Sunday, February 28, 2016

Follow-up Review: Waterproof and Refillable Non-Hairy Brush Pens

Non-hairy brush pens with waterproof ink.
In January I reviewed seven brush pens with non-hairy tips (defined by me as tips made of a compressed material that can’t be separated into individual hairs). In that review, I wrote at length about how I like to use these non-hairy brush pens, so I won’t repeat myself here. This follow-up addresses two characteristics – waterproof ink and refillability – that weren’t well-represented in that group.

Although many different types of non-hairy brush pens are available, almost all contain water-soluble inks, which I often prefer. Once in a while, though, I want a waterproof brush pen to use with watercolors, and the only non-hairy ones I’d found were the Faber-Castell Pitt and the Deleter Neopiko Line 3, both of which have relatively small tips (smaller than I like).

My bigger complaint with all of the non-hairy brush pens I reviewed was that none was refillable. Since easily refillable hairy brush pens in a fountain-pen-like form factor are readily available (I included four in my hairy review), it seemed to me that a non-hairy counterpart should be available somewhere.

Shortly after I published that post, several new (to me) non-hairy brush pens came to my attention – all of which contain completely waterproof ink! The tips are all similar in material but vary slightly in sponginess. The biggest differences among them are size and price (although, as I’ve said before, it’s difficult to evaluate price, since it’s impossible to know how much ink they contain):

1. The Marvy LePen Technical Drawing brush pen (a gift – thanks, Michele!) has a slightly soft tip that I like, but its tip is also smaller than I prefer, comparing closely to the Faber-Castell Pitt and the Deleter Neopiko Line 3 mentioned earlier.

2. The Pilot Futayaku double-sided brush pen has the benefit of two sizes of tips in one. The larger end is about the same size as the Marvy LePen, but it’s firmer. The smaller end is small enough that it can be used to write with easily.

3. The Sakura Pigma Professional brush pen has a nice, big tip with a springy sponginess more comparable to the ones I like in my January review. (Updated 4/16/16: This pen has a bad habit of leaking, and the point mushes down quickly -- I don't recommend it!)

The three pens above are all also available in non-brush tips similar to other technical pens.

2/23/16 Sketched first with the Platinum Art
Pocket Brush Pen filled with Platinum Carbon
Black ink and painted afterwards.
4. The best find came as a gift from a blog reader and fellow Seattle Pen Club member (thanks, Alex!). Noting my complaint that none of the non-hairy pens I knew about were refillable, he handed me a Platinum Japanese Art Pocket Brush Pen. Although the tip isn’t as large as I’d like (it’s comparable to the Marvy LePen and Pilot Futayaku), it’s a bit spongier than the others, and best of all, it has the fountain pen form factor I love. It takes standard Platinum fountain pen cartridges (as well as a Platinum converter), so I can fill it with my favorite bottled waterproof ink, Platinum Carbon Black (it came with one cartridge of it). Eureka!

Purchased at the Japanese dollar (or rather, dollar-and-a-half) store Daiso downtown, it doesn’t seem to be available at Daiso’s online store. Seattle is lucky enough to have several branches of these sometimes-strange, often-amusing chain stores. A new one opened right before the holidays in the Roosevelt Square neighborhood only a mile or so from home, so I don’t have to go all the way downtown or to the International District to shop there anymore. Right after the Pen Club meeting, I stopped off at that Daiso to look for the Platinum pen, but alas, my Roosevelt store didn’t have it. However, I discovered that JetPens carries it, too (unfortunately, for more than double the price of Daiso, where almost everything goes for $1.50).

I’ve been testing the Platinum Art Pocket Brush Pen lately, and its tip is nearly as responsive and spongy as any other non-hairy brush pen I’ve tried. But at $1.50 and refillable, it’s clearly the biggest bang for the buck-fifty.

A non-refillable, waterproof, non-hairy brush pen by Platinum
Edited 3/12/16: Finding myself near the International District Daiso store yesterday, I went in to look for the Platinum Art Pocket Brush Pen. This branch didn’t stock it either, but instead I found a different Platinum non-hairy brush pen. Unfortunately, it’s not refillable, but the ink is completely waterproof, and the large brush tip is the kind I prefer. Neither the packaging nor the pen says in English that it is made by Platinum (I had to do a little Japanese deciphering), but it can be identified by the gold bamboo leaves on the pen body. At $1.50, it’s less than half the price of the Pigma BB (the only other waterproof non-hairy brush pen I found with a large brush tip), so you can’t beat the value. If only it were refillable.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Jammin’ at Wintergrass!

2/26/16 inks, colored pencils

Today was Wintergrass, one of my favorite Urban Sketchers indoor sketching events! We’ve sketched the annual bluegrass music festival at the Bellevue Hyatt three years in a row (see 2015 and 2014), and it gets more fun each year. It’s hard to beat all that toe-tapping music as an accompaniment to sketching. I also see a parallel between bluegrass jammin’ and urban sketchin’ – people with a common passion getting together to do their thing. My only regret today was that I couldn’t stay longer.

2/26/16 ink
Having just finished Suhita Shirodkar’s Craftsy course, Figure Sketching Made Simple, I warmed with a few pages of gesture sketches trying to capture the “lines of action.” Then I roamed around the Hyatt enjoying the music and impromptu dancing, stopping now and then to sketch groups of jammers.

With 10 minutes left to kill before the sketchbook sharing, I stood on the stairwell overlooking the main lobby, where bright red lanterns hang in a small bamboo grove.

2/26/16 inks, colored pencils

2/26/16 Zebra brush pen, colored pencil

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Late February at Green Lake

2/25/16 brush pen, watercolor, inks, colored pencil
Taking a short break from work this afternoon but without a plan or thought, I found myself driving to the south end of Green Lake to a scene I had sketched two summers ago. We’d had a lot of rain then, but that day the sun was back, and I had decided I could skip my yoga class to sketch instead. This week we’ve had a wonderful run of warm and dry weather – today it got all the way up to 60 degrees! – so it must have been that unexpected delight that brought me to the same spot. Except for the firs in the distance, the trees are still black and bare at Green Lake – not a bud in sight. But if you had asked the many strollers, runners, dog walkers and bike riders what season it is, they would have answered unanimously, “Spring!”

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Into the Sun

2/23/16 brush pen, inks
Early yesterday morning, frost coated the windshields, but by noon it was warm enough to stand on the sidewalk for a sketch. Today the day began with no frost at all, and as I stood in Puetz Golf Shop’s parking lot this afternoon to sketch its vintage sign, it felt downright balmy. In both cases, I had to face the sun to get the compositions I wanted, which is obviously not ideal for sketching, but you know what? It felt so good to feel the sun that I didn’t care at all.

2/24/16 inks, colored pencils

Monday, February 22, 2016

Digesting and Integrating

2/22/16 (1-min. pose)
It’s been a week since Mark Kang-O’Higgins’ Expressive Figure Drawing workshop, and I’m only just beginning to digest the concepts and techniques we learned. In addition, a few days ago I finished Suhita Shirodkar’s new Craftsy class, Figure Sketching Made Simple (highly recommended! It’s half price if you register through a link on Suhita’s blog), so her techniques for capturing people in motion have also been running through my head.

This morning in the life-drawing open session, I was trying to integrate what I had learned from both courses. Mark urged us to see and draw the body’s masses and volumes rather than lines. His emphasis on anatomy helped me see how muscles flex and relax in opposition – and how to capture that tension. He also instructed us to observe which leg is supporting the model’s weight and the angles of the shoulders and hips.

2/22/16 (2-min. pose)
Although Suhita’s course focuses on capturing human motion rather than posed models (in all of her demos, she sketches from videos, not photos), I could still apply her main principle of looking for the “line of action” to find where the figure’s weight is and the angles formed by the shoulders and hips. (A-ha! The same principle learned in Mark’s workshop!) Studying the economical brush pen lines Suhita uses to capture those lines of action, I realized that she is seeing exactly what Mark wanted us to see – volumes and masses rather than contours. So those are the things I tried to emulate this morning. (Look back at the life-drawing session I went to a couple weeks ago or the week before that – can you see a difference?)

Another point Mark stressed repeatedly was that regardless of the length of the pose, we should draw as if the pose is no more than a minute long. That is, even if a pose is five or 20 minutes long, we should capture the initial gesture quickly (like Suhita’s line of action), and then use the additional time to refine and add details. By always drawing as if we only have a minute, the initial gesture stays fresh. This lesson was very much counter to my usual life-drawing practice, which was to draw fast during short poses but take my time with longer poses. Today I took Mark’s lesson to heart and tried to keep each initial gesture short and fresh, no matter how much time I had.
2/22/16 (2-min. pose)

The drawing at the very end of this post shows one more tip I learned from Mark. After I finished the sketch, I could see that I had made the model’s upper arm longer than it should be, and I had to figure out where I had gone wrong. I recalled Mark’s “plumb line” tip, which is to find a point of reference (such as the nose) and draw a line straight down to see what it passes through. Sure enough, I had positioned the head incorrectly, which made the arm come out too long. If I had made those plumb lines while I was still taking measurements and putting in setup marks, I would have been able to correct the head’s position before drawing the arm, and the proportion probably would have been more accurate.

Now if I can just remember next time. . . !

2/22/16 (2-min. pose)
2/22/16 (10-min. pose)
2/22/16 (15-min. pose)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

McMenamins Anderson School

2/21/16 Platinum brush pen, watercolor, colored pencils

McMenamins is a Washington and Oregon chain of unique hotels, brew pubs and other venues housed in renovated historic buildings. Appointed with lively themed décor and artwork, the various McMenamins locations serve great food and brews (my favorite is the Terminator Stout!). Urban Sketchers Seattle’s ad hoc Friday group has sketched a couple times at McMenamins’ 6 Arms Pub on Capitol Hill.

This morning USk Seattle met at McMenamins newest location that opened last fall in the Anderson School property in Bothell. In addition to a hotel, this McMenamins also includes a movie theater and several food and beverage venues on the grounds of the former Bothell Junior High, built in 1931.

Although cold, it wasn’t yet raining when we arrived, so many sketchers got a sketch or two outdoors. Bundled up in my down jacket, scarf and fingerless gloves, I wasn’t too uncomfortable as I sketched the tiny Shed, which looks no bigger than an actual shed, except it’s apparently large enough to go inside and sit with an ale.

2/21/16 Zebra brush pen
When my feet started to get numb, I ducked into the Tavern on the Square, the largest food venue on the premises, to warm up. Joining a number of other sketchers scattered about the toasty fireplace and lounge area, I made a small sketch of a booth next to the bar. A glass of Terminator was tempting, but I had to drive myself home, so I settled for coffee.

I wanted to go back outside to take a few photos, but by then it started pouring, and a harsh wind came up, too. We all agreed that McMenamins Anderson School is worth revisiting, especially when the weather warms up.

Saturday, February 20, 2016


2/20/16 ink, colored pencils
A few days ago Facebook kindly informed me of a “memory” from a year ago: a sketch I’d made of a cherry tree that was already starting to blossom (see below) outside my neighborhood public library. A few weeks later, that very tree was taken out for some sewer work, and I was heartbroken. Quite old and broad, the tree must have been of a variety that blooms early, because it was always one of the first decorative cherries to blossom in my ‘hood. I looked to it as my harbinger of spring.

The sun was out all day today, and by afternoon it was warm enough to sketch outdoors for a few minutes. Thinking about the old cherry that was removed, I decided to visit its little replacement (at left). Supported by braces, it’s so thin and spindly looking that I had to sketch it from a different angle to see it well. It’s nowhere near blossoming, but when I examined it closely, I daresay I could see that it was covered with tight, dark pink buds. There’s hope of spring after all!

2/17/15 ink, watercolor

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Body Language at Starbucks

2/18/16 ink, colored pencil

I couldn’t hear a word they were saying, but I didn’t have to.

With his back to me, the man on the left was clearly in charge of the meeting. At first I thought the long-haired younger man was being interviewed for a job, but after a while, I decided he was more like a contractor who’d already gotten the assignment, and now the manager was explaining the project to him. The manager was doing most of the talking as they both looked at a document he had brought, gesticulating now and then to emphasize a point. The contractor mostly listened and nodded occasionally.
2/18/16 ink

At least 10 minutes late for the meeting, a third guy showed up (if I’d known he was going to join this meeting, I would have left space for him in the first composition). It was obvious to me that he was there for political reasons – probably representing another team – because he wasn’t at all interested in what the other two guys were saying. Occasionally he’d sneak peaks at his phone or gaze out the window, his mind a hundred miles away. He had the best haircut of the three, though.

2/18/16 Sakura Koi marker, brush pens, colored pencils

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Scone-Fortified Ballpoint Hatching

2/16/16 ballpoint
The last time I experimented with a ballpoint pen, I didn’t do much hatching, which is pretty much the only way to get any shading with it. This morning at Zoka Coffee, I let myself warm up with my favorite and familiar fountain pen (bottom of page). Then I spotted a few people with strong shadows on their faces, which I knew would be helpful in my next exercise. After a break to munch my scone and let my brain shift gears, I got out a four-color ballpoint.

Hatching looks really harsh and unattractive on faces, at least the way I do it; I was wincing the whole time I was sketching. Still, I’ve seen it done well, even on faces, so I know it’s only a matter of studying those drawings in which the hatching is done well and – you guessed it – practicing. Using a wash of ink for shading is so much faster and easier, but I know that hatching is teaching me more about shaping a subtle contour with line only.

2/16/16 ballpoint
By the way, I’ve upgraded my ballpoint to a four-color Uni Jetstream, which has less tendency to blob than the “hotel” Bics, and the mechanism is smoother than the classic four-color Bic I was using earlier. As long as I’ve got four colors in one pen, I’m also seeing if I can cheat with hues to help with the shading. (An added benefit of the four-color pen over Bic sticks is its larger diameter, similar to my favorite fountain pens, which is more comfortable.)

2/16/16 ballpoint
2/16/16 ballpoint
2/16/16 fountain pen, colored pencil

2/16/16 fountain pen, colored pencils

Monday, February 15, 2016

‘A sense of concentrated urgency’

2/14/16 charcoal and sanguine pencils (20-min. pose)
Whew! When I got home last night, I plopped down in my recliner, ready for Valentine champagne and some TV binge-watching! I had spent the weekend in Mark Kang-O’Higgins’ “Expressive Figure Drawing” workshop at Gage, and I was exhausted!

Over the course of two days, we repeatedly sketched the model during one- to 20-minute poses using a variety of techniques designed to push us past capturing the gesture all the way to creating drawings with a conceptual nature. I don’t know how far I got in making such drawings, but I know I worked hard!

Unlike most life-drawing classes at the Gage Academy (which is grounded in traditional art practices), Mark was open to students using any media we wanted. This was a huge relief, because I hate charcoal! Still, I wanted to push myself to use media I don’t normally use, so I pulled out some charcoal, sanguine and sepia pencils I found in my vast arsenal. Although not as soft as traditional vine charcoal, these pencils could still be smudged, blended and erased like charcoal (but left my hands clean!). I was surprised by how much I enjoyed using them.
2/13/16 sanguine pencil

A bigger challenge was exactly that – using large paper. Accustomed to my typical 9-by-12-inch sketchbook, I found myself making small drawings on 18-by-24 paper. It took a while to get used to working large.

Highly knowledgeable in human anatomy, Mark didn’t have time in a two-day workshop to give us much anatomical information, but the part he did give us – the structure of the head – was very useful as an introduction to the second day’s emphasis on expressive portraiture.

A highlight of the weekend was Mark’s 20-minute demo of a portrait. Using charcoal and white chalk on toned paper and talking the entire time he was drawing, explaining the strategy behind each move, he magically made a portrait appear. The “magic” was the way he focused almost entirely on shadow shapes, not details, for most of that time, then used the last few minutes to put in small marks that accented key features. Magic! (No, not really – more like decades of practice.)

Some of the techniques we used for developing expressiveness were things like making multiple overlapping drawings on a page, using varying line weight instead of shading to indicate light and shadow, and scribbling wildly on the blank sheet before beginning the drawing (which takes away the “preciousness” of the drawing). I enjoyed the scribbling part a lot!

Mark believes strongly that building artistic skill comes slowly and gradually over time with continual practice, not “talent.” That said, he also stressed that the practice has to be self-critical and not simply repeating the same mistakes.

2/14/16 sepia pencil (20 min. pose)
In one of his handouts, he urges students to work “with a sense of concentrated urgency . . . Developing artistic skills do not often come in a short space of time, rather long-term dedication, diligence and hard work.” Definitely feeling myself working with concentrated urgency, I had been introduced to many principles and techniques in two days. But now it’s up to me to “internalize these techniques, practice them over a long period of time” and make them my own.

2/14/16 sepia pencil (20-min. pose)

2/14/16 charcoal and sanguine pencils (5-min. poses)

2/13/16 charcoal and sanguine pencils (1 and 2-min. poses)

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Armory’s Men

2/11/16 Zebra brush pen, colored pencil
Whenever Urban Sketchers Seattle sketches one event or another at the Seattle Center, we tend to use the Armory as a meeting or lunching place because the food court has plenty of tables and convenient food choices. If there’s an event going on in there (frequent in the summer), it can be mobbed. After sketching the Hello Kitty exhibition on Thursday, I walked over to the Armory, where apparently no events were scheduled, and the place was nearly deserted.

At least it was deserted of Seattle Center visitors. Most of the people there were more like residents – homeless (or maybe just jobless) men who seem to use it regularly as a daytime shelter. I suppose it’s like an indoor city park. Fortunately, they are left alone by Armory security. In fact, the three men I sketched (below) seemed to be on a first-name basis with one of the security guards, who stopped to chat with them.

2/11/16 Zebra brush pen, colored pencil

Friday, February 12, 2016


2/12/16 inks, colored pencils

Wherever you sit, whichever way you turn your head, your eyes are likely to land on something furry, feathery, funny or otherwise sketchable at Drunky’s Two Shoe BBQ in Fremont. Urban Sketchers Seattle discovered this place last summer when a few of us stopped there for lunch after sketching nearby at the Ship Canal. We agreed that Drunky’s was ripe for its own sketch outing some indoor-weather day. Today was the day.

I chose a stool at the end of the bar, and my eyes landed immediately on two sketchable sights: Frank Ching at the bar next to me and the elk head mounted on the wall. Behind them both was the sunlit backroom, where I regret I didn’t have time to sketch some of the many oddities in every nook and cranny. At least I got the chainsaw chandelier (one of two!) last time.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Supercuteness at EMP

2/11/16 ink, colored pencils (Super Space Titan Kitty
sculpture by Colin Christian)
I wasn’t exactly a little girl when I discovered and became enamored with all things Hello Kitty. The Japanese pop culture icon was introduced to the U.S. market in 1975 when I was already in high school, but that didn’t stop me from collecting many red and pink plastic products with the white cat’s likeness. In fact, I was well into adulthood by the time I finally stopped collecting Hello Kitty (and if truth be known, it was only three years ago that I added one more item to that collection).

As it turns out, Hello Kitty isn’t so young herself anymore – she turned 40 last year, and as part of that celebration, Seattle’s Experience Music Project Museum brought in the exhibit “Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty” (subtitle: “Meet the icon that conquered the world in this supercute exhibition”). To be honest, I wasn’t inclined to pay EMP’s steep admission of $24 to see the show, but a friend with an EMP membership knew I wanted to go, so she generously gave me a free pass. Even if I had paid full price, though, I think I would have felt the show was worthwhile. As I saw case after case of coin purses, notebooks, lunch boxes, back packs and more cuteness – much of which I owned at one point (or still own, somewhere in the attic) – the fun and nostalgia fest were worth the ticket price.

2/11/16 ink, rainbow pencil (time capsule)
More interesting was the large selection of new art that had been created in recent years – either inspired by, mocking or satirizing Hello Kitty. By far the most impressive piece was “Super Space Titan Kitty,” a huge sculpture by Colin Christian, which is prominently displayed near the Guitar Gallery in the main lobby that I sketched a few years ago.

A large transparent time capsule shaped like Hello Kitty is partly filled with notes and cute objects from visitors to the exhibit’s opening. The filled capsule will eventually be sent to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics “to reflect our globe’s cultural diversity and how bringing each of our small universes together can change our view of the world.” The capsule will be opened again in Seattle in 2035.

After those two sketches, I was getting hungry, but I couldn’t get lunch without sketching a spectacular dress made entirely of plush Hello Kitties. The dress was worn by Lady Gaga in 2009 for Kitty’s 35th birthday celebration.

2/11/16 ballpoint pen, ink, colored pencil
(dress made of plush Hello Kitties)

A few artifacts on display (I think I owned most of these at one point or another).
Hello Kitty: Not just for kids.
Ummm... this was not part of my collection.

My nostalgia fest.

Before I end this post, I can’t resist showing two photos from our trip to Japan last November. If you think Hello Kitty is ubiquitous in the U.S., you should see her in her native land. These are only two of the places I found her: On a poster promoting tours to Mt. Fuji and, most amusingly, on Tokyo street barricades. 

Mt. Fuji tour poster
Street barricades in Tokyo

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