Category Archives: Review

Composition Book Round Up Back to School Sale 2022 Walmart

Walmart was a sea of poly covers. Again I had to pass over all the Mead comps, not a single on with a card cover. Boo. But the majority of the Pen + Gear and other brands had poly covers. I did manage to find three card covered comp books, a Pen +Gear, Mintgreen, and ClassACT.

I’m going to start with the worst on ALL fronts- the ClassAct. The cover is thin and floppy, even folded over on itself, it remains floppy. Writing out of hand is off the table. (HA! PUNNY!) Even the sheet of stickers inside can’t save this book from its cover disaster. At $2.24 it is way overpriced.

Inside the paper is smooth but absorbent. It works well with ballpoint, thin (0.5) gel pens, and pencils. Fountain pens bleed through and spread out. There were even areas where the ink had strike through to the page behind.

The ClassAct is cute, but we all know it takes more than a cute package to win the Composition Book Round Ups!

Next up is MintGreen. This is a fashion covered composition notebook. There were several options, I went with the watercolor blob cover. The spine tape is a bit thin but it is acceptable. Inside there are 80 sheets of 60% recycled paper. Once I saw recycled on the back cover I did not have high hopes. The cover is stiff but not super stiff, you can write out of your hand but it does bend quite a lot.

MintGreen lives to surprise. This paper handled everything I threw at it- from gel pens to fountain pens! The paper is smooth with skinny purple ruling and I like it, though it is a bit on the dark side for my usual tastes. Gel pen was flawless on this paper. Ballpoint too. Pencil was okay, there is tooth but not a ton, so the pencil is a bit faded out, but still plenty dark. Fountain pens did wonderfully here. Not a single feather but a bit of bleed through here and there. It wasn’t deal breaking but your wet nibs will make a mess.

The downside? There are only 80 pages and it costs $2.24

The clear winner from Walmart this year, and the notebook to stock up on is the Pen + Gear standard composition notebook. It has 100 pages of bright white paper and a decently stiff marbled cover. The stiffness is enough that you can fold the book over and write out of hand but it will bend.  The spine tape is narrow but of an acceptable width. The stitching is great. The marbling is good too, there is a nice balance of black and white. These are available in a variety of colors.

The paper inside sports a standard blue ruling which is wider than usual; but not off putting. The paper handles everything well- gel ink, ballpoint, pencils and yes, even, fountain pen. I did not see evidence of bleeding, spread, or strike through.

Honestly this is the winner of the round up so far. At 50 cents and with 100 pages, this is the best deal so far. It’s got that classic comp vibe too.

It is worth noting that I had to skip over a lot of the books at all of the locations. Manufacturers seem to think people want poly covered composition notebooks, while many of the teens and kids I work with are pretty worried about plastics and microplastics. There is no need to cover these notebooks in poly plastics; the card covers last. 

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Composition Book Round Up Back to School Sale 2022 Target

Target had many of the usual offerings, Unison, Yoobi, and Up&Up; plus more poly covered Meads than you could ever want. This is the first year I’ve skipped Yoobi comps- the covers were thinner and all Marvel focused, and while my hand lingered over a Wonder Woman comp I passed on them. The price also went up- to $3. While a 50 cent increase isn’t much, it’s just enough combined with thinner covers that I chose to pass.

I ended up skipping over Mead as well. I could not find a single Mead comp bound with card, everything was poly bound. YUCK. 

I ended up with 2 comps and a sketchbook. I’ll bump the sketchbook out into its own review, because it’s worth it’s own in depth review.

Let’s start with the classic winner here, Unison. I’ve had some reports that the latest iteration are not good. We’ll see. The books I picked up were marked 2020 and were made in Vietnam. I did dig through to see if I could find something from 2021 or ever 2022, and nothing. The store I visited had only Unison from 2020. 

Everything about the newest book feels like the Unison of old, the covers feel the same and the paper at first touch feels the same. Gel pens feel good on them as does a Pilot Acroball. Pencil is nice and dark and smooth, though my preferred soft dark pencils do smudge a bit.

I tested a bunch of fountain pens out with a variety of different inks. As in years past the in k behaved well on the page. Though I believe I see a bit more show through than I have in years past. Though no bleed or soak through.

I am comfortable in saying that the 2020 Unison comp book is a good choice. I will check the other Target that is near me to see if I can find a newer book. They are 55 cents.

The usual loser in all of the Comp book round ups is the Up&Up, this year I was able to find a card covered version. It even had a fun hexagonal pattern.

It started off strong with gel pens. Previous iterations bleed like crazy even with gel ink, this one did not, in fact gel ink looked as good as ballpoint! WOW! Pencil looks fantastic and feels good- it’s smooth but with enough tooth that it’s dark enough to read, also less smudging.

So now the bad, fountain pens spread, feather and bleed. BUT not nearly as bad as they did in the past. Honestly if Up&Up continues this good, maybe in 2025 I can recommend them for use. As is, if you have a kid who is only going to use pencil, ball point, and gel inks these are a good choice and a good buy. This book was $1.50, which is not a good deal. But the plain cover and not fashion covers might be worth a chance.

The sketchbook I picked up was the Mondo Llama 9×12 inch sketchbook. At $6 it is a good deal. The paper is decent, the covers are hard and brightly covered. It seems well bound, and has a ribbon place marker. I did a pretty extensive test of the paper with standard sketching tools and it stood up well. The pages are bright white and micro perfed. I will do a full review soon! Continue reading

Inspirational Videos

Every now and then I make a deep dive into youtube’s art instructional videos. Why? I find some inspiration and often some new techniques in them. I was going to embed a bunch of videos but apparently Youtube makes that harder than they used to. *GRUMBLES*

I’m going to start with the lovely Yeates Makes. His videos vibe with my DIY philosophy but also my grungy aesthetic. Really awesome stuff. He is just starting out (within the last 2 years) with his videos to Youtube but wow are they great.

FroyleArt is a woman out of New Zealand who has a fun positive vibe that I dig. She’s funny (occasionally in an adult way) and extremely positive. Her philosophy is that art making is about process, experimentation, fun, and no mistakes. Her videos are full of her laughing and having fun. She uses a good mix of commercial supplies and DIY supplies. She’s got great examples of working in related colors in a printing and collage session to create nice compositions.

Next up is Elizabeth St. Hilaire. Her videos span the gamut from sketching with watercolor and pen to gel plate to DIY to vlogs about being an artist. It’s good stuff all around. I really like her combination of commercial and diy supplies.

Robyn McClendon is another youtuber who does some great instructional content with a positive focus.  Her videos have a fantastic DIY style that I really like.

Noit Art is another that I pop on for background noise as I work on my gel printing. She uses a lot of found papers and does a lot of collage. Her focus (at least on the videos I’ve watched) is art journaling.

There’s enough inspirational content for you to learn and play in the background for days in the above links!


Making Images with Tracing

One of my favorite ways of making self portraits is with tracing. I use self portraits in my art journals as a manner of self reflection but also as a way to work on my portraiture skills. Though I doubt anyone would want me to explore them as thoroughly as I explore my own self in these images.

I started with a series of selfies. I’m not very good at them and always feel a bit goofy taking a selfie. Since our bathroom has good light I used that. Sadly I think my phone has a portrait filter that softens the image. I was looking for harsh lines and a great deal of contrast. I had to edit the image into black and white and then bring up the contrast and sharpen it a bit. I then printed a half dozen copies of it. Despite my printer’s toner being less than ideal for resisting, it does resist a bit, which leads to a very dirty resist process with oil pastels.

The next steps was to go over the dark areas and lines of the images with oil pastel and china marker. These resist picking up paint from the gel plate really well. The result is a rough uneven texture that looks fantastic. It’s gritty and feels like a bad photocopy. Each resist sheet can be used 2 maybe 3 times. After that the oil pastel gets clogged up and no longer resists. Save the sheet though, the paint over the oil pastel can be scraped away and makes a great collage sheet.

I didn’t include images of all of the resist sheets because I’d already used a few in images.

The resulting images vary from good to barely perceptible depending on the paint I used to pull the image. Some were really great and were used almost immediately. Apologies for not photographing them before processing them into images.

The barely perceptible.

Obviously tracing over images can be a very useful tool, especially when pared with a gel plate. The resulting images from both the resist sheets as well as the plate are great.

collaged self portrait using gel plate prints made using resist sheets.

collaged self portrait using gel plate prints made using resist sheets.

self portrait made with a resist sheet and collage

self portrait made with a resist sheet and collage. Resist sheet was allowed to dry and then dried acrylic paint was scraped away. additional pieces collaged over the image were used.

I’ll be offering some mixed media pieces for sale on my Ko-fi page. I’m also offering a few prints for sale there as well. Expect an update in the next week.

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State of the Art: Blog Readers

I miss Google Reader- the OG epitome of blog readers. I used to start my day with a cup of coffee and Google Reader. It let me catch up on my news and all the blogs I used to read quickly and without following all sorts of links and bookmarks. IT was easy. Sadly Google killed it, largely because it’s hard to put advertisements onto a reader and on blogs.

I love blogs, not only because I’m a blogger myself. Blogs are a truly democratic method of communication- all you need is a free account and an easy to set up website. It really couldn’t be easier. If you want even easier, there are still many free blog platforms out there.

This post isn’t about blogging platforms, it’s about readers. Readers let you bring all your varied interests together into one spot and you can read it whenever you want. Reader allowed you to bring in as many blogs as you wanted- hundreds. The main issue I had when I migrated was that most of the reader replacements only allowed 100 feeds on a free account. At the closure I think I had close to 500 blogs on my account.

Anyway, now I use a couple of services- Feedly and The Old Reader to manage around 200 blogs. Feedly houses most of my coffee and maker interests; while The Old Reader has all the art blogs I enjoy. There are many options for a feed reader, just pick one that works for you.

Review: TWSBI Swipe Coral

I am starting this review with this disclaimer,  this review is full of my opinions on a number of matters, which include a review of the pen in question but also the company’s behavior in recent months.

Let me start with this, I’ve historically really liked TWSBI. Their pens, like Diamond, the VAC and Micarta fit perfectly into my aesthetic. I like demonstrators and the rough look of the micarta are just perfect. I own 4 TWSBI pens, 5 now, and I like them all. They fit me. That said, the Swipe is likely to be my last TWSBI purchase for quite some time.

Through reading various blogs and listening to The Pen Addict I learned that TWSBI had written to sellers of their pens, that also sell Narwhal pens, to let them know that they feel that Narwhal had stolen/copied their piston design. My understanding is that they then let these sellers know that if they continued to sell Narwhal pens, that TWSBI would no longer allow them to sell their pens.

I dislike this on so many levels. Sellers/vendors are just trying to make ends meet. I don’t know what the margins are on pens, but I see TWSBI as a middle sized fish in the pen pond. Narwhal is a tiny fish. Sellers are going to keep selling the pens that bring in the most money- since TWSBI likely outsells Narwhal, the effect of their letter on Narwhal is going to be disaster for the smaller company. Buyers would be forced to buy Narwhal pens directly from Narwhal and whatever sellers who decide to tell TWSBI to go to hell.

Listen to and read the various post I linked to above, but the issue TWSBI is really pushing here is that Narwhal has copied their filling mechanism. But do you really have a moral leg to stand on when you have modeled your filling mechanism on Pelikan’s?

From a sales standpoint it makes sense for sellers to stick with TWSBI.

As a buyer I want to have all the options and I strongly dislike it when someone tries to limit those options. I also dislike when one company tried to put another company out of business. When companies try to put other companies out of business through strong arming vendors, get over yourself. If your product is good, it’ll stand up on it’s own. No need to pull this kind of pseudo legal chest thumping nonsense. TWSBI pens are good pens. So are Pelikan pens. As are Narwhal pens. I wrote it in my review, Narwhal isn’t breaking new ground with their pens, but they are making decent pens. And hell while Moonman/PenBBS are smashing together styles from other companies, their pens function solidly.

Rise above.

It is my sincere and honest opinion that TWSBI has delved into unethical business territory in an attempt to drive Narwhal out of business. I don’t like it at all. I will not buy another TWSBI pen until TWSBI backs off this nonsense. I also have to wonder if this is legal? I mean, good lord, imagine if Pelikan decided that if a pen store carries Lamy that that store cannot carry Pelikan? It is preposterous and ridiculous when you change the brands involved. TWSBI really has their head firmly wedged in their butt cheeks on this one.

So why review the pen at all? In part to include my little rant, but also I bought the pen with Ko-Fi fund to review.  So I want to fulfil my obligation to my readers, but I also feel I should inform you about TWSBI and their shenanigans.

To start I like the pen, mostly.

So what I like? The color is killer- coral, or salmon pink. It’s the perfect millennial pink that I love so much. If you’ve known me since high school, you’ll remember that this was the color of my prom dress. Think pink with a hint of orange.

The ink window is nice, especially with the spring inside. I like the way the ink sloshes around the spring. When the pen is uncapped, the grip section is also clear, allowing you to see the ink in the feed.

Despite the hard clear plastic of the grip, it feels nice in hand and I don’t find that my hand slips when I’m writing and sketching for long periods of time. The light weight is super comfortable and enjoyable.

The nib is a typical TWSBI- hard as a nail with a smooth feel as I write and sketch. It isn’t buttery smooth or glassy, but just nice. I like it on all of the papers I’ve used it on so far. The feed is right in the middle- not wet nor is it dry. It lays down enough ink that I’m happy with the darkness of the line.

The clip is the major downside of this pen. It feels a bit cheap, and is very tight. I tend to carry my pens in the chest pocket of my flannel shirts, and this pen sits very high when clipped in place. When I clip it to the placket of a shirt it hangs out way to far. I cannot tell if it is painted or a textured finish, but I carried a painted wooden box at work, and it left gray marks allover the painted finish where the clip rubbed. Yet, I do not see any damage to the clip.

Filling the pen with the spring loaded converter works well enough. I did find that I have to dip the pen multiple times to get a good fill. This means depressing the partially filled spring loaded cart down partially and then redipping the pen. It was a bit messy but effective. Included in the packaging is a regular twist style converter and a cartridge with a spring to hold it in place. Nifty.

The mold lines are cleverly hidden in the edges of the facets of the pen body. Those on the cap and grips are visible and textured enough that I notice them, through use I’ve worn them a bit smooth. (Also a note to self, pick up hand lotion for the studio. I should not be able to smooth rough mold marks with my finger tips!)

Overall I am quite impressed with the Swipe. At the under $30 price point it’s a solid and fun colored pen. I enjoy the color, feel, and even the twitchy spring loaded fill system. I love the bright fun coral pink color. It’s bright and cheerful. Continue reading

Process: From Spark to Art

My brain works in mysterious ways, well not really, I know how my brain works but sometimes it puts 2 things together in a way I didn’t expect.

Case in point:

pencil sketch of a fried chicken leg with the words fried 4 life

Not the chicken leg I presented her with!

I work with someone who loves fried chicken. I, also love fried chicken. We talk about all the different fried chicken places in the area. Unabashed love for fried chicken. After a few weeks of fried chicken talk, I doodled a fried chicken leg on scrap paper and presented it to her. We laughed.

chicken leg sketch in paint markers with words fried chicken 4 life around it

Early sketch and color scheme.

Somehow I started to doodle more chicken legs, this time with the words “Fried Chicken 4 Life” in various arrangements. Then with black Posca pens and finally with some color.

Chicken leg with 4 life inside it and Fried Chicken around it

This was declared the winning sketch, and the one that gave the idea of making it a sticker.

fried chicken leg with 4 life inside and fried chicken around it, in final color scheme of red and pink letters with orange and mottled brown chicken on a light blue backlground.

The final color scheme and thick black outline. 7 different colors of paint pen were used.

When I arrived at a final image and color scheme that I liked I took a nice clear photo and then arranged it into a grid in (yes) publisher. After that I printed it off on a color laser printer to sticker paper. Finally the individual stickers were cut out of the sticker sheet.

The sticker paper I used was the most inexpensive I’d found on the ‘zon and has done well with letterpress inks and now paint pens. It also traveled through the color Xerox machine we have at work.

final design arranged in a grid, ready to be cut out.

The final xerox printed colors are a bit lighter than the original, but they look great.

Overall I’m pretty happy with how this ridiculous sticker turned out, even the little hand colored version is great. The color photocopied is awesome. I’ve also run this paper through the letterpress at work with some pretty good results.

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State of the Art: Getting Derailed

I’ve written here and on Ko-fi about how I like my routines and how they feed into my ability to make art and get a lot done. Usually, those routines are a good buffer between myself and chaos. But sometimes things happen and they completely derail my routines and it always takes a bit to get back to them.

A few weeks ago now, my debit card info was skimmed, likely at the gas pump, and the skimmer/thief siphoned almost everything out of my account. I woke up to a fraud alert as the skimmer attempted to completely drain my account. They almost got it all. The bank was good about labeling everything but one charge fraud and reversing all charges. I take it back they flagged that charge fraud as well, but the app used to pull the money out of the account didn’t reverse the charges. I’m getting into the weeds on this story, the end result was that my mortgage payment was gone, and I had to spend the next week and a half on the phone every morning with the bank. I attempted to work with the app, they shut me down.

If you want to start your day off wrong, call the bank about fraudulent charges on your card.

A few other things happened, the details don’t matter but it landed on my lap to fix them. The end result of them all was more time spent on the phone before and after work, and sending numerous emails to the wide variety of people who needed to fix this stuff.

It was and remains a lot. And it all completely threw off my routines.

My routines aren’t set in stone, though I do try to keep to them. My weekdays all start and end roughly the same. My morning routine is the most important and it was the most impacted by the calls and emails. When I get out of work the offices for all of the places I had to contact were closed.

Why are my routines so important? they set up my day and help me clear my mind of useless stuff. It allows me to be creative.

I find that when my routines are in disorder my mind is too, and creative blocks are more likely to settle in and take hold.

These last 3 weeks have not been fun, but also I have to realize that I only have so many hours in a day. I can’t shove in just one more thing, no matter how much I would like to do so. No that doesn’t work at all. The more I beat myself up for the disarray the long the disarray sticks around and fouls things up.

It’s a whole cycle of blame and disarray. By being gentle with myself- labeling the disarray and acknowledging the difficulty and letting myself be okay helps to break the cycle.

It’s hard to beat yourself up over something if you can say to yourself, “Hey, it’s okay. A lot of people go through this. It’s going to be okay in the end. How about today I just do one thing to get back on track, even if it’s just making a pour over and writing part of a blog post.”* That lets me get started on making changes, just small ones and feeling good about it.

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RSVP: Use the Good Stuff

I announced a reboot of my podcast RSVP Stationery Podcast awhile ago. The first of the new season’s episodes is out, and I have to say it’s a banger.

The idea behind the reboot is that I take a topic, in this case, Using the Good Stuff and I interview and discuss the topic with 4 to 8 (maybe more) people. I use a framework of the same questions, but in true RSVP fashion we go on tangents.

I’m pretty excited by how this first season of RSVP went. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have in conducting the interviews. 

State of the Art: Getting to It

After all my posts about material snobbery, I had myself a little pep talk about just getting to it. When it comes to visual art I’m pretty easily able to just get to it, but when it comes to writing, well, not so much.

I cleaned out my reading nook, an area in the house, not an electronic device. The reading nook functions as a space where I drink tea, read, and write. IN the nook I have a couple of book shelves. The shelves are filled with my professional books about art therapy, when I had a traditional office those lived there. Now they are at home. I also have all my art books.

On a single small shelf are my writing books. There are only a handful but they live closest to the chair, where I can grab them and muse on their pages. Also on these small shelves live my composition notebooks. Not the empties, but those I’ve filled with my writing. I had to stop myself from writing BAD there. The writing isn’t bad, it mostly just a series of shitty first drafts. The other half of the comp books are filled with what I call my story bibles- character snippets and outlines. I write about the settings and people in the books, name ideas and the such. IF I made post it notes or index cards, I stick these into the story bible.

Anyway, after cleaning out my nook, I sat with my story bibles and novels that I wrote over the pandemic.

Surprisingly they aren’t half bad. Honestly, I’m not sure why I was so hard on myself. I mean, the pandemic, work stress, and all that contributes but these stories are at least half as good as some of the stuff I’ve read recently.

Maybe because things are going well- work is good, my family is good, and I’m not feeling the pressure of the world, I’m feeling better about my life and thus better about  my work.

I took my long weekend to take a story that has been stuck in my head on and off since I started a rough outline and character sketch and I reworked the sketches so they fit my ideas now, and then I hacked out a rough outline. After that I started to write.

All this makes me wonder about what it takes to do our creative work and how it changes as we age. When I was in my early 20s, I made art all the time. I produced zines. Because I was in my early 20s my life was a mess, but it never stopped me from creating. I used anything I got my hands on to make art. I stole photocopies at work and made my own screens for screen-printing. I experimented. I moved around.

Art was a constant. Writing was relegated to blogging.

And that worked for me for a long time. I hadn’t had an urge to write fiction in forever. I made time for the things I had urges for- art and blogging.

I’m not sure my point, but a good question is what art do you have urges to create? Make time for them, allow yourself to create and make.

I’ve always held the belief that for those of us with creative urges, it’s imperative to our mental health that we follow them in some manner. Ignoring the creative urge will only leave us bitter and unhappy.

Remember creativity in one area will feed creativity in another. Continue reading