Thursday, December 7, 2023

Caran d’Ache Keith Haring Colour Set


Caran d'Ache + Keith Haring Colour Set

Since I had my heart set on another Caran d’Ache bicolor pencil set like the three previous ones (see 2022, 2021, 2019), anything else feels like a letdown as a holiday release. Still, the Swiss company’s Keith Haring Special Edition Collection is “An inter-generational and symbolic collection calling on the emblematic patterns of this vital pop artist to celebrate love and art,” and I’ve always liked Haring’s bold, iconic designs. It wouldn’t have been bad as a consolation prize – if I hadn’t also had my heart set on at least Prismalo-level quality like the bicolors.

As a street artist whose canvas was often subway walls, perhaps Haring would have approved of Caran d’Ache’s choice of using student-grade Swisscolor cores in the Special Edition Colour Set. I hope so, because I don’t. As a holiday gift set, I think the pencils should have contained at least Prismalo cores like the bicolors, if not Supracolor (although so far, the only collaborative or otherwise “special” edition to receive Supracolor cores is the Paul Smith set, so apparently you must be really special to get your name on a Supracolor set).

Enough whining, then.

The set includes 10 colored pencils with the names Caran d’Ache + K. Haring stamped with silver foil. Also included is a black Fibralo brush marker

They all come packed in Caran d’Ache’s signature red tin specially marked with Keith Haring’s name and heart icon on the outside and inside lid.

So – about those cores. When a follower on Caran d’Ache’s Facebook page pointedly asked whether the cores were Supracolor, Prismalo or what, the response was, “Hello there, these pencils are simply water-soluble (they are not part of another collection).” I hadn’t seen the pencils in person yet, but I was skeptical: It seemed unlikely that Caran d’Ache would make an entirely new set of water-soluble colored pencils just for this limited edition; certainly the company would use an existing core.

When I received them, the simple, unfinished ends made me suspect, with dismay, that they were Swisscolor cores. Swatches confirmed my suspicions.

Swatches made in Hahnemuhle Akademie Aquarell sketchbook

(Aside: I made an interesting observation when I had inadvertently started to swatch the Keith Haring set in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook. I typically wouldn’t use that paper for a water-soluble pencil, as I don’t think it’s sized properly for it, but I was distracted and grabbed the wrong book. I then swatched them again in a more appropriate Hahnemühle sketchbook (above). The interesting part was seeing the Swisscolor/Prismalo swatches side by side on both the Epsilon and Hahnemühle papers (below). Regardless of quality level or pigment content, dry colors and washes look richer on paper that’s appropriately sized for water media. Not surprising, but useful to occasionally confirm.]  

Swisscolor and Prismalo comparison in S&B Epsilon
Swisscolor and Prismalo comparison in Hahnemuhle

Curiously, the unfinished ends are very slightly convex compared to standard Swisscolor ends (below). Again, it’s hard to believe Cd’A would make an entirely different barrel end just for this special edition, so I’m wondering if this is a design change for all Swisscolors? My Swisscolor set is several years old, so it’s possible that newer sets have the same slightly convex end. (Any readers have a newly manufactured set they could examine the ends of?)

Keith Haring ends are slightly convex.
Standard Swisscolor ends

Caran d'Ache + Keith Haring 849 ballpoint pen

I’m afraid I’m sounding Grinchy about a perfectly passable colored pencil set honoring an iconoclastic American artist (when I looked up his bio information, I was startled to realize that he was born the same year I was – but he’s been gone for 33 years). To raise this post’s enthusiasm level, I’ll say that I truly do love the 849 ballpoint pen with the fondly familiar heart design. It’s not the same as a new set of bicolors, but at least the color scheme is a bit holiday-ish. Both the color set and the pen would make fun, nostalgic gifts for those of us who remember the ‘80s. So I’ll give Caran d’Ache that.

Meh-ry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Palm Tree Nocturne

12/3/23 6:45 a.m., Maple Leaf neighborhood

While their house was undergoing extensive renovations, the neighbors across the street had moved out for nearly a year, including last holiday season. Without even a porch light on, their vacated house was dark and dismal, especially compared to the blinding runway next door. They’ve moved back in, and it was nice to see their cheerful but subtle lights go up a few days ago.

That’s not a skinny Christmas tree in their yard; it’s the trunk of their little palm tree, which I have sketched several times, including last December when it was dusted with snow. Wrapped in lights, its profile is very different in the dark.

Technical note: I sketched those colored lights with a new set of Uni Posca Glitter Paint Markers (review coming soon at the Well-Appointed Desk). Usually at this time of year, I find myself buying some kind of metallic or otherwise sparkly product, even as I insist that I’m not a shiny, glittery kind of girl. But the holidays don’t count, right? (And even as I put Posca markers on my year-end Flop list, I get more. This love/hate relationship runs deep, as does my contradictory nature.)

New sparkle!

Speaking of new sparkle, this sticker somehow got produced (my glittery alter-ego apparently works quietly at night). 

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Tina’s 2023 Tops and Flops


Top of the top: Hahnemuhle!

Twenty twenty-three was a blah year for both tops and flops – not much that incited either ecstatic enthusiasm or flaming outrage on my part. Nonetheless, I have a few products worth mentioning here – my annual roundup of products that were not necessarily released this year but ones that were new to me or that I gained greater appreciation for during the year. Conversely, I also include products I tried that didn’t do much for me – the flops. It’s the first of my annual series of year-end posts reflecting on sketches, products, material wishes and other things I tend to think about as I make the transition to a new calendar year. For links to my past tops and flops posts (which continue to be among my most popular based on Blogger page hits), please see my Favorite Art Materials page.


Hahnemühle 100 percent cotton sketchbooks (above): Easily climbing to the top of my Tops, Hahnemühle sketchbooks became my favorite last year with the Akademie Aquarell edition. I was already impressed with its student-grade paper, but as I started tiptoeing back toward watercolor this year, the 100 percent cotton version became more important. In the A6 size that has become my daily-carry, it continues to impress me by making all the water-soluble materials I throw at it look good. More significantly, I use wet-in-wet and dry-in-wet techniques without hesitation because I know the paper can take it. Anything that keeps a sketcher from hesitating is a great product, as far as I’m concerned.

Inktense Blocks: Very promising.

Derwent Inktense Blocks
 (at right):
 Although I’m still a novice at exploring the full potential of these water-soluble sticks, I’ve had so much surprising fun with them so far that Inktense Blocks came easily to mind as I made my list.

Derwent spritzer (below): Here’s a rather basic product that I did not have high hopes for when I bought it. Because I use it regularly with watercolor pencils, my spritzer is an essential tool, and I’m pretty picky about it. The Honest brand hand sanitizer bottle was and still is my favorite for the fine, consistent spray it delivers. However, as I kept slimming and trimming my everyday-carry bag, even the portable spritzer had to be scrutinized. The slimmer Derwent’s mist isn’t quite as fine as I’d like it to be, but it’s acceptable – and it fits in my small bag perfectly.

Derwent spritzer: Not ideal, but ideal for my bag.

Honorable mention: Derwent Inktense pencils (below): After a rocky relationship that has never blossomed into love, Inktense and I are on friendly enough terms. Certain Inktense colors that I can’t get in the Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle line (despite being my favorite, the Cd’A color range has some significant gaps) have become a permanent addition to my daily-carry palette. It’s still only an honorable mention, however, as I will never squeal with joy about these pencils as some do. But that’s OK – sometimes being good friends is enough.

(Jumpin’ Jehosaphats, Batman – three products in my Tops list come from Derwent! Could it be that Derwent, which often garners nothing but “meh” from me, has finally weaseled its way into my heart?)


Derwent Inktense pencils: Finally, a good friendship.


Sennelier: a solid flop.

Sennelier Ink Brushes: Seeing the brush tip made me think these brush pens held promise, but inconsistency among colors and the dang cap put these solidly in the flop category.

Dishonorable mention: Posca paint markers (below): Oh, Posca – why do you aggravate me so when all I want to do is love you? My infatuation had a real chance of turning into a strong relationship when I thought I had discovered the secret solution to the paint separation issue. Unfortunately, storing pens cap-end down only works temporarily, and then the separation returns. Even worse, it’s not just the white ink that clogs as I had first suspected – all the colors do eventually. I think it’s the 0.7mm “pin type” extra-fine size, which has become my favorite, that has the worst clogging problem (the white one ended up as a full-on fail in 2019). Argghh!

Ah, Posca... if only you would let me love you.

Still, I am giving Poscas only a “dishonorable mention,” not full flop status. After all, they are still the most opaque paint marker I’ve tried, and the colors pop brilliantly on Uglybooks paper. The love/hate continues.

What were your tops and flops of the year?

Monday, December 4, 2023

Back to Drawing Jam


12/2/23 Real life drawing again at Drawing Jam!

After two virtual pandemic years and skipping last year, it was great to be back at Drawing Jam live again! Although Gage Academy’s annual community arts event seemed a bit scaled back compared to pre-pandemic times, it still had the same joyous ambiance of artists, instructors, families, students and models coming together for their love of art and art-making.

Other than the two summers when I participated in outdoor life drawing at Gas Works Park, I hadn’t done any real life drawing since the Before Times (I don’t count all the live video drawing I did during the early COVID years). And boy, did I feel it – rusty as heck! Enjoyable as ever, it reminded me that I want to get back into a regular life-drawing groove again.

In addition to the fun of drawing models and other artists, I was tickled to see my sketches on the promotional posters hanging all over the building!

Since Gage will be moving to brand new digs in South Lake Union next year, this was the last Jam to be held in the very old building it has been occupying for years. Now I’m looking forward to next year’s Jam more than ever!

Fun to see the promotional poster with my sketches everywhere!

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Ear-rational Fun: Pencilvember Conclusion


The "VB" in the name stands for "Virus Block,"
which is an anti-viral coating. It apparently 
existed pre-COVID, but I bet sales increased
 after COVID.

11/23/23  Mitsubishi 9800VB HB
(all reference photos by Earthsworld except as noted)

Considering that it began on a lark, Pencilvember turned out to be an ideal limited-duration challenge: something I hadn’t done before (a consistent material with a single subject matter), and long enough to be challenging but not so long that I considered quitting many times (looking at you, 100-Day Project). It was downright fun! More important, I learned a few things (and that’s the key purpose of any drawing challenge I participate in):

Better than hands (even 407 of them), better than noses, maybe even better than the whole face, ears are ideal for studying form. Hard edges on the helix interior (yes, my fascination led me all the way to looking up the part names) will cast crisp shadows, while the gently sloping superior and inferior crus require observing delicate form shadows. Unexpected bumps and ridges can be challenging to render due to their subtlety. In addition, ears can be drawn in a short time, and limitless photo references are available (many thanks again to Earthsworld, whose reference photos I used daily).

11/24/23 Pentel Tokyo Disney 2B

A fun novelty, this Pentel-made pencil came from 
Disneyland in Tokyo. A bit "draggy" in feel compared to
most Japanese graphite.

I also learned more about what I prefer in a graphite drawing pencil. Although I tend to favor softer grades because they can produce a varied line if I want them to (not to mention that they just feel nicer to use), not all soft grades are easy to draw lighter tones with. Some I tried may be buttery-soft and smooth, but I found them difficult to shade lightly enough. A hallmark of excellent graphite is that it can easily produce a wide range of tones, regardless of grade. (Well, actually, the hallmark of an excellent graphite artist would be the ability to achieve a full range of tones, regardless of grade, but I’m not there yet.) Technically, I already understood this, but my self-imposed limit of using only one pencil per ear forced me to see what would happen when I try to render a full range without simply grabbing another grade.

11/25/23 Tombow Mono KM-KKS 4B

This Tombow is one of my all-time favorites that I threw
into the challenge as one of few familiar-and-loved pencils.

Finally, Uglybooks paper is awesome with graphite! I have been using mostly brush markers and occasional Posca pens in the colorful books, but until Pencilvember, I’d been missing out. The light tooth grabs graphite effortlessly without showing distinctly. The only drawback is that graphite may not be dark enough to show well on the medium- or darker-colored Uglybooks papers, which have been my favorites for tonal use. But now I have an excuse to buy more of the lighter tinted books.

11/26/23 Faber-Castell 9000 4B

I've never been the fan of these high-quality pencils
as many graphite artists are, but I must admit that this 4B contains excellent graphite. It has more "feedback" than I like, but it's not scratchy.

11/27/23 vintage Hardtmuth Koh-i-Noor 1500 6B
(mini jumbo size)

I sure enjoyed drawing with this mini jumbo barrel! 
I wish some of my favorite pencils like Hi-Uni would
come in this comfortable barrel size.

11/28/23 Blackfeet Indian No. 2

This was among the very worst pencils I used during the 
month... very hard, scratchy, miserable. It apparently has fans
among pencil folks -- but I don't know why.

11/29/23 Stabilo Othello 282 4B=0

What a pleasant surprise this Stabilo turned out to be!
Very smooth and easy to get lighter shading. And what a 
weird grade designation!

Since I drew my own nose on the last day of InkTober, of course, I had to draw an ear selfie for Pencilvember. You could say it was ear-resistible.

11/30/23 Prismacolor Ebony (reference photo by spouse guy)
After trying briefly, I had to give up sketching my
own ear from a mirror, regretfully. . . it's too hard
to keep turning my head and looking through the side 
of my eye. 

Contrary to what it says on the barrel, this
Ebony is neither "extra smooth" nor "jet
black." It was a huge disappointment for
this Prismacolor colored pencil fan.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Messing Around With Viarco ArtGraf Tailor Shape Blocks

Viarco ArtGraf Tailor Shape water-soluble blocks

In my “messing around” series, I use a product new to me that I know little about and then show the evidence of my mess accompanied by a few uninformed opinions. I don’t consider this a product review.

When I started last month’s series of “messing around” posts, my preamble explained that although these products that had recently crossed my radar were all watercolor-resembling products (either in their form factor or in their results), they were not technically watercolors. This final installment (for now – obviously not forever, knowing me) is a product that resembles traditional watercolors the least. It’s also not new to me; in fact, I’ve had it for years but never got around to even dabbling with it until now.

I think I first learned about Viarco ArtGraf Tailor Shape water-soluble blocks when I was in Porto, Portugal, for the 2018 Urban Sketchers Symposium. I was going to say I may have received some in my goodie bag, but I looked back at that post and don’t see them in the photo, so I must have bought a few colors at the symposium trade show.

I do remember distinctly how I received several more: Sometime during the interminable, early-pandemic doldrums, a member of the pencil community who works at Viarco found out that I was a big fan of the company’s ArtGraf water-soluble graphite pencil. We had chatted about pencils and Porto (the factory is a short distance away, and to this day, I kick myself for missing an opportunity to tour it when I was there). Later he surprised me with a gift of several colors (as well as various other forms of the company’s ArtGraf products). Touched by his generosity, I really wanted to use them, but since I had been away from watercolors for many years, I just wasn’t sure how to get into them. The ArtGraf Tailor Shape blocks sadly languished in my studio – until this month.

In addition to not looking anything like traditional watercolor pan paints, they also don’t look like the bars or blocks we’ve seen in other products like Derwent’s Graphitint or Inktense. I refer to them as “blocks” for lack of a noun in its official product name, which seems to be “ArtGraf Tailor Shape” in reference to old-school tailor’s chalk.

I received or purchased most colors open stock, but I bought the trays so that they could be stored and used like sets. The shiny one at upper left is graphite. Who knows what the others are?

This lack of clear identity is stumping many reviewers. As I searched YouTube to see what others were doing with them, the titles of reviews often seemed to ponder what the heck these “tailor shape” things are – pigment-based like watercolor? Dye-based like Inktense? Graphite-based? Chalk-based?

I admit, I did my share of pondering, but ultimately, I decided it’s best to do what I eventually did while messing around with Inktense Blocks: Stop trying to figure out what other products they resemble and just figure out what Tailor Shapes do best. And what they do best is explode with amazingly rich colors!

11/23/23 ArtGraf Tailor Shape blocks in Hahnemuhle Akademie sketchbook

The colors I had originally acquired individually included the traditional primary triad and several earth tones. Although the blue is close to cyan, I wasn’t too fond of the mixes I was getting with the triad (above and below). Once I saw what the material could do, I purchased all the remaining colors (except white). Blick and Amazon both carry most colors, but I ordered directly from Viarco because I also wanted the empty cork trays to store and use the blocks in. (Plus it was just fun to order from Portugal and say hi to my friend in the order note!) In addition to open-stock singles, the blocks can also be purchased in various sets of earth tones, primaries and monochrome.

Swatches in Hahnemuhle Akademie sketchbook. Red, yellow and blue were used in the primary triad.

Primary triad using magenta instead of red 

One of the new colors I got is magenta (mixes shown at left), which makes a much better primary triad, as I suspected it would.

Like Inktense Blocks (oops, I said I wouldn’t compare – oh, well), they are opaque and dry with a matte finish similar to gouache. Also like Inktense Blocks, the wet-in-wet sky I tried looks streaky and flat. Whatever ArtGraf is made of does not flow well like watercolors, even on Hahnemühle paper.

Although the basic primary + green palette can be mixed into decent secondaries and grays, I think where the ArtGraf blocks really shine are in the earthtones. Using a block as if it were a watercolor paint pan, I first tried the monochrome rabbit (below) to get a feel for varying values of the dark brown. This brought to mind the effects I got with the Derwent Tinted Charcoal and Inktense Pan Paints, both of which are quite tolerant of overworking without appearing overworked. Perhaps it’s a paradox: Although none of these products flows well the way watercolors do, that lack of flow gives me more time to poke around clumsily without ruining the results as much. Score!

10/23/23 Dark brown in Hahnemuhle Akademie sketchbook (photo reference)

For the two portraits, I used a variety of techniques: applied with a brush like traditional pan paints; applied dry over wet paper; applied dry to dry paper and then activated like water-soluble pencils. In some parts of the hair in both portraits, I left the material dry. I’m impressed by the deep hues I achieved without much effort.

11/23/23 I used a mix of sanguine, dark brown and sepia for both portraits to get these beautifully rich skin tones. (Earthsworld reference photos)

The Tailor Shape blocks have two drawbacks, especially for urban sketching: They are not at all portable, especially if they are kept in the large cork trays (which have no lid other than the flimsy plastic packaging). If I want to use these on location, I’d have to break off small pieces (which wouldn’t be difficult, since several arrived broken anyway). They are also messy on the hands. With a slightly oily texture (like graphite), they leave a residue almost immediately, which gets worse as they warm in one’s hand. Yuck.

All of this is sounding quite a bit like a review, isn’t it? I still feel I haven’t used them enough to legitimately review them, but I like them enough to keep using them, so a review might eventually happen. For now, I’ll just say that ArtGraf Tailor Shape blocks are a unique product with exciting potential (that I’ll likely be confined to my desk to explore, which won’t be a problem during the miserable-weather months ahead). 

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