Retro 51 Blue Acrylic Tornado

The Retro 51 Blue Acrylic is the last Retro 51 that I have yet to review as part of my Retro 51 challenge (minus the Retro 51 Flower and Retro 51 Coffee which are quarantined in my office). I bought this pen years ago in the Latin Quarter in Paris, in a little store on Boulevard Saint-Michel. The store had a few Retro 51 tornados in their dusty window display, and after some hemming and hawing I went in and asked about the pens. The proprietor had no idea what I wanted to buy from, but after some pointing he brought out his Retro 51 tray. The moment I saw this pen, I knew that I had to have it:

Is it not pretty?

The Retro 51 Blue Acrylic features chatoyant acrylic swirls in blue and navy, and it’s somewhat transparent, which means that you can see glints of the metal refill tube below the material. Like the Pelikan M800 Ocean Swirl there’s a dark side to the material, and a light side.

The dark side of the pen.

The hardware is chrome, and so very bright. This works well with the overall colour scheme. The acrylic body does pick up lint in a way that Retro 51’s metal-bodied pens do not.  I’m not sure this would make for a good pocket carry pen because of that.

Between light and dark.

Weight wise it doesn’t feel significantly lighter than Retro 51’s metal-bodied pens. If that’s you’re draw to this pen, then you’ll be disappointed. But how can you be disappointed in a pen that looks like this?

Look at that!

The finial features a dark navy blue, almost black, disc. I kind of wish that Retro 51 had made the finial out of the swirly acrylic material, but I guess that would have hiked up the price significantly.

The finial/top disc.

I changed out the refill for my favourite Ohto FlashDry refill, mostly because the old refill dried out. I used to use the semi-dried out old Schmidt refill for sketching, as it was pretty perfect for that.

The above drawing was drawn with the Retro 51 Blue Acrylic and the Ohto FlashDry 0.5 gel ink refill, plus some Faber-Castell PITT brush pens. My parents’ cats have ideas about my dad’s laptop that don’t coincide with his.

If you stumble upon one of these Retro 51 Acrylic Tornado pens, snap them up. They’re gorgeous, and life is too short to carry an ugly pen.

Retro 51 Blue Acrylic Tornado

Cat Tales

I’m in the process of testing out a set of Uni-ball Pin fineliners and I thought that I’d share a few test runs with the pens. The linework is done with the Ubi-ball Pin fineliners (0.1, 0.3 and 0.5 in black and grey) and the rest is with Deleter Neopiko-Line-3 pens (2.0 and a brush pen) and Faber-Castell Pitt brush pens.

My parents’ cats are very expressive and fun to draw. The cat above is super mellow, and the cat below is gorgeous but not happy to see you.

Cat Tales

Vintage Beauty: Corgie 907 and National Pencil Day

It’s National Pencil Day and I decided to celebrate. Last year I picked up some vintage pencils in a stall in Spitalfields market in London, and they’ve been languishing unloved in their box ever since. The truth is I felt that they were too pretty to sharpen and use, which is both understandable (I mean look at them!) and silly. Pencils are meant to be sharpened, period.

So I broke out the “Corgie” (à Paris) 907 pencils, which are natural pencils coated with a thick layer of lacquer that makes them both shiny and satisfying to hold. The French appear to be more restrained in their choice of imprint fonts, but they go all wild when it comes to the wrappers around the pencils. Behold, creativity let loose:

Stunning, right?

Here’s the imprint (it’s hard to photograph, as the lacquer gets in the way. There are basically two fonts in use, and a very charming bugle logo. The Corgié à Paris factory was active from 1923 to around 1986 (thanks Brand Name Pencils) and if I’d have to venture a guess I think that these are from the ’60s, but it’s really hard to tell.

The grain on these pencils is fantastic. Just look at that:

Unlike some vintage pencils whose wood has dried out and become brittle with time, the Corgie 907s sharpen like a charm. They’re not very nice smelling (they just smell old), but there’s nothing to complain too much about.

These are No. 0 pencils, which makes them about 2B-4B, depending on the manufacturer. They’re soft and dark, and a joy to draw with, although they don’t hold a tip for very long. The graphite does smudge, but it doesn’t crumble, and there’s a good amount of feedback while using them. Here they are with some Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer watercolour pencils in use:

I had to sharpen the pencil three times to get through this A5 page. Not great for writing, great for expressive drawing. 

Go sharpen a pencil, and have some fun drawing or writing a little something for yourself.

Happy National Pencil Day!

Vintage Beauty: Corgie 907 and National Pencil Day

How I Use Pencils in Watercolour Portraits

Continuing my “how I use the stuff I haveposts, I thought that I’d show how I use pencils when I’m working on a series of portraits of the same person.

Since I work in watercolour which is notoriously not great for correcting and changing your mind mid painting, when there’s a face that I know that I’ll want to explore I usually create a “construction” sketch which I transfer to paper several times. I can then paint the portrait in different tones, or focus on a certain aspect that interests me, or take it to really wild places without spending too much time on the technicalities of the preliminary sketch.

I start the “construction” sketch on newsprint paper. It’s much more detailed and “searching” than it needs to be, but that doesn’t matter much. Ultimately only the lines that will help me construct the face and note where the major light and dark transitions are will remain. I draw this with a Faber Castell 9000 2B or 3B pencil that’s sharpened with a pocket knife to allow me to use it without having to pause for sharpening. Newsprint paper is pretty transparent and also generally too fragile for regular erasers, so I use a kneaded eraser to lift off unnecessary lines, or simply ignore them.

Once I’m done with that, I flip the page to the other side and scribble on it with a Faber Castell 9000 6B or Palomino Blackwing MMX. These are again sharpened with a pocket knife, and the point is to get as much coverage as possible. If I’m doing a lot of transfers then I might have to repeat this process, adding more graphite to the back of the sketch.

I then transfer the most important lines in my sketch on to a piece of watercolour paper. This is done by placing the newsprint paper with the sketch over the watercolour paper and going over the lines in the sketch with a 2H pencil (I use a Faber Castell 9000 2H, but this isn’t that important). The pencil needs to be a hard pencil for the lines to transfer to the paper below, but it can’t be too hard or too sharp or it will rip the newsprint paper. It’s also important to put just enough pressure when you’re tracing so the graphite on the underside of the sketch transfers to the paper, but not too much to bruise the watercolour paper. Using a 300 gsm watercolour paper helps protect it, but it’s mostly a matter of practice. When you’re done you get something like this:

The lines are pretty faint, which is great when working with watercolour, because they don’t distract too much from the figure once you start working.

I created about five watercolour portraits of Dame Judi Dench from this sketch so far, and there’s a good chance that I’ll go explore her some more in the future.

How I Use Pencils in Watercolour Portraits

Vintage Faber Castell Sharpener

I found this beast in a dusty corner of my favourite vintage shop in Jaffa. It’s far from pristine, but it’s so overbuilt that it still works. The body is Bakelite and somehow still whole, and even the green shavings receptacle isn’t cracked. I haven’t been able to find anything about the Faber Castell 52/18 (except for an eBay listing that says that it’s rare), but I love the design enough to wish that they were still being made today. Something about that green cutout in the black body just works.

Vintage Faber Castell Sharpener

Neil Gaiman Portrait (Work in Progress)

I decided to work on a monochrome Neil Gaiman watercolour portrait, and I remembered to take progress photos for a change.

The initial sketch was done with a Faber Castell 9000 2H on Bockingford 300gsm watercolour paper.

Then I did some light initial shading (I use Schmincke watercolours):

This is with most of the work done:

Final pass, differentiating more between light and dark:

Neil Gaiman Portrait (Work in Progress)