Review – Kuretake No.14 Brush Pen

I think an ideal gift is one where you receive something that is useful or interesting to you, but from a direction you would have never looked yourself. Such was my case with the Kuretake brush pen number 14. For personal use, I’ve basically settled on my brush pens, and wasn’t really on the lookout for another, but I was still quite glad to receive one of these little guys as a present. Let’s see how it performs.

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The body of the pen is a black-flecked maroon, slightly-soft plastic that looks and feels a bit like ebonite. The cap is uniformly thicker than the barrel with a black cylinder protruding through a diagonal cutout for the top quarter-inch. From this comes a simple but functional spring-steel pocket clip. The barrel has no decoration save gold-imprinted Japanese lettering (that I can’t read) and an Arabic numeral “14”. The butt end is a similarly simple black convex disk. The section is made of the same piece as the barrel, and aside from a sealing ring for the cap, has only a single small step-down before a black plastic cone leads to the incredibly small “nib”.

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The little felt tip is only two millimeters long. And, despite many of the online references I found referring to this pen as “hard”, the line produced easily moves from half a millimeter to three millimeters. The ink is fairly black but not particularly dark, and it has a tendency to fade or split during long or fast strokes. It also bleeds/separates/fades when exposed to water. It’s not super runny but most work will still look ruined (it plays nice with alcohol, though). The feel of the grip section is nothing special but I have no real problems with it, and with the cap posted it is quite well balanced (the cap does feel like it might have a cracking problem with prolonged use, but the pen is disposable). Unfortunately, despite this, I just can’t seem to shake the feeling when using the pen that I’m not in control. Brush pens don’t play well with my style at the best of times and this guy can really get all over the place quickly.

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I’m not sure this pen would be useful as a serious artists’ tool: its ink doesn’t take traditional washes, the ink flow is sub-par, and the tip is imprecise. But as a portable sketcher it has a resilient body, a good clip and a wide range of possible expressions. It isn’t inexpensive, but it isn’t egregiously costed. This isn’t the be-all end-all of disposable brush pens, but id does make for a fine introductory pen or a “backpack beater” as it were.

 

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Review – Tombow 2558 Pencil

The Tombow 2558 pencil was introduced to me as a “favorite” pencil, so obviously I had to pick one up. Still, when you first look at it, it’s a pretty unassuming thing. It looks like your standard yellow pencil, with something a little… “off”. So how is it different?

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The body of the pencil is very similar to your average yellow (orangish) pencil. It is basically the same length: 7½” including the eraser attached by copper-colored ferrule. Like most, it’s hexagonal with the information stamped and printed on opposing facets. This information, rendered in a pleasant reddish-brown, is more than enough, giving you: the company (Tombow), the purpose (for General Writing), and the hardness (HB). But there is something to make the body of the pencil stand out: it is slightly thicker than your average pencil, about a millimeter more in diameter. Just enough that one can tell it’s different, but if they aren’t side by side you’ll scratch your head.

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photo 3-63In practice this makes the pencil more comfortable to hold (more material means less hand cramping), and with its super smooth HB lead it really is a pleasure to write/sketch with. And this lead does feel a bit softer than I usually expect an HB to feel. It produces darker lines with seemingly the same pressure (and surprising ease), but that certainly improves the ease of writing with it. And the eraser functions well; it doesn’t remove everything, but it doesn’t vanish either.

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This is, as advertised, a very nice pencil for writing. And everything about it is well-done. The finish is nice and evenly applied, the wood is sturdy as is the lead, and the ferrule is nicely fitted on a step-down so that it doesn’t catch and is unblemished by its crimping. If you’re a wood pencil person (I’m not as much) and are looking for something high quality but still standard looking, this is a nice option. It might not be a smooth as a Blackwing, but it’s surprisingly close, and if I’m ever using a wood pencil, it’ll probably be the one I reach for.


 

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.

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