Review – Dick Blick Medium Vine Charcoal

I must admit before I start here that I’m not really one for charcoal as a drawing medium. It requires a fair amount of space that it’s alright to be perpetually stained with black. So, you basically need studio space in order for it to be at its peak performance, and I do not have studio space. But, I can take art classes, and that is where most of my experience with vine charcoal comes from. There are quite a few places to buy it cheaply, and the manufacturing process is probably one where it would be difficult to weed out natural inconsistencies. From my experience with several different brands, I have a hard time really telling the difference; but the main ones I’ve gone with is a set from Dick Blick, mostly because they were the last ones I was able to try out.

IMG_0134IMG_0139

Vine charcoal is a particularly finicky type of drawing medium that goes down smoothly with a rich black color, and wipes away to nearly nothing with a hand or a cloth (though, if applied directly to paper, even an eraser won’t be able to remove the last ghost of a line). The sticks themselves are essentially raw: they are just vines that have been charred. Most sets (including this one) give you a pretty good selection of widths, all at around the same length. Even the girthiest of these break quite easily and most artists break them down a more manageable size both for this reason and to make manipulating them easier (I personally don’t for the most part, but then again I am persnickety). This particular set performed well. I was able to sketch with ease and clarity, while erasing and blending quickly and as cleanly as possible (and the dust trapped in my cleaning cloth made excellent shading powder in other drawings).

IMG_0141

 

Blick offers a wide range of relatively inexpensive products of quality along with their brand-name selection. These fit in nicely and will get the job done. If you’re already ordering art supplies and want some vine charcoal I’d certainly recommend this (or if Blick is actually your local store)(shipping would probably be too much to make this worth ordering alone). And while there certainly may be better charcoal out there somewhere, you won’t have any problems practicing or finishing drawings with this stuff (just be sure to get a fixative if you don’t want it to disappear).

Advertisements

Review – Mont Blanc Ballpoint Pen Refill (In G-2 Body) (Blue Medium)

In the past, I have looked upon the Pilot G-2 more favorably than some other online reviewers, but I’ve still never used one for any time beyond the review period, and it isn’t exactly a pen I would be recommending to anyone. The best things about it are that it’s cheap and well-built. So, of course, someone came up with the idea of combining those features with a better-writing tip. With a few simple modifications you can get the G-2 to accept Mont Blanc ballpoint refills, but is it worth the hassle?

photo 2-52

The actually “modding” process is pretty simple once you have the components. Remove the ink cartridge from the G-2 (obviously leaving the spring inside). Then open up your Mont Blanc pen refill of choice. These refills come with a plastic sheath to prevent accidental markings (and probably some damage); cut a thin, short tube out of this material and to slide around the refill like a collar. Then cut a longer tube out of the rest to fill in the space between the click mechanism and the refill (more detailed instructions can be found with a quick internet search). These two bits should ensure that the refill is long enough to work with the mechanism, and keep it straight enough to operate.

photo 5-16photo 2-53

In terms of usability, I like the Mont Blanc refill, but not as much as many others do. Comparing it to the G-2 is a little apples-to-oranges, since my refill is a ballpoint one, and the G-2 is a (gel) rollerball. While the G-2 with its liquid ink and precise point, could feel slippery, scratchy, and blobby, this refill is super-smooth and easy-to-handle. It is buttery, and much smoother than your average ballpoint, but that’s also its biggest problem. Sometimes it feels like the tip is holding you back, or you’re writing in oil. Other problems, like startup issues and some blobbing that are common to all ballpoints are present, but more minimal than you’ll find in pretty much any other pen. It’s a very good writing experience.

photo 3-50photo 4-45

If you want the nice feeling of a good Mont Blanc refill for a cheap price, this is about as low as you can go. The actually assembly can be a bit fiddly (there are a few places where the new pieces of plastic can scrape and lead to a sticky feeling mechanism) but at less than $30, even if you need to buy a cutting mat and hobby knife, it’s miles below the nearest Mont Blanc (and I don’t know any other pens that use the refills), with the G-2 still being a super sturdy and comfortable body for the refill to live in. If you don’t believe that Mont Blanc has the best refills ever (like me) or you’re comfortable with your Cross and Parker refill pens (also like me) then you needn’t go anywhere near this trick, but if someone hands you one to try out, I’d at least try it out.

Review – Swingline Tot (Mini) Stapler

I’ve been using an old Swingline CUB stapler at my desk for years now. The combination of small size and standard staples makes it perfect for me, a person who doesn’t have to staple often. I also have the super small Tot-50 stapler in my pencil case, and while the size is good it does use a different type of staple to most other staplers. But now Swingline has a middle ground even between those two with the Tot, a stapler that is just about as small as you can get while still using regular sized staples. But how useful could that be?

photo-255photo-256

The Tot is about 2½” in total length, 1¾” tall, and 1¼” wide. These measurements are a bit larger than they could have been due to the rounding of the stapler body; there are no sharp edges on it. At the back there is a curved piece of metal sticking out to serve as a staple remover. It works fairly well, though unlike the standard “jaw” type it does have the tendency to fling used staples across the room. On the top and bottom of the main body there are relatively comfortable divots in which to place your fingers when stapling. And the entire thing is a sort of teardrop shape, narrow in the back and widening near the front before suddenly dropping off.

photo-259photo-260

Underneath is a small rubber “plate” (for lack of a better word) covering with a handy mark representing staples stamped into it (in the previously mentioned divot), though if I didn’t know they were supposed to be staples I wouldn’t have figured it out. Peeling this back from the nice little nail nick (it’s held in place with tabs in slots) reveals a small storage compartment with enough space for a regular block of standard sized staples, and enough space for (someone with smaller) fingers to get in and grab it. Below these staples is the general information about the product, save for the brand name which is proudly displayed on top. This rubber piece is fully removable, though it is a bit finicky to get it past the staple remover on the back both when getting it on and off. I can also say, from a spill on my desk, that the rubber seals well enough to be water resistant (but I wouldn’t count on it).

photo-261

photo-257

As with most Swingline products stapling is as easy as can be. There’s a surprisingly good amount of leverage in this design and it connects pages cleanly and neatly together. Its use of regular sized staples and a mouth about as wide as your standard desk stapler means that it will basically perform the same function, with its only limiting factor being capacity (and durability since it is made of mostly plastic and most staplers are metal). My only general complaint is the top; it’s quite easy to open and hinges back far enough to make loading a breeze, but the tab that holds it in place when it’s supposed to be locked down is very weak and I’ve found it to pop open with slight provocation, or even without provocation at times. And that’s slightly worrying: I don’t want staples everywhere. But the spring holding it down is fairly strong, and if kept on the desk or in a case this shouldn’t be a problem.

photo-262photo-263

So, if you’re not one that staples often, have limited desk space, or want to carry a stapler with you but not special staples (but maybe with a bag or case) this little guy will work great. It’s small, easy to use, and gets the job done. It isn’t as durable as the larger versions (or its metal predecessor the Tot-50), but with care it will work for a long time (but maybe not as long as my CUB) and for how inexpensive they can be I’d say they’re definitely worth it (and they come with a box of staples, which is cool).

Review – Sharpie Mini

I really like Sharpies, and I have talked about them a few times before. There’s a reason they’re so popular, and as they continue to become more used they are diversifying their product range. One such product that came out a while ago is the Sharpie Mini, which is, as the name would imply, much shorter than the average Sharpie.

photo-149

It has the same starting and ending diameters as the regular sized Sharpie, with an extra part on the tip that snaps on with a lanyard “ring” (triangle). Both the cap and body have been reduced in size, but proportionally the cap is larger. The clip is very similar, but shorter, and works well enough but not fantastically. The necessary information is still printed on the side.

photo-150

The size is quite small, at 3 and 11/16ths inches capped, down from a standard Sharpie’s 5 and ½ inches. Most people would find the uncapped marker uncomfortable to hold without posting, and it’s still only tolerable when it is. The odd shape of the cap and grip make it strange to hold. The rest of the writing is all the same as a regular Sharpie, with a cool black line, very permanent but not perfect (archival) qualities, a nice tip, fast drying, and the ability to smoothly put down a ton of ink.

There’s not much more to say than that they’re smaller Sharpies. And if you like Sharpies but want a more portable option, here it is. The only downsides are they are somewhat awkward to hold, and have less ink. I personally didn’t like the lanyard ring, but that just pops right on and off, so it’s no problem. I have Sharpies around with me a lot because they’re so versatile, and this is a great little thing to decrease their needed carrying size with.

Review – Dixon “My First” Ticonderoga

I’m not gonna lie; I find reviewing wood pencils difficult. I just don’t see enough difference in them to make it seem worth my while to look at each specific one. Ones like the My First Ticonderoga are easier, but still the discussion of them ends up being brief. That being said, let’s take a look.

photo-147

The pencil is almost solid yellow, with green accents on the information on the “barrel” and the metal eraser holder. It is a little more broken up by the eraser’s pink and the wood of the sharpened end. The eraser works well enough, and is quite large since the pencils size is increased. The body is half again to double the circumference of a standard pencil, making it much more comfortable to hold, in my opinion, but harder to store. It is completely round, making rolling quite easy, but its larger mass makes it less prone to ending up on the floor.

photo-146

The lead is standard fare for #2. It works well enough for drawing and writing, providing a medium line that can be both quite dark and quite light, though the largeness of the lead skews it to dark. Personally I haven’t used it much for that, but I have used it for marking wood in lieu of a carpenter’s pencil, a job at which this excels.

It’s a good pencil, both for kids and those who don’t want to or can’t hold the smaller standard pencils of today. The quality control isn’t the finest. I’ve found some wood and paint blemishes but these are quite minor and don’t affect the writing ability at all. The set I got also came with a plastic pencil sharpener that does what it’s supposed to, but is nothing special. They’re just a simple, good option for someone who wants a larger pencil.

Review – Pentel Sharplet-2 .9mm

Recently I was gifted several mechanical pencils from someone who is a fan of larger lead sizes, and they were attempting to convert me. I have to say I’m not convinced, but the pencils themselves were ones I hadn’t had previous experience with. That isn’t really surprising, considering the vast array of mechanical pencils on the market from companies like Pentel, such as the gift I’m looking at today: the Pentel Sharplet-2 in .9mm.

photo-138

The pencil has a very classic and simple design that’s been around the block. At the back there is a plastic, cylindrical cover for the eraser, which is the standard tiny variety and placed over the lead tube. This back bit also serves as the click-advance mechanism. The barrel is the same diameter as the back cover, and consistent all the way down. The clip is one piece of metal that is friction fit around the barrel; it is a little stiff but keeps the pencil where you clip it. The only other features of the barrel are the brand and model information (that is engraved in as well as painted on, making it harder to wear away than on most writing implements), and about an inch of tiny ridges on the “section” (there is no separate section so that is for you to decide) for grip. The plastic cone that screws on the front is straight and unspectacular, ending in a metal pipe that makes the pencil more drafting-friendly.

photo-137

The leads pencils normally come with are all pretty standard, straddling the line between super dark and super light. The wider leads, just by virtue of being larger, require less pressure to write darker, and write (or sketch) in general with a wider and darker line. There are no real problems or tricks one has to get used to when writing. The eraser is similarly plain. It erases well, but can have trouble getting rid of darker or thicker lines like all erasers of its size that come packed in with mechanical pencils. The pencil does come in different versions for lead sizes; these are color coded for easy identification (it looks like there is some variation in the eraser color, as well).

photo-139

Pentel makes a solid pencil, and this is no exception. The design is simple, comfortable, and durable. It’s really a no-frills pencil. Everything is basic and has a function, it’s easy to disassemble and parts could be easily replaced (though it isn’t expensive enough to justify the hassle of that, it certainly isn’t a disposable pencil, though). The mechanism is satisfying to use, the grip is not slippery, the clip holds, and the retro styling makes it look kinda trendy (not that I care). If you want a simple, solid pencil or want to buy a set with easily distinguishable lead sizes, these would fit the bill.

Review – Huion 17.7” Light Pad (L4S)

There have been some huge leaps in lightbox technology in recent years. I’ve owned 3 lightboxes in my time, one being a repurposed dental x-ray box, the second being a traditional style box and the third being this which I bought as a possibly temporary replacement for my more traditional-style box. But I might not be swapping back so soon.

Their photos look a lot better than mine

Their photos look a lot better than mine

The Light Pad itself is a rectangular prism that measures 17 7/8” diagonal and 14 1/8” x 10 5/8” x 3/16”, meaning it covers quite a large area, but is very slim. The workable white/translucent area has markings on the side indicated in centimeters 12 ¼” (31cm) x 8 ¼” (21cm) with a ½cm margin. The non-workable black margin is about ¾“ all the way around the pad and it’s only features are the power button and a logo. On the side of the device next to the power button is a micro USB port that is only used for power (this version has no internal batteries), and a red LED will come on when the device is correctly connected. On the back of the device there is some modest information and nicely padded feet that prevent the pad from sliding around when being used.

photo-123

Using the Light Pad is a breeze. Simply touching the power “button” lights up the entire workable area to the highest brightness setting (which isn’t very bright, and being shone through a white plastic makes it much less glaring on the eyes). Touching and holding the button will start the pad lighting up, and releasing the button during this will keep the pad at the current brightness setting. This setting is remembered and the next time one starts the device it will light up at the chosen setting unless you hold the button down again. The working area accommodates A4 and Letter sizes well, and the light on the brightest setting easily works with 2 sheets of 110lb cardstock. The plastic the surface is made from is very smooth, but resists sliding and scratches. The feet are also very nice and the device is stiff enough that it doesn’t bend around them under normal use (I still wouldn’t go stacking things on it).

photo-122

I don’t think I’m going to be going back to the more traditional lightboxes anytime soon. In my opinion the only advantage they offer is an angled working surface, which is a feature I never really used. The Huion Light Pad is a great lightbox; it’s sufficiently lighted and durable enough to be easy to work with, thin enough that is stores easily, and draws very little power. Its overall workspace footprint is very small, and its job is done almost flawlessly. I do find the red LED indicator light to be annoying but I can’t think of a better way to do things and it is much less troublesome than other indicator lights I’ve had to deal with. I also have no use for the multiple brightness settings but I suppose it’s better to have it than not. Still, the device has become a permanent feature of my workplace and I would recommend anyone looking for a lightbox to look at these cheaper and thinner LED alternatives to the traditional boxes.

photo-134