|Top product of 2020: portable desk easel|
Here’s my annual post in which I review my favorite new-to-me products and, more recently, the biggest product fails of the year (see the posts from prior years, among the most popular on my blog: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012.)
This has been such an unusual year – I hardly sketched outside my own neighborhood, let alone in other countries – that I didn’t explore many new materials for on-location sketching. My slimmed-down pandemic sketch kit (even with later additions of more colors) is still working well as my daily-carry during neighborhood fitness walks. I’ve enjoyed keeping it as light and simple as possible. (Will I even do my annual minimalism challenge this winter? I’m still muttering to myself about that.)
|Overstuffed: Tran Portfolio, how I miss you.|
Interestingly, there’s only one item that I usually carried in my larger, Before Times Rickshaw bag (see on my Favorite Art Materials page) that I sorely miss: my Tran Portfolio Pencil Case. Although my current pandemic bag is much smaller, I’m still carrying quite a few colored pencils, pens and a waterbrush. Unfortunately, the bag is too small to accommodate the Tran Portfolio, which used to keep all those long, skinny tools so beautifully organized and easily accessible. In the smaller Rickshaw bag, I’m making do with a small pen case (above) to keep the implements upright and accessible (an essential attribute of any sketch kit I carry), but it’s not ideal. All the pencils in the main compartment get jumbled together into a bulky lump, and I’m often digging for the colors I want. Like everything about the pandemic, I’m getting by, but I long for my old daily-carry.
Let’s get on with it. Not surprisingly, all my “tops” this year are things I use in my studio instead of in the field:
Art Stand portable desktop easel (top of page): I bought this handmade desktop easel after seeing instructor Crystal Shin use it in her colored pencil botanical illustration workshop. She finds it invaluable for improved ergonomics when she’s working on her painstakingly labor-intensive drawings. Although I don’t want to work on drawings that take that long, I still find my easel indispensable for desktop drawing for two reasons: One is that the tilted angle of the drawing board reduces the visual distortion that can occur when the drawing surface is horizontal. The other is that graphite and even colored pencils can reflect quite a bit of light from my desk lamp, making it difficult to see what I’m working on when the paper is flat on the table. I use the easel daily for my hand studies, and my “model” can pose at the same angle as the paper. It’s my best investment of the year.
|Shiny DIY printing kit|
Shiny DIY Printing Kit: When I purchased this, I wondered if it would become tedious and time-consuming to change the date every day to stamp my daily hand sketches. But it turned out to be an ideal way to pull the series (drawn in many different media and paper colors) together visually. I enjoy using this fun stamp set, too – it takes only seconds to change the date.
Prismacolor Art Stix: Who knew that these colored-pencils-disguised-as-crayons (below) would be so much fun? They’ve been around a long time, but I didn’t discover them until this year. And their amazing scent – ahhhh! Sometimes I open the box and inhale just for kicks!
|Prismacolor Art Stix: I inhale!|
Boku-Undo E-Sumi Watercolors: A product I tried for InkTober and then reviewed at the Well-Appointed Desk, this palette of sumi inks/paints turned out to be more than a whim. I was delighted by how much fun they are to use. In rich shades of off-black, they behave like watercolors, but it’s much easier to maintain super-saturated washes. Almost as important as the fun, though, is that these inky paints pushed me to think about drawing in a different way.
|Boku-Undo: inky-painty fun|
Honorable mention: vintage General’s Multichrome: Since it’s not a product that can be easily purchased anymore, it’s not fair to put it on my “tops” list, but my most exciting vintage find of the year at least gets honorable mention. Why would this American pencil maker (one of only two still producing pencils here) take this excellent colored pencil out of production, yet retain its mediocre Kimberly line? As the only US-made colored pencil set (Musgrave in Tennessee still makes a few colored pencils, but not sets), a box of Kimberly is not something I would wave patriotically on the 4th of July. General’s Multichrome, however, I would proudly put out as worthy competition to many contemporary colored pencils.
|Ah, Multichromes. . . why did General's foresake you?|
Koh-i-Noor Versatil 5356 lead holder: When I reviewed the Koh-i-Noor Mondeluz watercolor pencil leads last summer, I was intrigued by the novelty of using colored pencils this way. (Colored pencil leads are certainly not new, but I had never found any before these that were worth using beyond test swatches.) What I was not impressed with were the three Versatil lead holders that came with the set. Extremely heavy and awkwardly balanced, the clutch barrels are also completely round, so they roll off the desk easily – which can result in breaking the lead. Although I’m no pro at using lead holders, I’m perfectly comfortable saying that this design is among the worst ever.
I set out to find a replacement, but the 3.8mm lead size is not easy to accommodate. I finally found a Pilot Croquis clutch that fits. As I said, I don’t use lead holders often enough to evaluate fully, but the Croquis does the job. It’s lightweight and comfortable to hold, and the plastic barrel doesn’t roll off my desk. Good enough.
|The truly awful Koh-i-Noor Versatil replaced by the Pilot Croquis.|