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Open Letter to the AJ Ning Community

Hi Everyone,

Change is inevitable but we are a fortunate group. Ning, the company we use to host Art Journaling has raised it’s prices but we are paid for the next year so we are good on Ning until June 2017.  another group I am a member of cannot afford the price hike and is shuttering at the end of October.

This is the second major price hike, where the group went from free to a reasonable price, to expensive (and why we run a yearly fundraiser) to now absolutely outrageous. The price went from $239/year to $588/year, more than doubling for next year. My frustration with this price hike has much to do with the fact that Ning has made little to no improvements in the years since the last price hike, so we are getting double the cost with zero improvements. Ning made plenty of promises after the last price hike, and lost many groups, particularly those like AJ Ning, but we persevered.
While we have a year to decide the fate of Art Journaling, right now I feel that the best choice is to move the site to a new host and using a new software. I’m leaning toward WordPress social media site but I’m open to other ideas, so long as it is less expensive than $588/year. I do not want to make a HUGE change like this without your input, as always because this is a community site, movement matters little if it is not done without YOUR thoughts, ideas, and feelings taken into account.

Please head to the site and join the group “Movement and Change” to discuss the option and feelings around this potential change.  http://artjournaling.ning.com/group/movement-and-change

I have a  little heart ache over the idea of moving from Ning, but I also feel like together we can make AJ Ning continue to be amazing and a resource for all the new and old art journalers alike. Again, even if you decide not to head over to AJ Ning (I really hope you do) I appreciate all the input, ideas, and art we’ve shared over the years. Please join in on the discussion and share your thoughts.

MUCH LOVE,

Leslie aka ComfortableShoes

SSS: Privilege, Power, and Difference

Last week we saw the brouhaha over the University of Chicago’s anti-trigger warning letter, the Tattooed Professor’s response, and generally a great deal of posting that miss the point about trigger warnings.

The big problem that I had with UC’s letter was that it was based on a fallacious understanding of what trigger warnings are, and follows that bad understanding to a rather silly conclusion that amounts to the dean stomping his big toddler foot and shouting, “We don’t support trigger warnings, you big babies!’

The Tattooed Professor explains what trigger warnings are in perhaps the most understandable analogy possible- they are the academic version of movie ratings. To which no one seems to argue anymore, though I must admit that I remember a time when ratings were argued against.

Here’s the thing, what is so wrong or even bad about putting content information into a syllabus? The professors should know the content of the readings (and other materials) they are assigning students to read, so adding a blurb at the start of the assignment for the day that states, “This reading contains the following: graphic descriptions of domestic violence/suicide/homicide/rape/assault/etc. PLease see the professor, privately, if this is a problem.” Or some such explanation. In some cases simply having the warning is enough for someone to prepare themselves to be reading about their particular trauma and be able to complete the assignment.

This links really well into the SSS reading I chose last week. Johnson writes specifically about dominant groups (in this case professors) being able to dictate what is considered normal in their sphere of influence and power (Ivory Tower BS/College Campus) and that when this power dynamic is shaken, the dominating group will fight back (UC Dean). Watching this play out on facebook has been interesting. I have friends who are professors and friends who could care less about college, and some of both groups have been calling the recent groups of college students “cry babies” and “wimps” due to the desire for trigger warnings and safe places.  Interestingly, most of those who respond in such a way seem to think that the desire for trigger warnings is a way for students to get out of work, but in the cases where I’ve seen trigger warnings offered there was always an alternative text or option for reading. Kids aren’t getting out of work by requesting trigger warnings, in some cases they are making more work for themselves. All that is beside the point. The point is that trigger warnings are a cultural shake up in an area that has seen a lot of destabilization in recent years (adjunct unionization, fewer faculty positions, and lower pay all around weeee) so those who are in power want to keep their precious power.

I see this as a good thing for students and universities. Anyone else miss the 90s, when politically correctness meant being kind to your fellow humans, and not the BS that has been assigned to it today?

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…

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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: 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.

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Six Pencils for September

There are a lot of challenges on the internet- use this material, use that material, use only so many pens, etc… None of them really interested me. I dislike rules that aren’t my own… The first challenge that I’ve see that I really feel like I can do it the “6 Pencils for a Month” challenge that I first saw on the Erasable Facebook group.

Last month I struggled with which pencils to chose? I already had a pencil case full of 9 pencils. I chose not to take part in the challenge.

This month I decided to go with the following, with a few caveats, which I’ll detail later

  1. Musgrave TS 100– a solid pencil for note taking and sketching.
  2. Mitsubishi 4563 2B– Soft dark, but yet doesn’t wear down like crazy. Awesome for notes and sketching.
  3. Tombow 8900 B– A great pencil for notes and sketching. Dark but with decent point retention.
  4.  Staedtler Tradition B– I’m less familiar with this one, it’s dark and soft, we’ll see how it contends with the rest for notes.
  5. Palomino Blue HB end dipped– One of my last pencils of this fine iteration of the Palomino HB. I was sad to learn that these are no longer produced.
  6. Caran d’Ache SwissWood Dark HB– the only true HB of the lot, but a very nice HB. Smooth. It smells like a campfire. I wish this pencil came in a 2B. I say 2B and not B because I find Cd’A’s graphite to run substantially harder than more other brands. I am doing this for Toffer. He can consider my using a hard pencil like this his wedding gift.

My 6 for September.

A photo posted by Less Herger (@lessherger) on


My caveats, because I cannot follow someone else’s rules without also imposing my own to flaunt them, are as follow:

  1. If I use a pencil down to a nubbin, I can replace it with one just like it.
  2. Or not if I don’t like it very much, or it proves to be a pain in my ass.
  3.  I can also chose to replace it with something else from the pencil cup.
  4. I’m free to use whatever I’ve put into my bullet pencil.
  5. Art pencils and pencils used for art don’t count.
  6. Pencils may not be replaced until worn down to a nub.

Another issue that I will be running into is that all summer I’ve knife sharpened all of my pencils into delicate hummingbird points. I’ve found that I can write for 4 or more pages with a pencil sharpened as such, and have grown quite fond of these points. The issue that I’m going to run into is that if I don’t point up my pencils before heading into school, I’m kinda screwed. I feel like I have to decide to either remember to sharpen the pencils the night before or sharpen them with the “long” point sharpener. *grumble* Knife sharpening in a outside of the art rooms is not looked upon kindly.
So that is my personal challenge, with caveats.

Highly Visual Calendar

Because I am a visual person, I’ve always used some manner of large wall mounted calendar to keep track of the things I need to do. When I had a nifty office for my job, I had it mounted right next to my monitor and wrote in stuff as far in advance as I knew it was going to happen. I’d also add in a variety of things that were reoccurring. I attempted at one point to use a fancy Palm Pilot but it didn’t get my visual nature as well as a simple calendar.

Then I left my job and I used pocket planners alone, but I found that stuff would slip my mind. Last fall I started out with a simple piece of cardstock in a Trapper Keeper folder with a clear pocket on the front. Each class was assigned a color and I’d write out each assignment and the due date onto a Post-it  of that color. I used the small 2×2 cube Post-its.

Not only was this visual, but when each task was accomplished I was able to rip the Post-it off, crumple it, then toss it into the trash. I’m telling you the feeling of tossing the Post-it was better than a gold star.

Enter this fall and a slightly fuller class load than the previous semesters, plus the looming possibility of having to write a thesis, and my  simple piece of cardstock isn’t BIG enough. Yup, I’ve only got 2 of my 4 syllabi and the single sheet is full. Some of the notes are redundant- Blackboard responses to readings, ongoing art responses, etc… But for the most part, if I subtracted those, I’d still have a metric ton of Post-its. Plus, 2 more classes need to be added.

To accommodate the additional course load I decided to make a 5×4 landscape table in publisher, with a super thick grid. (PDF here.) Notice that there are no labels. I just write above the grid M-F. I omitted Saturday and Sunday because the grid was too small with them, and those days will simply be days for reading and writing, with the exception of weekends where I have class. I’ll have special Post-its for those weekends… Probably.Visual Calendar

What this gives me is a flexible and HIGHLY visual calendar. I can see at a glance that the week of October 12-16th is going to be busy while the week of September 14th through 18th is going to be pretty quiet.Visual Calendar Visual Calendar

You can buy this already printed and with all 7 days from Post-it themselves. Or make one that works with whatever sticky notes you happen to have on hand. The grid was easy to set up in Publisher, but would also be just as easy to do in any word processing program like google docs.*

I also use Google Calendar to remind myself of reoccurring items like my Blackboard assignments. I tend to forget about things like that. though the due date is the day of the class, I tend to not have time on the day of the class and self impose that those assignments are finished in advance of the actual due date.

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Portrait Process

I thought I’d show you some of the process of creating the images of the presidential wannabes.

I start by looking through google and assessing the kinds of pictures they have available. I don’t use just one as a reference, sometimes an image will wash out the nose, or the lips. Quite often all of the images made the candidate look pink, really really pink. Occasionally they’d be orange or gold. I think it depends on the photographer, but man, many of them should get their blood pressure checked, because their faces are RED.  After I find 3 or 4 images to reference, I start with a sketch, it’s basic. I was using a “iron blue” (AKA payne’s gray) Derwent Inktense. However, my local stores only carry Inktense in tins, and I have no interest in having a tin of them. I like them for under drawings for watercolors because after I add water and they dry, they stay put. However, they aren’t light-fast, or all the colors aren’t. So I don’t want to rely on them because I don’t want to use them in anything but my journal. I have moved to other brands of watercolor pencils and I’m debating which I like best.processprocessAfter the under drawing us finished, I hit it with water, blending the color out and into the proper tone.process processAfter this I start to layer on the actual colors. I and working with a bright and dark palette of not true to life shades. I start with pale pinks and yellows, brushing these on in broad strokes. I’m using a #10 synthetic brush. I then layer on medium shades, and finally the fully saturated dark colors. I’m a huge fan of mineral violet and indigo. Such amazing colors. process

Attention! Kickstarter Cerat Pencils Not a New Product

A few days ago I found this Kickstarter for Cerat pencils of Britain. I’ve seen the gem or jewel topped pencils around for ages, usually being sold on cheap import shops. So to see them on Kickstarter being sold as something new and of quality, well, I found that kind of funny.

Anyway, I’m not sure if the pencils are really a quality item or not, but that they are being hawked on Kickstarter as a new item is untrue.

Anyway, this is one of those Kickstarter beware campaigns. Oh you can find the same pencils on ebay and amazon for about the same cost. If you are going to buy them get them from Amazon or the ‘bay instead. Don’t encourage Kickstarter fakers.

From Cerat’s own kickstarter page it states:

Here are the approximate breakdowns:

– Around 10% will be taken as fees by Kickstarter and transaction fees.
– Production takes 45% due to the labor involved as these pencils are partially hand made.
– 15% will be reserved for materials cost including acrylic blocks for the crystals on each pencil.
– A maximum of around 25% will be going into Postage and Packaging of the pencils.
– Any remaining funds after the rewards have been completed and backers are satisfied will be invested into & by Cerat Creations for new projects in the future.

Let’s break this down: The fees are about right. The production costs may be correct. The crystals made of acrylic look to be molded on every other iteration of the pencil. Earlier in the Kickstarter they mention these being “carved” from acrylic blocks, I highly doubt that. Postage may be correct. However, the cost to back this project is about what these cost on eBay or Amazon.

Also a quote from their page:

The pencils are all in stock, we have plenty thanks to a batch production we undertook, there really are no risks present and we’re prepared to ship immediately. Of course all costs have been considered and reward prices set accordingly.

The only risk that we may encounter is the over-funding of this project, which isn’t a bad thing at all! In this case, we’ll send out as many as we can fulfill the rewards by December where our production will have begun by.

The pencils are in stock. I’m not sure what you’d be backing here? Shipping? Them opening up the packages and repacking them by color? Again, not sure.

Be sure to read some of the Amazon reviews of a VERy similar product that basically state that these are cheap. The rhinestones fall off before they even arrive.

Opinion: Adult Coloring Books and Art Therapy

By now I suppose everyone has read about the “adult coloring revolution!!!”, from one of those click-bait shares on the book of face. Some of these articles suggest that the use of these coloring books is as effective as art therapy or IS art therapy. To make either of these two suggestions is incorrect and innocently ignorant of what art therapy is and isn’t.

I will start this out by stating that coloring is an effective tool in reducing agitation, easing anxiety, and helping someone to contain their emotions in the short term. It is often a tool used in hospitals and by art therapists to assist clients in the short term. It is not a long term solution and can be something someone uses to simply shut off their feelings, which as I previous wrote, can be useful when containing emotions. But art therapy (and regular old talk therapy)  teaches us how to understand our emotions and how to cope with them. Rather than just shut off the emotions, we use skills and tools to understand. That’s therapy- the teaching of skills, tools, and understanding. While coloring is but one tool to assist in containing emotions.

I have personally witnessed  and worked with a client who used coloring to contain agitation and anxiety. The client had early stage dementia and would often be confused as to time(as in what year/date/month) in the morning. This would cause a great deal of anxiety and the client be quite agitated and angry. Using crayons and a selection of coloring sheets gave a moment to calmly color. It decreased anxiety, focused attention, distracted from confusion, and in a short period of time the client was calmer, and in a significantly better mood. The coloring allowed the client to focus attention away from anxiety of being aware of disorientation. This didn’t help to orientate to time or place but allowed the client to be calmly distracted and contain emotions. The elevation in mood didn’t last either. The client would be calmer for about an hour. The coloring was a tool to assist in the moment of agitation.

The main difference in the coloring and art therapy was that the coloring allowed the client to become calmed while art therapy allowed for exploring anxiety, understanding it, and normalizing emotions. Through coloring she became comfortable with color, making color choices, and knowing that art felt better.

In my mind coloring books are a tool to helping people to explore art as therapy, but art therapy is a powerful tool for healing. There is potential for coloring books to be a gateway for art therapy. Perhaps if someone begins to color as a way to relax, they will look up a registered art therapist in their area. I certainly won’t slam coloring books as ineffective, but instead look at them as a tool that has been a staple in the art therapist’s toolbox for ages. Instead of hissing and booing at the new boom in popularity, art therapists should capitalize on this popularity, and attempt to garner more positive attention on ourselves. I encourage people to look up some of these adult coloring books but to also understand that they are a tool, but to further understand themselves they should seek out an art therapist. If one is not near them, seek out a therapist who is open to you using art in your sessions.

So go ahead, color away, but be aware that there are art therapists out there who can help. (Links go to amazon affiliate links of coloring books I think look interesting.) Continue reading