Tag: review

Pencil Review: Viarco Vintage Collection Box Set

I’d been putting it off for sometime but I couldn’t wait any longer when I realized there was only one Viarco Vintage Collection box set left on the CW Pencil Enterprise web site left. I had to get it. Viarco is a small pencil manufacturer in Portugal that is still producing pencils and has been in business since 1907.

The only difference between the box set and buying the boxes individually is the outer box with the matte black box with the gloss black foil stamp. You can still get all six different varieties of Viarco vintage pencils by the dozen.

The set includes reproductions of Viarco’s pencil varieties made between 1940 and 1960. They have reproduced both the pencils and the packaging to a tee. The pencils are:

  • 1950 #2/HB (all yellow, hex-shaped, unfinished ends)
  • 1951 #2/HB (2 each of six solid colors with pinstripes, hex-shaped coordinating dipped ends)
  • 2000 #2/HB (2 each of six metallic colors, hex-shaped with yellow dipped ends)
  • 272D Violeta Copying Pencil (round, unfinished end)
  • 3000 #2/HB (2 each of six metallic colors, round with yellow dipped ends)
  • 3500 #2/HB (all red with pinstripes, hex-shaped, unfinished ends)

I love the script lettering of their logo type. I’d say 60% of the reason I purchased the pencils was for the design of the packaging. As a designer, I love the look of the vintage packaging. The way that the tail of the V curls around the pencil on the box of the 3500s alone was worth the purchase of the box.

All the boxes have the scores on the inner box so it slides out and can them flip down to more easily access pencils. They may be simple paperboard boxes but they are still nicely engineered to be useful.

I had one or two pencils out of the six dozen that had a bad foil stamping on the pencil, on the 3000 round, I think, but overall the quality of the painting and printing was pretty consistent.

The 272D Violeta had the least amount of paint and shellac and felt the most utilitarian but since these were supposed to be reproductions of pencils made between 1940 and 1960, I suspect that war-era and post-war pencils were probably not super-posh to begin with. Resources were limited then and this pencil probably reflects that specifically.

I took the pencils for a test drive. All the standard graphite pencils came pre-sharpened so I used them as is. All were listed as a standard #2/HB. The 3000, which is the only round barrel in the lot, is definitely a softer lead and darker than the rest.

The 1951 “Super” Desenho does feel like the most premium of all the pencils. It has the most lacquer on the barrel and feels weightier. The lead feels similar to the other hex pencils but the wood and the finish makes it feel “super.”

In terms of writing and hand-feel, the 2000 is pretty similar to the 1951. The metallic finish softens the hex shape a bit but the weight and lead is the same. the lacquer is very smooth.

The 3500, with its unfinished end, is the lightest in the hand. It also felt life it had the least amount of lacquer so the hex-shaped felt most pronounced in the hand. I found myself reaching for the 3500 most often. Its just a clean, true hex pencil.

The 1950 is the Portuguese “yellow pencil”. The color is more yellow-orange than what I normally think of as the Dixon-Ticonderoga yellow and the lacquer and lead quality of the 1950 puts the Viarco way above the modern Ticonderoga by leaps and bounds. Unadorned, its the perfect companion for a kraft Field Notes in a all-business sort of way.

Lastly, is the 272D Violeta Copying pencil which writes is a lovely purple color. It erases but doesn’t smudge terribly and when wet with water it makes a lovely violet color. I tried to transfer the color to another page with no real results so that didn’t quite work. What I did discover is that after the scribbles were wet and dried, they were permanent. I couldn’t erase them. So that’s what the magic is. If you want to write or draw something and make it permanent, spritz it with water and let it dry. It’s not going anywhere.

Each box of Viarco Vintage pencils is available from CW Pencils for $15 per dozen.

Pencil Review: Baron Fig Snakes & Ladders

Review by Tina Koyama

When Baron Fig’s standard edition Archer pencil came out a while back, I thought it was fine as far as writing pencils go – attractive matte finish, lightweight, not smeary – but somewhat blah in appearance. As a Pacific Northwest resident who sees gray skies much of the year, I generally stay away from gray products of any kind simply on principle, but I was happy to have a couple of them to use.

A few weeks ago the New York City stationery maker released the first in its quarterly limited-edition Archer pencil series – Snakes & Ladders. Upon seeing photos of that brilliant vermilion barrel, my pulse quickened – it matches my favorite Field Notes Sweet Tooth perfectly!

Like its gray brother, it has a lovely matte finish with an elegant dipped end cap in a darker shade of the same hue. Adornment is spare: snake and ladder symbols and Baron Fig’s simple logo near the end cap. The two pencils are similar enough in basic design that they look like they belong together. Like many of BF’s products, the clean, confident design is very appealing.

Of course, there’s also the tubular container the pencils come in. I like it so much that I would be willing to buy an empty tube just to store other pencils in.

With a matte finish to match the pencil, it has the same tone-on-tone design, simple branding and a brief description of the theme. When the gray Archer first came out, I saw many photos of how the 12 pencils fit perfectly inside, and I almost bought a box just for that (but I resisted because I just couldn’t bring more gray into my life).

I have to admit that before seeing promotional info about this edition, I was not familiar with the Snakes and Ladders ancient Indian board game (though I did play Chutes & Ladders as a child). “The symbols help to encourage you through obstacles you may slither into your life as you climb to find success,” says the product description page, and I appreciate the way that ties into Baron Fig’s basic mission “to champion thinkers in their journey to create and inspire the world.” In fact, I’d say it’s the one thing I like best about all of BF’s product lines (which I can’t say about some other stationery companies’ subscription-based products): They stick to a basic philosophical theme related to creativity, exploration and inspiration.

If the Snakes & Ladders design is a template of future pencil editions to come, I started imagining a growing set of similarly matte-finished pencils in a range of colors, and my subscription finger started to quiver. I was close to tapping the button – but then I started hearing rumors and reading reviews in the stationery blogosphere that something was amiss.

The cores were breaking even without being used, as if they were already shattered inside their casings. People showed photos of entire cartons of Snakes & Ladders pencils that couldn’t be sharpened properly because the cores snapped repeatedly. Apparently Baron Fig’s customer service department was busy taking care of the problem, so subscribers eventually ended up with useable pencils.  But were these random anomalies? Or evidence of a fundamental problem?

Ana sent me a couple of Snakes & Ladders to try, and I sharpened one with trepidation. As I often do with an unfamiliar new graphite pencil, I simply stuck it into an electric sharpener. (No point in babying a product of utility, I say.) It sharpened just fine. I used it to write two pages in my Rhodia journal that evening. I didn’t care much for how it felt, but I’m accustomed to my fountain pens gliding along on that smooth paper, so that seemed like an unfair test. Before using it again, I sharpened it, this time with my Blackwing long point. Again, it sharpened just fine – no breakage at all.

Next I wrote a page in my Plumchester sketchbook, which I knew to have a pleasantly toothy surface that I enjoy when sketching with graphite. The tooth gripped the Snakes & Ladders graphite nicely without feeling scratchy. Even better was a page written in my Baron Fig Confidant, which also has a slight tooth that’s just a touch less toothy than Plumchester paper. Some have said that the Archer pencil feels pleasant on BF notebook paper when it feels scratchy on other similar papers. I don’t know if BF designed its pencils to mate perfectly with its paper, but I have to admit that I’m more likely to write with it in the Confidant before other notebooks now that I know how it feels.

I must say, however, that the writing experience is nothing to write home about. It’s quite average. I suppose you could say that the Snakes & Ladders pencil does not call attention to itself in any way, which suits its unpretentious exterior appearance. It’s not silent, but it doesn’t make enough noise to annoy me. It feels pleasant but doesn’t make me swoon (as, say, the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 4B does). Perhaps the only exceptional feature is that matte finish, which feels wonderful in my hand (and this is difficult for me to acknowledge, but I like that matte finish even more than the glossy lacquer on my swoon-inducing Hi-Uni).

Finger smudging is typical for a core that I would guess is an HB grade, and erasing is also typical. My left hand did not smudge my writing across the page, so that’s a bonus.

After four pages of writing and two sharpenings, it hasn’t broken once yet.

Anomaly or issue? It’s hard to say. I might subscribe, just for that tube if nothing else. But in any case, I’m going to wait for the next edition to come out. Given the customer service and responsiveness that BF has shown, if the pencil core has an issue, it will be addressed before the next edition comes out. Although I applaud innovative designs in subscription-based services, I would be very happy if all future pencils look like they belong with this one and the standard Archer. Even the gray one looks better when standing next to the vermilion one.


Tina 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 Baron Fig for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Ink Review: Robert Oster Berry D’arche

Robert Oster Berry D’Arche ($16 per 50 ml bottle) is hard color to color to describe. It’s not quite a burgundy, not really purple but its not a brown either. And if you think describing it was a challenge, photographing it was even more difficult.

Looking at the swatch card next to other colors of similar hue is probably the best way to get a ballpark of the color in perspective. Scabiosa is definitely more purply and Syrah more red. Berry D’arche is definitely more of a muted, less vibrant color than some of the other colors shown. I began to think of Berry D’arche as a sophisticated color– appropriate for work but still a little different.

I still couldn’t get away from describing it as a two-color name… red-black, purple-brown, burgundy-grape? I would drive Myke Hurley to drink an entire bottle of Merlot with my two-color names! (If you listened to Episode 252 of The Pen Addict podcast, you’ll know he was not keen on the use of two-color names for things so I’m not helping myself here.) But some colors are just in that hazy, in-between space and what can you do?

Technically, this ink color does shade but there is not much sheening, if any, that I can spot.

The fact that its one of those is-it or isn’t-it colors makes it hard to recommend. Are you looking for a color that isn’t quite burgundy or purple or red or brown or maroon or black? Then this is for you.

 

Review: NEW Denik Layflat Notebook

Denik Notebooks heard the comments about their notebooks from reviewers across the internet and have retooled them and introduced the new Denik Layflat Notebook. They feature the same soft touch softcovers, same interior paper but Denik improved the binding of their books to get a better binding. The books open easier, exposing more of the page and lay flatter more easily.

I could see the stitched binding when I opened the new Layflat Meadowlark notebook ($11.95) so I knew I was opening all the way to the spine. It means I get more real estate per page while also not having to force the page open.

Here’s a close-up of the original Denik notebook spine above. Its drenched in glue making it difficult to open completely.

This photo above is the new, improved Denik Layflat spine. See the individual signatures of paper and how the cover is not attached to the glue? That makes it easier for the book to lay flat. Congrats to Denik for listening to customer feedback.

Next request? Dot grid! And fountain pen-friendly paper! Because I love the cover graphics and what the company stands for so I love supporting them.


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

Pen Review: Montegrappa Game of Thrones Ballpoint & Rollerball Pens

Montegrappa has mastered the art of the licensed pen with the Game of Thrones collection. They created four pens to represent major families represented in the series: House Stark, House Lannister, House Targaryen and House Baratheon.  From the packaging to the aesthetics of the pens, Montegrappa managed to do high-end licensed pens right.

I was lucky enough to get to take the House Stark ballpoint and the House Lannister rollerball out for a test drive.

While I am not normally interested in packaging, for a licensed product, I think it shows that care was taken. The box is paperboard-wrapped but iconography representing other houses from Game of Thrones is included on the box and the artwork is very nice.

The artwork even wraps around to the front creating a seamless look. There was time and energy put into making the packaging pleasing. For a fan and a collector who is spending money on something they love, this makes a difference and is appreciated.

Inside, the box is a standard velveteen lining that lifts out to reveal the instruction booklet, refill, etc. The ruby red color of the lining is fine for the House Stark pen but is a little clashy for the House Lannister.

There was even an effort made to include Game of Thrones graphics on the Montegrappa Unser Manual cover. Now on to the details of the pens themselves.

My favorite details of the pens were the clips. Each clip is carved to resemble the family’s symbol. In the case of House Lannister, the clip is a lion’s head. The cap is printed in gold with a stylized rose pattern.

The top of the cap is embossed with the motto of the Lannisters, “Hear me roar.” All the details of the pen are in yellow gold over a red lacquered finish.

The House Stark clip is carved into a wolf and the cap features rune designs in palladium over smooth, white lacquer.

The top of the cap is embossed with the wolf again and the motto “Winter is coming.”

Both pens feature the “Game of Thrones™” logo on the cap band. In the case of the ballpoint, its a twist mechanism so its not technically a cap but the placement is the same.

On to the actual functionality of the pens. The rollerball pen is a bit narrower overall at the grip section than the ballpoint as is shown in the photo above (gold House Lannister on the left is rollerball, palladium and white House Stark on the right is ballpoint).

Since the rollerball has a removable cap, the pen is lighter and shorter, or can be. Though the cap can be posted, I was a bit nervous to post the cap. I was worried the cap might chip the finish. I found that posting the cap threw the balance off on the rollerball. It wrote fine and was long enough for me without posting but I am not a cap-poster in general.

The ballpoint’s slightly wider width was just a bit too wide in my hand. I think most people with normal, adult-sized hands wouldn’t notice but in my pixie-sized hands I felt like I was holding a My First Crayon.

As for the actually refills included, the House Lannister appeared to have a standard Euro/G2 rollerball refill which was pleasant enough to use. I didn’t have any to swap in as my supplies are seriously depleted but Monteverde makes a wide range of colors and widths. A red would probably be most appropriate in the House Lannister. The House Stark ballpoint takes a standard Parker-style refill so the pen refill world is your oyster here. Montegrappa shipped it with a black refill but a broad blue might a good option if “Winter is coming.”

  • Montegrappa Game of Thrones Rollerball Pens MSRP: $325
  • Montegrappa Game of Thrones Ballpoint Pens MSRP: $295

There is, of course, a fountain pen version of the pens as well for $350 MSRP that feature a steel nib.

The bottomline is that Montegrappa did a great job on high-end licensed products for a rabid fandom community. If Cross had put as much attention and care into their Star Wars pens, they would have had something worthy of the price tag they were charging. I believe Montegrappa has positioned themselves to be able to approach other brands and get the licenses they want. Hello, Harry Potter? Gryffindor! Hufflepuff! Ravenclaw! Slytherin! Hello, Lord of the Rings? Elves, Hobbits, Rangers, Riders of Rohan, Dwarves… Eye of Sauron enamel on the top of the cap? How about Wizard of Oz? Their DC pens were just okay but with the GoT, Montegrappa has proven that they can extend themselves… so grab that Marvel license. Steal that Star Wars license from Cross and do it right! Then you’ll have Disney on your side and can do Mickey, Minnie, the Incredibles, Monsters, Inc… the list is endless!

Check with your favorite pen boutique (maybe from the sidebar of this website?) to see who is stocking the Game of Thrones pens. And thanks to Kenro for letting me play in the world of Westeros.


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

Product Review: ArtSnacks April 2017 Subscription Box

By Tina Koyama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Fountain Pen Review: Sailor 1911 Fresca Regular with Fine Nib

Last year, I fell in love with Sailor pens when I purchased my first Pro Gear Slim, the Bungbox Pink Love and then later acquired the rare Purple Lamé which featured a custom ground super fine nib. I had not braved purchasing a larger Sailor pen because I have so enjoyed the compact Slim size but when I saw the Sailor 1911 Fresca regular size ($196), I knew the time had come for me to “level up.” The Fresca is a North America exclusive colorway (the knitter in me is inclined to refer to them as “colorways,” that’s how we refer to yarn color schemes).  The solid turquoise with chrome trim and 14K nib all shiny silvery is just stunning and the slender cigar shape with simple  clip design is classic and timeless.

The only branding on the exterior of the pen is the etched “Sailor” name on the cap band. Very tasteful.

The nib is classic Sailor all the way with the etched anchor and “1911” along with the decorative filigrees and, of course, “14K 585” and “Sailor” at the base of the nib. Next to Pilot’s smiley Kakuno nibs, the Sailor nib design is one of my favorite stock modern nib design.

From left to right: Aurora Style, Pilot Metropolitan, Kaweco Sport, Sailor 1911 regular size and Sailor Pro Gear Slim

I really didn’t need to worry about the size of the standard 1911 pen. It is really about the same size as a Metropolitan and since its an acrylic/resin/plastic (don’t me hold to the material because I don’t actually know what it is made of) its quite light. The Metropolitan feels weightier. The barrel is the same diameter as the Pro Gear Slim and when uncapped, its just the little cigar shaped taper at the end that is longer. So, it’s not a huge pen.

Posted, the 1911 is 20gms, making it lighter than an AL-Star. Unposted, the 1911 weighs 11gms which is lighter than a Kaweco Sport in plastic posted so the Fresca is not heavy at all.

Finally, in writing tests, with some of my new Robert Oster Australian Opal Mauve, the fine nib was a perfect smooth, light line for a bright, light pen. With the fineness of the nib and the gold nib, I got a little flex… not FLEX flex, but the nib was light and easy to write with. It was not a “hard as nails” nib. I think this is where the Sailor nibs excel. I have a music nib on my Pink Love and that’s a lot of nib material so there’s not as much lightness to the nib. Both the Purple Lamé and the Fresca have finer nibs and there’s more flexibility to the nibs so they are a much more pleasurable experience to write with. These are the gold nibs that make people talk about why they like gold nibs better. I think its the same reason why I tend to favor felt and fiber tip marker pens — that flex that adds some variation to the writing line weight, that shows some shading to the ink, when you get excited, or bored, or angry or enthusiastic as you write and it shows? I love that and when a pen is nail hard, those characteristics don’t show. So, if you have the means to invest in a Sailor pen (or a Sharpie pen) — try one out and let some of that expression come out in your writing.


I purchased this pen from Anderson Pens with my own money and all opinions here are my own. Anderson Pens are one of my sponsors so if you do decide to buy a Fresca, it sure would be nice if you purchased it from any one of my lovely sponsors who are currently stocking them and letting them know you heard about them here. Thanks.