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.

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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).

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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).

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 – Fisher Space Pen Stowaway

The Fisher Space Pen has a reputation for being a very good pen, with many models being used by many people for many different things. But I feel that some models of space pen get more attention than others. And for some reason, the stowaway isn’t one of them, but it might be my favorite and I think it’s deserving of a look today.

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The body is very simple. It’s a black metal cylinder with a plastic end cap and another slightly larger black cylinder fitting over it. Fitted to this top tube is a clip, which is longer than most pen clips I’ve seen and has “Fisher” stamped into it (not much else to say, it works as a clip should). On the section there is a slight but smooth step down, and then a taper to the point.

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Writing is fairly smooth, though it does require a bit more pressure than some of the more modern pens (but less pressure than the cheap ones). The pen itself is very thin in diameter, meaning one’s hand will begin to cramp if writing more than a few notes. The body is also very short, and generally requires the cap to be posted (placed on the back of the pen) in order to lie in the webbing of one’s hand and be comfortable. This small-ness is very useful when traveling, as this pen can fit just about anywhere (but not an Altoids tin or some similar sized case, which might be why “preppers” don’t use them very often). And even though it’s metal it weighs next to nothing. In most cases it will “stowaway” very easily.

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I really like this pen. It goes with me almost everywhere (and I found an almost identically-sized pencil I will be talking about soon). Its slim body and black color make it very low profile and professional, while its all-metal construction and space pen (underwater, upside down, in space etc.) writing ability make it a very rugged writer. I did dent and scratch mine within a day of owning it, but I haven’t put anything on it since (and besides, that just adds character). The cartridges are even replaceable so you don’t have to throw out the pen each time as with many pens of this size. So, if you’re looking for an on-the-go sketching/writing/note taking pen that could also fit in with any of your other stuff at a moment’s notice, I’d say check this guy out.

Review – Pilot BP-S Medium

For quite some time, pen companies have been trying to come out with the “superior” ink. And many succeed in varying ways. Every ink has its benefits and faults. The Pilot BP-S (which I can only assume stands for “better pen” as it uses the “better” refill) claims to have a “revolutionary” ink (perhaps when it was first made) that is very smooth and writes the first time. But all my quotation marks just make me a skeptic. Let’s look at the pen.

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The body of the pen looks like a hyped-up Bic Cristal. It’s got a similar hexagonal shape, with a black end cap that screws off for easy refilling (with the Pilot better refills). The body is clear with a minor amount of information physically molded into it. It’s enough to tell you what you’re using. The grip is series of tiny ridges that lead all the way to the metal cone tip, and are surprisingly grippy compared to the rest of the pen. The refill in this model is medium, and it comes out a ways beyond the cone. The cap is nothing to write home about, though it does have a flat surface for easy removal, which is nice.

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On to the writing. I can tell you for a fact that no pen that isn’t liquid ink will write the first time every time, but this one comes close. It does take some pressure to start, usually, and a more constant pressure to continue writing than a regular ballpoint, but the overall experience is smoother. With the right amount of pressure, the ink comes out in a consistent line, and with a little let up, a serviceable one with a few gaps. Neither of these options are more strain on the hand than a regular ballpoint. The ink is black, most of the time. Sometimes it’s more of a cool dark grey. And that’s fine for any office setting, though not really for art. It is also smudge-resistant and water-resistant, like most ballpoints, so it will survive a spill as long as the paper does.

Overall it’s a good pen. Perhaps it was better comparatively when it was first introduced. It is nothing terribly special, but it is superior to standard ballpoint offerings from most major companies. Again, just slightly. If a ballpoint is the perfect writing or art utensil for you, but it just isn’t quite smooth enough, these are probably worth a look. They certainly don’t cross over into the realm of feeling or acting like another type of pen, which unfortunately tends to happen with these “smooth” inks.

Review – Bic Disposable Fountain Pen Black

If you’re an artist or would like to become one you’ve probably heard that ballpoints are not a good art instrument. While this is not the case, there certainly are better ones. Fountain pens are generally accepted to give a better writing performance than ballpoints. And the Bic disposable fountain pen seeks to combine the smoothness of one with the convenience of the other.

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The body of the pen is a smooth torpedo in the classic fountain pen shape, though a little smaller. The cap has an easy-to-use clip attached solidly to the top that is both sturdy and tight. There is a partial ink window and logos along the otherwise silver-colored barrel, nothing else. Taking off the cap and looking at the (grip) section, the feed(er) is viewable though a clear tube. The section is much thicker than a ballpoint and easy to grip, though it may become slippery and has no lip at the end. The nib (tip) is steel and ground to a medium point. It is unspectacular looking.

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As for writing, it is very good. Most of the money you pay likely went into the nib and it shows. The pen writes smooth and effortlessly for the most part, but can be prone to feedback. The flow of the ink is good and it keeps up well. Speaking of the ink, it is surprisingly black, and unsurprisingly not waterproof. This ink will feather easily and take a moment to dry. I also don’t recommend using cheap paper, as the ink will bleed thorough, though not as bad as many bottled inks. There is a massive supply of the ink, though, so you won’t have to worry about this pen breaking your wallet particularly.

For a cheap pen ($2-4 a pen), this is a very nice one with a lot of okay ink. It writes well and draws the same. If you’re looking to experiment with fountain pens in your art or writing, and would prefer a slightly larger pen, this is certainly one to look up.

Review – Black Papermate Flair Medium

Okay, so you want to ink a drawing, or maybe just sketch with a nice bold line, but you don’t have a technical pen. Either you can’t afford them or they aren’t available in the shops you have. Well, maybe you could try the Papermate Flair. The one I’ll be reviewing is the black, medium version.

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The body of the pen is a simple matte black. Sometimes this wears off and reveals a smooth body underneath. The ends are tapered, with a bulge in the middle. The name and size of the pen are printed in fairly high quality on the side. The clip is metal, works fine, but a bit tight, and has two hearts as decoration. On the top of the cap there’s a white breather hole. Removing the cap reveals a slick, tapered grip section. Despite this it is pleasant to hold because it flares out at the end, giving your fingers a place to rest.

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The tip is a nice felt tip. The medium is a fair bit wide, but is almost uncomfortable far from the grip. It writes well but sometimes has so much feedback that it seems to drag on the paper. Its ink is a nice black, though sometimes it can fade to a deep grey. It applies easily and consistently, having very little line variation, which is good if you’re inking something. The nib does feel like it can get bent out of shape fairly easily though, so be careful.

So really, if you want an impromptu inking pen, or something to sketch or make technical drawings with, but don’t have a technical pen, this is a fairly nice replacement. It isn’t as high a quality so it won’t last as long, but it it still a superb writing instrument and a very cheap alternative, even if it doesn’t have all the same quality features.

Review – Staples Medium Ballpoint Pen

Pens, they’re necessary things. If not for art, then for simple, day to day life. You won’t believe how may people I’ve run into that need pens and don’t carry them around. Okay, maybe you wouldn’t, but I’m still going to quickly talk about a cheap way to get your pen fix so you can jot down notes and stuff (as in peoples’ numbers): the Staples Medium Ballpoint pen.

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The pens are simple: a small plastic tube, containing a smaller plastic tube filled with ink. The tube is slick, but not slick enough to have the pen slip out of your hands while writing. It has the logo and name on the side in plain lettering that isn’t prone to rubbing off. The cap also fits on nicely and allows the pen to be loosely held in a pocket. Overall, the body does its job.

 

But what about the point? The tip is a ballpoint which produces a medium weight line with a very universal width. It will take a little bit of skill to get variation from this pen. But what one would want out of a pen like this is reliability, and that is given to one by the constant line. The pen, however, does at times need to be coaxed into writing and will dry up beyond usability if neglected for too long.

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It’s a nice cheap pen. It’s nothing spectacular, but for the price, nothing is. It is great for jotting notes, getting ideas down, writing drafts and piling around the house so you’re never pen-less.