pens sketch vs pencil sketch

Art Supply Debate: Pens vs. Pencils

Stop erasing and get a lot more done

The basic pen vs. the pencil — it’s an age old art supply debate in the creative community. Which is the best for an artist just starting to draw or looking to improve?

In so many cases, pens and pencils can be used together to make a noteworthy sketch or piece of art. But for beginners or students still gaining confidence in their drawing skills, there’s no better art supply than the humble pen. 

Use any kind of pen — even those free ones you get from restaurants — as much as possible to gain confidence in your skills and stop obsessing over the imperfections. 

Why pens are better than pencils

A pen is the ultimate art supply for beginners, and just about anyone.  

I love using all kinds of art supplies, but using a pencil can create some bad habits. Here are 3 reasons why I think using pens will ultimately make you a faster, bolder, more confident artist.

pencil eraser slow you down

Pencils (and erasers!) slow you down

If a line isn’t quite right, erasing it isn’t the answer. 

Once you’ve erased it, chances are that when you try again, you’ll make the same mistake again. When you’re starting over and over again, you’re wasting valuable learning time. You could have already made great progress on your drawing!

Here’s another way to think about it: when you’re walking, you’re not looking at your feet — or even behind you — to see if you took the right steps. You’re just putting one foot in front of the other to keep moving.

Pens prevent you from being a perfectionist

Pens force you out of perfectionist habits

When you work with a pen and your line goes all wonky, the only thing you can do is embrace it and work with what you’ve got. Allowing yourself to make mistakes helps you become less precious about your drawings. 

But here’s the secret: I don’t believe in drawing mistakes and neither should you. 

If you keep going, your drawing will become something new with each line you add — and you’ll see that the line that felt like a mistake actually doesn’t even play a big role at all. If it does stand out, it most often adds personality — like a signature. 

When you know you can erase whatever you do, you’ll want to erase everything your inner critic tells you isn’t right.

Pens make confident, decisive lines.
Pens make crisp, decisive, confident lines

There’s no need to sharpen when you use a pen. You can always rely on a crisp line, whether it’s super fine or very bold, depending on the pen you choose.

Rather than a careful, light gray pencil line, you’re drawing with a contrasting pen line—which will eventually make you draw with more confidence. No hardly visible lines allowed. 

Pens are great for beginners
Pens that are great for beginners, or anyone else

There are so many pen varieties: extra fine tips, fat calligraphy nibs, and even super flexible nibs. They give very different effects, so explore to find what you prefer.

I love a fat nib and brush pens because they help me be more bold, daring and expressive in my drawings. Sometimes it’s good to have a little less control, but other times super fine hatching lines can be exactly what you need. 

Here are some of the pens I love:

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen
An affordable fountain pen with a great grip. It comes in all kinds of colors and you can change the nib size easily.

Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen
If you’re not ready to commit to a fountain pen, but you’d like to try, this disposable fountain pen is nice to start with. Reliable, with a juicy ink flow, and a rather fine tip.

Uniball Rollerball Pen

A rollerball pen that never fails or clogs. The juicy ink flows onto your paper, and it’s waterproof so you can combine it with a wet medium, like watercolor. 

Pentel Pocket Brushpen

My favorite brush pen. Not expensive, very reliable, and it comes with waterproof ink. It will take some practice to get used to the unpredictable lines, but it’s a lot of fun to use.

Uni Pin Fineliner and Pentel Sakura Pigma Micron Fineliner

Both are reliable fineliners that come in many different tip sizes.

Faber-Castell Pitt Artist pen

Great fineliners that come in many different colors. Also available with a brush tip.

Pentel Fude Touch Sign Pen

A fineliner with a flexible tip – for a great variety in line!

Bic Ballpoint Pen

The ballpoint pen is often seen as a pen just to make notes with, and maybe doodle a little during phone conversations, but you’ll be amazed how nice your line feels on paper and how many varieties of shades you can accomplish when you use it for hatching.

I hope this cleared up my perspective on pens versus pencils, and that you join me in my live, online workshop, where the exercises will be so fun and fast-paced that there won’t even be time to think about erasing. 

Use your pens in Koosje's workshop!