Monday, November 30, 2015

November Miscellany: Notebooks, Fountain Pens, Journals

Once again it is the end of the month, and that means it's time for my monthly miscellany:
Finally, if you've been wondering how my NaBloPoMo challenge went, it did fall apart at the end of the month, but I'm happy that I'm writing blog posts again so it does not feel like I failed.  I also now know that writing a blog post everyday is not my style, and I have more respect for any bloggers who do manage to post daily.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Recent Acquisitions: Nibs, Nibs, Nibs

A while back I hinted that I was going to share with you "more nibs than I thought I would ever own in my life."  Well, wait no longer, because that time has now arrived!

To start with, there are these nibs:

A full set of Speedball nibs, on their original card.  If you can't read the card, they include six nibs with square tips ("for Square Gothic and Block Letters"), six with round tips ("for Round Gothics or Uniform Lines"), six with oblong tips ("for Roman, Text and Shaded Italics"), and six with oval tips ("for Bold Roman, Texts, Italics, etc.").  I can't imagine actually using all of these nibs for their intended purposes, but it is clear that a previous owner did just that, as most of the nibs (and the card) are stained with ink.

Then, there are these nibs:

These are for a "mapping quill pen", something I had never heard of before.  They are made in England, and the nibs themselves are marked "crow quill".  Unlike the previous set, these do not appear to have been used much, as the card and the nibs are quite clean.

Finally, if all of those nibs weren't enough (and of course they weren't, were they?), there are all of these:

Most of these nibs are Speedballs; there were also a few marked "Sprotts No. 2" and one marked "Macleans Best-ever."  All of these nibs were loose in a glass jar (helpfully labelled "NIBS" on the lid), and all of the nibs and pens in this post came in a box along with an assorted collection of rulers, drafting supplies, pencils, charcoal pencils, stencils, ink bottles, erasers, sealing wax, and bookplates.  (If you're wondering how I ended up with all of this, it was donated to a local thrift store where my mother volunteers.  I sometimes help by putting together bundles of stationery, repairing jewellery, etc.  Most of the contents of the box has since been sorted out and gone back to the thrift store, hopefully to find new homes.)

I think it is unlikely that I will keep all of these nibs.  Most of them need cleaning and probably some adjustment before they can be used, which is not a task I feel like taking on.  There are a few too many here to keep simply for my collection, especially since they are not as easy to display as my vintage ink bottles.  I am not sure yet what I will do with them, but I do hope that one day they can belong to someone who will appreciate them and maybe even use them.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review: Staedtler Pencil Sharpener

With my interest in wooden pencils growing, I decided that I needed a new pencil sharpener.  My old sharpener (see photo below) is very basic, and while it is actually a decent sharpener, it quickly becomes very uncomfortable and hard on my hands to use, and it does not include a receptacle to contain the shavings.  My new pencil sharpener is Staedtler's tub sharpener.  It's still a fairly basic sharpener, but with a few features that I like.

My Staedtler pencil sharpener has a single 8.2 mm hole, which will accommodate all standard-sized pencils.  Staedtler also makes a double-hole version of this sharpener, with 8.2 mm and 10.2 mm holes.  For now, I'm happy with the single hole as nearly all of my pencils are the standard size.  One thing I like about this sharpener is the lid that covers the sharpener hole when you're not using it.  This means that pencil shavings will not be able to spill out (good if you're carrying this sharpener in your bag).  And when you want to use the sharpener, the lid neatly folds back and snaps into place in a groove on the side of the tub, where it won't be in your way.  The other feature I like is the button that you have to press to open the sharpener.  This reduces the chance of the sharpener accidentally opening and spilling shavings everywhere.  The tub itself seems to be a good size.  I think you could do a lot of sharpening before you needed to empty it.

I tested my Staedtler pencil sharpener with several pencils - a Staedtler Norica, Tombow MONO drawing pencil, Dixon Ticonderoga, Rhodia pencil, and Earthzone Recycled Pencil, all in HB.  When I sharpen a pencil I like a point that is sharp, with a moderate sharpening angle; i.e., I don't want the point to be too long (which makes me nervous that I'll either break the lead or stab myself with it) or too short (which I think looks stubby and unattractive).  This pencil sharpener has (according to the Staedtler website) a sharpening angle of 23°, and it sharpened the first four pencils exactly the way I like them.  The fifth pencil, however, proved a bit more problematic.  The Earthzone Recycled Pencil is made of recycled newspaper, not wood (which was why I chose to include it in this test), and the sharpener simply would not sharpen this pencil to as sharp a point as it did the others.

Overall, I'm happy with my Staedtler tub pencil sharpener.  I do want to try more pencil sharpeners, but I think this one was a good choice to start with.  This sharpener may not be the most versatile sharpener for pencils made of non-traditional materials, but it will suit my needs for now.  It's comfortable to use, doesn't leave a mess of shavings on my desk, and will hopefully be only the beginning of my pencil sharpener explorations.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Tips & Ideas for Drawing Mandalas

As I wrote at the beginning of the year, one of my goals for 2015 was to draw a mandala for every week of the year.  And while 2015 has not been the best year for me, I have been successful with drawing mandalas.  This has been the second year I've done a challenge like this (2014's challenge was collages), and I think it's a good way for me to get better at something and to develop my unique style.

Using some of the mandalas I've drawn this year, I've decided to compile this post of my tips and ideas for drawing mandalas.  Maybe I'll even help to inspire you to give it a try yourself.

Getting Started

All you need to draw a mandala is a piece of paper and something that can make a mark on that paper.  It can be a ballpoint pen, gel or felt-tip pen, pencil, marker, crayon, paintbrush, or anything else you can think of, as long as you feel comfortable using it.  If you like, you can add pens, pencils, or markers in different colours, but this is not essential.  As for the paper, you can again use anything that you feel comfortable with and that will work with the mark-making tool you've chosen.  (I've used index cards for my yearly challenge.)

To start drawing the mandala, I've found that it's easiest to start in the centre of the page and work outwards.  I usually start by drawing a small circle, star, triangle, or square in the centre and then creating a design that radiates outward from that central point.  But if you can think of a different way to start your mandalas, feel free to do that instead!

Ideas for Drawing Mandalas

Mandalas with four (top) and five (bottom) lines of symmetry.

Build a collection of shapes and symbols that you can use again and again.  If you look closely at the mandalas in this post, you will likely notice that I used the same few shapes in most of them.  These shapes include circles, semi-circles, dots, triangles, and petals.  This makes drawing mandalas easier because I can break every one down into the same few shapes that I'm already very comfortable with drawing.

Play with symmetries.  Most of my early mandalas had four or eight lines of symmetry.  I've found that these mandalas can look rather square and boring, and that mandalas with three or five lines of symmetry often look more interesting and dynamic (see examples above).  If you tend to always use the same symmetries, try drawing mandalas with different symmetries and see how they're different.  (Though keep in mind that since I draw freehand, none of my mandalas are going to be perfectly symmetrical.)

A large (and nearly monochromatic) mandala that spills off the page (top) compared with a small, compact mandala.  Both of these mandalas have smooth edges compared with the two spikier mandalas above.

Play with the overall shape of your mandala.  While most mandalas are round, they can be large and sprawling so that they fill the page or they can be small and compact.  They can have smooth edges, or they can be spiky with bits that radiate off to the edges of the page.  Try them all.

Try different mediums.  Try different pens - fine-tipped pens, broad-tipped pens, gel pens, metallic pens, felt-tip pens, brush pens.  Or try pencils, paints, pastels, or crayons.  I draw most of my mandalas with a variety of pens (including Staedtler Triplus Fineliners, Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pens, ultra-fine point Sharpie Markers, and Sakura Gelly Rolls), but sometimes I like to try something different.  (For example, here is a mandala that I created partly with watercolour pencils.)

A colourful rainbow mandala (top) and a black-and-white mandala with a bit yellow (bottom).

Play with colour.  My early mandalas usually did not contain much colour, but now they tend to be very colourful!  Try mandalas with a few colours, no colours, or a whole rainbow of colours.  Also, I usually draw my mandalas with a black pen and then add colour, but it can be interesting to start by drawing the mandalas with a coloured pen - it can give them a very different look.

Embrace imperfection.  If you make a mistake while drawing your mandala (such as by drawing a line where you did not intend it to be, or colouring in a part that you wanted to leave plain), simply repeat the mistake throughout the design.  The mistake then becomes a part of your mandala and no one will ever know the difference.  Also, don't worry about using compasses or straight-edges to create your mandalas.  You can use them if you want to, but I think the imperfection of mandalas drawn freehand is more interesting.  If your circles and lines are wobbly at the beginning, just persist, and over time, with practice, you will get better.

Most importantly, have fun!  I used the word play a lot in this post, and that was intentional.  Drawing mandalas should be fun, not stressful.  There are no rules, and your mandalas don't have to look like anyone else's mandalas.  Just relax, and have fun with them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Pencil Review: Faber-Castell Castell 9000 2B + 2B Pencil Comparison

I've already reviewed the 4H version of the Faber-Castell Castell 9000 pencil, and in that review I mentioned that I wanted to try it in a softer grade.  Well, that time has come, and I now have a 2B version of this pencil (2B is one of my favourite pencil grades) to review.  But because I have already reviewed another version of the Castell 9000, in this review I'm going to focus on comparing it with some other 2B pencils that I own.  (If you want to read a more general review of the Castell 9000, please see my original post.)

Faber-Castell Castell 9000 in 2B and 4H.

Like the 4H, the 2B Castell 9000 is a dark green hexagonal pencil with gold lettering.  If you're a pencil novice and have ever wondered about what difference the grade of a pencil makes, check out the photo above.  There actually is a writing sample from both pencils there, but the 4H (directly below the 2B writing sample) is so faint as to be scarcely noticeable in the photo.  It's a bit darker in real life, but not by much.  That's what makes the medium-soft grades (HB, B, 2B) much more versatile for writing and sketching.

I compared the Faber-Castell Castell 9000 with three other 2B pencils: the Staedtler Mars Lumograph, Tombow MONO Drawing pencil, and Prismacolor Scholar.  Of these, the Tombow MONO was the darkest, smoothest, and softest.  The Prismacolor felt the scratchiest.  The Castell 9000 may have been ever-so-slightly the hardest.  When I compared how well the pencils smudged and blended, the Castell 9000 was the best, the Mars Lumograph and the Tombow MONO were similar, and the Prismacolor was the worst.  All the pencils erased well, though the Tombow MONO left the most shadow behind, probably because it was the darkest pencil.

I have to admit that, before I began this post, I expected that the Tombow MONO was going to be my favourite of these pencils, because I thought I liked darker pencils better.  But after sketching with all four pencils, I actually think I preferred both the Staedtler Mars Lumograph and the Faber-Castell Castell 9000, and - because it smudged the best - the Castell 9000 may even have been my favourite of all them.  My least favourite was undoubtedly the Prismacolor Scholar; I did not like its scratchier feeling on the page, and it hardly smudged or blended at all.  This pencil is apparently marketed to beginners, but I think that if I had started sketching with this pencil, I would have been very disappointed.

My camera apparently hated these sketches and refused to photograph them without either turning them blue or making them look washed out (as above).  I actually think they're not that bad.  Even that tricky-to-draw stapler turned out okay.

Overall, I am happy with the Faber-Castell Castell 9000 in 2B.  I like it much more than the 4H version, and I think it may even become my new favourite pencil.  The Tombow MONO Drawing pencil and the Staedtler Mars Lumograph are also excellent pencils, and I enjoyed sketching with all of three of those pencils.  If you like a darker pencil, then the Tombow MONO is the one for you.  And any of those three pencils would be a better choice for beginners than the Prismacolor Scholar.

Related reviews: Alan Li Drawings, Pens! Paper! Pencils!.
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