Thursday, August 26, 2021

T&T Thursday!

Nib Tuning 101

By Alex Zonis

Sketch by Alex Zonis

So you got yourself a fountain pen – congratulations! You took it out for sketch or several, and it is nice … but … There is a little something that is not quite… Perhaps the nib is catching a little when doing a big gesture… Or perhaps you wish it were a little juicier.  The experience is not terrible, but could be better.

There are a couple of simple things you can do to help your pen along. Just a little adjusting, or as we say in Pen World – a little nib tuning.

Here’s what you need:

Have a little ink in your fountain pen, because you will be tuning and testing, tuning and testing.

To smooth the nib:

  • Put a small drop of water on the micro-mesh, place the nib into the drople
  • Draw a few figure-eights, infinity signs, small circles clockwise and counter-clock. Only make a few, then test the nib on your regular sketching paper.


If it feels great, stop there and enjoy your pen. If a bit more smoothing is needed, do a couple more figure-eights and circles, and test again.

  • Be careful to not over-smooth, over-smoothing will make drawing/writing difficult. Fountain pen works on the principle of Controlled Leak. If we over-smooth and there isn’t enough friction left between the nib and paper, the tines will not open up, and the ink will not flow. So proceed very slowly and test after every couple of smoothing motions.        
  • Be sure to rotate the pen in your fingers as you are drawing your smoothing figures on the micro-mesh. This is done to make sure that the filing motion does not create a flat surface at the business end of the nib. You want a dome there.

To increase ink flow:

  • Insert the brass sheet vertically between the nib tines. 
  • Do a few flossing motions – up and down, forward and back.
  • Remove the brass sheet and test the flow. 

Better? Stop there.

Not quite? Do a few more flossing motions and test again. Go slow and test often. What you are doing is opening up the tines a tiny bit so that more ink can flow through.

Be careful to not over-floss. Remember Controlled Leak principle. Opening up tines too far (or splaying) will mess up the capillary action needed for Controlled Leak. If this happens, you may need to send the pen to a pen hospital for the nib to be repaired or replace the nib altogether.

These steps are very simple. They will take you less time than reading these instructions here. The main thing to remember is to test often, after every couple of motions. After you filed away a few microns of metal, it is not possible to put it back!

Please do not practice on gold nibs, rare nibs or pens still on warranty. Get a few inexpensive pens, like Jinhao 992, and practice. When tuned right, these little $2 Jinhao’s will draw as well as pens 20 times the price.

A special thanks to Atlas Stationers who hosted this demonstration by Alex for Urban Sketchers Chicago's August 21st meetup!

Thursday, August 12, 2021

T&T Thursday!


Don't Look!

By Barbara Weeks

Too Much Espresso

Well, don't look at your paper; do look intently at you subject and draw it!

Blind-Contour Drawing

By definition a blind-contour drawing is drawing the outline of your subject without looking at your paper. I'm using the term contour  loosely. In this T&T I'm suggesting you use a combination of contour and continuous-line drawing.


  • Choose your subject and decide where you're going to start.
  • Put your pencil, pen, or marker on the paper at your starting point and begin.
  • Do not look at your paper until you are finished. (I know it's hard, but don't cheat!)
  • Believe your pen is touching the edge of your subject and begin to move along the form with your eye on your subject and your pen on the paper. Imagine your pen feeling the line, the curves, each noon and cranny.
  • Draw without lifting your pen off the paper.

Yikes! Blind Contour Selfie!


  • Think in terms of line, shape, direction, sharp, rounded, etc. rather than objects.
  • Draw at a consistent pace.
  • When you reach a point where two lines intersect or two forms meet you don't have to stay on the outer edge, (think continuous line not contour) but keep your pen on the paper.

When you're back where you started take a look at your drawing. You'll probably see some distortions, way off proportions, but some areas may be remarkably accurate. You may also see energy, sensitivity, and an expressive line that aren't present in other drawings. Whatever you see, there are real benefits to blind contour exercises.

One hanger, four times


  • Improves your eye-hand coordination.
  • Encourages you to draw what you see, not what you know.
  • It helps you understand your subject.
  • You become more involved in the process rather than product.
  • Continuous-line, blind-contour drawings are a great way to warm up for a drawing session.
  • For urban sketchers it's good experience for when we're drawing in the dark, in our pockets, or under the table!
  • It's fun!

Try it and post your sketches to on Facebook !  #T&T

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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Come Sketch with Us!


                                    Bannner sketch by Richard Kasemsarn

Let's Sketch

Atlas Stationers

Saturday, August 21

12 PM - 3 PM

Hosted by

Save the date! Atlas Stationers is hosting Urban Sketchers Chicago on Aug 21st ,with  special hours for our group. This 4th generation business has the largest selection of fountain pens, inks and journals/ sketchbooks. If you have ever wanted to try out fountain pens and ink then this is your chance. They have an ink testing station and will also ink up any pen you would like to try. They are knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful. 


Atlas is located at 227 W Lake near the corner of Wells. 

Our fearless leader, Alex Zonis will be doing a demo showing the basics of how to tune your pen nibs to get a smoother line.
There are also incredible views to sketch. The Riverwalk is 3 blocks walkaway, the view looking down Franklin st to the west is an iconic downtown skyline perspective and they are under one of the 4 track curves for the CTA Loop. Atlas will be offering the use of their restroom to our group. 

There is a parking garage right at 205 N Post Place that does not break the bank. The the CTA and bus stops are just steps away from the location. 
For more information click here: Atlas Stationers

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Sunday, August 1, 2021

For Your Drawing Pleasure!

August Sketching Prompts

  • August 1    Eating outside                              
  • August 8  – What's blooming?
  • August 15  – Dog days of summer

  • August 22  – Signs, marquees, billboards

  • August 29  – Drawn to music

Have fun!

Prompts and sketch by Alex Zonis

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