Four fun ways to use brush pens

An abstract watercolour brush pen background in blue

Brush pens are renowned for their ability to create stunning brush calligraphy, but their usefulness extends far beyond that.

From shadowing line drawings to highlighting revision notes, this pen type is a multitasking powerhouse every creative person needs in their stationery collection.

Let’s draw a line under the introduction and get stuck into the world of brush pens and all the imaginative ways these multifunctional tools can enhance your lettering and artwork.

What are brush pens?

Brush pens are markers with a long nib designed to imitate a brush’s flexibility. They’re a specialised pen type that enables users to create varying-width strokes through pressure and angle adjustments.

Unlike traditional paint brushes, brush pens maintain a continuous ink supply, eliminating the need for frequent interruptions to refill with more ink or collect more paint.

While most brush pens come pre-loaded with a single ink colour, others, like the Sailor 1911 brush pen, can be paired with a converter, allowing you the freedom to use your preferred ink.

The Sailor 1911 brush pen tip

The Sailor 1911 brush pen tip

Exciting ways to use brush pens

  1. Create beautiful hand lettering

A blog on fun ways to use brush pens would only be complete with the inclusion of hand lettering.

Brush lettering can add extra dimension and a pop of colour to envelopes, invitations, labels, journals, and letters.

Use the wide end of dual brush pens to create calligraphy with beautiful line variation, or use the narrow tip like a fine liner.

  1. Embellish your writing

Brush pens can embellish writing as well as create it. Use them in your bullet journal and to-do lists to colour-code tasks or in revision notes to emphasise important facts.

  1. Draw, outline, and colour

The magic of brush pens extends beyond writing. You can draw, outline, and colour with dual-tipped brush pens like felt tip markers.

The advantage is that a single brush pen carries out multiple tasks — the fine nib can draw outlines, and the broader tip is ideal for colouring and shading. This can be incredibly helpful when you’re being creative on the go, as you don’t need to pack as many art supplies.

  1. Try brush pen techniques for art

Brush pens unleash endless opportunities for artists to express themselves on paper. Here are a handful of techniques to ignite your creativity.

Blend and watercolour

Did you know it’s possible to create enchanting watercolour paintings using brush pens? Even better, the process is surprisingly simple.

Each Tombow ABT brush pen contains a versatile water-based ink — it can stand alone or be combined with other colours to function as watercolour paint, thanks to the brand’s blender pen.

The Tombow ABT brush pen in Cherry

The Tombow ABT brush pen in Cherry

Alternatively, apply some ink to a plastic sheet or porcelain dish using a broad brush pen or the larger nib of a dual-tipped one, then pick the ink up with a damp watercolour brush.

For stunning watercolour backgrounds to enhance your lettering, blend two or more colours on a non-porous surface with a few water droplets and apply the mixture to the page. The water’s quantity influences the intensity, so experiment on a separate sheet before adding your final watercolour masterpiece to your journal or envelope.

Dive into another blending technique by introducing a water droplet directly on the paper before applying the brush pen ink.

Cast shadows

Brush pens excel at casting shadows on hand lettering, journal headers, and line drawings.

Choose a grey brush pen for authentic shadows or a subtly muted shade of the primary colour for a more innovative approach to adding dimension.

Create seamless gradients

Even with single-colour brush pens, you have a world of colour progression at your fingertips.

You can delicately dilute the ink using water thanks to the water-based ink of brush pens. Achieve this by depositing the ink from the brush pen on a non-porous surface and then blending in water droplets.

This method facilitates the creation of many hues of the same colour — perfect for lifelike shading, smooth gradients, and graceful transitions.

Glaze your drawings for depth

Use your brush pens to elevate the richness of any colour with a glazing technique.

Apply an initial layer of colour to your paper, allow it to dry, and then overlay with a second layer of the same colour to achieve greater depth.

Alternatively, coat the paper with colour from the pen, briefly touch the brush pen’s tip to water, and reapply over the same area — the shade metamorphoses without additional ink.

Layering colours with a thinned-down hue over a darker shade offers another attractive effect that works well when colouring anything with a structure you’d like to highlight. For instance, this technique could draw attention to the veins of a leaf you’d painted.

Unlock patterns

You can create patterns within your artwork using brush pens in several ways.

Firstly, employ the glazing technique, but replace the second layer of colour with lines, shapes, waves, or splatters after the first layer dries.

You could alternatively lightly dampen the paper, apply colour using your brush pen, and wait until the paper is nearly dry but retains a hint of moisture.

Then, use the tip of a darker brush pen to dot the page, and watch as contrasting stars sparkle before your eyes.

Starting with a dark base lets you craft luminous stars — this time, apply pure water dots while the paper is still moderately damp.

Create texture

Leverage the moisture-absorbing power of salt to create intriguing textures with the water-based ink of brush pens.

Begin this process with a dampened page, solidly coloured with strokes from a dark-hued brush pen.

Gently sprinkle salt over the ink and sweep it away once the salt has almost dissolved.

You’ll be left with a distinct textured tapestry reminiscent of snowflakes, adding a tactile element to your artwork.

Lucy is our lead editor and has been passionate about stationery since childhood. She has a particular fondness for rollerball and calligraphy pens and is a keen advocate of snail mail.

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