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.

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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 – Kum Pencil Sharpener (Magnesium 1-hole Wedge)

For some time, my preferred on-the-go pencil sharpener has been a (older) Kum brass single-holed design. Recently I wanted another (it’s so tiny you might as well put one anywhere within reach), and, as it turns out, the brass ones are hard to find in the States (possibly because of something to do with lead?); so the next best thing was the same design, by the same company, but in a lighter-weight silver-colored magnesium alloy. At the price, this is a pretty good sharpener, but I’m also gonna mentally compare it to the brass version, which I do find is the superior of the two.

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The design is a super-simple “wedge” shape; a box with a slanted top where the blade is screwed in. On either side, there are ribbed divots for you to grip when using, and besides that there aren’t a lot of “features” (no shaving containment for sure). The labeling is clear and there is a little bit of “decoration,” but the whole thing is pretty bare.

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Sharpening is lovely: the contraption is as small as can be but still easy to hold, everything is machined well for precise angles and the blade is sharp, cutting through all the pencils I tried with ease. The points it produces are slightly shorter than I prefer, but that is a minor consideration: they are still well pointed and easy to use. Here I should note that the sharpener is very light, and feels almost flimsily in the hand. This doesn’t affect the function in any way, and the sharpener is indeed rock solid, but at about 4½ grams when compared to the brass’ 19 grams, it just feels feathery and unpleasant in my opinion. (The edges are also much sharper when compared to the brass version, but that might have to do with wear).

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If you’re looking for an inexpensive, no-frills pencil sharpener that gets the job done well, I’d look into picking one of these little guys up. They are hardy, usable, and portable. In some cases they’re cheap enough to be “disposable” (I got mine for $2, which is half what I was seeing them go for online), but they have easily replaceable blades for a guaranteed lifetime of use (though, in some cases it seems like the blades cost more than the sharpeners). And, even though I think the brass version is superior, there certainly isn’t anything wrong with the newer magnesium one.

Review – Maped Globe Pencil Sharpener

I’m a sucker for globes. I see a globe and I buy it. Well… that might not be necessarily true, but it was in this case. I saw a globe on the shelf and bought it. It was only later that I learned it was a pencil sharpener (and more expensive than the dollar I thought it was worth). I was actually unaware that Maped was an office supply company, but does that say anything about the quality of their globe pencil sharpener?

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With such a cheap and small product, one can’t expect a large degree of accuracy, and that is certainly the case here: Great Britain is fused to the rest of Europe, islands in the Pacific are comically uniform (and poorly labeled), Kamchatka is colored as if it is part of North America, and Mexico south is apparently South America. Beyond that, the actual quality of the product isn’t held to a high standard either. Mine came with a few paint chips and scuffs; while that isn’t the worst thing, it is very noticeable at the small scale.

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But, none of that matters unless the sharpener works, which it doesn’t… very well. Obviously, any blade screwed into a cone will sharpen a pencil, and this technically does that, but out of the box it is dull enough to tear at the wood, and the cone misshapen enough to turn the pencil tip into a fragile needle. Technically, it does sharpen a pencil (and I’ve had some “sharpeners” that didn’t) but it makes an ugly and fragile mess. The position of the hole isn’t much better, being in the “stand” part of the globe, and thus, pointing down, it dumps little bits of graphite onto whatever surface you set it on.

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I can’t really recommend this one, even if you’re a globe fan. The illustration is poor, the metal is nothing special, and the sharpener is of shoddy quality while being badly positioned. I’d only really get it as a curiosity if it was on sale for 50¢ or so.

Review – Daler-Rowney Simply Pocket Sketchbook (3.5×5.5) Hardback

Every time I have the time, I foolishly look in the notebook section at Walmart (both the office and/or crafts). I don’t know why, I always know that the notebooks won’t be great but I’ll be swayed to buy one anyway. In this case it was a hardback pocket sketchbook that I thought was only a dollar (it’s about 5 times that). The book basically has the same dimensions and look as a Moleskine Pocket notebook, but with 72 sheets of 100 gsm (65lb) “sketch” paper (heavier than the Moleskine notebook, lighter than their sketchbook, and with fewer sheets than either) at a discounted price. But is it a worthy “replacement”?

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The cover is very Moleskine reminiscent, being a black sort-of faux leather wrapped around cardboard, but in this case much more shiny and plastic-y. There are visible creases on both the front and back because the spine has been stiffened to remain flat, meaning the covers more or less “hinge” open. There is an elastic band attached to the back cover that does its job of holding the book together when wrapped around and warps the covers a little bit. Also on the back cover, stamped slightly off-center is the Daler-Rowney logo.

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Inside there is no strict “this book belongs to:” or logo page before getting right into the 72 sheets of “ivory” sketching paper, augmented by a very cheap looking/feeling black ribbon bookmark. Inside the back cover is a page-size pocket with cloth folds for strength, and I never use these so I can’t tell you much more than that.

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The paper itself is good. It is indeed fairly thick and heavy, with a grain that is smoother than most sketchbooks I’ve encountered but more toothy than any “notebooks” I’ve used. Aside from telling you that it’s “acid free”, the sticker on the front cover also has a picture of a pencil and a nib (I assume standing in for all ink pens) and it handles these two quite well. If you use pencil, there is a little bit of show-through if you go looking for it, but you could easily use all 144 “pages” of the book. The show-through becomes much more prominent with ink, especially from felt tip, brush, or fountain pens. There is also some minimal bleed-through with the more intense ink pens, but I never got it to actually mark on the next sheet. Still, it reduces the usable space of the sketchbook to 72 pages when using inks. Feathering is also a bit of an issue. There isn’t much of it, but when it happens (mostly with fountain pens) there are long thin lines of ink stretching away from your mark that almost look like little hairs. They’re pretty hard to see from far away, but when you notice them it’s hard to un-see.

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For the price it’s a nice little sketchbook (even if it cost more than I thought). It’s held up to a few months of moderate use from me with virtually no battle-damage, and while I suspect it to be less durable than a Leuchtturm or Moleskine it is short enough that it’ll probably last until you finish with it. The paper is good quality and pleasant to write on, and the handy pocket is there with an elastic band closure to keep every thing tidy. It’s a pretty good, if unrefined, option if you want a black pocket sketchbook.

Review – Field Notes Pencil

Field Notes has made a name for themselves creating (or branding) basic but well made items for note taking and such. Their notebooks balance affordability with quality, and their range of accessories attempt to do the same. The Field Notes pencil (like the pen I’ve looked at before) is on its own quite a bit more expensive than most similar pencils, but they are often included as a free pack-in item (like their pens, calendars and rubber bands), so you usually don’t have to buy them straight out. But are they any good?

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The body has basically the same dimensions as your standard round pencil. The wood is a nice, unfinished cedar, with large amount of information printed on it in black. Attached to the back end is a nicely fitted aluminum ferrule with “green” green eraser. Everything is very precisely manufactured and it feels/looks great. You get more printed information that average, like the: brand, website, lead hardness, materials, and inventory number. It’s all laid out clearly and printed cleanly.

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The performance is about what you’d expect. The HB lead is a little rougher than some, but it goes down relatively dark while not eroding the point too quickly. The eraser could be better, but it does its job and there’s quite a lot of it to use (it doesn’t disintegrate immediately like some others do). I grew up with round pencils and I prefer their feel, so I think the ergonomics are quite good: it gives one a little more to hold on to, but it will more easily roll off the table. But the most surprising thing upon picking it up is how light it is. When brand new, I can actually feel the weight of the ferrule/eraser pulling the back of the pencil down a bit, which is a very unusual feeling, but you get used to it, and the lightness is wonderful for longer “penciling” sessions.

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It’s a relatively high quality pencil that I don’t think you can get anywhere else (unlike the Field Notes pen, which is a branded Bic Clic), but I’m not sure they’re worth the nearly $1 (83¢) asking price. They’re as good as or better than the name-brand pencils you find at the store (Dixon, PaperMate) but they’re at least twice the price, crossing the border from regular writing pencils into budget sketching pencils, with which I don’t think they compete. They’re good pencils for what they are, but I’m not going to be ordering a set anytime soon. Still, they make a nice bonus when opening your Field Notes packages (as are all the little things Field Notes puts in as extras).