Color Spree

Color Spree
My favorite color is "all of them." What's yours?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Irodori Gambai Japanese watercolors and Kuretake pen

Irodori Gambai Tambi set, six colors plus water brush and Kuretake manga pen

This set was on sale at Blick in the Winter seasonal catalog. Still is and it sold out a couple of times, got back ordered. I can see why. It's compact and interesting, contains everything I'd need to do good color illustration including an interesting pen.

The Kuretake Mangaka Flexible pen is water soluble, not waterproof. It's not a brush tip pen like the Pentel Brush Pen that I dearly love, but it has a thick-thin line and a sturdy nib that's pressure sensitive. The line flicks well and does thin on lightening up. I was pleasantly surprised to have a pen with a different effect in my lineup between the Pentel brush pen and my assorted Pigma Microns, one that's expressive without demanding absolute precision.

The colors are well chosen in the small set, though the full range has 36 or more all with interesting names. They're not as strong as the Daniel Smiths that I'm used to, but they are pan colors and sufficient pickup gives me good dark color, especially with the Dark Blue. 

Naturally I did a test painting using a reference from coldpress on WetCanvas, for a challenge.

Cherry Blossoms, branch with white flowers on pink and blue haze

This came out well. I'd originally penciled it to test the Pebeo Masking Marker but there's been some problems with that, I may have to wait to get it until a warmer season. If it's frozen along the way it damages the fluid and the pen's dead before it arrives. That was what happened to last week's review - the product didn't work at all but Blick made good. So I'll order later in spring and see what happens, just get a customer refund on it - but beware, don't order that product during the winter! You don't know how far it'll travel or how cold the delivery truck gets along the way. It would be worth getting it anyway if it works well - but just keeping it indoors in the warm studio instead of taking it out on bad cold days.

So I reserved white manually instead and that worked well. The colors in the little set are Brown, Dark Blue, Green, Gold, Dark Pink and Lemon Yellow - an excellent palette that can mix anything else I want or work together in glazes for optical mixing. I did some of both and some mixing on the paper. I used the pen to darken the branch but didn't outline the flowers as I preferred them without.

These colors layer well although they do mix with what's under them. They are a touch more opaque, they're not exactly like Western watercolors but still very good. Not quite in a league with Daniel Smith but they have their own particular charm and would be very good for Asian styles of painting like sumi-e with color.

The water brush is a little different. Water isn't automatically delivered, it takes squeezing to renew it so the brush dries up to allow dry brush effects pretty easily. I liked that as a variation. Each brush handles differently and this one has a good point, it just takes a little more work to use as I have to remember to squeeze. However that gives much more control of flow!

Overall, the set is a good value and it was surprisingly small and handy. I put a Tikky mechanical pencil next to it for scale, it's only about 5/8" thick in its green silk box and quite sturdy. I've had those boxes before with sumi-e supplies and they stand up well to travel. I could pocket it as long as I had reasonably large pockets, suitable for tossing in a paperback or a post card sketchbook. So this is a go-along set too. 

I may update this later with some example painting on rice paper, since I've got some. But so far on regular sized paper it performed well and the colors are lovely.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Finetec Artist Pearlescent Colors and Fabriano Black Black paper

Common Morpho Butterfly painted in Finetec Pearlescent Colors on Fabriano Black Black Mixed Media Paper.

Wow. Someone's come out with black watercolor paper, for painting in gouache, acrylic and other opaque water media. Don't be fooled by the name. This stuff is 300gsm or about like 140lb watercolor paper, not the usual 90lb mixed media paper. It is a good strong heavy paper that doesn't cockle. There's also a White White pad with the same paper but I didn't buy it, since I have plenty of white watercolor paper and nuances on bright white would not be as important as the first actual black watercolor paper I've got to work with. Fully sized with a nice soft cold press texture, this stuff is gorgeous. It's heavy, sturdy and dark. 

Till now my favorite black paper has been black Stonehenge paper, which is still my favorite colored pencils paper. But when I'm bringing in wet media, Fabriano Black Black is well worth it. It's toothy for use with aquarell pencils. I sketched under my Common Morpho Butterfly with my Caran d'Ache aquarell pencils and got beautiful heavy color. The white helped me lighten a couple of areas and strengthened the white dots under the pearlescent white. 

My next delight was finding out how well those Finetec Pearlescent Colors work on black. They are good and bright! Add enough and they're opaque. They're actually pretty easily opaque, a touch more opaque than the Daniel Smith Luminescent watercolors that are my other favorites. They're in pan form rather than tubes and individual colors can be ordered if all you need is a good gold for decorating a medieval scroll or something. 

SCA scribes, this is very convenient gold or silver in a pan to tuck into your scribe kit for illumination. There's also a six color set that's hues of gold, copper and silver which can work well for scribes, but if all you need is one gold, look for Olympic Gold, I think that's the one that's the closest match to shell gold - the real gold dot that's powdered gold in gum arabic. 

The six color Iridescent Set looks to be what Daniel Smith labels Interference Colors - pale with a soft hint of color that changes to its complement when tilted. These are using simila pigments - mica treated and ground to produce shimmering iridescent color. The effects are spectacular. Mystic Color in the 12 Color Pearlescent Set is also an interference color, bouncing between a red and a blue green. It's beautiful and dark, unlike the other interference colors. It's very handy for when I want that effect in lower value areas.

Finetec are artist's mica pigment colors. They're lightfast and high quality, artist grade, I'd have no trouble selling paintings done with them whether that's in combination with other water mediums or by themselves. The form is actually even handier for me because I dislike carrying tubes around but do like painting with friends and some things like an iridescent effect - the Mystic color would be particularly effective on the necks of grackles and pigeons.

Opaque colors can be thinned to light washes just by adding more water. They work very well painted over similar flat hues for a subtle effect. I've often used a thin glaze of blue or aqua over a reef scene and found the iridescence vanishes - thin enough it doesn't really change the hue of non-blue objects like fish or corals, but does give a richness to the water and sense of luminous water that wasn't there without it. Mica paints aren't just for glitz and glitter. 

But they are fun for that too. Any holiday cards or other projects you want to jazz up with shimmering iridescence will benefit from Finetec Pearlescent Colors and Iridescent Colors. Those can be very good on snow scenes in a thin glaze over the entire snow area, since snow has that kind of effect too. Mix a little in with the shadow colors or use it to create slight tints for atmospheric recession - bluish cast in the distance, rosy in the mid values shading up through to thinnest gold or yellow. 

Price is reasonable for artist grade materials, but not in the bargain range for the Finetec colors. They are available at many outlets online including Dick Blick and some of the calligraphy and pens places, because they are so good for embellishing. A friend picked one up from a brick and mortar store too, they're not hard to find. Definitely give them a try. Blick has them in open stock if you want to try just one color first or all you need is scribal gold. That open stock is also convenient since the tin for the 12 color pans may wind up wearing down unevenly, depending on your style and favorite colors. Some colors run out faster than others by area of the painting. 

There is a very nice, subtle iridescent black in the 12 colors set too. It's deep dark, it will vanish on black paper to anything but close inspection.

Fabriano Black Black and White White paper comes in two pad sizes, 8" square and 9 1/2" x 12 3/4" - good convenient sizes. I don't know if it's available in full sheets since I got the larger pad, but it's great stuff and I know I'll use it often. Of course you can also combine these things with a brush or dip pen to do gold and colorful calligraphy on black paper too, to make striking cards!

EDIT: Note to Readers - the entry for the 7th was going to be the Pebeo Masking Marker, which I was all excited about getting. It arrived yesterday. The project is set up to paint with it. Unfortunately, what I found out is that if it got frozen along the way it becomes useless. Blick is replacing it, so hopefully I'll be able to review a working one next week!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Portable Painter Watercolor Palette and Tikky Mechanical Pencil

Portable Painter Watercolor Palette
(colors shown are not included, they are Winsor & Newton half pans)

I read quite a few reviews on this palette before buying it. The idea looked simple enough and was interesting. But I didn't know that I really needed it until one reviewer mentioned it fits Winsor & Newton half pans perfectly. 

This tipped the balance. I had a 12 color Winsor & Newton Artists' Field Box that I loved to pieces - literally, the hinge broke on the poor thing and it's no longer so portable as it was. I needed to have something else to put those 12 lovely artist grade colors in, so I finally got the Portable Painter palette. By comparison, there's one thing this one doesn't have - the water bottle that was included in the Field Box, or any place to put the small sponge. 

However, the size 4 travel brush is generous sized compared to most of these pocket brushes and big enough for comfortable journaling, unlike the very tiny detail brush from the W/N Field Box. That made up for a lot. 

I also had some doubts about whether it'd fit over my leg. Was this designed only for slender people? Not to worry, despite overdeveloped legs due to skeletal crookedness, it fit comfortably over my thigh and it wasn't hard finding a good spot where it stayed balanced. The water dishes on the side are deep enough that it really doesn't tilt when it's on my lap like that. 

white cosmos painting 3" x 5"
watercolor and some iridescent watercolor glaze on the white petals

Painting with it became interesting. Keeping my leg steady was something I hadn't expected to need to worry about but there it was - I couldn't really move that leg or fidget as much as usual. This will take some work getting used to it. But that did leave both hands free, one to hold the journal and the other to hold the brush. The advantage is a good one, I just need to make sure I've got a chair that's at a good height for me. 

Like any change in habits, it also took a bit of a mental shift to get used to the water being down there on my leg instead of up near my work. Having two deep water cups was great though. I was able to reach in easily and rinse the brush thoroughly between colors.

Assembling it is easy. The cups slide on pegs at the sides and stay put once assembled, the whole thing doesn't rock and it is also stable if set on a table. It came with empty half pans in it that had fairly thin sides but would be good if I wanted to switch out these Winsor & Newtons for tube watercolors of any kind. I kept those aside in a box in case I do want to switch. 

I've heard that some brands' half pans don't fit well because manufacturers vary slightly in their dimensions and size, but Winsor & Newton ones do fit well. So save those once they're used up, they can always be refilled after they're completely empty.

The aluminum clip that holds the two water cups together as the case might be easy to mislay. Keep track of that or rubber band it to one of the water cups while it's in use. It does come with a big fat rubber band as well. 

Overall I like it. If I brought along a bottle of drinking water on an outing, that'd be enough to fill the water cups and they are big, there's no need to get frugal with how much water I use. Big washes are easy and so is keeping one of them as clean water to mix into pans instead of wash water. I'd recommend keeping it in a travel sketching kit, so the aluminum clip can go into the bag while you're working and a rag or paper napkin to wipe out the water cups after use is handy. 

It's a good product. Definitely does keep my hands free, the size is convenient and the brush included is good quality. I had no problem getting either fine details or fairly loose washes with that brush. 

Six Tikky mechanical pencils, violet, light blue, light green, yellow, orange, pink.

Tikky Mechanical Pencil

I bought this last fall, it was in Blick's Fall catalog and intrigued me. I'd been looking for a good mechanical pencil for undersketching. Not so much for serious pencil drawing, for that I prefer lead holders and broader leads. More for the type of under drawing that I'd either use a cheap mechanical pencil or a No. 2 pencil on it - something that would not need sharpening, would not run out of short leads as the disposable cheap ones do, and feel nice in my hand. 

This comes in six bright colors but the design doesn't look too "cute" or anything, just artistic. The black grips set off the fluorescent barrels well. I'm always a sucker for the spectrum, so recently I bought all the other colors of it too. My first was a light blue and I wound up carrying that thing with me everywhere. If I misplaced it I'd get annoyed and tear up all my stuff till I found it again. It has a good weight in the hand and synthetic HB leads that are very fine - and don't need sharpening. Exactly what I bought it for, replaceable very fine HB leads that felt good in the hand.

Everyone's hand is different. What pencil gives you the best results for what task may vary a lot. My granddaughter likes wooden No. 2 pencils and sharpens them with a knife because she does serious pencil drawing with them and likes to control the point shape with her knife. These Tikky pencils are a little heavy compared to the cheap mechanical pencils and that affects the angle I hold them, my hand fatigue - a big thing for anyone with fibromyalgia or carpal tunnel or any hand problems, everything. They are the best mechanical pencil for clean fine lines to paint over that I've used at all.

I have no examples of drawings with them because every time I use them, I go over it with pen or watercolor or both and erase the pencil lines. Happily these synthetic leads erase easily. That was another factor in itself. I bought it on impulse but kept using it so often that I stopped using any other HB pencils for underdrawing. 

Jaguar in Winsor & Newton Artist's Watercolor
painted with Portable Painter Palette over Tikky mechanical pencil underdrawing

I painted this jaguar for an art challenge at in the Animals & Wildlife forum using the Portable Painter Palette and one of my Tikky mechanical pencils for the underdrawing. It erased clean but I was able to get great detail with it, could just as easily have been for pen drawing or anything else. There is a difference between leads that's subtle - the Tikky smears a little less and erases clean, as opposed to scraping the paper or staining it with graphite. 

I recommend these wholeheartedly. Try one. If it gets as addictive as it did for me, get a bunch of them and make sure there's one in every pocket kit. That's eventually what I did, just to stop worrying about where I last left it! Price is five dollars and change at Blick.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Sennelier pan watercolors, 8 color pocket set

Sennelier mini 8 color watercolor set and small journal with painting of mossy bark.

I collect pocket watercolor sets. I enjoy them and I like having one on me whenever I leave the house, along with my beloved pocket Moleskine Watercolor journal or some other small journal or pad I can paint in. There comes a point where I felt as if I'd overdone it on these and didn't need another one, so I put off buying this one no matter how tempting its size and colors were.

After all, with a Winsor & Newton Artist's Field Box would I ever use a different artist grade pocket watercolor set? That one lived on me, just as its Cotman predecessor did for 30 years. Yet this was alluring, with its tiny pocket brush and intriguing palette. Plus that clear window to see the colors. I didn't stop to think "that means my mixing area is clear." That sort of presentation is tempting and makes me want to paint.

Which is not a bad thing to find in a pocket set. It encourages me to use it with that clear window. Sennelier is a great manufacturer, been around for a really long time, provided supplies to all sorts of famous artists for generations. So their watercolor has to be good, right?

Well, yes it is! It's artist grade watercolor, very pigment rich, dissolves easily, lovely texture and the pans are just as you could want them. The set is compact with only 8 colors - and the palette is the 8 colors I would have chosen. A good clean yellow, a bright red that can mix to get a decent violet, a light blue suitable for skies, a deep blue that goes near black, two greens, a warm dark and a cold dark. Best of all, the cold dark is Payne's Gray rather than black. I think that's what decided me. I can't count the number of times in 12 color sets where I've replaced black with Payne's Gray. 

Greens and a sky blue are convenience colors especially for outdoor painting. Those two dark neutrals can be mixed to do all sorts of on the go sketching and it's much easier to mix muted greens when starting from a bright one than from various yellows and blues. No matter how traditional or classical it is to use mixed secondaries, in outdoor sketching it's much easier to modify the hue you want to the exact hue you want. There are few bright orange or purple things in nature but lots and lots of greens, even in cities. There's lawns. There's trees. There's foliage in gardens. It all does work well and I did get very good mixed purples when I wanted them.

White Cosmos flower on dark multicolor blurred background

I painted this white Cosmos flower with the Sennelier pan watercolors 8 color set as an experiment. The flower's been glazed over with another product that I'll review soon, Finetec Pearlescent Colors, but I posted the example to show how dark I can get a loose multicolored background just using the eight colors in the pocket set. The soft violets in there involve French Vermilion red and the deep blue, French Ultramarine Blue. I used both Pthalo Green Light and Sap Green into the Payne's Grey as well, to get a lot of different combinations. 

The watercolors are pigment rich and strong. Deep colors go nearly to black very easily and the bright Primary Yellow went on very strong as well. I mixed a nice maroon for the tiny pollen spikes with French Vermilion, Burnt Umber and Payne's Grey as well, going over the FineTec colors.

French Vermilion was a bit of a surprise since I thought it would lean too much toward yellow to mix a clean violet, but it mixes beautifully with French Ultramarine about the way Daniel Smith Quinacridone Coral does. It's a good choice for a single red in a small set. 

I did a lot of blotting and lifting and deliberate backruns with this, while the paint performed as well as Winsor & Newton or Daniel Smith, any of my favorites. There's a reason this little 8 color set has become so handy and convenient. It's just right for most things I'd want to do on that scale, whether I'm indoors or off on an outing.

The little round brush they included works out well. It has a lovely point, which is the main thing I want in a round brush, especially a small round brush. This one is good enough that I could have repeated my calligraphy stunt, creating an 11" x 14" scroll with fancy lettering using only the pocket watercolor set and its brush. It is a good equivalent to the brushes in either of my Winsor Newton Field Box sets, a little larger than those actually. This makes it a good one for general use in a small journal.

Though I bought this on a whim, it keeps getting into my pocket more often than I expect to use it. Or sits around on my desk and inspires small sketches just because it looks inviting. Don't knock that in an art supply, if something about it makes you feel like going back again and again to paint, it may seriously improve your productivity. With that, up go your skills on more serious painting. Nothing improves so much as constant practice.

This fun, engaging little set is well worth the cost. If you haven't already picked up any pocket watercolor set for urban sketching, seriously consider it. The quality's excellent, the palette is perfect with its Payne's Grey inclusion and enough blues and greens for most outdoor subjects. Inevitably in outdoor painting, blues and greens get used up fast and reds and yellows last and last, probably due to how much space they take up on the page. But this proportion will wear down more evenly, I think. The insert is one piece but could easily be refilled with tube watercolors.

Overall, I like it and it became an unexpected favorite. Sennelier pan watercolors are great. Once again I've come to trust that brand.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Caran d'Ache Supracolor Soft Watersoluble Colored Pencils

30 color tin of Caran d'Ache Supracolor Soft watercolor pencils.

I love these watercolor pencils. I've loved them ever since I got a handful of random colored pencils from a friend that included the stub of a red one. The core is soft, like Prismacolor Premier or Derwent Coloursoft - extremely soft and opaque, a lovely texture for dry work as colored pencils. They dissolve fast and easily, much like Derwent Watercolour or Prismacolor Watercolor. They are much more expensive, running to the high end for watercolor pencils. But then, this is Caran d'Ache. I've come to expect insanely high quality and a price range up at the top. You get what you pay for. I finally got these in a set that's a good size for travel and outdoor sketching.

30 color hinged tin open, showing all 30 pencils in spectrum order. 

The nice thing is that the way they've done the colors, I could have settled for a 12 color set and been assured of a good range to render anything I came across. I just wanted the convenience colors this set includes, the choice of grays and greens and violets helps me a lot. 

The tin is a nice tin. It's hinged, none of this tin lid skittering across the table under a kitten problem. It's a little more convenient and the styrene tray in the tin fits well. That used to be a problem in some tins when pencils would jump out of their tray to bang together and get internal breakage. The tin's well made and will work well for permanent storage. I tend to put a bit of tape on tin lids if I'm going to put them vertically into a portfolio or bag, because if they fall open it's annoying having to fish all the pencils out of the bottom. Not to mention they get internal breakage banging into things.

I did not sacrifice a pencil to testing for proneness to internal breakage. I'm not quite that dedicated and these are lovely pencils. Instead, I trust that anything as soft as Prismacolors is going to be at risk if not handled gently and treat them accordingly. I've got my set in a Niji pencil roll now for portability and usually use those or Global Classic pencil cases for colored pencils - anything with an elastic band holder is the safest thing for expensive artist grade colored pencils and watersolubles.

Once I got these pencils into my eager hands, I couldn't resist trying them. I wanted to see how well they'd handle on watercolor paper. So, out with my Pocket Moleskine Watercolor Journal...

Purple violas with gold-orange centers on blue-green foliage painted in watercolor pencil.

The first thing I painted was a bright, high saturation group of three purple violas on very bright green foliage. All of the greens in the 30 color set are strong and saturated, proceeding from a deep blue-green to a very light yellow green. This is great, if I'd wanted to mute them it would've been easy to glaze over with orange or brown or red. I prefer strong mixing colors to the lack of intense saturated colors when I need something saturated. 

They are intense. Color doesn't shift much at all between wet and dry, unlike Derwent Inktense and some other watercolor pencils. It stays intense and powerful. The wash is strong, a little goes a long way and color can easily be pulled out of heavy applications to spread into lighter ones. They handle beautifully. Laydown is easy and they feel responsive in my hand. 

It was a little startling getting used to the narrow hexagonal shape, since so many good artist grade colored pencils are oversize or round. The hex shape felt like using a 2B but the softness is more like a 6B regardless of color. Once I was using them, that translated to speed of coverage. 

Horse with gold body, dark brown mane and tail, wearing a halter. Drawn and washed.

There's a sketch and wash life drawing of a horse I did while I was out. They were very responsive for sketching, soft and smudgy. It was easy to correct the sketch with a kneaded eraser too and work back into it for texture. I deliberately kept the wash light to keep some linear elements in the final version, but it works well to get all the marks out as I did in some areas on Violas.

Pine Cone and Gum Ball sketched with Supracolor Soft

The sketch and wash style is a little easier to see in my journal page with the pine cone and gum ball. There I used more of the neutral colors and only lightly went into them with brighter colors on the pine cone. It worked well. I got beautiful nuances of color and value and managed in some areas to wash out all of the line elements, then restore them as strokes of the brush. I went for a much heavier application on that and layered more.

Crumbling castle in a weedy countryside under cloudy blue sky, effect is more watercolor.

In my last sample, I went for more transparent effects and moved color around more. I used color on the brush to create little patches and glazes, dark streaks and edges in this and that. I wanted to see how close I could come to traditional watercolor with it and that worked out very well. Some marks remain for texture but most of them are washed out. The shifting colors on the tower itself were created in layers of very light dry applications and then washed together.

They do rewet easily. In the castle painting I lightened several areas by lifting and moved color from one patch to another. I worked over the road shadows a lot, shoving color around and lightening it. They are very, very workable. Opposite of the Derwent Inktense that will dry waterproof if completely dissolved. This makes these a good choice for scribbling patches in a journal cover to add color to sketches too. That's a useful trick when you want minimal kit but like having color available.

The full range is 120 colors and I do plan to get the full range set eventually when I've got studio space. That's one that should be spread out in the studio and used often. The palette in the smaller sets is well designed for mixing though, it's got warm and cool primaries and strong mixing secondaries. The white is reasonably opaque, about like Chinese White watercolor.

Overall, these are high performance, very pigment rich and soft watercolor pencils. They're worth the money. Watch for sales or coupons, check prices at different outlets, snap them up if you see them at a good price. Like the rest of my Caran d'Ache products, they're extremely high quality and have become favorites already. I trust them to be more lightfast than the Prismacolor Watercolor.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media Paper

Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media Toned Pads

I got these back in October out of curiosity - toned mixed media paper? I might be able to have fun with gouache or white media on that. I like working on mid value paper. The weight attracted me - the paper in these pads is anything but flimsy. It's 140lb, my usual weight for watercolor paper. Therefore it might not curl as much under heavy washes. 

I liked the hues of the paper. The gray is just a touch cool, the tan is muted and a lot like kraft paper or the wonderful Brown Paper Grocery Bag that would be great if it wasn't something that would disintegrate in a relatively short time. It's a good color. Light colored elements stand out great, the value is just right to go both directions with Conte or anything else.

So naturally I tried it with water media. Mixed water media. Pens and wash and gouache.

Twisty Kitty 6" x 8" gouache, ink and watercolor

I was pleasantly surprised by the texture. It felt smooth, allowed me to get very fine pen details without fuzzing the line or breaking it. I used opaque and transparent watercolor, did pen work over that and had no problem. With the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, paper texture matters - it's very pressure dependent and the fine tip goes extremely fine if handled right. This paper was smooth enough I could control it perfectly. I got lighter washes of white, wasn't limited to "white" or "bare" for values. 

The paper is very stiff even for 140lb watercolor paper. This proved to be a very good thing when it came to those background washes. Despite its being a pad, I didn't see any cockling at all. That rocks. I hate dealing with cockling and the way it moves color around.

The smoothness is convenient for pen work, but that can be a problem with colored pencils or pastels if the color won't lay down heavily or won't stick. I thought a mixed media paper should stand up to anything I wanted to put on it. Here's another wet-media example:

Sekhmet, cat portrait long hair tortie, watercolor and pen

It's easier to see the effect of the smooth paper on Sekhmet because she has so many swooping strokes with pointed ends, very fine lines with the black Pentel pen. This one also features whiskers done with a white gel pen and some gouache highlights including a gouache glaze over dark and black areas. The paper performed great. 

Sketches in colored pencil on gray, a rock, a leaf and a pear

The first thing I tried were some sketches with oil based colored pencils. The smooth surface was toothy enough to get good saturation. I was able to build up plenty of color, the bright colors on the pear didn't mute so much that they weren't intense. So I knew it'd handle colored pencils well enough. The oil based ones I used were comparable to wax ones for translucence, though I would expect Coloursoft to shine more than Lyra Rembrandt any colored pencils would work well enough on it. The paper was surprisingly toothy.

But was it toothy enough for pastels?

Doe in the Snow, pastel pencil on toned Strathmore 400 mixed media paper.
Photo reference used with permission from DAK723 on

I loved how the paper performed with pastel pencils. It felt like working on the smooth side of Canson Mi-Tientes. I knew I could easily go to softer pastels or use Pan Pastels on it with no problem. This mixed media paper lives up to its name. It's tough, it stood up to a lot of erasing, lifting, washing, correcting and changing in a couple of those cat pieces. It's smooth and heavy, allowing fine detail or rough heavy applications.

I wouldn't worry about putting texture paste or gesso or primers on areas of it either if I were doing something multi-media. The price is decent and the paper is versatile. It's everything I wanted for mixed media. 

Many of the mixed media pads and sketchbooks I've had only had 90lb paper, sometimes with enough texture elements that clean hard inked lines or hard edges were difficult. This paper is great. What's interesting is that while it's buffered and acid free, it has 30% post consumer fiber. So I've finally got a good quality recycled paper that's got the look of brown grocery bags and the feel of brown grocery bags... and the sturdiness of heavy watercolor paper. Good stuff. I'll definitely keep this in stock, there's way too many good uses for it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Pentel Arts Color Brush Set with Aquash water brush

Product photo Pentel Arts Color Brush Set in box

I tossed this into my last Blick order on a whim. I had meant to try the Pentel Aquash water brush and see how it stands up to Niji, Sakura and other favorites. It's included in this sketch pens set - so I thought, well, let's see how convenience works. A black, sepia and gray sketch brush prefilled would be handy for sketching.

Wow. I didn't realize how good the Pentel Arts brush would be or how great a point it'd have. The color pens come with cartridges, when they're used up you can get black refills. The gray and sepia only come in sets. Still the set was moderately priced at under $18 at Blick, so it's not that bad for a water brush and three pens. Comparable to other water brushes, certainly.

The color pens unscrew clockwise and screw back on counter-clockwise. This was the case with some water brushes I've had in the past. The Aquash works in the other direction. Get used to it, these things aren't going to be standard in screwing and unscrewing. It's fairly easy to tell if you get it wrong. They come with a little plastic protective collar to keep the cartridge from fully engaging till you unpack it and remove that, which probably keeps the points from getting gunked up before you even use it. I liked that.

The brushes on the color pens are actual brushes with hairs, like a proper water brush. They aren't fiber tip brush tips like the Pitt Pen Big Brush or the Tombow Dual Tip brush tips. They hold a lovely fine point. I got wonderful expressive details with them and did a little lettering on another practice sheet that came out well. 

But their real joy came in the painting!

Painting done with product: shaggy dark goat on a hollow log in a dramatic pose as if it just knocked another goat down.

I had a good photo reference and thought, let's see how these do for illustration. Wow wow wow. Beautiful points. Beautiful expressive strokes. They are very juicy. Before I added the black strokes I had some interesting effects when the gray puddled and lightened in some areas. It handles like watercolor or thin ink, and the pens are good and juicy. I got dry-brush effects sometimes though.

When the brush starts giving dry brush effects, a squeeze on the handle will give more ink. They handle a lot like other water brushes that way. Except that three of these are loaded with color and it's good color. The gray is light enough to stand a second layer to deepen it for another tone, without going to black. So light-dark effects either wet in wet or wet over dry are easy once I got the feel for it.

A black cat painting shows how I got the gray to handle values:

Graveyard Watch, black cat on light tombstone against dark forest

The highlight on the cat's belly was achieved with a second layer on the cat's body, wet over damp. It wasn't completely dry so came up slightly soft edged, while I got deeper darks next to the stark blacks that I put in with the Pentel Pocket Brush pen. The combination of waterproof Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and Pentel Arts Color Brush watersoluble brushes gave me great flexibility in this piece. I got the deepest darks in first and washed over them confidently without breaking any crisp edges, then toned with the gray Pentel Arts Color Brush.

It's very delicate and the ink dries semi-washable. It's not fully dissolved when I run water over it - when it's dried, as the lines were in the brown part of the sawn hollow log, running water over them created only a very light wash. This can be really handy for sketching. Do loose strokes very close together and it will start acting like a wash, color flowing in the direction the paper's slanted. 

They are extremely expressive. How they feel in the hand is a delight. They invite expressive strokes and experimental techniques. I rate these pens five star. They don't have the flat effect that the Tombow ones do, because the color does run lighter or darker depending on moisture. This makes them much more like sumi-e painting (Japanese ink painting) and allows for some gorgeous effects. 

I loosened up using them, but still got as much detail as I wanted in tight areas like the animal's eye or the contour of the ear. 

The brush on the Aquash water brush is excellent, with good flow and a lovely point. I'm sure this will become one of my favorites. Slightly sharper point than the Niji and I like the way the ginger-jar handle shape keeps it from rolling off the desk. It's compact and handy. The one included is a size Medium but they also come in large, small and I think there's also a flat one. Similar to other water brush products in pricing, the handle doesn't have the flow regulator in it so filling is very fast and easy - the regulator's up in the tip.

Urban sketchers should really love these. Throw them into your kit and see what comes out in your journal!