Stormy Sea and Gonfu Tea

Today’s sketchbook page, as part of Liz Steel’s SketchingNow Sketchbook Design course.

Stillman and Birn Beta sketchbook, Schminke watercolours, Lamy fountain pens (Fine, Medium, 1.1 stub), vintage Eagle 4h pencil.

Paper Mate SharpWriter Mechanical Pencil

If you follow any makers on YouTube you probably saw this ugly yet somehow charming little mechanical pencil in action. The Paper Mate SharpWriter is a strange beast, full of surprises. It’s a mechanical pencil with a twist mechanism in the tip instead of a click mechanism under the cap, it actually has a serviceable eraser, and it’s non-refillable. It’s as if Paper Mate saw the “Think Different” ad and said, “yes, but how can we apply that to a mechanical pencil?”

Paper Mate SharpWriter.

First of all, you can buy the Paper Mate SharpWriter in many different widths, as long as they’re all 0.7mm. This has the added value of saving Paper Mate the need to indicate the lead width on the pencil, because there’s only one width to rule them all. I can’t honestly fault them for that. It’s a pencil that’s meant for students and bills itself as having less lead breakage, and so 0.7mm is the way to go.

There are some interesting things going on with the business side of this pencil. First and foremost, that’s where the lead propelling mechanism is, which caught me by surprise. It’s a twist mechanism, and it’s pretty sophisticated as it allows you to easily extend and retract the lead to suit your needs. The second part is the “lead cushioning mechanism” which means that the lead springs up and down as you right, preventing you from breaking it if you exert too much pressure. It works, but I’m not a fan as it makes me feel as if the lead is broken inside and I have to extend it to get rid of the small broken piece and reach the “real” lead left inside. It’s going to take some time for me to get used to it.

Writing and erasing sample.

The eraser is downright phenomenal, as it actually erases things quite well, and doesn’t tear into the page. The lead itself is a solid HB 0.7mm lead that is smooth and on the slightly darker side of HB.

The Paper Mate SharpWriter isn’t a pretty of fancy mechanical pencil, but it’s comfortable to hold, lightweight, and has a playful colour scheme that recalls a woodcase pencil. And like a woodcase pencil, it’s disposable, which is where my only real beef with this pencil lies. Yes, this is a student pencil, and so it’s likely to get lost or somehow broken (it’s far from flimsy, but where there’s a will, there’s a way), and if the pencil won’t be lost, the leads will, and yet… The last thing the world needs is more plastic waste.

So, do I recommend the Paper Mate SharpWriter? No, and not because there’s anything wrong with the pencil, it’s just that there’s very little justification for a disposable mechanical pencil when there are cheap, good and even great refillable options to be had in the market.

But I do understand the makers who have fallen for this ugly duckling.

Knitting

My late grandmother was a talented knitter, but I never had the sense to ask her to teach me to knit while she was still alive. I asked my parents’ neighbour, a lovely lady in her late 80s, to teach me to knit and crochet. She tried several times but there’s a difference between knowing how to knit and teaching someone else how to knit. In the end she always asked me what I wanted to knit, grabbed the wool and knitted it herself for me. I love the things she knitted me as the result of these sessions, but that’s beside the point.

I tried to teach myself to knit using books and youtube videos. Each time I’d create a crooked mess and give up. Yesterday I sat down yet again, this time with a new book (the funny and lovely “Stitch n’ Bitch” by Debbie Stoller), and when four rows into my first swatch I blew it again, I stopped, searched for “common knitting mistakes” on YouTube and figured out where I had gone wrong. It took several videos but once I figured it out, I started over and managed to create my very first garter stitch swatch (20 stitches by 30 rows). I’m proud of myself for sticking with it, even though it really sucked at first. I only wish that my grandmother could have seen and critiqued it.

Bruni Embroidered Nesspresso Capsule

I decided to make an embroidered key chain as a birthday gift, which is why I practiced creating an embroidered Nespresso capsule keychain in the first place.

I used an embroidery hoop this time, as well as thicker fabric. The white fabric allowed me to pencil in my design for Bruni, the fire spirit from Frozen 2.

Not sure that you can see but his white belly is embroidered with sparkling thread.

The pieces ready for assembly: clean and crushed Nespresso capsule, cardboard backing and embroidered piece.

The back of the capsule:

The finished piece:

This turned out much better than my first try, even though there’s still room for improvement. This new fabric didn’t mount like I expected because it was thicker than I had planned and the result is the little gap you see in the bottom. I plan on making more of these, so I’ll hopefully get better with practice.

30 Days of Drawing: Days 1-5

I decided not to take part in Inktober this year. Instead I’ll be drawing at least one page a day in my Stillman and Birn pocket Alphas. It happens that there are just a few pages left in my first pocket Alpha, the one I got gifted by Stillman and Birn as part of their sponsorship of Gabi Campanario’s Urban Sketches Porto 2018 symposium class. I use multiple sketchbooks at the same time, and finishing and starting a notebook is always the hardest part for me. So I decided to challenge myself to finish my old Stillman and Birn pocket Alpha and start on a new one, by challenging myself to draw at least a page a day for 30 days straight.

I will be batch uploading these 5 days at a time, so here’s what I drew on the 17th of September until today, the 21st of September:

Painting Minis

ReaperCon started yesterday and for the first time ever I’m actually able to participate. Yesterday I just listened to the classes, but today I jumped back in to painting minis.

This is the Reaper Bones Townsfolk Rioting Villager. After I took these photosI went back and softened the shading on his face a bit. I gave him a dirty, rusty pitchfork, and I tried not to take too much time on him (it still took longer than I would have liked). I also had a bad time with cutting off the mold lines, so I gave up after a few tries. In any case he’s not a display piece, but meant to be used in a game (when I can return to in person games).

He looks scary, right?

I made a wet palette out of an old takeout box, some paper towels and a bit of parchment paper. I’ll later improve on it, but for now it gets the job done. I’m also experimenting with a new of taking painting notes in a notebook, but l’ll see if it works before I write about it.

Wet palette.

Embroidery Capsule Prototype

I’ve been playing around with Nespresso capsules, and after cleaning one out and hammering it flat I made a little prototype of Nespresso backed embroidery piece that I was thinking of creating. The first prototype came out better than I expected, and I got some valuable ideas on how to improve the design – mostly it was pure fun.

The capsule and the bit of fabric that I used.

I took an old t-shirt and cut it out for scraps, using it as the fabric for my prototype. It’s much too lightweight, but I got a sense of how I should work and what to avoid. I also got a chance to work with a dark fabric background for the first time.

French knots over french knots.

I was surprised to discover that I could use darker threads than I anticipated to be able to use on such a dark background. I thought that the green would be swallowed by the black, but it still pops.

Embroidery done.

I originally thought of gluing the fabric directly on the capsule, but even if the fabric wasn’t so lightweight that wouldn’t have worked, and the fabric was very lightweight. I decided to cut out a thin cardboard backing and lace the piece to the backing.

Capsule and backing.

Here it is post lacing and before gluing on:

The finished prototype, the back side:

And the front side:

Hydrangeas galore.

This was a quick and dirty prototype. I now know how to better place and create the work, and which materials I need to get my hands on. And I had a lot of fun along the way.

I have cool stuff; how did I forget about it? Tombow Ki-Monogatari B Pencil

I was searching for a craft knife when I stumbled upon this cool pencil just lying around, being beautiful but of no use to anybody:

I’m pretty sure that I bought it somewhere in London, perhaps in the London Graphic Centre or in stationery section of Foyles, but in any case it isn’t new.

It’s an unlacquered woodcase pencil with a chequered print, a B grade core and it appears to be a Tombow Ki-Monogatari, part of their eco pencil range.

It has a silky smooth finish, and it’s one of the most attractive woodcase pencils I own. The wood is not cedar, but by the way it sharpens and feels it’s high quality stuff.

Tombow has one of the best logos in the business.

You can see the grain of the wood very nicely here:

And also come through the chequered pattern:

It sharpens like a dream, with a perfectly centred core and no splinters or chunks falling out. High quality wood, high quality design, so what about the core?

This is a Tombow pencil and one of the things that Tombow do exceedingly well is make woodcase pencils. Drawing with this pencil is a dream – it glides on the page, there’s no “grit” to the core, it offers a good range of shading for a B grade, it doesn’t smudge and it keeps a point really, really well. This is a grade A drawing pencil.

Drawn on a Baron Fig Confidant. You can barely see where I tried to smudge the graphite near the front tire.

I found this pencil by accident, totally forgetting that I ever bought it. I have cool stuff, so why don’t I use it?

I have no idea what the actual model of the pencil is, I’m just guessing that it’s a Ki-Monogatari, which means that this isn’t a “you should buy it” review. It’s a “go open you stationery drawer(s) and see what cool stuff you find there” post. Treat yourself to the stuff you already own.

Journaling: The Last Page

A handwritten journal is an artifact in a way that an app can never be. It’s tactile, endlessly flexible, there to be used and customized in every way possible. Tear out pages, glue stuff in, doodle, scribble, sketch and write whatever you wish however you wish. There’s no autocorrect, nothing editing or censuring your words. Analogue journalling is about freedom, flow and pure creativity.

This is my last day journaling in this journal, and tomorrow I’ll write up the last page and start a new one for the thoughts of that day.

Every time I finish a journal, I use the last two pages to summarize what that journal contains and means to me. Analogue journals are fantastic, but they do make searching for old entries a bit of a chore. Luckily I don’t find myself looking for an old entry that often, and if I do the last two pages help me narrow it down to the specific journal, and the dates and titles to the specific entry.

I also like taking the last few pages as a chance to reflect on the time the journal covers and how things have changed (and I have changed) as the time has gone by. There’s usually about three months in each journal, sometimes more, so that’s a good chuck of time to look back on: short enough to make it simple to summarize and contextualize, and yet long enough to have some impact and meaning. This journal contains two trips abroad, my decision to move into a new career path, and a pandemic that wrecked havoc on everyone I know (including me, of course). That’s quite a lot, even for a journal that covers a relatively long span of time (almost 6 months).

It’s also full of bits and pieces that I stuck in, to make the page come to life. So here’s part of the Diamine Inkvent packaging that I glued in after I opened the last window and before I tossed out the box:

I just ripped out a panel that I liked. This journal is for me, not Instagram, and it can be as messy as I need it to be.

Cool clothing tags also sometimes make it in, especially if it’s from a piece of clothing that I really like:

This tag came of one of my favourite sweatshirts.

I got a lot of Star Wars themedvinyl stickers as a gift near the end of last year and a lot of them ended in my journal:

Even the silliest of things can be used to brighten up a page:

See that bleedthrough? It’s fountain pen bleedthrough. I don’t give a damn. If I wanted to write with a Sharpie in here, I’d write with a Sharpie. Use what makes you feel good.

There are little drawings and illustrations everywhere:

Messy, messy handwriting. 

And bits and pieces of washi tape that were leftover from other projects:

The point is, tomorrow I finish another journal, a small analogue memory artifact that is entirely mine. I created it for me and me only, and it was worth every minute I put into it.

If there’s one habit that you can pick up during your time at home these days, pick journaling. You’ll end up getting quite a treasure in the end, and I’d be truly surprised if you won’t enjoy the process.

How I Use My Notebooks: Yearly Goals (Resolutions)

Near the end of one year and the beginning of another various articles and podcasts about New Year resolutions start popping up. They either give tips on how to make resolutions, debunk resolutions in favour of something else, and almost all of them try to sell you something.

This post is about how I create yearly goals (i.e. resolutions), using things that I already have, in a way that has worked for me since 2015.

I wrote about the way I do “New Years Resolutions” in the past. I call them that because I like the non-business ring of “resolution” over the “business-jargon” sounding goal. My “resolutions” are, however, S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. I manage them using the least used notebook that I had lying around (a Baron Fig Confidant), and whichever pen I have at hand. They aren’t made for instagram, rather I use my plain ugly handwriting, and what marking are on the page are there because they’re useful. Over the past five years I’ve attained about 90% of what I set out to achieve, with even an annus horribilis like 2018 not putting me too much off track. My goals are tiered, much like Kickstarter stretch goals, with most goals having a fairly easily attainable first tier, just in case life decides to kick me in a tender place.

I’m going to go over this year’s goals, and last year’s goals (apart from a few that I’ve censored for privacy’s sake). I know that February is usually the month when people give up on their resolutions. I hope that this post will help and inspire people to give yearly goals or resolutions a chance.

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My 2020 resolutions

Above you can see my 2020 resolutions. A lot of them are things that appear in almost every year. The professional goals are all new (I didn’t manage my professional goals with my personal goals until this year, and even now only a small part of my professional goals are here). 

Every goal at this point only has the basic, first tier goals set beside it. The first three goals for example, all reading related, will eventually have stretch goals. They’re interesting to note here because back in 2016 I only had one reading goal: read 24 books. Once I got back into the habit of reading, I started to challenge myself with longer and more challenging books. These are all my base reading goals. I usually stretch them to around 50 books a year.

Why don’t I start with 50 books then? Because the point of these goals is to build myself up for success. The basic goals are the “even if I have a horrible year I should be able to reach these” goals. They are there to remind me that there’s a tomorrow, and something I can and should do about that tomorrow, even if a family member is hospitalized (or worse). The stretch goals are then built in small increments, reaching to my my final goal for the year.

Why don’t I write my stretch goals down from the start? Because the point is to keep myself focused on the next small step. That’s why things are broken down to the smallest increment that makes sense: one book, 10k, one month.

There’s a reason for each goal on this spread. I won’t go into each one specifically, but they all fall into the following general categories:

  • Read more.
  • Write more (my writing goals are censored, because if I publish them, I won’t do them. I know myself well enough by now).
  • Use the stuff I own.
  • Challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone.
  • Social goals (partly censored).
  • Health goals (running, cross-training, bloodwork, dentist visits).
  • Professional goals (partial list).

Everything has to fit in on a two page spread, or I lose track of things. That’s why I spill over to other pages in the same notebook to track some of the details of my goals:

Tracking page for fountain pens, ink, tea and pencils.

Here are my 2019 resolutions. A pink check mark means that the basic goal is finished. You can see the increments things grow by (my stretch goals):

2019 resolutions

You may have noticed that the “fill triggers” goal isn’t filled up at all. This is the “relevant” part of the S.M.A.R.T. goals. I used the trigger system from Marshal Goldsmith’s “Triggers” book for a few months in 2018, and I decided at the beginning of 2019 to not continue with it. It was a conscious decision, and so I just ignored that goal. 

Here are my 2019 “spill” pages, just to get an idea of how the whole thing works together:

10 different fountain pen inks. Can you see where the stretch goal is marked?

Here are pencils, fountain pens, notebooks and races tracking:

And my largest tracking list, books:

The Baron Fig Confidant that holds this list has a bright cover and sits right in front of me, on my desk, at all times. I set up my goals that at every day or two I crack the notebook open and update the lists. Once there, I scan everything and check if there’s something that I can do to get it done. The point is to have this list on the top of my mind as much as possible, or else I’ll just forget about it, or it becomes something that I avoid checking out.

This is a system that supports me every day, giving my goals and aspirations much needed structure. I hope that this will help you build a personal system of this kind for yourself.