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.


Mini Review – Hobby Lobby Foam Core Board

Once in a while, every artist or crafter has to schlep down to the dollar store for some foam-core board. And inevitably when it cracks or tears one finds themselves wishing they’d gone for the slightly more expensive option. Could Hobby Lobby have been the savior in this scenario?

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Perhaps; the generic foam core available from Hobby Lobby has a nice smoother (bordering on slick) finish over its cool white paper. The foam filling is rigid but still has a little bit of give. The whole assembly is lightweight and easy-to-cut; and, with a reasonably sharp blade, there is no tearing.

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Depending on the store, this stuff is greater than or equal to the quality you will find in dollar or discount stores. It just feels nicer and holds up better. It may not be the best quality board in the world, but if you’re contemplating an upgrade and are unsure, consider yourself assured.

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 – Bic 4 Color Original Pen

For as much as they are almost “looked down” upon in the world of writing implements, and for as cheap a product as they are, Bic pens are very sturdy and reliable line-making machines, with newer ink formulations making them smoother than any pen in the price range seems to deserve to be. Their simple and effective designs have endured the tests of time, making the Cristal ubiquitous, and others, like the 4 color pen, an oddity many have toyed with and some people swear by. Is combining 4 pens into one really necessary? Probably not. But does it have convenient uses for those who still write thing down? Let’s take a look.

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The body of the pen is quite simple, with a retro vibe that probably comes from the design being relatively unchanged from its introduction decades ago. The main barrel is a light blue (or orange for the fine version) cylinder making up 2/3 of the length that begins to taper as it gets closer to the writing end. On top of this is a black band, which connects to the white top. This top section has a very “angular” molded-in plastic clip, a lanyard hole/rotary telephone dialer on top (rather intrusively), and 4 slots in which 4 plungers of different colors sit. When one of the plungers is depressed, a pen tip of a corresponding color pokes out of the front. Unscrewing the blue portion reveals that the mechanism here is quite simple: the 4 ink tubes (with tips) are situated equally distanced from each other inside the barrel. When one pushes the plunger, an ink tube is moved forward and bent via the barrel taper to come out the hole in the center, and a catch holds the plunger down until depressing another one causes it to spring back up. Unfortunately, the way things are constructed, the ink tubes are not replaceable, so if you run out, you’re stuck. The only other thing on the body is the Bic logo and “made in France” molded into the side of the white upper portion. It’s nice that it won’t rub off, but it doesn’t give you very much information to go on.

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The performance is decent. The inks are quite smooth for a ballpoint, and don’t cramp the hand too much, but there is more blobbing than I would like and some of the lesser-used colors (like green) often have startup problems from dried ink on the tip. Despite being a shiny plastic, the pen holds well in the hand. Being a bit larger than your average pen to accommodate 4 ink tubes, it has more surface area to hold on to and it isn’t slippery. It might not fit in some smaller pencil holders, though. I’ve taken a look at the more common Bic colors before, and they aren’t changed here. All are a bit more wimpy than I would like, especially the green, followed by the red, but they go down well and are recognizable while having the standard ballpoint advantages like being water-fast. The clip is pretty bad if you ask me, having almost no flex, but it will probably do its job.

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For art, this pen probably isn’t worth considering unless you’re challenging yourself. But for those that like stay organized with different colors in their planners, need a red pen and don’t want to keep track of 2 pens, or don’t want to run out of ink on the fly, this is a pretty good option. It’s got a nice retro feel if you’re into that sort of thing (understanding that it’s a little unprofessional) and even through it’s disposable, the materials are quality enough it won’t fall apart on you. For someone like me, who carries around 4 pens in 4 colors this might be a lifesaver. It’s not the end-all pen, but it’s a nice office-weight pen, designed to be inexpensive and get things done, which it does quite well at.

Review – Vinifan Bicolor Colored Pencils (Triangular)

I don’t know about anyone else, but I certainly have memories of being fascinated by double-ended colored pencils. I actually might still have my first one around somewhere because, even though I ended up with a couple different ones in my pencil pile™, there just wasn’t much use I could find specifically for a double-ended colored pencil. But the box for the one I’m looking at today, the Vivifan Bicolor, has (as best I can make out since I don’t read Spanish fluently) listed uses for each side of the blue and red pencil. The blue side is for “writing” and the red side is for “correcting” (escribir y corregir respectivamente), but is that really a good use scenario?

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Like a few other Peruvian writing implements I’ve reviewed recently, the Bicolor has a rounded, triangular body that helps with grip and prevents it from easily rolling off the table. It’s painted red and blue on the sides corresponding with the color of the lead, coming together in the middle at a surprisingly straight line (I don’t know if that line exactly corresponds to the leads, though). Near the center, stamped in gold letters, are “Vivifan” and “Bicolor” which is enough, but I would’ve liked some more information.

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In the package, the points are very cheaply made with 3 flat cuts, but they are usable (though the points were broken or blunted on some of mine during the trip from Peru to the USA). The writing has a more-or-less standard, waxy colored pencil feeling. Coverage is pretty good when bearing down (the blue covers slightly less completely than the red), and at normal writing pressure they are darker than the average colored pencil. But, in my experience, they become unsightly and uncomfortable after only a few words. The fire-engine red and navy blue colors are unspectacular and almost non-differentiate-able from Crayola orange-red and blue pencils, but they get the job done. Both the waxy-ness and the not-good-for-art colors provided help lead to the very standard problem with inexpensive colored pencils of them not blending very well, but the packages says they’re for writing so that’s less of a concern.

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I’m still not really sure what I would use this for. The red side is good for marking corrections to be made, but the blue side is not good for writing. The color set is too limited for most artistic applications and the difficulty there is compounded by the inexpensive waxy-ness. Still, if you’re looking for a space-saving or easier-to-keep-track-of way to have both a blue and red colored pencil with you, this would be a perfectly adequate (and comfortably designed) way to do that.