Category Archives: Review

Review: Uniball One Gel Ink Pen 0.7mm

Uniball introduced these white Apple-esque pens last year. The exterior of the pen looks nice, if you like white and for your stuff to look filthy as soon as you touch it. The white matte plastic feels pretty nice. The slightly rubberized grip is comfortable to hold. It’s slightly narrower than other pens in the same price bracket. But I’d also say it’s leaps and bounds better than their other capless pen with an extended rubberized grip, the Signo DX, which at some point I declared the fugliest pen in existence. This is better- there is something about the tip of the pen having a bit of a seam and not being rubberized that saves it from fugly fate.

I also like the wire clip. It doesn’t feel like it would hold onto much of anything well, but it stays put, especially to the neck of my shirts. It’s not tight but it’s decent. I wouldn’t go jogging and expect it to be there when I finished, but for normal day-to-day workplace stuff, it’s okay.

Inside, Uni has developed a “new ink” technology. It’s a gel ink that sits on top of the paper a bit more and the pigments stay suspended on the surface, for a more vibrant look. Does it look more vibrant to me? I don’t know. I honestly can’t tell the difference between this and other Uniball pens. I can say that the black ink (I also purchased a red and blue pen) is nicely black as all Uni black pens are. The ink is somewhat water resistant, maybe waterproof once the unbonded ink moves around. The ink that does lift, isn’t much and it is a cool neutral gray shade. Doubt it would foul all but the lightest shades of yellow watercolors. The .7 medium tip feels and writes more like a fine to me, especially when compared with other .7 tips.

I took quite a few meeting notes with this pen on the Talens Art Creation Sketchbook (review forthcoming) and it didn’t skip or blob. It feels smooth as butter on that paper and all the Composition book reviews I’ve done this year. nThere were a few instances of a line being “hollow.” Byt htis I mean the point seemed to not get ink on it and only the edges of the ball, odd. This only seemed to happen when I applied a lot of pressure tov the pen as I wrote. Honestly I like this pen quite a bit. But the white barrel is a deal killer for me. I have grease, paint, chalk, charcoal, or other art materials on my hands all the time, and in the 2 days I’ve had this pen for testing, it’s now grayish. It’s pretty but just not practical for me.

I bought my pack at Walmart during back to school sale for $5.78. Singles sell online for $2.20 so a 5-pack for under $6 is a good deal. I like them but I don’t know that I’d buy more, just because of the white barrel.

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Review: Pilot Acroball Ballpoint Pen

I picked up this 3-pack of pens at Target for $2.99 during back to school sale season. It was a 2+1 bonus pack. I purchased it because the package made some recycled claims and I’m a sucker for greenwashing.

The pens are made out of 77% recycled plastic. It points out that they are refillable for “continued use” but fails to mention where you can get refills or include any in the package. Personally I think the package should be 2 pens plus 2 refills. That’s me though. What do you think?

The ink is smooth and doesn’t skip, but like most ballpoints does blob a bit here and there. I find the pen body comfortable enough but it’s not blowing my mind at all. I do like the click mechanism and appreciate how it works.

Overall if you need a ballpoint for anything this is an acceptable choice, at a buck a pen it’s a bit on the high side. A Bic Cristal is a better and cheaper choice.

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Review: Zebra Sarasa dryX20

I was surprised to see a few name brand items at Dollar Tree, and they had a nice display of Zebra pens. I’m going to head back and see if they have additional types. At $1.25 for a single pen this isn’t the cheapest I’ve found but it’s not overpriced either.

This pen uses the standard Sarasa body, which doesn’t bother me, but I know a lot of you do not like it at all. I find it comfortable and rather no nonsense. It’s lightweight and fits my hand. The clicker clicks with a definitive click and stays put. Is it elegant? No.

Inside the utilitarian pen body is housed the refill. The dryX20 ink is claimed to be the fastest drying ink available and perfect for lefties. There are 14 colors available, but I have only seen the black on shelves anywhere. I used this during extensive meetings and through notes and doodles and sketch notes blew through more than half a refill.

The ink was smooth flowing without a skip or smear or smudge. Usually my note taking style leaves me with smears and smudges on my hand, not this week. Oftentimes I find smudges and smears on my nondominant hand as I hold my notebook open- I’ll have imprints of my writing on my left thumb. Not one.

The ink is also deeply black. It is a great sketching pen. Because it is smooth and doesn’t blob you get consistent even lines that dry very fast. Because it is gel ink, it doesn’t soak into the fibers of paper and spread out like liquid inks.

I’ve been a fan of the standard Sarasa for a long long time, the fast dry time and extra smoothness of the dryX20 is just a bonus. If you are looking for a pen for sketching this is a good choice. Continue reading

Composition Book Round Up Back to School Sale 2022 Dollar Tree

Well folx, Back to School Sale season is already upon us. With the last 2 years of subpar sales I decided I wanted to really take a deeper dive into the sales available around me. I’ll break this up to the various stores I visit, then finally compare and contrast the cost and quality of the various materials. I’m also removing a few stores from my list because I no longer support those businesses. Though, I must grumble at myself for “supporting” the other businesses, if small local places had comp books I’d have no squeamish feelings of this at all. My goal is to spend less than $20 in each of the stores.

I’m starting this year out with Dollar Tree. Where everything is now $1.25. Here I picked up a pair of wide ruled comp books, some erasers, an actual Zebra Sarasa Dry, and an assortment of supplies for storage and art use. I spent $14.25. Several of the materials I purchased were specifically for gel printing- 2 different sizes of metal cake pans, a package of flexible cutting mats to use to hold my gel plates and registration of prints, and a few spray bottles.

Let’s start with this- the old rainbow erasers that Dollar Tree carried? They are no longer available. I will have to check the other Dollar Tree that I knew carried them. The new erasers are a plastic gummi texture, which work reasonably well. My intent is to use them for carving, not erasing. In this context I’ll have to be careful with which side I use. There are bubbles on one side and it also feels a bit uneven. We’ll see how they work for carving. For all you art teachers out there, these erasers are the largest available at the cheapest price. They aren’t as thick as the old OOPS or other novelty erasers, but they are a good size for teaching basic relief carving for printing.

There were also displays of Zebra, Crayola, and Sharpie brand items. An entire end cap was dedicated to Crayola items. I don’t know that I ever really expected there to be name brand items at Dollar Tree, or if there were they’d be in mini packaging, sort of like the dish soap. I picked up a Zebra Sarasa DryX20 0.7mm tip gel pen. They only had the gel pens in single pen packages, but $1.25 per pen isn’t a bad price considering inflation and all that. It works well, as any Zebra gel pen does.

Dollar Tree sells cake pans that are smaller than those you can find in many other places, also they don’t have a raised area around the base, which makes them perfect for molding gel plates. I picked up both “8 inch” round and square cake pans. I put “8” because they are not 8 inches at the base, close to 7, but are 8 inches at the top. These are good sizes for my printing uses.

Their craft section has a number of useful materials and tools. I picked up a package of small wooden blocks to use for printing patterns and a package of spray bottles. We’ll see how these become useful in my art practice. I’m of the mind that you can never stock up on too many spray bottles!

Finally for the composition book fans among us- the comp books. They had several varieties, all made for Dollar Tree by an American import company called Jot. The information on the back is weirdly presented in both English and Spanish. Initially I thought they were made in the USA, however when reading the info closely I realized the books were all made in India. This is fine, but the presentation definitely led me to believe they were made in the USA when I only glanced at the info. The only comp books on the shelves were wide ruled. UGH. I grabbed 2. One a standard comp with a cute cover and the other  a fashion cover with recycled insides.

Let’s start with the good- the covers are thick and stiff. While not as thick as the covers of yore, they are stiffer than the average comp book available at most big box stores, that is to say that they are heavier than standard cardstock. The designs are cute. One has an inspirational quote and the other dinosaurs doing things! Cute.

There are 100 sheets in each book. The stitching is great and the spine tape is a decent width on the cover. The pages are ruled with a nice light.

That’s where the good ends. Because this paper is terrible for anything except ballpoint and pencil, and it’s not even that good with pencil.

I’m reviewing these two notebooks together because they perform the same except for the texture of the recycled notebook. It has a chunkiness to the page that is quite unpleasant. It’s as if they used sawdust as an inclusion and added a bit of dye to change the color. The paper otherwise responds the same as the non-recycled paper.

Everything soaked through- even gel pens. The Zebra Sarasa dryX20 soaked through at normal writing speed and the pauses are a mess. It feels good on the page but it just soaks through. The paper in the fashion comp book is very smooth, while the recycled notebook looks like it has sawdust in it, despite it being chunky it’s also slick. It’s pleasant with my gel pen but not much else. The combination of weird slickness and chunkiness just feels kind of awful.

The paper doesn’t have a lot of tooth for pencil. The pencils, even the softer darker numbers, just kind of slide over the page leaving a light mark. The marks also smudge a lot. There is very little feedback from the page to the pencil. 

The whole experience of using these comp books is quite unpleasant. I suspect using pencils would frustrate most people and if you use anything but ballpoint on this paper it’s gonna soak through. And I suspect that even a juicy ballpoint like a Bic Cristal xtra smooth would soak through! At $1.25 they are way overpriced and not worth the spend when you can get far better comp books at Staples for 50 cents! These are so bad that I don’t even want to take pictures of the pages. What a mess.

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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