Color Spree

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

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