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.

Uni Pro M9-552 Mechanical Pencil Review

First review of the year! I bought the Uni Pro M9-552 mechanical pencil a while ago in London, I believe. Never having heard of it before, and noting that it was an inexpensive drafting pencil, I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t disappointed: the Uni Pro M9-552 has a terrible name, but it’s a very good drafting pencil AND a very good mechanical pencil, which is not the same thing.

Illustration of the Uni Pro M90552 mechanical/drafting pencil.

The Uni Pro has a plastic body, a knurled aluminium grip and an aluminium cap and clip. This makes for a light pencil that is weighed towards the tip, which is what makes this a good mechanical pencil and not just a good drafting pencil. It’s very comfortable to hold and write or draw with, even for long periods of time, because of the weight distribution and the knurling on the grip. The knurling provides excellent grip without cutting into your hands.

Illustration of the Uni Pro M9-522 with the pencil itself.

Like all drafting pencils, it has a long lead sleeve and a lead grade indicator. I like the touch of colour that it provides to this otherwise very utilitarian design. The cap has the lead width, 0.9, engraved into it, and under it is the usual refillable eraser. It will do in a pinch, when you don’t have a block eraser around and have very little to erase.

This isn’t a lead review so I’m not posting a writing sample, but I will say this – if you haven’t tried writing or drawing with a 0.9 lead mechanical pencil, I recommend giving it a go. You get most of the line variation and expressiveness of a woodcase pencil, but without having to stop and sharpen it all the time.

Closeup of the knurling.

The Uni Pro M9-552 is a good choice of drafting pencil, with its light weight making it a good choice for people with small hands or those that are looking for a drafting pencil that can also serve as a mechanical pencil (i.e. a daily writer). The Uni Pro 552 series also includes a 0.5 pencil (with a red lead grade indicator), 0.7 pencil (blue indicator), 0.3 pencil (yellow indicator), and even a 0.4 pencil (orange indicator, at a rare lead width).

Sketchbook Design Goals

My sketchbook design course goals, and a drawing of the Phoenix community garden in London.

The first week of Liz Steel’s Sketchbook Design course is underway, and so far I’m having a blast and drawing much more than I used to. I’m also learning a lot not just from Liz, but also from the other participants in the course. One of exercises this week was to create a page with our Sketchbook Design course goals, and here is mine. I also drew the Phoenix Community Garden in London’s West End to accompany my goals. Hopefully I’ll be able to return to it later this year.

Tools used: Stillman & Birn A5 Beta, Lamy Safari pens with J. Herbin Bleu Pervenche and Noodler’s Black, Schmincke watercolours.

Capitol Under Attack

US Capitol under siege.

I was very shaken by what happened on the US Capitol on the 6th of January. The images were scary, and so I sat down to sketch one of them, to get off twitter for a while.

Stillman & Birn A5 Beta, Schminke watercolours, Noodler’s Black (Lamy Safari fine nib), Uni ball Sign broad white.

Sketchbook Design: My Tools

I’ve enrolled into Liz Steel’s Sketchbook Design online course, as I like the way Liz designs her notebook pages and I’ve taken an Urban Sketchers workshop (in Porto, 2018) which was excellent. Liz sent the first intro videos to the course to her newsletter subscribers, and so I decided to pick a sketchbook for the course (which starts on January 4th) and draw the tools that I plan on using in it.

The sketchbook that I chose is a Stillman and Birn Beta softcover A5 sketchbook, because it has watercolour friendly paper and I wanted to try that paper out. Here’s a sketch of my tools done with a Lamy Safari Petrol fine nib fountain pen and a Lamy Safari Dark Lilac medium nib fountain pen, both with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black.

I got carried away with the lines when drawing my palette, so I decided to roll with it and just use it to write down the paint details.

Here it is after applying watercolour:

It’s not perfect, but I like the way this page looks.

Here’s my Winsor & Newton Travel Watercolour box, filled with Schminke watercolours (some of them on their second or third refill from the tube). I love this paint box so much that I used my previous one until it fell to pieces. This is my new one, and it’s holding up well so far.

The fountain pens that I’ll be using: Lamy Safari Petrol F nib with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, Lamy Safari Dark Lilac M nib with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, Lamy Safari Charcoal EF nib with J. Herbin Bleu Pevench, Sailor Fude MF pen with Noodler’s Lexington Grey (Bulletproof ink).

My non fountain pens are my beloved Saedtler pigment liners in 0.3 and 0.7 and a Uni-ball Signo broad white.

The pencil I will use is a vintage Eagle Turquoise “Chemi Sealed” H drawing pencil. I just love everything about these pencils, and I really wish that they were still in production.

My brushes: a Raphael round travel brush, I’m not sure what size. There’s a good chance that I’ll replace it with a better round brush as the course progresses, as I’m not enamoured with it. The black brush in the middle is a Winsor & Newton Series 7 no 2 Kolinsky sable brush. The white and silver brush below is a Rosemary & Co R12 Sable/Nylon Dagger brush, and it’s a brush that I haven’t 100% mastered but that I’m growing to like with use.

That’s it for my tools at the moment. I’ll update this blog with my progress as the course takes place, and I’ll be sure to note if my tools change throughout.

Four Watercolour Tips

Four quick tips for those using watercolours:

  • Write the colour number on the pan with a Sharpie (or a similar) pen. Inevitably the sticker or stamp with the watercolour’s number will fade away or peel off and you’ll be left trying to guess what it was when it’s time to replace it. If you mix watercolours by different makers then also give an indication of the maker on the pan.
  • Replace unused paint with something else that you may actually use. This is important particularly if you’re working with a small portable palette. If you see a pan with paint that hasn’t got a dent in it, consider replacing it with something else that you may use. Ask yourself why it’s just sitting there (it’s too opaque and hard to mix? You don’t need it much because of the subjects you draw?), and replace it with something that will better fit your needs. Palettes evolve with time, and yours should evolve to better fit your needs and drawing goals.
  • Buy tubes of paint to refill well used paint pans. When your starting out and still building up your palette and skills, work with pre-filled half-pans (the small square pans of paint). After a while you’ll start to see a few colours that you use more heavily than others, and for those paints you can either go for full pans, or buy paint tubes and refill them, giving them some time to set. It’s much more economical, with the caveat that you need to look up the paint maker that you’re using to see if there’s any difference between the paint in the pans and the paint in tubes. I use Schminke Horadam and there is none, so I’ve been refilling my pans for a few years now.
  • Check transparency and staining before selecting a paint. This is particularly important if you plan on mixing paint or lifting paint (using a brush to remove paint from the paper while it’s still wet or flooding the paper to remove paint). Paint that is opaque will not mix well with other paints (you’ll get a muddy effect), and you need to be aware of it while drawing. Transparent paints may not be as vibrant as their opaque counterparts, but they work very well with others. Staining paints will stain your paper, leaving a shadow of themselves as you try to lift them. These are not bad things in and of themselves, these are just things that you need to be aware about before adding a paint to your palette.

How I Journal: A Sample

I decided to upload the pages from my journal entry today, as a sample and perhaps an inspiration for anyone wondering what to journal about. There’s nothing big or grand here, no deep felt angst, just small observations about my day that will bring it back to life later on. I made an effort to make my handwriting neater than it usually is, and I cut out a page of what happened later in the afternoon as it involved a family member suffering an injury and getting hospitalized, and I want to protect their privacy. Otherwise it’s a fairly standard entry. What’s missing is a title (added after the entry is completed and in this case not something I want to share) that summarizes the day. Oftentimes I glue things in instead of drawing something, and sometimes I just write in a rush and the page is just dense, messy handwriting.

I use a Moleskine Large hardcover, in some limited edition or another (in this case Pokemon Charmander), and a gel pen of some kind or another. Today it was the Karas Kustoms Ink v2 rollerball with Uniball UMR-85, my favourite refill. I don’t mind the show through, it helps me get through the fear of the blank page, and there’s no other notebook that has the Moleskine cover and internal design, so after years of futilely trying to replace it with something else, I just shut out the voices of the detractors and allowed myself to enjoy what I love and what works for me. Please do the same.

Work in Progress

This one is taking more time than I anticipated. People plus architecture, it figures.

Diamine Aurora Borealis Ink

Diamine Aurora Borealis fountain pen ink was created by Diamine in collaboration with the /r/fountainpens reddit community, who chose the colour. I love teal inks, but at first I thought that I had enough inks that are close enough in colour to skip this one. I have no recollection of how it landed in my basket during my last Cult Pens purchase 🙂

Beautifully designed label.

I don’t normally spend much time on the packaging, but Diamine’s 30ml plastic bottles are deep and wide enough to allow for filling even chunky pens, and their (relatively new) label design is splendid. This bottle is unique in that it has another label, crediting the /r/fountainpens community with selecting the ink colour:

Aurora Borealis is a dark teal with some red sheening, and a good amount of shading for such a saturated ink. It also dries surprising fast for such a saturated ink (although I wouldn’t call it a fast drying ink).

Swab on a col-o-ring card.

You can see a bit of the red sheen here, on the top of the “A” in aurora:

I a few inks that are in the region fo Diamine Aurora Borealis, but not many of them are swabbed. I will say that the ink is dark enough to be fine for office use, and that is still shows plenty of interest and character:

I tried it also on Paperblanks paper, and on Rhodia paper. In both cases the ink dried darker than it looked when I was writing with it, although the photos picked up less colour than it originally had. The best colour reproduction is in the final photos of Tomoe River Paper, further below. It is worth pointing out though that if you have a wet nib, you’re going to see darker results than you’d expect from the swabs.

Paperblanks

In any case Aurora Borealis came out much darker than it appears on Goulet Pens site, for instance, although not as dark as it appears here:

Rhodia

I gave the ink a spin on some (old) Tomoe River paper, and “opened” it up with some water and a fine brush. As is the case with most Diamine inks, Aurora Borealis isn’t waterproof or water resistant, and doesn’t market itself as such. It is, however, a lot of fun to draw with:

You can see red sheening on the happy little dormouse’s nose, as well as on the flowers. You can also see the shading in the flowers:

This is the best sample of all the properties of this ink: the relatively dark colour, the shading, and the slightly red sheen:

Diamine Aurora Borealis is fun dark teal ink that will likely appeal to anyone who likes teal/turquoise inks. It’s inexpensive and unassuming, and so you can take an interesting ink for a spin without spending Sailor or Iroshizuku money.