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Painting with Carol » Ruling Pen
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Painting with Carol

Techniques, tips and tricks for watercolours and acrylics

Mar 6

Ruling Pen

When I was a young thing, before such things as computers, I worked on a drawing board as a draughtswoman. The only pen we used for drawing plans was called a “ruling pen”; it used ink and we filled the pens from a bottle with a dropper attached to the lid. So it was only natural for me to use a ruling pen as one of my tools for painting.

ovalrulingpen2.jpgA ruling pen has a small wheel on the side that you can either tighten for fine lines or loosen for much thicker lines. I mostly use it with masking fluid to give me fine lines that you simply can’t get with a brush. For instance, I use it for the veins in leaves or if I were to paint the long flowing hair of a fairy or even a child and I needed to bring some light on a few strands of hair.

To use the masking fluid, I just pour some of the masking fluid into a film container as I find it easier to handle. Then I dip the tip of the pen in, making sure that I don’t go as far as the mechanism - otherwise the rubber latex can wrap around it and I have found it almost impossible to remove. Paint can also be used in the pen as long as it’s the consistency of ink. When it comes to cleaning, try not to immerse the pen in water as it will rust.

I know that you can still buy ruling pens as separate items from The Art Scene as that is where I buy most of my supplies. Check at home before you buy one, as you may find that you already have one in an old drawing set from an old technical drawing class at school (there was nearly always a ruling pen amongst them).

If there is anything else you would like to know about them don’t hesitate to ask me questions in the comments.

3 Comments so far

  1. Anthony Grigas April 18th, 2008 6:13 am

    I appreciate your explanation about the ruling pen. I purchased one to use with with my acrylic paintings on masonite. i want to ask you what is the best way to fill the ruling pen with acrylics. I tried to use a brush, but it put in a very small amount of paint. Also I found that the sharp point scratches the surface and removes painted areas where used. Thanks for your help.

  2. jill January 27th, 2012 9:18 am

    I found loading easiest by using a dropper from a pharmacy but I have the same problem with paper/canvas being scratched by the pen. An old drafting teacher gave me crocus paper, like the mildest sandpaper ever, and suggested I polish the points and then run the pens through the dishwasher. I have not tried that as yet but the dropper did the job to load the pen. I tamped off the excess so it did not drop a blob onto my canvas and that was a good idea as well. I would be interested to hear from others about the scratching, thought I might be pressing too hard. Hope this is helpful.

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