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The Desiderata Pen From A Cartoonist's Point Of View


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There are plenty of reviews about the Desiderata out there, but most of them are from the POV of a copperplate calligrapher, which is this pen's intended use. There are few reviews that focus on drawing, which is a shame, because I think this is a nice, and also an overlooked art tool. In case you haven't heard, these are made by hand by a fine fellow named Pierre Miller in Chicago, and they take disposable Zebra G manga dip nibs. I won't re-iterate the information already available on Pierre's site, but instead I'll dive right into the stuff about drawing, that isn't widely available.


Below is a sketch test with Platinum Carbon Black in an eyedropper-filled Desiderata shorty, with some white grease pencil for the highlights, and red marker in the eyes. The sketch is on gray cardstock. Initial results are very favorable. I have read one comment online claiming that, in sac-filler configuration, the pen does not flow enough to keep up with the demands of drawing. My pen does not accept a sac, so I cannot confirm or deny that claim, but an eyedropper-filler provides plenty of fluid pressure, and easily provides enough flow to keep up even with my frenetic drawing pace. The pen did not railroad at all, nor did it exhibit the belching and vomiting mishaps that eyedropper pens are known for. Maybe that's just because, if you draw quickly like I do, the heavy demand tends to stay ahead of the belching. But one way or the other, I did not have the problem.


That being said, I'm not ready to junk my dip pens just yet: the Desiderata only accepts the Zebra G, and will not feed inks meant for dip pens such as Speedball Super Black. There are other nibs that I need to use sometimes for different effects, and sometimes I need to use inks that won't work in the Desiderata, and let's not forget I still need a brush for big black areas. But the Desiderata is nevertheless poised to become the workhorse of my comics inking. In comics, speed is everything, because you have to draw so much to finish a book. If you don't have to keep stopping to dip, you can go so much faster. You can also get into a mental flow that is harder to get into when you have to keep dipping, which is why Sergio Aragones has drawn all his strips with a fountain pen for the past 50 or so years. The other tools are useful, but they will be held in reserve to do the things the Desiderata can't do. The Desiderata is also going to cause all my other fountain pens to get demoted from cafe-sketchers to mere writers. For sketching on location, where carrying an inkwell is inconvenient or impossible, the Desiderata is the best pen I've ever used.


The biggest technical hassle you are going to run into is nib cleanliness. If you're used to dip pens, you're no doubt familiar with the machine oil with which new nibs are coated, to protect them from rust. You also know that this stuff has to be cleaned off. Well, a nib that's clean enough to dip into a pot of bone glue and lampblack, is not clean enough to use in a fountain pen. I myself learned that I didn't even know what clean was. If there is any trace of this protectant on the nib, the ink will find any other way to flow rather than traversing a hydrophobic surface, if it flows at all. Pierre has videos posted about how to clean a new nib, and how to start the flow for the first time. Watch them. Then watch them again. The devil is in the details, as our pal Old Scratch so kindly points out in the sketch below.


Oh, one more thing; make sure you carry a full Desiderata with the tip up. The feed channel is necessarily very large, to accommodate the flow demands of a flexible nib. Also, the sac filler pens can be converted to eyedropper by removing the sac. That's all in the instructions. So that's the review. Happy sketching!



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Thanks for the review, and the artwork. I have a prototype Desiderata and have mixed opinions of it (and of the Zebra G that came on it). I may have to see about getting replacement nibs and give the pen another go.

I found it did very nicely with IG inks, but the nib tore into most paper -- even good paper like Tomoe River and Rhodia; turned out I just had a bad nib, because I got to meet Pierre a couple of years ago at DCSS and his tester pens had much better nibs on them....

Ruth Morrisson aka inkstainedruth

"It's very nice, but frankly, when I signed that list for a P-51, what I had in mind was a fountain pen."

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G nibs are shockingly sharp. Despite being one of the standard cartoonist's workhorses (the other being the Hunt 102 crowquill), G nibs are actually not my favorite. I prefer the less sharp Esterbrook Falcon, or a large Spencerian nib like the Eagle. You can knock the sharp point off a new nib pretty easily, though, by making circles on paper with some polishing rouge, or even on corrugated cardboard, which is pretty abrasive. Dip nibs are untipped, so it's not too hard to smooth them down to your liking. That's what I do with sharp nibs like the G, because I like to be able to go in at least 3 directions with it (you will never be able to push a dip nib). I like to scribble, and I don't like tools that impose too many mechanical restrictions.

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Thanks for the tips. My Desiderata had the Zebra G nib, but I think the instructions that came with it said there was another nib that would fit (don't remember what -- I'd have to dig out the paperwork).

Ironically, I do have a set of Esterbrook nibs -- a couple of years ago I was in the Boston area at Christmastime, and took the train into the city to go to Bromfield's Pen Shop. And walking back to the T station I passed an antiques and collectibles place (also on Bromfield Street); it mostly had coins and sports memorabilia, but in the window was an Esterbrook dip pen set (still on the original card) which had a couple of nib holders and 8 or 10 different nibs). I think I paid ten bucks for it. Not sure where in the house it is, though....

Ruth Morrisson aka inkstainedruth

"It's very nice, but frankly, when I signed that list for a P-51, what I had in mind was a fountain pen."

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  • 4 weeks later...

A couple more impressions now that I've been using the pen for a while. Eyedropper pens seem most prone to let a drop of ink go when you first turn them upside down. It rarely lets a drop go when drawing, but when it does, it's hard to fix the drawing. From what I'm told, this is a trait that's common to all eyedropper pens, and can be mitigated by keeping the pen full.


The other issue that I'm having is kind of comics-specific. This pen is sensitive to the ink you put in it, as indeed most pens are. That's why Koh-I-Noor makes its own technical pen ink. The Desiderata doesn't like Noodler's. It REALLY likes platinum carbon black, which is a good ink, but when it's laid down in thick puddles the way dip nibs tend to do, the top layer of the puddle never fuses with the paper, and is prone to smearing when you erase over it. So I'll probably return to dip pens and India ink for my comics work (either that or ink on a light table to avoid having to erase). Or maybe relegate the Desiderata to cafe sketching, at which it truly excels. Or maybe I'll find an ink that the Desiderata likes to feed, that dries more solid than the Platinum carbon black seems to do. So that's where I'm at so far.

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Oughta pick up a Noodler's Safety and some Committee of Safety ink (Noodler's special India ink) from Pen Chalet next week when they've got 'em!

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On the Desiderata site it says that other users have reported success with Noodler's Black, so I'm not sure what's going on. I'll try fiddling with it a bit more. Although I could see the ink flowing behind the breather hole, I was having trouble getting it to actually wick over to the paper. Not sure why, but right now I can't rule out something I may be doing, or not doing.

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It's no substitute for a nib holder or brush for me, but still a great option for messing around and practicing on the go.

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Update: it was something I did; the hand soap that I used to clean the nib and feed must have been full of oil, because the nib wouldn't pass the dip test. I had to clean it with alcohol to get ink to stick to it again. So Noodler's black works OK with a clean nib. It starts a little more reluctantly than the Platinum Carbon black, and flows less well, which is also the case in a regular fountain pen, because Noodler's is designed not to bleed on cheap paper. Quite a lot of ink came out of the breather hole the first time I upended it, which I anticipated by upending it over the bottle. Then it stabilized and behaved rather well.


I'm going to have to play with it some more to figure out what it is and isn't usable for. As HH points out, it may be primarily a sketcher and not for finished work. It depends on whether I can eliminate the random drip phenomenon. If it drips onto a sketch, well, the drip is a feature. But if it drips onto a finished page of comics, that's a problem. It happens rarely, but if it happens at all, I can't trust it on finished work. We'll see if I can figure out why it happens, and stop it happening. Maybe it is just a matter of keeping it topped up, I'm not sure yet.

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So far, Platinum Carbon Black is the ink this pen really seems to like. Noodler's Black is too dry; I keep having to lick the nib to get it started again. Aurora Black is too wet; it pours out of the breather hole. (Although others have reported success with Aurora Black, that was in sac fillers, which have a lot less fluid pressure than eyedropper fillers do). If anyone out there has personal experience and knows of a less expensive ink that will work in this pen, I'd be interested in hearing it. Otherwise, I guess the no-brainer solution is to just use P.C.B, which is the ink Pierre recommended.

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Haven’t messed around much with dip nibs since a lot of my drawing is out and about. I don’t have any dip inks, I’ve been a fountain pen girl for ages and ages. But so far a regular scrubbing with sodium laureth sulfate dish soap works well enough to clean a dip nib for use with my carbon black. It’d be interesting to see if Noodler’s behaves differently when dipped.


I don’t have enough eye dropper experience to comment on the burping, but it’s cited as a common issue. Vapor pressure can be a real (bleep), and I’m not sure there is any good way around it.


What I can comment on is fixing blobs. They can often end up in an area that needed to be dark anyway. If you’ve got a fude nib or a water brush that you don’t mind using with ink, you can smear out the excess enough to blot. It won’t cure the polished work problem, but not everything in comics needs a super polished style. Definitely the more you practice with it, the easier it’ll be to solve problems. The real pain in my book is when a regular pen decides to randomly do the fire hose of ink thing. Not blobs, just super wet flow.

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