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?


  1. Good to see a refresher of your Tops and Flops for 2023. I don't think I've really tried anything new aside from Procreate which I'm enjoying more than I expected.

    1. I've been enjoying your digital sketches... you're really getting good with Procreate!

  2. you might want to consider purchasing a vortex mixer for the paint markers. I picked up one for my group space/classroom. Mine was a mid range model for labs at around $35 and the kids LOVE the damn thing. It's usefulness can't be beat- you press a paint marker on it I usually do the back end first and let it mix for about 15 seconds, then flip and do the same for another 15 seconds. Then test. only the most stubborn of paint markers fail to mix. It also keeps them mixed for a good while. I notice that I don't need to mix them for about 2 or so hours after the initial mix. The vortex mixer I bought has stood up to the kids (about 50 of them) and constant use for hours on end. Because every kid wants to use it to mix their marker even if it doesn't need to be mixed.

    I refill Molotow markers with liquitex acrylic ink and have good results and less separation.But I can't afford to buy dozens of those for groups so we use a mix of posca, molotow and off brand.

    1. also, they make some for nail salons in cute colors but I couldn't bring myself to buy one in pink and how it sounds....

    2. Thanks for the tip! I'm sure the vortex mixer would work great -- but the hard part would be remembering to use it before I went out! Everything is easy to use if I just stay in my studio. ;-)

  3. Another minus for the Posca, in my usage, is that little globs show up on the paper and then rub off on the opposing page even when left open to dry thoroughly! I'm trying to think of even one top and flop. Haven't I used any new toys this year?
    Flop: I bought FC Pitt markers, mostly because of Donald Colley's work. I just can't get them to look pretty. Anything I've tried looks like a child's work, so of course, I blame the tools for my disappointment!
    Top: Uglybooks. For all the reasons you like them. And Sailor Horoco dip fude nib. It's a game changer! I use it almost everyday to write with a different ink sample in my journal. I am ordering a second because I can't do without.
    Anne HwH

    1. Yeah, I feel the same about those Pitts... they required the accessory of Don's hand to make them work right. ;-) Oh no, now I'm drifting toward looking at that Hocoro again... !!

    2. Do it! Do it! It's a small, small investment and you can get fine, medium, 1.0mm, 2.0mm nibs to go in the same holder. I got my first one at Yoseka stationary, but Goulet and Jetpens also carry now. In case you need an excuse to go there. (-: Anne

  4. I had a Pitt marker leak all over my hand and I'll never buy another.


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