By Tina Koyama

The April ArtSnacks box contains an assortment of drawing instruments from fine to fat, and the handiest of brushes, too. Here’s what I got: a Pentel GraphGear 800 0.5mm mechanical pencil; a Copic Multiliner 0.5 pen in lavender; a Winsor & Newton Water Colour Marker in Phthalo Blue; and a Kuretake medium-tip water brush. (Ed note: This month’s candy was a piece of Dubble Bubble bubblegum which neither Tina or I deemed worthy of mention. I gave my piece to Bob and Tina didn’t even mention it. Candy snobs!)

The Pentel GraphGear 800 mechanical pencil has a unique grip area. A pattern of foamy elliptical pads makes the metal and plastic barrel more comfortable to hold, yet without the vaguely sticky feeling of a completely rubberized grip. Its tiered “business end” reminds me of the top of the Empire State Building or maybe a robot’s arm. Either way, it’s an interesting design element. The lead the pencil came with is harder than I would choose for drawing, but it’s just right for writing. (I think I’m going to refill it with Uni NanoDia 4B for sketching.)

When you pull the cap off the clicker end, a white refillable eraser is exposed. In my scribble sample, I compared the attached eraser with my favorite Tombow Mono Zero, and I couldn’t tell the difference – both erased the 0.5mm graphite lead cleanly.

I’ve used refillable, metal-barreled Copic Multiliner SP pens before, but this plastic-bodied 0.5 Copic Multiliner was new to me (Ana recently reviewed a set of the 0.3 size). Its water-based pigment ink is both waterproof and Copic marker-proof, so it can be used with water media and alcohol markers without smearing. The pretty lavender color I received is great to doodle with and make line drawings before coloring, but a little pale for lettering. I haven’t seen what other colors the Copic Multiliner is available in, but a set of these in various colors would probably be fun to combine with watercolors and water-soluble markers.

Unfortunately, neither the tip nor the ink is refillable, and I have a feeling my heavy-handedness will mush down the tip long before the ink runs out.

Unlike the Copic Multiliner, the Winsor & Newton Water Colour Marker is familiar to me. The double-ended marker has a fine bullet tip on one end and a broad brush tip on the other. Held nearly upright, the brush tip makes a mark almost as narrow as the fine tip, but held at a sharper angle to the paper, the brush makes a juicy broad stroke that mimics a paintbrush.

The brush end has become one of my favorite tools at life-drawing practice because the pigment flows easily, which I especially appreciate during the short poses, and the brush imparts a lovely variable line. With the swipe of a water brush, it washes beautifully with rich color – a super-fast way to add shading.

I received Phthalo Blue (green shade) in my box, and unfortunately, I don’t have a tube of traditional Winsor & Newton watercolor paint in the same hue to compare with, but I’m guessing that it matches closely. Unlike many water-soluble markers that are dye-based and often fugitive, W&N marker pigments are lightfast (as I would expect of any product with the Winsor & Newton name).

My first scribble test was done in a Plumchester sketchbook, which isn’t sized specifically for water media, so the wash looks a little wimpy.

I made another scribble in the Col-o-ring ink testing book, which is sized to show off fountain pen ink samples, and this time the W&N marker washed with vibrancy.

I have only a few W&N markers, including sepia, which isn’t typically a color I’d mix with Phthalo Blue, but to test their mixability, I turned the Col-o-ring page over. The two colors mixed easily and completely where they were layered, and when I blended their separate washes, those mixed well, too. Painters who are used to mixing their paints first on a palette might have difficulty making a transition to these markers, but those who mix on the paper might not have as large a leap. Although they can’t be splashed on loosely as real watercolor paints with a brush, these markers would be a convenient way to achieve familiar W&N hues in marker form.

The fourth item in the April box is the Kuretake medium tip water brush – another product I know very well. I think I can safely say that I have tried every water brush I have been able to get my hands on in this country as well as in Japan (the brush pen and water brush capital of the world), and the Kuretake is my hands-down favorite. Most brands I’ve rejected gush or unevenly dispense water. By contrast, water flows from the Kuretake’s reservoir to the brush tip evenly. As needed, a gentle squeeze of the reservoir pulls just enough additional water to wet the brush without dripping out.

I know many urban sketchers use traditional paint brushes in the field, and I tried that myself for a short while. But after discovering the water brush, I quickly gave up juggling water cups along with a palette and sketchbook – the water brush is just too easy and convenient by comparison. The plastic brush isn’t quite up to the caliber of a natural or synthetic hair paint brush in terms of fine control, but I find the tradeoff with convenience worthwhile. I’ve been using all sizes of the Kuretake line (including this versatile medium size) for most of the years I’ve been sketching, and it’s still the only brand I use.

Now that you have my full endorsement of a product I use daily, please allow me to let you in on a tip. To fill the water brush’s reservoir, the package (as well as the ArtSnacks video) instructs the user to squeeze the empty barrel, place the filling hole into a glass of water or under running water, release the squeeze so that water sucks up into the reservoir, and repeat many times until the reservoir is full. Although the reservoir is small, it takes many squeezes to fill it because a bit of the water already inside always squeezes out. Don’t you find this process tedious?

All you have to do is pull the black plug out (it requires a bit of prying with your thumbnail), place the opening under a running tap, and stop when full. It takes about a second. I’ve been filling it this way for all the years I’ve used the Kuretake because the very first time I got one, I didn’t read the instructions. Whenever I find out someone is doing it the “correct” way, I share my tip, for which they are eternally grateful. And now I’ve published it here. You’re welcome.


tina-koyamaTina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.


DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided free of charge by ArtSnacks for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

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