Saturday, November 26, 2022

Mini Review: Pentel Fude-Hajime Brush Pen

Pentel Fude-Hajime Brush Pen

Not that I ever need yet another brush pen, but this one sounded a bit different: According to JetPens’ description, the Pentel Fude-Hajime brush pen “features a convenient nylon brush tip that is specially designed for beginners. The nylon tip is both stiffer and shorter than other brush tips, which is designed to be easy to control.” Kind of a brush pen with training wheels.

11/21/22 Pentel Hajime brush pen in Uglybook notebook

Although I don’t really put myself in the “beginner” category for brush pen use, I was curious about a true bristle (“hairy”) brush that could be stiffer and therefore easier to control. I love both bristle and formed-tip (“non-hairy”) brush pens and have used both types for years. The past couple of years, the Uni Pin brush tip has made me lazy by being so easy to use (as well as sturdy under my heavy hand), so it has been my go-to. It was a good time to give the Hajime a try and put a hairy brush pen back into my hand. In fact, it had been so long since I had sketched with a hairy bristle that one with training wheels might not be a bad idea.

As you can see from my sketches, the Hajime offers a good range of line variation. I like the dry-brush effect as only a hairy brush pen can do. But is it stiffer and easier to use than other hairy brush pens? I don’t know about that.

Left: Pentel Hajime; right: Pentel Pocket

I put the Hajime side by side with a Pentel Pocket brush pen, which has long been one of my favorites. The Hajime’s brush is definitely shorter than the Pocket’s, but I don’t feel much difference in the bristles. Perhaps the shorter length makes it slightly easier to control.

The disposable Hajime’s ink is water-soluble, while the Pocket can be refilled with any ink you want (and therefore puts less plastic in the landfill). If you’ve never used a hairy brush pen before, I guess the Hajime is as good a place to start as any. But if you already have and love the Pocket or another similar brush pen, skip the Hajime.

So it’s a perfectly good brush pen – if you consider only the brush. But the deal-breaker for me? The dang cap: It must be turned around before it can be posted! I’ve run into this with a few other Japanese brush pens too, and for the life of me, I cannot see why it would ever be a good idea to break the convention of caps that post the right way! The Japanese are usually so good with product design . . . why, why, why would they do this? Every time I’ve used a brush pen with a cap that posts backwards, at some point, I unconsciously cap it again by trying to jam the end of the cap onto the brush, splaying the bristles and making a mess.

On location when I want everything to be as easy and efficient as possible, having to think about which way the cap posts (and inevitably getting it wrong) makes this pen a stay-at-home.

(We all know how much I love colorful trees in the fall, but I also love bare trees. If you have a brush pen in your hand, they are begging to be drawn.)

Friday, November 25, 2022

Sweet Gums One More Time


11/18/22 Green Lake

My favorite sweet gums at Green Lake are past their prime, but I hadn’t yet sketched them up close (here they are from across the lake, and here from a view that shows only the tallest purplish one). One reason I hadn’t sketched them from the best spot is that the parks department is building a new community boat house nearby, and the construction mess is noisy. The construction trailer was right behind me as I sketched, and the (thankfully temporary) utility poles stand right in the way. Some sketchers would find the ugly poles objectionable and simply leave them out of their sketches. I draws ‘em like I sees ‘em: The poles document the ongoing project.

In any case, this didn’t turn out to be my best sketch of the sweet gums. I had difficulty reserving the white for the poles as I colored and then spritzed the trees. Trying to wipe some errant color from a pole, I inadvertently dragged the tissue through the tree, turning the bright colors into mud. And my scene seems to be lit by more than one sun, based on all the different directions of shadows! HA! Oh, well, we win some, we lose some. Regardless, it was one of the last spectacularly sunny (though cold) days before the more typical rain settled in, and I was happy to stand in the warm sunlight.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Retreat at Green Lake


11/17/22 Retreat, Green Lake neighborhood

In the Before Times, Zoka Coffee had been my favorite wintertime sketching spot for years. Last year after I got vaccinated, I went back eagerly, but somehow, it just didn’t seem the same. Now freshly boostered again, I was ready to get back into coffee shop sketching, and it was time to find a new venue.

Retreat is a newish spot at Green Lake where we enjoyed al fresco lunches or coffee several times during the summer. In the afternoon, it is usually mobbed with the queue overflowing onto the sidewalk. I had noticed on my morning walks, though, that it isn’t crowded at all in the early hours. Compared to Zoka, it’s much larger, it has a more interesting interior, and it also has a very different vibe with a wider range of music genres. I decided to give it a shot last week.

As I’d hoped, it wasn’t crowded, so I had my pick of tables. Unfortunately, I chose a spot that left most patrons backlit against large windows with their faces difficult to see. (Before I left, I cased the joint thoroughly, so I have a better idea now of where to sit next time.) Fueled by good coffee and a decent (but not perfect) blueberry scone (yes, I’m picky about scones), I filled a few pages in my orange Uglybook, trying to get my people-sketching mojo back. Making all those portraits from photos the past couple of months was good practice, but it made me crave sketching people from life all the more. It felt good to be back at it.

Speaking of Uglybooks, the sketch at the top of the page is the first time I opened one up to sketch across the gutter. When I did, I realized that it is only a tiny smidge smaller than an A5 page! Often while sketching at Zoka, I had wished I’d had a toned sketchbook in A5 size so that I could use white pencil or gel pen for the window light. But I knew that as soon as I brought one instead of my usual white sketchbook, I would want the white one (and I had no intention of lugging around two A5 sketchbooks). Now that a color Uglybook is a daily-carry, it gives me the option of toned paper that is nearly as large as an A5. Sweet! Uglybooks are becoming more versatile every day.

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Nordic Museum Interior


11/16/22 National Nordic Museum

We’ve visited the National Nordic Museum several times since it reopened in 2018, and we always enjoy both the exhibits and the café. Since I’ve already sketched many of the more sketchable artifacts, this time I focused on the building’s interior. The distinctive, modern architecture includes walls that slant at unexpected angles and polished, reflective floors. The upper-level exhibits are on two sides of the building connected by bridges. It’s all confusing and challenging, but it helped to keep the studies small. I had fun with the tall, skinny compositions.

Sketching interior views like these hasn’t always been of interest, but my 30-day challenge in studying compositions with IanRoberts’ concepts opened my brain to new ways of seeing. Now I find myself looking for compositions everywhere without consciously making that my goal.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Whimsy! Caran d’Ache Colour Treasure Maxi Graphite Pencils


Caran d'Ache Colour Treasure Maxi graphite pencils

When Caran d’Ache announced its Wonder Forest holiday collection in 2021, of course the limited-edition Prismalo bicolor set got my full attention, but none of the other products in the collection interested me much. The two model-849 ballpoint pens were OK, and the lovely forest green Sharpening Machine would have been nice if it didn’t leave bite marks on pencil barrels. Fortunately for my purse, nothing tempted me.

This year, however, is a different story. Caran d’Ache’s holiday Colour Treasure collection not only includes a new Prismalo bicolor pencil set; it also includes a set of Maxi graphite pencils. With ballpoint pens usually dominating the Swiss company’s gift offerings, pencils are getting equal billing this year. Until recently, I wasn’t enamored with Cd’A graphite, but I’ve lately had better experiences, so I grabbed the Maxis.

The shiny, metallic gold tin is identical to the one containing the bicolors set.

The design of the five HB-grade graphite pencils is similar to the Klein Blue graphite Maxi (which I reviewed last year at
the Well-Appointed Desk). The jumbo-size barrel has the same lovely matte finish and slightly convex, uncovered end. While the Caran d’Ache/Klein Blue co-branding was printed in white, Colour Treasure Maxi pencils have a gold embossed Cd’A logo befitting holiday cheer.

Top: new Colour Treasure Maxi; bottom: Caran d'Ache/Klein Blue collaboration

A slightly convex, unfinished finish

I was tickled to see that, coming from a company that gives the impression of being somewhat formal (some would say stuffy), each Colour Treasure Maxi pencil displays a whimsical expression.


Comparing each with the Klein Blue, I found the HB graphite to be the same (see my review at the previous link to learn more about that). It’s a thick 5mm core, and the chunky barrel is comfortable to write and draw with. I love the feeling of the matte finish in my hand.

11/15/22 Colour Treasure Maxi HB pencil in Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook

Of course, I would have preferred something softer, but as I learned with Cd’A Grafwood pencils last summer, sometimes a pencil just needs to be paired with the right paper. Grafwood, which is too “slippery” for my taste on smooth paper that I would normally prefer with graphite, feels beautiful on velvety Stonehenge Lenox Cotton. With the Maxi, I tried Stillman & Birn Alpha, which has a slightly coarser tooth than Lenox Cotton. I think I prefer Lenox, but I’m on the right track to stay with toothy paper. I prefer Caran d’Ache graphite when it has something to grab.

These fun, colorful Maxis are good drawing pencils – but the bad news comes from the back end. I initially noticed that the factory sharpening revealed slanted collar tops (where the graphite meets the wood) – usually a sign of off-center cores. The bare ends tell the full story.

Slanted collar tops

Three of five cores are clearly off-center, and one is a bit off-center.

I have never seen any off-center cores on Cd’A’s high-end colored or graphite pencils. Maybe these holiday Maxis are considered novelty and not high end, but at this price (five for €24 at Penworld), it’s disappointing to find anything but perfectly centered cores.

OK, I’ll forgive you this time, Caran d’Ache, but only because the Maxis are lovely and also fun.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Wallingford Center: For the Hardy, Hardcore or Cozy

11/19/22 Wallingford Center behind trees

Located inside the restored Interlake Public School building, Wallingford Center is a spacious retail and business venue that was originally built in 1908. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s an ideal winter meetup location for USk Seattle because it offers shelter if the weather is bad and an old surrounding neighborhood if the weather is hospitable. On a brilliantly sunny but cold Saturday, a strong turnout of urban sketchers bundled up for the morning, though I must say that not many were hardy (or hardcore) enough to sketch outdoors.

Taekwondo Institute building
Chilled the whole time, even while standing in the sun, I’m not sure I qualify as hardy, so I must be hardcore. I started out with a sketch of an old building at the corner of North 45th and Burke Avenue North, which is currently the home of the Taikwondo Institute (at right). The building is actually blue and yellow, neither of which I have in my secondary triad palette, so I looked at it as a study in cool and warm by using dark violet and orange.

Needing to warm up, I went inside Wallingford Center, where the majority of sketchers had smartly and comfortably settled in. I think some of the center’s boutique shops didn’t survive the pandemic; I saw several shuttered spots and not many shoppers. In fact, I saw almost no one besides sketchers! At the end of one corridor, I found a beautiful, quarter-round-shaped window in the wall between the main hall and a stairwell. It was just the kind of thing I like to take on with a small value study.

Inside Wallingford Center

After that short break, I put my down parka and gloves back on to venture outdoors for one more sketch. The entrance of Wallingford Center with columns was mostly in shade, but from across the street, I got a good view of the airy, orange tree in front (top of post). I wanted to be sure to get the open panel truck, so I put that in first, and sure enough, it drove off shortly thereafter.

The hardy...

... and the cozy!

Not exactly mobbed with shoppers.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Golden! Caran d’Ache Colour Treasure Prismalo Bicolors

Caran d'Ache's third and latest Prismalo bicolor set: Colour Treasure!

Last holiday season, Caran d’Ache released a new set of
Prismalo bicolors as part of its Wonder Forest holiday theme. It had been two years since the first bicolors set was released around the same time of year (though without a holiday theme). I wondered then if I would have to wait another two years to see the next edition. To my delight, I had to wait only one year!

Caran d’Ache’s latest limited-edition Prismalo bicolors set is part of its Colour Treasure holiday collection. The collection also includes a set of Maxi-size graphite pencils, two styles of 849 ballpoint pens, a luxury Ecridor ballpoint pen, and a set of coloring postcards. Here’s what Caran d’Ache says about the new bicolors set:

COLOUR TREASURE: a rainbow of colours that brings out the inner child that lies in each and every one of us. Caran d’Ache makes the festive period truly magical with this sparkling and high-energy collection that delights all fans of colour. Twelve two-tone Prismalo water-soluble pencils, including 3 original combinations, offer 24 enchanting colours recalling childhood emotions that are constantly renewed.

A fan of color? Twenty-four enchanting ones that recall childhood emotions? Add to cart! (Actually, hold on, and I’ll tell you where it costs less.)

The Colour Treasure set comes with a watercolor brush.
(The shiny, reflective tin sure is difficult to photograph without turning into a selfie.)

The latest bicolors set comes in a shiny gold tin with the same design as the red Wonder Forest tin and the original silver tin. Like the Wonder Forest set, Colour Treasure comes with a watercolor paint brush. The original set came with a waterbrush. To recap, all three sets are shown below (a good excuse for eye candy).

From left: original 2019 set; 2021 Wonder Forest; 2022 Colour Treasure

Although the description says that the Colour Treasure set includes “3 original combinations,” the actual number of new colors is confusing. Compared to the previous two bicolor sets, I found four colors that have not been included before, but each is paired with a color that has been included in one of the other sets. To add to the confusion, the Colour Treasure set includes a metallic silver and gold pairing, which also appears in the Wonder Forest set – except in the Colour Treasure set, the metallic gold color is called Dark Gold (899), which looks identical to the previous Gold (499). Is Dark Gold new? I see no discernible difference. And if it’s the same as Gold, why change the number?

Four of the eight colors in the top four pencils are new. Got that?

To complicate matters further, none of the bicolors in any set has Prismalo color names or numbers printed on them. If you care about which colors are included, you have to download the color charts (usually provided by online vendors). Whew! I had to take a nap after all this, but as far as I can tell, these are the four colors in the Colour Treasure set that have not appeared previously (I’m not counting Dark Gold):

Veronese Green (201)
Reddish Orange (040)
Pale Yellow (011)
Emerald Green (210)

If I had to give an objective evaluation of the three bicolors sets, I’d have to say that Wonder Forest is probably the best bang for the buck – the widest range of colors and with unique holiday-ish pairings like red/green and silver/gold. The original set also contains a solid range, but includes only 10 pencils instead of 12. Colour Treasure duplicates eight pairings from other sets, and the new colors are too similar to others to add much value. In particular, Pale Yellow (011) is too pale to do much with.

But I quibble. Who am I to complain about any set of bicolor watercolor pencils by Caran d’Ache? I have no shame in saying that I love them all!

I used a Prismalo bicolor from the Wonder Forest set to
crosshatch this pug because I knew it was hard yet pigmented
enough to do the job (note the fine whiskers).
I used water sparingly to retain the crosshatched look.
As I’ve said before (see my post about the original set for a full review of the pencils’ performance), while Prismalo quality is nowhere near that of Museum Aquarelle or Supracolor, it has a legitimate place in Caran d’Ache’s product line (not to mention history). Harder and thinner than Supracolor, Prismalo sharpens to a beautiful, firm point that’s handy for details, yet it’s soft enough to cover small areas quickly.

My compact skyscapito sketch kit.

When I started making occasional sketches of sky activity early this year, I put together a compact kit of bicolors for those spontaneous thumbnails, sometimes made in the wee hours. I’ve been using the handy kit for skyscapitos ever since (at left). Prismalos are too hard to make me happy on location when I want to spread color quickly, but they are fine for making 2-by-3-inch sketches.

By our (my) picky standards now, Prismalo may seem so-so. Historically speaking, however, Prismalo quality must have dazzled colored pencil users back in the ‘30s when Caran d’Ache introduced them – the first watercolor pencil in the world. I recently learned that the artist Alberto Giacometti had used Prismalo for lithograph preparatory drawings in the ‘50s. I’ve tried quite a few vintage colored pencils, both traditional and watercolor, from that era, and none I know of can compare with Prismalo’s pigment quality (even my oldest set, which has less pigment than contemporary Prismalos).

The 2021 Wonder Forest set included the same watercolor brush as in the Colour Treasure set.
 (The top 6 pencils were new compared to the 2019 original set.)

The 2019 original set included 10 bicolors and a waterbrush.

All of this is just my geeky, long-winded way of saying I’m thrilled that Caran d’Ache has come out with a third bicolor set just in time for holiday gift-giving. (I’m still thanking myself for this early gift, which I even had the joy of opening! See below.)

Speaking of which, if you’re interested in such a gift (for yourself or others), as usual, the Colour Treasure set is not easy to find. Although a few US shops – Pen Chalet, Atlas Stationers, Gold Spot and Gentleman Stationer so far – are carrying the collection’s pens, postcards or graphite pencils, the only online sources I’ve found for the bicolors set are in Europe. The least expensive is Penworld in Belgium, where I got mine (with very reasonable shipping, too). Surprisingly, Penworld’s price is lower than that of either of the previous bicolor sets. In fact, Penworld’s prices for the whole Colour Treasure collection are lower than other sources. (I may have purchased another part of the collection. . . stay tuned.)

11/20/22 update: Penworld seems to have raised the price since I bought mine... and it's now out of stock! 

My order from Penworld: I love it when shops include a handwritten note and even lemon drops! And my pencil set was gift-wrapped! 

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