Caran d’Ache Fixpencil 22 Nespresso Ochre

Caran d’Ache’s Fixpencil is their legendary clutch pencil offering. While the classic Fixpencil has a plastic body, the Fixpencil 22 is made of aluminum, giving it both an added weight and a more luxurious finish. The Nespresso Fixpencil 22 is also made of aluminum, hence the 22 in the name, but it’s aluminum body is partially made from a recycled Nespresso capsule, and it comes with a lead that’s partially produced from recycled coffee grounds. Just like the previous Caran d’Ache x Nespresso 849 pens, this brand collaboration is all about recycling with class.

The front of the Caran d’Ache Nespresso Fixpencil box. ​A recycled cardboard box, in light brown, set on a green background. There’s a cutout in the box that shows the orange coloured Fixpencil.
The front of the Caran d’Ache Nespresso Fixpencil box.

The box that the Nespresso Fixpencil arrives in is similar to its 849 counterparts: it’s made of 100% recycled cardboard and there’s a Nespresso capsule shaped cutout in the box that shows off the colour and texture of the Fixpencil. Clever embossing and tasteful design and branding make this a superb gift to give to someone who enjoys using pencils (with a caveat that I’ll get to later). The box is the most recycled thing about the product (being 100% recycled), but at least Caran d’Ache is honest and transparent about the quantity of recycled materials inside the fixpencil and lead: 25% of each, respectively. So there is a fair bit of “greenwashing” going on here.

Back of the Caran d’Ache Nespresso Fixpencil box.

The clever design of the box continues once you open it. It really shows off the beauty of the Fixpencil design and just how vibrant and warm the orange “ochre” colour is. It glows. You can also see the subtle texture the Fixpencil has.

Gorgeous orange Fixpencil nestled in a cardboard box.

Here is my first, albeit minor, quibble with this product: it’s not ochre. It’s reddish orange. It’s mandarin. It’s anything but the yellowish brown that ochre brings to mind. I have no idea why it was so poorly named.

Fixpencil ochre? More red than yellow by far to be called that.

Caran d’Ache 849s and Fixpencils normally have very little branding on them. The Caran d’Ache brand is tucked discreetly under the clip and generally all that you see is the “Swiss made” with a white border around it just above the clip. The Nespresso collaborations are different in that Caran d’Ache adds an additional imprint to the pen/pencil: “A Recycling Story is in Your Hands”.

A recycling story (of sorts) is in your hand.

Of course the normal logos are where they usually are, with the addition of the Nespresso logo to the Caran d’Ache logo under the clip.

Logos discreet and visible.

The Fixpencil is a joy to use because of its form factor, which is just like the 849, and the wonderful finish on the pencil body, which adds subtle texture that makes the Fixpencil fun and easy to hold.

A close up on the Fixpencil’s texture.

And now we come to the worst part of this collaboration: the pencil lead. The Nespresso Fixpencil doesn’t come with the normal fabulous Caran d’Ache pencil leads. Instead it comes with a pencil lead that has 25% coffee grounds in it and is supposedly a B grade lead. It’s terrible. The lead is scratchy, so light that it writes like an F or even an H grade lead, and hard to erase. After testing in on my standard pencil testing Baron Fig notebook, I threw it out and replaced it with a standard 2B lead from my regular stash. Not recycled, but actually usable.

Terrible pencil lead in action.

Here’s a close up where you can see in the word “scratchy” where the lead actually dug into the paper.

Closeup on the scratchy writing and some lead comparisons.

The Caran d’Ache Nespresso Fixpencil is a joy to use and will make for a fabulous gift once you pair it with a box of good quality B or 2B pencil leads. It’s a beautiful take on an already great product that I just wish also included the normal Caran d’Ache lead lineup.

Dingbats Notebook Review

During my trip to London this year I managed to buy a few Dingbats Wildlife notebooks (the elephant, tiger, hippo and deer). They appealed to me because they present a vegan friendly, fountain pen friendly journaling option, with a unique take on the classic “Moleskinesque” notebook.

Purple front cover with hippo debossing.
Front cover

So while the Dingbats A5+ Wildlife notebook has rounded corners, an elastic closure, a back pocket and a ribbon bookmark, the textured vegan faux leather cover is here to make a statement. There’s a different animal debossing and different cover colour for each animal. Currently there’s a Cream Wolf (new), Grey Elephant, Green Deer, Orange Tiger, Purple Hippo, Blue Whale, Brown Bear, Black Duck and Red Kangaroo. Once again, I got a little carried away and bought the Elephant, Deer, Tiger and Hippo – all the Dingbat notebooks that I saw in WH Smith in Heathrow Terminal 5. If I had to choose just one I would go for the hippo or the tiger, depending on how much attention I felt like drawing to myself carrying the notebook around.

Back cover with a sticker explaining everything there is to know about the notebook.
Back cover with a sticker explaining everything there is to know about the notebook

The faux leather cover has a nice texture to it, and the debossing makes it stand out from more generic faux leather notebooks that you might find in stationary shops. It’s clearly there to call attention to itself.

Hippo debossing on a purple faux leather, textured cover.
Hippo on a purple faux leather, textured cover.

The front endpaper has hippo footprints on it (they differ by animal), a “This Dingbats notebook belongs to” box to write your details in (always to that. Here’s why), the Dingbats logo and two notices: one that 2% of its UK revenue is donated to the WWF, and another that the notebook is made with FSC certified paper and vegan materials only.

Front endpaper, with notices on the bottom left, logo on the bottom right, a "this notebook belongs to" box in the middle right and a background of hippo footprints, all printed in warm grey.
Front endpaper.

The back endpaper also comes with the hippo footprint, and it has a back pocket. The Dingbats Wildlife notebook also comes with a pen holder which can hold standard pens just fine but is too small to hold most fountain pens.For a notebook that caters specifically to fountain pen users that’s a strange oversight.

The notebook has 100 gsm very smooth acid free fountain pen friendly paper. There are 96 sheets (192 pages) in the notebook and all of them are micro-perforated. The pages can have either 7mm lines, a 5mm grid, a 5mm dot grid, or be blank, but in the WH Smith that I was in the only option was lined. The lines are printed in a neutral grey that isn’t too obtrusive but is also clearly visible.

Close up of the micro-perforated paper and the grey lines on a page.
Close up of the micro-perforated paper and the grey lines.

This is an expensive notebook (around £16 per notebook), and so I wouldn’t bother using gel ink pens, rollerballs, ballpoints or pencils in it (if you want to see a test page of that, you can find it here). There are cheaper alternatives for that. The Dingbats Wildlife notebook is built for fountain pens, and it handles them very well. The paper isn’t as glossy as Rhodia paper, but it’s still silky smooth and ink takes several seconds to dry on the page. I don’t have a lot of pens inked up at the moment, and I spread the ink tests on multiple notebooks, but I can assure you that there is no feathering or bleed through with this paper, and there’ very little show through. It’s a fountain pen friendly notebook, as advertised. Here’s a small sample written with a TWSBI Eco fine nib and Diamine Inkvent Solstice, which is a very saturated ink.

Page with alphabet handwritten in black ink once in uppercase and once in lowecase with an ink smudge on the top left.
I spilled some ink at the top of the page, and that made a mess but also assured me that there really is no bleed through with fountain pen ink.

If you are looking for a fountain pen friendly, eco friendly, fun notebook, or if you want a notebook full of perforated pages, then I highly recommend the Dingbats Wildlife notebook. It’s not a cheap notebook, so if pencils are your thing, maybe look into a cheaper alternative with toothier paper.

Moleskine: I am New York Limited Edition Notebook

I haven’t posted a Moleskine limited edition review in a while, mostly because I stopped journaling when my mother was diagnosed with a new kind of cancer in the beginning of the year. Once I realized that I had cancer I chose the nicest Moleskine limited edition that I could see, grabbed a Kara’s Kustoms Render K and started writing.

This is the notebook I chose:

Photo of the cover of the "I am New York" limited edition Moleskine notebook.
Moleskine I am New York

The Moleskine “I am New York” is the second of the “I am” series that I’ve tried out (the first being “I am London” which I bought in the Moleskine Covent Garden store). There’s another notebook which I haven’t been able to purchase, the “I am Milan” one. In any case the cover design on these notebooks is stunning, with a vibrant illustration of an iconic architectural aspect of the city they represent. In the case of New York, it’s Brooklyn Bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge illustration on the front cover of the notebook, with yellow band on.
Front Cover Illustration.

The covers are made of fabric, which Moleskine has excelled at in recent years. This one is no different – the cover is very well made.

The spine. Can you guess where these photos were taken?

Here’s a look at the cloth covers without the yellow paper band. You can see how well the elastic band’s colour and the ribbon bookmark fit with the design even though lavender may not have been the most obvious choice.

Moleskine I am New York front cover without the yellow band. Colours are mostly grey and orange.
Front cover.

Here’s the back cover and ribbon:

Moleskine I am New York back cover without the yellow bookmark, and with the lavender ribbon bookmark showing.
Back cover with ribbon bookmark.

Here’s the front endpaper. It features the New York Times, a take away coffee and a bagel on a brown paper bag. Remember the bagel, we’ll be returning to that later on.

Front endpaper which features the New York Times, a take away coffee and a bagel on a brown paper bag. Remember the bagel, we'll be returning to that later on.
Front endpaper.

The back endpaper features a very imaginative summer scene in a city park, with various denizens of the city enjoying a lounge on the park lawn.

The back endpaper features a very imaginative summer scene in a city park, with various denizens of the city enjoying a lounge on the park lawn.
Back endpaper.

The Moleskine “I am New York” comes with a lovely postcard in the notebook’s back pocket, with a drawing by Carlo Stanga(who also illustrated the front cover) titled: “Where Fifth Ave Starts”.

Postcard with a watercolour drawing of Fifth Avenue.
Where Fifth Ave Starts postcard.

It’s a functional postcard, but I’d just hang it as a small work of art in my cubicle or on my fridge.

Back of postcard.
Functional postcard if you need it.

The B-side of the paper band has a bagels recipe (remember the bagel from the front endpaper?). I haven’t tried it but it’s well drawn and a cute addition to this already great notebook.

I’m going to be using the Moleskine “I am New York” as my daily journal through these next few tough months, and I can’t think of a better notebook for the job. It’s a beautiful notebook that makes me smile whenever I pick it up.

Sketching Tools: Nock Co Sinclair and Tallulah

As I’ve recently overhauled my sketching tools and have grown to like my new setup, I’ve decided to document my current sketching kit, as a reference to myself and others.

Sinclair on top, Tallulah on the bottom.

First up are my pen and pencil cases, the Nock Co Sinclair and Tallulah. I used to use the Sinclair as my main sketching case because:

  1. It can hold much, much more than three pens. Much more. Mine had four Staedtler Fineliners, two or three Japanese brush pens, a white gel ink pen, five Faber Castell Pitt brush pens, a mechanical pencil, an eraser, a woodcase pencil, a sharpener, a waterbrush, and a folded paper towel square.
  2. It has two zippers, which means that you can sneak in extra large pens, like the Sailor Fude ones, or full length pencils, and still zip the case around them.
Partially full Sinclair.

The Sinclair is no longer my main case and I now use it to store a more extensive selection of sketching tools (mostly Faber Castell Pitt brush pens). The reason is that it can hold so many pens that I was tempted to fill it to the brim and bring all those pens with me. As I decided that to gain speed I needed to pair down my sketching tools and expand my watercolour palette, I replaced the Sinclair with the much slimmer Tallulah.

Tallulah ready to work, on top. Sinclair on the bottom.

The Tallulah is marketed as a two pen case. Oh, Brad. I have four Staedtler Fineliners, a Uni-ball Signo Broad white gel ink pen, a woodcased pencil, three (!) Sailor Fude fountain pens and a waterbrush. If the Tallulah had two zippers instead of one I could have closed the case. As it is, I keep it open and propped up in my sketching bag, as sort of a pen organizer. If I need the Tallulah to close, I can pare down my pens to one or two Sailor Fude pens, lose the waterbrush (if I keep two Sailor Fude’s in my kit), and replace the woodcased pencil with a mechanical one, or lose the pencil entirely as I generally work directly in pen and watercolour these days.

See, I can close it if I need to.

The Tallulah is so slim and light that it really works with my low profile sketch kit. It’s actually the anchor around which I built my new kit, with the other two being the Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbook that I’m using, and my Schmincke watercolour tin.

If you are an artist looking for a storage solution for your pens and pencils, I highly recommend giving the Nock Co Sinclair and Tallulah a try. They are handsome workhorses that can take a beating (especially the zippers) and can hold many more pens than you would normally imagine.

Silvine Memo Book Review

I bought this notebook in 2019, when I was last in London. Silvine is a well known UK notebook brand, and ever since I read about them in Roald Dahl’s work I have been looking to try them out.

Front cover.

The Silvine Memo Book is a 159x95mm feint ruled staple bound notebook with zero frills. The cover is made of construction paper, thinner than the standard Field Notes one. The corners aren’t rounded, and there’s no printing on the inside of the cover. The front cover is a big believer in the “says what it does on the tin” school of thought: it’s a British made memo book by Silvine.

Back cover.

The back cover has an ugly barcode and ref printed on it, and it really would have looked better with that barcode printed on the inside. Then again, this notebook is not about looks.

Inside cover and ruling.

The grey ruling is 7mm wide, with margins left on the top and bottom of the page. It’s a bit wide for the format, but I’m guessing that they took their standard ruling and applied it indiscriminately to all their notebooks. The paper is where the Silvine Memo Book surprisingly shines.

Paper test.

The paper is smooth and coated, which means long drying times (though still shorter than Rhodia or Moleskine paper), but it’s also fountain pen friendly. The ink doesn’t feather or spread, and while there is some ghosting, unless you use stub nibs with dark inks the other side of the paper will still be usable. Very juicy nibs cause a small amount of bleed through, and the Sharpie, as usual is a mess, but otherwise Silvine have created a paper that can handle pretty well everything you throw at it.

Ghosting and bleed through test.

The format of this notebook means that its place is on a desk, where you can use it to jot down a quick note with whatever is lying around. It’s not built for pocket carry (in terms of size or construction), and I would have liked the ruling to be 6mm or even 5 mm at this size, but as it is I don’t regret buying the Silvine Memo Book, if only for nostalgic value. It reminds me of Dahl’s short stories, and I like that it’s doing its own thing and not trying to be a Field Notes clone. If you’re in the UK, I’d have one or two of these lying around, just for the paper inside.

Uni-ball Signo Needle 0.38 Review

I am a huge fan of the Uni-ball Signo line, and the Signo RT 0.5 is my favourite gel pen body and my favourite gel ink refill (UMR-85N). In second place is the Uni-ball Signo DX (UMR-1 refill) and its less common brother: the Uni-ball Signo Needle, which is basically a Signo DX with a needle tip instead of a cone tip.

I don’t have a white gel ink fine enough for the branding on the cap, so image that it’s there.

Like the Uni-ball Signo DX the Uni-ball Signo Needle isn’t as commonly found in the wild of stationery stores as the Pilot G2 or Pilot Hi-Tech-C. It does, however, come in a wide variety of colours, and unlike the Pilot G2 doesn’t blob and smear like crazy. It also has a needle tip that doesn’t wither the moment you look at it, unlike the Pilot Hi-Tech-C. It’s a workhorse needle tip gel pen with an excellent refill that doesn’t dry out even after spending years on your desk, and allows you to use it without worrying about babying its fragile needle tip.

Comfy, reliable workhorse needle point gel pens.

I love the Pilot Hi-Tec-C but I’m well aware that I have thrown more of them away than I have been able to use (the tip bends, the ink dries up and the pen no longer writes, there are “bubbles” in the refills of the even more delicate multi-pen variants of this pen). I’ve yet to have thrown a Uni-ball Signo pen away, needle point pens included. The magic happens in the tip design, which isn’t a two part deal like in the Hi-Tech-C but rather is a DX tip that has been shaped into a needle point, as if someone had taken it between two fingers and squeezed it to form a needle tip. The result is a tip that is stronger with no weak points that are prone to bending.

The smarts are all in this pen’s tip design.

You can see the difference between the Signo Needle tip on the top, and Signo DX tip in my Spoke pen on the bottom. It’s basically the same tip just tapered more acutely.

Needle tip on the top, DX tip on the bottom.

In terms of refills, the Signo Needle uses a UMR-1ND refill, which is the same as the Signo DX’s UMR-1 refill just with a different tip attached. This means that there are very few machined pens on the market that will fit the UMR-1ND refill because of the way the front of the refill is designed. However…

UMR-1 refill on the top, UMR-1ND refill on the bottom.

The Signo Needle refill does fit the Spoke pen! This is a fun bonus of them having the same refill design as the DX (minus the tip). So now not only can you have a reliable needle point gel ink pen with a variety of refills, it will also fit one of the best machined pens on the market (at least in my opinion).

Spoke pen orange crush with the UMR-1ND refill.

I will point out that there is a tiny gap between the pen tip and the grip if you do use a UMR-1ND refill in the Spoke pen, however, the refill doesn’t wiggle in the pen and the gap doesn’t extend into the pen body – it’s just an aesthetic thing.

Tiny gap between the pen tip and the Spoke grip.

Here’s a writing sample with the Signo Needle 0.38. As you can see the lines are crisp and consistent even though I’ve had some of these pens lying around my desk for years. They are a tiny bit wider than the Hi-Tech-C 0.38 lines (just as the Signo DX 0.38 lines are wider than the Hi-Tech-C but thinner than the Pilot G2 0.38).

If you’re looking for a needle tip gel ink pen and are tired of throwing out broken Hi-Tech-Cs (or don’t like their somewhat spartan pen body), give the Signo Needle 0.38 a chance. It may be slightly more expensive than a Hi-Tech-C, but it will ultimately turn out to be cheaper because you’ll have a pen that you can actually use from start to finish.

National Pencil Day: Vintage Treasures in Old Stationery Stores

Today is national pencil day, which is just an excuse to showcase my latest vintage pencil finds from visiting a very old local stationery shop. Oftentimes shops like these still have new old stock of vintage pencils, and in my case I’m usually looking for local Jerusalem Pencils, but I often find other interesting things along the way.

Eberhard Faber Mongol pencils.

In this case I got a very large haul of Eberhard Faber Mongol #2 pencils, which I think are really good looking in terms of typography and ferrule design. Most of them are unsharpened, which is a bonus treat, although as usual with vintage pencils time has rendered their erasers unusable.

The real find for me were some very old Jerusalem Pencils (based on the logo), in this case coloured pencils (black and red). These are very waxy with relatively little pigment, but I don’t intend to draw with them anyway, and it just tickles me that didn’t translate “sunset” to “שקיעה” (or sunset in Hebrew) but rather chose to transliterate it, to give the pencil a more cosmopolitan feel.

Jerusalem Pencils Sunset coloured pencils.

Carpenter pencils are something I rarely find in stationery stores but do sometimes find in flea markets. In this case I lucked on three perfect Jerusalem Pencils Carpenter 199 pencils.

Jerusalem Pencils Carpenter 199 carpenter pencils.

Even rarer for me are these Jerusalem Pencils Office 46 red and blue dual pencils. One of them is badly warped and another is slightly warped, but they still have their handsome imprint with an art deco-y font.

Jerusalem Pencils Office 46 red-blue dual pencils.

These are more modern, as they have the Pan Art imprint, which means that they were likely made after Jerusalem Pencils was forced to rebrand itself after its bankruptcy. They’re charcoal pencils, and it will be interesting to give them a spin. I love the font selection here as there’s a lovely flow to it.

Pan Art Charcoal Soft pencils.

These are the last Jerusalem Pencils of the bunch, Pan Art coloured pencils from the 1000 and the Al Greco 6000 line. These are quite modern but I still haven’t seen them too often so I added them to the pencil pile.

Pan Art 1000 and Al Greco 6000 coloured pencils.

Here’s a pencil that I’m pretty sure was made by Jerusalem Pencils, but there’s no telling it if was under that name or Pan Art. It was sharpened at both ends so you can just make out that it’s an HB pencil, and enough of the imprint is left to know that it was made in Israel and is called Oriole.

Oriole pencil.

And here we enter the realms of the unknown pencil brand, where I just bought pencils for their imprint and style, such as this Patented Drawing “Liberty” pencil:

Patented Drawing “Liberty” pencil.

Which was made by the Pai-Tai Industrial Co LTD.

These Student 101 pencils from a Croatian company called TOZ Penkala (thank you to a penaddict slack user for helping me with this):

TOZ Penkala Student 101

These L&C Hardtmuth Studio 941 7 and 18 pencils that just have the best imprint font and logo:

L&C Hardtmuth Studio 941 7 and 18 pencils.

These Marco 4100 coloured pencils which I bought for the Comic Sans “Superb Writer” imprint, it made me laugh.

Marco 4100 coloured pencils.

And these random pencils all bought for their imprints: Springer, Factis “Eraser Pencil” 3012, and Warm Heart Color Pencils.

Of all of these I’ll probably only be using the Mongols, but I find having the others fun, and I may be able to swap a few of them for some other vintage pencils that I can enjoy.

Happy national pencil day!

Schmincke Horadam Super-Granulating Watercolour Review

Schmincke recently came out with a new series of limited edition Horadam (artist grade) watercolour paints that are super-granulating.Granulation in watercolour is the an affect that is created when the pigments in the paint separate and settle in a diffused patten on the paper, oftentimes allowing other pigments that they are mixed with to show through. In my everyday watercolour palette Schmincke’s Ultramarine Finest (494) is a prime example of a granulating paint that I use both for its effect as an individual paint and when mixed with various browns and greens. The new 900 limited edition series of Horadam watercolours that Schmincke has issued is composed of 25 paints that are divided into five sets: Galaxy, Glacier, Deep Sea, Forest and Tundra. I decided to purchase all five sets out of curiosity, since limited editions in artist grade watercolours aren’t common, I already use Schmincke almost exclusively, and I’ve been embracing granulation more lately in my work.

The 5ml set boxes.

The paints can be purchased in individual 15ml tubes (which is a lot of watercolour paint), in fancy wooden boxed sets of 15ml tubes and in cardboard boxes of 5ml tubes, which is what was available at my local art supply shop and what suited me to buy anyway. 15ml of watercolour paint is a commitment, and artist grade watercolour in general and Schmincke in particular aren’t cheap. The paints aren’t sold in half pans, which I would have preferred over the tubes, and which means that you are going to need empty pans or a palette to use them.

Schmincke Galaxy set

The Galaxy set includes Galaxy Pink, Violet, Blue, Brown and Black. There are some naming peculariaries in this entire series of paints, such as the fact that the paints are super-granulating but the set is called: Supergranulation on the box, and Super Granulation by the dealers. In any case, like all the colours in this set the paints in the Galaxy set have good lightfastness. They are all non-staining (which means that they can easily be lifted off the paper), the Violet and Blue are semi transparent, the Pink and Brown and Black are semi-opaque. This is the most vibrant of the sets, but don’t believe the photos on the package or in the various marketing materials, none of the colours in any of these sets really pops or is as vibrant as they appear to be. All these colours tend towards naturalistic, landscape painting tones.

Schmincke Forest set

The colours in the Forest Set are: Olive, Green, Blue, Brown and Grey. They are all extremely lightfast, the Olive and the Brown are semi transparent, the Blue and the Grey are semi opaque and the Green is opaque. I have no idea why the Forest Brown (944) is called Forest Brown as it’s not a brown at all, it’s more of a greyish green. Forest Blue is also a misnomer, as it’s also a green, this time one that looks like it was mixed with indigo. This is the most monotone of the sets, though if you are focused on landscapes, there are some interesting greens here.

Schmincke Glacier set

The Glacier set boasts the best paint in the series in my opinion, the Glacier Green which is just a delicious paint to have on your palette – a phenomenal and unique green with pronounced brown undertones. I can’t wait to use it in my work, and I’ll be buying a 15ml tube of this. The rest of the colours in this set are Glacier Blue, Turquoise, Brown and Black. Despite what the marketing material may say, there is very little difference between the various blacks in these sets, and if I could I would have skipped all of them and used the Forest Grey and the Tundra Violet instead. All the colours in this set rate in the 4-5 star lightfastness range and all apart from the Brown (which is semi-staining) are non-staining. The Blue is semi-transparent, the Turquoise, Green and Black are semi-opaque and the Brown is opaque.

Schmincke Deep Sea set

The Deep Sea set features the following colours: Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green and Black. The Green here is a misnomer, as it’s also a blue (with only the slightest green tinge) and the violet is greyish and flat compared to the Glaxy Violet (and in any case if you’re looking for a vibrant violet look elsewhere in Schmincke’s lineup). This is probably the most redundant set of the five, and you can pretty much skip the colours here without missing on much. Indigo, Blue and Green are semi-transparent, Violet and Black are semi-opaque. Lightfastness is very good to excellent and non of these are staining.

Schmincke Tundra set

The Tundra set contains Orange, Pink, Violet, Blue and Green. Tundra Violet is another misnomer as the paint is practically black with a tinge of purple. This is the most staining set (Violet and Green are staining, the rest are semi-staining), but also a pretty mixable one. Orange, Blue and Pink are transparent, Violet is semi-transparent and only Green is opaque. It’s also one of the most compelling greens in the set, with it’s olive like tones and its pinkish undertones it’s both unique and generally useful for landscapes.

Paints on my palette and in half-pans

Schmincke aren’t selling these in pans, which is pretty inconvenient if you just want to swap one or two of these into your existing palette.

The paints in the series on Stillman and Birn Alpha paper

I first saw these paints on Schmincke’s Instagram and then on the Jackson’s Art blog. In both the paints are much more vibrant and with much more pronounced granulating, to the point of almost marbling, than what I got when I first created a the above reference drawing. I had a feeling that this was somewhat due to the extreme closeups that they took, and likely also the paper that they used.

Sketch on Stillman and Birn Alpha paper

In any case, since I and many others also use Stillman and Birn Alpha paper for watercolours, I decided to try and create a painting using these paints exclusively. In the end I also added Schmincke Indian Yellow (220) for the signs, but I didn’t mix it with anything else. As you can see, the granulation is still pretty pronounced throughout, but the colours, with the exception of the Glacier Blue aren’t exactly vibrant or saturated.

Paint samples on Magnani 1404 Toscana 100% cotton 300gsm rough cold press paper

I then decided to break out the good paper, and tested the paints on 100% cotton 300gsm cold pressed rough watercolour paper. Here you can see the granulation at its best, and yes, as promised it is pronounced in all of these paints. Yet as I suspected the choice of paper does nothing to make these paints more vibrant, which means that I certainly won’t be using them to replace large swaths of my current palette or recommending that you use them exclusively (especially since there are no yellows here and the red selection is pretty poor).

Paint palette on Magnani 1404 Toscana 100% cotton 300gsm rough cold press paper

Here are the paints all labeled (I got the Deep Sea Black and Green swabs out of order).

Sketch on Magnani 1404 Toscana 100% cotton 300gsm rough cold press paper

Here’s a very quick sketch with these paints on the cold press paper. They are built for washes and wet on wet work, and so relish this paper.

Sketch on Stillman and Birn Beta paper

And here they are on Stillmand and Birn Beta paper, which is better watercolour paper than the Alpha but still not good watercolour paper. You still get much of their effect here, especially if you don’t much around too much with the paint. These aren’t the best for mixing on the palette but do work well with layering and working wet on wet on the page. If you like to put down paint in washes and see what it does, these paints are for you. If you like to work in a more controlled fashion, you likely aren’t a fan of granulating watercolours anyway.

Closeup of granulation on Stillman and Birn Beta paper

You can see the granulation here, and some of the best colours in this set at work (Tundra Orange, Glacier Green, Tundra Violet, Forest Green, Tundra Green and Glacier Brown).

Closeup of granulation on Stillman and Birn Beta paper

Again you can see the granulation at work and how the effect lets the whiteness of the page show through, bringing light to a dark patch.

So, would I recommend all 25 paints? Of course not. Of the paints in these sets here are the ones that seem worthwhile:

963 Glacier Green (the best of the bunch!)

983 Tundra Violet (a great replacement for black in your palette, if you have it)

952 Deep Sea Indigo (bonus points for a transparent indigo with reddish purple undertones!)

964 Glacier Brown (the best brown of the bunch and the most saturated of them, with dark black green undertones)

942 Forest Green (a saturated green in a natural but not easy to mix colour with reddish undertones)

985 Tundra Green (a natural greyish yellow green that is not easy to mix and has brown undertones)

981 Tundra Orange (because this is a transparent paint in a colour that is rarely otherwise granulating, with pinkish undertones and a good generally useful hue that will work well in mixing).

If you’re looking to buy sets, the Tundra set and the Glacier set are the best in my opinion, but it depends on what colours you use most often in your palette.

OneWeek100People 2021: Day 5

Day five of the One Week 100 People challenge, the final day of the challenge. I made it, using only pen and ink, and focusing on portraits the whole way through! It was tough but rewarding, and if I’d change one thing about it is get a better ink than Platinum Carbon. It kept drying up on me, and for the last four drawings I switched to a Lamy Safari fine with Noodler’s Black. That also wasn’t ideal, but it was better than the Platinum. I really want to test out the De Atramentis Document inks, but with shipping rates and reliability being what they are I’m stuck with three equally poor alternatives: Noodler’s Black, Platinum Carbon Ink and Rohrer and Klingner SketchINK. They all dry up in the nib and are hard starters, and the best of the bunch in terms of flow (Noodler’s) is the least waterproof of them all.

Anyway, I really recommend the One Week 100 People Challenge to anyone who wants to improve their people drawing skills, and I plan on doing it again next year.

Silver Needle Tea Seminar and Virtual Tea Seminar Review

Silver Needle Tea virtual seminar spread.

I drew this spread as part of Liz Steel‘s Sketching Now Sketchbook Design course, and it records my experiences from the final virtual tea seminar session that I had with Juyan from The Chinese Tea Company. I took all of the seminars that she offers, and I can see that she’s running a few of them again later this month and next month. I highly, highly recommend them (I’m not affiliated or paid to say this in any way, I’m just a happy longtime customer of her wonderful shop). Whether you are just starting out in Chinese tea or you’re well versed in Gong fu tea brewing, you’ll learn a lot about tea and tea tasting in her seminars, and have a lot of fun along the way. You get four tea samples that you drink while your in the seminar (and there’s enough left over for another brewing post seminar too), Juyan gives a presentation about the tea, the grower and the growing region, as well as tips on how to assess the leaves, brew them and taste them. The seminars are small and intimate, and are a wonderful way to spend an evening. If you’re starting out the Fundamentals of Oolongs and Green Tea Exploration (currently sold out) are phenomenal, the Wu Yi Rock tea seminar is a must – a gateway into understanding a complicated and elusive tea (as is the Phoenix Oolong seminar, if she gives it again). The Puer tea masterclass (also sold out) is just that, and a great way to get familiar with an easily misunderstood class of teas, and the Silver Needle White Tea seminar will take you by surprise. Until this seminar I thought that white tea in general and Silver Needle in particular is boring, but it’s anything but that.