Review – Poquitos Part 1 – Yafa Ballpoint and Pencil

Some things are better small, and the Yafa Poquito, being one of the first pens I got, proved that to me. It was exceptional for my small hands at the time. But how does the set compare now?

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The Yafa Poquito pens have metal bodies that come in various colors. The top of the pen is a bit of a rounded-off cone, and the top of the pencil has a small steel button. The clips are tight and almost identical, with the pen’s being pointed, and the pencil’s being round. The bodies of both utensils taper from the middle to each end, with the center band being separate in the pen and attached to the mechanism in the pencil. The metal tip of the pencil is also part of the mechanism, whereas in the pen it is part of the body. The bodies are quite solid, but the paint will wear off with time and a bit of use. Consider getting a silver or brass one to fix that if you mind.

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The pencil takes .7mm lead, and what it comes with it fairly standard, sometimes broken in transit. The mechanism is easy to use and quite sturdy. It would stand up to a bit of abuse. There is no play once the lead has been extruded, it doesn’t have “shocks” as it were, but the mechanism is separate from the pen body, and this creates a squeak now and then.

The pen is a smooth-writing fine cartridge. It is a ballpoint so there are occasional globs and hard starts. If left out for some time, the pen will be quite hard to start, but in this case a while is so long a time that one would expect it to. When it does flow, it is very smooth, and has almost no issues. It is not quite black, and waterproof, as most ballpoint blacks are.

The Poquitos pack quite a bit of punch for their size, being less than 4 inches long (and they still manage to fit relatively comfortably in the hand). And while they do have some flaws, they are far from from deal-breaking for having a pen or pencil there when you really need it. They serve best as backups and are miles ahead of small pens that don’t allow one to comfortably hold them or have very little ink. I’d say that in that category, Poquitos are at least worth a look.

Review – Moleskine Volant Notebooks (Tiny)

I’ve talked about Moleskine books in the past. And while they aren’t the greatest of notebooks I find them to be my favorite for a number of reasons. The size and sturdiness of the covers are the main thing I like, but what if both of those things were taken away and I was left with a small and flexible notebook? This time I’ll be looking at the Moleskine Volant Pocket notebooks.

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Moleskine Volant books are small, pocket sized books about 2.5×4.125in., which is a very odd size indeed. There are twenty-eight sheets or fifty-six pages. They are all perforated and standard moleskine paper with only a few lines.  There is a page on which a name and address can be written, but no pocket in the back as these books are much too small. Moleskine is imprinted on the back of the books and the cover texture is similar to the regular Moleskines.

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The spine and cover are quite flexible and the binding is hidden from view. After only moderate use the edges will start to peel and bend, but do hold up very well, and any pocket book is bound to get damaged to this extent. They’re a bit plastic-y, so the amount they hold up isn’t remarkable, but it is good enough to get the job done.

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The paper is standard Moleskine. It’s thin, and you wouldn’t want to use both sides even with a ballpoint for the bleed/show through. The perforations work quite well and I’ve had no problems with mis-torn sheets. The paper is fairly strong and archival as well as smooth. So the overall experience of writing on it is not bad if one’s pen choice is correct (it’s not a liquid ink type of paper). The ruling is spaced such that not too terribly much can be placed on a page, but at its size, there isn’t much more they could do.

Overall, these notebooks are wonderful for their size. If you have a pocket that would fit one and need to carry around a notebook this is the one I’d recommend. They are a little bit pricy, but I don’t know of another notebook of similar size in a competitors range. So it might be your only option. And it’s a good, even if not the best possible, option.

 

 

Review – Plaid 10 Detail Brush Set

Well, while perusing my archives, I found a review of Testor’s plastic cement. And that is when I realized I have a whole set of Modeling stuff that I would count as art supplies. So today I’ll be looking at some of those, starting with one of the cheapest and most universal things, a Plaid 10-piece detail brush set.

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This will be general and cover only the quality of the brushes and not the individual brushes themselves, which might be covered in future installments. First off, the bodies are made of cheap wood that is poorly painted with quite good lettering telling you what everything is. There is a brass-colored section near the end, and some very ugly orange bristles pointing out of it. The section and body are quite sturdy for their thickness and not at all slippery, but not too nice in the hand either.

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The bristles themselves are all right. As previously stated, they are an ugly orange, which doesn’t really matter too much. They are synthetic and have a bit of pop to them, which I like, but others might not. At first they are quite soft and strong, but they may easily become frayed and bent. This is more of a problem with individual bristles and not the brush as a whole. This makes it difficult to get a good edge when you paint, until you cut the offending bristle out of the brush. The brush’s life is likely shorter than most brushes (considering they are sold in Wal-Mart), but, honestly, for the price they work very well. They get floppy pretty quick (which some people might prefer) and they do wear out shortly after that. But they have a lifespan the I’d expect for the price, and getting a 10-brush set this cheap is incredible. They’re even relatively hard to stain.

Overall, if you need only limited detailing done on paintings, or are looking to start painting models and miniatures, this is a great starter brush set. One might want to upgrade to a well-know brush brand later, or even to hair brushes, but for a starter set these are excellent.

Review – Rhodia Web Notebook Pocket

Well, it’s that time again, time to talk about a little black book. This one’s particularly good for fountain pens. It’s the Rhodia Web-notebook pocket black version.

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The dimensions are almost exactly the same as the Moleskine, with the exception of it being slightly thicker. The cover is a strange, and easily warped, faux-leather. It is quite pleasant to hold, and the spine sustains much less damage than with stiffer cover books. Not to say the cover is flexible, it is definitely hard, though the Moleskine still holds the record for notebook most like a rock, the Rhodia does have a little give in it. Also on the front cover is a stamped Rhodia logo and an elastic band holds it all together. The standard pocket in the back tops it all off.

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Inside there are the same number of pages as the Moleskine. The pages are thicker though, the first page is unusable and gives you their specks. They are slightly off white with a bit of an orangish tint. This version has them lines with thin grey lines and a slight margin on top. The paper is insanely smooth, as in the smoothest paper I’ve ever written on, right there with Clairefontaine, being made by the same company that makes sense though. It takes ink well, and it even dries relatively fast on there, though there are some problems with bleed through on broader nibs or wetter inks. It should be noted that the paper is different from the larger notebook paper.

So overall, if you have a fountain pen and need a notebook, this is a better choice for you than almost any other notebook on the market. Though if you’re drawing with flex pens or thick brushes be aware that you’ll still only be able to use half the pages in the book. Though bleeding onto the next sheet is something I haven’t seen. Are these the best pocket notebooks? It depends on what type of pen you’re using, and how much you care about the feel of your notebook, because this one does feel quite different.

Review – Leuchtturm 1917 Pocket Notebook

Notebooks again. Is Moleskine your style but you find the paper a little lacking? Well Leuchtturm claims to have you covered with the 1917 line of notebooks. Specifically I’m reviewing the black pocket (dot) hardcover version.

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Starting with the outside, the dimensions are nearly the same width- and thickness-wise as the Molsekine, but about half an inch taller. As the Field Notes and Clairefontaine pocket books are the same size (lacking thickness) you could compare it to them as well. The cover is in the black Moleskine style and is almost indistinguishable. It is also fairly flexible, something entirely absent in the Moleskine. It has an elastic band that feels slightly cheaper, but nonetheless works well. The most disappointing thing is the spine, which constantly creases, cracks and groans. The problems appears the be that the cover on the joints is separate from the binding. The binding does feel solid, so I don’t believe it will fail, but the spine will definitely encounter cosmetic damage with prolonged use.

Inside there is a standard back pocket, an address and name blank, and several table of contents pages, helpful little things if I do say so. Also the last few (six) sheets can be torn out and are as such perforated. Each page is numbered and of course there’s a bookmark ribbon. It has about the same sheet count, and same page color as the Moleskine, but with better paper. The Leuchtturm has 80 gram paper that is supposedly ink resistant. I can say it is, I didn’t even get bleed-through with a flex pen. That being said, everything shows through to the point of being annoying, even a ballpoint pen. Only pencil makes for a clean, two-sided drawing experience. Though the paper, unfortunately, is not very smooth at all, especially not as much so as the Molsekine or Clairefontaine books. You’ll get a lot of feedback on this one. The rulings are all standard and nothing to write home about.

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So, how does the Leuchtturm perform? Well. It performs well. It’s cheaper than the completion and better in some ways. Most of these things are up to personal preference. I would say the binding is a little weak on this one, but other than that it’s up to par.

Review – Clairefontaine Staple Bound Pocket 3.5″ x 5.5″

There is a new contender in the pocket notebook category. Well, not new, but new to me. The Clairefontaine staple bound 9 X 14 cm pocket book. This is not really very comparable to the other two pocket books I’ve reviewed as it is much thicker, but it is still around the same size, so here we go. The book is twice as thick as a Field Notes book and about a millimeter wider, and the rounding on the corners is about the same.

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The cover is a fairly thick but flimsy card stock. There is a website URL, paper weight, dimensions, and page count listed on the back cover, and no other information save the logo. The inside cover is a simple white, while the outside is the standard Clairefontaine cover, which I consider to be fairly ugly. The cover also has a blank space which I assume is a subject line or a name space.

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Inside is 48 sheets of 90 gram Clairefontaine paper, which is superb. This is one of the few notebooks where the page count, rather than the sheet count, matters, as you can write on both sides, even with a fountain pen. The paper is lined with a 7mm ruling, a small margin at the top, and an infinitesimal margin at the bottom. The lines are a very pale purple and not at all intrusive. As far as I know they only come in a lined version at this size. Writing-wise, the paper is buttery smooth. Very easy to write on, but ink resistant enough to have little to no bleed through, except for the nano-liner which can bleed through tables it seems. The paper is also heavy, it takes effort to bend it along the spine to write with it, and once you have bent it, it stays there.

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Finally the binding: it’s bent over and squared with two staples each about a quarter of the way in. It seems far from the sturdiest binding, but it can take a fair amount of flex before buckling. Though with no support at the edges they do tend to get a little banged up. Because of its interesting folding style and large page count, the binding does seem a bit weak, in mine the staples aren’t even fully stapled, so pulling this book apart intentionally would be easy. But unintentionally it seems to hold up fine, more due to the paper than the binding. It will buckle and get bunged up at the edges, though. I’m skeptical about it’s ability to take some hard wear and tear for all 96 of its pages to be used.

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Overall this is a great little pocket book. I personally won’t use them as much as some other books because of the terrible, intrusive cover designs and its thickness. But for writing or drawing with fountain pens, dip pens, or ink brushes, this thing can’t be beat. It’s a great, sturdy little notebook with especially good paper.

 

Mini Composition Showdown

A while back I reviewed the Dolgen Inspira mini composition book. I have quite a few books like this and instead of reviewing them all I decided to just compare them all together. So here’s the mini composition showdown. Mead vs. Inspira vs. Top Flight.

First off, covers and binding. All the covers are the standard composition marble pattern, with the Inspira being the most crowded followed by the Mead and then the Top Flight. The binding on the Top Flight is a sturdy fold stitch with eight signatures, while the Mead and Inspira are weak, simple glue binding. All notebooks lie flay fairly well, though the Top Flight takes more breaking in. Cover durability again goes to the Top Flight with the other two tied. The cover corners are straight on some of the Mead, clipped on the Top Flight, and rounded on the Inspira, meaning the Mead with the square corners will most likely tear up quickest. Other Mead notebooks have rounded corners.  If you want color the Mead and the Top Flight are the way to go.

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Their dimensions are about the same, with Inspira being slightly taller and Mead being slightly wider. The Mead and Top Flight both have eighty pages, while the thinner Inspira has sixty. The smoothest paper belongs to the Mead, the roughest to the Inspira, and the Top Flight is very akin to newsprint, unfortunately, not very high quality. All are not archival quality paper and fade rather quickly on the shelf, though they are bright white out of the package. None are very good at holding ink, but the Inspira is best without bleeding, followed by Mead and Top Flight.

What will really make or break these books, though, is their large price difference. The Inspira are three for one dollar (U.S.) the Top Flight are five for three dollars, and the Mead are one to two apiece.

So if you can organize all that and determine the best for you you’ll end up with a very nice pocket book. Each one is suited subtly to a different task so the main challenge is finding out what is best for you. They are certainly not the best memo books by any means, but they’ll certainly work, especially in a pinch.

Review – X-ACTO 3-hole binder Punch

Sometimes you need to do stuff with your art that isn’t art stuff. Sometimes you need to file it away, or keep it safe in a cover, or organize it in a binder. If you’re looking to do the last one, then you might need the X-ACTO 3-hole binder punch.

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This semi-sturdy piece of transparent plastic is designed to fit in a binder and easily punch holes through a few sheets of paper. I stress a few because on the box it says the limit is three. And yes, even three sheets is very stressful to this thing, and after that it just starts tearing the paper.

I said it was plastic earlier, but the punching apparatus is actually a nice metal piece on a hinge. It is easily as sturdy as any other hole punch I’ve used. The hinge, though, is so close to the paper that it is what you have to use to get a nice clean straight punch line and because it is a hinge this is very difficult.

Off to the bottom there is a guide that you can place your paper on and it works well. There is also a flimsy piece of loose-fitting plastic that I assume is supposed to act as a guide so the paper stays down, though it will hardly do this job well and seems as if it will snap at any moment. It also jiggles unnecessarily. On the front is a 10-inch ruler, which would be nicer if it was ruled correctly, as it is, it is about a quarter of an inch short.

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And finally on the back are a pair of fold-out binder loops that will allow you to stick this thing in any 3-hole binder you desire, though they will make a horrible grating sound and the plastic they’re screwed into looks like it can break in a hurry. They will never break off the binder rings on their own though.

Really this is just a cheap hole punch. The actual punch is quite nice, but its housing is lacking. If you only need to punch a few sheets every once in a while this is alright. Any more hole punching and this thing will be useless. It will certainly break within a year or two but it is quite cheap. So if that is what you want or need from your hole punch, go right ahead, otherwise try something further up the ladder.

Review – Escalada 3.5 x 5.75 Pocket Journal

So, you’re out and about, you’ve just finished your last pocket notebook and are looking for a new one. You happen across one. It’s got 80 sheets of thick sketch paper and is only a couple bucks. It even looks kinda nice in its faux-leather binding. Is this small Escalada journal a good buy? Let’s see.

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We’ll start with the binding. It’s surprisingly good, it flexes well and doesn’t break under standard usage conditions. The binding, as well as the cover is of course cardboard covered in faux-leather with a slightly unattractive sheen. This layer holds up alright, though it does start to peel and rub off at the corners which is very unsightly. It also gets gummy in high temperatures and begins to take the shape of whatever is next to it, so where the elastic band is there will be a permanent set of grooves. But it hasn’t melted or gotten sticky in the time I’ve used it and I live in the middle of the desert.

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The paper is 80 sheets of 74 lb drawing paper. It’s thick but flimsy, it feels as if it’s falling apart sometimes and ink bleeds through and can be easily seen on the other side in some cases. Yet I have had no instances of marking on the next page. It has an easily visible grain and does at times warp ones drawings, mostly pencil though and not very much. The roughness is a bit unsightly to me but that’s just personal preference. Despite the flimsy feeling of the pages they are very stout and remain ridged most of the time. They resist bending, however I feel that if they did bend they would soon fall apart.

It’s an alright pocket sketchbook. It’s cheap, both in price and manufacturing, but it does do its job well enough. Just carrying it in a bag or a case won’t do much harm to it, especially since it only has eighty pages and can be run through fairly quickly. However, if your life is a bit more rough and tumble than most this is not for you, it will look ugly shortly and fall apart not long after. It does best if you’re looking for a notebook to store in your bag or somewhere on the cheap and don’t have too much preference as to the quality of the content you put in it.

Review – Prang 8 Water Color Set

Ah, watercolor! It brings me back to the days when I sucked at art but loved it all the time. And it was so easy to get off your hands and clothes (and unfortunately the paper, too). Well it turns out that it is a legitimate art medium. But, are those fancy tubes really necessary? Can’t we just use the same old Prang tray that we used when we were kids?

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Well, you can, but they’re much harder to use. For starters they are completely solid, meaning that the water necessary to use them is much greater and the colors will still appear washed out on the paper. And of course there are the standard problems with working with water color to deal with.

 

The colors themselves are the standard bright, crayola-type colors that every “children’s” art supply set comes in. However, with them being water based paints they are much easier to blend and tone down than many other art supplies. Realism is still hard to achieve, though. The colors also have a tendency to be sticky and/ or runny, never quite balancing.

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The brushes are okay but definitely the worst part of the set, being cheap and imprecise. Better brushes or better yet foam pads are necessary.

All in all, I think getting better paints would be a necessity for any serious work as the paints are hard to work with. At the least better brushes. But they are serviceable paints and will get the job done in most cases and in the hands of an experienced painter, nearly all cases.