Friday, April 27, 2012

From the Sketchbook Journal: Embrace the Chaos

"Embrace the Chaos."  Pitt Artist Pen and watercolour pencils in bound sketchbook.

It's been a while since I last shared any of my sketchbook or art journal pages here.  Part of the reason is that I just haven't been making very many pages lately.  I was working quite a bit in my gluebook art journal earlier this year, but now I haven't touched it in weeks.  And although I enjoy making art in my journals, I really do consider myself a writer before an artist, and recently I've been focusing much more on my writing than on creating visual art.

This mandala is actually from early last December (yikes! so long ago already!) and, oddly enough, it is a fairly good representation of my philosophy around planning and organization, although that was certainly not my main intent when I was creating it!  My basic philosophy is that you can have all your planners and calendars and to-do lists and all that as much as you like, but ultimately you can only truly plan and organize a small part of your life.  There still needs to be room for spontaneity, unexpected occurrences, and everyday chaos, from pots boiling over on the stove to falling in love.  Trying to do too much - to plan or organize too much, to set too many goals - only leads to stress.  This mandala reminds me of that for while the centre is a highly ordered, symmetric pattern with each colour in its place, the outside of the mandala is much more chaotic, with colours blending into each other and flowing out from the centre and off the page and onto the facing page.

I created this mandala at the end of my last semester of university, when I was feeling stressed with my heavy work load.  Creating this mandala was a great way for me to relax and remind myself to embrace the chaos of life and not worry so much about planning and organizing everything.  Looking at this mandala now, I'm reminded of how much I enjoyed creating it and that I should get back to working in my sketchbook and art journal again.

Do you use art to relieve stress and relax?  Do you sometimes discover things about yourself when you create art?  And how do you maintain a regular habit of creating art, whatever it is that you do?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Nearly Three Years of Pen Reviews

A Penchant for Paper will be three years old this July.  For most of this time, it has been primarily a pen blog (in fact, I even debated naming the blog "A Penchant for Pens").  Although I did originally intend to write equally about my other, related interests, such as notebooks, journals, the writing process, sketching, and collage, my focus has been mostly on pens and I have written quite a few pen reviews here over the last (nearly) three years.  And in case you always wanted to know what all those pen reviews would look like all lined up together, here they are:

What (nearly) three years of pen reviews looks like.

This photo doesn't quite include all of my pen reviews, since I didn't start writing my reviews in my No.11 Rhodia Pad until this blog had already been around for a few months.  I'm not sure what I'll end up doing with all of these paper reviews (currently, they sit in my desk held together with a binder clip when they're not spread out all over the floor), but for now they serve as a nice record of the pens I have used in the past, many of which I'm no longer using, and will allow me to make comparisons with new pens that I may try out.

I still have at least two more new pens lined up for review and reviews of pens and other items will always be a part of what A Penchant for Paper is about, but I am looking to broaden my focus more to things that can be done with the pens and the other tools, such as writing and creating visual art.  I'm still not entirely sure what directions I'll be going in, so if you have any input to offer as to what you like about this blog and what you would like to see more or less of, I would really appreciate it.  Or maybe you're heartbroken and devastated at the prospect of fewer pen reviews in the future?  I hope not, but if so, at least now you know what (nearly) three years of pen reviews looks like!  (Because I'm sure you were all dying to know that...)  And I have several new posts coming up in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.  As always, I appreciate your support and comments!  Thank you all very much for that!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Uni-ball Signo Broad White

I have for some time been on a quest for the perfect white pen.  First, there was the white Pilot Choose, which was... disappointing.  Then there was the white Sakura Permapaque paint marker, which was the most useless pen or marker I have ever encountered, as the white ink was essentially invisible (although the other colours were acceptable).  Then there was the white Sakura Gelly Roll, which I actually thought at the time was quite a good white pen.  But now, my quest is over, for I have found the holy grail of white pens: the Uni-ball Signo Broad.

I'd read many reviews that lauded the superior qualities of the Uni-ball Signo Broad, but still I doubted.  Could it really be as good as they all said?  But finally I tried it out for myself and now, I too am a believer.  If the Uni-ball Signo Broad white pen does not write as well as all those other reviews claimed, then that is only because it write even better.  My friends, if you, like me, have spent many long, lonely years searching for the perfect white pen, then I am here to tell you that your quest is over.  This is it.

A brief glance at that writing sample above will tell you everything you need to know.  Writing with this pen is like writing with white correction fluid or with white paint.  Most white pens appear at least slightly translucent when you write with them, but not so with the Signo.  This white ink is opaque.  Shockingly, amazingly, astonishingly opaque.  I though a truly opaque white ink pen was an impossibility, but it is not.  See that comparison with the Sakura Gelly Roll at the bottom of the writing sample?  Look at how grey and washed out the Gelly Roll ink is, and then look at how white and bright the Signo ink is.  That, my friends, is the difference between a good white pen and an excellent and superior white pen.

But wait!  That's not all!  Now take a look at how this pen writes on different kinds of papers:

Yes, it is true, whether you're writing on smooth magazine paper, over acrylic paint, on shiny metallic paper, on origami paper, on translucent vellum paper, on rough porous handmade paper, or on cardstock (in my original writing sample), the Uni-ball Signo Broad writes consistently smoothly with its bright white opaque ink.  Seriously, this is impressive stuff.

As far as appearance goes (although why anyone would care at all what this pen looks like when it is so amazing otherwise, I have no idea), the Uni-ball Signo Broad is fairly basic, with a clear barrel, and grip and clip in colours to match the colours of the ink.  And it is available in all sorts of colours, including black, blue, dark blue, gold, green, orange, red, and silver, as well as the white.  At 1.0mm, it is a bit too fat for me to use for everyday writing, but if you like fatter pens, then this is a great all-around pen as well.  For me, it will likely remain a craft pen only, and I would love to try out the gold and silver in the future to see if they are as amazing as the white.

I highly recommend this pen if you are looking for the perfect white pen.  You will not be disappointed.

Related reviews: No Pen Intended, The Pen Addict (also a review of the dark blue), Tiger Pens Blog (metallic).

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pentel Aquash Waterbrush

A waterbrush is a paintbrush with a plastic handle that can be filled with water.  Instead of constantly dipping the brush in water, all you need to do is lightly squeeze the handle to wet the brush.  They are available in a number of different brands and sizes, but the waterbrush I am reviewing here is the Pentel Aquash Waterbrush in medium with a compact body (the regular bodies of the medium were sold out when I placed my order, so I settled for the compact instead).

Pentel Aquash Waterbrush.
Now, if you are primarily going to be working at your desk indoors, then you may have no need for a waterbrush.  But if you like to work on your couch or if you like to take your sketchbook with you outdoors into your backyard or on hikes, then a waterbrush will likely be a very convenient addition to your portable journal kit.  I use watercolour pencils and I used to add the colour to my sketches in the field, but then wait until I got back home to bring out a brush and water and blend the colours together.  But now it is simple to bring my waterbrush along in my pencil case and finish the sketches in the field.

The parts of the Aquash: cap, brush segment, and handle.
The compact bodied Aquash is approximately 12.5cm long when capped, and slightly over 14cm long when the cap is posted.  It is comfortable to hold and feels like a pen in the hand.  The handle unscrews from the brush and can be filled with water to the fill line.  It does not look like it holds very much water, but it actually lasts longer than you would think.  And if you were worried about running out of water, you could always bring along a water bottle (something you'd probably have with you already if you were out on a hike) to top it up.  The cap snaps securely on to the brush, but if you're posting it on the end you'll want to make sure that it's pushed on as far as it can go because otherwise it might be loose and fall off.

Pentel Aquash, capped.
The brush is round, with white synthetic bristles, and it holds its shape very well.  As I mentioned earlier, I picked up the medium Aquash, but small and large round brushes are also available.  I like the medium, but I think the small would be better for the fine detail of my mandalas, so I'll probably be picking that one up at a later date.

To use the waterbrush, you gently squeeze the handle.  I was surprised at how little pressure is needed for this - squeeze too hard and you'll get a big drop of water on the end of the brush.  All you need is a very light touch to wet the bristles.  I was also surprised that I didn't need to squeeze the handle very often - the brush itself holds a lot of water.

I tried the Pentel Aquash waterbrush out with my watercolour pencils on this test page:

As I mentioned on the test page, using the waterbrush was more convenient, simpler, and also quicker than using a real brush and continually dipping it in water.  Using the waterbrush is a continuous process on the page, and almost feels more like using a pen or a marker than using a paintbrush.  I was probably using more water than I needed to on this page, as I am still experimenting with how much and how often I need to squeeze the handle.  Still, the water level was only down about 5mm from the fill line.

One small issue with the waterbrush is that, because you're not dipping the brush in water, all of the colours are going to stay on the brush.  This actually did not lead to as much mixing of the colours as I thought it would, but if you want to clean the brush off, squeezing out some extra water and either brushing over a spare blank sheet of paper or wiping off the brush with a cloth will be effective.

Overall, I am satisfied with my purchase of the Pentel Aquash waterbrush.  It is fun and easy to use, and it provides a convenient and portable solution to the problem of using watercolours in inconvenient places, such as out in the field.  I recommend it, although please keep in mind that I am still very much a beginner when it comes to watercolours so don't take my review as the final word!

Related reviews: My French Easel, Parka Blogs.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Papier Mâché Eggs for Easter

Here's an idea for all you crafters out there: find some cardboard eggs at a craft store (styrofoam would probably work as well, but I haven't used that), mix some white glue with water, cut narrow strips of coloured paper, dip them in the glue mixture, and apply to the eggs.  Finish off with a simple basket, and the result will be colourful decorations for Easter, or for any other spring celebrations that you may honour.

I found a bag of cardboard eggs at a thrift shop many years ago, but never used them (I was always saving them for that special project, you know) until now.  Thinner papers will probably be best for this; I started out using some scrapbooking paper on an egg but it was too thick and almost impossible to get to stick on smoothly, so I finished off the other eggs with origami paper, which is thin and comes in a multitude of colours and designs.  Narrower strips and smaller pieces are also easier to work with, since larger pieces of paper are more likely to wrinkle.  I used one colour of paper for each egg, but you could mix things up and make patchwork eggs, or add some painted designs after applying the papier mâché, or do whatever else you can think of.  I hadn't done any papier mâché in years, so this was a fun and easy project to do; it would likely also be a great project to do with kids.  Let me know how your eggs turn out!


And another note: As you've probably noticed, A Penchant for Paper has recently received a makeover and is currently sporting a new, and somewhat more minimalist, look.  I'm really loving the new look, but I don't know how it looks on anyone else's computer or browser, so do let me know if you have any issues with it (or if you have any other comments about anything else whatsoever).  Leave me a comment here, or send me an email.
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