Why are these nibs so weird? Meet the Fude nib

My tool of choice for drawing on location is the brush. This simple tool offers me so much variation that I always keep a brush pen of some sort close at hand. When I’m not drawing with a brush pen however, my next go-to art tool is a special kind of fountain pen. One with a Fude nib. At first glance, fude nibs may look damaged, the nib may seem bent and out of shape. This little trick is exactly what gives the fude nib it’s super-powers.

See the bent nib? Tilt it downwards for a thin stroke and upward for a thick one.

Fude nibs originated in Japan, as a replacement for the traditional calligraphic writing instrument – the brush. Which is why these nibs are called FUDE (Pronounce it like this Fooh-Deh). Fude means brush, in japanese. Unlike the western style calligraphic pens which have chopped off nibs, and need to be slanted sideways, the fude nib works by angling it forward and backward for line variation. The more extreme the tilt, the thinner or thicker the line.

I first read about fude nibs on Russ Stutler’s blog about his life in Japan. It wasn’t until a friend gifted me one a few years ago that I actually got to use it. It may be a little awkward at first because you have to get used to the tilt, but a few drawings later, you’ll find yourself using it like a pro. I find fude nibs a near perfect replacement for my brush drawings, although the drawing experience itself is significantly different.


The drawings on the right were drawn using a fudepen (A japanese calligraphy brush pen) and the ones on the left are drawn using a fountain pen with a fude nib. They seem very similar because of the line variation and fluidity.

With the brush, the flow of ink is instantaneous, which means that the speed of the drawing is unrestricted. I can draw gestures with a brush at the same speed as my mind which is breaking down the 3d subject into a 2d wandering line.

With the fountain pen however, I am restricted by the speed of the flow of ink, which is actually a huge benefit. Since I have to match the slower speed of the ink flow in a fountain pen, I am able to take in more details, which translates to a more precise drawing with a lot more detail.


See the boiling quality of the line on the drawings to the right? When I draw with a brush, my lines have to be decisive or else it will show up as a stuttering wavering, indecisive line (See the guy’s right shoulder? That should have been two strokes, not five!). The downside is that I tend to capture less detail. The drawing on the left is drawn with a pen. It is executed at a slower pace, the lines are a little more tentative and and so can have detail.

The fude nib may behave very differently for you. In my case, I want it to behave like a brush – others may use it for the hard tipped drawing instrument it really is. The many types of mark making that a fude nib is capable of becomes apparent as one becomes more familiar with this brilliant little tool..


An old drawing of my garden executed with a fude nibbed pen. Click on the image for a higher resolution so you can see the many different types of marks this pen is capable of making.

Fude nibs need more care than my brushes do, but they are a great tool to keep in my sketchkit. There are days when I do want to draw slower, more deliberately – and during such times, I always reach for the fude nib. The next time you come across a jammer using a fude nibbed pen, it’s ok to ask if you can test it. Who knows? Maybe it will spark a love affair with a completely new kind of drawing tool.