Color Spree

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

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.