Saturday, August 29, 2015

Nitram Fine Art Charcoal Review- Soft Bâtons Moyens 8 mm

Affiliate Disclaimer: For full transparency, you should know that many of my links in my posts are affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when readers purchase items using my affiliate links. This helps me fund the blog domain costs, and you will not be charged extra if you buy anything using my links. 

I have been salivating over this brand of charcoal for a while now, thanks to the stylish Youtube videos uploaded by Nitram. You get see several artists creating flawless charcoal drawings of plaster busts using the Nitram products, and the setting is a beautifully outfitted atelier studio. Everyone has an easel and a leaning stick or "bridge", and there are plenty of the white plaster sculptures around to class up the scenery. Well, I cannot afford all of the trappings of a fine atelier, but at least I could buy one box of Nitram charcoal to see if it is better than other brands.

pack of 5  Nitram Baton Moyens
sorry for the blur!
I decided on the box of medium round sticks, or "bâtons moyens", which come in boxes of five. Nitram labels all of the batons as "extra soft", which is accurate as far as the texture. They are 8 mm thick (.32") and 152 mm (6 inches) long, and they are a soft type of charcoal more akin to vine or willow than compressed sticks, but they do not fit neatly in any of these categories.

Neither the package nor the Nitram website states whether the batons are vine, willow, natural, compressed, or whatever. When you look at the baton's cross-section, you do not see the hard little core that is in most of the willow sticks from other manufacturers, and there are seam lines on the sides that indicate a mold is used. I would never call this a compressed charcoal, however, as the texture is too porous. So Nitram's proprietary formula/process must be different from that of other brands.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Creativity on a Budget: Doable Tips for Raggedy and Starving Artists

image of colored pencils in a row
photo by Daniel Gilbey from
Artist supplies can be pretty expensive, especially when you consider that most of the supplies are consumable items. I know you drool over the shiny new paint sets and those beautiful wooden boxes filled with rows of pastels and colored pencils. Well, I drool over them. My little magpie eyes love an array, whether it is the bold spectrum of color in a watercolor pan or the elegant gradient of grays in a set of graphite pencils. I'll buy sets when they are cost-effective, but sometimes I cannot justify the cost. Luckily, most of my favorite mediums are available in open stock or very basic "starter" sets.

Maturity has dampened my "oooooh shiny" reaction enough to help keep me in check, but being broke probably has more influence on that part of my personality. In today's post, I will share some tips that I have learned through the years, sometimes the hard way. Maybe it will help you stay under budget next time you browse in your local arts and crafts supplier or, better yet, preclude your need for the trip altogether.

You Cannot Buy Talent or Creativity

Is the previous line a category or a real tip? Nope, but I decided it deserved more than just bold font because it is 100% true.

Some artists can create masterpieces using leftover tea on scrap cardboard. Likewise, you could buy every single color of the finest paint, but it would not make your paintings any better. Most artists will tell you that cheap, low quality supplies hinder an artist's expression and create frustration. I agree with this to a point, but I don't believe in sketching on Arches 300 lb paper or using a $40 watercolor brush to paint color wheels and swatches. People buy "starter homes" for crying out loud, so why lecture and shame the newbs for using student grade supplies? Sometimes you don't need "the best", and most of the time you don't need the whole set of "the best". And then, there are times when the problem isn't really the quality of one's medium so much as his or her inexperience using it. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Graphite Reviews Part II PLUS Unexpected Artsy Goodness: Water Soluble Graphite

"What is this 'unexpected artsy goodness'?", you ask. Well, if you have read yesterday's post, my graphite reviews Part I, you may have noted that I mentioned some of my water soluble (WS) graphite brands, but I could not review their watery performance as I had not used them with water yet. So I decided that it was stupid not to experiment with them since I have a nice variety of WS graphite pencils from different brands. Until yesterday, I had no interest in WS graphite; I did not see the point in it, honestly because graphite is extremely versatile without adding water. Nonetheless, some of the more notable companies like Prismacolor, General's, Derwent, Cretacolor, and Koh-I-Noor have seen fit to give this medium water soluble properties. After playing around with my own pencils for a while, I no longer consider WS graphite a gimmick.

Affiliate Disclaimer: For full transparency, you should know that many of my links in my posts are affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when readers purchase items using my affiliate links. This helps me fund the blog domain costs, and you will not be charged extra if you buy anything using my links. 

Quick Notes on Water Soluble Graphite:

  • Once the painting is dry, you can only erase a little bit to lighten areas- no major erasing
  • Water soluble graphite will not smudge or come off on your finger after it is dry
  • Layerable just like watercolor and WS colored pencils 
  • Best if allowed to dry between layers
  • You can achieve subtle gradations and watercolor effects with WS graphite that you would never be able to get with regular dry graphite pencils

image of panting made with water soluble graphite

My reference pic is a Pinterest image of a Buddhist
Jizu statue under a tree somewhere- really cute Pin!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Part I: Best Graphite Pencils, Sticks, and Leads. And You thought They Were All the Same...

pencils in pile
My stash
During a recent shopping trip, I spent at least fifteen minutes in the pencil section of my local office supply store, evaluating each package with an intensity that drew the attention of a store associate. When I politely declined his offer of assistance with the usual "no thanks I'm just browsing", he paused, glanced at the wall of pencils, and then covered his confounded expression with a customer service smile before going about his duties. Then it struck me that maybe most people don't browse idly for pencils the way they would peruse a shoe store or book shop. I think it's safe to assume that my helpful sales assistant wasn't an artist. Fellow doodlers, sketchers, and graphite enthusiasts would understand that pencils are not created equally. Even my dear sister, who does not draw, has expressed how she loves the way a good pencil glides across a fresh new notebook. It is one of those underrated joys in life.

There are brands of luxury wood pencils sold in boxes of 12 for around twenty to thirty dollars, and those are the lower end of the luxury spectrum. Just look up Blackwing, Hi Uni, and Mitsubishi pencils some time, and you will see what I mean. They are not even marketed towards artists, which I would expect for that kind of dough. I have not tried these brands, but it's pretty tempting considering how much I love graphite. For now, I will just have to review the brands I have on hand: Staedtler, Prismacolor, Koh-I-Noor, Royal & Langnickel, Daler Rowney, Dixon Ticonderoga, Art Alternatives, and Portfolio Series by Crayola.

Today's post is covering Staedtler, Prismacolor, and Koh-I-Noor. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Stuff That Lasts: The Ultimate Money Savers

I was trying to reorganize my little "studio" (really just a corner of my bedroom) yesterday, and I came across some items from a drafting kit that my mom bought for my high school drafting class more than 20 years ago. I use them all of the time, but I will lose and rediscover them periodically, mostly when I need to clean. I have lugged them all over the world in my tackle box or shipped household goods. They really get knocked around, yet somehow the items are still in great shape. Shockingly, the T-square is still square! I rarely think about how old these items are or how long I have had them, but today I want to recognize some artist tools and brands near and dear to my heart. Not all of them are in the "cheap" category, but I think they are worth checking out for their durability and reliability.

Affiliate Disclaimer: For full transparency, you should know that many of my links in my posts are affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when readers purchase items using my affiliate links. This helps me fund the blog domain costs, and you will not be charged extra if you buy anything using my links. 

pic from Amazon of Alvin drafting set in nice case
This set from Amazon is like mine, but still has the nice case

The drafting tools that I have mentioned are all from Staedtler, some under the Mars and Alvin labels that cater to students and professionals alike. These are German engineered engineering tools. I don't know for sure if the German engineers use them, but I bet they do. My current Alvin 2 mm lead holder is not the all-metal model I had used in class, but it is still very sturdy and has lasted for several years. The eraser shield, French curves, triangles, bow compass set, and T-square are all original, over 20 years old, and they look almost new despite my rough handling. I do not have the nice velour-lined case for my compasses anymore, alas, but that just proves their sturdiness.

I never made any drafting designs after that one class, but there are plenty of uses for the tools in fine art. You can get the same items in your local office and art supply stores today for reasonable prices. They still look the same (why change a classic?) and have the same quality. I use a lot of Staedtler products including consumables like Mars erasers, Lumograph pencils, which are not the cheapest but a delight to use, and Carbothello pastel pencils, which are very affordable compared to other artist grade brands.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Blog update: New Direction, Same Great Content

Tighter Focus on the "Artsy Goodness"

Today I want to pause and take a few minutes to let readers know where this blog is headed. In recent weeks, I have been adding posts new every few days and revamping the layout and old content. If anyone has even noticed, I have had this blog since 2011. My original intent for it is unclear because I was experimenting with blogging at the time. It was a perfect place for my word-of-mouth marketing reviews (Bzz Agent- get free stuff for honest reviews and promotion, great program, BTW). It made for a very random blog, to say the least, but I have had a lot of fun with it.

The thing is, I work hard creating content for this blog, so I definitely want more readers, and I want to give my readers information that is truly useful. The best way to do this is to focus on a specific audience. I have discovered that, as far as reviews go, my passion seems to be quality, budget-friendly art supplies, so I have decided to aim this blog at artists, students, and hobbyists with tight budgets. Anyone looking for good cheap art supplies would be a perfect target reader.

Serious artists ( and I am one) go by the mantra,"buy the best materials  you can afford". I agree with that wholeheartedly, but I think that some of us make the mistake of shelling out hard-earned money on "designer" brands that may not be any better than the inexpensive items in the local convenience store. Is it cheap because it sucks? Not always! I like to give the "underdogs" a chance by creating informative reviews that tell you exactly why I think an item rocks or why I believe it sucks. I also try to post my own work and owner pics to show that I do use these products.

Ads, Really?

Yeah, I have an Adsense account, so you will see some ads on my sidebar and between posts. I get a commission if you click them, but I do not choose the ads. They are usually related to my content, but that does not mean I have any experience with the products or services.

I am also an Amazon affiliate. It was only natural because I am always reviewing items I buy from Amazon, many of which I review here as well. I have built some links to the products in my reviews, and I have an ad banner here and there.  I only get paid a commission if you buy something via one of my links. No pressure- I am just letting you know.

 I may never make a cent on any of my ads, but I figured it was worth a try, and they do not take away from the quality of my content. Hate ads? Just don't click them, and they will not hurt you.

In conclusion:

I would love to gain subscribers, but subscribers may be my grandma or third grade teacher who wants to show support but has no interest in my topics. I want readers who find the information they need and comment posters who can let me know what else I should include in my reviews. I take requests! Let me know if there is a product you want reviewed, preferably art related and not insanely expensive. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Drawing Charcoal Comparisons: General's, Royal & Langnickel, Daler Rowney, Koh-I-Noor

one of my charcoal sketches
Sketch using various charcoals
on Strathmore pastel paper
Just as I had promised in my "Messin' Around with Charcoal" post, today I will actually review a few brands of drawing charcoal in various forms including pencils, vine/willow, and compressed sticks. The brands I have on hand are General's, Royal & Langnickel, Daler Rowney, and Koh-I-Noor, but I plan to buy more brands in the future because I am really enjoying the effects I can get with charcoal. I made some sketches and swatches in my sketchbook to demonstrate the qualities of these brands and to give you "real world" examples. Images in the product listings are usually pretty limited, often showing only a package of charcoal- not very informative, in my view. While pictures are no substitute for hands-on experimentation, I do hope that my reviews and doodle pics will be a bit more helpful to you next time you shop for charcoal.

Affiliate Disclaimer: For full transparency, you should know that many of my links in my posts are affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when readers purchase items using my affiliate links. This helps me fund the blog domain costs, and you will not be charged extra if you buy anything using my links. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Return to my All-Time Favorite Medium- Colored Pencil! Let's Discuss Faber-Castell, Derwent, Koh-I-Noor, and, of course, Prismacolor

colored pencil on paper, Pumibel 2013
I did not forget that I have promised some charcoal reviews, but I figured I would take a little detour to discuss colored pencils again. I have a much older post where I reviewed the Prismacolor Scholar line, and many readers have found that post very helpful, especially Amazon shoppers. That is not the only brand I use in my art, however, and it would be unfair to go another day without reviewing the other brands I use. After all, colored pencil is my main medium in a large percentage of my artwork. One look at my blog's gallery page or my DeviantArt gallery will prove this. I have been using them in my fine art for more than twenty years, not counting the stuff I did with Crayolas as a kid. I didn't even like colored pencil in those days, but that was because I had not yet discovered the artist grade varieties or the myriad of techniques possible with this medium.

Affiliate Disclaimer: For full transparency, you should know that many of my links in my posts are affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when readers purchase items using my affiliate links. This helps me fund the blog domain costs, and you will not be charged extra if you buy anything using my links. 

Today I will discuss Faber-Castell Polychromos,  Prismacolor Premier and Verithin,  Derwent Studio and Artist lines, and Koh-I-Noor Progresso woodless colored pencils. I own and use all of these brands, and I have extensive experience with them. So grab your coffee, tea, wine, or whatever now, and make yourself comfortable because this is going to be a long one (but extremely informative I promise!).

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Messin' Around with Charcoal

One of my charcoal sketches to
liven up the beginning of this post
This post will be a little different from my usual blog entries as I have decided to make it more informative than a straight review. I have had a slight obsession with charcoal over the past two months, which has led me to try a few new products related to this enjoyably messy medium and reacquaint myself with some old favorites. I have enjoyed this journey so much that I want to share what I have learned, and I hope it is helpful to less experienced artists.

I should clarify that charcoal is nothing new to me. I had used it extensively in my freshman drawing classes back in the day when I thought I was going to complete my BFA and work as an artist for the rest of my life (I may expand upon that in another post).  I have dabbled with charcoal occasionally over the last 20+ years, but I had never appreciated its versatility and its power as a fine art medium. In fact, I had always dismissed charcoal as a messy and awkward sketch tool, and now I suspect that a touch of intimidation factored into my avoidance as well. Sounds dramatic, but I think other artists will understand this point.

Using a chunk of soft charcoal is nothing like sketching with a finely sharpened pencil, and anyone accustomed to working with highly controlled mediums like graphite and colored pencil is guaranteed some awkward moments when switching from one to the other. As a young timid artist, I would abandon any medium that took me outside of my comfort zone; however, as a matured (in some ways) artist with more patience, I understand that it takes a while to get comfortable with something new. In many cases, I have to do a little research, watch some YouTube videos, and check out blogs and art forums for guidance. I didn't have these resources when I was fresh out of high school. Furthermore, I had started my university fine arts program with very limited studio art experience compared to my fellow classmates. Maybe I can save a few "noobs" some of the frustration that I have felt by sharing the following information.

Affiliate Disclaimer: For full transparency, you should know that many of my links in my posts are affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when readers purchase items using my affiliate links. This helps me fund the blog domain costs, and you will not be charged extra if you buy anything using my links. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Gouache- A fascinating and underappreciated medium

pic of a portrait in gouche
An older gouache painting using mostly
 Daler Rowney Simply brand with some
help from L&B black and white
 Daler Rowney Simply Gouache
I love gouache! If you have never heard of it, gouache is a water media paint made from pigment and a binder like gum arabic or honey. Many people call it opaque watercolor or tempera, but let's not confuse gouache with the poster paints we used as kids. Well, the good gouache is not like that, anyway. Bad gouache is a real bummer, and it can make an artist hate the medium after a few brushstrokes. While some brands are pricey, the good news is that you can make do with just the primary colors and white (lots of white). I did not include black because most painters avoid straight black paint. You just mix your three primaries and you have a rich, adjustable dark shade that will not look flat like regular black.

As with transparent watercolors, gouache is packaged in tubes and pans, but some brands also offer larger jars of the medium. You can buy colors in sets or open-stock at art shops, and popular web stores like Dick Blick and Jerry's Artarama offer numerous brands. So far, I have only tried Lefranc & Bourgeois (Linel), Daler Rowney and Lukas brands, which I will review below.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Quality, affordable supports for charcoal and pastel art

As a dabbler and doodler in many artistic mediums, I try to keep a stash of various types of papers on hand, from basic, flimsy newsprint to heavy watercolor and acrylic papers. They all have their place in my arsenal. I do have a pitifully small budget, however, so I am always looking for good quality, affordable supports that will showcase my skills best. Bad paper can ruin a good drawing, but the best papers are extremely expensive. I try to shoot for products that lie somewhere in between those two categories. In my experience, Strathmore and Canson brands are the best fit. Both companies offer broad ranges of paper textures, sizes and weights to suit any medium, but I am going to focus on a couple of Strathmore priducts suited to charcoal and pastel work.

Earthy, Subtle, Creamy: Derwent Drawing Colored Pencils pic of Derwent Coloured Drawing pencils
pic from listing
I bought the 12 pencil set to replenish my dwindling supply of Derwent Drawing pencils, so this was Koh-I-Noor makes a good one for this). Yeah it's a chore, but it's worth the time and effort because out here in the "stix" I have to order all of my higher quality supplies online.
not my first experience with the product. I have used them for several years- since Derwent first released them. I love them so much that I use them down to the tiniest nubs! Sometimes I even take the core out of the wood case and use it in a lead holder.

The earthy browns (chocolate, sanguine, sepia red, ruby earth) are quite rich, while the black and white are the most opaque of all of the colored pencils I have ever used. This was the first time I have tried the blues and greens in this line. The Derwent 12- piece set has the following colors:

Monday, August 3, 2015

Warning: Extremely Cute Content NSFW (Unless Squeeing is Okay where you work)

I finally got a smartphone a few months ago- yeah I didn't have one. In fact, I had let my old cell phone plan expire a year ago because the service had sucked so badly. I love technology; I have a few computers, a tablet (albeit a very crappy one), e-readers, and all of the gadgetry that I can afford on my meager budget. However, I seem to have a psychological block when it comes to the cell phone. I know it is a necessity these days, but I still resist, possibly because I abhor talking on the phone or because I hate the idea that people who don't need to know my business can still keep tabs on me- creepy! I digress...

I got the Nokia Lumia 635 with Windows 8.1 and the no-contract thing where I give AT&T $30 each month for unlimited text and talk. That is perfect for me for so many reasons, which will bore you so I won't list them. So far, I love this little gem. It is even faster than my tablet, which is now collecting dust in my drawer. The battery lasts forever, and it is easy to find accessories for it, just not at Walmart where I bought it, unfortunately. Amazon to the rescue!  ( As of today, I am an Amazon Associate, so no more free advertising from me!)

I didn't write this post to review the phone itself because I figure I am so late to this game that anything I have to add is just rehash. Nope, this is all about the cute and nifty accouterments that may or may not be necessary to reap the full advantages of the device.
pic of all four Cheese Tabby Cat dust plugs
(pic from Amazon) Warning: the "related items" spawned
 by this item may suck you in like Pinterest!

Kitteh Dust Plugs! Cheese Tabby Cat Four Piece Set 

If you like the dangle doodad phone charms, but do not have a little hole for the lanyard attachment (you know, to loop it through) these tiny tabbies will pop into the headphone jack on your device. Not only do they add personality to your phone, but they also keep dust out of the jack! After I put a case on my Nokia, I had trouble telling which end was "up" because the buttons are no longer obvious, but the charm has eliminated that confusion.