Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tina’s 2015 Top 10

My Top 10 products of the year!

It’s time for the fourth annual roundup of my Top 10 sketching products of the year! In addition to being one of my most-read posts each year, it’s also one of my favorites to put together because I enjoy assessing which tools and materials have served my sketching needs best this year.

Last year, six of the 10 products on my list were repeats from previous years; in fact, four had remained in the Top 10 for the three years that I’d been making the list. That says to me that, despite my penchant for experimenting with new materials (especially pens!), I stick with what I like as long as it’s still working for me.

That’s why it surprises me to see that several new products made it onto the list this year, including a couple of dark horses (and therefore several had to drop off). Only three items were repeats from last year. I hope that means that while I’m loyal to products that work, I’m also not in a rut of using the same ol’ stuff out of habit.

I was torn about taking some items off the list because they still serve me well, if only sporadically (like the truly amazing Pilot Petit1, which has been inked up continuously for more than a year, gets used only every few months while I’m fitness walking, yet still writes immediately as soon as I uncap it). But my selection criteria change from year to year, and this year I put more emphasis on versatility (especially during travel when I try to keep my bag as light as possible) and convenience (allowing me to sketch faster or more easily and therefore more often). I did, however, want to make room for those surprising dark horses that haven’t been in my bag long. (They may turn out to be novelties rather than keepers; only time will tell.)
12/11/15 Sailor Naginata fude pen,
Sailor Jentle Doyou ink

Items marked with * are repeats from last year. To see how the list has changed – or not – over the years, please review 2012, 2013 and 2014. The photo reference numbers do not indicate ranking.

1. Modified Pilot Parallel fountain pen. In its unmodified state, the Pilot Parallel has a fun and interesting nib, but it wouldn’t have made it onto the list if I hadn’t discovered how to hack it. The first of this year’s dark horses, my 3.8mm and (to a lesser extent) 6mm hacked Parallels have proven to be amazingly versatile in a very short time.

2. Sailor Naginata Fude de Mannen. Unsurprisingly, this pen performs as beautifully as I had always hoped a “grail” pen would, once I got to it on my Epic Search. It’s gratifying to find a pen that works so well and also feels so comfortable in the hand. Of course, by the time I acquired it, I had been trained well on fude nib operation by the Naginata’s various fude brothers – the Profit, Clear Candy and original “calligraphy” pen – so they deserve mention here (indeed, I still keep one or two other fudes in my bag when I need more ink colors), but only the Big Daddy is on the Top 10. (You’re wondering if my new Sailor Cross Point, still on its honeymoon with me, tried to wiggle its way onto this list? Of course it did. But even I wouldn’t put a pen on the list when it’s still on its honeymoon. Let’s see if it’s here next year.)

3. Pilot fountain pen with Posting nib. This remarkable nib makes one of the finest lines of any pen I’ve used, and yet it is also smoother than many with a broader point – and certainly smoother than any with an equivalent nib size. Being both smooth and extra fine put this pen on my list. It’s now my go-to pen for containing waterproof Platinum Carbon Black ink (see No. 5 below) because its fine line is unobtrusive with watercolors.

4. Sailor Jentle Doyou ink. Replacing Diamine Chocolate Brown, Sailor Doyou
4/3/15 Sailor Jentle Doyou ink
(“Midsummer Dark Brown”) is a cooler, darker brown-black that washes to a velvety sable. I’ve been using it almost exclusively in my Sailor Naginata fude (see No. 2 above).

5. * Platinum Carbon Black ink. This waterproof ink is the only product that has been on my Top 10 all four years, and for good reason: It has never let me down. It dries almost instantly, is completely waterproof and has never clogged any pen. At various times I tried DeAtramentis Document, Super 5 and Sailor Nano Kiwa-Guro waterproof inks, but none was as consistently reliable as Platinum. This year I’ve also included Platinum Carbon cartridges in the photo because they’ve proven to be my best back-up plan (along with a lightweight Platinum Preppy) when I travel.

6. Water-soluble colored pencils: Last year my favorite Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle water-soluble colored pencils made it onto the Top 10, not only for their rich hues when washed with water but also for their soft, creamy texture when used dry. While Museum pencils are still my favorite line, I’ve given watercolor pencils a generic listing this year simply for their all-around versatility and convenience. The Museum line doesn’t come in as wide a range of colors as Caran d’Ache Supracolor II or Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, so I use carefully selected hues from all three lines when I need quick spots of color while sketching on the street as well as still lifes and studies at home. For the first time since I started listing my Top 10 products, Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real-Brush Markers fell off the list because colored pencils are proving to be more versatile. (However, I still keep a Bright Yellow Zig marker in my bag at all times. That particularly artificial shade of yellow is ideal for traffic cones, heavy equipment and construction workers’ hardhats – a color that’s not easily mixed.)
11/5/15 Sky and shadow applied with
waterbrushes filled with ink.

7. * Kuretake waterbrushes filled with ink. When I first discovered the trick of filling waterbrushes with inks, I used them primarily with gray inks for easy shadows. More recently, I started carrying green inks for quick foliage and Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa for blue skies. I even filled one with a custom red-orange mix to match the anticipated fall foliage in Kyoto last month. They have essentially become my DIY markers, filled as needed. They may not be as esthetically pleasing as watercolors, but you can’t beat the speed and convenience.

8. Kuretake (“No. 13”) fountain pen style brush pen. Although I’ve named this particular model because it’s the one I’ve been carrying lately, I’d be hard-pressed to say why I prefer it over any other real brush pen I’ve tried (and I’ve tried quite a few). All of the Japanese brush pens are similar (the synthetics are just as good as the more expensive real-animal-hair versions), and I use them interchangeably. One major advantage Kuretake has over some other brands is that it accommodates waterproof Platinum Carbon Black fountain pen ink cartridges (see No. 5 above), so it can be used with watercolors. In fact, this brush pen containing PCB has replaced the twig-and-India-ink combo that made it onto the list last year. While twigmaster Ch’ng Kiah Kiean is inspiring, trying to wield a twig without his particular brand of magic is a formidable challenge. Still, I love the rough, organic look of a twig mark. The brush pen gives me more control than a twig while still imparting sketches with an appealing rustic line. If the cartridge is running dry, I can even emulate KK’s signature dry-twig look (without the magic, of course).
11/30/15 Zebra double-ended brush pen
and colored pencils

9. Zebra double-ended brush pen. The second dark horse on this year’s list, the Zebra double brush pen is a relatively recent discovery that continues to delight with its versatility. I first discovered it at life drawing, where it encouraged me to loosen up. Then in Japan, I found it to be ideal for architecture, too – somehow it took away the intimidation I felt when trying to sketch buildings with a fine nib pen. Its firm, spongy brush tip (not hairs like the Kuretake above) gives me just enough additional control (compared to the hairy brush), and having two tip sizes in one pen makes it all the more versatile.
    10. * My Stefano sketchbook system. There’s no doubt that this simple leather folder with elastic bands has liberated me from the restrictions of store-bought sketchbooks. On my Top 10 since I got it, my versatile, flexible and durable Stefano has been with me on four continents so far. You’ll notice that this year I’ve included a “bare” signature of paper in the above photo, too. That’s because this year I discovered even more flexibility about the “system”: While the leather cover is essential when I’m sketching standing up or using watercolors and need a stable support, many times I can get by with only a thin, light signature of paper. When traveling, I’ve used the signature both ways – with and without the supporting cover. At home, I now do the same thing: When sketching outdoors (and probably standing), I use the cover; when sketching indoors and seated, I use the signature alone. Either way, the system meets my needs exactly.
My "Stefano" doing what it does best: supporting
my sketchbook signature when I sketch
on my feet.

Honorable mention:

Initially I was going to give Field Notes honorable mention for finally putting a paper in its Workshop Companion edition that I found satisfactory for fountain pen sketches washed lightly. It was as close as I have ever come to finding an ideal pocket-size sketchbooklet. But being a limited edition, the source is finite and unreliable, and I don’t even like the covers. I’ll probably keep looking for the perfect pocket-size book for the rest of my life, but in the meantime, I’ll keep making my own.

Instead, I’m giving honorable mention to the Faber-Castell 9000 pencil sharpener that I bought at Sekaido in Tokyo. I’ve been looking far and wide for a portable pencil sharpener that can accommodate my slightly-larger-circumference Caran d’Ache Museum colored pencils (see No. 6 above), and this is the first one that does it sufficiently (not beautifully, mind you – just adequately). It gets bonus points for a sleek design that contains its shavings. It might have made it onto the Top 10 – except it doesn’t sharpen standard-size pencils well! I’m holding out for a portable pencil sharpener that accommodates all my pencils. (Yes, I do sharpen with a knife when I’m home. But I can’t carry a knife when I fly, and Id rather not on the street, either.)

By the way, since I’d been having so much trouble finding a sharpener to fit my Caran d’Ache pencils, it was logical to see if Caran d’Ache made one, right? A little research uncovered one; its price is more than $150. I’ll pass on that. For now, I’m good with the Faber-Castell 9000 that cost me the U.S. equivalent of a couple bucks at Sekaido.

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