Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Quick visual Tour of a local AC Moore store


While I tend to do most of my own art supplies shopping online, I enjoy strolling through actual stores from time to time. This afternoon I visited the AC Moore store in Crossroads.

Under their open stock pencil displays I noticed an assortment of KUM sharpeners that included these colorful Correct-Tri sharpener/eraser combo tools. The magnesium wedge sharpener is a reliable choice, and the eraser was clearly marked "Made in Germany". If I didn't already own so many sharpeners and erasers, I would have picked one of them up. The plastic canister features two separate containers: one for collecting shavings waste, and the other to keep the eraser tidy.

They have a fair selection of Derwent, Faber Castell, and General's drawing materials. Also spotted some Royal & Langnickel value packs on some end caps.

Their drafting tools section include some Art Alternatives products.

Like this white 2 mm leadholder.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

JetPens Blog Sponsorship Lot 11: Lamy Safari Extra Fine Nib Charcoal Fountain Pen and Z24 Converter


For this month's JetPens sponsorship items, I chose the Lamy Safari Extra Fine Nib Charcoal Fountain Pen with its matching Z24 Converter. I have noticed that many artists and sketchcrawlers often include this German fountain pen among their preferred sketching tools while on-the-go. I suppose there might also be a "green" benefit of relying on a refillable sketching pen as opposed to using handfuls of disposable pens that end up cluttering landfills after too short a work life.

The Safari comes with a cartridge of blue ink, so I had to get the Z24 converter in order to fill it with Platinum Carbon ink that is more suitable for sketching and drawing. Being waterproof, the carbon ink allows for coloring with water-based media without disturbing nor smearing of the inked line work.

While the Safari is available in a variety of colors and nib sizes, I found the popular charcoal barrel most appealing since it should conceal stray ink smudges more effectively. Plus it is the precise hue a self-respecting ninja might choose to include in his tool kit ;). Its ABS body is lightweight, but feels quite sturdy. Its triangular grip feels quite comfortable, and it affords precise control for writing and sketching applications.

While simple enough, it took a couple of tries to get enough ink within the converter. The first time I turned the piston clockwise all the way up, I hardly drew any ink from the bottle when the plunger reached its upper limit. I had to dip the fountain pen nib deeper in the ink bottle and turn the red section of the converter more slowly to effectively fill the converter. After expelling excess air bubbles with the nib pointing up, I drew more ink into the converter to maximize its ink load.

First doodle test was drawn on Canson XL marker paper and we used the Platinum Preppy Fountain pen with a M nib for comparison. The Safari EF nib clearly produced a much finer stroke than medium Preppy nib.

While this thin support is not ideal for wet mixed media (too much wrinkling even with light washes), it is adequate for testing the compatibility of the Carbon ink sketches with watercolors. The dried carbon ink marks were water resistant and did not dissolve nor smudge upon contact with the watercolor washes applied with a squirrel brush.

I really enjoyed the Safari drawing on the super smooth pages of the Quo Vadis Habana journal. The EF nib yielded uniform continuous strokes upon first contact with the paper surface without skipping once. The Clairefontaine paper seemed to offer no resistance to the metal nib, so the fountain pen just glided in every direction with hardly any effort.

The Safari EF nib also felt very smooth and worked well without skipping on the pages of both of my Harry Potter journals.

The performance of the fountain pen is affected by the quality of the chosen paper. On the sleek Clairefontaine 90 g paper of my Habana journal, it glided effortlessly in a controlled manner and with minimal show through the back of the page. On lesser papers, the EF nib can be a tad more difficult to handle and the ink might feather or bleed through the back of the page. If the paper surface is rough, the nib is bound to skip and produce line strokes of uneven width.

On the more absorbent paper of this hardbound value sketchbook (that I must have gotten from some bookstore bargain section), the carbon ink would pool in small puddles in the middle of a stroke if I lingered too long on a single point. Thus it kind of forced you to keep drawing and sketching at a brisk pace to avoid making random ink spots in unwanted areas. To avoid disappointment and to prevent your pen nib from getting snagged on loose paper fibers, it might be best to lean towards hot press/plate smooth papers when shopping for a suitable sketchbook.

Matched with a fountain pen-friendly sketchbook and your preferred waterproof ink, the Lamy Safari Extra Fine Nib Charcoal Fountain Pen and Z24 Converter combo would make for a pretty effective field kit.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pentel Twist Erase III 0.7 mm mechanical pencils and Side FX 0.5 mm automatic pencils spotlight


Couple of carded mechanical pencils that you might spot at your local retailer or office supplies store: the Pentel Twist Erase III (PTE3) 0.7 mechanical pencils and the Side FX 0.5 mm automatic pencils. The PTE3 pencils were part of the Pentel Prize Pack that I got last year, and the Side FX were found on clearance long ago. They are both value-priced pencils of similar dimensions and equipped with the same twist up eraser that is quite good for writing corrections but not quite as efficient as the Pentel Hi-Polymer.

The PTE3 pencils feel pretty solid and feature a metal sleeves and clutches instead of the plastic components found in the common disposable school pencils. Quick check of their Amazon listing revealed plenty of positive user reviews.

The 3-jaws clutch hold the lead securely. Makes for a precise writing tool and fair sketching tool suitable for daily use. Inexpensive enough for inclusion in a field kit, and easy to replace.

The 0.7 mm lead is adequate for detailed sketching in small formats.

The twist erase section takes up half the length of the barrel in both of these pencils. While the Side FX components snap together with a satisfying click, the PTE3 pencils slide apart with little effort.

While you can certainly sketch and doodle with a 0.5 mm lead, I prefer the 0.7 mm lead for its greater resistance to breakage. You can also render areas of shading a bit faster with the wider lead. The Pentel Twist Erase III (PTE30.7 mechanical pencils and the Side FX 0.5 mm automatic pencils are good choices for introductory mechanical pencils, but you might want to check out the selection of imported drafting pencils available at JetPens if your are looking for something sturdier and/or flashier.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Souvenir Journals from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Orlando


Guess never got around trying these journals that I picked up a while back. With all the moves, they got misplaced. But better late than never, so on the left we got a Gryffindor Metal Crest Journal and on the right we have the Gryffindor Journal with the same crest embossed on its red faux-leather cover.

Should you find yourself at the amusement park and get the itch to do some doodling and sketching, either of them would make for a suitable sketchbook since their pages are blank without any ruling.

The metal one features ivory sheets, and the red one has a parchment-like texture in its pages.
Both open fairly flat and are quite portable at roughly 5"X7".

Tried the Platinum desk fountain pen on the red one, and its super fine nib glided effortlessly on it.

The Lamy Safari with an EF nib also worked quite nicely on this fountain pen-friendly journal.

Decided to start the other one with the drawing of a dragon with my 3 mm Maruzen leadholder. Graphite lead works just fine on this ivory paper. Plan to keep these journals close by and further test them with some of my other sketching tools in the coming days. I think any Potter fan would be quite pleased to add them to their collection.
Faber Castell Pitt Artist pens on HP Journal parchment pageMost of my 48 Faber Castell Pitt Artist pens are pretty visible on the parchment-textured page of the red journal, and none of them showed through the back of the sheet. The Sepia set with its 4 different nib sizes works quite well on this warm-toned support.
Faber Castell Pitt Big Brush Artist pens on Harry Potter Journal
Reference color chart of 56 Faber Castell Big Brush Pitt Artist Pens drawn on the Gryffindor Metal Crest Journal. All their colored India inks appear quite transparent and bright on its ivory pages and did not show through the back of the sheet. I actually had to use my regular Pitt pens to recolor the sample strokes for 102 cream and 132 light flesh since the Big Brush pens were going a bit dry.

Friday, June 13, 2014

JetPens Blog Sponsorship Lot 10: Copic Opaque White, Sakura Pigma Micron Pens bundle, Kaweco 5.5 mm 5B graphite refills,& Zebra Fine Disposable Brush Pen.

JetPens Blog Sponsorship lot of goodies for review in June
Just received the latest batch of goodies from JetPens for review this month. All items were packaged in bubble wrap envelopes within a sturdy box, so they arrived in pristine condition. Without a doubt, JetPens is like an Ollivanders for artists as a great source of rare drawing supplies and Japanese stationery.
JetPens Blog Sponsorship lot of goodies for review in June
I picked the following items for this order:
  1. Copic Opaque White (Made in Japan): missed it the first time it was offered, so glad I caught it as soon it was re-stocked. Quite handy for adding white highlights in the final stage of making an inked or marker colored illustration. 
  2. Sakura Pigma Micron Marker Pen -Black- 7 Pen bundle (Made in Japan): quite a good deal over getting the pens individually. Designed as disposable technical pens, they are particularly well suited for sketching and drawing in smaller formats (like 2.5" x 3.5" artists trading cards), making tiny detailed drawings, pointillism, and crosshatching. Nib sizes included are 005 (0.2 mm), 01 (0.25 mm), 02 (0.3 mm), 03 (0.35 m), 04 (0.4 mm), 05 (0.45 mm), and 08 (0.5 mm).
  3. Kaweco 5.5 mm leadholder 5B refills (Made in Germany): because the matching clutch pencil is awesome, and I wanted to have a fresh supply of soft refills handy for when I ran out. It makes a nice bold dark stroke with minimal pressure.
  4. Zebra Fine Disposable Brush Pen (Made in Japan): I happen to enjoy doodling with this brush pen ever since I came across it at Japanese stationery stores in the West Coast years ago.  I like its bold line with slight variability (its fine nib has some give that allows for subtle changes in line thickness). Its ink flow suits me fine most of the time, but if you start drawing too fast you might get some streaking in the middle of the stroke instead of a solid black line. I find it similar to the Sakura Pigma Graphic 1, but a tad more flexible.
JetPens goodies
The Copic Opaque White is a pretty thick white paint with good covering power. In the sample swatches above, you can clearly see that it can effectively create white spots and marks over alcohol and solvent-based black marker inks. The built-in fine brush and opaque white work well, its long plastic ridged cap is easy to grasp and allows adequate control of the brush tip. Given its thick consistency, expect the white paint profile to dry a bit raised over the paper surface. Remember that these touches of white are meant to be used as highlights or reflections in the last step of your illustration process. I would not advise to further color or ink on top of the dry white paint, as its absorption would differ from the paper resulting in an uneven look
JetPens goodies
The Pigma Micron marker pens are a common sight in artist's tool boxes (I have spotted them in the sketching kits of many artists at workshops and convention artist alleys). They are reasonably sturdy given their fine points. Their felt tip nibs are encased by a metal tube, so they can be used with inking rulers and templates with raised inking edges just like technical pens. Their pigment ink is fade proof, water resistant, and archival. Use a very light touch with the smaller diameter nibs, for they can be a tad fragile and might bend under heavy pressure. The Pigma Micron pens also make for pretty good writing tools, and are often used by scientists to document their experimental designs and observations in their lab notebooks since the ink is chemically stable. These pens are ideal tools for the Renaissance types and multitaskers that like to switch from their artist hats to their scientist hats on the flip of a coin.
Sakura Pigma
While I tend to use the thicker Sakura Pigma Sensei drawing pens more frequently for my cartoon sketching, I would not hesitate to pick up a Micron pen if I wanted to render some finer detail or sketch really small with lots of different textures. Both Sakura product lines share the same reliable pigmented black ink. Since they are pretty fine nibbed pens, using a smooth paper would be a must for optimal performance. Rough vellum surfaces are likely to destroy the felt nibs prematurely.
Pigma Micron Pens waterproof test
Tested the water proof quality of all these new pens with my Faber Castell Pitt Big brush artist pens after allowing them a few hours to dry. The water based Pitt ink smeared the Zebra ink slightly in the belly area of the green dragon in the bottom of this Canson XL marker page. Also noticed a bit of smearing in the rib area of the brown mammal in the Micron 01 sample and behind the green fin of the fish in the Micron 03 sample. Yet generally speaking, both the Micron Pens and Zebra fine brush pen inks have adequate resistance to water based media. A single pass does not seem to affect the black outlines.  Repeated passes over the same inked area is bound to result in a bit of gray rubbing off the black outline. Coloring Pigma ink outlines with water-based markers and watercolors is feasible, but should be done with care to avoid smearing.
Copic Opaque White test
To wrap up this review, I further tested the Copic Opaque White paint over the Pitt colored dragons. With its built-in applicator, it was a cinch to create snow-like white spots over the face and some reflective glint on the scales of the blue dragon.
Copic Opaque White
Might have overdone it with the green dragon, but the white streaks help break its flat coloring and make its serpent body look rounder and glossy. I think that most artists would find a use for these tools in their sketching kits. Recommended.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Vintage Find Spotlight: Venus Refill Leads F one half gross box


This vintage box of Venus Refill leads arrived today. It was pretty lucky to find a complete one half gross box (that's twelve packages containing 6 leads each) in pristine condition through E-bay. F happens to be one of my favorite graphite lead grades for sketching. It has just the right balance of darkness, smoothness, strength, and sharp point retention. The fact that they come packaged in such a beautiful cardboard sleeve featuring the Venus de Milo is quite a nice bonus.

I got my first box of Venus H leads a few years ago. While in good condition, it showed signs of wear and a few scuff marks on its edges. Exposure to light had made its original colors fade quite a bit. Notice how much darker the green band with the Venus label looks on the paperboard shell of the F boxes. According to the seller, they were kept in his house for 70 years unopened:"Thus they look as good and bright as the day they were made and shipped" (sometime ago in the 1940s).

The box that protects the leads against breakage consists of two wooden slats held in place by the bright green cardboard sleeve.
Venus Refill Leas wooden traysEach graphite lead is clearly marked with its grade "F" and "Venus A.L.P. Co. Made in the USA".

The leads work just fine despite their age without a hint of scratchiness. They make fine dark strokes that are fairly smudge resistant. Being 5" long, they fit nicely in a Mitsubishi Uni leadholder. If you find them at the right price for you, pounce on them. Currently, I'm only aware of one store in New York that has a few 4B and 5B vintage boxes listed in their website from a recently rediscovered lot of vintage pencils.