Tag: art supplies

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.

Pen Review: Copic Multiliners 0.3 4-Pack

I bought the Copic 0.3 Wine refill for my Multiliner SP  to use during  Inktober last October on a whim. I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy using a contrasting color for linework. It’s a bit of a challenge to find the refills for the SPs so when I found the Copic Multiliner 0.3 Pen Set ($12.50) with Cobalt, Olive, Sepia, and Wine, I purchased it immediately. I’ve actually been using these for several weeks but haven’t gotten a chance to write the review until now.

The pen barrels are unusually glittery plastic with a solid-colored, rounded bottom end and a matching, solid-colored flat cap. The logos and text on the barrels is printed in white ink and is mostly inoffensive. The clip on the cap is solid-colored plastic, attached to the top flat part. Its not super-sturdy but it does keep the pen from rolling away particularly if you have the pens on your book, lap or the couch.

The transition between the barrel and the traditional felt/fiber metal tip is an almost-smooth conical transition. You’ll either like this or hate this. I found it fairly non-distracting but I like the more stepped design of the Copic Multiliner SP, which is probably the more traditional technical pen design.

As for the actual colors, I loved getting a way to try out all four of the deep tone colors available for the Copic Multiliners in one convenient package. The wine color still remains my favorite but the cobalt and olive are also great options for other linework possibilities. I burn through felt tip points so fast, I still much prefer to use the SP line and replace just the tips as needed, even though I realize the cost to replace the tip is on par with replacing the whole pen. Somehow, it just feels more environmentally more sound to only throw away the tip, not a whole pen.

If you have never tried colored waterproof, COPIC-proof (fancy term for alcohol-marker proof) fineline, felt/fiber markers before, this set is a great way to try them without investing in a whole system.

If you already know you like felt/fiber tip markers, I recommend investing in the Multiliner SP pens. You can pretty much buy any size pen body (despite what the number says on the tube). Once you own one, you can put any tip and any ink refill into it and ignore the number on the barrel. Just be sure you use the right refill for the tip (smaller tips need the A refill, bigger tips need the B refill). If you want the colored ink refills, head over to MarkerPop, they are the best source I know to get all the SP colored ink refills for SPs.

From my Inktober 2016 Challenge: I drew the “Knitters Alphabet” using Copic SP 0.3mm in Wine and Copic Sketch markers and the ArtSnacks Inktober Sketchbook

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by JetPens 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.

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.

Review: Plumchester Square Sketchbook

Review by Tina Koyama

When I first saw it, I was immediately thrilled by the rich plum color of the new Plumchester Square Sketchbook – with a yellow-gold elastic and matching ribbon bookmark! I don’t know about you, but I don’t see nearly enough of the purple/gold complement anywhere, much less the stationery world. Let’s take a closer look, outside and inside.

Appearance and Features

The vegan leather hardcover has a smooth matte finish without the vague stickiness I sometimes feel on other synthetic leather surfaces. The corners are neatly rounded. Although I didn’t road test its durability, the cover resists minor fingernail scratches and looks like it would hold up well to daily-carry. The only branding is a white debossed logo on the back cover.

The elastic closure is significantly wider and heftier than what you’d find on a Moleskine – proportionate to the book’s 8.3-by-8.3-inch format. I wish the satin ribbon bookmark were wider – by comparison, it seems skimpy (however, the cut edge has been fray-proofed, so Ana would undoubtedly give that detail a bonus point!).

Other than its color, probably the most distinctive physical feature of the Plumchester sketchbook is its square format. Although an Internet search for square-format sketchbooks yields plenty of results, most are spiralbound or softcover, not perfect-bound hardcovers. The square format is one of my favorites for versatility – you can decide on your work’s format after it’s done, not be forced to conform to the format of your book. It’s also just right for sharing on Instagram, as Plumchester points out: “Snap a photo of your art on a square page and post it to social media using #plumchester.”

All of that caught my eye, but what held my attention was when I opened that perfect-bound hardcover binding – and how absolutely flat the page spreads open. As big a fan as I am of Stillman & Birn’s sketchbooks, I’ve looked askance at their claims that their hardcover books open flat – I have never been able to escape the telltale gray shadow at the gutter when I put a spread on the scanner. (S&B’s softcovers do, indeed, open as flat as any sketchbook I know.) The Plumchester, however, really does open completely flat. Since spreads closer to the middle of a book usually open flatter, I deliberately picked a spread near the back cover to scan the gutter. As you can see from my un-Photoshopped image, there’s no gray shadow. Based on all the hardcover sketchbooks I’ve opened, I had been convinced that it just isn’t possible to make one that opens completely flat – but the Plumchester proves it can be done.

Media Tests

OK, let’s get to the nitty-gritty – the 48 pages of paper. The smooth, bright white paper is 160 gsm (108 lbs.). Since I’m familiar with it, and it has a similar texture, I compared it to Stillman & Birn’s Epsilon series, which is 150 gsm (100 lbs.). While that weight difference is hardly noticeable in thickness, where it really shows up is in opacity. On an Epsilon page, the ghost of the image on the page underneath or on the other side is clearly visible, but I saw no ghosting at all on Plumchester pages, even when scanned.

I had a ton of fun throwing just about every medium I own onto those pages. Many sketchbook papers have a toothy surface that’s nice for art media, but the tooth is unpleasant with a fountain pen (my favorite writing tool), so I don’t enjoy writing on the same page I’ve sketched on. But the Plumchester’s smooth surface is a joy to use with everything from fountain and gel pens to fat, juicy brush pens.

The only media that bled through were an alcohol-based Zig Kurecolor marker, a Higgins Black Magic marker (wherever I stalled when writing, but not a scribbled line where I was moving faster) and a scribble of Liquitex ink where I sprayed it with water.

Plumchester says the paper is ideal for “graphite pencils, pigmented ink, colored pencils, paint markers,” so it was no surprise that the paper buckled under watercolor or wherever I sprayed or washed the page with water. While I expected the buckling (most papers lighter than 140 lbs. probably would), I was a little disappointed that the sizing allowed most of my water-soluble marker and brush pen inks to sink in rapidly, which means that giving them a swipe of a waterbrush didn’t bring out a rich wash. Papers of equivalent weight such as Stillman & Birn’s Alpha and Canson XL mixed media do a better job of that.

Still, my pear illustration shows off plenty of bright, blended colors from Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real Brush Pens, so I can’t complain. My other fruit sketches show conventional colored pencils, watercolor pencils (activated with water) and watercolor paints, and the colors all look brilliant on Plumchester’s paper. As expected, the page buckled wherever I applied water, but nothing seeped through.

With all dry media the paper is pleasant to use, especially plain old graphite. I thought it might not have enough tooth to use with charcoal and other chalky drawing pencils, but even those look beautiful. With colored pencils I tend to prefer surfaces with a bit more tooth to pick up the pigment faster, but I still like the results on this smooth surface.   

Final Impressions

I think the Plumchester sketchbook would make an ideal art journal. The page spreads are generous, and the flat-opening binding is unsurpassed. The paper takes nearly every medium beautifully, as long as you don’t get carried away with water, and the pages are heavy enough that they could support collage, too. A bonus is the smooth surface, which is a delight to use for drawing and painting as well as writing.

The A5 square size is a bit too large for me to carry in my everyday bag, so I am really hoping Plumchester makes a smaller book in the same square format – 6 or 7 inches would be ideal. With the same purple and yellow color scheme, please!

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.

Review: Marvy LePlume II Brush Markers

Guest review by Tina Koyama

Before I got heavily into colored pencils, watercolor brush pens were my coloring medium of choice. It’s hard to resist the huge range of intense, saturated colors many of them come in. Tombow Dual-Brush Pens were my gateway drug, and I managed to acquire quite a few of the line’s 96 colors before I discovered Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real Brush Pens. I decided that the “real” brush tips on the Kuretake pens were more variable and expressive, and they were my favorite for a long time (and yes, I acquired quite a few of those, too).

Eventually colored pencils suited my urban sketching needs better than markers, so except for black brush pens, I haven’t been using markers as much. Recently, though, I discovered Marvy LePlume II Double-Sided Watercolor Markers – and good golly, they come in an unbelievable 109 colors! Even more than the Tombows! Resistance was futile. I did, however, manage to resist getting all 109. In fact, my general tendency is to pick out all the brightest, most garish colors in any set, but I wanted to limit myself to about a dozen, so I showed some restraint and chose a relatively cohesive, subdued (for me) palette. I also got a blender pen.

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Scribble and Wash Test

My initial scribbles were done on Canson 98-pound mixed media paper, which is sized for wet media. On the right I used the blender pen to test the wash properties and found the marks to be a bit scratchy looking – the blender brush pen’s strokes are apparent. On the left I used a Kuretake waterbrush and prefer the more watercolor-like effect of its wetter brush.

2-scribble-and-wash-test-on-canson-98-lb-mixed-media-paper

I have to say that I didn’t use the fine end of the two-sided Marvy LePlume pens except to write the color names and numbers on the left side of the page. The fine end is a firm tip suitable for writing and drawing, but not for coloring. When I’m coloring, I prefer the softer brush tip of the larger end, which is made of a compressed, slightly flexy material (not hairs). Like all brush pens, you can adjust the size of the mark the brush makes by changing the angle relative to the paper. I found it easy to color in larger areas quickly by using the broad side of the brush tip held at a sharp angle to the page.

3-two-sizes-of-marvy-leplume-ii-2-sided-marker-tips

Stillman & Birn Zeta Test

The next test was more fun. I’ve seen many adult coloring books lately with beautiful abstract patterns. To test out the markers’ blending properties, I did something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time: I made my own coloring book page. I did the line work first with a waterproof Sakura Pigma Micron pen in a Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook.

I’ve successfully used 180-pound S&B Zeta paper with traditional watercolors, so I assume the surface is sized for wet media. I tried to make gradient effects with single colors as well as with two or three shades, but they didn’t blend as well as I thought they would. On the Zeta paper, I found the blending effect to be better with the blender pen than the waterbrush, but when I scrubbed more to increase the blending, the Zeta’s surface started to pill a bit.

4-coloring-book-page-in-stillman-birn-zeta

Canson Mixed Media Test

I did a third test using Canson 98-pound mixed media paper (the same kind used for the scribble/wash test). This time I thought the Marvy LePlumes blended much more easily and with less scrubbing whether I was using water or the blender pen. The blender pen still shows brush strokes more than the waterbrush, but they are not necessarily objectionable – just a slightly different effect. It’s a matter of personal preference, but I like the look of these markers and their blending qualities better on the toothy Canson paper than the smooth Zeta paper. I’m not sure whether it’s the texture or sizing or both, but as usual, the particular paper used with a pen makes a big difference in the effect.

I know that brush markers are popular among coloring book enthusiasts, and I’ve sometimes wondered whether the types of paper coloring books are published on are suitable for wet markers like these (let alone blending their colors with a waterbrush). If you’re planning to use them in coloring books, I’d buy just a few pens and test them out before investing in all 109 colors (which is the kind of crazy thing I’d be likely to do without testing first).

One thing to be aware of is that some Marvy LePlume colors are much juicier than others, and when I pulled the caps off, they actually spattered ink on the page (I circled the spatters on the S&B Zeta page).

5a-marvy-leplume-ii-with-blender-pen-on-canson-98-lb 5b-marvy-leplume-ii-with-water-on-canson-98-lb-mixed-media-paper

Tombow Comparison

I didn’t intend this to be a head-to-head comparison review, but since I just happen to have a good supply of the afore-mentioned Tombow Dual Brush Pens, I decided to do a mini-test of their blending qualities on Canson paper, just for kicks. The Tombows are comparable in that they also have a broad brush end and a fine, hard-tip end. With a waterbrush, Tombow ink makes an almost seamless wash that looks very much like watercolor. With the Tombow blender, blending gradient colors was a bit easier to do and showed fewer brush strokes.

6-tombow-dual-brush-pens-on-canson-98-lb

Final Thoughts

While I found no fault with the Marvy LePlumes, they didn’t distinguish themselves much from other similar markers I’ve used, and I think I prefer the Tombows when color blending. (What a relief – now I won’t have to run out and get the rest of the LePlume colors!) They did remind me, though, of how much fun it is to use watercolor brush markers, and I’m going to get them out more often again.

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.

Podcast: Art Supply Posse #28

This week, Art Supply Posse broadcasts without me. And it is the start of the new (and improved version) of Art Supply Posse). Heather is joined by her new co-host, Kathy Campbell. They reflect on 2016 and plan their artistic ambitions for 2017. This is the last episode of 2016; Art Supply Posse will return on January 11th.

Moving forward, I will no longer be a weekly contributor to the show in order to spend more time here on the blog and pursuing creative pursuits and maybe, just maybe… sleeping. I am so thankful for the opportunity and support from everyone who has listened to the show and wish success and  continued support to Heather and Kathy as they move forward.

To listen to the episode and see the full show notes, visit the web site here.