo's ink has set fully waterproof (they claim only water-resistance). But I'm not planning on waiting that long. We've seen overnight that the Signo's setting time is over twelve hours under favorable conditions: hot, low humidity, plenty of airflow. That may be suitable for studio work but it is counterproductive for a sketcher who works fast, on his feet, and then wants to close the sketchbook.

Speaking generally, I'm reminded of when I wanted too much from a brown ink and in the end was forced to make my own.

Thanks for the reference to your sketchbook production. I always like reading about other people's Coptic adventures, especially now that I've worked out how to make hidden elastic bands the only fasteners in my own sketchbooks.
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Re: White on black pens/pencils for plein air?

Post by mdmattin » Fri Jul 20, 2018 12:58 pm

Andre, your post piqued my interest and spurred me to actually test the drying time of the Gelly Roll. It turned out to be much better than I had surmised. My first test was to do an actual sketch, an attempt to capture from memory a fleeting glimpse from our trip down to Pennsylvania yesterday, a strong play of light and shadow on the houses by the road.
I took iPhone shots as I went, so I could use the time stamps to document the intervals.

10:59 PM - roughed in the lighted area with white pen
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11:11 PM - roughed in the shadow area with black pen
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11:21 PM - applied watercolor washes over white ink in lighted area
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11:25 PM - applied watercolor washes over black ink in shadow area
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11:27 PM - worked back into lighted area with white pen
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11:32 PM - worked back into shadow area with black pen, added black pen in distant shadow area
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11:36 PM - worked back into lighted area with white pen, added white to sky
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11:47 PM - applied watercolor washes to shadow areas and lighted roadway
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Emboldened by this experience, I tried the much simpler experiment of putting down some white and hitting it with watercolor in one minute intervals, starting with 0 - applying the wash immediately, up to 3. The immediate wash softened the lines a bit, but left them essentialy intact. After a minute, they remained sharp, and I couldn't see any significant difference after that. I also tried making a white circle and deliberately trying to melt it with a wash, which didn't work so well. I know I have gotten it to wash in the past, but I must have used more water and more vigorous brushing.
Finally, I put down a circle in watercolor and drew a white line around it while wet, which worked nicely.
IMG_2432.jpg
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The paper is Strathmore Toned Gray. The absorbency of the paper used is likely to have a significant influence on the drying time.

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Re: White on black pens/pencils for plein air?

Post by Andre Jute » Sat Jul 21, 2018 2:25 am

UPDATED 1818hrs 21 JULY 2018

Matthew, what a stout fellow you are! That's a really relevant test, and a treat for the eyes too.

I've been up and down to the hospital like a yo-yo -- family members, not me, nothing fatal -- with no end in sight, and aftercare likely to be time-consuming, so I haven't yet reported on the progress I've made. Here are some conclusions:

1. It occurred to me that my Uni-Ball Signo Broad White was old, and I'd added a drop of water to it in an effort to revive it, so my complaint about it was perhaps unfair. I bought a new one at a supermarket (!) in a pack with the associated, similar Gold and Silver pens. I marked the white pens 1 for the old one and 2 for the new one -- that's the gold circle on the white pen in the photo. The new pens are the ones tested here.

2. I've tracked down the nearest supplier of the Sakura Gelly Roll, my standard art supplies pusher, Cork Art Supplies. They're in the centre of the nearest city, but it takes special planning and most of a day to get there from here, so a direct comparison will have to wait until I can fit it in.

3. I did conduct a test on 18 July 2018 on the newly bought Signo but it was nothing as ambitious as yours, covering only your last test, and then only a fraction of it. My test consisted of a row of vertical squiggles laid down at 1845hrs, which I touched consecutively at 5m intervals to see whether each squiggle in turn was touch dry, and then stroked it with a wet water brush to see if it was water resistant.

3.0.1 The underline and arrow below the first sawtooth line mark the place where the line from the Signo dropped out; this is standard Signo behavior if you go too fast; Jetpens also mention it. The second line was drawn more deliberately and is unbroken.

Image

3.1 The Uni-Ball Signo Broad White trace was touch dry before 5m. Further tests seem indicated to test precisely how quickly it becomes touch-dry.

3.2 The Uni-Ball Signo Broad White still smeared under the wet brush at 15m.

3.3 At this point (15m into the test) I was called away, and the next test was conducted at 2h15m from the beginning of the series, at which time the Uni-Ball Signo Broad White track was water resistant. Further tests seem indicated to test precisely how quickly it becomes water-resistant.

3.3.2 By the second day the track appeared waterproof. You can see where I drew a line to link my note through the water I applied to the squiggle: the squiggle is unaffected but the water immediately blurs the fresh wet in wet white line.

3.3.2 You can always refresh white lines after the water color has dried.

4. The weather here was hot with low humidity. I suspect yours was the same. Thus it would seem that the Sakura Gelly Roll sets faster than the Uni-Ball Signo Broad White. The black paper is common card sold to krafters locally, maybe 180gsm, bound into an old sketchbook that I now keep on my desk for materials tests.

4.1 These results may imply that there could be use for both gel pens (Gelly Roll and Broad White) in a sketch kit, depending on what result you want to achieve.

5. Gold and Silver could be more than just gimmicks. They look good and photograph well, not garish or glaring at all.

5.1 At the bottom of the photo there's a small wet in wet test of the white, gold and silver. Results may differ on different papers, as you say about your tests, but for now note that the white disperses readily, even riotously: might make a nice fluffy cloud.

Thank you so much for your generous help, Matthew.
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