Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Indian Colored Pencils Comparison


My Indian colored pencil collection (most were given to me by generous fellow pencil aficionados).

A recent discussion among the pencil cognoscenti (also known as the Erasable Podcast Pencil Community Facebook group) prompted me to pull out all the India-made colored pencils in my collection. Although I already knew that Sivo Vivid is a favorite (it’s one of my picks for wallet-friendly colored pencils), I had never done a side-by-side comparison. One rainy morning, I decided to swatch a few select colors from each set and see how they stacked up.

The Nataraj and Apsara Dual sets are very hard, dry and low in pigment. I would not recommend them. The Camlin Premium Bi-Colours have much better pigment and are soft enough to be pleasant to use. (Note: My set says “Camlin,” but I could find it on Amazon only as “Camel” with the same camel logo and all other parts of the packaging identical. I’m assuming this is a name change of the same product.)

Interestingly, Nataraj, Apsara and Sivo are all made by the same company, Hindustan, which also makes many types of graphite pencils. Camlin/Camel is made by Kokuyo.

5/2/21 DOMS Supersoft in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook

The two sets made by DOMS Industries –
 DOMS Supersoft and Zap Bicolours – are as soft and pigmented as my previous recommendation, Sivo Vivid. (By soft, I don’t mean Prismacolor soft; I mean closer to Polychromos.) I would happily add them to my recommended India-made pencils, although they may be harder to find. I couldn’t find an exact match on Amazon for the Zap set I have (and the price I’m currently seeing on the Supersofts, 12 for $36, is way over-inflated; I’m sure I’ve seen them for much less).

One thing all Indian pencils have in common, including graphite pencils, is that they are reasonably priced (and some are ridiculously inexpensive). Almost all of these were gifts, so I don’t know the exact prices, but I did purchase the Sivo Vivid set myself on Amazon for about $8 for set of 36 a few years ago. (It’s a bit more now on the set I found on eBay, but still a good value.) Although they are unlikely to be artist quality, the Sivo and DOMS sets are all good quality and therefore a terrific value.

As I was searching for links and prices on Amazon for this post, I happened to spot a set of DOMS Aqua watercolor pencils. Now, I know watercolor pencils tend not to be comparable in quality to traditional colored pencils in the same price range, but for a set of 12 for 8 bucks? It was worth satisfying my curiosity. Stay tuned. (I know you love cliffhangers.)

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Threading the Needle


5/1/21 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Often when I sketch from my car, I’m frustrated because I know a better view could be had if I felt safe enough standing on a narrow sidewalk (or if it weren’t raining and I could get out). This view, however, was the other way around: From walking by many times, I knew that the view I wanted would be from a parked car.

Driving home from an errand Saturday morning, I saw that the ideal parking spot was available: A perfect needle-eye view of the utility poles and their wires threading through this tree.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Cherry to the Southwest

4/29/21 Southwest corner of 4th NE and NE 85th

 One of many blossoming trees on my walking route that I didn’t get around to sketching this year was this cherry. It’s on the southwest corner of the same intersection where I’ve sketched from the traffic circle several times (most recently to the northeast and the northwest corners). The house on this corner is set back from the street behind a jungle of foliage, so this cherry is the only thing clearly visible.

Although its blossoms are gone, it has an intriguing “foot” – something I hadn’t noticed when I was dazzled by its pinkness. It’s one of the best benefits of sketching: I see so much more once I open my sketchbook.

Typically, this whole street and intersection are quiet; during previous sketches, maybe only one or two cars would go by the entire time. Unfortunately, I sketched this last Thursday, which is trash day. Both the garbage and the recycle trucks came by multiple times, sometimes stopping in the middle of the intersection for a quick corner pick-up. Even a truck hauling a huge, flat-bed trailer (empty) came through! All in only half an hour!

Also in my view... but not long enough to sketch!

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Third Place Books

4/28/21 Third Place Books in Ravenna

Although Third Place Books in the Ravenna neighborhood is only about a mile away, I have spent more time and money at its other branch in Lake Forest Park. That’s because USk Seattle has met at Third Place Commons numerous times, and a stop at the book store is always fun.

To celebrate Independent Bookstore Day last Saturday, I ordered from three local shops – Phinney Books, Elliott Bay Book Company and Third Place Books in Ravenna – and they all kindly offered curbside pickup services. In addition, Blackwing put out a limited-edition pencil to commemorate the day, so of course I had to get some of those, too.

I scored an ideal parking spot at Third Place facing the trellised entryway to Café Arta and Pub, which is adjacent to the bookstore. The café has an inviting-looking patio (with heaters, a sign assured chilly potential patrons) that I hope to enjoy sometime soon.

Books and limited-edition pencils, too!

Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Profoundly Ordinary

4/28/21 A rare alley in Maple Leaf

I listen to the SneakyArt Podcast. In his recent interview with Urban Sketchers founder Gabi Campanario, host Nishant Jain talked about how urban sketching is, for him, about capturing all the small moments that make up our routine, everyday lives – the kind of moments that may be overlooked as not special enough to bother sketching. He used the phrase “people doing profoundly ordinary things” to describe these moments, and I felt moved by that phrase.

As busy sketching as I have been throughout the pandemic, what I have missed most is being around people and capturing them doing profoundly ordinary things. But even when people are nowhere to be seen, mundane neighborhood scenes strike me in the same way  beautiful in their profound ordinaryness.

By the way, I highly recommend the podcast. It’s the only one I know of that focuses specifically on urban sketching. Nishant’s guest list reads like the who’s who of urban sketching, and the interviews are always well-focused, inspiring and stimulating. He also now provides a well-edited transcript for those who prefer to read the highlights instead of listening.

4/13/21 The last of the cherry trees

4/26/21 The concrete mixer left just as I finished the sketch!

Friday, April 30, 2021

Seduced by Hot Press Again (This Time, Stonehenge)

4/23/21 Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle
pencils on Stonehenge hotpress

Other than trying a student-grade pad of Fabriano years ago, the closest I have come to regular use of a hot press paper was when I thought Stillman & Birn Zeta could be “the one” (a commercial sketchbook as my daily-carry for urban sketching after years of binding my own). I had grown to love Zeta (and its lighter-weight sister, Epsilon) at home, where I used it frequently to draw still lives with colored and graphite pencils as well as all kinds of ink. But the honeymoon with Zeta ended when I discovered a weird mottling that occurred when I had spritzed the surface, one of my favorite techniques with watercolor pencils. Although Zeta is heavy enough to take wet washes and claims to be suitable for wet media, I had discovered something unpleasant about its sizing. I still enjoy using it with more traditional watercolor pencil techniques, but not with spritzing.

S&B Beta, with a surface closer to cold press and better sizing, turned out to be a better all-purpose urban sketching book, and it’s been my daily-carry for a couple of years now. I almost always prefer a visible cold press texture, which brings out the best in watercolor pencils. And yet, every now and again, I find myself seduced by the delightfully smooth surface of hot press.

A tiny sample pad of Stonehenge Aqua hotpress

In addition to Aqua Coldpress and White, another paper I tested in the Legion Stonehenge sampler set (full review at the Well-Appointed Desk) is Aqua Hotpress. With a surface that feels identical to the 90-pound White, Aqua Hotpress has a 140-pound weight and is sized for wet media. What makes the White and Aqua Hotpress (and several other Stonehenge papers) special is a unique, velvety surface with a clearly visible tooth compared to most hot press papers, including Zeta. From my paper experience, its tooth is somewhere between Beta and Zeta – which could be quite a sweet spot for me (if other important factors such as spritzability are also present). The little taste I got while testing the sample gave me a craving for more.

[Pardon me while I pause here to say that it drives this former editor crazy to see Stonehenge’s use of “Hotpress” and “Coldpress” as single words while the rest of the paper industry uses the terms as two words. Auughh! OK, I’ve recovered and can move on.]

4/23/21 Museum Aquarelle on Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress

Before buying larger sheets of Hotpress, I took my tiny sample pad out with me on a recent neighborhood walk. The pad’s 2 ½-by-3 ¾-inch size was tricky for urban sketching – scaling is a challenge for me under any circumstance – but I found a basketball hoop and an excavator that fit. As during my initial tests, that light but distinctive tooth was a joy to use with watercolor pencils. At home, I spritz-tested a sheet in the two ways I use most often when urban sketching: wet-in-wet by applying color with the “licking” method; and spraying dry pigment previously applied to the paper (below). The results look satisfactory, but both techniques require real-world sketching to evaluate fully. These mini sketches and tests were enough to convince me to spring for a 9-by-12-inch block of Aqua Hotpress.

Museum Aquarelle applied wet-in-wet

Dry Museum Aquarelle pigment spritzed

At more than a dollar a sheet, the block is a bit pricey to burn through at my typical urban sketching rate. (Though I just did the math, and it works out to be about the same as the softcover S&B Beta I use regularly.) Tearing down full-size sheets would be much more economical, of course, but it’s difficult to find space to do that in my small studio. Perhaps I’d use sheets from blocks only when I travel, when I still intend to bind a sketchbook (ahh, travel. . . remember that?). Just muttering aloud here as I anticipate a renewed paper tizzy.

Regardless of how well the Aqua Hotpress fares in urban sketches, I can still use the block during a class that I’m looking forward to taking next month. I think the paper would be scrumptious with colored pencils, dry or wet.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Orange is the New Pink


4/22/21 Northgate neighborhood

Last week, on what was expected to be the last beautiful day in our lucky weather streak, I went out aiming for pink trees. With one in my sights, I was looking for a place to park, when bright orange caught my eye: Road work ahead! I pulled over where I had a good view of the crew worker turning her sign from STOP to SLOW and back again.

You can tell it’s been a long pandemic year when I crave sketching people so much that I’ll give up a pink tree for them.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Second Jab


4/26/21 Microsoft Conference Center
Unlike my first jab, when I had the place nearly to myself, Monday’s second dose was a Disneyland attraction: It took me more than an hour to get through the long, snaking line. The efficient staff at the Microsoft Conference Center kept the line moving, though, so it was frustrating and ironic that I had plenty of time but couldn’t sketch – I was too busy moving ahead a few steps at a time. As before, all I got was one little sketch in the waiting area – but this time, I also got a sticker.

And as before, I drove home filled with gratitude. The photo below doesn’t show it, but my heart was beaming with hope.

My pin is from!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Day 407

You saw the first half of this drawing on Day 386, when I received my first Pfizer dose. Yesterday I received dose No. 2, so I could complete the drawing – and with it, the series!

Grateful and relieved to have my vaccinations done, I’m almost as relieved to stop drawing my hand. Strangely, though, I also feel a bit of anxiety: What will I do now as my daily ritual? In the same way that drawing my hand became a symbol of enduring the pandemic, letting the series go is perhaps symbolic of emerging from my cocoon of safety and re-entering the unpredictable public world.

There’s a lot of talk these days about what it will be like to return to pre-COVID life. Eventually unmasked and without needing to distance, we might look like we did pre-pandemic, but we have all been changed. Even if the world returns to “normal,” we will be different.

Unfortunately, we have a long way to go before we are post-pandemic. Infection rates are climbing again in Washington State, especially with new COVID variants, and an alarming number of people have no intention of being vaccinated. I may be somewhat safer, but I am not without uneasiness. Although I plan to get out more, I will be taking small steps. I’m still wearing a mask. And I’m still washing my hands. (However, it may be a long time before I draw one again!)

Thank you, dear readers, for staying with me – I’m sure you became as weary of this series as I did! If you didn’t, and if you ever want to see the 407 hands again, you can use my search label “hand” on this blog. Or to see the images together, view my Flickr album called “Wash My Hands.” Just for fun, I used the lazy girl’s digital collage method below: screenshots of my Flickr album.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Almost There

Chisel point of Sharpie used on its end to make marks instead of "drawing" lines
For the final week, I continued to use unconventional materials, and I must say I’m relieved to be done – I’m out of ideas! And not all of them were good; the worst by far was embroidering a bubble wrap envelope with dental floss. With my history in fiber arts and needlecraft, I thought the embroidery would be a snap. What I didn’t know was that the needle wouldn’t easily pierce the plastic on the bubble side; it merely stretched it. Halfway through each stitch, I had to cut the plastic away from the needle. Almost as bad was that the flimsy plastic often tore if my stitches were too close together – an embroidery nightmare!

This afternoon, I will receive my second Pfizer vaccine and will make the last drawing in this series (I’ll show it here tomorrow). How will I feel to finally stop what I’ve done for 407 consecutive days? Although on some level I grew tired of drawing my hand long ago, I managed to stay engaged by keeping the exercise challenging. As I’ve mentioned, this series has pushed me to try many things – new materials, new approaches, heck, even a new drawing hand, twice – that I probably wouldn’t have tried otherwise. More than anything, though, I came to rely on the ritual of starting each pandemic day consistently: Eat breakfast, finish coffee, draw hand. When everything else in our world has been turned on its ear, it’s important to have things we can count on. 


Painter's tape

Bubble wrap envelope embroidered with dental floss

Sharpie on bubble wrap envelope

Brush handle and India ink

Acrylic matte medium dries clear, so I photographed
 it as quickly as possible while it was still a bit wet.

Here's what it looked like when it was completely dry.

Crest toothpaste applied with toothbrush to corrugated cardboard. One more to go!
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