Posts Tagged ‘art supplies’

Pen Review: Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Nature Colors 6-colors Set

Staedtler nature colors triplus fineliner markers

First, I promise this is the last set of Staedtler Triplus Finerliner markers I will review because I have them all now. I couldn’t resist. That said, the Nature Set of Staedtler Triplus Fineliners ($7.50) are probably my favorite set. It could be because they are the most seasonally appropriate here in the autumnal continental US right now. The set features Green Earth, Warm Sepia, Tuscan Red, Gray, Carmine and Mauve (which looks more like plum to me but I never think anyone names colors properly anyway). The gray in this set is actually a totally usable gray, unlike the silver gray in the Pastel set which is too pale to be usable for writing.

Staedtler nature colors triplus fineliner markers

Actually, I found all the colors in this set usable for writing and there is enough variation in color to create visual interest in note-taking to be interesting without being jarring. Sophisticated palette appropriate for nature sketches or just because.

The Staedtler Triplus Fineliners feature the slim 0.3mm felt tip point, water soluble ink, triangular barrels, and ink designed to be able to be uncapped for long periods of time without drying out. The set comes in the fold-over plastic travel case which is sturdy and easy to use.

Staedtler nature colors triplus fineliner markers

Now, if Staedtler would just make a set of these markers with waterproof ink , I would be the happiest person in the world. But overall, these are wonderful and if you are not trying to combine them with watercolor or other water soluble pens or brushes, I recommend them with my highest praise.

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

Pen Review: Crayola Gel Markers

Crayola Gel Markers

A few weeks ago I saw a post on Instagram where a calligrapher was doing some amazing lettering on black paper and laying off to the side was the distinctive undulating line on the marker of the Crayola wedge marker but the marker was black. Why had I never seen one of these markers before and how was the ink standing up all opaque on black paper?!?!? I must know what this is and I must know now!!!!! Since I have access to the source that the Crayola catalog, I went hunting and discovered that the marker was a Crayola Gel Markers and I toddled myself down to our corporate store ASAP and purchased a package to test them out myself.

Crayola Gel Markers writing sample

There are only eight colors available in the set: a black that looks more dark grey than black, red, pink, yellow, purple, blue (aqua), green and white. While the color range is not super broad, the conical tip provides a range of line variation and they are actually a lot more opaque than I expected. The white is actually clear and dries white so it works best if used slowly so you can keep track of your strokes but all the other pens leave visible lines as you write. Going over the white lines will also create a more opaque white which was nice.

Crayola Gel Markers writing sample

As with all Crayola products, the pens are washable (which means they are water-soluble) and non-toxic (they may not taste great but you can lick them if you want to) so you can share these pens with your kids and they are also extremely reasonable priced. I believe I purchased my set for about $5 or $6 but I’m sure you can find them in a big box store for less.

Crayola Gel Markers writing sample

I think these would be great fun to use with coloring books or on construction paper and a fun way to practice calligraphy, address envelopes or generally spice up an already burgeoning pen collection without breaking the bank. Go forth and scribble!

While this post can be qualified as “plugging the firm” I purchased these with my own money and all the opinions expressed here are my own and are no way influenced by my place of employment.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Palette

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Palette

In the same way that I love pens and pencils, I also love watercolors and watercolor sets. So I was really excited when JetPens started stocking the Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Palette sets. The sets are available in a 12-color box ($17), and 18-color box ($23.50) and a 24-color box ($29). I got the 18-color set which is a lovely set. The set comes in a green, fabric covered box (almost like a chocolate sampler box in size and shape) with gold foil lettering on the cover. Inside, are extra large pans of watercolor paints.

Like all watercolors, you really need to swatch the colors to see what the colors will look like. In my swatches, you can see that the colors offer an array of three reds, an orange, a yellow, a yellow ochre, three shades of green, a turquoise, four shades of blue, a violet, black, white and a burnt sienna. This is a great assortment of colors that can be mixed to create even more colors. The most unusual color in the palette is the cornflower blue which is not usually a color I see in basic watercolor sets. I need to play with the colors a bit more to see how they mix and blend but the colors are all bright and vivid.


The individual pans of color are loose in the box so they can be removed and rearranged as you’re using them. The Gansai Tambi have some of the largest pans I’ve ever seen in a watercolor set. Most starter sets feature what is called a “half-pan” which is about the size of a cellophane wrapped caramel (my husband says “like a mini marshmallow”). The Gansai Tambi pans are about 1″ x 2.5″ – which is substantially larger, so you get a lot more room to swirl your brush and can dip a much larger brush into the pan without accidentally picking up other colors. The downside is that the Gansai Tambi box is that its not particularly portable. Its definitely a desk-sized set of watercolors. It also does not have any built-in mixing areas so you may want to add a mixing dish (something like this might work) to your supplies if you are using your Gansai Tambi set regularly.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor doodles

The Gansai Tambi paints are described as “traditional Japanese watercolors” and, in use, they do seem a little different from other watercolors I’ve used. If you’re new to watercolor, what I can say is that the colors are slightly more opaque than other watercolor paints – not as much as gouache (which is a type of watercolor paint used mostly be designers and illustrators that can be very opaque and very matte in finish). The Gansai Tambi watercolors will dry with a slight shine to the paint if applied heavily.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor comparison

In an effort to get a better feel about the difference between the Ganasi Tambi watercolors and other watercolors, I decided to find similar colors in my stash and do a side-by-side comparison. I used an array of Winsor & Newton, Sennelier and Daniel Smith watercolors, both tube and pan colors to make a close match. The swatches on the left are the :regular” watercolors and the swatches on the right are the Gansi Tambi set. Does this help show how the Gansai Tambi are a bit more opaque?  I noticed it most with the black (#20 on the Gansai Tambi palette) which on the left is a lighter grey rather than a deep, solid black. I’m not saying one is better or worse, just different. And in being different, it makes the Gansai Tambi set a good investment for me. Its not just “more of the same” with this set of watercolors.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Palette Comparison

I marked my other watercolor samples as SEN for Sennelier, DS for Daniel Smith and W&N for Winsor & Newton. Overall, there is a lighter hue with the other watercolors than the Gansai Tambi.  I couldn’t really match the #34, my closest option was W&N Opera Rose which is practically fluorescent.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Palette Comparison

The colors were quite similar with the exception of the #61 sky blue, I substituted it with one of Daniel Smith’s PrimaTek paint with a mica chip in it to be as funky as the pale sky blue.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Palette Opaque White Comparison

The last comparison I did was with the opaque white. Most watercolorists don’t use a white but a lot of designers and illustrators will add opaque white as a final detail or touch up. I compared the W&N Titanium White with Gansai Tambi white. I laid down a layer of black gesso to see how opaque these whites are. The Gansai Tambi is a nice white but the W&N Titanium White is much more opaque, especially when dry.

Now, this comparison is probably largely unfair because a lot of my professional grade watercolors cost over $10 per pan or tube. So, two pans or tubes cost the same as the whole tray of great big pans. But I thought it would be a good chance to see if the colors in the Gansai Tambis were as clean and vivid as more expensive brands. I think it did a really good job for someone just getting started with watercolors. It may not behave exactly like traditional watercolors but I think you’ll have a lot of fun using them.

All the painted test were done on a Canson Edition 100% Cotton 9×12 Drawing Pad (250gms).

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.

Pencil Review: Koh-i-noor Special “Magic” Color Pencil


Kohn-i-noor Special MAGIC Colored Pencil

After the article several weeks ago from the NY Times about the tools used by famous artists, I fell under the spell of the multi-colored colored pencil used by Milton Glaser. My friend Kirsten confirmed that Mr. Glaser really does use these pencils. He taught one of her graduate classes at the School of Visual Arts so she confirmed the story with some degree of authority. To say I’m jealous she saw his pencil handiwork in person would be understating things a bit.

It took awhile to find a dozen of these gems. I ended up buying them from a vendor on Amazon who was in Europe. The listing officially calls these pencils “Koh-i-noor Aristochrom Magic – 12 Pencils with Special Multicoloured Lead“. For the sake of ease, I refer to them as Koh-i-noor Magic Pencils. The box of one dozen was $14.50 plus $8 shipping which makes these pencils more expensive than Palomino Blackwings. But needs must, right?

The pencils came in a slightly mangled yellow box with the Koh-i-noor/Hardtmuth logos on the box. They had been shipped in nothing more than a kraft envelope so the mangling was a result of the postal system. The box isn’t anything special so the fact that all the pre-sharpened pencils were safe meant the box served its purpose.

Kohn-i-noor Special MAGIC Colored Pencil writing sample

This pencil was freshly sharpened using the KUM 2-step long point sharpener. Beautiful!

Inside were the dozen pencils I most coveted. The pencils are hexagonal with gold metallic paint and the only branding is ink jet onto one facet in black. The text includes “060”, a lengthy stock number and bar code, “Koh-i-noor” and “3400”. I wish the branding had been foil stamped onto the pencil instead of the super-cheap looking ink jet but these pencils are probably not very popular or produced in extremely large quantities so they don’t get as much attention as a traditional graphite or single color pencil.

The end of the pencil is shaped into a low profile cone shape and is not dipped. Its exposed natural wood. Its a weird detail that I’m not crazy about but the simple gold paint on the rest of the pencil makes up for the unusual treatment of the end. I’d love it if the end were dipped in a glossy black to give it a truly regal feel but there aren’t a lot of options for “magic” pencils so I’ll take what I can get.

The real reason I love these pencils is the three-color lead. Red, blue and yellow pigments are blended into the lead in small chunks so that, as the pencil is used, the color changes. The blue is a deep indigo blue and the red and yellow are pretty much primary colors. What I discovered over the last few weeks of using these pencils is that by turning the pencil a little bit as I’m using it, I can force lighter or darker colors to appear as I need them.

Kohn-i-noor Special MAGIC Colored Pencil writing sample

The composition of the pencil lead is definitely wax- or oil-based as it is not water soluble. This makes it easy to add other materials like watercolor paint, water-based markers, ink, or pen without blurring your linework. It also means that the marks don’t smudge, which is quite pleasant.

On regular paper (like my Rhodia test paper) the Magic pencil does not erase well. I suspect that on a primed surface like gesso, it might be easier to erase but for doodling and sketching, be prepared to leave the lines where they are. Loose-y and goose-y is the best way to enjoy these Magic pencils.

I know these pencils won’t appeal to everyone but I they are such wonderfully unique tools that I couldn’t resist sharing them.

Review: Staedtler Triplus Fineliner 20-color Felt Tip Marker Set (& Giveaway)

Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Review

I was recently let loose in Target during back-to-school shopping without any adult supervision. In my melee of shopping enthusiasm, I couldn’t resist buying the largest set of Staedtler Triplus Fineliner felt tip markers they had.

The set included an array of standard colors and six neon colors as well. The set came in a sturdy plastic case with a flip top lid that would create an easel stand. It reminded me so much of those wonderful 64-color boxes of Crayola crayons with the built-in sharpener that I was helpless to resist. To an adult, fresh markers are just like a brand new box of crayons.

Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Writing Sample

Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Writing Sample 2

The Staedtler Triplus series is notable for being quite long pens with a rounded triangular shape that makes them comfortable to hold.

I was surprised with how sophisticated the color palette was for this set including colors like a yellow ochre and rich reds and blues. These were certainly not watery kids’ markers in regards to the colors. The neons are lots of fun but the neon yellow is not dark enough for writing — maybe underlining or filling in shapes. Also, the grey marker was too light for writing but might be nice for drawing or coloring.

Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Review

The whole time I was using the Triplus markers I found myself comparing them to the Stabilo Point 88 markers I purchased not too long ago. There are a lot of similarities in regards to price as well. The Staedtler set cost me about $24 at Target while the mini sized Stabilo 18-color set was $15 from Jet Pens. Stabilo does make full-sized versions of the Point 88 markers which is entirely comparable in size, price and selection to the Staedtler Triplus markers.

Staedtler Triplus Fineliner vs. Stabilo Point 88 0,4

The tips on the Stabilos and the Staedtlers are basically identical despite the numeric coding suggesting that the Stabilos are wider. I could not actually discern any difference in the writing samples I did. Colorwise, the two sets differed with the Stabilos having a wider range of traditional colors and the Staedtler having the wild neons instead. If you compare the Staedtler 20-color set listed on Jet Pens to the Stabilo 25-color set, the colors are very similar. The two sets are competitively priced ($25 and $22) but the Stabilo set offers five extra colors where the Staedtler set offers a more durable carrying case.

Staedtler Triplus Fineliner vs. Stabilo Point 88 0,4

Sorry this photo is a little blurry. (too much caffeine!) But you get the gist.

While I really enjoy the neon colors in the set I purchased, I wish I had seen the 20-color set available on JetPens that does include a wider array of grey shades plus yellow, orange, and aqua which I miss in the reduced set I purchased.

Would you like to win a set of 20-color Staedtler Triplus Fineliner markers or a 25-color set of Stabilo Point 88 markers from JetPens? I’m giving one set of markers away to a lucky reader. Leave a message in the comments and tell me which set you’d prefer and what you hope to use them for to be entered to win.

FINE PRINT: All entries must be submitted by 10pm CST on Thursday, Spetember 17, 2015. All entries must be submitted at, not Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, okay? Winner will be announced on Wednesday. Winner will be selected by random number generator from entries that played by the rules (see above). Please include your email address in the comment form so that I can contact you if you win. I will not save email addresses or sell them to anyone — pinky swear. If winner does not respond within 30 days, I will draw a new giveaway winner. Shipping via USPS first class. US residents only please.

Finally, for an awesome chart comparing several type and brands of colored marker sets, check out JetPens’ Guide to Choosing a Felt Tip Marker.

News: Creative Types on Their Favorite Tools

Illustration by Kulapat Yantrasast

Illustration by Kulapat Yantrasast

There’s a great article on the NYTimes about Creative Types From Manolo Blahnik to Milton Glaser on Their Favorite Writing and Drawing Instruments. Thanks to Milton Glaser, I really want my own Koh-I-Noor multi-colored Magic Pencil.

While we’re on the topic of the NYTimes and its love of articles about pens and pencils, here’s a couple others to check out:

Video: How It’s Made: Space Pens, Colored Pencils, Fountain Pens & More

I found a great collection of pen-and-pencil-centric How Its Made videos. Some you may seen but I thought this would make for great lunchtime viewing. Enjoy!

This next video is how Aurora Fountain Pens are made:

This is the manufacturing process of Caran d’Ache colored pencils:

This next video is in Japanese subtitles with no spoken dialogue but its how Pilot makes its fountain pens so I thought it would be fun to watch even without narration. The first eight minutes is all about how the nibs are constructed which is a little slow to watch but fascinating!

Follow-Up: Stillman & Birn Epsilon Sketchbook

Stillman & Birn Epsilon Sketchbook

I have filled almost ever page in the Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook I reviewed last year. I started working in it regularly about a month ago when I started taking some online drawing and painting classes and I thought I’d share with you how well it held up to regular use and abuse.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon Sketchbook

I absolutely love the 100 lb/150 gsm natural white, smooth paper. I’ve used ink, gouache, watercolor, acrylic and colored pencils throughout the book, often all of these tools on the same page. Fountain pens, paint pens, markers and brush pens all worked well on the paper with no feathering. Some pages developed a little bit of a curl as a result of lots of wet media but there was no bleeding or show through at all. I’ve doodled, sketched, taken notes, tested materials and generally carried it with me everyday for a solid month.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon Sketchbook

Not every page is finished but I thought this would be a good opportunity to show the overall wear and tear and show how well the Stillman & Birn sketchbook has held up. The hardbound cover and spine show a little bowing but the binding did not fail at all. I’m confident I can continue to add and tweak the pages and the book will hold up to the stress.

Much of the pages are doodles and sketches and I’m a little self-conscious about showing this work-in-progress but I hope you get a sense of the durability of the Stillman & Birn notebooks from the photos.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon Sketchbook

Blick stocks the full range but I’d really recommend the Epsilon as a great place to start. Prices for the books range between $15-$24 depending on size and binding. The 5.5×8.5″ Epsilon is $15.99 which is comparable, if not a little cheaper, than the equivalent sized Moleskine (or similar) notebook with far better paper.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon Sketchbook

Review: Platinum Carbon Pen

Platinum Carbon Desk FountainPen

Pardon the smudge on the Platinum Carbon Pen. I’ve been using it for several weeks for making art, particularly of the mixed media variety and managed to get a smudge of acrylic paint on it. Should you purchase one of your own and want it to look as well-loved as mine, you must also smudge a little acrylic paint on the barrel — color of your choosing. My smudge is a pale apricot color.

Okay, now let’s talk about this unusual pen. First, the Platinum Carbon Pen was designed to be a desk pen (which explains the hideously inappropriate rubbery plastic cap) AND it was specifically designed to be used with Platinum’s permanent Carbon Black ink. What appealed to me is that the nib is a “super fine” Japanese nib and known to be a good performer. Why would you want or need either of these things?

First, I’ve not been much inclined to fill my regular fountain pens with waterproof or permanent ink and I’d guess you aren’t either. I don’t want to damage my pens should the ink dry or clog in the pen. So, the fact that the Carbon Pen is designed specifically to work with the Carbon ink means the feed is a bit wider to accommodate it. Also,the pen costs a whopping $13.50. That’s cheaper than a Kaweco Sports so if it clogs to the point that its unusable, I’m not sacrificing a more expensive tool. Next, the nib is super smooth and SUPER fine. If you’re looking for a fine fine line that isn’t going anywhere… this is a good option. Now, you could always put some other inks into the Carbon Pen but I am quite liking the idea of a pen with a specific purpose — like a Sharpie Marker. I don’t need a Sharpie Marker all the time, everyday, but when you need a Sharpie Marker, not much else will do. I feel the same way about the Carbon Pen. If I’m taking notes in a meeting, I don’t need super fine permanent writing. But if I’m drawing or writing in a journal, I might want something that is permanent.  And finally, its sort of shaped like a paintbrush with a long tapered end which actually gives it nice balance and is quite comfortable in the hand. I wish the end had been rounded rather than the flat blunt end but for $13.50 I’m not going to complain too much.

The long shape doesn’t make it particularly pocketable but it fits in my Kipling 100 Pen Case with no issues so I travel with it anyway regardless of its impractical length.

The cap cannot be posted unless you want your pen to look like the guy at the party with a lampshade on his head. Your call.

Platinum Carbon Desk FountainPen

More paint smudges on the grip section. The Carbon Pen has gotten some serious usage since I got it and the great thing about it being so budget-priced is that I don’t care if its got paint on it. The nib and hardware are gold toned so despite the paint smudges, it looks very proper and dignified.

Platinum Carbon Desk FountainPen

The partially hooded nib is an interesting design choice but it makes its feel pretty stable despite its wickedly stiletto nib point.

The pen comes with one Carbon Black ink cartridge. A pack of four refill cartridges is $3.30. Some have mentioned that this is a bit high for cartridges but since the nib on the Carbon Pen is so fine, it does not use about a lot of ink. The cartridges last a long time. Alternately, you could purchase a full bottle of Carbon Ink ($25) and refill the cartridge or buy a converter ($8.25). I just bought a pack of cartridges and I’m going to see how long it will take me to go through five cartridges. I’m willing to bet it will be years before I need more.

Platinum Carbon Desk FountainPen

The nib, even though its super fine, was very smooth on the paper and has a tiny bit or spring to it. It makes it a pleasure to write with. What I loved was combining it with Sai Watercolor Brush Markers for drawing. Since the Sai Watercolor brushes are water soluble, I was able to smoosh the colors around using a water brush but the Carbon Pen lines stayed in place.

Platinum Carbon Desk FountainPen

If you have need of a super fine, permanent ink fountain pen, I can’t recommend the Carbon Pen highly enough. I love this pen so much I might buy the Desk Stand just so its handy at all times, even though the stand is more expensive than the pen… on second thought, I might just buy an extra Carbon Pen.

Kuretake Zig Millennium Pigment Pens

Kuretake Zig Millennium Pen Set

Technically, the full name for these pens is Kuretake Zig Memory System Millennium for Drawing & Scrapbooking but that is a mouthful. So, are we okay just calling them Zig Millennium Pens for the duration?

This set of five pens was recommended to me following my recent round-up of archival, pigment felt tip pens. Turns out the Zig Millenniums are budget-priced pens that offer all the same features of the more expensive brands and can often be easier to find in local craft and hobby stores.

Kuretake Zig Millennium Pen Writing Samples

I purchased this set of five on Amazon for the rock bottom price of $6.56 with free Prime shipping. The set included one of each in 005, 01, 03, 05 and 08 sizes which is a perfect size variety for me.

The pens are a wide barrel silver plastic — just a smidgen wider than a Sakura Pigma Micron. The Zig Millennium pens are 5.375″ long capped, just shy of 4.75″ uncapped and the cap will post making the pen 6.375″ long. The clip is metal and reminds me of the clip on the Pilot Precise V5. The Zig Millenniums are only available in black ink but, with these permanent felt tips, I find I only ever reach for the black pens anyway.

I’ve been using these pens regularly for over a week and the points have held up to various papers including over acrylic paint, watercolor brush markers, and colored pencil without being any worse for the wear. I’ll be curious how well the points hold up long term and if the ink lasts as long in the pen as other brands.

Kuretake Zig Millennium Pen Comparison

Colorwise, the ink is not as rich black as a Sakura Pigma Micron which is the gold standard at almost twice the price. Compared to other brands like the Copic Multiliners, Staedtler Pigment Liners and the Sharpie Pen, the Zig Millenniums are totally comparable in regards to how rich the black ink is. Actually, if I had to rank these felt tips by how rich the black ink is, I’d put the Zig Millenniums second only to the Microns, especially at the wider nib sizes.

With their wide availability and comparable pricing to Sharpie Pens, the Zig Millenniums are a great addition to your archival felt-tip pen collection, especially if you are looking for finer or broader nibs than are available in the Sharpie Pen.

Review: Kipling 100 Pen Case

kipling 100 pen case

I was serious last week when I said I bought the Kipling 100 Pens Case. I found it on sale at the Kipling USA website in the dragonfly pattern but they offer new patterns every season as well as an assortment of solids. The 100 Pens Case retail for about $49 but can be found on sale for as low as $25 or as high as $80 for past season popular colors or patterns. The fern colorway is currently available for $34 plus the additional 40% off “BIGSCOOP” discount code making it about $21 which is quite a deal.

kipling 100 pen case

The case reminds me of a soft-sided cigar box. The case measures approximately 8.75″ x 6.5″ x 3.25″ with a big sutrdy plastic zipper. The zipper only has one pull. I’d prefer if it had two so it could be zipped closed on the long side rather than along the spine.

I’ve decided to use this case as my traveling sketchbook/art-making tool kit and its PERFECT for this task.

kipling 100 pen case

Inside is a stiff divider panel with elastic loops to hold pens or pencils as well as matching loops on the inside of the cover.  The loops are perfect for colored pencils or slender pens like Marvy LePens but they would not work for beefier tools like fountain pens or pens with big clips or silicone grips. There are 26 loops which is just about enough for a travel assortment of colored pencils. I’ve used the case for over a week and its easy to slide pencils under the loops, point first from the bottom. I just love looking at my array of colors!

kipling 100 pen case

When the pencil flap is folded back, a large open compartment is exposed that can be filled with additional tools and supplies. As you can see, mine is packed solid.

There is a hack on YouTube for adding a few elastic straps on the blank flap to hold loose papers like cards, stickers or notes.

kipling 100 pen case

These are all the tools, pens, pencils and brushes stored in the open compartment. The tin holds a small traveling supply of watercolor pans.

kipling 100 pen case

And here’s everything in the case. Did I get 100 pens into it? Not quite. I was able to fit 77 pen-like objects including an assortment of water brushes, wide drawing markers, Tombow brush markers, and felt tip pens as well as three pencil sharpeners, tape, glue stick, ruler, letter opener, ink cartridges, bone folder and my “tool” keychain. At present, it zips closed but just barely. I’m hoping to determine if there are a few tools I don’t use regularly and pull those out.

This case is going everywhere with me these days. Its perfect for storing art supplies on-the-go since it makes everything easy to see and access as opposed to more common zip pouches.

kipling 100 pen case

How could I pass up a chance to take a picture of the lime green gorilla key fob that was included with the case? It is easily removable if toys on your pen case are not your speed.

Getting Creative with Online Classes

I recently mentioned my desire to take some art classes and spend more time being creative this summer. In my hunt for the right classes for me, I found a lot of great online resources for learning new creative skills (and even some technical skills!). I thought I’d share some of the resources in case you, too, are looking to try your hand at painting, drawing, crafts or developing some other skills.

There are two big categories for online classes: the subscription-style sites that house diverse topics, instructors and courses and individuals who teach classes and workshops in a few select areas.

The Big Sites:

Skliishare screenshot

Skillshare: Skillshare is the first online learning site I tried. I started with Mary Kate McDevitt’s Hand Lettering class and I absolutely loved it. After that, I was sold. I bought a whole year subscription and added over 50 classes to my “to try” list. They offer a lot of creative classes and there’s a strong focus on digital skills or taking projects to a digital finish. There’s a logo design class with Aaron Draplin as well as classes on animation, business development and marketing, photography and a whole lot more. I have started recommending Skillshare to all young designers and creative folks. There’s a lot of practical information from a lot of highly respected talent in the industries they represent. Subscriptions are $10/month but there are discounted rates for purchasing a year membership. Skillshare also has mobile apps for iPhone and Android to easily access content. Lynda is probably the first online learning site for creative skills. Lynda got started publishing how-to books for Photoshop, HTML and CSS back in the 90s. Then went digital with video tutorials and set the bar. Classes range from step-by-step tutorials for using applications (from Adobe apps to Word to Evernote, QuickBooks and even LogicPro. The list goes on!) to steps to improving your business, marketing, programming and much much more. Subscription start at $24.99/month but discounts are available for a yearly subscription as well as bulk pricing for businesses and Pro account options.

Creativebug screenshot

CreativeBug: CreativeBug focuses more on art and craft skills but if you’ve been thinking about learning how to knit, crochet, sew, start watercolor painting or make jewelry, this might be the site for you. The classes are well-filmed and easy to follow. I started with Lisa Congdon’s Sketchbook Explorations course and then started adding sewing and other art classes to my queue. There are a few free lessons available to try before you subscribe but the cost per month is just $5 so its not a big leap to just subscribe for a month and see if you like it. CreativeBug also has an iPhone/iPad app and are currently working on a Android app.

Craftsy screenshot

Craftsy: Craftsy organizes its classes on a per-class basis. If you want to take the Pen & Ink Essentials class, you just purchase that class for $19.99 (current sale price) and you can access that class whenever, forever. The class offering range from sewing, baking, knitting and fiber arts, fine arts and even woodworking.

Free Online Art Classes: I found out about Free Online Art Classes from a NYTimes article. Its not the prettiest or most up-to-date looking web site but Lois DeWitt has put her 50 years of teaching experience behind the site and the classes are free. Topics range from traditional art materials lessons like Drawing with Colored Pencils to Fabric Printing and Jewelry Making. This would be a good place to start and get an idea about what creative pursuit might best suit you.

Individual Artists’ Sites:

Jane Davenport: I am currently taking Jane Davenport’s Supplies Me class which is the starter class for her mixed media art journaling classes. Her quirky style was very much to my taste so it seemed like a good fit. She totally enables my urge to buy all the art supplies which is a good and bad thing. I’m enjoying learning some new techniques and how to actually use a lot of the pens, pencils and art supplies I’ve collected in ways I had not considered. There are several more classes available to help build confidence in drawing and handling art materials. Classes start at $55 AUS and go up to the Entire Kaboodle for $775 AUS.

Kelly Rae Roberts: Kelly Rae Roberts offers a Mixed Media Mantras Workshop that focuses on creating meaningful visual messages. The course walks you through creating your own mantra and then guides you through the process of turning your mantra into a mixed media collage piece. The class is divided into three parts and costs $247. Access to the video and virtual classroom is available for six months from purchase date.

Christy Tomlinson: Christy Tomlinson, AKA Scarlet Lime, offers a variety of online multimedia classes. For beginners, she recommends the Behind The Art creative workshop that walks through her favorite materials and process from building multimedia backgrounds to laying in details using an array of materials to create art journals and multimedia pieces. The course is divided into five weeks and costs $64.95. Christy also offers a Creative Planner online course if your urge to be creative intertwines with your love of planners and staying organized. The Crative Planner course contains 25 videos and costs $34.95. There are several other classes to choose from as well. To get a feel for her classes, you can check out Christy’s YouTube channel as well.

Alisa Burke: Alisa Burke offers an assortment of mini classes as well as larger workshops for drawing and journaling. Cost per class is between $15 and $50 and you’ll have unlimited access to videos and content. You can get a feel for her videos on her YouTube channel or just purchase one of her online classes and jump in with both feet.

Have you ever tried an online class or are you considering trying one now?

Review: Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pen 20-Color Set

Sai Watercolor Markers

My good friend introduced me to the Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pens when she brought an assortment home from Japan. I ordered several individual colors to try them out myself and loved them so much I went ahead and got a full set of 20 colors ($34.50). The pens originally came in reusable plastic package but I like keeping them in a jar where they are easier to access quickly. These brush pens feature a filament brush tip that behaves more like a real paintbrush than other felt tip brush pens. This creates a finer point and greater line variation.

Sai Watercolor Markers

The colors are both vivid and unusual like a bright, pastel sky blue and a more traditional artist-based yellow ochre. There’s a super pale apricot color that is fun to use for blending and a indigo-like midnight blue that I love. The 20-color set provides a wide variety of color options and I didn’t feel like any color was missing from the spectrum.

Sai Watercolor Markers

Colors can be altered, lightened or blended with water or each other to create more colors. I tested these pens on my standard Rhodia pad but on a watercolor stock, the inks could probably be manipulated and modified to greater effect.

Individual Sai Watercolor pens can be purchased for $3.50 each. There is also an assortment of pigment, waterproof “liner” brushes that can be used in combination with the watercolor brushes. The liner brushes sell for $5.25 each or a 5-color set for $24.75.

If you’re looking for a brush pen that can be used for calligraphy or art-making, these are totally worth the price.

Artwork to cheer myself up. #sai #watercolor #markers @jetpens

A photo posted by ana reinert (@wellapptdesk) on

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

Starting a Sketchbook or Visual Journal

With many stacks of notebooks, sketchbooks and blank books I’ve acquired, and the fact that my day job is about making pictures, I thought it was time to get back into the regular habit of keeping a sketchbook or visual journal of some sort. I figured that I couldn’t possibly be the only person who might need a little inspiration and creative idea to get me started so I thought I’d share some of the prompts, ideas and tips I found.

First, I found this great 15-day set of prompts from Wit & Whsitle. Usually I find prompt lists too long and usually full of things I think are silly or pointless but this set was only 15 days worth and fairly open to interpretation.

(illustration by Terry Runyan)

Then I remembered the awesomely inspiring site, Illustration Friday. Every Friday, they offer a prompt that is both simple and open to interpretation. Folks will upload their art to the site if you want to see what other people do. You are not required to submit your sketch or drawing but its a great source of inspiration and a one-drawing-a-week prompt is a low bar to hurdle. This week’s prompt is “pet” and was submitted by my friend and co-worker Terry Runyan. She illustrates both digitally and on paper so don’t feel that you have to limit yourself to just the pile of sketchbooks and notebooks you’ve accumulated. Illustration Friday also has a blog and podcast for even more inspiration.

(Sketchbook page by Lisa Congdon)

I love Lisa Congdon‘s art and she freely shares pages of her sketchbook as well as a video class on Creativebug that walks you through how she creates several sketchbook drawings. She uses layering and simple drawings to create designs that are easy to try yourself and she even shows how she creates variations on each technique to give you even more ideas.

Danny Gregory‘s Everyday Matters Manifesto for drawing your life was a huge inspiration for me. Consider purchasing one of his books. I particularly like The Creative License. He’s even started a Sketchbook Skool video class if you want a multimedia experience.

More sources for ideas and inspiration:

you need to jump in and get over the intimidation part — by messing up a few pages, ripping them out if need be. Waste all the pages you want by drawing a tic tac toe schematic or something, painting them black, just doodle.  — Gary Panter
What inspires you to be more creative?

Review: Stabilo Point 88 Mini Fineliner 0.4 mm 18-Color Set

Stabilo Point 88 Mini Fineliner

One of my friends had a set of the mini Stabilo Point 88 Fineliners in her pen case that she uses to draw and sketch on the go. I have always envied this set so I finally broke down and got my own set. I got the 18-color mini finerliners in the “sporty” water bottle for $15.

I confess that I have a huge soft spot for metal-tipped, felt-tip markers. Marvy Le Pens were one of my middle school “gateway drugs” into the wonderful world of pens. I like the slight grippiness of the felt tip that helps me slow down and write a little bit neater than with the smooth-as-glass experience I get with some rollerball and gel pens. I love the wide array of colors for taking notes and color-coding my planner and calendars so a large set of colored, felt-tip markers thrills my inner 12-year-old. If I get anymore excited about this little mini bottle of markers, I might start drawing rainbows, kittens and unicorns.

Stabilo Point 88 Mini Fineliner

The pens are shorter than the regular Point 88 Fineliner 0.4mm marker pens but the cap posts nicely so that it feels like a full length pen in use. Since I tend to wear the tips of these sorts of felt-tipped markers out long before they run out of ink, the shorter pen seemed like a reasonable option. I can also fit a lot more of these shorties in my travel case, which is a bonus.

(via JetPens)

The pens are the same width and shape as a standard hexagonal pencil. Even the color of the barrel is reminiscent of a classic yellow Ticonderoga pencil but with classy white pinstripes. The cap snaps snugly on the pen cap or the base for posting the cap.

Stabilo Point 88 Mini Fineliner writing samples

The individual Point 88 mini pens do not have color names written on them so I made up some descriptive names as I went along. Jet Pens lists official names if you’re curious. The colors were all bright and clean colors. The point size is in my “sweet spot” for nib sizes at 0.4mm and exactly the same line width as the Le Pens.

(I lost to my inner 12-year-old and drew a panda. You forgive me, right?)

My first reaction when I started testing the Point 88 minis is how much the writing experience and colors reminded me of the Marvy Le Pens. I’m don’t have a complete set of Le Pens here but was able to cross-reference the writing experience and color with at least a dozen colors and there are some very comparable shades between the two brands.

The inks are not waterproof but neither are the LePens. The Stabilo pens are designed to allow for a long cap-off time without drying out. I didn’t test this out but hope that they live up to the hype and provide me a long life of colors over the next several months.

Stabilo Point 88 Mini Fineliner comparison to Marvy Le Pen

When posted, the Stabilo Point 88 minis are a tiny bit longer than the Le Pens full length but unposted.

The same Stabilo 88 mini Fineliner marker pens are available in a soft plastic wallet instead of the goofy “water bottle” but it costs $0.75 more for the envelope rather than the bottle. My Stabilo mini Fineliner pens will end up being dumped into my regular pen case so I’m okay with the $0.75 savings. The full-sized set of Stabilo Point 88 Fineliners includes all 25 standard colors for $21.50. I might go ahead and order the full set so I can have the greys, browns and the midnight blue color which are some of my favorite shades to use. Individual pens are $0.80 each so its worth adding a few to your next order if you’re not sure you want a full set or you need to “complete” your set.

The Staedtler Triplus Fineliner 20-color set is a little bit more expensive ($25) but a little bit finer at 0.3mm. I know the Staedtlers are quite popular as well so if you find the 0.4mm to be a bit too wide, these might be a good alternative. I’m going to stick with the Stabilo Point 88s.


Review: Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks

Stillman & Birn Sketchbook

After trying out the Stillman & Birn sampler packet, I went ahead and got two sketchbooks. A 5.5×8.5″ Epsilon series hard cover and an 8.5×11″ Alpha series hard cover. I always think of the 8.5×11″ black hard cover as the quintessential artist’s sketchbook. This was the first sketchbook I ever got when I started art school. Its the book made popular by graffiti artists often just called a “black book” or “piece book”. Many companies produce versions of this book and, to be honest, I’ve always considered the popularity in the Moleskine notebooks attributable to the ubiquity of the “black book” sketchbook.

That said, in recent years, I’ve found the quality of the standard black sketchbook to be so-so. The paper seems thinner than ever and the construction is not nearly as durable as I remember it being. Until, that is, the Stillman & Birn books came into my life.

Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks

Both books feature a heavy 100lb/150gsm weight paper and have a textured, black leatherette over stiff hard cover boards. The interior pages (62 sheets/124 pages in each book) are stitched. There are no additional features to these books: no pockets, ribbon bookmarks or other embellishments. These books mean BUSINESS and they feel super durable.

Once the paper branding bands are removed from the book, the only branding is a blind deboss of the Stillman & Birn logo on the lower portion of the back covers.

Stillman & Birn Sketchbook writing sample

The smaller Epsilon sketchbook has a smoother paper texture than the Alpha paper and the label describes it as “plate surface”. The recommended use listed is “…line drawings without feathering or bleeding”. With the smoother surface, the line quality is a little crisper than with the Alpha, especially at smaller sizes. The paper color in the Epsilon books is also a tiny bit whiter than the Alpha which is more of a natural white.

Stillman & Birn Sketchbook reverse of writing sample

As you can see from the reverse, the only real show through was the Zebra Permanent marker (similar in formula to a permanent Sharpie marker). In person, I can see a bit more of the ghost of the writing on the previous page but I feel confident that I could use both front and back of each sheet without bleeding issues or obscuring the previous page.

Stillman & Birn Sketchbook writing sample

The Alpha Series features a natural white paper with a slight tooth to the paper. The label lists the paper as “vellum surface” and lists the recommended uses as “suitable for all dry media, will accept light washes”.

I tested the Alpha paper with ink and some of my more arty tools since I expected that this, of all paper, would be able to handle it. There’s a tiny bit of show through but no bleeding at all, even with the wet ink that was applied like watercolor. The paper did not buckle with my light ink wash. I’m sure with a wetter application of watercolor, it might buckle a little bit but it seems more than adequate for a range of tools, including wide nib fountain pens, and a little experimentation.

If you are looking for paper able to withstand a lot of water application, try the Beta, Delta or Zeta line. Those are 270gsm paper designed for wet media. If you’re more inclined to do some light washes or mixed media, the Alpha or Epsilon books should be perfectly adequate.

Stillman & Birn Sketchbook reverse of writing sample

From the reverse of the Alpha book, you see there’s very little show through. In person, I can discern a bit more show through than can be seen in the photo but not so much that I wouldn’t be comfortable using both sides of the paper.

Honestly, its hard to have any criticism of these books at all. The paper is beautiful and they handle fountain pen ink without bleeding or feathering. The construction is top-notch and super-durable. Stillman & Birn offer such a great range of products that if these books didn’t satisfy my needs, one of the many other books in their line would. The S&B sketchbooks are priced neatly in between budget-priced black sketchbooks available in art supply stores and the prestige notebooks like Moleskine and Rhodia.

I always like to have a “black book” handy at work for sketches and rough drawings and I think my go-to brand now will be Stillman & Birn. Maybe I’ll even start that sketch journal I’ve been meaning to do?

The best online source for Stillman & Birn is Goulet Pens or ask your local art supply store to start carrying Stillman & Birn.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Stillman & Birn for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Spectrum Artists Show Off Their Tools (AGAIN)

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live

Once again, I attended the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live event here in KC this weekend. Its a convention of fantasy and science fiction artists working in comics, fiction, storyboarding, sculpture and more. There are Q&A sessions and artists doing live demos of painting, sculpting and digital techniques. Its an amazing show with A-list artists from all over the world.

A couple years ago, a few artists were kind enough to show me the tools they use to sketch and draw. This year, I was able to talk to a few more artists about their favorite tools.


Tom Kelly showed off his favorite tools to my husband. And was enthusiastic about his Uni Ball Signo Broad opaque white gel pen, the Kuretake No. 13 brush pen, and the Pentel Presto! Correction Pen as a drawing tool. He also kept an arsenal of Sakura Pigma Microns, Sharpie markers and a Pentel Graphgear 0.5 mm drafting pencil.

And he makes stuff like this:

Harley Quinn by Tom Kelly

I met Hector Casanova who is not only an illustrator and comic book artist but also an illustration professor at KCAI. We bonded over our unending love for the Sanford NoBlot pencil. I just write and doodle with my NoBlots but Hector sketches and draws with his hoarded collection. Then he adds water to create a washy blue effect on his drawings like these figure sketches he did at an event at Spectrum this year ( may be NSFW).

Hector Casanova NoBlot pencil sketches

Aren’t they amazing?

Hecotr Casanova Drawing Tools

Hector also uses a full army of Japanese brush pens. I recognize the Pentel Pocket Brush pen and the Pilot Futayaku Double-Sided Brush Pens.

And with these tools are the start of artwork like this:

Hector Casanova Headphones

Pretty amazing, huh?

Review: Copic CIAO Markers

Copic Ciao 6-pack color set

I recently bought the Sea colors 6-pack of the Copic CIAO markers. The set comes with four, watery colors plus black and a clear blender. Each marker uses an alcohol based permanent ink and features a brush tip on one end and a chisel tip on the other.


In general, I think the Copic line of markers is popular with illustrators, particularly those in the comic book and/or animation business. When I was at the local comic book convention last month, I saw a lot of the artists had Copic markers in their kits. The CIAO is a smaller, less expensive version of the professional Copic Markers.

Writing Sample Copic Ciao

I absolutely love the springy quality of the brush tip. Its great for lettering. I’m a doofus with the wide chisel tip though. I blame my left-handedness.

Overall, the colors in the set were pretty though I never figured out quite how to use the blender pen. Because of the lightness of the colors, there was a little washiness in the colors that was not intentional.

After playing around with the Sai Watercolor markers, I was even less interested in the Copic CIAO markers but I suspect that these markers are not really made for the casual user. They reminded me a lot of the old DESIGN markers we were supposed to use in art school for “marker renderings” back in the day when digital photography and mock-ups were too expensive so artists would do a realistic drawing to show potential clients.

When dry, these inks were virtually waterproof which means that other water-based media, colored pencils or paint could be added to a drawing or calligraphy piece. On the right edge, I liberally applied water from a paint brush onto the markers after they were dry for a minute or so and the colors didn’t budge.

Reverse side of Copic Ciao Writing Sample

Then there was the bleed through issue. If you need markers like these for illustration purposes or for the waterproofiness, then the bleed through may not be an issue. For me, they bleed so much as to not be suitable for sketchbooks or even envelopes.

I will definitely use the black for calligraphy with the brush tip and the chisel end for labeling boxes (like a Sharpie Marker), but the other colors might not get a ton of use for my purposes. If I stumble across an illustrator or a young would-be illustrator, I will gift them the set.

Bottom-line: These are not for the casual user but more valuable to the artist, illustrator, animator or art student using heavy duty illustration board, specialty “marker paper” or the like.

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

Review: Sai Watercolor brush markers


My friend Madeline of Tag Team Tompkins introduced me to the Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pens and within minutes, I had to order a bunch of my own. What makes these so awesome, you ask? Well, for starters, these brush pens have real bristles at the tips so they will behave more like a real brush than any of the brush pens with felt tip or polyester points.

Then, there are the amazingly awesome colors! There are complex colors like the yellow ochre, pale-almost-there colors like the pale orange and vivid brights like the vermillion orange and lime green. Individual colors are $3.50 each but sets are also available in seasonally-inspired sets of five ($17.50 each) or a 20-color set ($70).

Water test with Sai Watercolor Brush Pens

These pens are water soluble which means you can thin the colors with water to make lighter wash or blend two colors together. I used a water brush to blend through and only lightly brushed the color with water to make the color all washy here.

If you’re not falling over in your chair with the urge to buy one or a whole set of these wait until I tell you a few more things.

Sai Permanent Outline Brush Pen

What if I told you there is also a permanent outline brushpen ($5.25) that can be used to create permanent lines like the leaf I drew in the top writing sample and then applied the water soluble colors over it? Now are you excited?

Sai watercolor brush pens writing sample, from the reverse. On Rhodia.

When I flipped this writing sample over… there was no bleed through, or even any show through. Seriously. Keeping in mind this writing sample was done on good quality Rhodia paper stock but still… that’s pretty cool for thick, juicy markers to not show through at all. Or maybe that just speaks very highly of the Rhodia paper?

Okay, one more thing and then I think my case should be made. There is a special assortment of extra fine line pens called ThinLine ($4.95 each or a set of all five for $24.75) that come in a few select colors of deep rich hues that are also waterproof when dry and perfect for outlining. With colors like Greenish Indigo and Sumi Black, how can you resist the temptation?

Are you suitably enticed?


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

Rubber Stamp Organization

Organizing Rubber Stamps

I had been piling my stamps into a large drawer and then I will fish around looking for the one I’m looking for. It was not efficient at all. Then I pulled open my Alex drawer unit and realized I was storing notebooks in a flat file. What?!?! I know, craziness. So, I pulled all the notebooks out and put them on a bookshelf and lined up all my woodblock stamps, graphic side up, in the top drawer. All of a sudden, I am using them more often and can find exactly the one I want, when I want it. Even handle stamps stand up when the drawer is closed so those sit along the edges.

Alex Drawer Unit from Ikea

Feeling the need for some of your own stamps, visit The Shop. I’ve been restocking!

Field Notes for Memory Keeping

Memory keeping with Field Notes

While traveling, I used a Field Notes to keep my thoughts, names of places, restaurants and people, as well as pasting in receipts, business cards and various paper ephemera. I stamped the date and the name of the event on the front of the the Field Notes before I left.

I added the squashed penny with gel Super Glue when I returned. Squashed pennies are great inexpensive keepsakes for a trip. I got this one at the Musee Méchanique at Fisherman’s Wharf, a mechanical toy and game museum where you can play every game! Some took nickels and dimes but most took quarters and ranged from dancing puppets, vintage “peep shows,” pinball machines and classic 80s arcade games. Most American museums or large tourist attractions have a squashed penny machine. You insert 50¢ and one penny (I like to use a shiny penny but anyone will work). Then turn the crank and out pops your penny embossed with a design.

I was surprised how easily my paper scarps fit into the Fields Notes with little more than a fold. I used glue stick and washi tape to attach items and a 4-day trip filled almost a whole book. I used a paper clip to hold the transit cards just in case I needed to use them again. I’m not a scrapbooker but this is the perfect amount of memory keeping. I could complete it while traveling and on the airplane so, once I was home, it was done and all the bits I’d collected were contained.

Memorykeeping with Field Notes

Cut It Out! The best craft knife.

Fiskars SoftGrip Craft Knife

I’ve been wanting to write about my favorite craft knife for some time now, but I bought it several years ago and had never seen it in stores again. Well, we are all in luck because last week, I found it again at my local Joann’s craft shop. Its the Fiskars SoftGrip Craft Knife ($5.69). It has a  soft rubberized grip area with a unique soft arced shape.This creates a comfortable grip and keeps the knife from rolling off the table which is a big plus.

Fiskars craft knife

I use X-acto blades everyday because of my job so finding a comfortable tool is paramount importance. This is the best knife I’ve owned. My daily knife is a soft aqua color that has turned a dull blue gray from years of use. These are photos of my new bright orange version for home use. Goodbye, metal tube knife!

If you’ve never used a utility or craft knife before, I highly recommend adding them to your arsenal of tools. Combined with a cork-backed metal ruler and a self-healing mat, trimming paper, photos or other straight edge cutting will be fast and clean. Detail cutting can also be done with a craft knife and is less hand-cramp-inducing than scissors.

How do you replace the blades?

Untwisting the knurled end will loosen the clamp on the blade to easily replace with a new sharp blade. The Fiskars takes a standard #11 craft blade. I use Excel blades in the box of 100 ($18.75) which is by far the best value. Align the knife blade and tighten the knurled end.

Fiskars Craft Knife

Storing a craft knife   

It comes with a cap to cover the blade but, sadly, the cap does not stay on well and I get nervous removing the cap that I might slide my thumb over the blade when removing it. I’ve actually done this in the past so I definitely have that once-cut-twice-shy behavior. Also, I lose the caps within weeks so its not a big deal to me. I do recommend storing all X-Acto style knives, tip-down in a cup or jar to avoid accidents but the whole point of a knife is to be sharp so use with care. If you need a portable X-acto, I recommend a retractable version like a utility knife rather than a knife with a cap.

Fiskars Craft Knife

What do I do with all the dull blades?

Use an old can or jar with a cover (or make a slot in the lid just big enough to drop your blades into) to put used blades into. When full, tape it shut and drop it at metal recycling facility.

I hope this helps inspire you to try a new tool.

Ink as Watercolor

watercolor ink sample

Watercolor lettering sample (via Well-Appointed Desk)

Following the post this morning about painting with ink, I started thinking of other ways ink could be used. Its very much like watercolor paints so I thought I might share some fun ways to use watercolors that might inspire you to play and experiment with all those bottles of ink and ink samples you’ve accumulated. I wouldn’t recommend trying these with bulletproof or other waterproof inks but most fountain pen inks should play nicely.

Leslie Shewring experiments with ocen inspired blue watercolors (via Decor8 and A Creative Mint)

Leslie Shewring experiments with ocean inspired blue watercolors (via Decor8 and A Creative Mint)

Just brushing ink on paper, like you would with watercolors, can inspire and inform you. You can see the undertones of an ink color easily as well as the range of lights and darks of a color.  Add a little water to ink in a dish or bowl to create color washes.

Watercolor quote by Rocketrictic (via Flickr)

Watercolor quote by Rocketrictic (via Flickr)

Try blending two colors and drawing your favorite quote in ink.

Ink dipped ediging on doilies to decorate gifts (via Decor8)

Ink dipped ediging on doilies to decorate gifts (via Decor8)

The inks can be used to tint other papers, create tissue puffs, coffee filter hydrangeas or something else entirely!

Liquid Masking Fluid demo (via Comic Tools)

Liquid Masking Fluid demo (via Comic Tools)

Use masking fluid to block out areas on your page. Let it dry and then paint over it with your inks. Then peel the latex away to create a fun, colorful piece.

While any paper should work, a heavyweight watercolor paper will give texture and will be less inclined to curl or distort. I’ve been using an Aquabee Super Deluxe 9×12 wirebound sketchbook for playing with watercolor and ink. It is textured (cold pressed) on the front and smooth (hot pressed) on the back. If you’re searching the internet for watercolor paper, think hot is like ironed (smooth) and cold is wrinkly (textured) if that helps to remember the difference.

Hope these ideas inspire you. Drop me a link if you try any of these. I’d love to see what you create.

Ask The Desk: That’s not a pen!

Ask The Desk Header

I received an actual letter from Leah a week or so ago. She asked lots of different questions about pens and tools so I thought I’d include some of my answers here as well as in a letter to her.

She asked:

What pen/nib did you use for the titles of your 12 Days of Inkmas?

The secret is that I didn’t use a pen at all. I used a brush!

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 10.44.46 AM

I got the idea to use a brush from seeing some ink “swabs” on European Paper. They were using a brush to create a lovely little ink swab. I like that a brush was easy to clean and I wasn’t creating a landfill full of q-tips in sampling inks each month.


I’ve used several different brushes that I’ve accumulated over the years to not only create “swabs” but also to create a more interesting header for the 12 Days of Inkmas. I’ve tried to keep up the habit for future ink samples and reviews as I can see the range of shading with the inks this way.

EDIT: The word “Wide Strokes” was done with the Scharff FINELINE 3000 #3, not the #6. Oops!


From left to right: Robert Simmons #2 red Kolinsky hair and synthetic filaments round brush, A. Langnickel 670 #5 Red Sable script brush, Scharff Kolinsky red sable FINELINE 3000 #3 round and #6, and a Silverwhite synthetic 1500S #2 Round.

I’ve acquired brushes over the years from friends, yard sales and various art supply stores. I’m stunned to see how expensive the Scharff #6 brush is ($67)! I’ll definitely take better care of it. I’m confident that any good quality round brush recommended for watercolor, acrylic or oil would make a perfect tool for “swabs” and ink tests. Visit your local art supply or craft shop to pick up a couple.

Just remember to wash out your brushes in water, squeeze dry and reshape the tip to dry. Don’t scrub them and make the bristles flair out  or you risk breaking the fibers and/or hairs. Always dry your brushes with the tip up and don’t leave them sit indefinitely in your wash water or the bristles will bend at a weird angle. If you let them cake with inks or paints, try The Masters brush cleaner. It will save just about all your brushes!

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