Testing: Light VS Dark in Pencils

Occasionally I watch a few videos on the Youtube* and this one guy kept popping up as someone I should watch, RixCanDoIt. His videos are pretty good, and in the pencil videos he makes reference to his “MB grading” system. He’s thoughtfully provided a video on this MB grading System. 20160522_125354
Upon watching I had a few thoughts. First I think it is a great idea to create a personal system to help you compare pencils to a personal standard.( More on this point in a bit.) Secondly, I don’t think that using shading is an accurate way to compare light/darkness while writing, for drawing yes, writing not so much. (more on this point later) Finally, using the lightbox behind the shaded area is not useful because it merely shows you how much graphite is on the page instead of how dark it is.20160522_125425

Creating standard references is a fantastic idea and tool to take the blind subjectivity out of “How light or dark is this pencil?” However, if someone were to come over, sit at my desk and create a sample to reference against my set of standards they would get entirely different results. There are a range of reasons for this. First when creating a sample with shading, this is a skill I’ve practiced, so I’m able to get very light layers of graphite built up, not everyone is able to get that effect with their pencils. So My HB reference sample is going to be lighter than someone else’s and darker than others. So even though I’ve created a standard sample to compare new samples against, it will be different than another person’s. It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that my sample is a perfect sample. That can’t be done.
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My second point is that when you shade you use very light pressure and add as little graphite to the page as possible to build up shades of light and dark. So you are trying for a light even layer. This is not how people write or even sketch (draw yes, but that is another conversation.**) When writing we tend to use a variety of pressures and hold the pencil is a very different way then when drawing and shading. I wanted to create a standard that would mimic these varieties of pressure. As I was thinking about this- could scribbles do it? Yes, but there isn’t an effective way to control scribbles, but one can control cross hatching.20160522_125822

I created two standards of reference- one shaded and one crosshatched using Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencils. Partially because in my mind this is what I compare everything to and also because I had a set on hand. I created the standards on 8×10 HandBook FlexiBook paper. The paper is a dull white, non reflective, toothy and good with pencils. I also hate it so using it for samples suits my purposes. For individual samples I cut 3×3 inch squares of the FlexiBook paper and create a roughly 1 inch square in the middle. I trim this down to a small strip of paper and the graphite runs up to the edges making it easy to compare the sample to the standard.20160522_125410

To visually compare the sample I lay the new sample against the standard. I look at it and if need be squint and let my eyes unfocus. This way I’m not looking at the sample or the standard and I’m better able to see if things are similar.20160522_125656

So my results are mixed. Some of the pencils are the same when shaded or when crosshatched, but I found quite a few that were a grade darker in crosshatched instead of shaded.20160522_142844 20160522_142833

Is this a useful tool? Yes. I’ll be adding it to my testing of new pencils. I’ll probably do both the shading and crosshatching but maybe not all the time. What I found most useful was comparing pencil to pencil. Interestingly my comparison of the Blackwing Volumes 24 to the Palomino HB confirmed my initial idea that they are nearly identical in darkness- both in the shading and crosshatching test. Now these tests tell me nothing about point retention, smoothness, or other somewhat subjective things with the use of a pencil. Now to devise a standardized test for point retention…

Continue reading Testing: Light VS Dark in Pencils

Revisit: TWSBI Eco (nomical) Fountain Pen

Nearly a year after its introduction, the TWSBI Eco is now available in full demonstrator model. I would be a liar if I said I didn’t want the full clear model.* I have been using the original black and clear since purchasing it shortly after release. This is the ONLY fountain pen in my stable that I’ve kept full of ink since purchase. I’ve run several fills of ink through it, until settling on Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo as my go to ink for this pen. Tsuki-yo is a medium teal ink that leans perfectly between blue and green for me. It’s well saturated yet not overly so and lubricated enough to make the EF steel nib on my Eco glide over most paper. This ink and pen combo is great. I am currently testing out the Edelstein Turquoise ink and it is also a great combo with this pen.TWSBI ECO

I have abused this pen. It lives in my Nock Co Fodderstack XL all the time next to one of my MetalShop CT Twist bullet pencils. This is not an easy life for a fountain pen. The Fodderstack lives in the back pocket of my jeans. I sit on it regularly. It bumps up against the Twist. I’ve dropped the Fodderstack and it’s contents, I’ve tossed them across the room and onto the couch. Shockingly, the Eco has survived, certainly with some scratches and wear, but not a crack has appeared. This is precisely WHY I’ve been so abusive to the pen. Why I’ve thrown caution to the wind and risked a teal colored bottom. I wanted to see if the Eco would crack not only under normal circumstances and use, but with abuse.TWSBI ECO

It hasn’t.TWSBI ECO

I also wanted, and needed a pen that could withstand such abuse. My work tends to be on the go. I move around much of my day. I’m standing at a whiteboard, sitting with a group, moving from room to room, little of my day is spent in one place. I needed a pen that could survive my use. The Eco did it, with a gold star.TWSBIECO

While I hesitate to recommend the 500 series to people for this same sort of abuse, TWSBI has done something with the Eco that seems to eliminate the cracking issues. I’m confident that when I purchase the full clear demonstrator model I’ll be happy.
Continue reading Revisit: TWSBI Eco (nomical) Fountain Pen

Lightfast Testing

Every now and again I go through my various art supplies and test them to see if they are lightfast. Here in the US, it is now unusual to find ink or stationery supplies that are highly acidic, but lightfast? Well that is a whole other ballgame. I conduct tests of the majority of my fountain pen inks, colored pencils, watercolors, and other art tools. Why? Just because it’s archival doesn’t mean it’s lightfast. Whaaaat? It’s true archival has nothing to do with lightfastness or lack of it. Archival is a museum term that used to mean that the item in question is reversible to museum archivists and that it does less to no damage to the substrate. Typically, this has nothing to do with the item in question being lightfast. Though, archival is bandied about with marketing as if it means lightfast as well as acid free.lightfast

I’ve ranted and raved about acid free and to a point, archival, now being little more than a ridiculous marketing term, when the more important item to focus on is lightfastness.

What does lightfast mean? That when exposed to sunlight the color and shade of the item in question, be it paper, ink, or other pigmented item, doesn’t shift or change. That is to say, exposure to sunlight, or light, does not change the color of whatever has been used to make the artwork.

Does lightfastness mater? Only if you decide to make art for sale, or for yourself, that you plan to hang on the wall. If you don’t plan on making art for anyone but you and you intend for it to stay within the confines of your art journal, then no, lightfast matters little.

How does one test for lightfast? I have a sketchbook in which I divide a page into 2 columns with a number of rows that span both columns. The number of rows depends on what I’m testing. Generally, I make each row about 1 inch high. I use graphite pencil, as graphite is lightfast.lightfast

I label the top of the page with the date. I then fill in each row, across columns with various scribbles, hatches and line weights of the item I’m testing. With watercolors and markers I use a variety of amounts of pigment in water. After I’ve filled in a page, I cut off the right half of the page and hang it in a south facing window. I’ll notice shifts in color as quickly as in a week. The Kuretake Clean color brush markers? Oh so pretty, colors shifted in a week. Copic sketch markers? Same. Sharpies? Gone in 2, massive alterations in shade in a week.

Basically, I look at the sheet in a week, then again in 2 weeks. Sometimes it will take longer to notice changes if it has been cloudy or raining. Testing can also be done with a bulb that emits a full spectrum of light. Using sunlight is cheaper.

Why do I test? Not all of my art is made for sale, a great deal of what I create will never see the wall or sunlight other than when the pages of my journal are opened. But when I do create art that is for sale, it is important (to me) that if someone has paid me for my art that it is still there for them a year from now. I’ve sold work in the past only to find out that the pen I thought was lightfast, was indeed not.lightfast

Oh before anyone asks, pencils made of graphite or carbon are lightfast. There is rarely any need to test them.

Review: USA Gold Natural HB pencil

USA Gold is an interesting brand. Virtually ubiquitous, you can find these in Target, Walmart, CVS, and even the local Stop ‘n Slop. You can also order them via Amazon and a variety of other online retailers. Comrade Johnny over on Pencil Revolution might put these into the category of semi-cheap, but I’m comfortable going a step further and calling them cheap. They average around $2 for a 12 pack, putting them at 16 cents or so per pencil. Compared to higher end pencils, that’s cheap. Of course, you could compare them to the average Staples brand pencil which are about 2 cents per pencil and they seem expensive. Those 14 cents make a huge difference in performance.USAGOLD

The USA Gold, in any form (natural, yellow, or one of their fancy paint jobs), features a decent HB core. It is smooth and nicely dark for an HB. Of course it doesn’t compare to the previously reviewed MB9000, but that’s comparing apples to oranges. Comparing it to a General’s Cedar Pointe #2/HB is fair game, and in my book the USA Gold comes out on top. The core of the USA Gold is much more consistent. I haven’t had a bit of grit in any of the USA Gold pencils I’ve chewed up. These cheapies perform. Further, the blue foil imprint on the USA Gold is awesome. The blue stripe on the ferrule is awesome too. The only place where they vary is in the thinly applied lacquer. On some of the pencils I’ve purchased, this coating is so thin that the pencil feels raw, on the most recent pack I picked up it’s thicker and more noticeable. I much prefer the thin coat.USAGOLD

For those of us pencil fanatics, who like their stuff local, one of the great things about the USA Gold is that it is still made in America. I tweeted at WriteDudesUSA, a subsect of RoseArts, to find out a little more about the pencils and to confirm that they were made in the US. They are made in Lewisburg, Tennessee* at a facility owned and operated by RoseArts. ‘MuricaUSAGOLD USAGOLD

If you are looking for a fantastic pencil at a fantastic price, you can’t beat a USA Gold- on price or performance.

Continue reading Review: USA Gold Natural HB pencil

Review: Mitsu-Bishi 9000 2B

For my triumphant return to blogging after my thesis induced hiatus, I thought I’d start with a pencil that is equal parts magic and secret pencil processing, and that is the Mitsu-Bishi 9000 2B. It comes with the tagline “Made by Elaborate Process” stamped into its perfect, glossy green lacquer, so you know this is a special pencil. You might think that calling a pencil magic and elaborate in the same sentence is hyperbole, but I dare you to write with one of these pencils and try to tell me it’s not magic.

Let’s start off with how perfect this pencil looks, because the lacquer is thick, evenly applied and super glossy. The imprints are gold foil and also perfect.Near the non-business end there is a stripe of darker green with the grade of the pencil stamped, also in gold foil, also perfect. The grade is bracketed with asterisks. *2B* The bar code is stamped in white, close to the business end, so it is sharpened away more quickly. As all pencil makers should do it. The pencil is end dipped with one of those little plastic caps rather than paint, but this is also well done. Without a doubt this is a good looking pencil.

Gah, look at that green!
Gah, look at that green!

Inside the lacquer is fragrant cedar. Every Time I sharpen this pencil I’m reminded of dew covered forests with unicorns prancing about. Rainbow unicorn farts MUST smell like cedar. I’m telling you magic. That fragrant cedar is wrapped around a 2B core so smooth and dark on the page that writing with it is like writing with a stick of warm butter. It glides across any paper and even the lightest of pressure produces a mark that is deeply dark. Using this pencil on most any type of paper was quite nice. I experimented with Field Notes- Shelterwood’s smooth paper produced nice results as did the standard issue paper in the WBEZ edition. I also checked it out in a Staples composition notebook, and a Bob Slate Mt Tom. The pencil did well on all of the mentioned papers. The comp book seemed to wear it down faster than other papers, but that is to be expected- it’s toothy paper. MB90002B
The one area the MB9000 2B has any issues is with point retention. In the land of 2B pencil, the MB9000 performs admirably, but it does wear down quickly, like most 2B pencils. I found myself touching up after only a page of comp book or after 2 pages in my FN. It’s not horrible, but it’s not great.
MB90002BUsing this pencils was simply nice all around. From its good looks to performance on paper, these are amazingly nice pencils. They are well worth the $1.05 at Jetpens. CWPE only carries the HB, also for $1, but I have it on good authority that the HB performs almost as well but has better point retention.

Finishing Thesis

I’ll be back to regular posting after the middle of April. I’m finishing my thesis and need to fully concentrate on that for the next few weeks. But I’ve got a few interesting tidbits planned for then. More reviews because HOLY COW do I have a backlog of pencils that I’ve got on my desk but also that have met my criteria for review ( I’ve used them for some writing) and are also awesome.

A photo posted by LC Harper (@originallcharper) on


A brief look at the new Blackwing Volumes 24 limited edition pencil.

I’m going to tell you right now that if you like the old Palomino HB in blue or orange, just go ahead and see if you can get a pack of the Volumes 24s. If you don’t want to spend the cash, just buy the Palomino HB. After a few days of using nothing but the two pencils I can tell you the following:

  • You will notice a difference if you are using smooth paper. In that case the PalHB is noticeably soft and smoother. The 24 holds it’s point longer.
  • If like me you use composition books with toothier paper, you may notice a difference, but it may not be by much. In fact, in use on rough copy paper and my comp books I could go either way with the 24s.
  • Blackout finish. My inner angsty 90s teen rejoices, but quietly, because angst.

I’m saying these are super good looking pencils that are great for quick sketches or for long writing sessions. If you want cool kid black pencils, get ’em, if you don’t want to spend the coin, get the old standard PalHB and some bottles of black fingernail polish and paint them up. 🙂

A photo posted by LC Harper (@originallcharper) on

Review: Caran d’Ache Grafwood

I’m going to declare the Grafwood the answer to all the problems people have with the Swisswood, which will be referred to as the Stinkwood.* What is so great about he Grafwood? First it looks great. The lacquer is thick, smooth, and glossy. It’s pearlized and each grade has a corresponding shade, so the HB is a light gray while the 9B is black, with every shade of gray in between. The imprint is silver foil, and it’s perfectly crisp and sharp. It’s not too deep to cause crinkles in the finish. The reverse side is adorned with the now standard bar code, black on the lighter colors and white on the darker.Grafwood

One may be inclined to disparage the bar code as a wart on an otherwise beautiful object, but consider the alternative- the barcode sticker which leaves behind a sticky mess of residue. I’d rather have a barcode that eventually sharpens away than  a sticky mess.

Inside the paint is cedar and a thick lush core. Each of the Grafwood pencils I”ve tried, B, 3B, and 7B have been delightfully smooth. They skate over the page. I find the HB and B to be a touch harder than most brands the 3B is perfectly dark and smooth and right on point for a 3B pencil. The 7B is also dark and smooth and perfect for sketching. The B is perfect for writing and keeping the point pointy for pages.Grafwood

There is a downside. For those of us who are aficionados of the long point our devotion will require something special with these pencils, you see they do not fit into the standard pocket carry sharpeners. Neither the Masterpiece, nor the KUM automatic, or even the KUM stenographer will satisfy the loing point craving No, the only thing that will bring these to a lovely long point while on the go is a knife. Further frustration is that they barely, and i do mean, just barely squeeze their way into the Carl A5. If there is a variation in your Carl A5/Classroom Friendly, well, these beauties won’t be fitting in.Grafwood
Grafwood

Continue reading Review: Caran d’Ache Grafwood

Review: TWSBI Precision 0.7 Mechanical Pencil

I’ve been seeing mentions of the TWSBI Precision for awhile now. When it first was introduced by TWSBI I drooled over it’s full metal body and retractable sleeve, all for $25. $25 is virtually unheard of when it comes to retractable tipped draughting pencils. Usually getting a retractable tipped pencil will cost $40 and up.

Initially, TWSBI was set to offer these in a range of colors, but it seems they are now set with just 2, silver and matte black.  I ordered a black 0.7 with retractable tip*. It is $25 everywhere I’ve looked. I purchased mine from Jetpens. I suggest ordering via a 3rd party vendor for a number of reasons, but the biggest being that I’ve had shipping issues when ordering directly from TWSBI.
TWSBI PRecision
The Precision arrives in a card sleeve over a plastic box, with a foam insert to hold everything in place. Inside the box you have your pencil, 3 spare erasers, and a box of HB leads that are not labeled. The leads feel like classic Pentel Polymer HB leads. They are smooth and appropriately dark, but if you are like me you’ll soon switch over to Uni NanoDia in B or 2B. The erasers are each 2 inches long and a nice firm sticky eraser that really works well. I’m more than pleased with the TWSBI erasers. It’s the first mechanical eraser I’ve used and been pleased with. Not only is the eraser good, it’s of a meaningful length.TWSBI PRecision TWSBI PRecision

The pencil itself sports a knurled grip that is quite unique. Most knurled pieces feature a series of cuts that create a pattern of pyramids. The Precision uses a series of grids to create a series of rounded over rectangles. It’s grippy but doesn’t feel like I’m holding an emory board.** The grip area is a touch narrower than the rest of the hexagonal body. While the pencil is weighty, it’s not overly so. I’ve certainly used heavier fountain pens. But the all brass body on this pencil is reassuring. Because it is heavy I was quite worried that this would be uncomfortable for longer writing sessions. Now that I’ve used it for some time I find that it’s quite comfortable. It’s well balanced so it sits well in my hand and feels good even as I write my session note drafts as well as when I jot down quick ideas.TWSBI PRecision

Because it’s a draughting pencil I had to take it apart and look at it’s guts. These are all metal all the way through. The guts are chromed and feel as sturdy as the body of the pen. I’m not sure what the inner bits are made of, but the body is brass. The tip and body threads are machined so well that I need to use a rubber band to gain enough grip to remove the tip from the body.TWSBI PRecision TWSBI PRecision

The nock mechanism is tight and sounds springy. By this I mean that I can hear the spring moving around as I depress the nock. Which has been described as metallic. It is a sharp noise. The nock itself is instantly engaged as soon as I depress it. This is in opposition to my KuruToga which has a spongy and less responsive nock mechanism. The Precision is louder than my Rotring 600, but not by much. I have to wonder if this is due to the metal body conducting sounds more directly than the plastic material in the Rotring 600.TWSBI PRecision TWSBI PRecision TWSBI PRecision

I keep reaching for this pencil over and over again, over my Rotring 600 which is also new to my stable of mechanical pencils. Because of the retractable tip I’m able to slide this into my NockCo Fodderstack XL and take it with me without fear of damaging the tip or having the needle like tip stab me.TWSBI PRecision

In short, I think if you enjoy mechanical pencils the TWSBI Precision is a must have. It’s really well made, feels great in the hand, and performs wonderfully. Thought TWSBI’s shipping is bunk, their customer service is wonderful. Should you have an issue, TWSBI will stand behind their products.

Continue reading Review: TWSBI Precision 0.7 Mechanical Pencil

Review: Viarco Fine & Candy “Smoke”

The Viarco Fine & Candy “Smoke” pencil was the January Pencil of the Month (PotM) via CW Pencil Enterprise.

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The pencil is made of cedar and sharpens up as most incense cedar pencils do- very well. When sharpened this pencils smells fantastic. When I turn it in the sharpener there is a burst of strong cedar fragrance, it’s great. The core sharpens pretty well too, well sometimes. On many occasions a piece of grit catches on the sharpener’s blade and causes the core to snap off. smoke

Those bits of grit turned an otherwise pretty decent writing experience into annoyance. My pencil was plagued by these bits of grit. Barring the grit the pencil is dark and mostly smooth for what I assume is an HB core. It’s not overly smudgy and it had ok point retention. I tested it out in a couple of Field Notes as well as with taking notes in class and while reading. It did quite well in these tasks. I spent quite a  lot of time with it doing some character driven writing prompts*. It was quite nice for these prompts. I was able to write 2 to 3 pages in my Field Notes before needing to touch up my point.smoke smoke

It must also be noted that this is a very very pretty pencil. The neutral gray is fantastic against the grainy silver end dip. Contrasting the grainy end dip is a smooth foil imprint of the Viarco and Fine & Candy logos. Simply well done. A really great pencil for a gray winter day. I ground this one down to a nubbin and it resides in my pencil nubbin jar.smoke

For me this is one of those one is enough pencils. While I liked it well enough and found it very pretty, I don’t find myself wanting another. The grittiness is enough to keep me from purchasing another. The grit irritated me, and in a $2 pencil shouldn’t be there. Why spend $2 on this pencil when I can pick up an equally pretty Palomino Pearl for less? Or a stunning Nataraj Pop for pennies and have it out perform the Viarco? If you are looking for a stunning pencil to look at, go no further.smoke Continue reading Review: Viarco Fine & Candy “Smoke”

Review: Highlighter Pencil Round Up

Consider this a mass review, or comparison, or whatever. My favorite highlighter will always be an eye droppered Platinum preppy with a 50/50 mix of Noodler’s Electric Eel and Year of the Dragon inks. It’s the best highlighter ever. I had to test out some highlighter pencils, simply to satiate my own curiosity. It also makes sense for when I’m reading books printed on cheap pulpy paper and my Preppy soaks through the cheap paper like it’s TP.pencil highlighters

I looked at 4 factors that make a good highlighter pencil:

  1. Price- These things get used, and used pretty quickly when I’m reading a lot of text for school. Cheaper is better.
  2. Texture- This can get broken into 2 subcategories: smooth and crumble. Smooth refers to how the pencil applies to the page- does it glide or catch? When highlighting I want glide. Crumble has to do with how the pencil responds to pressure and application to the page. Does it crumble and make a mess or is it strong and clean?
  3. Transparency- Can I easily see through the color or do I need to underline with the highlighter? If I can’t see through it then what is the point?
  4. Sharpening- How well, or badly, does the pencil sharpen? Am I wasting a ton of core in each sharpening of the pencil?

Using this criteria I looked at a selection of highlighter pencils and tested them out. The best is listed first and the worst last, however none are truly horrible, just when compared to the others, not as good.

These are listed in the order of best to worst.

Koh-I-Noor Highlighter/ Dry Marker Pencil

These are reliably good highlighters. Transparent and smooth with minimal crumbling. They sharpen well unless they have been abused. They come in a 6-pack and are reasonably priced. My package was roughly $6 at Artist and Craftsman but they are a little more on Amazon.

Kutsuwa Highlighter Pencil

I picked this up at Jetpens for $3, which is it’s only downfall. It would be the best of the best if it weren’t $3 a pencil. It does come packaged with an extender and sharpener in one.These are perfectly smooth and transparently. They sharpen perfectly each and every time. If you don’t use your highlighters often this might be the highlighter pencil for you.

Stubby Pencil Studio, Eco Highlighter

I scored this jumbo pencil in a swap but they are available on Amazon. They are sold in sets of 4 of one color, 12 of one color, or rainbow packages. They average about $4 each. They are the largest of any of the pencils in length, with a thick core that sharpens well. If you like raw wood pencils, these will make you happy. That being said, the core does crumble in use, not as bad as the worst of the lot but enough to make note of the crumble. The core is nicely transparent so there is that. At $4 each, they are a little pricey for me, especially since the core is crumbly.pencil highlighters

Yoobi, Highlighter Pencil Set of 5

Available from Target and Yoobi for $3.49 a set or $11 on Amazon. I’m not sure why Yoobi has decided to price their products so expensive on the ‘zom but they have. Anway way, these are also a jumbo pencil, in lightly finished wood. They look great with a nice black imprint of the yoobi name on one side. There are 4 colors in a pack, with 2 yellow pencils. These sharpen well and are mostly transparent but I think a tad too dark over black text. The core itself crumbles and leaves a mess all over the page. I find myself sharpening the pencil all the time because the tip has crumbled off. If you are looking for a cheap alternative with a good cause, these are it, but they aren’t going to convince anyone to give up a marker style highlighter.

Koh-I-Noor Magic colored pencil  in red, orange, and yellow*

This is a jumbo colored pencil and not really intended as a highlighter but the blend of colors works well for editing and underlining. It is fairly opaque, which is why it does well for editing and underlining. It sharpens well and has a fun marbled paint job. Due to it’s multicolored core it can be a bit crumbly but it does okay. At $1.50 a pencil these aren’t a bad price for editing, but as a highlighter, meh.
Over all, I find myself reaching for the Koh-i noor Dry Marker over and over. They are regular pencil sized and I can get a nice broad tip going, then sharpen up in any sharpener. They work well and are priced right, when they can be found. The Kutsuwa is the better highlighter over all, but just so darn expensive. Also I chewed through one in a week of use. It was a heavy reading week, but still, gone. If you are looking for a highlighter, you’ve got some choices.

 
Continue reading Review: Highlighter Pencil Round Up

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