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Introducing… The Bic Round Stic Ballpoint Pen!
Welcome to my Bic Round Stic review! I feel like ballpoint pens are greatly underappreciated these days, especially given just how relied upon they are. You’d be hard-pressed to walk into a building and fail to find a ballpoint pen somewhere in there. Heck, you’d have trouble finding a room that doesn’t have a ballpoint lying around somewhere (except maybe a bathroom…).
But how are ballpoint pens for art? Surely you’ve seen, at some point, one of those incredible photo-realistic portraits drawn by some amazing ballpoint artist. Is ballpoint art a gimmick, or a true art form? Well, I had an art teacher (a teacher!) once who thought it constructive to tell me just how terrible ballpoint pens are for art when he saw me doodling with one before class one day.
Oh, how wrong he was…
Well guys, it’s a ballpoint pen. It’s simple, it’s reliable, and it never leaves my carry-bag. A ballpoint pen is 50% of the two things I ensure I always have on my person (the other 50% being paper in some form). To be specific, these are the medium-tip Round Stic pens I’m talking about, but I have used the fine tips in the past. The medium tip is pretty fine to begin with, while the fine tip is (predictably) ideal for smaller details (or writing tiny notes, as I’ll sometimes do for fun).
My favourite is the blue ink (because it’s easier to add onto with other media) but I use the black regularly as well, especially when I want my undersketch to show through more.
Anyway, these pens have an efficient, simplistic design; the round body has a translucent, matte finish (blue for the blue ink pen, and dark grey for the black ink pen), allowing the ink level to be seen at a glance. The tapered end of the pen, right near the ballpoint tip, is shiny and coloured darker to more closely match the ink colour, and I like this little detail. The caps fit securely and I have never had a problem with one coming off in my bag. While they are very quiet, there is a tangible and audible click when the cap is removed and replaced.
I mostly draw with these pens posted (with the cap on the back), but they’re so light to begin with that this doesn’t noticeably affect the balance of the pen overall.
What I Like
Well first of all, they’re CHEAP! *Ahem* I mean “inexpensive.” As such, this is one of the most affordable art tools you can find; and you can even buy them in bulk (my next purchase will be a box of 60, or maybe even the 144 pack)! This is fantastic, because unlike a more expensive tool, such as a fountain pen or fine liner, it’s so easy to make sure you always have a few of these on hand. When I’m loading up a bag to take with me, I’ll grab a whole handful of them. Don’t be fooled though; these pens are durable and reliable; I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of them.
One of the best things about sketching with a ballpoint pen is the versatility. Believe it or not, you can get quite a wide range of values, depending on how you hold the pen and how much pressure you apply on the page. Unlike a marker, you can really control how much ink is left behind on the page, and this is how those amazing ballpoint portraits are achieved.
I also use the blue pens all the time for doing undersketches. Now, you might be bothered by the fact that you can’t erase the ink once the permanent lines are put down, but I’ve actually come to enjoy this aspect quite a lot, and embrace the undersketch as part of the finished work. Sometimes I’ll work over the lines I want a bit more to darken them; other times I’ll just go over the drawing with a fine line marker. I might even use the black Round Stic to “ink” over my ink sketch.
And the number one reason this pen is my go-to for studies and general sketchbook-filling is that it DOESN’T SMUDGE all over the place! This is huge, guys. I spent years being frustrated by how much graphite would spread through a sketchbook, often fuzzying-up and ruining my pencil sketches. And you can just forget about using both sides of a page, because if you have two pencil drawings on opposite pages they decide to start battling it out, and when you open your sketchbook you just find the bloody (er, graphity) aftermath. It’s not pretty.
Sure, you can use a varnish to seal the pencil work in; but it would be an annoyingly large investment (not to mention a pain in the butt) to spray every page just to protect your every day sketches. Even if it’s not my best work, my sketchbook is a record of my progress, and it’s imperative that I be able to go back and study it later on. If it’s a big smudgy mess, it’s no help.
That might have been more of a “dislike” for pencils, but honestly this is one of the things I love most about drawing with ballpoints.
By the way, they’re also water-proof (but you can get some interesting results with rubbing alcohol).
What I Dislike
As with every ballpoint pen I remember using, these do leave globs of ink here and there, especially when in heavy use. It takes some practice, but you can learn to anticipate or recognize when the pen is ready to glob, and wipe the tip on a paper towel (or in the margins of the page, like I do). By doing this you can avoid getting those random globs on your drawing.
The most frustrating thing about drawing with ballpoint, I find, is the amount of time and work it takes to build up values. Unlike a pencil, you can’t hold the pen at an angle to get a thicker mark. This makes shading a bit of an arduous task, but the results can be stunning. For me, the preferred way to use a ballpoint is for quick sketches as opposed to finished work. I rarely use them for creating values and tend to add something else afterward, like watercolour or pencils.
Another thing to be aware of is that the ink colour tends to change a bit once it’s completely dry, resulting in a bit more of a muted look. This is hardly a big deal (and is much less noticeable with the black ink than with the blue), but I felt like mentioning it anyway, especially since this review is addressing the pen for its art potential rather than just its every day usefulness for scribbling notes and such.
*Edit: A huge downside, which I had previously forgotten to mention, is that since ballpoint pens are made cheaply for general use, they are not necessarily acid-free or of archival quality. While I haven’t noticed any obvious degradation over time, the ink will fade if left out in the light. All the ballpoint drawings I have in sketchbooks look perfectly fine, even a couple years later; but I don’t have any earlier examples. So if you’re looking to make a long-lasting piece of art with ballpoint, my recommendation would be to keep it in a safe, dark place and make a copy of it after it’s finished. If your intention is to display your art, framing it behind a high-quality glass (which can be quite expensive) may help to preserve your work; but I’d sooner have a print made and display that instead.
What I Think
The Round Stic ballpoint pen is a tried and true staple in my art kit. Since I began using it for drawing, I have filled hundreds of pages with it and rarely use pencils for sketching anymore. I love how clean it stays in my sketchbook, and how easy it is to have lots and lots of them around me at all times. Of all the ballpoint pens I’ve tried, this one’s stuck around as my favourite.
With its super-low price tag (generally several for a (Canadian) dollar), this pen is wonderfully accessible; truly anyone can learn to draw with it. And inexpensive art supplies are crucial, not just to beginning artists, but for anyone’s every day practice; it’s much easier to fill up pages with exercises and “bad” drawings when you don’t have to worry about wasting money on pricey materials.
This pen is one of my all-time favourite sketching tools (despite what certain art “professionals” may say) and I never leave home without at least two (because what if I empty one? It’s not like they’re everywhere… Lol).
The only drawback is its tendency to leave ink globs behind, but after spending some time with the pen you will be able to keep your drawing nice and clean. Or you can embrace the globs and incorporate them in your work. I have been known to pull lines out of the globs to create a bit of a star burst effect. Happy accidents and all that. 🙂
What do you think of this review? Do you ever use ballpoint pens as an art medium? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below (hey, that rhymed)! 🙂