My favourite pens and pencils that I can recommend:
This list is constantly updated as I discover new tools and change my habits. Also some of the products that were listed here are sadly no longer available - I try to update this list for this too!
Tools that I carry with me every day. Read more about my sustainable writing and drawing choices in an article HERE.
LAMY AL-star grey EF nib
I got this fountain pen from Kana as she knows that I prefer to use fountain pens for writing, note-taking, and also an occasional sketch. I love the smooth action of a good fountain pen, the blackness, and uniformness of the line. This pen's body is made of durable aluminum, it's easy to fix and can be filled with many inks which makes it a good everyday carry choice.
Parker Jotter Waterloo Blue
I have this pen with me to write the things which are hard to do with a fountain pen: a quick sign, address on an envelope, some fast notes. Like the LAMY, this ballpoint pen is made of metal and can accept cartridges of various brands, making it a good choice for my basic set. It's well made and light but sturdy!
Caran d’Ache 844 mechanical pencil 0.7mm
I use this pencil for sketching my ideas when I’m outside but because it’s so nice to use I’m drawing with it at my desk a lot too! It’s light and not too thick, made of light aluminum with a matte coating and it accepts 0.7 leads of any brand - a good, sturdy, on-the-go sketching companion. I have a simple eraser in my pen case to accompany it.
IndiGraph fountain pen, EF nib
have been using this fountain pen since I got the prototype from its creator just for some testing but it stayed in my pen case and I'm still using the version with the extra fine EF nib. This fountain pen (thanks to a specially designed cap) can be safely used with black, waterproof India Ink which makes it perfect for sketching and using together with watercolors. It's almost entirely made of metal and the nibs are very easy to replace.
LAMY Safari M and F nibs
I use the cheaper LAMY Safari fountain pens for drawing lines in most of my illustrations and sketches. The M broader nib works well on watercolor papers that are not too rough and the EF thinnest line nib fits well with smooth paper sketchbooks. These pens are really sturdy and can be fixed easily (the nib is quickly replaceable) and can be used with many inks with a converter. All the illustrations for my “Tokyo at Night” book were done with a LAMY Safari pen.
SAKURA MICRON PIGMA 0.35, 0.4, 0.5
A good quality and cheap line of fineliners popular in Japan - also used by Hayao Miyazaki in his concept illustrations for many of the Studio Ghibli movies. I used to use these pens a lot in my work because of their waterproof ink and good value for the price. They also can be used on watercolor paintings without much clogging. Unfortunately, I don't like the shape of the grip section too much (it hurts my fingers when I use it for longer periods), the fact that they are disposable, and that the build quality of the plastic case which seems to have deteriorated recently.
Faber-Castell Ecco Pigment black 0.3, 0.5
A recent addition to my tools and an instant favorite - unfortunately really hard to buy in Japan. This fineliner has a little bit longer tip allowing for more varied, interesting lines. The ink is nicely black and waterproof; the pen makes solid lines even on slightly textured watercolor paper. The biggest advantage of this pen though is how ergonomic the grip area is (especially compared to the sharp plastic edges of the Sakura Microns). A pleasure to draw with!
ROTRING ISOGRAPH 0.40mm
I usually use my fineliners for line-work but if I want thinner more stable lines I use a rapidograph. I used to use a Faber-Castell rapidograph but as they are not available in Japan, I'm currently using a Rotring Isograph 0.4mm and as for now the ink flow is very stable and I didn't have any problems with clogging. I'm using the original Rotring black ink. One tip: The line thickness and flow can vary depending on how well the paper handles the ink.
Pentel GFKP3-A Brush Pen
I like to use the Japanese brush pens, unfortunately, most of them have non-waterproof inks or marker-like nibs. This one combines good brush nib with waterproof, black ink. The nib provides good flexibility and control balance with a really fine line finish if needed. Also small in size (Japanese brush pens are usually very long), light and refillable! The ink flow is a bit fast and can produce thick, hard to control lines on some types of paper.
Kuretake Sumi brush pen
Even though this brush pen is a bit more expensive than your standard disposable ones I like that it feels a more high-quality in hand and makes you want to paint with it. It has the great Kuretake brush exceptionally sharp pointed tip which combined with a perfectly balanced ink flow allows for beautiful ink lines and even some dry-brush effects. This pen comes with 3 spare cartridges and you can also buy ones with more waterproof ink (have not tested these yet). I used these pens for my "Hokkaido in Ink" illustrations.
Zebra Brush Pen FD502
This is a unique pen as it comes with two tips - a great quality brush one and a small plasticky one. Even though I don't use the small one so much (it's good for adding some more round touches like leaves) this pen works well as a brush pen for both drawing and effects. It has a slower ink flow than the Pentel or Kuretake so it's easier to draw with more dry lines or to get beautiful dry-brush effects, especially on more textured paper. The brush tip end is also VERY pointy allowing for clear, precise lines. I used it for effects and dry-brushing in "Hokkaido in Ink" illustrations.
Mitsu-Bishi Hi-Uni from grade F to 5B
I tried a lot of Japanese brand pencils and like all of them but for me the Hi-unis are the best (closely followed by TOMBOW). Usually my main studio pencils. I love the silky feel and dark line they give. Also the quality of the wood and finishing is superb! Because of that characteristics these pencils are widely used in Japanese animation for drawing the animation frames. Japanese pencils generally feel a lot softer than European pencils of same hardness.
Palomino Blackwing and Blackwing PEARL
When I just want to do some sketching, also outside I like to use pencils with erasers on top. It's a shame that Hi-Uni's don't come with one. Instead, I like to use the Palomino pencils, especially the softest Blackwing (like 4B) and the bit harder Blackwing PEARL (like 3B) versions. The core is made by a Japanese company so the drawing quality is good as is the finish of the pencil itself. Also the eraser is extendable and replacable!
Mitsu-Bishi 9862 B and HB
These pencils are made for writing rather than drawing but I found that they can be used for art without a problem. They come cheap and have a nice soft eraser! I especially enjoy drawing with the softer "B" version. The quality of the wood used can be worse than in the top of the line pencils but a good sharpener will make a smooth cut. The core quality is still very good and provides a fun sketching experience!
STAEDTLER Mars Lumograph Black grades 6B, 8B
For blacker and softer lines the Mars Lumographs Black are the best! 8B grade gives really black, mat lines that don't smudge when painted over. This pencil is also great for adding lines on top of watercolour paintings. The minus side is that the lines are hard to erase - almost like color pencil lines - so this is clearly a tool for special tasks!
Conté à paris PIERRE NOIRE B and 2B
Great charcoal in pencil form for sketching and drawing. When sharpened with a sharp knife it can get nice and pointy. Perfect to use on smooth notebook paper.
Caran d'Ache TECHNALO 3B
STAEDTLER Mars Lumograph Aquarell 8B
Watercolour pencils that I actually like to draw and paint with. Produce nice, black lines but are also very soluble. I especially like to play with the 3B TECHNALO and 8B Lumograph grade ones for sketching outside using a water-brush.
PRISMACOLOR COL-ERASE Red
I use these erasable color pencils for sketching when I plan to ink the picture without erasing the pencil lines. I can later erase the sketch in Photoshop because it's red, different color than the lines. This pencil makes easily erasable marks even though it's red which is very useful!
BIC EVOLUTION HB
I remember using these pencils when they were still made by Conté. They are proof that sometimes the most usual and cheap supplies can be really useful. These pencils have cores with a somewhat plasticky feel, and the line they produce is not very black nor visible. Normally these are flaws, but for me, these pencils are ideal when making underdrawings for paintings. They leave marks easy to erase and cover with paint, without that scratchy feeling that hard grade pencils have.
PENTEL GRAPH 1000 FOR PRO 0.4, 0.5, 0.7 and 0.9mm
A very sturdy and well designed series of mechanical pencils (I have the 0.4 one for few years already). The “working end” is made of metal but the “holding part” is made of high quality plastic so the whole thing is well balanced and not too heavy. The grip part has a perfect combination of rubber anti-slip parts with ergonomic thickness. The pencil has also a label to remind you what leads are inside. Comes in 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.7 and 0.9 varieties and I own and can recommend all of them! I use these pencils with 2B leads for everyday sketching on the go.
SAKURA CRAYPAS RBE400 electric eraser
Some of the bigger illustrations I create have lines done by pencils of various grades: from HB up to 10B. On watercolour paper it can be hard to precisely erase small details or cleanly erase soft pencil lines. For such "special tasks" I use an electric eraser a tool widely used by animators. The RBE400 is battery powered but has a strong motor. It erases perfectly - I only wish the battery compartment door was made more sturdier. This eraser is a little bit more expensive than those of other brands but I think it's worth the price - I really got used to it and end up using it all the time!.
Caran d'Ache NEOCOLOR II 15 set + custom colors
Simple but great water-soluble pastels. Give nice texture when used on watercolour or acrylic paintings. These pastels where used by Studio Ghibli backgrounds staff for adding texture in such movies as "Ponyo" so I decided to buy a small set and few other interesting colors. Definitely worth a try and more experimenting with!