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My Favorite Drawing Tools - Zebra STEEL Line

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

The Zebra Ball Point Pen and Mechanical Pencil

I have been drawing with mechanical pencils and ball point pens for longer than I can remember. These drawing tools probably go against the definition of fine art, if there is a true definition, but they are my favorite regardless. In college I often used the ebony pencil and didn't venture far into ink, but my joy of drawing with pens came after school. I joined the army after art school, to pay for art school, and there I found my pen the Zebra STEEL Series F-301, and and pencil of choice the Zebra STEEL Series M-301.


zebra pens, pen drawing, portrait, cauldron, candle, incense burner

The pens were always in my uniform, so when I could grab a second to do some drawing the pen was always there. Soon I became more fond of drawing with the pen than traditional art pencils. Anywho, once I found this pen I never looked back and today we are going to talk a little bit about why I have been loyal to this selection for 20 years and counting. (Edit notes remove 20 years, no one needs to know that is the longest standing relationship of my life….)


The Process
drawing of mushroom with zebra pen

When I was young, I prepped my paper with sporadic pours of coffee, staining the paper to give visual depth to the drawings. The liquid took on the role of expression, building visual depth, and the smooth transition of the thick to thin ink line brought movement through my drawings. This movement carries the eye through implied shadows and highlights with the mere use of pressure on the pen. Some people like a completely even line, which these pens also do rather well, but I like how easily you can manipulate them to give the result of a studio pen. These tools allow me to blend the free form water with the structure of the ball point ink. Today my methods are a little more deliberate relying on the line in my work to give both expression and movement. I find myself drawing in pencil followed up with more defined ink lines and finally followed up by giving splashes of watercolor to add those pops of depth later in paint. Although this has never been a concern of mine, my evolved technique also allows the art to be more archival. Although, even now writing about it… maybe I’ll take a note from the archives and do a few old school coffee stain drawings.



The Sketchbook

I love to draw in my sketchbook on the road, while taking in views on a hike, and when I’m just trying to work out ideas for a painting. What I love about using just a mechanical pencil and pen is that I don’t have to carry much with me. When you are hiking weight matters (at least it does for me) and when you are on a motorcycle space matters (These are my two most common places you can find me and lately I've added bike packing to the list). So, when room is limited your packing list is small in order to keep creating while out in the world and not in the luxury of the studio. My basic essentials while out adventureing include:

- 1 sketchbook

- 1 Zebra STEEL mechanical pencil with lead refills

- 1 Zebra STEEL pen with an ink refill, and

- 2 erasers (1 kneaded and 1 triangle).

If I have some extra space a stack of watercolor paper, small tin of watercolors and water vessel, and a couple of brushes usually gets to tag along. Most of the images drawn in my sketchbook are used in one form or another later in paintings, while others are just kept for myself. I think it's important to keep some sketching just for you, as the drawing becomes a sort of timeline. The places I’ve been physically, mentally, and the journey I’m going on with art. These places are always changing and evolving and it's nice to have that in a visual memory. So the Sketchbook becomes a sort of catalog of both my journey through life as well as an exploration of ideas. If I’m using a sketch to work out a painting sometimes, I find myself drawing something many times till I’ve nailed it down. Later the sketch is then translated to its canvas home. This means I literally have sketchbooks and drawers filled with ball point pen drawings.



The Reasons I stay with the Zebra STEEL Series

It has a super fine tip, smooth line, and you don’t have to use much pressure when drawing with these. I want to emphasize smooth line because in drawing I find this important. Many pens crap out sporadically, and you end up with a line that has annoying sections without ink. When you try to go back over those lines it’s never as clean and delicate as one stroke from a Zebra pen. The pressure is important because when you are spending a significate time with this tool in your hand, it can start cramping if you are having to work too hard. Yes, the hours spent writing in a notebook followed by hours of drawing, pain or cramps in my fingers does happen. This is alleviated if I’m not having to press too hard to achieve the look I’m intending. Lastly I like the fine tip because then I can use pressure to undulate between the fine delicate line to a wide bold line that carries the eye through the drawing. Plainly stated I have found all other ball points to be inferior and so have attached myself to the Zebra STEEL series. I also have probably purchased way more of these than I care to admit, because as it turns out, others enjoy these pens, and accidental sticky fingers often walk off with them. If you are able to hold onto these pens they come with refills, so the pen itself can last for years.



If you want to give drawing a tryout with the Zebra STEEL Line just CLICK HERE, and check out the variety of pens they have to make your sketchbook experience a more enjoyable one!


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