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.

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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.

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 – Pilot Precise v7 Black

Smooth writing is something quite a few people desire, for both writing and sketching. Fountain pens are some of the smoothest writers available, but they have some convenience issues. And regular ballpoints require too much force for some people to write smoothly. Pilot’s Precise line of liquid ink roller balls are meant to fill this gap in the pen market. This is the V7 black version.

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The pen body itself is straight, nice on the fingers, not slippery, but polished. All necessary info is printed on a label on the side, along with an ink window so you can view your supply, of which there is a lot. There is quite an interesting, fountain-pen-like feed which is clearly visible under the grip. It keeps up well with the writing. From there, there are some strange ribs leading up to an extended point with a rolling ball.

The cap is simple: straight with a nice clip that works well and says “Pilot”, Though it does have some strange indents, it posts well.

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The V7 point is 7mm, which is shocking, I know. It is very smooth. It dispenses ink handily and never skips unless it is dry from not putting the cap on. I also find it is less prone to get away from you as some of the other rollerball pens with fine points I’ve used are. The ink itself is quite black. It dries quickly but not immediately. It does get grey after some wetting or smearing, but this isn’t much of an issue.

So overall this is a great “take everywhere” pen, for both artists and writers. Though I would recommend it more to artists because of the nature of the tip and liquid ink. I find that in sketching it pays to move fast, while in writing it doesn’t. Either way it’s a comfortable pen that writes super smooth and lays down a nice line of fairly black ink. It’s worth a look at least.

Review – Faber Castell 24 Colour Pencils

Colored pencils have been around for a long time. And now most of them are very cheap and often associated with kids or school. However, if one does want to look into the more expensive world of colored pencils there are plenty to choose from. Let’s take a look at the Faber-Castell box of 24 Colour pencils.

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The pencils come in a nice, if easily dent-able metal case. Inside the case the pencils are stored in a row on a plastic tray. The pencils themselves are thicker than most pencils and nicely circular. They will sharpen in standard pencil sharpeners but be wary of the lead. On the side is a hard-to-read but nice logo and color information section. They are not slick and have a very matte finish that holds well in the hand. The color of this finish matches the color of the lead fairly well if not exactly.

The lead itself is hard and brittle. The colors are not nearly as vibrant as those of Crayola or other such colored pencils, giving them a much more realistic tone. The full range of colors is wonderful, with some very subtly different colors and some nice earth tones. The lead comes off well on paper and is quite opaque as most colored pencils are; they do not want to bleed or mix which is another reason why the full compliment of colors is nice. When drawing, it is best to watch how hard you push, as too hard can easily break the lead and not enough will lead to unsatisfactory coverage.

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These colors are a huge upgrade from the standard “map colors” and such. Though they may be a bit pricy, they are great drawing implements. They seem to carry a certain prestige that transfers onto the paper (or other mediums). If you are will to spend the money I would certainly recommend these pencils. They are quite superb

Review – Paper:Mate Write Bros Medium Ballpoint Pen

Pens, they’re important. Not a lot of them are very useful for the inking process, but they can be useful for simply starting an image, or many other art-things. This one is the Paper:mate Write Bros. medium ballpoint pen.

Ballpoint pens are one of the aforementioned types:  not particularly useful for finished works, especially smaller ones, but good for seeing what things look like in ink, and making sketches or notes that you don’t want to be erased. A fun exercise is always to draw with a cheap pen on scratch paper, preventing erasing, forcing one to improve their ability to create an image on the first try.

Ballpoints make a fairly fine line but they have rough edges, as there is some bleeding. A medium point is good for writing and most other uses, but as mentioned before is not good at detail. The ink is good, it does bleed with water, but is fairly sturdy as far as that goes. It is a deep black that does require a little drying time, but usually no more then a couple seconds. It takes to paper well. I’ve had no problems with the amount of ink in the pen either, I believe it lasts longer then most other ballpoint pens I’ve used, but I haven’t taken detailed records either so take that with a grain of salt.

The pen itself is easy to hold, if a bit slippery and shows all the necessary info (although that does rub off after continued use). It obviously has a cap and clips to a notebook or shirt pocket, which is always handy.

Overall if you are looking for a cheap pen that can be used for a myriad of things around your workspace, this in one I would consider. However I would recommend buying a couple of packages of different types of pens to figure out which one works for you. But it is at least a nice house or office pen, which is what it was designed for.

Review – Strathmore 400 series, 100 page, 8.5X5.5 Sketchbook

Strathmore sketchbooks, specifically in this review the 400 series, 100 page, 8.5″X5.5″ sketchbook.

Design-wise, the cover is acceptable. It certainly does its job and displays all the necessary information in a way that is easy to read, and in three different languages. The stock of the cover and the cardboard of the back are thick and nice, capable of standing up to a great deal of punishment (the back more so, obviously). The back is unbendable without breaking it first, creating a solid drawing surface away from a table, if that’s how you like to draw. The book is spiral bound, the metal of said spirals is superb, they are strong and have enough give and bounce that they don’t bend into a different shape easily. The spine also keeps the pages very secure.

The paper in this book is a medium thickness, thicker than 20-pound, thinner than heavier drawing paper. It is relatively smooth, but still coarse. Good for the main purpose of the book; sketching, but poor for fine detail work as the bumps create imperfections. It is still much less coarse than other sketchbooks by Strathmore. Pencil and ink are taken well by the paper. Pencil smudges fairly easily, and shows through to some degree. Ink is absorbed quickly, making drying time fast and can be seen through the paper. There are 100 sheets in this book, which seems a large number, making the book fat. But that is hardly a complaint. The pages are very nice for their purpose of sketching.

I take a sketchbook everywhere, I try to vary what I take and where, but when all I want to do is a simple sketch, a Strathmore is what I take. They are easy to get, fair priced and a good quality. I would not try to create a “finished” piece on one, but that is not their intended purpose. They help one practice, hone skills, and create technique by being very durable and useable in a variety of conditions. This size of book is great for a bag or carry in the hand (half the size of a sheet of copy paper). It is a great thing to have when one is out and about and would like to sketch anything.