Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Total Lunar Eclipse

Viewing celestial events in these parts is an iffy proposition any time of year. The forecast for Sunday evening was “partly cloudy” as usual, so we didn’t know until the total lunar eclipse began whether we’d see it or not.

The first time I sketched a lunar eclipse was in September 2015, which started earlier in the evening when it was much warmer, so we viewed it from our neighborhood park. On Sunday night the temperature was in the high 30s, so I opted to view and sketch it from our cozy bedroom window. (Greg, unfortunately, had to stand outside to photograph it! See photo at end of post.)

Clouds skittered around during the early part of the eclipse, so I didn’t start sketching until 8:21 p.m., shortly before totality. At first I wasn’t sure if the clouds would return at any time, so I hastily drew a few simple diagrams as I did during the solar eclipse in 2017. By the time totality began at 8:42 p.m., I could see that the sky would probably remain clear around the moon, so I relaxed and got out my black Stillman & Birn Nova sketchbook and colored pencils.

After totality was reached, I kept thinking the moon would appear consistently dark all over, but I saw a faint halo on one side throughout.

Totality ended at 9:43 p.m. My last sketch at 9:47 p.m. shows the first glint of the full moon’s normally bright light just beginning to appear again.

1/20/19 Photo by Greg Mullin

Monday, January 21, 2019

Vintage Colored Pencils: Rexel Cumberland Derwent Drawing

Vintage Rexel Cumberland Derwent Drawing Pencils

In using and reviewing vintage colored pencils, I most often conclude that older products are not necessarily better, at least in terms of function. Esthetically, they are frequently more beautiful in appearance, with greater care taken for design (which is one reason I enjoy collecting them). On the inside, however, older colored pencils generally contain less pigment and come in far fewer hues. As pencil-manufacturing technology has improved over time and as art materials, in general, have become of higher quality, I’ve found contemporary products to be superior. (One notable exception is Prismacolor.)

I recently realized that one of my all-time favorite contemporary pencils has a core that has been of the same high quality all along – when I serendipitously discovered its vintage incarnation.

A while back I reviewed the Derwent Drawing Pencil, which is my favorite for life drawing sessions. It has the thickest and softest core of any colored pencil I’ve tried, which makes it ideal for the broad strokes and shading that I like to do during both short- and longer-pose drawings. I call it a colored pencil, but its range is limited to only 24 natural hues that are probably intended for landscapes and human skin.

When I first spotted a set of vintage Rexel Cumberland Derwent Drawing Pencils on eBay, it didn’t even occur to me that they might be the same as the contemporary ones I use at life drawing. Some are in the form of broad, flat carpenter pencils, and others are round. All display a beautiful natural finish. I was told that these pencils went out of production around 2000. (The set also came with three graphite carpenter pencils in grades HB through 4B which, disappointingly, are not as smooth as I wish they were.)
Carpenter-style pencils

When I read some of the color names – Chocolate, Terracotta, Venetian Red – a little bell rang over my head: Where have I seen those color names before? Of course – the Derwent Drawing Pencils!

As I began knife-sharpening the carpenter pencils (an immensely satisfying process that is probably as close to whittling as I will ever come), I saw that the cores looked very similar to their modern sisters.
I love sharpening these!

Some test scribbles indicated that they do, indeed, have the same soft cores I know and love!
The same cores as their modern sisters.

Contemporary Derwent Drawing Pencils have round barrels painted to look somewhat similar to the stained natural wood grain of the vintage ones, but it’s obvious that the wood is not the same. (I won’t even mention the chipped end caps that modern Derwent pencils consistently display after very little use [but you can see them here]).
The two pencils at left are contemporary Derwent Drawing Pencils;
the others are vintage (carpenter style)

So while their exterior quality and design have gone downhill over time, I’m very happy to report that their cores have always been the same. In the carpenter pencil form, which exposes a core with a wide range of line widths, they are even better for life drawing.

(Here’s a review of another vintage Rexel Cumberland Derwent colored pencil.)

Look at those fat, juicy cores!

1/17/19 Alex (10-min. pose)

1/17/19 5-min. pose

1/17/19 2-min. pose

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Up for Grabs

USk Seattle held its sixth annual Gab & Grab on Friday. Held at a public library, it’s an opportunity for show-and-tell of our favorite sketch supplies and a place to swap books and materials we are no longer using.

Since I recently cleared out my studio, I brought in two heavy tote bags of notebooks, sketchbooks, pencil cases, pencils, paints, brushes and who knows what else. Some of it came from a generous blog reader who sent me a large box of supplies that she was no longer using and knew that I would find a way to share. (You know who you are – thank you!) Though it was tempting, I resisted taking more than a couple of pencils I hadn’t tried and a small sketchbook that I knew I would use.

I love sharing and reusing resources this way, and it’s always fun to hear about new tools and materials people have discovered. In fact, I had fully intended to document the event by sketching it like I did last year, but I got so involved in listening to the show & tell and taking photos that (gasp!) I forgot to sketch!

This photo doesn't show everything that was up for grabs... some of the good stuff had already been snapped up before I took the photo!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

A Kitchen Counter Recipe (Plus New Tombow Irojiten)

1/4/19 Tombow Irojiten pencils in Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

This is what I call a kitchen counter recipe for a still life: Walk into the kitchen on a cold, rainy morning and grab all the produce available without opening the refrigerator.

I made the sketch with a newly released set of Tombow Irojiten colored pencils, which I just reviewed over at the Well-Appointed Desk. Although I’ve had the original set for quite a while, it wasn’t until last year when I developed a greater appreciation for harder cores that I gave Irojiten pencils more serious consideration (before that, I was perfectly happy to use the beautiful boxes as home décor). That’s when I finally wrote a full review of Tombow’s premium colored pencils. I have come to really enjoy using the harder cores, and the Irojiten palette includes some unique colors I don’t find elsewhere.

Go over to the Desk to read my new review, and in the meantime, have some eye candy.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Wedgwood Community Steeple (and Minimalism Check-in)

1/15/19 Wedgwood Community Church

Driving home from the post office on a different route, I came upon a steeple that I’d never seen before – on the Wedgwood Community Church. The rest of the church was relatively plain and simple, and I always think the steeple is the most fun part to sketch anyway.

I made the first change to my minimal sketch kit: I added ballpoint. I didn’t cheat, though; my rule is that if I add something, I must take something out (so I’m still carrying the same number of implements). I took out the Caran d’Ache blue/red bicolor pencil, which wasn’t earning its keep. I thought that the fact that it’s water-soluble and that it added two more colors to my palette in the space of one would make it a hard worker in my minimal kit. But when I tried to use the “licking” method to paint the sky in a recent sketch, I found that the bicolor pencil doesn’t make a rich enough wash. I had heard that its cores are the same as what’s found in Caran d’Ache Supracolor pencils, but I don’t believe it; I think the bicolor contains less pigment. I guess I’ll do without blue for the rest of the month (I’m also not optimistic that I’ll need it much for sky – this sketch was made on the last cloudless day for the foreseeable future).

Another minor change I made was to swap out the warm gray (808) for a cooler gray (508). On these short winter days, the long shadows look very blue to me (with my secondary triad palette, I’ve been using purple).

Out: Caran d'Ache blue/red bicolor and Cd'A Museum Aquarelle warm gray; in: Bic ballpoint and Museum cool gray

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Vintage Colored Pencils: Conte Criterium

1/1/19 vintage Conte Criterium pencils in Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

Surfing on eBay one day, I came across a colored pencil name that I hadn’t seen before: Criterium by Conté. The name Conté is best known for the art crayon invented by Nicolas-Jacques Conté in 1795 (according to Wikipedia). A friend who is knowledgeable in French pencil history told me that this set of colored pencils was a rare find, indeed. I snapped it up.

I wish I knew more about this pencil’s history, but Google didn’t offer up much (other than a mechanical pencil of the same name). The vendor did not indicate the set’s age, but my friend speculates that it could be from 1960 to 1979. For being that old, the box and its contents are in very good condition.

This color chart was enclosed in the box.

Unused, the set of 36 pencils arrived with a few broken tips but otherwise looks beautiful and nearly new. With too sharp a point, one pencil’s point snapped off during use. I think the cores are a bit brittle and delicate, perhaps from age (though from my little experience with and knowledge of vintage pencils, most colored pencils seem to age remarkably well).

The glossy, hexagonal barrels have color numbers on them but no names. I love the beautiful end caps and typeface!

Beautiful end caps!

I’ll let the beauty of the pencils speak for themselves. As for their use, they are softer than I expected them to be – most vintage pencils are on the hard side. They seem low on pigment, however, as I had some difficulty building color in my pear sketch. Even so, on Stillman & Birn Epsilon’s smooth surface, the pencils are a joy to use.

As the only French vintage colored pencils in my collection, they are a lovely addition.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Three Kinds of Roundish

1/13/19 Maple Leaf Park

The Maple Leaf water tower is probably my most-often sketched artifact within walking distance of my house. On days when our usual mid-January doldrums are broken by well-deserved sunshine, I don’t care where I go – I just start walking, and Maple Leaf Park is where I often end up.

As I studied the tower, I was thinking about color but found myself reaching for my trusty Blackwing pencil instead. In bright sunlight, the tower is full of interesting cast shadows from the girding around it. But the most intriguing – and challenging – are those difficult shadows that describe its form – a cylinder around the middle, a saucer on top and another on the bottom. I love graphite for that type of shading; I haven’t used any other medium that is able to express roundish shading in quite the same way.

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