art, art media, painting, self care

“Actually having painted”

Today, I did something personally significant. I worked on a painting. Even though I had intended it to just be tinted test paper, on top of which, I’d draw…it turned into way more than that. I’m not sure if it’s going to stay in one piece, either: I have a mind to cut it into strips and rearrange it in a staggered manner. I’ll try and photograph it before I do, though; it’s almost midnight, so my lighting leaves something to be desired, right now.

Judgments aside, this was the first time I had allowed myself to work with my paints again, in months (if not years). There are some things I did learn…one of which is that I actually do love color, and have more fun with color, even though it’s more risky than doing everything extremely muted. Another is to be careful when trying to mix green with an opaque-leaning dull yellow (Isoindolinone Deep? I hate having so many similar yellows) and Prussian Blue, which is a dull greenish blue. (HAHA mud, HAHA.)

I was trying to make a deep, rich green, but there was too much orange in the yellow and it turned more Olive. A little more Prussian Blue and I got a nice coniferous tone (basically Prussian Blue with a hint of yellow — there wasn’t enough orange to ruin it in that mixture), but it wasn’t quite what I was going for.

Okay, but seriously, it was a lot of fun. I did stay away from Aureolin because I still have some paranoia about pigment toxicity, and Aureolin can be absorbed through the skin (acute transdermal exposure can cause itching; as for what else it does, it doesn’t matter for me, because I can’t undo my exposure — all I can do is prevent more exposure). Aureolin is also apparently severely toxic when ingested, but I make sure I don’t have paint on my hands when I eat or floss or touch mucous membranes. Yes, that means to wash your hands before you use the toilet (as well as after).

I also learned quite a bit about hard and soft edges, and what happens when you drop a color into another, currently-wet color. And how hard brushstrokes can look out of place in a diffuse composition with a lot of wet-in-wet work.

For all of my session today, I was using natural-hair, Yasutomo sumi-e brushes. Only two; and the second one initially happened because I was trying to mix green without dirtying the blue, or washing all the yellow off of my main brush.

That…that says something good, that I didn’t need a lot of brushes. Sumi-e brushes can be used on the side as well as with the tip, and I did really like the dry-brush effects I got on the edges of areas of color. (These round brushes have a core of stiff hair and a ring of softer hair around the outside.) I like using these because they’re relatively absorbent — it’s easier for me to control the amount of paint dropped onto the paper (or to suck up extra paint, if I dry the bristles first).

I do have other brushes to experiment with, but with the exception of other sumi-e brushes (including a hake in two pieces), they’re all synthetic.

I’ve found the Princeton Neptune line to be particularly nice (and the one Neptune Flat I have to be…exemplary, at least in comparison to the old 1/2″ flat intended for acrylics which I had been using), but I haven’t really played around with any of the three major brands I’ve gotten long enough to definitively state qualities, here. (The other two are Robert Simmons’ Sapphire, and Princeton Heritage 4050R.) I also have a couple of Princeton Lauren 4350R brushes, and one Robert Simmons White Sable which is…incredibly soft. I used it for makeup before I used it for painting (but don’t use it for makeup after it’s been exposed to professional-quality paint — again, many pigments are toxic).

Right now, I’m not sure whether to geek out about paintbrushes. I should practice more, first, so I can know (and not just speculate on) what I’m talking about.

Mostly, I had been depending on my Winsor & Newton Cotman flats at the time of my last experimentation, but I don’t think I’d opt for them, if I had to buy new ones. I used them for the most part because it’s just been exploratory practice, they make crisp shapes, they do hold paint, I like the way the flats feel on the page, and they’re familiar and cheap and easily replaceable in case of a loose ferrule.

Loose ferrules, in turn…mean the brush was in the rinse water too long, or too deep (with the water level resting above the end of the ferrule), and the handle got wet and expanded. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before the brush comes apart. (This could be an argument for acrylic handles, instead of wood.)

The drawback to Cotman brushes — particularly the flats, I’ve never been drawn to the rounds — is that they drop paint in a way that can be difficult to control (synthetics have this problem as a group, but some newer designs — like the Neptunes — are better at preventing this), and the ferrules loosen easily. Or maybe I’ve just been working them to death. In either case, it’s nice that they’re cheap and easily replaceable. It lowers the barrier of being afraid of destroying a really nice, expensive, brush.

So maybe these are great when you’re just starting out, and learning how long you can keep the brush in the water, and how high you can keep the water in your water cup. There’s generally a trade-off between having to change your rinse water frequently, and keeping your brushes safe. Unless, that is, you never let your brush sit in the water. No brush was left in standing water tonight, as I was only using two.

It also helps to have two rinse-water cups: one for the initial gross rinse of your paintbrush; the second to rinse out the (eventually contaminated) rinse water from the first cup!

Natural-hair sumi-e round and hake brushes — the ones you can get at Western art stores, at least, which are generally either Yasutomo brand or generic/store brands (Utrecht, Blick, etc.) — are also mostly inexpensive. I have seen some Chinese brands off and on in small art supply stores, but that was short-lived.

My Chinese ink-painting brush died sometime in 2016 or before (the bamboo housing cracked, so that the brush tip was held to the handle with glue and string). It was sad. But I used it.

Yeah, I guess I have been concerned about ruining nice things, haven’t I?

I did open a small hot-press Arches block, tonight. It’s the first time I can recall ever having painted on Arches (watercolorists know that this brand of paper is super-expensive, but also recommended, even [or especially] for novices), and…I’ve got to say, it was pretty nice. I was concerned about the pigment balling up on the surface of the paper, but that turned out not to be an issue (even though it looked like it would be — possibly because Ultramarine is a granulating pigment).

I have two other hot-press watercolor paper brands to try out; I believe they’re Fluid 100, and Fabriano. I started in on one of them tonight, but ended up pouring all my energy into the painting on the Arches, which quickly grew to the point that I realized I might have wanted to plan it out better (and not to have ever used black, even though I did so in the expectation of drawing with black and white pen, on top of it).

There’s also the possibility here of using gouache (opaque watercolor) instead of acrylic marker or gel pen. I’ve found I have enough gouache to last a while.

After having used Arches, I also have a little bit of an idea of what to expect…tomorrow, or as literalists would put it, later this morning…

And, note to self: don’t wear your computer (anti-blue-light) lenses when you’re painting; they change the color cast of everything you see…

art, art media, career, drawing, LIS, psychology, self care, work

Soft graphite. Ooo.

It’s been a while since I’ve allowed myself the time to be on here. Gosh, what’s changed…?

My waking hours, for one thing. I’ve been turning in relatively early, waking up around 5:30 AM, staying up for about three hours, and going back to sleep. Then I wake up around noon…and possibly go back to sleep, for a few hours. Then get back up again for dinner. (Hey, I didn’t say it was healthy.)

I’m…feeling considerably better about my job, having started a book on anger management (which indirectly contributes to conflict management), and having begun to read in a book on Linked Data. I’m about halfway through the latter…and it is more technical than I had given it credit for. I have the rest of the weekend to get through it, which I’m thinking should probably be a priority, so that I can be informed at the same time as some of my peers.

But yes…neuroplasticity is a great thing. It’s good to know that I’m not necessarily stuck with the limitations I have, right now. I can see that the incident which caused me to rethink being in this job happened because neither I nor the other person had full control over our anger; the hostility expressed did not actually have anything to do with the person towards whom it was expressed; and the tension ramped up until we both aborted.

If, however, one of us can get control over our emotions, that can change the dynamic and the range of outcomes: particularly if the other person doesn’t know how to do anything other than fight. And that can help keep me feeling safer and more comfortable, in my current job.

Meaning…yes, it is work, but the work is being social. Some people thrive on that; I don’t. It’s good to know that, especially as so many Public Libraries want to hire “people persons.” I may, in short, be better off in an Academic Library environment (as so many people have told me), and/or as a Technical Services employee. But I don’t have to immediately think about getting a different job.

After having written this post, I believe that I should add MA or MFA in Fine Art to my list of things to consider, should I ever get into an Academic Library setting where I need a second Master’s. I’m related to someone who did Art as an undergraduate degree without going through Community College first; I did Art as an AA. He had more theory; I had more practice. But it’s enough to know that I could learn about Art History on my own, and try for at least an MA in that.

The prospect of having encyclopedic knowledge of Art History is appealing, though I do realize that the degree can take a very long time. It isn’t so bad if it’s subsidized. It also isn’t so bad if I do wind up with that encyclopedic knowledge!

As for what to do while I am awake…my little A5 journal is helping with that. I’m listing (and checking off) tasks. As of April 15 (four days ago, now — I started this post two days ago! what the hey?!), I completed (and washed and ironed) 9 face masks. With orders now in California and Hawaii (the two places I am usually found) making face masks often mandatory to go outside, it looks like I’ll need to make more of them. I’ve already had two separate occasions where I’ve been asked to make more; even if indirectly.

22-pencil set of Mitsubishi Hi-uni pencils, from 10B to 10H
“Hi-uni” pencils from Mitsubishi. Range: 10B to 10H!

I also — now that I know I’m not aiming to make comics (at least not professionally) — went and bought a set of art pencils. I can draw, “not-for-reproduction,” that is. I guess it’s the difference between Fine Art and Graphic Art. (I don’t know yet where Illustration falls in there, really; but it could be like the difference between Cataloging and Metadata Librarianship: you don’t really, “get it,” until you study it. Then you can kind of grok the difference between Subject Classification and coding in JSON-LD. Which…probably means nothing to most people who aren’t me. Moving on…)

I don’t know how I’m going to like the “Hi-uni” brand pencils. The reviews say they have less tactile “feedback” than the Faber-Castell 9000s I’ve otherwise been using (I think this refers to how well they grip the page) — but just the fact that the cores are different-sized according to the hardness of the lead, is alluring. (Softer cores are wider; harder ones, narrower.) Someone is paying attention to how the pencils are used, that is, and to the strength of the cores.

I’ve tried a lot of graphite pencils and sticks…how they feel to work with is just really variable. I’m not sure if it has to do with the qualities of the clays used for matrix, how old the clay is (I’m recalling the shattered pastel incident), or what (pencil cores are generally made of graphite plus clay, with the proportions determining hardness) — but graphite can be really nice or really…irritating. I’ve experienced my share of super-slippery pencils and graphite sticks that seemed to barely make a mark (even if they were supposedly soft)…to the point that I’m only going to go over some of the graphite crayons/sticks/pencils I’ve tried. And no, I’m not getting compensation for this. At frickin’ all.

Cretacolor Monolith woodless graphite pencil set, ranging from HB to 9B
These come in the Cretacolor MonolithBox — or did, when I obtained these (2016 or before). The blue 4B graphite stick is supposed to be water-soluble, but I’ve never tried it.

The above is a brand of graphite stick that I do really like (Cretacolor MONOLITH), which would be perfect except for a couple of things. The first thing is the random hard bit one occasionally finds embedded in the stick while drawing, which incises the paper and leaves a permanent mark. I think the only way to get rid of these is to sharpen them out, but that leads to a lot of otherwise unnecessary sharpening (as versus just grinding the bit into the paper and hoping I never have to erase: the marks left may be white marks, after all, not black). The second thing is that because these are round and lacquered, they aren’t designed to facilitate using the entire broad side of the stick — just the side of the tip, and the tip itself.

An example of a different type of “graphite crayon” are the LYRAs:

LYRA graphite crayons in 2B, 6B, and 9B
LYRA graphite crayons in 2B, 6B, 9B.

In the right hands (generally speaking, not mine to date), these can be very delicate. However, because of the sheer size of these things (approximately 1cm wide), they’re great for working on huge images — like, ones you have to lay out on the floor or the wall because they’re too big for tables. I’ve found that I really don’t need something quite that hardcore — or, at least, haven’t, since I last dealt with the Art Department (though I did have a friend who absolutely would have used these). They also either need to be sharpened with a knife or a huge pencil sharpener (the latter of which, LYRA sells).

(No, I’m not responsible if you cut yourself with a knife trying to sharpen things.)

The nice thing about these is that there’s nothing to stop one from peeling off the wrapper and polishing one side down on newsprint, to use the broad side to draw with. (The shape is that of a hexagonal prism.) Of course, it’s also possible to find cheap little rectangular graphite sticks which are just fine for this, too — but those have been some of the more slippery/pale, and frustrating, incarnations of graphite that I’ve dealt with.

And no, I’m not entirely sure what to do about that, except not buy them. The thing is, the LYRA graphite crayons are a bit too long to use sideways; I’d end up breaking them into two or more parts. If, however, that would get me to use them (as versus keep them in a baggie for the future, as I have), I suppose it’s OK.

So the Hi-uni set I got (put out by Mitsubishi, of all corporations — and yes, I believe that’s the same as the car company: the logo matches) has 22 grades of graphite, ranging from 10B (softest) to 10H (hardest), with the extra two being HB and the ever-enigmatic F. I would have gotten every other grade from soft to medium (say 10B, 8B, 6B, 4B…to 2H or 4H), but it was significantly cheaper per-pencil to get the set. Also, the place that carried them was out of a number of pencils I would have liked to have gotten, open-stock.

I’ve just tested out the Hi-uni 10B…it’s super-expressive, and super-soft, even somewhat crumbly. I haven’t applied any image adjustments to the below, even though the sun is now going down…because of this, it looks dim.

Hi-uni 10B graphite marks, image un-adjusted
Without image adjustments

With an exposure adjustment applied, though, it’s super-high contrast. This may, actually, negate the need to work in ink, if I did want to make prints. (I’ve actually been watching a lot of The Owl House, which is a new cartoon show on Disney; if you look in the backgrounds, a lot of the lines of the surroundings are textured like this. Also, looking at Ducktales (2017), it’s pretty evident where the background artists used personal flourish in illustrating the characters’ surroundings. Ducktales (2017) has more of a brush-pen thing going on, though.) :)

Hi-uni 10B graphite marks, with Photoshop's exposure image adjustment
With Exposure image adjustment

And yes…it was hard to write with that pencil, especially given that I didn’t sharpen it to a point (as I knew it would be worn to a nub pretty much immediately). I had to keep rotating the pencil to keep those letters legible. The 10B is pretty creamy, as well…which has me wondering about the others.

One of the reasons I got the Hi-uni is the fact that I’ve got a lot of textured paper, which I haven’t been using. I’m particularly thinking of a Maruman Zuan sketchbook which I obtained in a Japanese-American market in Southern California (honestly, I probably could have obtained it in San Francisco’s Japan Center, if I’d looked). It has a really, really nice texture on it. It’s something I think I’ve been missing, recently…likely due to the fact that I’ve been working mostly with pen and ink, and on smooth paper.

There is also a pack of tinted Pastel paper I have…which allows one to use lighter-value materials on it as well (like, “General’s White Charcoal,” or white/tinted pastel). The only drawback is the absolute need to use fixative for those light marks (even though it will likely turn some of them clear). I have some. I suppose I could be considered lucky. But that stuff is noxious. Everyone who has ever suggested we try to use it, has noted its toxicity, and advised us not to breathe it in. Meaning: use a respirator, go outside, and don’t breathe the mist.

I’ve resorted to using Aqua Net before (it’s the paranoid guy’s fixative), which I can use in the shower as though it’s a spray booth: open the window, close the door, and evacuate while the solvent dissipates…but like I said. Noxious. Even Aqua Net in the amounts needed to “fix” a painting or drawing, smells horrible. I’ve also heard that it will yellow over time, whereas Artist’s fixative should not.

But at least graphite isn’t quite as vulnerable to smearing as charcoal or pastel…and there are also the oil pastels (which bind the pigment, instead of leaving it loose so that it needs a fixative), the most significant of which, in my mind, are the Neocolor I series by Caran d’Ache. I’ve used these before because they have brilliant colors and exceptional opacity. Now, whether they are still the same colors, today, if I were to find my drawings…that, I don’t know! What I know is that my yellows and reds showed up on top of black paper. I’m not certain how these would react to a fixative; though it may be that they wouldn’t need it. Nor do I know how they would intermingle with graphite.

My favorite pencils…well, if there could be a “favorite” brand, more than a brand more useful for one type of application or another…are the Faber-Castell 9000s (in the photo way down at the bottom of the post). However, I got these a very long time ago. I’m up for trying something different…and for giving myself something for making it through all those masks and studying! I’ve gotten to the point of realizing that not all art supplies are alike, which even applies down to the level of a pencil.

Random pencils
Case in point: the “ECO PENCILs” above, are Tombows. I was almost put off of graphite altogether, because of those little guys…they just feel a little slick to me, though they’re better than nothing.

The pencils in the above photo are mostly nothing special; the green pencil is a KIMBERLY from General Pencil Co. (the same people who make General’s Charcoal): I didn’t realize that the label was facing downwards when I took the shot. The Derwents are good in the hard and middle grades (I’m seeming to recall something about random hard bits in these, too), but I haven’t tried their softer ones (I was using the Faber-Castells for that job, at the time). The two Tombow ECO PENCILs, I avoid unless I’m being either experimental, or too lazy to look for my good pencils. I found them in Honolulu for like $1.25 each (or something) after I realized I had failed to pack any pencil whatsoever…which is not great when you want to do ink sketches with underdrawings. The Prismacolor TURQUOISE…I don’t really remember how it behaves, and offhand, it doesn’t stand out.

I’ve, today, been looking for a lost Faber-Castell PITT graphite stick in 9B or 10B — I don’t recall which. I haven’t been able to find it, though I did find (by surprise) a Koh-I-Noor TOISON D’OR 1900 8B pencil, back from the time when 8B was one of the densest graphite grades one could find (circa 2016 — you’d be lucky to find a 9B, and you would not find a 10B). It’s got a great feel on sketch paper — toothy, not slippery, and a velvety dense application. The thing about the TOISON D’OR is that this pencil has varnish which has in the past migrated to my fingertips…at least, if I didn’t dream that. I have trouble distinguishing fantasy and reality, sometimes.

No, I’m not kidding. I remember purple fingertips, but my memory can be unreliable.

Swatch and appearance of Koh-I-Noor brand Toison d'Or 1900 8B pencil
You know how hard it is to get the swatch and the pencil in focus at the same time?

This 8B TOISON D’OR also smudges very, very easily. That can be a good or bad thing, depending…though if I wanted total smudgelessness, I’d use ink. (Granted, that doesn’t always work!) There’s also the trick of laying down a piece of paper under your hand, if your habit is to rest your hand on your work: it keeps the side of your hand from turning black, and all your black points from turning everything else grey. I’m wondering if glassine paper is any better for this, seeing as how it’s basically like waxed paper…I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s an easy experiment. (Glassine paper is used to separate images which might become damaged from friction in storage, like pastel, charcoal, and graphite works. I’ve had to use it before, particularly when I needed to archive my work after the Art program ended.)

The other thing I’m pretty happy about is this:

Eraser kit containing eight different erasers and a pencil sharpener in a tin. Above it rest two short Faber-Castell 9000 2B pencils.
Erasers!

This is a kit I’ve been able to put together out of bits & bobs. The tin is from a craft store, about the size of a deck of Tarot cards; the pencil sharpener is from an artist supply. The erasers are (mostly) from a sampler pack found online, though I think the black Tombow MONO eraser, I got in Honolulu. The 2B Faber-Castell 9000s live in there with them, and they kind of sit around on my nightstand until I decide to use them.

As for anything in there that I liked by surprise? Yes. The “foam” erasers. I don’t even know what they are. They just work really well. :) The one on the upper left reads “SAKURA KUREPASU” on the side, which I’m thinking refers to Sakura Cray-Pas, the manufacturer. Interestingly enough, the ARCH foam eraser also reads, “SAKURA KUREPASU”.

Phew! That’s a lot about pencils! And I just realized, I didn’t even get into stick erasers…or eraser shields (the latter of which, make life so much easier). Or tortillions and blending stumps. Or mechanical pencils and lead holders. But if I’m going in a more fine-art direction than a graphic one…that stuff may come up (granted that I have only seen the fabled lead holder, not ever used one).

art, drawing, illustration, self care

Tired of this

Don’t get me wrong: it’s nice to be (presumably) uninfected, and to (presumably) not infect other people. The problem is, for me especially, maintaining some semblance of normalcy or productivity when I’m stuck at home — and trying to figure out what to do if I’m forced not to be. I’m germ-phobic on a good day, and living with people over 65. And there’s always the chance that I could be asked to come in to work (though it hasn’t happened yet, thankfully).

I mean, from a young age, I’ve had to learn how to ration out my hand-washing so that my hands don’t crack and bleed (and my tooth-brushing so that my gums don’t recede any more). It’s been that bad. Before I got released from work, my hands had started to crack, from chemical exposure and frequent washing. I found out just where the crack was, earlier today (or was it yesterday?), after it had healed.

For the past couple of days, my family and I have been practicing exercise and wellness skills in the early afternoon. This does help — especially when what I might otherwise be doing, is sleeping. (I’ve been sleeping way too much!)

Because I’ve found that drawing seriously alleviates feelings of anxiety for me, I’ve been doing a lot of drawing. So far, I’ve gotten one of these to the inking stage and ready to color…and three in the pipeline (though I may erase one if I can’t find a way to save it — it’s getting pretty far into fantasy territory), plus the ones on Sketch paper with which I can’t use liquid inks (I am thinking markers might work for them, so long as I layer scratch paper behind the drawing to absorb excess alcohol ink).

The thing is, with the newer drawings, I’ll be coloring with the Ecoline “liquid watercolors” (I assume they’re aniline dyes and not pigmented watercolors, as they’re fully transparent), and I don’t know yet how they’ll behave. Heck, I don’t even know how the newer ones will look — I got four or five new ones from the art store, before the area shut down.

This, just most likely, calls for some experimentation.

The funny thing is, having been out of Figure Drawing since 2016, and still remembering how different underlying anatomical elements join together. I could get into it, but it’s probably best shown and not told.

I am still not certain whether to record things after my pencil work is done, before inking and erasing the underlying sketch. I know that this is likely the safest way of doing things. Then I could show works-in-progress, so you don’t have to imagine them. But, I mean, I have so many little jump drives, and I only know what’s on the few that I’ve labeled. My “Images” jump drive, with data up through 2016 (when I ended the Art program at community college) is basically full.

Maybe it’s a good time to do inventory? Not that I want to…

I suppose, as notes to myself, I can comment on the quality of the paper and pencils I’ve been using. For the initial drawings, I’ve been using either a 2B Faber-Castell 9000 graphite pencil, or a Pentel Kerry mechanical pencil (using the lead it came loaded with — which I am guessing is likely HB). I appreciate the Pentel leads for their easy erasability, though as I likely have said before, I have a backstock of Pentel Hi-Polymer HB leads in 0.5 mm, from before the year 2000. They do smudge, but they clean up easily (especially by dabbing with a kneaded eraser, which keeps things from smearing). I also purchased a pack of (fresh) Pentel Ain Stein leads in 4B. We’ll see how they do.

As a note: at least in the late 1990’s, not all lead sizes were interchangeable between brands (so Bic leads wouldn’t necessarily work with Pentel housings, if I recall correctly — or it might have been the other way around), though that may have changed in the last 20 years.

The Kerry is just a higher-end housing for a Pentel 0.5 mm lead (in this case; it also comes in 0.7 mm). I got it partially to see if I could get myself to use pencil at all, again. It seems to have worked. When I was talking about being totally put off by pencils, I was using very inexpensive Tombow pencils which I bought simply because they were available, and I had forgotten to pack any good ones. The Tombows (in B and HB) were fairly slippery…I didn’t really like them, and failed to recognize that not all pencils are the same.

I use the Faber-Castells when I don’t want surgical precision, or when I want moderate line variation, depth, or width. They also feel more velvety than using mechanical pencils. Out of all the pencils I’ve used, my Faber-Castell 2Bs (I have a couple, probably because I misplaced one at one time; they’re both worn) are the ones which have actually been used to the point that they fit inside the tin holding a pencil sharpener and most of my sample pack of erasers. (I also have extra Staedtler Mars Plastic erasers from the same period at which I got the Pentel leads — they still work, but due to space considerations, they aren’t with the sample pack.) Meaning…these Faber-Castell pencils are between about 4″ and 5″ long. They didn’t start out that way.

I do still appreciate these pencils. I actually have a bit of a softness range in the Faber-Castell 9000s; I think they go up to 8B (with at least a 9B in Faber-Castell PITT graphite crayon), but I haven’t had to use the deeper ranges since ending the Art program (where I had to use several different hardnesses in the same image, for depth: softer pencils mean deeper color). For just penciling in underdrawings for wet-media illustrations, the 2B is fine, though, and erases quite well.

(The place where this gets sticky is when you’re doing an underdrawing for dry-media work: indenting the paper by using too firm a hand or too hard a lead, will leave a mark in the final image! Using too soft a lead, on the other hand, means it may be hard to completely erase. I find 2B to have a nice balance between erasability and visibility, though YMMV.)

Now so far as paper goes…I’ve been using Fabriano Mixed Media paper and Canson Fanboy Illustration paper. I am much more impressed with the former than with the latter, even if it is largely because the Fabriano is a much cleaner white than the Canson, and because the Canson feels slightly rougher (that is, slightly closer to newsprint — newsprint is, basically, the cheapest of the cheap paper anyone could devise, useful for learning but not in any way archival). As an aside: I recognize Fabriano because we used that brand all the time in Figure Drawing class — they make really nice tinted papers, for charcoal and pastel.

The Fabriano is also made for reproduction with a standard scanner, at 8.5″x11″, while the Canson is a more standard (for art papers) 9″x12″. The latter introduces issues with a scanner that can’t accommodate more than a legal-sized paper (8.5″x14″).

I’ve also done some tests with the Fabriano paper + Ecoline colors…I haven’t done it for the Canson, yet. That might be my next project.

I mean. Seriously. An excuse to play with colors on paper, with no end goal other than seeing how they behave? A few months ago, I would have jumped at this! Right now, though, I seem to be into a drawing/narrative kick…

I also haven’t moved to attempt work on Bristol board, yet, though I have some that I can try out. I know for a fact that I already have Strathmore Vellum Bristol 400 series (and a limited amount of 300, but I don’t know the surface finish offhand), and I found Canson Vellum Bristol recently at the art supply store, as well (though it wasn’t 2-ply, which is what I was seeking).

The store also carried Canson “Plate” finish Bristol board (I think this was 2-ply), though I’m a bit concerned about how liquid media is going to behave on top of something so smooth (almost to the point of Yupo): it seems much more suited to marker and fineliner, or pen and ink — not anything with a brush. I could be mistaken, though — and, I still haven’t tried my little pack of Yupo. They just feel similar, though obviously Yupo is a synthetic surface, while Bristol is (presumably) not.

The thing I do know about that Plate-finish pad is that it was huge and expensive. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if it’s good, but not to know what I’m getting into? It’s more worth it to buy one sheet of the stuff, cut it down, and then experiment on it.

As for any stories being told…they are coming through, but they’re coming through, visually. And they’re the beginnings of stories. This is what it was like for me before I began writing in earnest: drawing, and letting the stories seep out through my imagery. It was only eventually that the stories became too large and complex to handle through that mode of thought, and I moved to word processing. Which, I can tell now, is at least one step removed from being able to convey what’s happening, visually. I mean, words are more abstract.

Which is funny to say, but not hard to imagine, when you’re dealing with topics for which words are inadequate…

art, comics, craft, creative writing, drawing, illustration, sequential art

Needing to focus…

“Focus,” that is, on which projects I want to work on, now. There is the issue of where to put my resources so as not to overwhelm myself. It wasn’t long ago that I was looking at embroidery (I still am)…and then at quilting and sewing. A helper at a quilt store nearby introduced me to English Paper Piecing (EPP), which I’ve been browsing about, tonight.

If I did work with EPP…I would either be using a trapezoidal (EDIT: wait, no, just quadrilateral) pattern I made up myself (though I’ve seen something like it [along with a bunch of other stuff] called “Whirligig” [“Whirlygig?”] online), or hexagons with trapezoid borders. The latter might be…well…more systematic and predictable. I know a place where I can get whole hexagonal pattern pieces and then cut them up to make a modularly-edited quilt. (Is that a term?)

The Whirligig pattern that I’m thinking of, by the way — if I’m remembering it correctly — is made of an origami-paper square which is folded so one corner meets the midpoint of the side it’s folding towards. Unfold it, then turn the paper 1/4 turn and fold the other three sides in the same manner, turning it in the same direction each time. When you unfold it, you’ll have a cross in the center of the paper marking the midlines (which you can ignore), and four other lines which — if you cut across all of them — will give you the pattern I have.

If you, instead, fold the paper so that the parallel lines touch (it helps to mark the midpoint on one side before going to fold the other), you’ll get a Whirligig without a center square. If you then arrange these symmetrically, you should get a repeating, borderless hourglass motif.

Right now when I look at my quilt square that I did — likely years ago (time flies when you’re not a kid anymore) — there’s a cross going by the interior borders, and a square in the center. So when these pieces are placed as I placed them, you get a lozenge border contrasting with an hourglass border — I think (depending on color placement and where you focus; it’s easier to visualize with the little colored paper pieces here) — which are filled in with solid blocks.

Of course…it’s easier to envision when you have the pattern pieces in front of you. I don’t have the original pattern next to me right now. I had to go and get a paper to fold so that I could report accurately what I did. Something in me remembers, but it’s not the part of me that is good at writing. :)

But I’m curious as to whether I should do this project, now, just because it’s mine. I do have plastic sheeting to make templates (from the paper prototypes). I got it for this. I just left off of the project, I think, because of the whole demand for precision (flatness requires precision) and the question as to why I was hand-quilting it instead of machine-quilting it. (There are lots of straight lines.) I’d either have to mark or eyeball a lot of pieces…whereas if I were machine-piecing this, I’d have a built-in guide in the plate below the needle.

The helper at the quilt store encouraged me to make a pillow cover as a starter project. I can, seriously, do a pillow cover. I can do lots of friggen’ pillow covers. In different colors, for different moods. :)

I guess I can also make pillows.

So, then, there is also the issue of embroidery. I picked up some more stuff for it, thinking that I’d use a new book I’ve bought (Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches), which…I haven’t used, so far. I’ve been flipping through it, a lot. But this…from what I can see, it’s a serious embroidery book. So when I’ve just relatively recently taught myself how to do Feather Stitch (which required deciphering what each pierce of the needle and wrap of thread would do), it can be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, I was able to find some more beginner-level stuff at the Library, one of which includes a pattern for a needle case. Which…I could use.

So we have that.

Otherwise, what am I working on? There’s the ‘zine thing, and the development for it. I’m probably still waiting to get back around to scanning, optimizing, and uploading my images of those tests with the black drawing inks, and the Ecoline “watercolors”. However…what I’ve learned is that bottled dip-pen drawing inks labeled “India Ink” are more likely to be waterproof. Just as a blanket statement. I am not entirely sure why; I just observed it as a pattern.

I’ve also really got to see whether I can use a dip pen on Marker paper (I’m thinking more along terms of Bienfang Graphics 360 Marker or Borden & Riley Layout [which is translucent], as versus Aqua Bee or Deleter paper [which is opaque; and that is if the Bee paper I’m speaking of is even still made]), or if I’ll need to use fineliners for the lineart, and markers otherwise. This matters because if the paper can take liquid media and dip pen, I can use everything I’ve got: ink and brush, pens, watercolor, etc. If it can’t, I’m limited to markers and fineliners (the latter of which I would also, actually, consider a type of marker).

The alternative is to work the art out entirely on a wet media paper: something like a smooth Bristol, or hot-press Watercolor paper, being my first thoughts, though “Mixed Media” paper might also be okay. I need to test it out. I should also remember that as long as the drawing is to scale, I can always digitally shrink it to fit (though the lines will also shrink).

A night or two ago, as well, I made a prototype model of the book binding I might be using. It kind of matters to know this, so I can size the images correctly as I make them. Right now I’m aiming for a 5″x7″ booklet, which opens up to 9.5″x7″. Since I don’t yet know how to bookbind with an awl and needle yet, it may (unfortunately) end up being stapled. But that assumes that I won’t learn the skill. (I do think I have cork board around here…)

There’s also the possibility of not worrying about the image alignment and sewing the volumes the normal way (Coptic binding?), which might be easier. Because of this, I’m going to want to print across all 5″ of each page (to give me leeway if I change my methods). It’s just that no critical data can go in the inner 1/4″, next to the spine. And the page order will take some rearranging, if I go the Coptic route. I can’t remember how many pages a “magazine” (a internal section) in Coptic binding is supposed to hold, but I can look it up. (Ah: 8, 16, or 32 pages.)

And then we also have…that script I’m working on, which is somewhat fun, even if somewhat disturbing. When I get into a flow state, though, it’s really easy. Editing the script and composing the images, will be different.

I kind of think that’s enough on my plate, for now.

art media, organization, painting

Seeking myself out

Today was spent eliminating excess — and organizing remaining — art materials. I also finally made it into the office to view and organize the altar area; this led to looking over the bookshelves and attempting to see what parts of those shelves I used, and what I didn’t. Like, things I would read, as versus things that were taking up space. Did I know I had so many craft books? (No. No, I did not.)

I’m still not sure what to do about the books I’ve made extensive notes within. Do I just keep them for the rest of my life?

There are a lot of books I want to read, that I just haven’t. I haven’t had time to, or I haven’t included the memory of them in the floor plan in my head. :) I also have almost a full shelf of books for studying nihongo, to read.

My big fear is that I’m going to end up talking like Siri because of learning mostly from books. There is a pitch/intonation thing going on in Japanese language which it doesn’t seem people think is very relevant; basically you learn it by listening and mimicking. One of my undergrad textbooks tried to demarcate intonation with symbols…but that wasn’t easy to decipher.

My fear is that I’m going to have to travel to the City to take classes so that I can learn the correct way to speak. That’s at least 45 minutes away, several days a week. But, I should remember, there is also the option of a Japanese Cultural Center. No, I didn’t intend to rhyme.

I know I keep going back and forth between Japanese and Spanish. Basically, Spanish would be a lot easier for me because I took four years of it as a youth. It would also be more useful, where I currently live. But there are significant and personal cultural reasons for me to learn Japanese, despite functionality being much more distant than facility in Spanish. It’s kind of like questioning whether to do the easy and useful thing which I have personal (post-colonial) psychological barriers to; as versus the hard thing that connects me with a deeper understanding of my cultural heritage, which I’ve wanted to do since I was a child.

Today I was cleaning out my art stuff. We’re basically getting rid of what we no longer use. I’ve marked most of my pastels for the Center for Re-Use, though I kept some of the collection…the ones that didn’t seem too dried out, and which I knew were relatively safe. These are Conté, Carré, and Prismacolor NuPastels where it comes to the hard pastels; and Rembrandt soft pastels, plus a couple of open-stock Blick soft pastels.

When I say, “dried-out,” I mean that I’ve had a pastel stop being able to draw, incise the paper instead, and literally shatter like a plate on being dropped, before. It’s likely because the pastel I’m thinking of (a Rembrandt, which I consider a less-risky company, though some may differ; there are issues of potential contamination of carbon black, and the ever-present Titanium White scare) is kaolin-based; kaolin is a form of clay. It would explain why those pastels were so incredibly soft when I got them (touching them would make them draw on you), and why they eventually stopped working. I did find today, though, that if they’ve been stored inside a plastic bag, they’re less likely to die.

There are also some charcoals and General’s White Charcoal in my “Dusties” kit (they make dust), though I’m still paranoid about not knowing what “General’s White Charcoal” is made of. I don’t think it’s charcoal. So far as I know, it’s a trade secret. It doesn’t help the paranoia to know that Flake White (lead-based) is still in use as a pigment in oil painting. So far as I know, though, Flake White would be a warmer shade of white than is the White Charcoal.

I also let that Blue Pumpkin nib which I used to test black inks (and a white ink), the other day, soak in pen cleaning solution. I wasn’t prepared to see all the stuff that came off of it! (I put it in one of the little clear polystyrene vials I got for bead storage.) But I do know now that the white India Ink I have (Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay) is basically the most suitable thing in my present arsenal where it comes to white highlights or corrections over marker.

Beyond that, it’s the most useful thing I have to draw in white, with high detail, on a dark surface (I used Strathmore Artagain black paper). I just haven’t tried it on translucent marker paper yet. The paper or board used as a surface for those potential marker (or ink) drawings, will likely limit my options.

I also have Daler-Rowney Pro (Process) White, but that stuff is so thick (basically a paste) that it needs to be stirred and diluted before use. I’m thinking maybe that was intentional (as regards monetary value and compact packaging), but I wasn’t expecting it not to work out of the package with either a dip pen or a brush. Of course, maybe I should just treat it as a watercolor paint, scoop some out to work with, and then work water into it with a paintbrush. That seems to be the most logical next option, if I’m trying to test all my white inks and paints for opacity (other than known Zinc White, because I know Zinc isn’t opaque).

That, in turn, is happening because I’ve realized that white acrylic ink markers lack precision and opacity where it comes to being used as correcting pens. I still haven’t tried the needle-tip Posca that I’ve seen, but…well, markers. They aren’t as versatile as paints or inks used with brushes or dip nibs; at least, not without blending.

I’ve also found that a size 0 round paintbrush isn’t that small. At least, sometimes. But my 2/0 (two sizes below 0) is freakishly small. No, I don’t know if paintbrush sizes are standardized.

Anyhow…I’m still not certain what’s happening with the acrylic colors. I could paint in acrylic; it’s just that I’m not driven to do so, relatively. The fact also remains that I don’t have a wide variety of brushes to use with acrylics (a lot of long, narrow flats, some fans, and some filberts, plus the gesso brushes)…though I do like hog-bristle better than most of the synthetics I’ve used (some of which I outright hate — I mean, they squeak and chatter across the surface).

The problem in my case is that I don’t like using stiff (or blunt) brushes…and stiff brushes are needed to stand up to heavy-body paints. Most of our acrylics are heavy-body, whereas I’m known for using even heavy-body acrylics so that they appear to be transparent watercolors. I guess that should tell me something.

The question for me is whether or not getting a wider variety of brushes would help me transition back to canvas and acrylics. I’m leaning towards, “no.” At the same time, M and I have accumulated a lot of acrylic paint over the years. On top of that, I have no way of knowing which of those tubes are structurally sound, without trying to open them and potentially having a chemical spill on my hands — literally. (Liquitex tube paints, in particular, I know to have lids and necks that will sometimes fail. Like the cap unit will peel away from the rest of the tube. Then again, I have no idea how old those tubes were, individually.) That means that I have no idea how much usable paint I actually have.

If there were anything which could draw me back to painting in acrylics, it would probably be the chance to work with opaque colors, in large scale, and to work out an underdrawing and underpainting before ever beginning — and to edit, in-process. There’s also the chance to save a canvas by just gessoing over the whole thing if I don’t like what I have.

But I can work with opaque colors by using gouache; I can use large brushes (and large papers) in watercolor. The rest of it seems particular to working with canvas or panel, gesso, charcoal/pastel, easel, and acrylic glazing medium. I know the process.

I guess that — like learning Spanish language (I had a choice of Spanish or French; I would rather have had a choice between Japanese, Cantonese, or Mandarin, the latter two of which, I could actually use) — is another one of the things that I did because I had to, not because I particularly had a great desire to. It was a learning experience.

The thing that really bothered me when I was taking painting classes was the fact that the act of painting would basically grind down my hog-bristle brushes. I’m thinking this was from the marble dust in the gesso, or from painting on rough plywood panel. It’s something I haven’t experienced with any other type of paint — though granted, I’ve only worked with water-based paints, not oils.

I was told to save the good brushes for oils, because oils don’t do the same thing. The wear on the brushes could also have been from the fact that I was using student-grade gesso. I don’t think I’ve ever used professional-level gesso. I’ve seen it. I just don’t think I’ve ever bought any — with the possible exception of once purchasing Golden. Not sure.

The other thing about getting rid of a lot of this stuff…a lot of it is about prioritization and considering who I actually am, and what I actually want. Not in an abstract way, and maybe not even in a way that compromises anything to the vicissitudes of present reality…though I’m getting abstract.

What I mean is that I’m fairly certain I know what I want. I also know where wanting those things gets inconvenient. From age, I know that I’m unlikely to stop wanting what it is that I want, just because it’s inconvenient; rather, I’ll likely end up halfway chasing those inconvenient things for years on end (like buying book after book on learning Japanese, as a symbol to myself, and not reading them), while I waste time and energy and brain space paying lip service to what the world tells me I should want, instead.

So I should just do what I want, and be who I am. That’s the fastest route to attainment.

Right?

art, art media, color, illustration, painting

Watercolors and testing and pigments and inks

I’ve been doing experiments with watercolors…and, I think, I’m on the right track where it comes to what I want to be doing. I’m much happier with inks and wet media than with pencils (I still haven’t been brave enough to break back into the pastels, due to the dust factor). I’ve also been experimenting with inks and “transparent watercolors” (specifically the Ecoline brand, which I had been lusting after, probably for over a year).

The Ecoline stuff hasn’t been going wonderfully, but it’s good that I know that there are more suitable materials than this (for me) out there. I’ve been looking at transparent liquid watercolor (which I assume are aniline dyes) as a sort of middle ground between markers and painting. Right now, I think that’s pretty accurate, and is likely the reason why there are so many pre-mixed colors. I still haven’t extensively tested Dr. Ph. Martin’s Radiant Liquid Watercolor, or their Hydrus. At this point, I’m not entirely certain I will. These liquid things, I’ve read, tend to fade more easily than pigmented paints. Of course, that doesn’t matter if you’re working for reproduction.

If I do get back into comic, or, more pointedly: illustration work, the Ecoline is suited. It’s reliably transparent (at least, with the six colors I’ve been using), so any dark line work won’t become clouded by overpainting. (I also have tried Dr. Ph. Martin’s Black Star Hi-Carb India Ink with this, which I can get into later. Long story short: it works better with Ecoline than Blick Black Cat, due to the fact that Black Cat repels water and the Ecoline.) However, when using the Ecoline colors like regular watercolors, they are incredibly thin. I believe this is due to the amount of water carried in my brush — I didn’t dry it after rinsing and before dipping it into the dye on my palette, so the color became diluted.

I would probably want to use one of those palettes with tons of tiny wells (I should photograph this if I still have mine; I’m not sure if my meaning is coming across) if I used this for illustration work, as well: the “liquid” part of this means that the dyes really…they really get messed up if one is dipping around and mixing colors, and rinsing the paintbrush and not drying it off afterward. Worse so, than regular tube or pan watercolors. There’s just no going back once you get cyan in your magenta. It just isn’t happening. :) Just kiss that magenta goodbye and say hello to violet. Seriously.

That may, in fact, be why the Ecoline watercolors are so varied as to the formulations in their bottles: they may be more of a pain to mix than bargained for. I am, however, now curious about their effect if used as drawing inks…I have a couple of old bamboo drawing pens which I can try. Of course, though…at least one is stained with sepia. I’d probably want to separate out what I dip that pen into.

So, right now, the back-to-school sales are in effect; I used the opportunity to purchase a high-end palette (which I’ve wanted since at least 2016) at something like 60% off, which…I mean, it’s nice, but do I need it in addition? I’ve been using a Mijello palette recently — it’s where all my dried paints are — and have found that the position of the paints may not matter as much as I thought it did (so long as I know what went, where). It’s also nice to have a well that is at least 3/4″ wide, as I can fit a wide wash brush in there. Comparatively, I’d have to get an empty full-size pan to do the same, and I’m not convinced the experience would be similar, due to the corners and depth of standard pans.

Have I just grown to appreciate the Mijello’s pan design over the organization of my colors? Possibly. It helps that I haven’t painted en plein air in a very, very long time. However: the design of the Mijello also keeps it from being convenient as a plein air palette, so it’s like a, “chicken or egg,” thing.

Of course, if I take out the Winsor & Newton (W&N) Burnt Umber rock which keeps knocking around in there and getting dried-up Burnt Umber pieces in my precious clean yellows…it is likely to be more appealing to use. W&N Burnt Umber separates from its well after it has dried and rattles around inside the closed palette, hence why I call it a “rock.” I hear that Viridian does the same thing (which is why I have four different versions), though I can’t remember if it has yet happened to me. It would have been in a very old palette, like my Mijello Silver Nano. I discovered that having wells on the roof of a palette which is bordering on non-stick (it’s anti-microbial, hence “Silver Nano”), doesn’t work that well.

Recently, I was able to obtain a Da Vinci Cobalt Blue which disperses much better (to my tastes) than the Winsor & Newton Cobalt Blue I had before, which had basically made me not want to use the pigment. Like at all. Or ever again.

The Da Vinci Cobalt Blue, though…when mixed with Ultramarine Violet or Ultramarine Pink, it makes really lovely soft violets (and I rarely use the word, “lovely”). These violets are much softer than Dioxazine Violet, which is so powerful that it can be difficult for me to use.

I’ve just now discovered the Da Vinci paints. I’ve actually…just recently realized that it isn’t to my benefit to have brand loyalty where it comes to any one tube watercolor manufacturer. Paints vary in quality, but they vary within paint brands — like M. Graham & Co. Ultramarine Pink vs M. Graham & Co. Viridian; not to mention between lines within brands — like W&N Cotman (student grade) vs. W&N Professional; as well as between paint brands, like Sennelier vs. Daniel Smith vs. Da Vinci.

So Da Vinci and Daniel Smith could both put out their own versions of Viridian and Prussian Blue, and one may judge the Daniel Smith Prussian Blue to be far superior to the Da Vinci (or indeed, any other Prussian Blue one has tried), while the Da Vinci Viridian is far superior to the Daniel Smith Viridian (or any other Viridian one has tried). I don’t know exactly why this happens; I just know that it does. But one of my artist friends did tell me a while back, that paint consistencies differed, depending on the pigments in them.

So…I am not certain there is any way to really tell what paints one likes, other than trying them out. I did go and buy like four different types of Prussian Blue and Viridian from different lines, so I indeed can (and likely should) show you my results. Viewing that may save the reader here money in the long run, though unfortunately, I didn’t check for blogger reviews of these paints, before going out to try them. So now I have like three extra tubes of each color, having picked out the paint that I love the most.

Unfortunately, I still don’t know how to record and upload video, so I can’t show you how the colors race away from the brush (wet-in-wet) with each of the colors I like. That doesn’t happen, with the others. It’s something I look for, which doesn’t happen predictably; and I’m not even certain yet if it happens repeatably, with the exact same pigment, manufacturer, and paint line.

I should send the other paints on for re-use. After I record my experiments, and make sure I have all my names in order. I’m sure that someone is going to appreciate the fact that they’ll be able to at least try out the paints for free. It’s not like they’re awful or unusable; they just aren’t things that I prefer. Having good paints just greatly enhances the experience of painting, for me.

I’m also getting more relaxed around the toxin factor of working with these paints. I just need to keep myself clean, and I’ll be OK. Today I went and replaced an Aureolin (Cobalt Yellow) despite the fact that I know it’s very toxic, because nothing else I’ve tried, mixes greens quite like it. Of course, I know there must be at least 9 or so different commonly used chemical formulations for yellows in watercolors. I assume they all have their own different mixing properties (and precautions…which is why I don’t use Nickel Azo Yellow — I’m already sensitized to Nickel).

There is also the fact that I’m using Chromium colors as well as other Cobalt salts, in other places in my palette. Both Chromium and Cobalt are heavy metals, and toxic. I have historically stayed away from the Cadmiums (generally red through yellow, though I’ve seen “Cadmium Green”), though at this point I might be getting a little less paranoid about them. Basically, any heavy metal salt I can absorb through my skin (that is, any water-soluble salt with a heavy metal component) is something I don’t want to deal with. Something I have to ingest to be poisoned by, though? I am a clean person to the point of dysfunction. And I have at least one nail brush. I’ll be fine.

I also spent years trying to find suitable replacements for the Cadmium family of pigments, which led me to the Pyrrole colors (these can be genuinely awesome, though inconsistently named [“Pyrrol Scarlet” and “Scarlet Pyrrol” are two different pigments — and two different hues — in two different brands]) and the Hansa colors (M. Graham’s Hansa Yellow is still one of my favorite paints). But I’ve spent, literally, years talking about Cadmium-based paints…right now, though, I feel like I should do more research before getting back into the whole paranoia thing I had before.

It’s kind of like, if you know what it does and how it gets into you, then just don’t do things that would let it get into you. This is why I have been wary of the pastels: it’s much harder to contain dust. I think it’s also why I’m getting better with the paints: at least with the paints, nothing gets airborne or ground into my skin. Also: paints are mixable. And the essence of paint, for me at least, is color. As someone who is enamored with color and has been frustrated with contact points which I can’t change, it seems to be a good medium.

I mentioned the Dr. Ph. Martin’s Black Star Hi-Carb ink, earlier in this post. It’s…really, pretty great. Waterproof, doesn’t move under water or Ecoline. (I didn’t care enough to try Copics.) It also doesn’t repel Ecoline, which is what the Black Cat, did. I haven’t yet tried it with the tube watercolors, and I’m seriously not even sure that I should…but if the goal is to do my own thing with the art (and stop deprecating myself for not being like other artists), I might try it.

In the coming days, I’m hoping to get some of this stuff photographed or scanned so that you can see what I’m talking about; just words, can’t get everything across. In particular, I should show you those Viridian and Prussian Blue tests, though I’m going to do them over again. And no, it will not be on Arches paper. ;) Though I have some, now. I have some, and I have realized that it’s worth working with correctly, so I got some kraft tape and a soaking vat and some sponges and an impermeable board, to properly stretch the paper. Time to get serious.

Disclaimer: No one paid or otherwise compensated me to write this. I got nothing free. What you do with this information is your responsibility, and I gain nothing personally from it.

art, art media, drawing

Testing black drawing ink

I started writing this post on the 1st of January, but was too wiped out from the day to be able to do much more than type an apology for no pictures, and leave the draft until the next day. Well, it’s the 4th, now, about to be the 5th, in several hours. I still haven’t taken scans or photos, but if I wait until I do that, it may well be a week or so more until I get around to it.

I do have the energy to write, today; actually, I’ve just gotten through cleaning and vacuuming both my room and my bathroom (not yet including the shower). This has brought my attention (again) to the need to actually organize both my desk and nightstand, as I’ve just reorganized the vanity. The materials in my desk, that is, are likely over a decade old. The materials in my nightstand…a lot of that stuff can go somewhere else, because I’m not using it.

Anyhow — on the 1st, I reminded myself to check notes I had made prior, while meditating on wanting to do art, but not particularly being enamored with the graphite-pencil medium which I’ve overlearned. One of the most basic things I could have done (and did do) would be to singe a nib or more, and test out a number of black inks I have, for waterproofness and Copic-proofness. (Copics are a brand of marker used in illustration, particularly in comics…which mattered more before I abandoned the effort to make comics, and turned back more towards waterbased painting, in combination with ink work.)

Just to let you know, a lot of these inks I have are super-old, possibly from before the year 2000. The ink formulations have likely changed since that time. I’ve used them since then, but because of not entirely knowing what to do with the dip pen nibs (they have to have the anti-rust coating eaten or boiled or burned off of them somehow, or they do not hold ink [I learned this later — for some reason, Speedball seems to assume one knows this already]), my development has been stalled.

It would likely help if I got a non-food-safe pot to boil them within, en masse — like the non-food-safe butter knives for separating sheets of watercolor paper, or the non-food-safe spoon(s) for transferring block prints. I just haven’t really been committed enough to buy something like that.

To be short, three inks went immediately in the garbage because of failed performance (strong feathering, non-black color). These may have just been too old, but in any case, they were useless. These were Higgins Black Magic and regular Higgins Black. The third — I forget the brand (it may have been Pelikan) — I got from a relative. In any case, it wasn’t ink anymore, and it was so old that I believe I know what art store it came from (the price tag is distinctive). That art store is no longer in existence, and hasn’t been since the early 2000’s, if I’m recalling correctly.

For all of the tests, I was using a freshly-singed Blue Pumpkin nib, which is basically a flexible steel spoon-shaped nib which has been treated to turn blue. Of course, you also need a nib holder. I really have no recollection of the brand of the nib holder I used (it has a wooden handle and metal clutch); I just know it fits that nib, and it works.

There were three inks I tried which were not waterproof at all. These were Higgins Eternal, Higgins Calligraphy (“waterproof”), and Parker Super Quink. Of the three, the Parker dissolved most readily in water once dry. Interestingly enough, it was totally Copic-proof, and didn’t smudge under a Copic blending marker. I’m thinking that the solvent in Copics is majorly alcohol (which makes covalent bonds instead of ionic), but I haven’t checked the Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to be sure. Higgins Eternal was the next most water-soluble, followed by Higgins Calligraphy (“waterproof”) ink. Higgins Eternal is Copic-proof. Higgins Calligraphy is not.

That being said, if I were going to have an ink which I wanted to smudge under water, or if I had an application where I wouldn’t be using either water or marker on top, the three inks actually flow well and have a nice consistency and depth. The Parker ink leans more blue when dissolved than the Eternal, which is more brownish. I wouldn’t really use the Higgins Calligraphy in an ink-and-wash application, though, as it dissolves so weakly that it looks more like a mistake.

This leaves three inks: Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink, Speedball Super Black India Ink (of which I have both ultra-old and newer-but-still-old formulations), and Blick Black Cat Waterproof India Ink. Of the three, I was surprised to find that the Black Cat was the clear winner in both waterproofness and Copic-proofness, refusing to budge under either, after drying for about eight minutes. There’s not much more I can say, than that. It was thinner than all of my other functioning inks — the ones I tested, that is — which I didn’t totally love, but I realize that my other inks may only be thicker because they’re older and have lost fluid to evaporation.

Ph. Martin’s Bombay also performed decently, but was fairly thick (almost the consistency of acrylic ink), and left my pen more prone to “railroading” (where the tines of the nib split and made two fine lines rather than one wide line). Granted, this could be due to my skill level with dip pens — possibly the angle at which I held the pen — as things stand, now.

Also, a note: because the Ph. Martin’s Bombay (distinct from their “Hydrus”, which looks similar) was in a dropper-style bottle, I had to drip the ink over the nib, as versus dipping it into the inkwell (which had a narrow mouth, to boot). I’m not certain, but I think the Bombay is meant more for brushwork than for dip pens; the bottle was certainly designed that way.

Both Speedball Super Black formulations had either fixed to noticeable dispersion under both water and Copic, in a manner that makes me think that maybe the ink just didn’t dry long enough, or I gouged out my Bristol board with my nib in a way that made the ink take longer to dry. I did one test on Fabriano Mixed Media paper; another on Strathmore 300-Series Smooth Bristol board. On the Fabriano, the new formulation smudged under water after 30 minutes of drying, while the old formulation was fixed under water, after 10 minutes. On the Bristol, the old formulation smudged under Copic (but not water) after 45 minutes, while the newer bottle was fine with both Copic and water, after 45 minutes.

The paper does make a difference. With a sharp-tipped tool like the Blue Pumpkin nib, outcomes are more predictable when drawing on Smooth-finish Bristol board, as versus the Vellum-finish Bristol board I also tried (this was a 400-Series), or the Fabriano Mixed Media paper. The latter two just have so much texture that the tip of the nib tends to get bumped around while you’re trying to make a line. There’s also the feeling, on more textured papers, that you’re making an incision into some soft, pillowy top. It’s not always pleasant.

I tried all three because I would try these for mixed-media projects which may include ink and watercolor. I do know, however, that gouache in particular has a hard time sticking to Bristol board (from one of my first Art classes) — I don’t remember right now which series that was (300-Series is cheaper than 400-Series), but I remember the paper feeling kind of smooth. I did just go and check, and it feels like it was probably a smooth finish (and cheap, for a Bristol board).

The hangup with using a smooth and absorbent board like that is that the gouache forms a skin on top of the board which can be accidentally lifted if too much water is applied later — which I experienced as a very entry-level painting student. I haven’t found a way to come back from that, yet. I also haven’t tried transparent watercolors on Bristol, mostly because it seems sacrilegious. I do have actual watercolor paper for those things, though I haven’t tried the Arches I’ve gotten — mostly due to fear of messing it up.

But it does seem counterproductive to buy good art supplies and then not use them because I’m scared I’ll make mistakes. Mistakes are the essence of learning — not to make mistakes is to avoid learning.

Getting back to that pencil vs. liquid media thing: I did find it kind of refreshing to be able to use pen and ink. There’s just something about the slipperiness of an HB pencil which is a real turn-off for me, these days. The scratchiness plus density plus liquid quality of a dip pen does remind me of the fountain pens I’ve been using for journaling; it’s just that I can use actual pigmented inks with dip pens. Fountain-pen inks are mostly dye-based, as pigments can clog up fountain pens very easily.

One of the exceptions to the rule is Platinum Carbon Black, which I haven’t tried — mostly because it’s a high-maintenance ink, requiring weekly cleanings to keep the pen in a functioning condition. I suppose I could put it in a Pilot Kakuno fountain pen and see where that leads, given that the Kakuno is notoriously inexpensive…and also that I do now have a bottle of Pen Flush. Then again, the Kakuno is one of those things where a person can experiment with things like nib tuning (my current Extra-Fine Kakuno scratches the paper much like a dip pen would, and it’s a little annoying), without losing too much on, “learning experiences.”

It’s also possible that the Kakuno only works with Pilot inks. I read the fine print in my Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen instructions the other day and did find that clause in there. I’m like, seriously? Seriously, Pilot? But then, my first Metropolitan still writes like a dream. I just happened to get a really nice ink the first time; different inks from the same line, feel differently on the page depending on I-don’t-know-what. One Metropolitan filled with Chiku-Rin (a yellow-green), that is, behaves differently (it’s more annoyingly slippery [to me, that is]) than the same nib size of Metropolitan filled with Ku-Jaku (a dark green-blue).

I’m just starting to get to the point where I’m identifying inks I actually like, and would voluntarily continue to use, over the long term. I’m also beginning to branch out into brands other than Pilot, which enable me to use inks other than Pilot’s.

Then, there’s the issue of whether I dislike graphite now because I know what charcoal feels like, and can do…the only drawback to charcoal is having to spray one’s drawings with fixative. That is a drawback; I’m just not sure how much it matters, in the long run.