Category Archives: Review

Urban Sketching Practice: Drawing Vehicles with Vibes Not Realism

I have been doing more en plein air sketching, what seems to be more commonly known now as Urban Sketching, even when it’s not in an urban environment… this irritates me a bit, as the name change is driven by the algorithm not need or actual use. AS I sketched more locations I noticed that my drawings were okay except for an item  ubiquitous in US urban and suburban locations- vehicles; specifically cars, SUVS and trucks.

My cars, SUVS, and trucks sucked. Truly awful little gum drops.

I did my usual thing and decided to dedicate some time to drawing them. Not with accuracy, because no, that’s not going to be my thing. Like my portraits I decided to draw them with vibes and not realism. Thus far I’m feeling pretty happy with how they are coming out.

I’m using a combination of contour line drawing and looking at the tonal values- basically lines and shadows. I’m really digging faux ink wash combined with ink wash. REALLY digging using magenta ink on trucks.

Some Videos of me sketching vehicles:

Budget Watercolor Sets for Art Journaling and Urban Sketching

I have long had a fascination with budget friendly art materials. I have always liked getting the best bang for my buck.

I reviewed the Royal & Langnickel FlipKit. Which I now and forever will call the flippy floppy watercolors. The Flippy Floppy is a set that I continue to reach for despite the fact that I hate the flippiness of it. The flip out pans are annoying and when wet, smear paint on the bottom of the Flippy Floppy set up and then all over my hands. Annoying. Yet the colors are nice- they rewet easily and are vibrant and act as watercolors should.

Now the Flippy Floppy kit is a white labeled set up from a factory in China. And as such if you look for other brands that look like this set, you’ll find a variety of prices and options. Buy the best priced option.

White label factories make an item and rebrand or repackage that item for whoever orders them. An example. The place where I used to work had white label ice cream. Customers used to complain that this company was ripping off Ben & Jerry’s because the flavors were literally the same. What they didn’t know was that B&J made that company’s store brand ice cream. They contracted with B&J to make the ice cream but with few inclusions. So less banana, less chocolate chunks, and even less chocolate covered cherries. You get the picture.

Another reviewer on YouTube called up a bunch of the companies and found that these are all made in the same factory in China. Better brands have more pigment and fewer fillers.

Anyway, you can find the video review of the Flippy Floppy set up here:

I just put up a review of the Mei Liang 48 color watercolor set. Mine was in the purple box and came bundled with a water brush. 12 of the 48 colors are shimmery or metallic. These colors are nice but I will never use them except for art journaling and on occasion. The other 36 colors are standard colors for a set of that size.

I see the usefulness of a large watercolor set as mainly for beginners. Especially those who are interested in en plein air or urban sketching. This lets you test out 36 colors on the go and see which colors are right for you. You can figure out what you can mix wit what colors and which colors you are drawn to.

This is also a great set of colors for art journaling- the colors are vibrant and easy to use, they give you a huge range of colors that let you really decide what colors are going to be perfect in your art journal.

These colors are nice too, vibrant and very little filler. They move as each of the colors should on the page.

The tin is thin and easily dented but sturdy enough to protect the colors.

Anyway, check out my video on them here:

There are some well known brands that likely use the same factories for their watercolors. A way to tell (though not definitively) is to look at the molded plastic pieces and how the paint is presented. A well known art journaler brand has clearly switched to a new factory. the reviews on their new colors are much less favorable than their old version.

Moving into a New Journal

I have a mere 15 pages left to my current Every Thing Every Where Journal. This is crunch time for finalizing the prep for the new journal. Luckily I started the prep when I had 100 pages left. I wrote about that already.

What I want to explore today is the final stages of a ETEW Journal and how I close out this journal and finalize the prep for the new journal. The big things are done- the cover is decorated- snazzy skulls, room made for collage, pocket and elastic added.

Now I look at what I used, what I didn’t use, what did and didn’t work, and what I need to adapt or change for this new journal.​Let’s look at what did work first.

In my previous journal I made art on the right side of the book and wrote on the wrinkly left side where there was less support for the paper. I switched to prepping the left side of the spreads and writing on the right side of the spread. his worked better. Even if the paper was wrinkled, having the support of the rest of the paper and the cover flat on the work surface made a big difference in clear writing. I will continue to do this in the next ETEW Journal, I may also play around with prepared spreads as well.

Using a cheap 5Below journal has it’s limitations, light washes worked okay. It handled fountain pen ink but the paper was really too rough for my extra fine and fine nibs, and really had a rough time with the dip pen nibs. It’s great with crayons, colored pencils and other dry media. My wet washes required that I iron my pages, and that is not a step I want to do all that often. The thinness of the paper meant that occasionally ink and other wetter media would soak through. I have 2 more of theses sketchbooks to use as journals, I plan to use the next one up but I’m going to look for another brand of inexpensive journal (something on a budget) that can handle a bit more of what I do.

What did I use? I used 3 months of the planner section, plenty of EF and F nibs- I’m in love with spidery thin lines combined with fat wide lines making the images pop with contrast.

In the new journal I’ll set up the 6 months again, because it’s important to have 6 months viewable at a time. I rarely used it but I did reference it for things like- days when work would run late and my medical appointments or days I’d need to request off of work. I used these pages to remember to request time off.

At this point I’ll transfer over the next 3 months into my planner section, I’ll make pages for post and video ideas, as well as a few pages for ideas for Less is More Healthy.  I will also start my materials testing in the new journal. When I hit 5 pages left I’ll start using the new journal on the go and the old journal will stay at home on my desk, at this point it is almost too precious to leave the house, but I remind myself that it is a tool, a precious tool, but a well used tool, that only gets better and more precious with use. So I’ll force myself to wait until there are a mere 5 pages remaining.

Ink Wash

I don’t know where I first learned of making ink wash images. High school probably. We did a lot of work with pen and ink, it seems directly up Ms. F’s alley to use an inexpensive and yet extremely satisfying method to teach us about shadows.

It lends itself to portrait, landscapes and urban sketching. It’s a great method for fast loose images but also more detailed realism as well.

The look of ink wash is easy to spot, it looks a lot like watercolors but in black and white. The warmth of the ink flows through the image and on the right paper has a touch of granulation, depending on the quality of your India Ink.

It has a look to it that I love and have loved for years.

It’s easy to do- put water into bottles (I did 40 ml in a 60ml squeeze bottle from Dollar Tree) add in drops of India ink to the level of darkness you desire. I did 40drops in the 1 bottle my light wash. Then 70 drops in the 2 bottle my darker wash. Generally speaking, you double the amount of ink ink in each subsequent bottle of water. You can range this out to have greater gradation, but at a certain point the gray wash looks black.

I do 2 level of darkness because I can layer my washes to get more range of dark but I can never get the lights back. When I first learned about ink wash we did 3 levels of wash. I’ve seen people do 5.

Two is enough for me.

At this point you have a large amount of wash mixed up. You can decant it into smaller containers, dollar tree makes small glass jars that I use for dipping pens and small brushes into, they hold about 10ml of liquid. These are great for carrying around small amounts of wash.

Or you can pick up a cheap set of water brushes- I’m using Making Memories brand from Michaels, which are the single worst water brush I’ve ever used- they suck color and water up inside the brush and mold!* Gross. BUT for filling with color? That is where they excel. Because we don’t care if they suck some of the ink wash back up into the handle, these are perfect for ruining with ink wash.

And yes, putting ink wash into a good water brush WILL likely ruin it. It can also stain brushes.

The good about ink wash- the shade of gray stays put, once it is dry it does not move. It is permanent. It does NOT lift or move. You can layer watercolors over it. Once dry you can draw on top of it.

Making art with this works in two ways for me- in the more traditional manner, I sketch with a pen first then I go back in and use the brush and ink wash to layer in shade. I use my lightest wash first then add in the darker wash. I can layer my lighter wash over itself to create more gradation. I can deepen the shadows through layering my darker wash.

Once each layer of wash is dry it’s set in place.

I also use it on top of my random watercolor backgrounds.

Ink wash is a great tool to have in any art journaling tool kit.

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Review: Ackerman Piston Filling Fountain Pen with a Zebra Comic G Nib

A note on this video review: I purchased this pen with my own money,  Ackerman didn’t sponsor this video, and I doubt they would like this video.

This pen is not for someone who does not like to tinker with their pen. In order to reset the pen you must take it apart and use a bamboo skewer to push the feed out the front of the pen. Then you must push the nib and feed into the pen at the right spot so the nib will seat itself into the pen properly and so the nib and fee will be aligned.

Mine was not set properly and the nib and feed were out of alignment with the original location of the nib, this caused the nib to be too far out and to not sit properly on the feed. Annoying. I had loads of railroading and blobs. Awful.

Once the pen was set up properly it works really well. I ordered a few new feeds to adapt a few of my other pens to this.

Anyway, my video does not show this set up process, but is me talking out the above and testing the pen before and after resetting the nib and feed.

Cyber Monday Deals on Thermal Instant Printing Cameras

I decided to talk a look at the ‘zon to see if any of the brands of thermal instant print cameras had any cyber Monday deals. A few did. Some of these are about $10 off. Others have a 20% off coupon. I’ve said it in my videos and I’ll write here again, when looking for these little cams, looks for sales and deals.

These are all cams I like and use.

Links are affiliate links to the ‘Zon. Bezos and his crew toss me a few coins out of the sale price if you purchase through the links. The price won’t be higher for you. I just get a few cents. (quite literally in most cases.)

These deals are listed for Cyber Monday 2023. Prices are current as of this posting.

This is a solid cam style- it’s modeled on an Instax but does the kid cam thermal instant print. Mine does a good thermal image and takes pretty clear shots that can be loaded to my computer.

At $32 it’s about 20% off the usual price. 

This is the only instax style with a silicone sleeve that I’ve found that is not pink or blue- but green. I have one of these in pink and another in blue. These are sturdy little cams and I let the kids at work use them. Hundreds of photos later and they still print clean and clear.

The green one is $32.

This particular camera only prints in the dot style and not a grayscale, it also prints more slowly than some of my other cameras. It is available in black, which is nice especially when I’m shooting in public. It doesn’t draw stares or double takes. It’s roughly $41 right now.

This cam takes nice shots that can be loaded to the computer and prints really well. Its got a cute jellyfish on it too. The 20% off coupon brings it to roughly $37.

The purple and yellow version of this cam is on a cyber monday sale of $32. The rest of the colors have a 20% off coupon. This cam is one of my favorites. It’s a very simple machine and takes decent pics and prints them reasonably well.

Review: 2023 Unison Composition Notebook- Target

The Unison composition notebook has been a steady companion over the years. It featured excellent smooth paper that responded well to fountain pens of all sorts and had enough tooth for pencils. It almost always won out the composition book roundups as the go to budget choice.

Sadly, those days are over.

Most of the features are the same as they have been- decently sturdy card cover, well taped spine, strong stitching, and 80 pages of college ruled paper.

The paper this year is different. It’s softer feeling, a bit toothier, and not as smooth. It’s also pretty absorbent.

I used this notebook for notes at a 2-day training. I took notes with two different gel pens- a Sharpie S Pen with a medium point as well as a PaperMate InkJoy gel click with a medium point. Both in black ink. I have previous written about how the InkJoy writes like a firehose spewing ink onto the page. The S Pen is also a wet writing gel pen. This is why I like them- their wet delivery makes them smooth on every paper. It wasn’t until I pulled out both a medium and a micro Uni Ball Signo 207 that I realized that the paper had more tooth and wasn’t as smooth, my fat wet nibs had hidden the roughness of the paper.

I was surprised when I turned the page and saw copious amounts of soak and show through.

The venerable Unison for fountain pen is no more. If it can’t handle these two wet gel inks, how can it handle fountain pen. I didn’t even bother with testing.

Though I jest, there were reports when I did my last composition book round up that many stores had Unison books that did not line up with my stellar reviews. Sadly I think we can erect the tombstone. 2023 is the year our venerable Unison stopped being awesome.

Review: Up+ Up Journal Target Back To School Sale

Back in early August I headed to Target, not for Back to School Supplies and Sales, but for their Market Pantry Dark Chocolate Almond Butter*. I found myself wandering the store, you know as you do. I finally found myself in the back to school section. I had no intent of purchasing anything, because I’m SABLE on all my supplies.

Nostalgia took over and I looked at the comp books, because just one can’t hurt, right?

Of course I picked up the venerable composition book champ- Unison. But alone in a bin below some colorful gel pens I saw this beautiful purple hardcover journal, it gave budget Moleskine vibes. I picked it up and fell in love with it’s subtly textured very hard cover and the bright pop of color from the elastic and ribbon page marker.

I held it and wandered a bit until I found it’s friends- a selection of other warmly colored 5x9ish journals in a bin labeled $5. At $5 this journal was and is a bargain. You see it’s paper and cover paper is made from sugarcane fiber, a paper that typically is thin and strong for it’s weight and absolutely lovely with fountain pens.

This journal has traveled with me everywhere. I toss in in my pannier when I go for bike rides, I scribbled ideas into it when I sat in the woods or on the beach. When I went to Maine to visit fam, this journal went with me. The cover has only gotten better over time. The subtle dents and dings it’s achieved only serve to make the cover look better. Some of the paper cover’s texture has burnished to a delicate shine. The cover has achieved wabi sabi excellence.

Inside the end sheets are bright and happy. I love their patterns and colors. The page marker is heat sealed and also a coordinating color. Oh there’s a pocket I use for stashing receipts and stickers.

How is the paper for writing? Excellent, smooth with a bit of tooth. It handles the gel pens I’ve been using with ease and the few fountain pens I’ve been using well too. Pencils feel great. Overall I really like this little journal and despite the fact that I’m SABLE on all my journaling and art supplies, well, I’m tempted to buy a bunch of these since they are on clearance for a whopping $4.24 each. Link to target’s website, no affiliate links.

As a side note, I think my expectations around a notebook/journal have evolved over time. Currently, I like a notebook/journal that is inexpensive but performs with reasonable excellence. I do not expect perfection. If the price is right ($5) then I can deal with some show through on the verso of the page. I no longer see it as a deal breaker. I still cannot tolerate feathering and bleeding. Lately I’ve used mainly gel ink pens! Fountain pens are a bit of a rarity. Further I’ve started to delve into thick juicy wet writing BOLD gel inks. This fits my current scale of work- my current work sketchbook/journal/planner is 8×10 inches and fat. I’ll document it in another post. But My way of thinking is that these fat bold gel inks mimic a fountain pens inky intensity when it comes to bleed and soak through. I really do need to ink up a few fountain pens.

Anyway, this fits my criteria of affordability and decent performing paper. It also helps that it can survive my panniers on my bike through my summer commute via rail trails as well as my backpack on day hikes.

*With significantly fewer carbs and more protein than Nutella this hits my sweet tooth with just the right amount of sweetness that I occasionally crave, especially after a long bike ride.

Another Month Goes By

It seems I update this here blog once a month or so. I used to be so good at updating all my social media and cross promotion, now I get a video uploaded and I forget to announce it anywhere and everywhere. Go figure.

I have been uploading nearly Daily Vlogs to my new Channel Less IS More Healthy, which I started to document my journey into becoming more healthy. It’s not lecture-y or preachy, just me documenting my walks with weirdo little videos and playing around with video making techniques and talking about the efforts I’m making to change my health. It’s super important to me and keeps me accountable about my efforts. If you are interested head over and have a watch, maybe like and subscribe. The most recent video is here:

Getting Healthy on A TIGHT Budget

I’ve also cut back on the number of art videos I’m uploading. The amount I was loading per week/month wasn’t sustainable. Also I’m now in SHOW SEASON at work, which means a lot more work coming up! Here are the art based videos for this month:

Etching Glass

Foam Texture Plates on the gel plate

Making Foam Texture Plates

And a Art Vlog

My Pocket Notebook Habit

A Month of Videos

I have loaded up a bunch of new videos this past month. It’s wild to think that it’s already February. I hope y’all are staying warm out there!!!

In a bit of news, I have moved my health and wellness content over to it’s own channel. I found that anytime I mentioned my health on Comfortable Shoes Studio YT people left, in droves. So, the new channel is Less is MOre Healthy and I’m doing accountability vlogs and documenting my walks with my weird little videos. I’m still doing vlogs on the Comfortable Shoes channel but they will be specific to art and creativity.


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