Review – Caran d’Ache Sketcher (Non-Photo Blue Pencil)

Pencils are a nigh-indispensable tool for the artist. But usually, especially with ink work, they need to be erased, and that can be a hassle. It’s a lot of work, it risks ruining the drawing (or paper), it takes time, and it becomes harder to correct later. But oftentimes the final work is either a duplicate of the original, or more work is done over inked lines, meaning that using a pencil that simply doesn’t show up in the reproductions saves time and work by not needing to be erased. Non-photo blue pencils were used for this purpose as many image replication processes (mainly cameras and photocopiers that were used to duplicate artwork for printers) have a hard time transferring it, and they still retain a place with modern scanners that will be able to pick the color up, but do so in a way that the image can be easily edited to omit it. But is it really worth it to get a new different pencil like the Sketcher from Caran d’Ache?

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The pencil is as basic as one can get: made of wood and hexagonally faceted to limit rolling, one end is sharpened the other has a metal ferrule connecting the body to an eraser. The body is a pleasant blue color mirroring the color of the lead and on one facet neatly stamped and inked in white is all of the relevant information. It looks and feels very much like a standard #2 pencil.

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The eraser is well done; it erases cleanly and is dense enough to not float away far faster than the rest of the pencil. The lead is hard to place in hardness; it feels softer than a standard HB but it has a more waxy quality (characteristic of colored pencils) that makes it give a much harder line. So it writes somewhere harder than HB and wears somewhere below. The line it produces can go from very light to surprisingly dark, but even at its most dark, it is barely visible in scans and can be easily isolated and removed. But it is only a tool for pure ink drawings, and its use is limited in other senses. If one were to, for instance, lay a wash over it, it would be harder to isolate and almost impossible to be rid of on scans, and it resists being covered by lighter washes. And if one were to erase before laying down a wash they would find that the ink laid on top of the pencil is cut down severely, with the entire line becoming grey and having several holes that are almost white, basically where the ink adhered to the pencil and not the paper (this effect is present, but much less severe, with standard graphite pencils). A similar set of problems would be encountered by someone wishing to put color down. So using a pencil like this would necessitate an additional step between inking and coloring/washing where the inked drawing is reproduced and tweaked to eliminate the blue (and potentially other errors).

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I’ve also had a bit of an issue with the lead being soft enough to break inside the pencil. It hasn’t been severe, but it’s worth noting.

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So am I converted to the blue pencil? Not quite. I really like it, and for a specific type of work-flow it is perfect, but that work-flow isn’t mine. I color/wash my original drawings, and I don’t see that stopping unless I get big enough that I can hand it off to someone else. So the pencil has very little use inside my work environment. I do use it now and again, but it also wears down quite quickly, and having to use a sharpener just drives me back to my mechanical pencils. That being said, it is a well-made pencil that does its intended job superbly. If you need to reproduce or scan in original inked artwork and don’t want the hassle of erasing, I would say this is right up your alley.

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Review – Tombow Dual Brush Pens Grayscale Set

Ink-washing is a great way to improve the look of ink drawing, but diluting India ink and using traditional brushes can be messy and a hassle at times. Gray brush pens certainly do help and the Tombow Dual pens have both a brush and marker tip to make using grays easy.

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On either end of the marker there is a cap. One is quite a bit larger than the other, in both length and circumference. Both have ridges for easy removal, and small inner caps to prevent what they’re covering from drying out. The larger cap also has a fin to prevent it from rolling too far on a desk. The caps are made in such a way the that larger cap can “post” over the smaller one, and the smaller one can post into the larger one. They’re both sturdy and work well. The section for the larger brush side is nice and tapering. It’s long and easy to hold. However, the one for the marker side is quite stubby and holding on the body is almost necessary. The body itself is plain: a cylinder with text, Necessary information is there and it works.

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The pack I have is a pack of five grays and a black. The black is fairly understandable and a bit warm. The other grays purport to be “cool” but do vary from cool to warm, in my opinion. Several of them are also far too dark to really be distinguishable, but that also is just my opinion. The N95 and N60 are the most distinctive. Being very light and easy to work with, and very warm, turning to green after a while, respectively. The 45 and 55 are barely distinguishable and the 65 is about halfway between true white and true black, but all three get very dark very quickly and none of the five easily make a smooth edge, they are too varied in color to do so. The colors are all acid free, making them archival quality. And while they are water-based and claim to be blendable, I find that once they absorb into paper or card they are almost immovable. They go on smooth, the brush has quite a bit of variance but can be fragile (it is a sponge-like and not a bristle brush) and the marker is quite consistent and rigid. They can be used for several large projects or quite a few little ones, but can’t be expected to last longer than any other felt-based markers.

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In the end, they are great for someone who is just trying to get a feel for the grayscale washed look but is frustrated with, intimidated by, or doesn’t have to time for mixing up one’s own wash. Some other supplemental brush pens might be needed to get the full effect out of the shading, but these are a good start and the double-ended aspect makes them more useful than similar pens.