Review – Speedball Elegant Writer Calligraphy Pens

It has been some time since I really practiced my calligraphy (and I only know how to do “gothic” because it’s the coolest-looking one). I really got into it for a moment a few years back, but for whatever reason I never really kept up. I write an alphabet or a quick note every now and then, but refilling fountain pens or cleaning up dip pens is such a hassle. Somewhere along the line, I picked up a set of Speedball Elegant Writer pens, which are more of a learning tool than anything else, but they do provide quick and easy access to calligraphy by removing the cleanup (and some of the drying-out problems). Does that make picking up a set worth it?

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The bodies of the pens are a very bland-looking, vaguely-pearlescent plastic cylinder that tapers out toward the cap. The top and bottom have little rings of black plastic and the cap has a cheap-feeling molded-in clip. Printed blockily on the side is all the information one would need to reorder or look the pen up. The grip section has a noticeably sharp step-down from where the cap covers it, and then a few more step-downs in front of the fingers leading to a small felt-tip nib (the size of which is marked on the side; my set contained two 2mm pens, a 2.5mm, and a 3mm).

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The nibs are a bit scratchy when writing, and lack that sharp edge you really want when calligraphing. They do a fine job for the material they’re made out of, but they certainly aren’t professional quality. It’s worth noting that the pen is super light, and posting the cap doesn’t affect the balance at all; whether or not that’s a problem depends on what kind of user you are (but it does make them feel cheap). The ink is black enough, but on closer inspection has noticeable shading. Most people won’t think anything of it, but again, it isn’t professional quality. On the page it behaves well, with minimal feathering and bleed-through even on copier paper, but it has no fortitude and easily washes down to a purple smear when exposed to water (I suspect no better results in the sun). It just isn’t meant to stick around for too long.

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Really, the worst thing I can say about these is that I think they’re over-priced. If you’re just learning letterforms or want to practice and remember them, these pens are more than adequate. They’re cheaply made with a non-permanent ink, but the tip is well-crafted and the plastic can actually absorb some shock. I keep them kicking around to keep my hand able to sculpt the correct letterforms (though they are just this side of larger than I prefer) and I’m not unhappy with them; they are entirely serviceable.

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Review – 25-Piece 1” Foam Brush Pack (Walmart)

I’ve been experimenting with some new (to me) “craft-y” techniques using paints and glues and such. Since I’m simply performing tests and I wanted an inexpensive way to acquire enough brushes for my purpose that didn’t necessarily need to stick around (not that foam brushes are known for quality or longevity). I quickly solved this problem at my local Walmart with their large pack of 25 one-inch foam brushes, and really there isn’t much to say beyond that description.

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These brushes are a ¼” wooden dowel of the cheapest and lightest variety, with a poorly stamped “not for lacquer or shellac” “warning” on the side, that are attached by a plastic tongue to a sponge too delicate for kitchen work with a wedge on one end. Since the price is only a few dollars for two dozen, none of the materials here are of notable quality, but they do hold together long enough for one to get a few uses out of the things. I’ve found that after 3 glue applications (uses, not individual coats) and subsequent washes, these brushes begin to disintegrate, but this doesn’t affect how they work for at least a few more washes (and paint is obviously a little less harsh on them than glue). Even with foam brushes not being the highest quality at the best of times (where would one even acquire “high-quality” foam brushes?), these do seem to break apart fairly quickly, though not more than I would expect for the price.

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I don’t see much of a reason to fuss about which foam brush set to pick up. The nature of foam is that they are inexpensive and allow for easy application of media in exchange for their own durability. This set is a cheap way to get a lot of brushes that will get the job done. If that’s what you need, they’re easy to find in most places.

Review – The Fine Touch 3-Brush Set (1-,2-, and 3-inch Flat)

I’m not a painter, or at least, not very often. Painting is expensive, time consuming, and space requiring. But nowadays there are budget products that are easing the “pain” a little bit. Bopping in to your local superstore and buying a set of brushes with a canvas or two for less than $20 is incredible. And “The Fine Touch” is one of the more visible brands (in my area at least) selling inexpensive painting supplies, like a set of three 1-inch increment synthetic brushes. Do they really work though?

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Despite the common wisdom for years being that natural hair brushes are superior to synthetic nylon ones, they have made some improvement in quality over that time. I don’t know if the best synthetic brushes are better than the best natural ones, nor would I claim that these are better than any other brush, but I personally prefer the little extra “bounce” the nylon provides, and they’ve worked quite well for me over several painting projects.

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The basic structure is the same as virtually all paint brushes: a wooden handle with information printed on it (varnished in this case) shaped like a paddle with a ferrule on one end that holds in a set of bristles. Conveniently, these also have a hanging hole at the end for easy storage. Everything about them is cheap; the wood is lighter than the bristles, with brush strokes in its finish and burs on the drill holes; the ferrules are a flimsily metal (which will likely rust) that has either cracked or slightly splintered each handle in the fastening process, and the bristles have a bad habit of falling out during the first few uses.

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So obviously they aren’t “forever” brushes, but for what they are (cheap superstore brushes) they are entirely adequate to paint with. If you only have a couple projects, just want to get some paint down, or feel the need to ease into things you might not know you want to do “forever”, then they will work just fine for that. You won’t become a master using these, and you might get frustrated with the bristles in your paintings, but they work, and for just getting started, that’s enough.

Review – HŌM (Home Essence) Black Linen Journal (Pocket book)

Sometimes, my weakness for inexpensive notebooks does actually lead me to a bad one. In this case, I was aware starting off that the HŌM Linen Pocket Notebook was only a serviceable notebook, and just barely above the many unusable notebooks that one can find on the shelves at Wal-Mart. But maybe I’m a little harsh sometimes. How bad could it be?

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It’s a standard little black book: 3½ x5½, with 100 sheets. Most of the “luxurious” features are omitted (no pocket), but there is an elastic band attached via a grommet on the back cover. The cover has a slick “linen” finish that is easy to scratch but hides it well. It’s a soft cover with straight corners that get dinged easily. The whole thing is nice and springy, but the finish quickly starts separating from its cardstock backing with use. The whole edge is “gilded” in a neon color (mine’s green) that matches the elastic band.photo 2-66

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The paper is an off white and ruled at close to ⅓rd inch (which is way too big). The ruling doesn’t go all the way to the edge of the page (which I really dislike), and the margin is wider at the top and less wide at the bottom (which I don’t really care about). The paper feels quite thick, and the grain is pretty boring (it’s not slick, it’s not rough, it’s just… weird feeling). It performs fine with ballpoints and pencils (minimal showthrough), and it does better with fountain pens than one might expect, but bleedthrough is still present. Smaller felt-tip pens do fine, but, not surprising to anyone, it can’t handle Sharpies.

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This notebook strikes a few bad chords with me: poor (neon) color choice, easy to damage softcover binding, and wide ruling (I didn’t expect it to play nice with fountain pens, but it didn’t impress me). And the rest of the features don’t really make up any ground. It’s far from the worst notebook you can find on the shelves of your local department store, but it’s not really worth looking at.

Review – Crayola Erasable Colored Pencils

I’ve looked at Crayola’s regular colored pencils in the past, and I’ve been known to go into far too much detail about the color and quality of what are ostensibly children’s products. In this review of Crayola’s erasable colored pencils I will be concentrating on the “gimmick” as opposed to the colors (in other words, I won’t be looking at the 24 colors from my box individually). So, do erasable colored pencils do as they say on the tin?

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First, a quick note about the aesthetics, which have changed from your standard Crayola pencil. These retain their round form with the addition of a ferrule and color-coordinated eraser at one end. The name of each of the colors is printed on the barrel, but not embossed into it, and little white designs have been added to the front and back over the color-coded label. Each one also has a large uneven white patch in the middle containing a couple logos (and “f6b”, which I assume is the hardness). I think this re-design is poorly conceived, but it is a product for children, and doesn’t affect the use of the pencils.

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When put to paper, the pencils feel a bit more waxy than the standard set. It’s a kind of unnatural and unpleasant feeling with the colors being a little more faded and uneven than the regular pencils. There is a little bit of blending that can happen, but it is splotchy and sometimes one simply covers another (I didn’t test with mineral spirits for blending, so I don’t know how this formulation would react). And finally, the erasability is… better than one might expect. All of the colors erase to about the same degree, which is not totally, but there is only the faintest wisp of color left on the page. It’s pretty comparable to erasing your standard graphite pencils, and it seems to work with most erasers (even gum ones, though they don’t work as well), not just the strange cheap ones that come attached to the back of the pencils.

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So yeah, they work essentially as advertised. It’s not the best erasing experience but it beats not ever being able to change a mistake, and that, combined with the better blending, makes these, in my opinion, the better artist’s tool. But they’re still not comparable to higher-quality artist pencils. At school or whatnot, these work especially well as map colors (unfortunately, probably the most common use of colors in school), allowing you to fix minor mistakes. If that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, these definitely fit the role (and they’re a couple bucks for 24, which is super cheap).

Review – Pilot FriXion Highlighter

While I have reviewed highlighters before, it is a fairly rare occurrence, mostly because we all know what a highlighter is and how it works. For the most part, what brand of highlighter you buy doesn’t even matter; they all do the same thing. The companies producing these products know that, so occasionally they find a new gimmick to get you to buy their specific product. Most of these gimmicks are pretty silly, but some, like adapting the Pilot FriXion pen system to highlighter form, might actually be useful if they work.

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The body of the pen is a bit ugly-looking. On top of the back end of the barrel there is a tattoo-esque design that doesn’t quite look right with the words “remove by friction” in n boring font, all in miniscule. On the very back end is a dome of frosted hard-rubber that serves as the “eraser.” The cap is a translucent plastic, matching the ink color with an integrated clip that slopes off a flattened tip. Popping it off reveals a slick black section ending in a chisel-point porous tip. The “Pilot” and “FriXion” logos are the only real information included.

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My particular three-pack came in orange, pink, and yellow. The colors are about what you’d expect but when compared side-by-side are noticeably paler than your standard highlighter. They are still bright and easy to see, while allowing text to be seen through them, and keeping smudging to a minimum. The real interesting thing about the FriXion line, though, is that when friction is applied (or it’s, you know, heated) the ink is “erased.” There’s definitely still something there, but whatever was underneath shows through, so the ink becomes transparent. This actually works surprisingly well; you’ll never fully get the ink to go away without a trace, but it looks much nicer than a bright highlighted mistake staring you in the face (the originals were ballpoint pens, which are nifty but kinda defeat the purpose). Now this obviously has archive-ability problems, I was able to use a flame to make the ink disappear and I don’t think heat or sunlight will do it well, but for something like highlighting I’m not sure that’s a very big deal.

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Wet ink will smudge when writing, inkjet printer ink will smudge when erasing.

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I’ve had a really good time using these pens they’ll probably end up somewhere in my system. I’m not a big highlighter person (I’ve never used them in books, for instance, and I don’t plan to in the future) but I’ve turned to them for marking off items on to-do lists because they have a cleaner look than “crossing out.” And for that, these little guys work perfectly. I never have to worry about making a mistake (and I can draw silly little pictures or whatever).