Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Back to Normal: Efficiency is as Important as Compactness

Bicolors: Not as efficient as they seem.
I used my slimmed-down sketch kit for more than a month, and my minimalism challenge was a successful one this year. I needed to make kit revisions only once, and my frustration at not having what I wanted was minor.

A key component was the Caran d’Ache Bicolors, which held so much potential. I wish I could say that these compact watercolor pencils solved all my portable color needs, but as I suspected even before I began the challenge, there’s more to an ideal kit than compactness.

Putting two colors into one pencil seems like a space-efficient solution, but only if they are the right colors. If not, they are a false space economy, at least for me. Halfway through the challenge, I had already swapped out some colors. (Now more than ever, I long for a device like the promising-but-ultimately-unsuccessful Tsunago that would enable me to make my own bicolored pencils.)

In an ultra-compact kit, use efficiency is as important as space efficiency. Because the Cd’A Bicolors are quite a bit harder than my favorite Museum Aquarelles, they didn’t need to be sharpened as often. That was a benefit I hadn’t even anticipated with my tiny walk/sketch fitness program kit, which has no room for a sharpener. But major drawbacks with the harder Bicolors are that they take longer to apply and contain less pigment. Often I skipped color altogether to get done quickly (since I was usually cold). Even at times when I had my full-size, everyday-carry bag and sketched in a comfortable place, I found myself using less color because it would take longer to use.

More than additional hues, what I missed most during the challenge was the softness and heavy pigment of Museum Aquarelles. Both traits make sketching more efficient, and I believe strongly in using sketch materials that facilitate rather than impede sketching. The challenge reinforced that belief.

ArtGraf pencil: Handy at the museum as well as on the street.
The flip side of using less color was that I found myself using graphite more: the ArtGraf water-soluble graphite pencil (the only graphite I carried during the challenge). In fact, the more I used it, the more I loved its 6B softness and its water solubility, which deepened its darkness even further. As a monochrome tool, it makes a huge bang for the space-efficiency buck.

Challenge completed, I put back all the materials I took out of my everyday-carry (below): my usual full palette of colors, a second waterbrush, a second graphite pencil and my spritzer. Other than the Museum Aquarelles, I didn’t miss the other items much, but that’s mainly because they are more seasonal tools. (I use the spritzer on foliage and the second clean waterbrush for blue sky, neither of which I’ve seen much of lately.) Although it’s always an informative exercise to minimize, even temporarily, this year’s challenge made me realize that my kit is always pretty dang trim. Now I appreciate its well-chosen contents even more.
Everything back in: I missed those Museum Aquarelles.

As for my ultra-slim walk/sketch kit, which I’ll continue to use indefinitely, I heeded everything I learned from this year’s minimalism challenge and made revisions accordingly. Without increasing the number of tools, I swapped out a few judiciously chosen Museum Aquarelle colors for the Bicolors (below). The ballpoint pen came out, but all the rest – the waterbrush, the Uni Pin brush pen and the ever-useful ArtGraf pencil – served me well and will remain.

1/29/20 8 a.m. update: I guess it’s just as well that the Bicolors ended up not being my ultimate colored pencil: It has been confirmed that the set is a limited edition! Around the holidays, I was poking around on Caran d’Ache’s English-language site, and I noticed that the Bicolors were no longer listed. Likewise on the UK and other European versions of the Cd’A site. After rumors started circulating in the pencil community, I decided to check it out, and it’s true: CW Pencils was notified by its distributor that its current stock was the last of it. So if you want a set, don’t wait – CWP is apparently the only shop on earth with any left, and there will be no more afterwards!

Fitness walking kit: I replaced the Bicolors (at left) with 6 carefully chosen Museum Aquarelle colors.

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