Sunday, January 26, 2020

Blurry Window

1/22/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

The views through all my wet windows are blurry. In particular, looking through my studio roof window, which is slanted with the roof pitch, is like wearing old glasses. I sketched this with an ArtGraf water-soluble graphite pencil, then spritzed liberally.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

It’s All in the Timing

1/21/20 Northgate

The sun came out, so I dashed out to meet it. My walk/sketch took me to Northgate, where I needed to have my glasses adjusted at the optometrist’s office. Right in front of his office was this excavator and several bright yellow brethren, waiting for action.

My timing was impeccable. A few minutes later, the rain started again.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Vintage Colored Pencils: Eagle Magicolor

Eagle Magicolor watercolor pencils

An amazing vintage item crossed my eBay path recently: a totally unused set of Eagle Magicolor watercolor pencils. (In terms of an exciting find, it was second only to the set of Caran d’Ache Prismalo watercolor pencils, likely from the ‘30s, that I stumbled upon last fall.) My interest in Eagle has focused mainly on vintage Prismacolor and Verithin pencils, and once I acquired some from the various production eras, Eagle fell off my radar. I had never heard of the Magicolor name before, nor did I even know that Eagle made a watercolor pencil – yet there it was in a generic “vintage colored pencil” search. Fortunately, the item had a “buy now” option (auctions give me jitters), which I certainly did!

Copyright 1936
The box indicates a copyright date of 1936, but I know that’s probably related to the company and not the product. How old might this apparently rare set be? My historical research (which consisted of contacting several helpful and knowledgeable pencil collectors) didn’t yield any conclusive information. Based on the Eagle logo design, however, the consensus is that the set is from between the end of World War II and the early ‘60s.

The cardboard box is similar to the kind I’ve seen Eagle Prismacolors come in with a snap closure and hinge that enables the set to stand upright.
Hinged lid

Snap closure

Nine pencils in my set of 24 came unsharpened, and the rest had factory sharpening that showed no signs of use. (Of course, now they have all been sharpened and used by me!) The product line must have been making a transition from factory sharpening to unsharpened, so the set came with some of each. The barrel is round with glossy paint matching the core color in a design similar to Eagle Prismacolors of the same era.

Similar to Prismacolors, that is, except for one standout detail: The gorgeous gold metal end cap with wedding-cake tiers and a red stripe – be still my heart! It must be one of the most beautiful end caps I’ve ever seen!
Be still my heart!

The Eagle logo and typography are the same as in the Turquoise Prismacolor era. The Magicolor branding, however, has a distinctive look: The partly italicized Magicolor and the name surrounded by “sparks” tickle me no end.

Eagle Prismacolors and Magicolors have the same logo and typography

When I compared the Magicolors with Prismacolors more closely, I saw that the color numbers are the same – Magicolors begin with 12- and Prismacolors begin with 9-. They also have the same thick cores as Prismacolors.
Magicolor and Prismacolor color numbers are the same except for the initial 12 and 9.
Thick cores
With all these similarities with Prismacolors, I had high hopes that the Magicolors would apply with the same creamy softness and high pigment quality. In fact, the cores are harder than Prismacolors. Among my watercolor pencils, Magicolors are most like Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer in softness and application quality, and when used dry, the pigment coverage is good. Unfortunately, the pigment content isn’t as high, so when activated, the hues don’t have a rich wash (it’s most visible in the swatches under my sketch).
1/16/20 vintage Eagle Magicolor watercolor pencils in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

This set of Magicolors raises so many questions: If these were made during the same era as the Eagle Turquoise Prismacolors, which are spotted fairly often on eBay, why are they so rare by comparison? (One of my collector contacts was as amazed as I was that this set appeared; he has an identical set but had never seen others before it or until mine.) Twenty-four is a modest set quantity; were there larger ones? Surely a set of 12 probably existed. Since the lower pigment content might not be up to artist quality as the Prismacolors are, perhaps they never caught on and were discontinued after a short run.

The Magicolor brand seems to have disappeared early on, but at least by the Sanford era of the ‘90s, watercolor pencils were being produced under the Prismacolor brand.  I’ve never seen Prismacolor watercolor pencils in a set larger than 36, either during the Sanford era or currently, so maybe the watercolor pencil market just hasn’t been a priority for the Prismacolor brand. (Nobody in charge has asked my opinion on the matter, of course.)

However brief Eagle Magicolor was on the art supply shelf decades ago, I am all the more thrilled to have grabbed this set to experience a part of watercolor pencil history.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Triads: Yellow as the Variable

1/15/20 Caran d'Ache Pablo (Carmine 80, Royal Blue 130, Olive Yellow 15) in
Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

In my last series of primary triadic studies, I worked on the hypothesis that yellow plays well with others: As long as red and blue are in harmony, most yellows will be friendly (though obviously some yellows are better than others). My experiments, however, were hodgepodge, done with a variety of watercolor pencil brands and color choices made intuitively.

In today’s series, I used traditional (dry) colored pencils in one brand only, Caran d’Ache Pablo. My method was more controlled: The red and blue (Carmine 80 and Royal Blue 130) are consistent in each sketch, selected because the strong, cool violet I was able to mix from them appealed to me. Then I chose three yellows as variables almost at random. I was doubtful about the triadic mix for a couple of them, but I went with them anyway to see what the results would be.

The first (above) uses Olive Yellow (15), which has a subtle greenish cast in the swatch, but thankfully it didn’t clash. This was the yellow I was most confident would mix well with Carmine and Royal Blue. The apple’s cast shadow is the most neutral of the three.

1/17/20 Caran d'Ache Pablo (Carmine 80, Royal Blue 130, Golden Ochre 33)
My second try (left) included Golden Ochre (33), which I had doubts about because it seemed a bit too cool in the swatch. I also didn’t care for the green that resulted from its mix with Royal Blue. But in the finished apple sketch, it still mixed well with the others and didn’t muddy the apple’s lively purple shaded side.

I was also doubtful about the yellow in the third try (below), Golden Yellow (120), but in the finished sketch, it turned out to be my favorite of the three. I thought it brought out a bit of sparkle where it mixed with the purple on the shaded side. I may have laid it on too strong in the cast shadow compared to the others, so it’s more warm than neutral, but it still works.

Are you bored stiff with my apples? Or are you inspired to try some triads of your own, in whatever medium you use? I hope the latter. . . I find these so much fun to do, and I’m learning so much about color mixing!

1/18/20 Caran d'Ache Pablo (Carmine 80, Royal Blue 130, Golden Yellow 120)

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Honore Bakery

1/16/20 Honore Bakery

Natalie invited me to sketch with her at a new French bakery she had discovered, but I was way ahead of her – at least in terms of discovery. Another friend and I had scarfed down a few calories a while back, and Greg bought my birthday cake there in November. I hadn’t sketched there yet though, so I heartily agreed to join her at Honore.

1/16/20 Raspberry tart and chocolate cake!
First I made her wait until we had sketched the treats before we put them away. Both jobs done, we then sketched the café’s charming interior with fun décor and, of course, cases of cakes, tarts and croissants. I realized that I most often go after human victims when I sketch in cafés, and I rarely tackle the interior view. It was a delectable challenge to capture the interior without getting caught up in each strawberry or raisin.

It was also the first time since I started this year’s challenge that I regretted my minimal palette. . . I couldn’t get the rich brown of that chocolate cake (decorated with a marzipan bee!) with the colors I had.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020


1/19/20 Mastodon replica, Burke Museum

Somehow the mastodon always calls to me. I’ve sketched it at the Burke Museum numerous times, but I never seem to tire of it. At the old facility, the big guy stood at the end of a dark, narrow exhibit area, so it was difficult to get any angle but head-on. In the Burke’s new digs, the replica of the 10,000-year-old skeleton guards the museum’s lower-floor entrance flooded with natural light. Looking down from the lobby stairway, this was my first attempt at sketching its entire length and girth in profile.

I love drawing all those bones, for sure, but capturing the sheer scale of this formidable monster is the real challenge: I used a full spread in my sketchbook this time, but I still didn’t have room for the tail. But at least I managed to get Suzanne and David in.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Triads: Yellow Plays Well With Others

Some of the many triad swatches I made.

From my previous primary triadic studies, I noted that the aggressive players are red and blue, while yellow is an easy-going partner. I started working on the hypothesis that as long as the red/blue combo was playing happily together as purple, almost any yellow could join in without ruining the harmony.

Using Derwent Inktense pencils (at right and below), I first tried several combos of red and blue to mix a purple I liked. I settled on Peacock Blue (820) and Poppy Red (400). Then I tried several different yellows with that combo, one at a time, and couldn’t seem to mix a bad one. I chose Cadmium Yellow (220) to make the tomato sketch.
1/9/20 Derwent Inktense in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
(Peacock Blue 820, Poppy Red 400, Cadmium Yellow 220)
1/11/20 vintage Prismacolor Watercolor pencils in
S&B Beta (Crimson 2924, Violet Blue 2933, Canary
Yellow 2916)
Working with a small set of vintage Prismacolor watercolor pencils, I had fewer hue options, but I used the same principle (at left): First I combined Crimson Red (2924) and Violet Blue (2933) to make sure the resulting purple was strong, and then I threw Canary Yellow (2916) into the mix. Happy with that, I sketched the tomato and banana.

From a previous triad I had tried, I saw that Carmine (and other reds similar to it) often mixed well with others. Using the Caran d’Ache Supracolor line, I found that Ruby Red (280), which is Carmine-like, and Permanent Blue (670) made a lovely violet (below). All yellows I tried with it looked great, and I chose Gold Cadmium Yellow (530) for the apple sketch. I love this triad – clean and fresh with a strong purple. It makes me wish that the Cd’A Museum Aquarelle line included Ruby Red.

Experiments shown today were all done with watercolor pencils. I’m also working on triads using traditional pencils with a more systematic method: The red and blue remain the same in all trials, and only the yellow varies. Stay tuned!

Isn’t this thrilling?! (Yes, I’m easily amused, especially in the dead of winter.)

1/14/20 Supracolor pencils in S&B Beta (Ruby 280, Permanent Blue 670, Gold
Cadmium Yellow 530)

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