Saturday, September 5, 2009

If you want a new buggy whip, you have to buy a new buggy

Pen and ink cartooning is a dying art -- and for proof of that, all you need to do is to try to buy supplies.

I used to be able to go into a number of artist supply stores in my little town where I could buy india ink and pen nibs. The nibs would be loose in little bins, usually near the checkout counter. I could select exactly the kind of nib I wanted and buy as many as I wanted for 35 cents apiece. The nib I use most is the 107 hawk quill (pictured), which gives me a reasonably steady line. I'll occasionally use other nibs for extra fine lines or extra heavy lines; but for faces, hands and lettering, I want something that isn't going to flare out unexpectedly.

We're down to two "crafters'" stores in town now, and the only way to buy nibs is in packages. For $9.99, I can buy a 107 hawk quill nib, along with a 102 crow quill nib and two plastic nib holders. Nibs wear down as a matter of course, but I don't have to replace my nib holders anywhere near as often. I'm also amassing a sizeable collection of unused crow quill nibs. There are similarly priced variety packages of six nibs and a single holder, but nowhere can I buy just the nibs -- let alone just the nibs I want.

I started out using Higgins india ink, but they must have changed their formula over the years. At first, their black ink was just fine for my purpose, but I had to switch to their "Black Magic" ink so that unerased vestiges of the pencilling on my cartoons wouldn't show. Eventually, I found that the "Black Magic" was turning gray as it dried -- as if the black tint was actually soaking into the interior of my bristol board somehow, rather than remaining on the surface. I tried several other disappointing brands for a while before finding Winsor & Newton's excellent product.

One of the crafters' stores in town hasn't sold Winsor & Newton ink in years, and the other has difficulty keeping it on the shelves -- if they haven't actually discontinued it. I bought Speedball's "Super Black India Ink" yesterday because I couldn't squeeze any more ink out of my last jar of Winsor & Newton. It does appear to be another good ink -- albeit more expensive than the Winsor & Newton, which is more expensive than Higgins.

I suppose I'll have to start ordering supplies on the internet. I just wanted to put this out there on the internether for the benefit of anyone else trying to decide what kind of india ink to buy when their favorite brand isn't available.

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