Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Tina’s 2019 Top Products (plus Fails)

Top of the list: Caran d'Ache Bicolors
Every year around this time, I have a few blog traditions. The most popular (according to my blog statistics) is my list of top products of the year (see the prior lists: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012). The products are not necessarily new; instead, they meet a specific need and have earned their keep in my bag. In the early years, I listed 10 products, but many of them became the same year after year, so it got boring. More recently, I’ve been listing only those products that were new to me that year and rose to the top of my everyday essentials. Last year I added the worst failures among things I tried, and I’m continuing that tradition this year.

Four items made it onto my top products list for 2019:

  • Caran d’Ache Bicolor Pencils: It will come as no surprise that this item made it to the top of my list. As the first-ever bicolor watercolor pencil set, it’s already worth getting excited about. And it makes complete sense that such a set would come from Caran d’Ache, the Swiss maker that introduced the first watercolor pencil to the world. That it fulfills one of my sketch material wish list items? I’m ecstatic – and I’m going to celebrate by making it a key component in my sketch kit diet this winter.
The perfect extender for Caran d'Ache pencils
is made by competitor Derwent.

  • Derwent Pencil Extender: I’ve been searching for a long time for a pencil extender that would accommodate my used-nearly-daily Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles, which have barrels that are just a bit larger than standard pencils. Before I found it, I saved up plenty of Museum Aquarelles that had gotten too short to sharpen or use comfortably. Now I can finally use these pricey pencils all the way down to a stub. (Yes, it’s supremely ironic that a competing manufacturer makes the pencil holder; I’ve addressed this and the next item in next year’s wish list.)

M+R sharpeners

  • Mobius + Ruppert Sharpener: After years of frustration and the wasted purchase of many portable sharpeners, I finally found these small brass sharpeners that can accommodate those pesky but beloved Museum Aquarelles. Then, a few months later, I discovered the same sharpener with a plastic case to catch shavings, which makes it even better for urban sketching. Because it lives in a separate bag pocket from the rest of my gear, I tend to forget it when I take sketch kit photos, but it’s an essential tool. (Please note, once again, that Caran d’Ache does not make this sharpener. I’m not letting Cd’A off the hook!)

Honorable mention: 1930s Caran d'Ache Prismalos

  • Caran d’Ache Prismalo Colored Pencils (1930s vintage): Knowing that some readers may be using my top products list as a shopping resource, I realize it’s unfair to put a vintage collectible here, as it’s unlikely that this item can be found easily again. It’s also not part of my daily-carry essentials, so it doesn’t really qualify as a “top product.” Let’s just call it Honorable Mention. Based on my research, this set of watercolor pencils was likely produced in the 1930s, which makes them nearly 90 years old. Although their pigment quality is not as high as contemporary Caran d’Ache Prismalos, that’s to be expected as modern materials and production processes continue to improve. What’s noteworthy is that they are still useable – with probably the same ease of use as the day they were made. How many other art materials have that kind of longevity? I’m endlessly tickled to think that someone like me bought these pencils nearly a century ago, and here I am using them today – and the pencils haven’t changed.

 And now, the Top Fails:

So cool, and yet so ridiculous.
  • Tsunago: This geeky tool had so much potential – yet fell short by several miles. Read the review for all the details.
  • Posca 0.7mm Pen (pin nib): Containing the most opaque white ink (paint, actually) I’ve used with a remarkably fine point, the 0.7mm pin nib Posca seemed ideal for using with most sketching media, including watercolor pencils, markers and watercolor paints. Unfortunately, while I still use it at my desk, the Posca’s maintenance – requiring lengthy priming and agitation before each use – made it impractical for urban sketching. Some sketches that I started on the bus, for example, had to be abandoned because by the time I got the Posca primed, my victim had gotten off the bus. (I went back to the Gelly Roll which, although not quite as opaque as the Posca, has no maintenance issues at all.)
The high-maintenance Posca


  1. Glad to see your top products as well as those that failed. I agree about the posca. I haven't used it much but there is a lot of prep for it whereas my Signo is ready to go at all times.

    1. Yes, I like the Signo, too. We gotta be ready quickly! ;-)


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