Category: feature

Kata Kata A4 Postcards

There’s only a few days left in April and I’m thinking I need to end Letter Writing Month on a BIG note. Thankfully, Fresh Stock Japan sent over these A4 sizes die cut Kata Kata postcards ($6 each, six designs available) that will be the perfect thing. Aren’t they fabulous?

They are basically blank on the back and say “postcard” but they exceed US postcard regulation sizes so I have no idea how much postage they would actually need so I’m going to have to wing it and hope that Mr. Whale doesn’t lose his tail and Mr. Bear keeps his feet. I think if I use standard First Class postage and consider it either an “odd-shaped envelope” ($0.70) or a first-class parcel ($2.67) I should be in the clear.

They are just way too cool to keep to myself! Hope you are having fun with April Letter-writing Month too and give these oversized postcards a try. The art is brilliant and who doesn’t need a whale in their mailbox?


DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Fresh Stock Japan for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Product Review: ArtSnacks April 2017 Subscription Box

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.

Product Review: ArtSnacks March 2017 Subscription Box

Review by Tina Koyama

On top of all the usual excitement over the release of the latest ArtSnacks box, the March edition was a celebration: ArtSnacks’ birthday! For four years, this subscription service has been curating a monthly assortment of fine art and craft supplies to art material junkies like me.

The March box included two tubes of M. Graham & Co. watercolor paints (Terra Rosa and Titanium White Opaque), a Protégé Taklon Paint Brush by Connoisseur, a Koh-I-Noor Triograph 2B graphite pencil, and a small sample pad of Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress watercolor paper by Legion Paper. As a birthday commemoration, subscribers also received an ArtSnacks logo magnet, which I promptly put on my metal file cabinet. Of course, the box also included a snack – a piece of WarHeads Extreme Sour candy (which was sadly long gone by the time I took this photo!).

Having paints, a brush and watercolor paper in the same box meant that I could conveniently try out all three items at once. First, the brush: From images I saw on Instagram, subscribers received a variety of brush styles. I got a No. 5 round, which I’m very happy with because it’s a versatile size that works well in my small sketchbooks. The synthetic bristles snap back nicely, and it retains its point well. I used the Terra Rosa to paint a small pear, and I like the control I had with wide strokes of paint, as well as the fine point on the pear’s stem.

I’d heard that M. Graham paints were unique in that they contain honey to keep the pigments moist. I squirted out a bit more Terra Rosa onto my palette than I had intended because it has a very loose consistency that reminds me very much of honey. The paint is so intense and rich that I could mix in quite a bit of water without diluting the hue. I’m not familiar with this color in other paint brands, so I don’t know how the particular pigments contribute to the consistency, but it appears very concentrated. A little would go a long way with these paints!

The Titanium White Opaque wasn’t nearly as runny as the Terra Rosa. After my pear sketch dried completely, I added a dab of white as a highlight to the upper part of the pear, and it dried nearly as opaque as when it was wet.

I made swatches of both paints over some ink lines so you could see their opacity.

Now, about that paper. In addition to making the pear sketch above, I ran a few of my favorite drawing media over it – the Triograph pencil that came in my box, a traditional and a water-soluble colored pencil, a fountain pen and a brush pen. On the side of the paper that would be considered the front (if you think of the pad’s cover as the front), the surface is considerably more toothy than the back, which is much smoother and without a visible texture. You can see the difference, especially, in the pencil tests. (The pear sketch was painted on the back side.)

The front side feels a bit too rough for hotpress; I found it unpleasant under a fountain pen, which is often what I use for line work before painting. It’s really a two-sided paper – coldpress on one side and hotpress on the other! The paper’s substantial weight is not indicated on the sample pad, but I’d guess it’s at least 140 pound. The sizing is beautiful – I love the way water-soluble media wash out with a rich bloom.

(Out of curiosity, I compared it with the sample pad of Stonehenge Aqua Coldpress paper that I had received in a previous ArtSnacks box. The coldpress has a strong texture, as I’d expect, and it’s consistent on both sides.)

Of the items in the March box, I’m having the most fun with the pencil, which is a jumbo-size, triangular graphite. It’s the biggest graphite pencil I own, so I thought it was appropriate to take it out for a spin on National Pencil Day! (For the sketch below, I used the Plumchester sketchbook, which is one of my favorites with graphite.)

The 2B core is firm enough that it easily retains a point for details. At the same time, that extra-thick core held flat against the paper makes for fast, easy shading. I thought the chunky triangular shape might be unwieldy for drawing, but it is surprisingly secure. The core reminds me of a carpenter’s pencil, but the body is much more comfortable to use.

I like the lightly varnished natural finish and the lacquered end cap.

I scribbled with it on the Plumchester paper, gave the marks a finger smudge and erased with a Tombow Mono Zero eraser. Smudging and erasing were typical of a 2B core, and it felt similar in softness to a Palomino 2B and Staedtler Mars Lumograph 2B.

The Triograph does not fit in any sharpener I own (and I own quite a few). However, taking a knife to it was a prime opportunity to give that deliciously thick core a chisel point, which will be even more fun for the next sketch!

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.

Coming Soon: Col-o-ring Ink Testing Books

After obsessively testing papers since October and finally making a decision about the “right” stock in January, Skylab Letterpress and The Well-Appointed Desk is finally unveiling our answer to the gap in the market — the perfect ink testing swatch book, The Col-o-ring.

We sourced 100lb/160gsm natural white paper from a 400-year-old European paper mill through a distributor located right here in Kansas City. Each book is 2″ x 4″ with die cut rounded corners and the covers are sturdy chipboard letterpress printed on a Heidelberg Windmill then hand assembled with a binder ring so that the pages can be easily be removed, rearranged, added or swapped to your heart’s content. Each book contains 100 pages and the paper is a good clean white so your ink colors will show true.

To prove how much better our paper is to some “other” swatch books, I put the Col-o-ring paper (on the right) up against a discontinued product (on the left). Using the same tools to test the same ink– a watercolor paintbrush with synthetic sable bristles and a Zebra G dip nib pen– (you can see, the Col-o-ring paper is smoother, though there is still a little tooth, so your pens won’t slip and slide all over the place) but the good news, is that even the wettest inks in a dip nib don’t bleed or feather!

But wait! There’s more!

We tested several ink samples on both the front AND the back of the paper…. (Emerald of Chivor is so hard to photograph. It looks so good in person! Alternately, Noodler’s Tchaicovsky is pretty much as weird looking in person as it appears below… I had this sample and thought I would test it … strangely goopy ink. Don’t blame the paper.)

Can you see a difference between Col-o-ring paper on the front or the back of the sheet? Nope. Neither could we. And we got very little show through and no bleed through, even with wet swabs. I use a paint brush loaded with ink so it takes a while to dry and still there was no show through. You could do swabs on both sides if you wanted to. Talk about cost effective!

One more, front and back sample, just to show off. (Diamine Oxblood is lovely,)

If you’re more inclined to do your samples with a pen, rather than a swab and dip pen or glass pen, these cards can work for that too. I did a quick writing sample example with my Aurora Optima and the paper picks up all the shading and color variation. I would have sampled more sheening colors but I had them all packed up for the Arkansas Pen Show this weekend. So, if you prefer to sample your inks this way, these cards will work too.

I’ll have ink samples, swabs and cards to try available at the Arkansas Pen Show so if you are in the area, please come by the show and try them out for yourself. Bring your favorite tools for sampling with you too and try those as well.

The Col-o-ring books will be available in my shop soon after I return from the show. I will put a post on the blog when I get them listed in the shop. Col-o-ring books will sell for $10 each plus shipping.

Vintage Colored Pencil Haul

This weekend I acquired a large quantity of vintage Prismacolor and Derwent colored pencils from a local printing company that used to do a lot of photo retouching work. I was asked “What’s the big deal with vintage Prismacolors?”

Besides loving the beautiful logos, the quality of the foil stamping and paint on the Eagle brand Prismacolors manufactured in the US is top-notch. But in terms of actual material quality, the cores are less likely to break, are more likely to be centered, and overall better quality. So, why wouldn’t I stockpile them?

There’s a lot of great colors in this grouping too.

I don’t have as much experience with Derwent colored pencils but these are all made in Britain/England and labelled “Rexel Cumberland” in various iterations. They are similar to a lot of the pencils I’ve acquired from clearance sales at work. I pretty much have enough of these now to build a shed in the backyard out of colored pencils. Or color in an entire city block. Either option sounds excellent.

Also included in the stash was a few miscellaneous China Markers (wax crayons), dried out ballpoint pens, a couple local advertising pencils, a couple Stabilo ALL pencils, a Hardmuth Aviator 3H pencil, and a few Berol-era Prismacolor colored pencils.

Not too bad for $10.

Sharpeners for Thick-Barreled Pencils

Review by Tina Koyama

My vast love of colored pencils is directly proportional to my frustration with sharpening them. While my desktop Carl Angel-5 does a decent (and sometimes very good) job on most colored pencils of average barrel diameter, it can’t handle pencils of slightly larger girth, which happens to be the case for two of my favorite colored pencil lines – Derwent Drawing Pencils and Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles. (While I don’t use them often, I would think jumbo graphite pencils would run into the same issue.)

When I’m home, I often hand-sharpen them with a knife, but as an urban sketcher, I often need to sharpen in the field. I can’t take a knife on a plane, and it seems imprudent to stand on a street corner with a knife in my hand. So I’m left with portable sharpeners as my primary option.

I’ve tried many with terrible to fair results; none have been excellent. Ever hopeful that the grail is still out there, I decided to try four that seemed promising:

Clockwise from top left – Ratchetta, Stad T’Gall, Kum special, Kum 4.

Sonic Ratchetta

Of the four, this see-through, brightly colored, high-tech-looking gizmo “with notification” intrigued me the most. It took me a while to get the hang of the ratcheting motion, but once I did, I realized it could save wear and tear on my hand and wrist, which I appreciate. The sharpening blades turn as you sharpen, requiring only a short back-and-forth motion, so you don’t have to crank your wrist all the way around and continually regrip the pencil.

The “notification” feature – a button that pops out when the pencil is fully sharpened – doesn’t seem to work consistently. However, I get a nice sharp point on my standard-diameter pencils, both colored and graphite. Unfortunately, neither of my two thick pencils – the round-barreled Derwents and the semi-hexagonal Caran d’Aches – would fit. To be fair, the Ratchetta’s description says nothing about accommodating fat pencils, but I guess I got so excited about the design that I forgot about my objective.

Kutsuwa Stad T’Gaal

This one gets the prize for the most puzzling name. And once again I’m guilty of getting so excited about the design that I didn’t read the description carefully. When I saw the dial that enables choosing among five settings, I must have jumped to the conclusion that the settings were related to pencil diameter. (I think I was imagining the wall-mounted classroom sharpeners of my youth that had a variety of hole sizes on the dial.)

Reading the instructions that came with the Stad T’Gaal (and by “reading,” I mean looking at the diagrams, since I can’t actually read Japanese), I quickly realized that, in fact, the settings numbered 1 – 5 are not about pencil girth at all but instead enable you to choose the length of the sharpened core. Setting 1 results in the shallowest cone; setting 5 the steepest.

Chagrined at my misinterpretation, I was nonetheless rewarded – both the Derwent and Caran d’Ache pencils fit! Well, perhaps “fit” is too charitable. It’s more like I am able to maneuver them in with some effort, like squeezing into jeans from a few years ago. And like those jeans, there is an unseemly consequence: the mouth of the sharpener takes some of the finish off those thicker pencils. Nonetheless, the Stad T’Gaal does a clean job of sharpening them at various core lengths. Standard-size pencils come out beautifully, too. The steepest No. 5 setting is probably not long enough to satisfy fans of “long point” graphite sharpeners, but it exposes an impressive length on my thick-core Derwents. Bonus points for coming in several fun colors.

Kum No. 410 Magnesium 2 Hole

This no-frills sharpener is the least appealing of the four I tried because it doesn’t contain the shavings. Away from home, I must remember to catch the shavings in a tissue until I’m near a trash can, which isn’t a huge deal, but is still something to think about.

Equipped with two holes, the smaller is intended for standard-diameter pencils, and the larger accommodates pencil barrels up to 10.5mm. Paradoxically, neither of my thick pencils sharpens well in the larger hole – the blade doesn’t seem to make contact evenly – but using the counter-intuitive smaller hole, both the Derwent and the Caran d’Ache are sharpened satisfactorily. It exposes a decent length of core without coming to a deadly point (which some graphite writers covet but isn’t really necessary for colored pencils). The mechanism is not what I would call stellar, as I have to exert extra effort or pressure to get the job done, and it doesn’t feel secure.

As I was sharpening with the smaller hole, the sensation and result gave me déjà vu, and then I realized that the Kum No. 410 is probably identical to the inner workings of the dome-covered Kum 301.08.21, which is my current sharpener of choice that I was hoping to improve on. (Of the two, I like the domed one better, since it contains my shavings.)

Kum Special Diameter Pencil Sharpener for Triangular & Hexagonal Body Pencils

I had the highest hopes for this Kum because its name indicates that it’s intended for pencils of special diameter. Surely my difficult-to-accommodate Derwent and Caran d’Ache qualify as “special”! Like the Kum No. 410, this one offers two holes that look suspiciously similar to the ones in the 410. (Don’t tell me I’m having yet another case of déjà vu!) But in fact, they are not identical because neither hole accommodates the Caran d’Ache. The smaller of the two holes does sharpen the Derwent adequately.

Incidentally, although I don’t use them much, I was curious whether a couple of Koh-i-Noor jumbo triangular pencils – a Triograph and a Magic – would fit. Nope.

Final Impressions

Since it’s the first portable sharpener I’ve found that can accommodate all the pencils I typically use and also sharpens beautifully, the Kutsuwa Stad T’Gaal is a versatile keeper in my bag. If only its mouth were just a tiny bit wider, it wouldn’t scrape the lovely matte-finish lacquer on my pricey Caran D’Ache Museum pencils. The grail search continues.

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 JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Upcoming Events (AKA I’m terrible at self-promotion)

First, there’s just a few hours left to back The Pen Addict Live 2017 – RelayCon Atlanta & DC Pen Show on Kickstarter and get a chance to the special video of Brad and Myke in Atlanta (and ME in the third chair) AND get the cool Pen Addict podcast NockCo “only-available-here” Sapelo pen case. Three years of RelayCon wonder! I can’t believe how lucky I am!

Of course, this means that I will be in Atlanta for the Atlanta Pen Show in April. I will be helping out at the Vanness Pens table for most of the weekend this year but can be found behind a mic for the Pen Addict Live event and at the bar in the evenings. Or at the Waffle House. I will need my sustenance!

Before Atlanta however, The Well-Appointed Desk and Skylab Letterpress will make its pen show debut at the Arkansas Pen Show on Friday, March 17th – Sunday, March 19th at The Crowne Plaza in Little Rock. We will be selling some vintage office supplies including a selection from my typewriter archives, some fine stationery products from Skylab like notecards and assorted paper goods. I’ll also have an array of rubber stamps for those interested.

And… we’ll be debuting a brand new product from The Well-Appointed Desk and Skylab Letterpress! We’ve been working on this for several months and a few people in the community have been privy to details about the project but it will be unveiled at the Arkansas Pen Show just a few weeks away! After the release, I will make it available online.

So stay tuned and I hope to see folks at the upcoming shows!

Future show plans include Chicago, DC, San Francisco and Dallas this year. I’m hoping to be helping out with Vanness at most of these shows this year but I’ll keep you all posted as things develop. Let the pen show season begin!