Review by Tina Koyama
What a fun assortment I got for June with my ArtSnacks subscription! Here’s what was in my box: a mini sketchbook (an ArtSnacks + Denik collaboration); a Zig Painty FX permanent paint marker; two General’s MultiPastel Chalk Pencils; and three Tombow Dual Brush Pens. I also got an ArtSnacks sticker and a piece of Cry Baby bubblegum. (I don’t chew gum, but it made my box smell deliciously fruity!) I’m guessing that other subscribers may have gotten different colors of pens and pencils, but I was particularly tickled by the bright, summery palette I received.
The product that delighted me the most is the mini sketchbook, which is a bit bigger than a credit card. The colorful cover, designed by Kansas City artist Marcos Román, shows a fanciful pattern of pencils and an ArtSnacks-inspired pretzeled pencil. The front and back flyleaves also include whimsical art featuring the pretzeled pencil.
A collaboration among ArtSnacks, Denik and Román, the sketchbook is exclusive for subscribers. I probably wouldn’t use anything but pencil or ballpoint on the paper inside, which is quite thin, but I don’t care. It’s just an adorable sketchbook that my pencil-loving friends are already envying. Bonus: the cover and flyleaf artwork can be downloaded for use as smartphone or desktop wallpaper.
Ana and I both had fun testing a Zig Painty FX paint marker! With a 1.5mm tip, the alcohol-based permanent pigment ink writes on many surfaces, including metal, glass, plastic and wood.
I tried my light green marker first on paper, and it didn’t bleed through at all. But what’s the fun in using it on paper when you can write on a glass jar, its metal lid, a plastic ruler and a wood pencil? It dries quickly and is immediately permanent.
I’ve used other markers that work well on non-porous surfaces, but most of them nearly knock me out with their strong odor. Xylene-free Painty FX smells like alcohol markers, which isn’t quite as bad. This is exactly what I need for putting my name on things that get “borrowed” too easily from my desk! I think it’s also got exciting potential for decorating household items, but I’m leaving that to Ana.
Note: To get the paint flowing initially, the instructions say to shake and then “gently press the tip down on your art surface.” I’ve used other paint markers that took a while to flow with this method, so I was expecting the same from the Painty FX. Instead, it blorped out very quickly, leaving a large blob on the ArtSnacks shipping carton that was fortunately handy. I wouldn’t use an actual art surface for this initial priming.
Pastel pencils are not completely new to me, but I haven’t used them much, so I was eager to give the General’s MultiPastel Chalk Pencils a try (I received light blue and sea green. Editor’s Note: I got the same colors.). I tend to shy away from charcoal, pastels, chalk or anything else that leaves a mess on my hands and desk, but I enjoy using those media in pencil form, which tends to be firmer and much less messy. As a bonus, the General’s pastel chalk pencils are cased in cedar (ahh, I love the scent of cedar!) with a nicely lacquered natural finish.
What I am perplexed about is the attached eraser. I know that General’s makes a huge variety of graphite and other pencils, so maybe attaching an eraser was an easy and inexpensive manufacturing step. But I can’t figure out how to use it with pastel chalk. I tried erasing a test scribble as I would graphite, and it didn’t do a clean job of it. When I brushed the large eraser crumbs away, I unintentionally smudged the chalk. Deliberately smudging with a finger, though, is an effective way to blend and soften the marks, as I would expect from pastel chalk.
I’m also not sure what exactly “pastel chalk” is. I think of traditional pastels as being much denser, more intense in color and certainly crumblier. Ordinary chalk is also dustier and more crumbly. I’d say these pencils are closer to chalk than pastels.
I scribble-tested on both a Plumchester sketchbook’s relatively smooth surface and Stillman & Birn Alpha’s toothier page, and as with traditional pastels and chalk, the pencils work better on a surface with some tooth. The lighter of the two opaque colors shows up well on black paper. As expected, the chalk transferred a bit to the opposite sketchbook pages, but not nearly as much as traditional pastels or chalks would.
The wood and core sharpen cleanly and easily with both portable and electric sharpeners. In my sketch, I used a dull point for the trees and sky, and smudged the sky with a finger and paper towel. Then I sharpened the green to a sharp point to darken details on the trees. I like the rough, smudgy look of pastel chalk on toothy paper. Other than the scribble sample, I didn’t try a sketch on black paper, but I bet a bunch of light colors on it would look cool. General’s MultiPastel Chalk Pencils come in a good range of 24 hues, so I might get a few more and try some urban sketches. That eraser, though . . . still very puzzling.
Unlike the other products in the box, Tombow Dual Brush Pens are not new to me at all; in fact, they are one of my favorite water-soluble marker lines. With a fine, hard tip on one end and a spongy brush tip on the other, these markers come in 96 intense, vibrant colors. My box came with colors 173 (willow green), 847 (crimson) and 933 (orange).
Tombows blend beautifully with or without water. (Tombow also makes a blender pen that works well with most water-soluble markers.) The gradients below were done with the markers only. A while back I reviewed Marvy LePlume II brush markers, and although they are similar in many ways, I prefer Tombows for their ease in blending.
I like to use the smaller end of the pen to make an initial line drawing, as with the sketch of cherries below, and then use the large brush pen to color in. First I blended the crimson and orange markers alone. Then I used a waterbrush to blend further, and I like how close the effect looks to watercolors.
Without adding any other hues to the three in my box, I wanted to give the cherries a muted shadow. Layering willow green and crimson was too intense, so I tried a trick I use often with watercolor pencils: On scrap watercolor paper, I layered green and red markers intensely. Then I dipped a waterbrush into the mix and painted the shadow from that preblended puddle. Again, the result is very much like traditional watercolors.
Sometimes Tombow colors are so intense that it’s difficult to get a pale tint. That’s when I use a trick I learned from Scott Wilson, a New Zealand urban sketcher who works almost exclusively with Tombow markers. He uses a waterbrush to “lick” (that’s my term, not his) the color off the tip of the marker, then applies that pale tint to the drawing with the waterbrush. (In my sample above, the pale pink came from the crimson marker.) In that way, he’s very much using the markers as a watercolor painting palette. (Somewhere on the Internet I once saw a photo of Scott’s sketch kit – a “quiver” like Robin Hood’s at his side containing all 96 Tombow colors! Sadly, I couldn’t find the photo again to link here.)
All in all, the June ArtSnacks box is a very portable set of supplies for an urban sketcher.