It is always exciting when presented with a new medium, as every artist loves to experiment and add something new to their paintboxes. Brush pens are not new, but Fibralo Brush is a recent development by the Swiss fine-art product manufacturer, Caran d’Ache, and I am pleased to show you some of the many techniques you can use with them.

The brush pens are presented in a zipable pochette of ten or 15 pens, or as single colours; they are ultra bright colours based on food colourings, and contain water-soluble ink. The fibre-tip brush comes to a fine point, is flexible and springs back to shape. The plastic wallet is lightweight so the brush pens are easily transported for use while out sketching. The colours are not guaranteed lightfast, but are good for drawing, sketching and calligraphy.

As with any new product, you need to take time to understand its properties and potential, and this means experimenting in as many different ways as possible. So the first thing I did was to check the strength of the colours on good paper; I chose Bockingford NOT. The colours related accurately to their packaging, and came up bright and intense. Next, I added water when the colours immediately sank into the paper and showed that some of them responded better than others. I tried diluting them on a variety of papers, and found that the ink remained on the surface of the smoother papers, such as cartridge and Bristol board, and therefore blended slightly better, while it sank into the thicker watercolour paper.

Figure 1demonstrates how I mixed the colours, working on Saunders Waterford NOT paper. In each case, I overlapped two colours then added water, rubbing my brush into the mixture to achieve the mixed colour. This worked well, with the deep blue, purple and pink particularly intense. It was more difficult to release the pigment from the lighter colours, such as yellow and grey, although they worked well on this paper, and the mixes were fine. I came to the conclusion that Fibralo is best used for sketching, rather than most painting techniques.

Colours tested from the set of 15 Fibralo brush pens

Good drawing skills

Figure 1 - A few ideas for colour mixing with these versatile brush pens

In Figure 1 (above), worked on smooth watercolour paper, you’ll see how I attacked the next important constituent: drawing. The brush has a short, fine, flexible point. In using it, much depends on the pressure exerted on the point; by holding lightly with little pressure it is possible to achieve fine lines, which are ideal for linear drawing then, by adding greater pressure, thicker lines are created. By working with the side of the brush even thicker lines appear, and this helps you to cover large areas quickly.

A variety of lines is important for drawing and sketching and this brush enables you to discover many ways to interpret your subject. Stippling, again with different pressures, is useful for denoting tonal areas; spaced dots mean less tone, whereas those closer together create stronger tone. This also applies to cross-hatching, lines and scribble. Figure 2 (below) illustrates how useful these brushes are as a drawing tool. By using different line quality you can add depth to a drawing.

Figure 2 - Drawing possibilities

Into practice

The tonal drawing (Figure 3, below) is a good example of one of the best uses of these brushes: making quick, informative sketches. Using Arches HP paper I drew the outline shape of the tree, intensifying the pressure for the darker tones and varying the lines; more a scribble in places, but taking on the character of the shape. Then with clear water I teased diluted pigment out of the marks to give the interim tonal values.

Figure 3 Tonal Tree Study, Fibralo on Arches HP paper, (25.5x15cm)

I used the same image for Figure 4 (below) and added colours to create a small painting. I began by placing the shapes with pale grey then added pale green and ochre with the side of the brush. The buff colour was ideal for the shadow on the trunks and branches, and I also used it to make small marks to suggest the featheriness of the darker patches of foliage. The light green areas still seemed overly bright so I overlaid pale grey over the pale green, which subdued the colour beautifully. I then used the same overlay in most of the green passages, just occasionally leaving the bright green as a highlight. I added the tree shadow by using ochre on the green field with a further overlay of grey to darken it. I also laid grey over the light blue water. The overlaying of the colours is certainly the best method to obtain realistic hues.

Figure 4 Tree Study, Fibralo on Arches HP paper, (25.5x15cm)

I was keen to use the bright colours in the set so I chose to draw an anemone (Figure 5, below). I made a light pencil outline then applied the central cushion and stamens with black, and added water to define the grey centre. Next I applied pink and diluted it with water to make a paler pink. The purple is intense so I added a quick wash to soften it into mauve. The vein lines were dealt with in the same manner, which made them less obvious. With the pale mauve on the brush, I touched in some of the stamens. Pale green was used for the leaves then I added ochre, buff and grey, overlaid to effect as near the natural colour as possible. This image was painted on Saunders Waterford NOT paper, which worked well.

Figure 5 Anenome, Fibralo on Saunders Waterford NOT paper, 4x4in. (10x10cm)

These brush pens will make a useful addition to the painter’s workbox, but be prepared to experiment with them to find the most suitable use for you personally.

You could try them in mixed-media work with watercolour, but remember they are not lightfast. They could also be used for design-led projects, as they cover flat areas well. When using them, always remember to replace the cap after use, as they could dry out.

The retail price of a 15 pack is £23.49, with the single pens costing £1.75 each. This is good value for money as these products have a long life.

This product report is taken from the January 2016 issue of Leisure Painter - click here to purchase