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.

pic of a Rotring Art pen from Amazon.com
While this photo comes from Amazon.co, my twenty year-old Artpen  still looks exactly the same

I bought a Rotring ArtPen back in 1995, and it still looks and works like it did when it was new. Mine is the fine tip sketch pen, labelled "F", and it takes a basic ink cartridge size. You can buy Rotring cartridges made for this pen, but I have been using cartridges made by Staedtler for their calligraphy pen sets. You can find the Staedtler cartridges in convenience stores like Walmart or office supply stores. Rotring is another fine company out of Germany, and while many of their products are premium priced, the ArtPen Sketch model is about $20 at Amazon. That is what I paid for mine in an art shop twenty years ago! The pen comes in different sizes, and you can also get a converter to allow you to use ink from a bottle. If you want more than one size nib, you can also get the Rotring 3 Artpen Calligraphy Set , which costs a lot less than buying multiple whole Artpens. This set has one pen body and interchangeable nib tops. Now I wish I had this set (adds item to "artsy Pam" Amazon wishlist). 

pic of my 20 year old Rotring Artpen
See! I really does look like new, except I somehow
turned the label so it is on the underside of the pen


Speedball is an American company that began under the name of C. Howard Hunt Pen Company. Its current name honors one of the company's most popular legacy products- the Speedball dip pen. Before anyone wrote or drew with fountain or ball-point pens, they used fine crow-quill nib pens, which one must dip into an ink well periodically while writing. Yes, that is rather archaic by today's standards, but we all know that the old dip pens are still popular among artists and calligraphers. I love working in pen and ink, and while I own several fine liners and a few fountain pens (like the Artpen), I still keep a bunch of Speedball steel nibs and plastic pen holders on hand. There is no substitute for the dip pen since the flexible points on the metal nibs allow for more line variations than any other type of pen.

pic from Amazon of Speedball sketching set
This Amazon product pic looks
exactly like the set I bought 30 years ago
I got my first Speedball set, like my first General's drawing set, from a Ben Franklin five and dime decades ago. These are classic writing and drawing instruments. They still look the same, and the nibs are still stamped with "Hunt". Most of the product line is marketed towards calligraphers, but they still sell the crow quill, "school pen" and bowl tip nibs for artists.

I think the growing interest in Manga drawing has improved the availability for dip pens. You can find them in art and craft supply shops and through online retailers. Some of mine are older, but I bought a "deluxe" pen and ink art set a few years ago to replenish some of my rusted nibs and bottled ink. I was a little sad that most of the nibs were more for calligraphy, but it is a nice set. You can try out the Speedball Sketching Set  for just under $7 to get a feel for drawing with a dip pen.

The nibs will not last forever, especially if you use them a lot. At some point, the little tines at the end will splay apart or bend, or you may get rust or ink buildup. Speedball pen nibs will last a reasonable time if you take care of them by cleaning them after each use and by keeping them in a closed container. Just don't leave them in a bowl of water to soak like I did.

These are only a few examples of inexpensive but durable artist supplies from my own studio. I will probably find a bunch more later, and regret that I did not add them. Another post, right? I think my next entry will be about graphite- along the same vein as my charcoal posts. I did not realize how many different types of pencils and leads I owned until I straightened up my place. I think I may be a very specific type of hoarder, or perhaps that is how most artsy and craftsy people roll. 

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