Review – Apsara Extra Dark Triangle Pencil

I’ve been looking at a lot of international pencils recently, and these are no exception. While Apsara pencils aren’t necessarily “hard” to come across in the US, these particular pencils, the Extra Dark Triangular, are virtually nowhere to be found. Are these Indian pencils worth getting your hands on, or nothing special?

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The pencil almost couldn’t be simpler. They have a rounded triangular body coated in yellow paint. The back end is also rounded off and capped with a thin amount of shiny black material. Most of your necessary information is stamped on the side and filled in with black paint, though in lieu of a hardness number (they’re 2B by the way) there is instead the vague “Extra Dark”.

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They are darker than the average #2 pencil, and quite soft/smooth, losing their point very quickly. I wouldn’t call them “extra dark” but you could certainly get away with it. And it’s nice for sketching or filling in scantron bubbles. The wood that the main body is made of is very light and cheap, with paint that is shoddily applied (it isn’t a nice, even coat, and you can see through it in places) but the triangular shape is comfortable and there’s enough friction to keep it in your hand nicely.

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It’s far from the king of all pencils, but it’s comfortable, doesn’t like to roll off tables, and feels like nothing when holding it. It’s a decent test-taking tool (though it lacks an eraser) and an inexpensive* way to get those darker lines when sketching. Personally, the darker lines and triangular shape aren’t my style, but if that interests you and you find one out in the wild you might want to take a serious look. But I wouldn’t go seeking them out until they become more widely available.

*I assume

Review – QuanTum Computer Pencils

Recently, I’ve gotten my hands on a few inexpensive pencils from Thailand. And at 12 Bhat (34 cents) for 2 pencils and an eraser, the QuanTum Computer Pencils are fairly cheap and meant mainly for school work. But would they hold up?

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Most of the information printed on the package is in Thai, so the most I can get out of it is that it’s a pencil, but the information printed on the body itself is in English, which is nice for people like me. The bodies are a simple, wooden hexagonal design with one rounded end. The two in my package have silver and gold painted bodies up until the last ½”, where there is a slim band of white paint followed by black for the end. Printed (notably not stamped) on of the facets is enough of the pencil’s information to get you by.

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Out of the package, the tips of these pencils were poorly enough cut that I needed to sharpen them before being able to use them (the lead is centered, just poorly cut). The graphite itself is softer than “standard”, being a 2B, but it’s on the harder side of 2B. The very (tip) point wears off quickly but it takes some time to wear it down after that. Writing or drawing is fairly smooth and getting dark patches for test answers would be/is easy (I don’t have a scantron laying around to try it on, but it gets pretty dark). There is also a black “perfect for 2B” eraser included in a tiny card sleeve. This eraser is surprisingly good, especially with this pencil; it gets rid of almost any trace of writing besides the indent in the paper, and does so quite quickly. It is one of those that seems to evaporate when you use it, though, and there are quite a few “shavings” to sweep away (also the package says “dust free”, and I have no idea what that means).

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I’d call these certainly adequate for what they are trying to be: school test or general use pencils. They function perfectly well but have a few quality mishaps, and I personally am more of an HB to F kinda person for my art/writing. If you run across them they’ll likely get the job done, but there’s no real need to go out of your way (like to Thailand) to find them.

Review – Lihit Lab Pen(cil) Case

I might be a little bit late for the back-to-school season, but I do have a pencil case I wanted to talk about. Most pencil cases tend to be of the “dump everything in and fish it out” variety, even if the only hold a few pencils. The rarer breed is the organizational pencil case (that isn’t attached to some other “organizer”). One of the simplest, least expensive, and easiest to get a hold of versions of this is the Lihit Lab Pen Case (I can’t find a certain model name {maybe Teffa?} or number that seems to fit {maybe A7551-24?}). Is it worth it?

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The outside of the case looks pretty standard (mine’s black, but there are lots of available colors), the back is blank and the front has two almost-useless pockets with a small rubber “designed for arrangement” badge. The (double) zipper is roughly in the center of the bag (and it even has the same logo as the front badge on it) and it feels very sturdy and secure, though it has no “brand-name” on it. The hinge is made of a double layer of the same fabric as the rest of the case and shows no sign of wear from several months of use. The whole package comes in at about 8”x4½”.

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The inside is a brown version of the same color polyester fabric (regardless of outside color). On the inside of the front there are two roughly inch-wide bands to hold in pens, and on the back inside there is a simple mesh covering about half the area (to hold other items). There is also a center divider/organizational area that is strangely attached to the inside of the back half and not in the middle. I suppose that would have interfered with the hinge, but its placement near the back (really it just favoring one side) can be a problem at times. The front of this divider has another inch-wide band (higher up this time) and a thin pocket (not mesh) at the bottom, and the back has three mesh pockets, the top two being slightly larger than the bottom one.

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So the configuration of the whole case is to hold pens in the front and other art/office supply things in the back. This works pretty well, especially since the back can hold either. I have 24 pens or pen-like things in mine* and 10 (or so, paper clips are counted as one thing) other things including an eraser, Swiss Army Knife, stapler, pencil sharpener, notepad etc. It fits everything nicely and is very flexible with its organization. I was surprised with what I could fit in it (almost everything I wanted), and I’ve been carrying it around wherever I need pen(cil)s for months now and it shows no sign of stressing the material or really any wear whatsoever.

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My concluding thoughts could just be “it is the pencil case I use, and I don’t see that changing soon”. And that would be true, I really like this case, it is perfect for my exact usage scenario, but due to its popularity and the number of photos of it I see online, it looks like it could fit quite a few usage cases. It’s inexpensive relative to other cases its size (it probably helps that there is no packaging needed, but it does come with a cute little card that folds out as a representation of how to use the case), it’s durable, flexible (both in the physical and organizational sense), and it’s attractive. I’d definitely recommend it as an upgrade to the regular zipper bag most people use.

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* Pencil Case Full Contents List

    • 2 Pentel Pocket Brushes
    • Pigma Brush
    • 2 Tombow Duos (N95, N60)
    • Liquid Accent Highlighter
    • Sharpie Twin Tip
    • Autopoint All American in Blue (Caran d’Ache Sketcher Non-Photo Blue Pencil)
    • Pigma Graphic 1
    • Pigma Micron Technical Pens (005, 01, 02, 03, 05, 08)
    • Le Pen 0.03 (003) Technical Pen
    • Tombow Mono Zero Eraser (Round 2.3, Rectangular 2.5×5)
    • Scotch Tape Roll
    • Pad of Generic Sticky Notes (3”x2”)
    • Twist Ties x2
    • Paper Clips x5 (Insulated)
    • 4 inch Ruler
    • Pentel .5 HB lead
    • Pentel Graphgear 500 .5
    • Swingline Tot 50 Mini Stapler
    • Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser (With Plastic Case)
    • Victorinox Super Tinker**
    • Zebra F-301 (Black, Blue, Green, Red)
    • Paper:Mate Liquid Paper Correction Pen (Signo Angelic White Gel Pen)
    • Kum Pencil Sharpener

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Last two photos from Jetpens.com (http://www.jetpens.com/Lihit-Lab-Teffa-Pen-Case-Book-Style-Black/pd/7665) I just had to include a photo of the "booklet" and originally couldn't find mine.

Last two photos from Jetpens.com (http://www.jetpens.com/Lihit-Lab-Teffa-Pen-Case-Book-Style-Black/pd/7665) I just had to include a photo of the “booklet” and originally couldn’t find mine.

Review – Crayola Crayons (120 Crayon Box Part 1 – White, Pinks, Reds, and Purples)

When it comes to crayons there is one brand that immediately comes to everyone’s mind (right before “and Roseart? Is that their name?”): Crayola. They’ve been making crayons for more than a century, and seem to really know what they’re doing. Their products are pretty close to ideal for school use, and can be used, in good hands, to even make fine quality art.

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They’re simple and sturdy, with just a traditional paper wrapper that is almost instantly recognizable to anyone who was raised in the United States. They’re harder to make a mess with than markers and easier to use than colored pencils. Still, they don’t lend themselves well to more advanced techniques, like any type of blending really. But to solve that, Crayola has a (relatively inexpensive) box of their 120 “standard” colors (excluding metallic, sparkling, and retired colors) available to give you as many different shades as you need. I roughly organized this set and split it into 4 parts of 30 crayons each. Where I will go through and evaluate each color and whether or not getting the 120 is really that much better and the 64 or 96.

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White – White is white, and on white paper, virtually invisible. There isn’t much of an off-white look either; it really does look like white paper on another color. It’s probably everyone’s least used crayon, but it’s good for highlighting, and covering an entire page without being able to see what your doing.

Piggy Pink – And very quickly we get to one I’m not really a fan of. Piggy Pink is a next-to-impossible-to-see color that, based on all of my observations, might actually be a pink hue. Maybe it’s for highlighting, but how often do you see that with crayons? I think it’s close to useless.

Salmon – Next up is a Salmon, which does look like the fish, though darker. Like most of the pinks it doesn’t cover well and is quite pale, but its still a pleasant color that could find a variety of uses.

Shocking Pink – Shocking pink is one of those fluorescent colors. It is easily the brightest pink and since the set has no “hot pink” it is a suitable replacement. It’s good for coloring 80’s clothing and aliens, but I suspect some could find more creative uses for it.

Radical Red – The name of this one is a bit of a swap, I think. It’s not really a red, much more of a pink (even with pink being weird as far as the light our eyes see and everything). I would best describe it as a darker, and more subdued, version of hot pink. Think the 90’s version of Shocking Pink up there, with much the same uses.

Wild Watermelon – Wild watermelon is quite an apt name for this one: it does look like a ripe (perhaps a bit overly so) watermelon. It’s a bright spring or flower color that unfortunately doesn’t cover well and has limited use.

Razzle Dazzle Rose – A color very similar to shocking pink, but with slightly different coverage properties (less even, but darker in spots). It is a bit darker and does give off a hint of the classic rose color, but it isn’t very spectacular.

Carnation Pink – This pink does resemble a carnation, but of course flowers range hugely in colors. It is a good flower color and covers well, but it’s too light to have many other applications.

Pink Flamingo – Despite the name being slightly misleading (it doesn’t really look like a flamingo, it’s quite a bit darker) this is one of my favorite pinks. It has a nice easy-to-see color, that covers alright, and has a versatile (for pink) range, from flowers, to berries, and even flamingo shading.

Tickle Me Pink – Lacking any knowledge about what color “Tickle Me” is I will say that this pink is a very similar one to the Pink Flamingo, it covers better and is a more “blueish” color. Filling many of the same roles, but being just a hint different.

Cotton Candy – Cotton Candy is one of the last “It is really hard to see this” colors we’ll have for a while (until lavender, and then not until yellows) but by virtue of it being one of those I am not a fan. It does cover surprisingly well, but it isn’t the color of cotton candy (at least what I’ve eaten) nor much else.

Mauvelous – Mauvelous is a wonderful pun and a nice-looking color. It isn’t the best covering one, but it is a light, purple-ish pink that is nice too look at. The one problem though is that the color isn’t mauve. It might be in the same realm (as in purple) but it wouldn’t have nearly the same uses.

Scarlet – Scarlet has always been one of my favorite colors. It’s a nice very bright red that looks good in highlighting, flowers, and anything that is generally a red color. It doesn’t cover as well as some of the other colors unfortunately. But it does draw the eyes while not being too overbearing.

Brick Red – Another apt name, this color is very much like a new brick wall with perhaps a dash of purple. It works for brick, obviously, and some older red items, like old fire hydrants and the like. Like most reds it’s all right in coverage, but lets the white show through here and there.

Razzmatazz – If I had to tell you what a Razzmatazz was, I wouldn’t be able to. I might guess that it would be a similar color to a raspberry, which this color is. It is also very much unlike Razzle Dazzle Pink, being a fairly dark pink/purple-y red that covers well enough. It’s good for berries and flowers and such, but I couldn’t pick it out in a lineup.

Red – A classic color there really isn’t much to say about. With coverage being much smoother than all of the pinks or pink-likes, and a pigment suitable for fire trucks, or apples it is an indespenable one.

Pink Sherbert – An interesting spelling choice on this one, but an apt description. This color would be very usable for frozen fruity treats. It is darker and covers better than most of the pinks and is quite soothing and cool looking.

Wild Strawberry – Wild Strawberry does look like a wild berry, but I’m not sure a strawberry would be the one I’d pick. It is a bit more purple/blue than most strawberries I’ve seen, but perhaps that’s just because I haven’t seen them in the wild. It is a nice raspberry or grape color as well, but like most reds it lacks good coverage.

Violet Red – This color is very hard to differentiate from the previous wild strawberry. It’s a little lighter, and a little more purple, but it has much the same use and properties.

Maroon – Maroon is one of my favorite colors in general, but it is generally a redish-brown-purple. And this version is distinctly less brown than is typical. I’d almost call Brick Red a more standard maroon color. It’s still a very nice, deep, satisfying color here, that gives the best coverage out of any of the reds. Unfortunately its uses are limited to shading, bruises, some clothing, and Texas A&M paraphernalia.

Cerise – Another color I am mostly unfamiliar with, but the name is quite accurate here. A purplish red, cerise doesn’t have many uses, save berries again. But it is a pleasant, lighter color that covers decently when applied.

Jazzberry Jam – Crayola seem to really like adding “z’s” to their color names, a theme that another color will follow before we’re through this first part. Jazzberry Jam is a lighter purplish-red and is indeed like many types of jams, jellies and berries. It’s got good coverage and is nice on the eyes.

Blush – Another good color name, Blush is exactly what I would have expected this color to be, or at least one of the variations. It’s a medium tone red-purple that covers very well and could be used as an actual blush color, unfortunately, despite it being nice looking, there isn’t much else to do with it.

Lavender – A fairly accurate representation of the flower, lavender is a light purple that is one of the more difficult crayons to see, and doesn’t cover very well, but is also one of the most interesting to look at. Not much to use it for, though.

Hot Magenta – This color is very similar to Razzle Dazzle Rose, with a dash more purple and some of the “atomic” glow taken out. I’m not a fan, and it doesn’t cover well, but it is seeable and not too hard on the eyes.

Purple Pizzazz – The final of the various “azz” colors, Purple Pizzazz is pretty unspectacular. It’s a light purple suitable for light purple things that covers all right. It’ll get use as an in-between color, but I can’t see reaching for it that often.

Magenta – Taking time off from Blues Clues magenta makes a good showing here. It covers well, looks very much like magenta, and because of that is nice too look at. Other than again flowers, berries, and the character, I’m not sure where it would be used, though.

Fuchsia – The hardest to spell color is also one of the hardest for people to pin down what exactly makes it (like chartreuse). Fortunately to that end it is a flower, and this color isn’t quite like the examples of the flower I’ve seen. But it would still work for other flowers and has good properties.

Red Violet – Another good color name, it is basically purple with a bit more red mixed in. Getting into these true purples though, means fewer and fewer uses, but better coverage, which this one has.

Egg Plant – And finally for this first part one of my (and certainly my mother’s) favorite colors (really just because it’s a goofy name) eggplant looks a lot like an eggplant. And it covers well enough that if you wanted to color an eggplant or shade some other purple color it would work perfectly.

And that’s all for the first 30 colors. Next time I’ll look at another 30 going from the purples to in the greens.

Blog 4-1-16 – The Good and the Bad

Hello again. I’m Austin Smith from the Dragon Funnies (dragonfunnies.com), Art Supply Critic (artsupplycritic.com), and Dragon Co. (dragoncompany.org) Blogs. And I have finally and unfortunately reached the point where work, social obligations, sickness, and just life in general have rendered me unable to keep up with maintaining my web endeavors. Over the past few weeks I have failed entirely to keep the deadlines I have set for myself on all three of these Blogs. And with more than 3 years of not missing more than a day that is a huge blow to me.

I will not give up on posting to these sites. And in fact I can see the crest of the mountain where I can go back to the normal maintenance of them. It is disheartening for me to still have this problem even after I have streamlined so much of my content. But it is still just a hobby for me, and it is a hobby I will have to “leave” on this side of the mountain and come back for once I have brought everything else to the top.

The real announcement here is, I will be suspending my posting schedule in April. That doesn’t mean things won’t be posted. It just means there will be no schedule. I will finish what I can when I can and then review my situation in May. If everything goes as planned (and things, contrary to how it seems, tend to go as planned, just not on schedule), I will catch up through all of these days by the time I am done. So the amount of content in the end will be the same, but will be posted in bursts rather than daily.

Until that is done there is quite a bit still on the site to enjoy, and I will still be showing my art and books in a gallery here in Alpine Texas from April 1st to 10th. There will be a lot of photos and maybe a few videos from that. And I will be working on a way to get some of the really cool new stuff I made for the show out and available on my site.

-Austin.

Review – Faber-Castell 033 Ballpoint Pen

I recently received a box of things my brother got for me on his trip to Peru. Inside were several pens that seemed to be commonly available there. Indeed, they are more common there than in the US, because all of the information I could find on them was in Spanish, or Russian (Ukrainian? Cyrillic of some sort). And they do say “Product of Peru” in Spanish. So let’s get to it and look at the first type I received, the Faber-Castell 033 ballpoint in black.

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The pen has a very classic octagonal design, and it’s made with a plastic that feels much like the plastic that older pens and mechanical pencils were made out of, except it is much lighter and feels more brittle and thinner as a result. The faceted barrel is capped on the back by a step-down plug of a light grey color that allows the pen to be neatly posted, and the cap on the front is a very simple, if unsightly, ribbed design. The clip is molded in and works, but is quite filmsy, and I wouldn’t trust it. The cap does fit securely over the section, which is a simple taper in the barrel to a larger-than-normal metal cone, at the end of which is the ball. As far as I can tell, this tip is not removable, and thus the pen is not refillable. Stamped in gold on the side is just enough information to identify it, but not much more.

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Writing is surprisingly smooth for a ballpoint, but it does have occasional startup issues and more blobbing than I can get past. The ink is comparable to inexpensive Bic ink. It’s suitably dark and black, but it’s got a bit of a red sheen, and upon close inspection under a bright light it looks like a very dark purple. It’s still on the warmer side of things, though. It dries fast (except for the blobs), but with certain types of paper I wouldn’t try it left-handed. And its blobbing might cause it to smear for left-handers anyway. It is suitably waterproof like most ballpoint inks. I haven’t tested lightfastness, but in general even cheap black inks do well, but it isn’t archival quality.

Overall it’s a well-working, inexpensive pen. As far as super cheap pens go it isn’t the best, but it’s far from the worst. It writes well, but not perfectly. The body is simple with no frills and holds together despite being cheaply made. And there isn’t much more to it than that. I wouldn’t be going out to import them, but I would (and will) use them if I ended up with them (which I obviously did).

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.

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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).

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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.

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