One of my end-of-year traditions is to write an annual roundup of my top 10 products of the year. Unlike some roundups that include only products that were released that year, my criteria are different. My focus is on things I use most often or that best support the way I prefer to sketch – on location, often outdoors, often standing, in a limited time. Versatility, convenience and compactness are the most important considerations.
The challenge with this type of roundup and with my priorities is that many items on the list don’t change from year to year; they perform so consistently well for me that I have no reason to take them off the list (or out of my bag). Ho-hum – the roundup was getting boring.
This year I’m going to try something new. I’m not necessarily going to limit myself to (or stretch to fill) the 10-product format. I’m simply going to list new discoveries this year that met my criteria – versatility, convenience, compactness – enabling those products to stay in my bag. Unless I state that a product replaced something else in my bag, you can assume I’m still using items that appear on my top 10 list from last year and still consider them “tops.”
|Tran Portfolio pencil case|
- If I were ranking my choices numerically, close to No. 1 would be the Tran Portfolio Pencil Case, which has exponentially improved the organization of the couple dozen colored pencils I routinely carry. It replaced the Kutsuwa Dr. Ion organizer, which served me well for a couple of years. But once I committed to colored pencils as my only coloring medium, I needed a better way to carry and find the colors easily. The elegant Tran Portfolio was the answer.
|From top: Hi-Uni 4B, Uni Penmanship 4B, Blackwing, Gekkoso 8B|
- In last year’s Top 10 post, I speculated whether a graphite pencil would stay in my bag permanently or whether I would use it only in the blah-weather months. I admit, I didn’t use it much during the color months, but spending 10 weeks in a graphite drawing class gave me a much greater appreciation for this simple yet versatile medium. I especially like a pencil for doing quick value studies. As a result, a graphite pencil with a grade of about 4B is here to stay. Among the several I have been rotating are the classic Blackwing with the softest (ungraded) core, a Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 4B, and a Uni Penmanship 4B – all have velvety smooth, dark cores that are delicious to draw with. I also occasionally bring along a Gekkoso 8B, which is as close to charcoal as a graphite pencil can get (but without the mess, of course), because I love how fast and easy it is to get the blackest black with it. But because it’s so soft, it’s impossible to retain a sharp point when I want a thin line. In the interest of both versatility and compactness, a single Blackwing or Hi-Uni 4B can go a long, long way.
|White Derwent drawing pencil|
- A soft white colored pencil is a keeper, too. A constant in my kit since I started using a red Field Notes regularly, it’s an easy way to put highlights on toned paper. My favorite is a Derwent drawing pencil for its softness and large core.
|Viarco ArtGraf water-soluble pencil|
- I’ve always loved water-soluble colored pencils, and I have lately come to love graphite. So it was only a matter of time before I learned to appreciate a water-soluble graphite pencil, which is the best of both worlds. Getting to know the medium in my graphite class has encouraged me to use it more. I’ve tried several brands, and an easy favorite is the Viarco Artgraf 6B for its rich black wash. (I’ll probably write a full review of the Viarco sometime soon.)
|Akashiya Keicho double-sided brush pen|
- A fairly new addition to my bag is the Akashiya Keicho double-sided brush pen, but it has earned its keep many times. With black on one end and gray on the other, it’s both useful and compact.
Products that receive honorable mention are ones that don’t stay in my bag permanently, but they have enough unique qualities that they will certainly reappear from time to time.
|Field Notes Dime Novel notebooks|
Field Notes Dime Novel (now officially sold out on Field Notes’ website) did not replace Sweet Tooth as my pocket-size notebook of choice; the paper’s sizing isn’t quite as heavy, nor is it as opaque. However, I love Dime Novel’s blank pages, stitched binding, and slightly larger format, so I’m enjoying it as an occasional change from red paper to creamy white. With a larger, sturdier page spread that can accommodate collage and photos as well as the usual writing and sketching, it would make an ideal travel journal, and I’m looking forward to using it on my next trip. (See my full review of this notebook on the Well-Appointed Desk.)
|Franklin-Christoph fude nib|
I never thought I’d find a fude fountain pen nib that could compete with my all-time favorite Sailor, but Franklin-Christoph’s fude certainly comes close. Although it doesn’t have quite the smoothness of the Sailor, its fantastic line variation makes up for it. I’ll be rotating it in occasionally.
|Bostitch Quiet Sharp 6 sharpener|
Only products that I carry in my bag can make it onto my “Top” list, but if I were to make an exception, it would be the Bostitch Quiet Sharp 6 electric pencil sharpener. This workhorse takes colored and graphite pencils of all barrel sizes with equal aplomb. I stopped using my hand cranks and portable sharpeners at home as soon as I got the Bostitch.
Here are my previous Top 10 reports: