Color Spree

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

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cretacolor Drawing Lead Travel Set

I first noticed the Cretacolor Drawing Lead Travel Set back in 2004 surfing a Jerry's Artarama seasonal catalog. It was on sale for the holidays for about $7.99 or something like that - a plastic lead holder and six 5.6mm fat chunky leads in a little plastic case. Portable, handy, and protected, the color range is pretty similar to a classic Conte stick set with a cool addition - graphite.

The six sticks from left to right are soft 4B graphite, firm compressed Charcoal, Dark Sepia, Light Sepia, Sanguine and White Chalk. The basics for "Trois Couleurs" style sketching on a brown or gray page are all there. Both Sepia sticks have a dry firm feeling a lot like a Conte stick or Polychromos hard pastel. Sanguine is a little different. Waxier, it's an oil based formula that has the texture of a very soft colored pencil. White chalk has the same texture as the compressed charcoal and the Sepia sticks.

The leads are very fat, not like the usual size of graphite leads for a lead holder. The lead holder is accordingly fat and fits nicely into the hand a bit like a marker. It keeps my fingers clean with these powdery, smudgy mediums - even the Sanguine smudges beautifully - and it can all go in a shirt pocket with a pocket Moleskine for sketching.

The leads are in a sturdy, heavy little plastic box with snap-on lid. I'd probably put a rubber band around it or tape the lid down if carrying it vertically, but it has a thin foam pad under and folded over the sticks under the label to keep them from breaking. Very good little leads case, sturdy and dependable. The only thing that would improve on it would be hinges, but those sometimes break off and you're left using a rubber band on a Conte case anyway. This is that same sort of clear heavy plastic as the Conte crayon boxes.

I thought of this set as a redundant whimsy since I have full ranges of soft and hard graphite pencils, plenty of charcoal and Conte crayons for sketching. But I've always been fond of lead holders for their cleanliness and this set did prove to be as convenient as I thought it would be. Bring along a tortillon or stump for smudging though, if you want to take advantage of the holder to keep your hands clean!

I've done three sample sketches in Dark Sepia, Sanguine and Charcoal in the photo and posed the little set with a 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" hardbound sketchbook for scale. You can see how compact this setup is. The lead holder has a four prong clutch grip and opens easily by pressing the top button. Leads slide out for easy replacement.

When they're used up, all the Cretacolor drawing leads are available in boxes of six at Jerry's Artarama. There are a few others: Soft and Medium Negro leads which look darker than graphite and are probably a carbon-graphite mix, Sanguine Dry, which presumably has the same texture as the Sepia colors, 2B and 6B graphite and either a Soft or Medium charcoal, the hardness that wasn't included.

These are just six of the most popular leads and I can see why they are that popular. The oil based Sanguine lead has a great texture in itself and lets you try that texture when the Sepia leads already have the compressed drawing stick texture. These, a kneaded eraser and a sketchbook are great for those moments of inspiration.

Current regular price is $10.83, but the Cretacolor Drawing Lead Travel Set is a perennial sale item. I recommend it to anyone who likes sketching and drawing for its convenience, variety, sturdy packaging and compact size. This might live in the pocket of my Blick canvas sketchbook cover, since it's got everything I need for sketching in a form that'll fit into it neatly.

Cretacolor also has a variety of other sketching sets and kits including the Black Box and the Monolith Black Box, Creativo, Artino and Teacher's Choice sets. Look for the sketching set that suits your habits and budget, they're all high quality supplies and usually in good sturdy tins or cases. Any of them make great gifts.

The Cretacolor Drawing Lead Travel Set is a good gift choice too for a friend who sketches, or as a small gift to self along with a new sketchbook. I'm enjoying it a lot and wondering why I took so long to buy it. This is great.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mungyo Gallery soft pastels

Mungyo Gallery soft pastels are good student grade pastels at a loony cheap price. I bought the 64 half stick set from Jerry's Artarama, but I have also seen these sets in hobby stores, art stores and craft stores. The price is low and the quality very high for the price.

The packaging is excellent. I noticed this with my first half stick set of 32 - there's a sturdy cardboard box with glossy printed cover, styrene insert inside and then a cardboard sleeve that the box slides into. A foam pad and plastic foam pad cover the pastels to keep them from getting damaged. This packaging is fantastic.

The cost is kept low because the sticks are small, 1/4" square by a bit over an inch long. So this keeps the entire set compact. With that elegant packaging, I don't need to worry about slipping it into a bookbag vertically or tossing it around in a backpack. It's the perfect carry-along pastels sketch set.

The color range is well chosen and strong on chromatic bright colors. This is a great thing for a colorist - you can find those good aqua and red-orange and other tertiary hues as well as a great assortment of greens and blues for landscapes. Plenty of warm earths and a few good tints allow for mixing good skin tones too if you're more interested in sketching the people at the park than their background.

Four fluorescent colors up at the top left are extremely fugitive. All fluorescent colors are by their nature - the pigment degrades as it soaks and reflects UV light for the fluorescent effect. But when you're doing creative art journals, sketchbooks, holiday decorations, crafts applications or signs, durability isn't always a primary consideration. Also anything in a bound book is likely to last much longer even if the pigment is fugitive because it's only exposed to light when someone opens the book to look at it.

So I'd recommend using the fluorescent colors only where you know it's for a temporary use or know the art's going to be protected from light most of the time. They're fun for practice sketching and gorgeous for giving some zing to illustrations - if the prints are the final durable form in a mixed media production, then go for the fluorescence. They can really pack a punch glazed over similar colors or used as small accents - or used heavily on black for a black-light painting for parties.

The soft texture is consistent across all colors. That makes them predictable and easy to handle. They smudge easily like any pastels, but being softer than the hard pastels range, they also go over each other to seven or eight layers on nonsanded paper. It's easy to turn them on their sides for broad strokes because the small square sticks aren't wrapped and are already the perfect size for plein air. It's also easy to turn a stick on an angle and get small details with a sharp corner or wear the edge of the end down to a chisel tip for doing thin lines.

Jerry's Artarama carries Mungyo Gallery pastels in two forms - soft wrapped sticks and square wrapped sticks. They do include calcium carbonate - chalk - so these can rightly be called chalk pastels. This gives them a slightly different look from artist grade pastels, a little more matte, a little less glittery from pigment crystals interacting. Once blended they look the same.

They also handle the same as other soft pastels. This is vital for practice and sketchbook use. Some well known professional painters commented when I posted my contest entry at Jerry's that they use these constantly. One fellow who's won numerous major contests was on his fourth box of the half sticks because he uses them so frequently for plein air studies and sketching.

So if you want sketch pastels to conserve those several dollars a stick artist grade pastels for commissions and gallery paintings - these are a great choice for studies, sketchbook use, illustration, any use where you're not concerned about lightfastness. They have a lovely look in a finished painting that's unique to them and the colors mix, scumble, blend and handle wonderfully.

You can't beat the price for that little set to bring along no matter where you go - I got my set for $9.99 on sale and that's the larger half stick set, there's also a 32 half stick set that's even tinier. The box is 9 1/2" x 6 1/2" x 5/8" thick - fits into any school bag or backpack, weighs very little and holds a huge well chosen range. I recommend this set for a sketching and plein air set for anyone.

It's also a great starter for beginners with its huge range, good packaging and compact size. If you really want to be frugal, try using Mungyo Gallery soft pastel half sticks on fine grit sandpaper from the hardware store as well as regular sketchbook paper, brown paper cut from grocery bags or printer paper.

I bought this set to enter the Jerry's Artarama Summer Pastel Challenge, deadline just passed. My entry was on Richeson Premium sanded pastel paper, a very high quality artist grade sanded paper. I had no problem layering and building up a full colourist painting with the Mungyo Gallery Soft Pastels, they handled as well as the artist grade brands and produced a great entry. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post it in a review though, should probably wait till the contest is over to see if I won anything. Trust me though, it came out as well as it would if I'd used pastels that cost far more.

Here's a sample sketch I did following an oil painting video on Jerry's Artarama by artist Wilson Bickford. I liked his anatomy of a wave demonstration, knew I could transpose it to pastels and had my Mungyo Gallery half sticks handy. My surface is 65lb smooth white sketchbook paper in a Reflexions 8 1/2" x 11" hardbound sketchbook also from Jerry's Artarama. It's similar to most lightweight sketchbook papers.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lukas Cryl Acrylics

Lukas Cryl acrylics are available in artist grade, economy grade and student grade. Checking on the Jerry's Artarama site reveals a variety of textures and price levels from Lukas Cryl liquid and "pastos" heavy body artist grade acrylics, to economy grade Lukas Studio Acrylics and student grade Lukas Terzia acrylics. All but the bottled liquid acrylics are available in sets.

On my last order, Jerry's Artarama generously included a trial set of Lukas Cryl acrylics. From their heavy body coming out of the tube, these are Lukas Cryl Pastos in Cadmium Yellow Light, Madder Red and Ultramarine Blue. They're little tubes, about 10ml or thereabouts although I couldn't find mention of the exact amount - bigger than the 5ml Winsor & Newton watercolor tubes but quite smaller than 15ml Daniel Smith watercolor tubes.

They certainly chose a good sample triad! Although my scanner has gamut issues with yellows and reds that result in the yellow looking more like Cadmium Yellow Medium in the scan, the color is actually a strong balanced yellow that's spot on for hue with Cadmium Yellow Light in any other form I've used it. Also, it's definitely Cadmium Yellow Light rather than a hue - it has that relative opacity and needed to be quite thin to be used like watercolor as I did in the sample painting.

The pigment load is excellent. Very finely ground and milled, the pigment was still very strong when I had it thinned past "ink" where it's got the texture of the water. I had to add even more water to get a transparent glaze of the Ultramarine. I set out little dabs in a porcelain palette and mixed secondaries, created a color wheel and strip of color swatches to test the secondaries - all are good mixers including that old favorite Ultramarine that I'm so familiar with.

Areas where I used the paint more thick have the usual satiny gloss of acrylic paints used full body. Areas where I thinned it like watercolor have a more matte appearance. These acrylics are definitely on par with other artist grade brands and I would have no hesitation in recommending them to anyone. As with other Jerry's Artarama specialty brands, these are reasonably priced compared to other artist grade brands and often on sale.

A twelve color wood box set is on Super Sale for $89.99 that includes three brushes, 12 37ml tubes of Lukas Cryl Pastos, a palette knife (metal trowel from the photo), stretched canvas and one canvas panel, plus a wooden palette inside a compartmented wooden sketchbox. Looks like the canvas and board fit neatly into the lid of the sketchbox, making it a pretty good setup for painting plein air.

I am also pretty sure that since they sent the trial set with my order, Jerry's would probably send you one if you use their Contact form to email them and ask. I encourage you to try them for yourself, these are good acrylics.

I also used a porcelain flower palette to mix them. This is my favorite palette for using acrylics if I'm going to wash it out, since it won't stain and any dried acrylic rubs away in strings as soon as it's washed. Jerry's carries porcelain flower palettes too for under $10, so does Blick (the Blick one is an inch smaller) and Daniel Smith (a giant 9" wide one). So if you prefer using acrylics thick like oils, a traditional wooden palette or butcher tray would be better. For thin watercolor-like washes though, the porcelain palette can't be beat.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Raffine Pro Artist Colored Pencils Set

The Raffine Pro Artist Colored Pencils Set bundles several moderately priced house brand goodies in one amazing discount package from Jerry's Artarama. It starts with a 120 color pencil easel, that's on sale right now for $23.99 and is a perennial sale item along with the 12, 24 and 36 color sets of Raffine colored pencils, watercolor pencils and graphite pencils. What you get in the bundle, currently on sale for $39.99 is the 120 color pencil easel with a 36 color set of Raffine Colored Pencils (on back of easel in my photo), 36 color set of Raffine Watercolor Pencils (shown), and 12 Raffine graphite drawing pencils (shown on front flap at the far right.)

In effect, you get one of the colored pencils sets and the graphite pencils set free if you buy the whole bundle, so that's the most cost effective way to get them. Also, notice what that colored pencils easel is. It's an elastic bands colored pencils case. The sort that protects the most delicate soft wax colored pencils or pastel pencils from ruinous internal breakage.

36 + 36 + 12 does not equal 120 ... that leaves you easel loops to put at least 46 more assorted loose pencils into the easel to have them handy right along with the kit. So the 120 color pencil easel is a great organizational solution. Right in the photo, you can see I took advantage of it by putting in some sample pencils I got for reviews, odd lot pencils I bought in open stock and any stray pencils I like to use regularly into that bottom flap with my 12 graphite pencils.

The mechanism is simple to make the case stand up. Slide a plastic bead along the cord, that tightens up the fold and holds the easel steady with your pencils upright. This is great on a table or anywhere you've got space to lay them out. But these easels are good in another way.

Leave the cord loose and all three panels are easily accessed at the same time as one long strip of pencils. That works for draping it on your lap while you sit in the recliner watching movies. It can also be rolled or folded up with just one side - any of the three sides - upright, very versatile that way if you find yourself working in a small space. I love these pencil easels as much as the slightly more expensive leather Global Classic pencil cases. They are exactly as good for pencil protection and ease of carrying around - a bit larger, so it depends on how you carry things around whether the larger ones (72 or 120 size) fit in your bag or backpack.

Now to the pencils themselves. Jerry's Artarama has certain brands that I haven't found anywhere else besides ASW - Raffine, SoHo, Turner and Lukas. The description is excellent. Both the colored pencils and the watercolor pencils are soft and have very strong laydown. They're described as artist grade, but not available in open stock - however, the price is so low that getting them in sets if you start wearing them down quick isn't going to break your budget.

Lightfastness isn't mentioned on Jerry's description. To me that means - treat these as something for sketchbook use, warn a buyer if you use them on a piece for sale that they may not be lightfast and should be kept out of direct light. I may someday do a home lightfastness test on them but until I've got something like that, I'd treat these as "Illustrator pencils." They handle with the ease of artist grade, they're very soft, the watercolor pencils are brilliant when they're washed and very strong even used dry. Softness and easy solubility are comparable to Staedtler Karat Aquarelle watercolor pencils, they're very similar to those.

But if you prefer sketching in colored pencils, this bundle is something that'll help you get a lot of good supplies for a very low price - and once you use them up, stray other pencils will rapidly fill the rest of the pencils case. I think they sneak drawers at night to mate and leave other mystery pencils lying about in the morning. It's a great bargain for some excellent supplies!

Here's a color chart of both color sets and the graphite pencils.

The colored pencils set includes gold and silver pencils. These can be great for scrapbooking or signing cards, adding a little sparkle to envelopes for cards, any sort of decorative or holiday work is improved by them. It's a good strong gold pencil too, a little brighter than many that have a more bronze look.

The watercolor pencils are just as strong used dry, they're very similar in softness and laydown. A wash brings out the color boldly and many of the colors have high tinting strength. The watercolor pencils are extremely soluble and handle well - as well as the Staedtler Karat Aquarell that were my favorites before Derwent did their New Formula watercolor pencils. So these are among the better watercolor pencils I've ever used. Softness is a big plus.

The set includes a size 4 pony hair brush. I think it's pony or camel. It's heavily sized and a bit blunt, but perfectly usable if I were taking this set out on a plein air trip and just looking to wash over watercolor pencils instead of painting fine details with a very pointed round.

The graphite pencils are in a "soft sketching" range from 2H to 8B. This is wonderful. I don't know if you've ever run into this with boxes and tins of pencils with multiple hardnesses, but the high B grade ones wear out faster than the H pencils. High H pencils have specialized uses in drafting and so on, but for sketching what you need is a set like this.

So overall, the Raffine Pro Artist Colored Pencils Set is a great bargain for anyone who's fond of sketching. High quality Raffine sketchbooks and drawing pads are also available from Jerry's and ASW so if you're looking for a gift for that compulsive sketcher, or for yourself when you are just tired of running through pencils too fast, give your budget a break and pick up this bundle. I've been meaning to get it for years and now I'm glad I did.

All three pencils sets came in cardboard packages with one folded cardboard sliding tray inside. I'm not fond of that form of storage for colored pencils, though the cardboard on these Raffine ones is a bit heavier than on some other brands I've found in this format. Another good reason to look at getting the bundle rather than buying the sets separately, any colored pencils sets benefit from living in an elastic bands case or a good fabric canvas roll.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Derwent Metallic Pencils on Black Book

I reviewed Derwent Metallic Pencils back in March, and the Derwent Black Book on September 1st.

Today in my email I got a cool little handout from Derwent announcing that they're changing the look of their Derwent Metallic Pencils with a lovely new tin and paint job. The pencils will now be hexagonal silver pencils - still skinny enough for a normal electric pencil sharpener. They'll have a metallic blue angled stripe to show what line they are and a color dipped end to show what color they are, rather than each one being dipped in its metallic color.

One of the things I like about Derwent's changes in pencil paint is that they're moving toward more ecologically friendly, water based enamels for it. While some of the older paint jobs were gorgeous, the company's concern for the environment runs higher than just appearance. Besides, the new style is very striking so they haven't sacrificed anything.

The new tin art has a blue peacock butterfly in Derwent Metallic pencils on black. I'd already done strip samples of the Metallic range in the back of my Black Book, so I thought hey, let's see how these two products go together. The handout raved about how great they are in combination. Let's test that.

You see the test above.

Wow. The smooth but heavy paper in the Derwent Black Book has enough tooth for some strong applications. I did some layering in some of the shaded areas in order to blend colors or just to run foreground elements over background elements - no problem. Some of the pencils are softer than others.

Two problems emerged. The metallic red seemed hard and didn't go on as heavily as the other colors, but I was able to get it to go on well after rolling it. I might've gotten some fixative or something on the point too, so I'll see if the problem continues. The copper pencil had to be sharpened with a knife because the core went off at an angle and didn't sharpen properly, but once I had, it came out fine.

The rest of course, performed perfectly.

This drawing looks much darker in person, though still rich, metallic and visible. A side effect of using metallic pencils on black paper is that unlike some other combinations that fade or get muted in scans... metallic on black will brighten up fiercely in a scan and look spectacular online. So keep this combination in mind when you need to do something to decorate a website.

Do your art manually with metallic on black, then open it in Gimp and notch up Contrast once, that takes the silver to about white. That's all I did to adjust the scan. Fiddle with the black or use the bucket fill to knock it down to pure black and you can lay something like this as a header over a black background, light text page seamlessly. I think I got close to it anyway, but if I were going to use it as a background online I'd want to push it that extra notch more toward purity of the black background or color-pick the art background and match it on the site just for smoothness.

So that's something to think about in choosing Derwent products, look at how they work together. It's a great combination, the flyer did not exaggerate that at all. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Derwent Black Book

Derwent's Black Book is a new and exciting sketchbook just introduced by one of my favorite art supply manufacturers. Known for innovation, Derwent had already created the most opaque white pencil it's ever been my pleasure to use in the white Derwent Drawing Pencil, and the light colors in the Drawing range are just as powerful on black or dark colors. What better to use them on than a spiral bound, hard cover black sketchbook with heavy black paper?

The pages are thick and strong, resembling card stock. The surface is smooth but surprisingly toothy, allowing fine detail with white pencils, inks or even gouache. I'd say given how heavy the sheets are that gouache or white Chinese inks would be just as good as dry mediums on this strong surface paper. The sample I received is A4 - a perfect size to fit on a scanner bed without slopping over the way 9" x 12" sketchbooks do.

The end papers are the same as the pages, giving you two more sheets for sketching, drawing or doing color charts. Below is my color chart for Derwent Drawing Pencils on the Black Book's matte black inside cover. The number at the bottom is probably a lot number or inspection number, it didn't seem to relate to anything else about it.

The only other black page sketchbooks I've run into was a Canson mi-Tientes one that has a heavy woven-look texture and of course is bound with that texture on top. The backside of Mi-Tientes is smoother but still much more rough than the Derwent Black Book pages. I could easily do very detailed drawing in white or light on black using gel pens or dip pens with opaque white or mixed light ink. While most colored inks are transparent, blending some white with them will render them opaque just like using white gouache or body color with transparent watercolors.

Another medium that may work beautifully with the Black Book is oil pastel. A quick spray of local wildflowers crossed by a fern shows how strong and bright oil pastel looks on this apparently too-smooth paper. I got good coverage with only moderate pressure.

Derwent Metallic pencils will also work beautifully on the 200gsm black paper and give a brilliant shine to it.

For any opaque drawing medium on black or dark paper, I usually do a value sketch with white pencil. Derwent Drawing Pencil in white is my favorite for this. On the oil pastels sample, I used the white oil pastel under the stems but not under the fern leaf to show the difference. It will not only make light colors pop brighter, but like doing a black or dark color value drawing on white, it helps organize my values and lay out the drawing better.

Light washes and watercolor pencils can be used on this 200gsm paper, but I wouldn't advise heavy washes over the whole thing all at once. Gouache could be a beautiful medium on it if you're not soaking the paper through painting large areas all at once.

Here's how oil pastel sketching looks on this strong, heavy black paper. Slide in a sheet of computer paper, tracing paper or glassine to protect the back of the previous page with oil pastels or other mediums that may smudge the facing page.

These black sketchbooks aren't currently available online in the USA as far as I know, though some UK online supply companies have them. Ask your local art store to stock it or email your favorite online art supply company suggesting they add this new sketchbook to their lineup of Derwent products. It's well worth the money and looks as if it'll be very popular, especially with how many iridescent, metallic and opaque dry mediums are out there crying for a good black surface!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Daniel Smith Project Book, DVD and Kit

Daniel Smith recently introduced a new product - the Daniel Smith Project Book and DVD. It's available in three versions. You can get just the book and DVD for $16.95, the book, DVD and a set of generous paint dots which are enough to do all the projects at about 9" x 12" size (with margins), or the Complete Project Kit which also includes a plastic six well mixing palette, a 30 page 9" x 12" Canson Biggie Junior watercolor pad, a size 8 watercolor round and a quarter sheet sized piece of tracing paper to transfer the projects for $26.

Watch for the Free Shipping, No Minimum Purchase promotion that Daniel Smith has already given twice if you want to be frugal. I bought my kit on the tail end of the last one and I'm pretty sure they'll do it again, it's been very popular. Let's hope it's also been cost effective, it has been for me both times and allowed me to place small orders without trying to build it up to $200 or even $69.

Like most bundled gift sets, the price is right. The best value is the Complete Project Kit. I've gotten that same size 8 synthetic watercolor round brush as a freebie with a different watercolor set and it's one of my favorite brushes. It performs well for a synthetic brush and has stood up to two years of heavy use as a favorite, including use with lower quality paints that sometimes beat up brushes. The brush is normally $6.30, so the Biggie Junior pad and palette are essentially free in the complete kit.

I've used up three Biggie Junior pads so far and my fourth is down to only a few pages, because they're good 90lb student watercolor paper at a rock bottom price per sheet. The only comparable bargain I've found in lightweight watercolor paper is Dick Blick's house brand student watercolor sheets and those need to be trimmed to size and bound if you want the convenience of a pad. It's got a great texture, very close to high quality cold press watercolor papers. So when I do happen to get a good painting while I'm fooling around on it I don't feel bad about the surface, also if I try something on the Biggie, I can be pretty sure it'll look the same on Arches.

I use it for color tests, water medium experiments, watercolor sketching, teaching my granddaughter watercolor painting and anything else I want copious cheap sized watercolor paper for. Unfortunately these pads are fast becoming hard to find. Blick no longer carries them, I got my last one on Clearance. I was having trouble finding a replacement when Daniel Smith came out with this kit. Biggie Junior pads usually cost me about $6 on sale too. So I've either got a free extra favorite brush or a free favorite cheap watercolor pad in the Complete Kit.

I also get to try a large number of Daniel Smith watercolors that I don't have. I'm not a beginner. I've more or less mastered the techniques shown in the DVD and demonstrated by the projects. I recognized a couple of them just looking at the kit - these are projects that may have been used for discontinued Daniel Smith Watercolor Triads and at least one is from a current Triad - the Secondary Triad Project is included. The great advantage is that you don't need to buy 21 different triads and have a huge stock of watercolor paints to do these projects, learn from them and try Daniel Smith watercolors. I'd recommend either the Paint Dots set or the Complete Kit to those who haven't tried watercolor.

If you do want to create a deluxe gift, especially for a real beginner either in watercolor or painting, I'd advise adding the recommended materials listed in the back of the Project Book. These are a roll of Saral graphite transfer paper for $12.69, a roll of 1" wide Economy Artist's Tape at $8.89.

I'd also add a porcelain flower palette for $12 to replace the flimsy plastic palette in the kit and a Gatorboard to tape the paper to. I've used cheap plastic palettes before, staining colors stain them very well. A new artist who isn't used to watercolor may have trouble cleaning out the wells after using a staining color and have trouble judging mixed washes or wash strength in a stained cup. Any porcelain palette cleans out completely no matter how strong the staining color. So if you're looking at a gift budget of $50, $75 or $100, you can easily build a major gift package on this kit.

Suggested optional extras include a water bucket, Daniel Smith masking fluid and a spray bottle, but these are not used during the demonstration. They're conveniences though, so putting those in the package may improve your loved one's experience with the kit or your initial setup.

One of the reasons I bought it is that while I have a big collection of over 60 Daniel Smith watercolors, I do not have all 60 odd colors in the kit set of paint dots. Anyone who already has Daniel Smith watercolors can try out a large number of similar colors to discover your favorites with the set. You can compare Ultramarine and French Ultramarine, Pthalo Blue Red Shade and Pthalo Blue Green Shade, several different Quinacridones, a variety of different yellows, greens and other secondaries without waiting for them to turn up in triads.

Two days after I bought this, Daniel Smith also came out with a 66 color Paint Dots sheet available by itself. The dots sampler is $4.95 and the dots are smaller, about the size of the sample dots often included free with a Daniel Smith order. They made a serious effort not to duplicate the dots sheet with the Project Kit dots sheet - there are very few duplicate colors. Several Quinacridone colors and a couple of Primatek colors appear in both, but no Luminescent colors show up in the Project Kit while eighteen of them are on the Dots Sampler. So I bought both and got my money's worth in terms of being able to try before I buy. These will help me coordinate and rearrange my wish list.

So there's some good reasons why an experienced watercolorist may enjoy this kit. It's a way to try the watercolors in great variety at a bargain price, and the full bundle also gives good inexpensive supplies to play with.

For beginning and intermediate painters, either unfamiliar with watercolor or unfamiliar with art, the kit is brilliantly designed.

I watched the whole DVD and enjoyed the artist's performance. The young woman artist who narrates and demonstrates the projects is very skilled and clear in her instructions. There's no background music and the presentation is very simple. You see text blocks fade in white on black at times, you see the completed project, in between you hear her narrating while her hands and the page are shown. At the end, the finished project is shown dry.

This is important because our narrator doesn't mention that watercolor dries 40% to 50% lighter than it looks when it's wet. This is true even of Daniel Smith watercolors. Be kind if you bought it for a beginner and share that tip along with a suggestion to keep one sheet of the paper aside for color tests to get their mixtures strong enough and mixed to the right hue.

It's a nice gift even without the extras. The project line drawings do need to be enlarged, but if they own a scanner or have access to a copy machine this isn't hard. If they don't have the transfer paper, add a soft 4B or 6B pencil to the order so they can scribble on the back of the printout and turn it into a one-use transfer sheet. That's how I'm transferring the projects when I use the project sketches. Because I'm more advanced, I'll probably draw some of them freehand, especially if I want to change something from the original sketch. Others are so simple I'd rather work without a sketch, since that challenges my skills.

There's no particular order to the projects. I recommend watching the DVD through completely, then choosing the project that looks easiest or most appeals to you, whichever is more stimulating. Some of the projects would make excellent gifts in themselves - don't be surprised if your cousin frames and gives you the Orchids project with a short favorite poem in the white space next year to show how much he or she liked it. The styles vary, buc every technique in them is demonstrated thoroughly and explained aloud in the DVD.

The project book itself is more descriptive than instructional. It's a good permanent reference for those colors, both listing the pigment qualities and making sensible suggestions as to that paint's best uses. If you've started using watercolor but haven't tried many different pigments yet, this kit can easily become an exploration of how best to use paints with different qualities that have very similar colors. Staining and non-staining colors are in the lineup, transparent and semi-transparent colors can be compared, synthetic organic and mineral pigments can be compared, and you'll see what granulation means and compare that to non-granulating colors. There's no opaque earths in the set, probably to keep things simple so that beginners can always see the sketch lines through their painting on later layers.

Some of the choices are expensive convenience colors like Cobalt Teal Blue or Serpentine Genuine. You'll get to try a variety of Quinacridones before deciding which of the reds, pinks, oranges and gold are essential and which ones just amusing variations. I like Quinacridones a lot, but if you don't like them, that tells you to look at some of the other reds for colors you do like.

If you have some watercolor skills but have trouble in a particular area like wet in wet painting, the projects will help you close that gap. Wet in wet, wet on dry, wet on damp techniques are all used. None of the projects require lifting, so a scrubbie brush isn't necessary as an extra. These are basic techniques with plenty of good examples of the differences between working on wet paper, dry paper or damp paper that hasn't completely dried. Anyone who finishes all 21 projects will have an excellent grasp of how watercolor handles in general and probably some idea of their favorite techniques and colors.

The DVD is easy to navigate by project on its main menu. You don't have to flick through a dozen of them to get to the one you've chosen to paint, just go to menu and scroll down to it.

I'd rate this as an excellent gift choice for yourself or any adult at any level of watercolor skill. A crafts-oriented hobbyist will be delighted to find out that framable watercolor projects can be created without need for any prior drawing skill, just careful tracing of an enlargement and use of good supplies. Artists who haven't tried watercolor or have trouble with it may find this solves some serious problems. Beginners may fall in love with art from learning this medium. Experts may just fall in love with the Daniel Smith quality and get hooked on those regular emails advertising new triads and sets.

If you have a watercolorist friend, you could just be wicked and send the $4.95 Try-It Dots Sheet as a random unbirthday present. It's got a wide variety of expensive Primatek genuine mineral colors including Lapis Lazuli Genuine and Jadeite Genuine, it has three rows of Luminescent watercolors including Iridescent, Interference and Duochrome ones, the Mayan colors, the new Cadmium hues and plenty of Quinacridones. Watch her budget and waistline diminish as all her McDonalds money starts flowing into DS triads. I wish they'd do a Complete Range set of Try-It Dots. I'd buy that as a reference and use it when planning large paintings.

Edit: Additional Information

I've completed one of the projects using only the supplies and materials in the DS Project Book & DVD Complete Kit - the included palette, paper, brush and everything. I found it very useful, more challenging than I expected and came to understand that a lot of these lessons will give me a much better grasp of watercolors, especially of working larger than I'm used to.

I started with the "Vineyard" project. Here's the palette and paint dots strip after I completed it using a full 9" x 12" sheet off the Biggie Junior pad. The texture of the paper was excellent, very much like any cold press watercolor paper. It handled quite a lot of reworking as you'll see in the second photo, my finished project.

As you can see, I have enough paint left over from this project full sized that I could attempt it again at about half the size. Another tip for those doing it - there is a difference between the printed finished painting and the version the artist does on the DVD. I didn't see any full intensity blue-violet grapes in the printed painting, so if you like its red-grapes look, consider sticking to the three-color mixes when doing the grapes rather than using any of the blue-violet pure. It comes out very dark and stark. Or you could let that predominate and have it come out looking more like a Concord grape cluster.

There's plenty of room for interpretation on it. I followed the demonstrator's instructions and then decided I didn't like the look of the blue-violet grapes, they were too stark next to the more muted mixed-color ones. So I just washed over them with the dark neutral mix and brought them down into the dark end of the same color range. There's a lot of variety possible.

I'm also used to using very strong washes, partly because I'm so fond of pan watercolors. This is the sort of thing that using a test sheet next to your project will help with. Even though you're working from someone else's sketch, there's a lot of room for individual taste and creativity.

It really is that useful for artists at any level. I'm sure if I were even more skilled, I'd still have found something in the projects that challenges me. The full kit is definitely worth getting, the bundle is cost effective and the supplies excellent. I still love that brush, it's my favorite synthetic watercolor round.

This product is still available at Daniel Smith, click the image to visit the site.

Daniel Smith Fine Quality Artists' Materials

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box

Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box is the only watercolor set I have that begins to approach the convenience of the Winsor & Newton Field Box. It's even more convenient. It's available in 12, 18 and 24 color sets, the 24 color and 18 color boxes can hold a 4" x 6" watercolor card or block in the lid for easel use. But the tiny 12 color pocket box is so small it'd fit in a normal shirt pocket -- and you don't need to find or carry around a cup of water. The two part waterbrush holds water in its barrel, so once that's assembled, you can just paint directly.

That makes this set a great choice for quick watercolor sketching. If you know you could be interrupted at any moment, this one doesn't take a minute or two to clean out, dump the water and fold it up. You can flip it shut, put the cap on the brush and toss both in your pocket while you're heading for the door. It's only 3 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 3/4" and you don't need to find a source of water if you're in a waiting room or a break room at work.

I think of this as the perfect watercolor set for those who get five or ten minute breaks at their jobs, wherever that job is. Rubber band it to a pocket size Moleskine watercolor journal and you can use it anywhere with faster setup and put-away time than anything else. If you like pen and wash, stick a Sakura Pigma Micron pen and a pencil in the same pocket -- or keep a 3" pencil stub in the box squishing the little sponge to the side.

Many sources rate the Sakura Koi watercolors, tube or pan, as student grade -- but if so, it is at least a very good student grade comparable to Cotman watercolors rather than anything that would give a beginner problems with color strength or pigment load. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that the colors are all non toxic hues. In discussion with one of Sakura's executives, I came to understand the company has an unusual attitude toward children's products -- they make them good enough for adults to use so that children will come to love the product and continue to enjoy doing art all their lives.

That policy also means I don't need to hide away my adult art supplies from my grandchildren when they come from Sakura. The kids can't wreck them, but will get better results than they do from other child safe supplies and get more encouraged to continue painting and drawing. I know some artists in New Orleans who preferred the strong colors and nontoxic hues of student and children's paints to adults' watercolors, being less thrilled with genuine Cadmiums and Cobalts because their style of painting needed strong color and the qualities that made some artists swear by those mineral pigments interfered with their styles.

This is one brand I wouldn't hesitate to sell a painting I did with it, though I would tell my buyer what brands and colors of paint I used in any case for conservation reasons. I haven't tested lightfastness. They're priced in the student range at $17.46 for the 12 color set and $26.99 for the 24 color set, which is 4 1/2" x 6 1/4" and 1" deep with a bigger water brush, two sponges and a separate hook-on palette tray for more mixing possibilities.

The 12 color set of Sakura Koi tube watercolors is $19.83 and they aren't available in open stock at Blick. I don't know if they are in art stores. The tube colors are similar but you get Burnt Sienna instead of Light Red. So if you recharge your pans in the 12 color set, use up all your Light Red before refilling the pan. Burnt Sienna is useful in most of the same ways, the difference is that Light Red is a bit redder and a bit more opaque with a texture more like the Yellow Ochre.

I like the 12 color palette, even though it hasn't got Burnt Umber. I can mix a good dark brown with Viridian Hue and Light Red, or mix a good black with Crimson Hue and Ultramarine, one or the other would have to be left out. The colors in the 12 color set are well chosen with warm and cold yellows, reds, blues and greens plus Yellow Ochre, Light Red for an earth red, Ivory Black and Chinese White. The lid has five separate mixing areas for those times you don't want to use the pure color.

However, the inclusion of black has left me doing a lot of mixing on the paper rather than on the palette. This set really lent itself to doing Asian style paintings in black or blue monochrome, because of the good point and easy responsiveness of the small water brush. I've done dozens of small Asian style paintings with it, though my example today is more a Western sketch done as if I was working plein air on the site. Mingling color on the paper with this is a snap.

The price is quite a bit less than the Winsor & Newton Artist's Field Box and a bit less than the Winsor & Newton Cotman Field Box. The half pans are molded into one piece of plastic, so they can't be replaced individually when you use up the non toxic paint -- non toxic hues are some of why this gets labeled student grade. The up side is that you don't need to worry if you got blue on your fingers and then picked up your sandwich getting in a quick painting during your lunch.

Once I've used up all the paint in this set, I could refill the half pans with any brand of watercolor I chose. If you do this before running out completely, I'd suggest getting the Sakura Koi tube set of watercolors, they're probably exactly the same pigments and colors available.

I have the 24 color set as well, which has some great favorites of mine including Payne's Grey, Burnt Umber, a strong Purple and Quinacridone Rose. Because of the waterbrush, I use that set frequently too. Though it isn't small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, it's convenient to rubber band a 4" x 6" watercolor block to it and take it outside or go somewhere with it in a coat pocket. It will fit in most coat pockets.

So if your budget is a bit tight or you often paint in situations where you might have to stop very fast and get moving, the Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box is a good choice, especially the small 12 color set for being able to shove it in a pants or shirt pocket, use in short breaks at work or lightly add washes to a pen drawing. Put a Sakura Pigma Micron pen in your pocket with it and you're good to go with any pocket sized watercolor journal.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, photo reference by M. Ginsberg, painted by Robert A. Sloan.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Zebra G Comic Pen Nib

A friend of mine who's just as avid a leisure artist and art supply collector told me about the Zebra G Comics Nib. I tried dip pens repeatedly in the past, frustrated by how hard they were to clean, how often they needed to be dipped and the irregularity of the line. From crowquill ones to those varied nibs you can get in sets at hobby shops, they enchanted me and frustrated me constantly. Yet I knew professional illustrators and comics artists use them often, for when you want a more expressive line than a technical pen.

On her advice, I went to JetPen, Inc. and ordered a pack of 10 Zebra G comic pen nibs, a bottle of the Kuretake Manga Black Ink and a wooden Tachikawa Comic Pen Holder. Since JetPen does free shipping with a $25 order, I chose the fancier wooden holder that comes with a pen cap to protect the nib if you leave it sitting around in a pencil cup -- the extra 60 cents pushed my order just over $25 and saved me the cost of shipping. The link goes directly to this product.

They shipped fast. I liked the sketches my friend did and while I usually use fountain pens when I want a flexible, expressive tip -- or brush tip pens like the Pigma Micron brush tip -- there's a place in my lineup for a narrow yet expressive line that responds to pressure. The package arrived fast, just as it had for my friend, by Priority Mail.

I opened it up and found out these Japanese products don't label bilingual. Everything's labeled in Japanese. The instructions for putting the pen nib into the holder were easy to understand even with Japanese captions though, so I had no trouble assembling my pen.

The nibs were safely packed in a strong, clear little plastic nibs box. This is a good thing. I've bought other nibs that came loose in a glassine envelope or just a paper envelope, where I couldn't tell what they were and they scattered out into the bottom of my sketching supplies box. I won't have trouble finding or recognizing my Zebra G nibs in that box or lose them under my stash of kneaded erasers.

The bottle of ink was a pleasant surprise. I showed the box it came in and set the bottle next to it. Whoever designed this novel has cats or small children. It's short, squat, plastic and will not tip over if your sleeve bumps it.

That's a nice safe bottle for ink to sit out on your desk or table. The mouth is pleasantly wide too, making it easy to aim when you're looking more at your drawing than at where you're dipping the pen.

Kuretake Manga Black Ink is heavier than normal India ink, waterproof when dry and cleans off the nib after use with Sansodor odorless mineral spirits -- that's what I washed the nib with when water just didn't remove the dried ink. My friend has tried other inks with this nib and the Kuretake ink sticks better in it, allowing a longer flow before you need to dip again. However, you could use any bottled ink with this pen just like any other dip pen. Winsor & Newton's pretty colored Drawing Inks, acrylic drawing inks, Bombay India Inks all worked well with it when she tested hers.

My friend was right about not needing to dip often. In the drawing below, I penciled in my cat sketch and then decided to caption it writing directly with the pen. It works in both or any direction, unlike most dip pens, though the line is stronger when pulled down vertically than when swished to the side to cross a T. It responds well to pressure and the line is very expressive, but fine enough for writing or drawing detailed ink sketches.

The first dip, in which I touched the bottom of the ink bottle with the point of the nib, lasted until I reached the end of the word "Kuretake" on that caption. That's amazing. I've done other dip pens and I'd have dipped about once or twice a line on that caption in order to write that much. She was definitely right about that.

It flowed smoothly from the start, another good point. Its real value doesn't show in lettering as much as the sketch -- the expressive lines really brought my cat's fur texture to life and made it very easy to shade in his dark ears, tail and visible foot. I found the feel of the pen left me working a little looser than usual, just as brush pens do.

If you like dip pens, enjoy doing pen and ink artwork and want something you can use with all those fancy bottled colored and iridescent and interesting inks available, the Zebra G Comics Nib is a good choice. I have seen many illustrations with this type of line used and it does give a certain flair to the art. You won't pry me away from my beloved Pigma Micron pens for their convenience... but when I set up in the studio and want this look, these nibs are a great way to get it.

One last tip. You may wonder why you'd want a dip pen in the first place. Colored inks are the answer -- you can change colors in a moment, wiping the nib with a clean relatively lint-free cloth, then dip another color. I realized the morning after this that I've got an incredible resource now for using Inktense as liquid ink. Just set out a porcelain palette, shave the points of different colors into different palette cups and add a drop or two of water to make liquid ink. The range of colors is 72 -- much wider than the 16 colors of Winsor & Newton drawing inks or quite a few other good colored inks.

Colored ink lines in a pen and wash painting don't dissolve when you add watercolor washes over them, but they can become very subtle if you're using colors other than black. Inktense has Payne's Grey, which is very useful, a wide variety of browns, blues, everything really. So the next time you want to try that colored ink and wash painting technique, think about using a dip pen like the Zebra G Comics Nib.

Ari cat sketch using Zebra G Nib with Kuretake Manga Black Ink, Copyright © May 20, 2010 by Robert A. Sloan

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Strathmore Windpower Watercolor Pad

Wirebound Strathmore Windpower Watercolor Pad is a green product. I like to buy green whenever possible and I try to be responsible in how I dispose of art supplies that may harm the environment. So when I decided to get an inexpensive wirebound watercolor pad to use as a water mediums sketch journal, I naturally chose this one over the others.

The cover's been altered because I did decide to use it as a sketch journal. I kept the alterations fairly minor though, so you can still see the original illustration (with cartoon Frankenstein monster hanging on the windmill blade and a small mob with torches under him), and placed my titles and captions in blank areas of the design. I wanted to keep the original information legible.

The cover stock isn't as heavy as the watercolor paper but it's still a good heavy cover stock. It would stand up to much more alteration if I wanted to go the collage, glitter and glued on tidbits route with a sketchbook cover. I chose wire bindings by category for this pad because I'm running out of wall space for small practice paintings and they just get stored in a box when I take them down. I can file a completed watermediums journal on a bookshelf with other sketchbooks and flip through it again anytime, or show it to people more easily.

The paper has a bright white, very nice cold press texture. It's a little less regular than some of the cold press "wove" textures, which makes for better texturing if I want to use broken color with any medium. It's good and sturdy, acid free and heavy. Sizes on this pad are standard for the USA: 6" x 9", 9" x 12" (the one I have), 11" x 15" (a quarter sheet compared to full size watercolor paper) and 18" x 24" if you like to paint very large. Current prices at Blick range from $3.11 to $14.22 and each pad has a generous fifteen sheets.

I've also used Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolor pads, similarly inexpensive and good quality. But the Strathmore paper is a brighter white, something I enjoy since it makes colors glow and doesn't mute the cool violets and blues at all. Most of all, when I chose it I was supporting Strathmore's decision to convert to windpower.

The back cardboard is very heavy. If you tend to rip out pages in a watercolor pad, frame and sell them, then by all means keep that back cardboard as a drawing board. It's a solid 1/8" thick and would hold up for much more painting or drawing than you can do with fifteen pages of pad, including flipping it over as a cutting board. Part of living green is reusing things that would otherwise go in the trash.

If you want to experiment with collage, acrylic textures and other heavier techniques, this book would be a good choice. The paper's very strong, the binding is excellent and that heavy back will give you a good base for anything you want to do with it. The pages are not perforated, so if you want to remove a page you'll need scissors or an art knife and some care.

One tip for using watercolor pads rather than blocks. Mark off some margins around each page before painting. I am not kidding. They will cockle more than watercolor blocks, which is why I favor watercolor blocks when I'm doing paintings to frame. To get them to dry flat, you can clip down three sides of the page with bulldog clips so that any major warping is compensated for.

I used 1/2" borders on my pages since I'm doing smaller paintings with space between them, though I did one full page painting with loose washes and it dried flat. The entire book is one composite work, a collection of watermedia experiments, but you can also use a pad to do serious paintings to sell or just sketch in it without trying to pull it together as a whole.

This is an inexpensive way to get a lot of good watercolor paper in a convenient, portable form. The small sizes would be great for plein air studies, while the big one could be a good way to get used to working large. Backs of pages can be used, the paper is a bit less textured on the back but also feels less sized. Experiment. At these prices and with that added green benefit, this is my choice for a book I can feel free to mangle and try things without worrying about waste.

Also, if I didn't mention this in a previous review, you can use a botched watercolor painting as a good surface for pastel painting if you cover it with a sanded pastel primer like Colourfix pastel primer or Golden Pumice Gel. For oil pastels, I'd prime right out past the border or mark a new border within the primed area -- oils will migrate to the edges when there's a barrier layer, staining and weakening the paper. For dry pastels that isn't necessary.

I plan on using one of these for a pastels sketchbook too, by cutting pieces of glassine the size of the pad and using a hinge of masking tape to attach the glassine to fold up from the bottom of each page and tack at the top. Borders will be 1" from the top to make room for the glassine to be taped. The glassine stays folded back till that page is used for a painting, then folded over to protect it. Might take a little while to prime all the pages and let each dry before doing the next, but doing this would give me a good inexpensive plein air journal for pasteling.

I was going to do that with this one, but got distracted by those lovely Derwent Watercolour Pencils that I got to review and have turned it into this water media journal instead. I'm now on page 12 and expect to complete the journal this month. Here's an example of one of the better pages in it, done entirely with Derwent watercolour pencils, captions with black Pigma Micron pen:

Copyright © Robert A. Sloan, all rights reserved.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sakura Pigma Micron Giveaway Winner

Rose, congratulations on winning the Sakura Pigma Micron Giveaway!

Please contact me on Facebook or at or with a message on LiveJournal (link is to my journal), so you can send me your snail address. Your new pen set will go in the mail as soon as I know where to send them.

The "Contact me" form on my oil pastels site sends me an email. Messages on LJ may take a little longer but I'll check it since I know you're out there. Facebook, I check almost every day so I'll watch for your note.

Have a long and happy series of great drawings and writings with your new pens... as soon as I can get them to you!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Moleskine Volant Micro Sketchbook

Moleskine Volant Extra Small Notebook -- For those who love miniatures!

Below is the example drawing I did in my extra small Moleskine Volant sketchbook, using a size 01 sepia Pigma Micron pen over an HB pencil gesture sketch. When you're drawing a live cat, it helps to get the general shape down fast within half a minute and detail at leisure because the cat will change posture, but his markings won't move around and his fur will still flow in the same directions.

Ari On My Lap by Robert A. Sloan, from life.

Moleskine makes a variety of different notebooks and sketchbooks. I got intrigued by the little Moleskine Volant ones. They're inexpensive, only $4.76 for a two-pack of the mini size I bought, $7.16 for the pocket size at Blick. Pocket size is the same as the other pocket Moleskines, 3 1/2" x 5 1/2" -- but the extra small size is great.

They come in two-packs in a variety of colors, most of them with one lighter and one darker in the same color -- green, blue, red, pink. They also come in black but the black ones are both black, not a black and a gray. Unlike the fancier Moleskines, the cover is just a stiff cover, it hasn't quite got the book-like construction of a regular Moleskine journal. It also doesn't have the ribbon bookmark, this is a simpler book intended for casual use. The paper though, that's excellent.

Good heavy cream colored drawing paper with a vellum surface, it'd hold pencil or colored pencils well and it's sweet for fine penwork. I tried a pair of black extra small ones. The extra small that I bought has 56 pages and the larger pocket size has 80 pages, so these little books are good for some time either for journaling in the lined versions or drawing in the blank versions.

I think it would stand up to some light washes or stamping or glue for people into doing art journals, and the pages are micro perforated so if you experiment and don't like the results, you can remove that page. Or if you do an ATC on one of the pages and pull it out to swap with someone. Just remember when doing ATC or ACEO (Artist Trading Cards or Art Cards Editions & Originals) that both sorts of art cards must be exactly 2 1/2" x 3 1/2", so you need to rule off a half inch at the bottom or top of a page in order to turn it into an ATC or ACEO.

If you're already used to doing trading card sized artwork, these little sketchbooks will be a convenience and a joy. If you hate working small, go the other direction and look for a larger sketchbook. It's a specialty item that I found well worth the money even if it hasn't got all the usual Moleskine amenities. It has the most important one -- really good paper in an easy to carry format with a cover durable enough to handle minor sprays and spills. That plasticated cover provides some moisture protection.

And it fits in your wallet, that's the cool thing.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sakura Pigma Microns Colors and Giveaway Winner!

16 Colors Set of Sakura Pigma Micron Pens -- just like the black ones, in colors!

We also have a winner in the Sakura Pigma Micron Giveaway from last post -- Rose, please contact me at using the Contact form on my oil pastels site. That'll let you email me your snail address and email for email confirmation without posting it for the whole world to read in the comments thread on these reviews.

Since you mentioned that you've been doing more pen drawing lately, I know you'll really enjoy these even if it takes years for you to use them up! It takes a while, and the points don't mash down like some other waterproof pens I've tried. They are fantastic. Try the pen and watercolor style too, it's so easy to splash a wash on them afterward or do a loose painting, let it dry and add penwork details.

Just when things couldn't get any better, they got better. I've loved Sakura Pigma Micron pens for decades. They are my favorite disposable technical pen and in my hands, outlive Rapidograph technical pens by a matter of years at a fraction of the cost. I was thrilled to find out they came in color. I was even more thrilled when Sakura sent me a review set of all the colors!

I can't actually test how long they'll last but I trust that with the Sakura ink technology, they will last as long as my good black Pigma Microns. I had forgotten what a nice fine line the 05 pen has, because it's one of the heavier lines in the size range I thought it would be too coarse for the style of pen and watercolor art I wanted to use colors for. No way. It was fine and gorgeous, just right for being able to easily reproduce a painting with pen and wash instead of having lines too thin for the resolution on a scan.

The colors are all waterproof and produce a superb smooth line, without variation even if my pressure varies randomly. I don't really press that hard on them most of the time but with a technical pen, I want a thin line that has a consistent width no matter what angle I'm holding it or where on the curve I'm drawing. If I wanted an expressive thick-thin line I'd use a brush pen or fountain pen. When I want control, I turn to Pigma Microns.

Naturally on the swatch tests of all the new colors, I also did a doodle to see how they behaved with a wash sloshed over them. I chose the maroon or dark red color, not sure what it's called, and drew some veins to create a leaf shape. Then washed over it with two shades of green Daniel Smith watercolors. Not a blur. Not a hint of a blur. These are in color and otherwise they behave exactly like every Pigma Micron pen I've used and loved.

Color tests with hatching in all sixteen colors. This is also a test of my scanner to see which hues will come up true on a scan. The very darkest brown looks a little more like black on the scan and the black looks browner than it really is, like the first two patches reversed. Other than that, the colors scan very true on a Canon Pixma MP620 multi-purpose scanner-printer.

Your scanner may vary. It's good to do swatch tests of any new art supply and then scan the swatch tests to find out how much fiddling in Gimp or Photoshop you'll need to do in order to make your art come out looking true. I was delighted to find that the yellow pen scanned true. Sometimes my scanner drops yellows, just doesn't show them, but the yellow ink is strong enough to come through loud and clear without turning green or orange in a scan. Very useful to have a yellow pen that scans true!

It would not surprise me if I could do color labels and stick them in bottles of alcohol or formaldehyde. Useful if you're a scientist and want some color coding possibilities in your labeling. For artists, that means you can try different thinners when combining penwork with oil washes. You can get an easy oil wash by using thinner with any brand of oil pastels and treating them like pan watercolors or oil paint in a stick, which gives a different effect than watercolor but can be very dramatic. If you use a transparent color, Pigma Microns will hold their line and stand up to it.

Well, let's test that with the odorless thinner right now, since I've speculated about it. The literature says alcohol won't disturb the line... what about Winsor & Newton Sansodor? I'll use the same maroon pen that I did on the sample leaf before.

Just as I thought -- Sakura's Pigma Micron ink does not dissolve in Sansodor odorless oils thinner. Which means you can use thin oil washes with penwork, or use oil pastels or oil sticks with a wash and still have your penwork visible. I'm not sure I'd want to put penwork over an oil painted layer since it might clog the point, but I'm not willing to sacrifice a pen to the destructive attempt. Most pens won't go over an oil painted surface because the ink just won't stick to the oil. But if you do the penwork first, this technique works as well as transparent watercolor... in colors, in twice the range of Prismacolor's Archival Markers.

I bought those several years ago. I found that the color Prismacolor Archival Markers do stand up to washes, come in fine clean lines, and were very handy for this sort of pen and watercolor technique. However, several of my color pens are now empty, they do not last as long as the Pigma Microns do. That's the main difference, also the Sanford Prismacolor product only comes in eight colors -- red, blue, green, orange, purple, brown, sepia and black.

Smaller point sizes in colors are available in Pigma Microns as well, if you want to do very fine details or very small labels. Colors in Pigma Micron fine points 005 and 01 include Rose, Red, Orange, Purple, Green, Brown and Blue, plus of course black in all sizes. Sepia is also available in a four pen set with three widths and a brush pen. Dick Blick now carries all of the colors and sizes available, something I'm very happy about since I prefer to shop at Blick. That's probably where you'll find the best price on them, they tend to be price leaders in everyday prices and sometimes on sales as well.

Here's an example of a serious pen and watercolor painting I did yesterday with the 16 color set of Pigma Microns. The line was fine enough on size 05 that I had no problem at all using the Claudia Nice style of pen and wash detailed realism. Penwork in colors always has a different, richer look than just doing black penwork with watercolor washes. I shaded it accurately using all the warm colors and most of the blues, browns, black and violet, the only colors I didn't use in this example were the greens because they weren't needed.

Conch in Sand
5" x 7"
Sakura Pigma Micron Color Pens size 05
Derwent watercolor pencils
Photo reference by Lisilk on for May Watermedia Challenge. If you haven't been to the site you should know there are millions of gorgeous reference photos available free and royalty-free to members. It's free to join, an exhilarating forum.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sakura Pigma Micron Giveaway!

Sakura Pigma Micron pens are the best disposable technical pens I have ever had the pleasure of using. I'm not kidding in the title! This review has a giveaway. See the pretty set of six pens in different widths? It can be yours. Sakura sent me a set to review and an extra set to give away on this blog!

So... you probably want to know how to win it, right?

Comment on this entry! Yep, that's all you need to do. Just post a comment here and tell me that you want the pens. On May 1st, 2010, I will jot down all the names in the comments and write them on little slips to put into her dad's hat, then get my six year old granddaughter, who probably doesn't know you and can't be bribed, to pull one of the names from the hat.

I will announce the lucky winner here on May 1st, and if I don't have your email then I'll post instructions for how you can message me either on Facebook or my oil pastels site, to get your email and snail address without posting it for the whole world to see. You do not need to pay shipping on your pens, I'll mail them when I have your address.

So read on to find out why you want the pens.

Let's see. If you ever write or draw anything, you want these pens. Especially if you hate seeing notes get smeared by coffee spilling on them or dislike having the linework on your manga or comics page or ink and wash painting blurred by the watercolor dissolving it. Pigma Micron pens are waterproof.

Oh yeah. You might want your art to last too. They are very, very archival. I didn't even realize how archival they were until I read the literature Sakura sent with the sample set.

You can store the notes you write with them under water or in a jar full of alcohol, which is what scientists and museum curators do with them. The size 005 gives a teeny tiny thin line allowing you to put four lines of carefully lettered text on a 3/8" wide label and stick it in the jar with the bug. The people who find your bug in the back cabinets fifty years later and realize something about it that should've made you famous will still be able to read your label!

Moral of the story: sign your notes and artwork. With these pens, so that there's no question about who actually did that. Your descendants will know you existed, especially if you use good archival paper.

Decades ago when I was a little kid, I learned to draw and write using Rapidograph technical pens. They are expensive, come in a wide range of nib sizes and they will not tolerate careless use. I have destroyed dozens of the things by leaving ink in them and then not drawing again for a few days, weeks or months. Occasionally I found old pens that I hadn't done anything with in years, inevitably clogged solid and sometimes permanently damaged with the little wire broken or bent.

Then in the 1980s when I ruined an entire set of seven, I got disgusted with Rapidographs and looked for something else that'd give me a waterproof, clean, smooth, super fine line that I could draw things the size of a postage stamp with. I tried a Pigma Micron pen in size 005, which is comparable to about a 00 or 000 Rapidograph. Very fine clean line just at the borderline of what'll show up on a scan. It's too fine a line to run through a normal copier, or was back then.

I was overjoyed to find that the Pigma Micron line was just as clean and perfect. When I'm doing a fine line, I do not want thicker-and-thinner expressive lines. I'll use a dip pen if I want that, or a fountain pen, or a brush tip pen. When I'm doing technical drawings I want to have a line that stays precise, regular and smooth with no skips and will not dissolve if it has liquid washed over it.

I was delighted with that Pigma Micron but reserved my judgment. After all, it wasn't a permanent investment. It wouldn't last forever and might not last very long. The only thing I weighed against its being disposable was that functionally, when I abandoned ink-filled Rapidographs to dry out, I was treating "permanent" pens that I could frugally refill with ink as disposable and replacing them way too fast. Replacing the whole pen seemed wasteful...

Until I found out how long these pens last.

I went through years of filling journals with hundreds of pages of very small handwriting and densely shaded ink drawings. I did large ones and lots of them. I bought all six sizes in Pigma Micron pens to have the entire size range handy, just like with Rapidographs, and discovered another benefit. Filling in the big spaces with the fat size 8 or size 5 Pigma Microns left less of the track marks/tide lines, whatever you call it when filling in something with solid ink makes a texture darker where the lines overlap. Anything I filled in black was black.

And still they wouldn't run out.

It was several years before I first used up a size 01 Pigma Micron, which had become my check-signing, note-jotting, journaling and general scribbling pen. I had bought several to have a fresh one in case I wore out the size I used most, but it still took ages to wear it out. Then I went through a lot of moves.

I wound up opening boxes from three or four moves back, finding stuff I thought I'd lost forever and old Pigma Micron pens with the lettering worn off the barrel by how much hard use they had. Tested them and the dang things still wrote and drew clean lines. I have never, ever found a stored Rapidograph in that condition, or ballpoint, or normal felt tip. If they wind up in the bottom of moving boxes, most pens can just get tossed without testing because they'll dry out.

Pigma Microns don't dry out like that. Okay, I did get in a good habit about capping them after use and tend not to lose caps. But I have sometimes left one open on the drawing table overnight and found it functional in the morning, which has never happened with a Rapidograph. I had finally found something better than Rapidographs for inking!

Sakura Pigma Microns are the very best disposable technical pen I have ever had the joy of handling. I use them for everything from writing checks to drawing fine art. Because they do not die until the very last ink reserves are gone, they are a frugal choice -- they last a lot longer than those cheap ballpoints and felt tips from the dollar store and they'll always give a good controllable line in a great variety of standard widths useful for anything you want to vary pen width on.

You can get a thinner line with a 6x0 Rapidograph, if you really want one. But I would recommend hiring an art student as a butler to fill it, bring it to you when you need those details, then carry it away when you're done, empty it, clean it and put it back in the safe. Even then, be prepared to replace points for $15 to $25 depending on where you buy them at regular intervals, and don't expect to be able to reproduce what you drew or wrote with it.

The fine line of a size 005 Pigma Micron is good enough for miniatures work and you can reproduce it using a high resolution scan. I haven't missed the 6x0 one enough to replace it.

I used to think these only came in black, but there are 14 other colors available! Not all of the colors are available in all sizes, but right now I'm looking for an online source to get the full range of colors. Now I want the assorted colors set and the Sepia set and as many sizes of colored ones as I can get my hands on, since I've begun using colored pens with watercolor in some pen and wash paintings. I know when I get the colored ones that they'll last and last just like the black ones, though of course if I get some that don't, I'll post about it. The size all the colors come in is size 05, which is a pretty broad point, but there's still a good selection in size 005 and size 01, the sizes I use most.

The colors include some old favorites and one that happily surprised me -- yellow. The yellow is only in the size 05 like some of the other colors, but being able to include a yellow detail in a drawing is important to me. I was out on Mt. Petit Jean sketching last year and saw a brilliant yellow flowering bush that I wound up having to include by scribbling with a highlighter. Less of a problem if I've got the yellow Pigma Micron with me.

These are great for plein air. They function in low pressure -- I've used them on planes and when I lived in Colorado they gave me no trouble. They've worked when I was stuck in Minnesota during the worst part of winter and the heat cut out. They've worked in Texas or New Orleans when it gets hot. Nothing seems to stop them.

There's also a Pigma Brush pen with the same pigmented, extremely archival ink. Interesting points from the literature: Sakura uses single pigments to create their ink so as to avoid pigment separation. So if you want a rainbow wash to come from pouring thinner or water over a fresh line on a blotter, you'll need to use normal bottled India ink to get that. It can be a cool effect, but I'd much rather put that in with a dip pen than have it happen accidentally in my pen and wash paintings!

So now you know why you want these good pens. They rock. If you're not the lucky winner, you can find them pretty much anywhere online or offline -- office supply stores, hobby shops, art supply stores. Blick has them at very good prices.

Okay, I amend this. I'll be getting the color ones on my next Blick order because Blick does carry them now! There's a 16 pen Assorted Colors set and a 16 pen all-black set that includes the brush nib and Graphic pens in 1mm, 2mm and 3mm sizes -- extra super-wide Pigma Microns! Definitely a necessity. I can see I'll be changing my plans for May.

One of you will get this great six pen set pictured at the top... so be sure to comment and tell me that you want it!

Here's a pen and wash artwork I did recently with Pigma Microns and watercolor -- including some very soggy washes right over the lines. Notice how clean the lines are and how easy it is to get an expressive line. I should also mention here that even if I vary my pressure or press too hard, it's so hard to kill the points on these that I have only ever done it once. They are made to last and designed for the careless!

Backyard Tree and Shells Page
5" x 8 1/2"
Sakura Pigma Micron pen and watercolor in Moleskine watercolor journal, from life.

Monday, April 5, 2010

ClaireFontaine PastelMat

ClaireFontaine PastelMat is a new surface recently introduced to the USA from Europe, where it's been around for a few years. It's archival, acid free, comes in eight beautiful colors and has a deceptively smooth surface. It's a coated pastel card that I found useful with any medium I threw at it -- watercolor, pastels, inked lines, oil pastels, pastel pencils, colored pencils, anything. It's quite heavy and stands up well to wet techniques. This has become one of my top three favorite sanded or coated papers -- the one I could use with anything.

PasterMat's versatility makes it perfect for mixed media. If you want a strong heavy substrate that can hold up under pastels with watercolor with paint elements with penwork, where your heavy impasto pastel layers adhere well yet you can also get perfectly smooth fine pen lines, PastelMat is a great choice. It is also the very best substrate available for painting with Pan Pastels. Bar none.

I got a small sample pad with four colors from Bernadette Ward at ColorfinLLC to test with my Pans. Each of the heavy sheets has its own glassine protective layer, which is a great help for using smudgy messy mediums like pastels, Pan Pastels, soft graphite or oil pastels. I touched the surface and wondered if Berni was off her nut comparing this to the sanded and coated papers like Kitty Wallis, Uart, Colourfix or Sennelier LaCarte.

It felt much more like a fine-grained vellum surface, comparable to Bristol. Great for linework and fine tiny detail, I thought. But I didn't realize what the mysterious proprietary coating really was until I applied Pan Pastels and other pastels to it.

The stuff is grabby. You can layer and layer on it, much more than any comparably smooth paper. Maybe not as much as something with a savage grit like Wallis, but PastelMat is respectable for softer pastels and layers at least as well as Colourfix or LaCarte. In the early layers, you can't move what goes down.

But you can erase it. The surface is tough and doesn't wear off with repeated reworking and erasing. I've only ever used a kneaded eraser to clean it off, but I got all the way back to white on a white sheet with that from using quite dark colors. It lost no tooth in all that reworking. So that makes PastelMat my choice for experimental drawings and paintings that I might be lifting and reworking a lot.

It is absolutely wonderful with Pan Pastels. The grippy, intense soft coating grabs every particle and gives much nicer opaque layers than other papers I've used with Pans. I have been able to layer and blend with PastelMat much more easily without getting that transparency effect of lifting off more color than I'm putting on when it's heavily loaded.

On this Pan Pastels painting, I went to ten layers in some areas of foliage without pulling off previous colors. This is on white without an underpainting, and I pulled color off back to white in a couple of spots just to see if the paper would stand up to it.

Dawn on Mt. Petit Jean
7" x 9 1/2"
Pan Pastels
White ClaireFontaine PastelMat

Below is a small sample of all eight colors ClaireFontaine PastelMat comes in. I couldn't pick favorites. White is best for underpainting because it's a very bright clean white, you can tint it anything you want. PastelMat will stand up well to washes and the card is heavy enough not to buckle with an underpainting. So if you like using alcohol washes or watercolor underpainting, White is probably your best choice. Anthracite is a beautiful glittering near-black, true black lines of charcoal or pastel or colored pencil show up well on it but it's dark enough for all the effects of painting on black.

Both of the golden colors Sand and Maize, Sienna and Brown are great for warm tinted grounds, depending on your subject and preferred value for warm tints. I found Sienna to be wonderful for animals or portraits, it's a beautiful warm reddish mid-tone. Deborah Secor loves using Maize, which she calls a buttercup color, for her gorgeous Southwestern landscapes.

Light Grey is a very pale near-white. I mistook my sheet of Light Grey for white until I held them next to each other when I ordered eight full sheets to have the complete range. The darker grey is a good midtone, perfect for working in both directions in value and for any cool-tint preferred subjects. So I find all eight colors nearly as useful as each other, with the exception that extra sheets of White may become useful if I do much underpainting.

Pads are available in the A range with White, Anthracite, Sienna and Brown together, or the B pad with Sand (very close to Maize but lighter), Maize, Light Grey and Dark Grey. They come in three different sizes but there are no single-color pads, just the two assortments. I first tried this surface with a small A pad 7" x 9 1/2" and that impressed me so much I had to get two more 9" x 12" pads plus eight full sheets to have the entire range available.

It's not Wallis. PastelMat is almost the other extreme for fine-grain strong tooth. If you use pastels on sanded and coated papers, you may find others more to your liking depending on your preferred techniques, pastels and subjects. I find it essential now when I'm using Pans or when I want fine detail. I particularly love using pastel pencils on it because I've done several of my best pastel pencil paintings on ClaireFontaine PastelMat.

Here's a painting I did today with Cretacolor Pastel Pencils on Brown ClaireFontaine PastelMat. Once I had sufficient pastel on the paper, I was able to blend and soften edges and transitions with my fingers. But this won't work generally with the first strokes because PastelMat is as grabby as drawing on the sticky side of tape. Nothing comes off, and that includes attempts to blend without having more than one layer already on the soft, smooth but strong surface. If you want to be able to work without fixative and get great detail on a beautiful surface, PastelMat is the substrate for you.

Blossoming Quince
7" x 9 1/2"
Cretacolor Pastel Pencils
Brown ClaireFontaine PastelMat
Photo reference by Don Ketchum posted for April 2010 "Pastel Spotlight" challenge on