Saturday, December 20, 2014

Tina’s 2014 Top 10

Based on my Blogger page view counts, my annual roundups of top 10 sketching products have been among my most popular posts. So it is with pleasure that I bring you a post I hope you’ll enjoy as much as in previous years – my top 10 for 2014. (You can see how the list has changed – or not – over the years by reviewing 2012 and 2013.)

As was true last year, many items remain the same (marked with *); if something is working well for me, I tend not to go looking for something to replace it simply for a change. (Four products have remained on the list all three years: Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 6. Hmmm. . . I’m so consistent, perhaps I should change this to a top 5 list and include only new items?). On the other hand, I’m always exploring new products, so a few things dropped off the list to make room for others.

My criteria for products appearing on the top 10 change from year to year. For 2014, they are reliability (therefore generally making them most-often used), unique properties (enabling me to do things that no other product can), convenience (allowing me to sketch faster or more easily and therefore more often) or “just because” (I always like to allow for the whim factor). As in previous years, except for No. 1, the numbering does not necessarily indicate a ranking.

10. Pilot Iroshizuku fountain pen inks. This is the only item that falls into the “just because” category. I realize it’s indulgent to include an entire line of water-soluble inks – I could have at least narrowed them down to one or two colors – but I’ve tried and love them all, for both sketching and writing. Momiji, Asa-gao, Yama-budo – they’re brilliant in hue, fast-drying and shade richly when a little water is washed over them. Granted, only a few are appropriate for sketching – Take-sumi is now a favorite black – but that’s why these inks are “just because.” (However, see No. 6 below, which explains how some Iroshizuku colors go beyond the whim factor.)

9. Twig and India ink. Hands down, experimenting with a common twig as a drawing instrument was my single biggest takeaway from the Urban Sketchers Symposium in August. Thanks to Kiah Kiean, I am still exploring this tool, which has unique properties like no other.

8. Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle water-soluble colored pencils. I’ve always kept a few water-soluble colored pencils in my bag, but it wasn’t until this year that I started using them more regularly, and one reason was my discovery of the Caran d’Ache Museum line. Since I almost never use a graphite pencil for anything, I find myself using these colored pencils as a substitute. Although all artist-quality water-soluble colored pencils wash to rich hues with water, Museum pencils are so soft and beautiful even when dry that I find myself reaching for them whenever I want to indicate texture, especially in the background of a sketch. They just feel good to use. Their watercolor qualities are a bonus.

7. Pilot Petit1 fountain pen. This little pen doesn’t get used very often. I keep it in the tiny bag I take on fitness walks, when I usually don’t sketch but occasionally spot wildlife that I can’t bear to pass up. But it’s for that very reason – that I hardly use it – that it made it onto my top 10. This small, very inexpensive pen has the longest idle time of any pen I’ve used. Ink it up, forget about it – and six months later, it will still write like you’ve been using it all along. Remarkable!

6. * Kuretake waterbrushes filled with ink. Last year the Kuretake waterbrush filled with Diamine Grey ink appeared on the top 10 for making shadows easy to apply. I still use that gray ink as well as other grays for shadows (Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-syogun is a current favorite), but now I also carry green inks for quick foliage and Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa for blue skies. (See, this is the more objective, less whimsical [see No. 10] reason that Iroshizuku inks made it onto my list.) They’re not as versatile or esthetically pleasing as watercolors, but you can’t beat the speed and convenience.

5. * Sailor DE Brush Stroke Style Calligraphy Fountain Pen. Although my trusty Sailor pen with the ski-jump fude nib appeared on last year’s top 10, I have to say that I didn’t expect it to supplant all other pens this year. For a while, I thought either the stalwart Pilot Metropolitan or comfortable Pilot Prera would beat out the Lamy Safari (which had appeared on both 2012 and 2013 top 10s) this year as my standard go-to. But once I understood the potential of the Sailor fude’s variable-line-width capabilities, I found all conventional nibs to be ho-hum. I relegated all my Lamys, Metros and other single-line-width pens to writing tasks only and bought several more inexpensive Sailors. (The Sailor fude has, indeed, changed my whole perspective of fountain pen nibs and has led to a lengthy exploration of variable-width nibs. Stay tuned for interesting revelations in early 2015!)

4. * Platinum Carbon Black ink. This waterproof ink has made it onto my top 10 all three years, and for good reason: It has never let me down. It dries almost instantly, is completely waterproof and has never clogged any pen. I’m currently flirting with DeAtramentis Document and Super 5 inks, but I haven’t used these newer waterproof inks long enough to say whether they could supplant trusty Platinum. In fact, Platinum Carbon Black is the standard by which I judge all others.

3. * Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real Brush markers. Ever since I discovered the versatility of putting inks of my choice into waterbrushes (No. 6) – essentially making my own brush markers – I’ve been using Zig markers less frequently. Still, if you like to sketch heavy equipment like I do, what I call “construction zone yellow” gets used more often than you’d think. When I need just a touch of that truly unnatural color for a traffic cone or a construction crane, a Zig comes in very handy. I also like to keep a few in my bag based on seasonal needs. For example, I always keep bright red and green in my bag in December (handy for quick Santa sketches).

2. * Diamine Chocolate Brown ink. I would be embarrassed to tell you exactly how many bottles of ink I own. Yet somehow this particular shade of warm brown is still the one I reach for most often, at least for sketching.

1. * My “Stefano” sketchbook system. Regular readers of this blog will find no surprises here. For its versatility, flexibility, durability (it’s been on three continents with me so far!) and for ultimately leading me to discover the joys of bookbinding, the Stefano is still No. 1. And that brings me to . . .

Some of my handbound sketchbooks.
Honorable mention: My growing collection of handbound sketchbooks – I have 16 now – isnt exactly a sketching supply or tool; the books are the result of sketching. But seeing them lined up on my bookshelves makes me very happy – both for the sketches they contain and the entire sketching process they represent. They deserve special mention.

Falling off the list:
my DIY paint assembly.
Also worth mentioning here is one significant item that fell off the list: my DIY mint tin watercolor sketch kit/mixing palette assembly. Watercolors are certainly still a basic part of my daily-carry sketch kit (as are several other items that fell off the list this year). But as far as the attachment assembly goes, which is the part that made my kit unique, I use it less frequently lately. When I have to sketch standing up, I’m more likely to reach for waterbrushes filled with ink (see No. 7 above), which are far more convenient.


  1. I love reading your top 10 list!!! It narrows down your experimenting with materials to a concise group.

  2. Hmm...not sure what happened but I went to post my comment and it just disappeared. No Captcha, no nothing. I'll try again.

    I love your Top 10 lists except for one thing. They cause me to think that I should do one (grin). I'm curious about green inks in waterbrushes. Do you carry more than one color? What inks have you found useful as foliage colors?

    Happy Holidays, Tina. Thanks for doing your blog; I really enjoy reading it. --- Larry

    1. Larry, I like to experiment with various inks. In the "darker" months, I've been using DeAtramentis Moss Green and Private Reserve Avocado. In the spring and brighter months, I like J. Herbin Vert Olive and Pilot Iroshizuku Chiku-rin. Aren't you glad you asked??! ;-) Happy holidays to you, too, and looking forward to seeing your top 10!

  3. I have truly enjoyed reading your top ten list. Well written and highly informative. Thanks for sharing your hard earned discoveries, your sketches and your journey. Best always to you and yours.


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