Friday, December 28, 2018

Tina’s 2018 Top Products (Plus Fails)

Top product of the year: My custom-made sketch tool organizer!

Looking back at my Top Products lists from the past 6 years, it’s interesting to see the gradual shift I’ve made from almost all liquid media (watercolor, ink, markers, brush pens) to almost all dry media (colored pencil, graphite, ballpoint). The changes were not what I had planned or thought about, but they happened organically as I continually practiced and explored. I’m sure the products I discover, experiment with, use most and eventually reject will continue to change over time, and I look forward to seeing how this list evolves. It’s one reason I publish this annual post – it gives me an opportunity to look back and see how I’ve changed.

The products that make it onto my list are those that I found to be indispensable this year in supporting the way I prefer to sketch – on location, often outdoors, often standing, in a limited time. They are high quality, versatile, convenient, compact or otherwise have qualities that earn their keep in my bag.

Here are links to all my past Top Products lists:

And these are my Top Products for 2018:

  • My custom-made sketch tool organizer easily tops my list this year (see top of page). Handmade for me by Etsy vendor Brynn James, the organizer makes pens, pencils, waterbrushes and other items easily accessible and upright in my bag (colored pencils have their own case, which was at the top of my list last year). Although Brynn used my pattern, she improved the design, and I appreciate its utility every day.
The Palomino Blackwing: It's (almost) all I need.
  • Palomino Blackwing graphite pencil with the original “soft” (ungraded) core. This pencil was mentioned in my list last year as one of several graphite pencils in rotation. Although it’s always nice to have at least a couple of pencil grades for both details and dark shading, in a pinch, this is the only pencil I need. Often I finish a whole sketch with nothing but a Blackwing, even if I have other grades at hand. Unlike most pencils in my bag, it’s hard enough to write with, so I often grab it for quick notes, too. The Blackwing is so versatile that I’d take it to Gilligan’s Island.
No, it's not a slug. . . it's a kneadable eraser in a crayon box.
A kneadable eraser. This has become an essential tool with graphite – not so much for erasing mistakes as for “drawing” the lightest value. I haven’t been using one long enough to have a favorite brand, but the one from Faber-Castell that I’ve had in my bag since the Porto symposium is serving me well. It took me a while to figure out the best way to store this in my bag without it picking up lint, pencil shavings and other debris. Putting it in a small plastic ziplock bag was a bad idea (it sticks firmly inside), and most boxes are too bulky. My ideal solution turned out to be the slender hinged box that Daniel Smith watercolor crayons come in. Its long, skinny shape fits perfectly in a slot in my sketch tool organizer (above).

The ubiquitous (and essential) Bic.
  • Bic Stic ballpoint pen. This year’s InkTober changed my whole attitude about the modest, ubiquitous Bic. Something about that sticky, oily ink makes it draw almost like a pencil, and by the end of October, I loved its sketching potential enough to make it a permanent part of my sketch kit. The link above goes to Amazon, but I’ve never purchased one – I just get them from hotel rooms. The Zebra F-301 ballpoint has a retractable point and better body than the Bic with the same type of ink (not all ballpoints are the same; in fact, most do not have inks with the subtle shading properties of the Bic).

That’s it – a short and sweet list. In fact, the list is so short that I’m adding a bonus: Products I tried this year that I eventually stopped using because they didn’t earn their keep or otherwise failed me:

  • Spectrafix fixative. My growing interest in drawing with graphite led me to explore fixatives to prevent the transfer and, to a lesser extent, smudging I was experiencing. Spectrafix, a nontoxic, alcohol-based product that spritzes rather than sprays (thus reducing the overspray in the air) worked well in terms of keeping the graphite from transferring and smudging. But spritzing applies so much liquid to the page that it was making the paper buckle irreparably. Lately, I’ve been simply skipping pages so that graphite transfer is no longer an issue. Smudging is still a potential issue, but in my hand-stitched signatures, the pages don’t shift around much, so the problem is minimal.
  • Tombow Fudenosuke Gray/Black Brush Pen. With black ink on one end, gray on the other, both waterproof, this compact pen came so close to being perfect that it broke my heart to take it out of my bag. But the way I use gray ink for shading, the brush needs to be wider than the Fudenosuke offers. I switched back to my trusty Faber-Castell Pitt Big Brush Artist Pens.


  1. Thank you! I love the idea for the kneaded eraser. Mine seems to love pencil shavings :(

    1. Glad you found the tip useful, Anni! Mine used to collect a lot of dirt and dust before I found the right case for it!

  2. I love your sketch tool organizer. That works so cleverly in your bag. Glad to see what "failed you" too and the reason why. Good review of your materials.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I like taking inventory at the end of the year to see what worked and what didn't.

  3. For some reason, images are displaying.
    The yellow Faber Castell kneadable eraser I got at Daniel Smith came in its own little square plastic case.

    1. Same thing with USk Tacoma, where I host images on Google for the announcements. Maybe something is up with Google images.


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