Tuesday, July 31, 2012

ICAD Wrap-up + Final Thoughts

Index cards 57-61 from the final days of Daisy Yellow's Index-Card-a-Day Challenge 2012.
So.  It's finally happened.  ICAD 2012 has drawn to a close.  I finished off my final and 61st card this afternoon.  I can't believe I actually did it.  61 index cards.  Two months ago, I thought, "What the heck.  I'll give it a try.  I might not be able to do it, but we'll try it out anyway."  So I did.  And this is the result.

For my final 5 cards, I wanted to do a bit of everything that I liked best about the previous cards, so this is what I ended up with: a bold and colourful mandala with my watercolour pencils (not sure about this one, but it sure is colourful!), a quick sketch of the trees and hills outside my house, a drawing of a dragonfly based off a photo cut from a magazine and glued in the upper left corner of the index card, another mandala, and a final celebratory card which I liberally decorated with gel pen fireworks and star stickers.  Celebrate!  61 days of creating art every day is certainly worth celebrating.

Here are all 61 cards in a stack.  Don't they look nice?

What I liked best about ICAD:

  • It ran for a limited amount of time.  It's one thing to say, "I'm going to create an index card every day, and it's totally another thing to say, "I'm going to create an index card every day for 2 months."  The second has a time limit.  You can count down your remaining cards.  You feel motivated to create a card every day because you know that at the end you can look back at all of them and know that you did it.  You can begin it, and you can also finish it and move on to something else.
  • Index cards are small.  Journal pages are large.  A bit intimidating, especially on those days when your energy is low.  But an index card is small enough that it's easy to just create a tiny bit of art to fill it up.
  • Index cards are cheap and disposable.  You don't have to worry about messing it up, because it's easy to throw it out and start again.  As it turned out, I didn't have to start again with any of my cards but simply having that option made me able to create more freely.
  • And, best of all, now I have a habit of creating art daily again!  I had fallen out of that habit.  My art journal had been untouched for weeks.  My sketchbook had only a few recent entries.  Now, I'm back into the habit of art everyday and I have all sorts of new ideas and plans for future creative endeavours.

Finally, here are all of my cards all laid out together!  (Each row is a week.)  I love looking at them all together like that.  I see a lot of mandalas, and a lot of the colour green, and a lot of drawings from or inspired by nature - in short, a lot of my favourite things!  Enjoy, and I hope to see you all in August!

(Click on the image to view larger.)

[See all ICAD posts.]

Monday, July 30, 2012

July Miscellany: Developments in Blogs and Art

There have been some developments with the blog this month.  First and most obviously, I finally redesigned my blog header!  I wanted to have something that would reflect the focus of this blog, which includes reviews of pens, notebooks, and other stationery items, as well as my interests in art, especially mixed media, mandalas, and sketching.  I don't know if the new header quite captures all of that, but it's a definite improvement over what I had before.  I'm still not quite sure if I like how it turned out, so I would appreciate any input that you care to offer.  Does it look good?  Does it flow?  Does it suit the blog?

The second development with the blog was that I added LinkWithin to my posts.  I haven't used this before, so I hope it doesn't create any problems with how you view my blog.  What LinkWithin does is show links to related posts at the bottom of every blog post.  I hope that this will encourage traffic to some of the older posts on my blog, many of which were posted when this blog had far fewer followers than it does now.  If you see any old posts that catch your eye, feel free to visit them and leave me a comment.  I read all of the comments that I receive, on both old posts and new, so don't hesitate to share your opinion!

It's been a busy month for me.  I've been getting back to writing and blogging regularly, and I've been participating in Daisy Yellow's Index-Card-a-Day project.  If you haven't been following along with my weekly ICAD posts, I would like to encourage all of you once again, whether you think of yourself as particularly "artistic" or not, to consider giving ICAD (or something like it) a try.  Just pick something simple and non-intimidating (an index card, an artist trading card (ATC), an old planner page, half a page in your sketchbook, the back of an envelope), and just starting doing something, anything, to create art everyday.  You don't have to call it art if you don't want to.  Doodle.  Draw.  Paint.  Sketch.  Try out a new pen.  Use stickers, ephemera, newspaper clippings.  Anything at all.  Just have fun with it.  I've had so much fun with ICAD myself, and I would recommend it to anyone.  Go on.  Give it a try.

ICAD will be finishing off tomorrow, but luckily I have all sorts of ideas for new creative projects.  I'll be writing a poem a day for August and September (don't worry, I won't be inflicting those on you!), I want to finish off my neglected gluebook art journal, and I want to start a new art journal, perhaps in my spiral-bound PooPooPaper notebook, which I've been saving for just that purpose.  I've also started working through Danny Gregory's EDM Challenges as a way to practice and improve my drawing skills.  I'll probably be posting some of my drawings in the future, so stay tuned for that and feel free to join in with the challenges yourself.

I don't have many other links to share with you this month, but do check out this review of a Wahl Eversharp Doric fountain pen over at Gourmet Pens.  Azizah's blog has become one of my favourite pen blogs, and, while I doubt I'd ever own a pen like this myself, this pen is gorgeous.  I love the rich brown and gold colours in it.  If I had a pen like that, though, I'd probably never use it and just set it on a shelf where I could admire it every day.

Check out this great video on mandala drawing: How to Grow a Mandala.  This style of drawing mandalas is quite similar to my own, and the video really breaks it down into simple steps.  Although you'd probably want to expand your method as you developed confidence in your skills, following this video would be a great and non-intimidating way to get started.  (And for the curious, I discovered the video through this post on iHanna's blog, in which she shares her own experiments with drawing mandalas.)

Finally, I just have to share with you these hilarious newspaper "headlines" over at Dispatch From LA.  While you're there, you can also admire some pages from her latest travel journal.  Just scroll past those to read the headlines.

That's all for now!  Enjoy these links and stay tuned for more great posts to come next month, including a review of an intriguing notebook I came across at a local thrift store!

Friday, July 27, 2012

ICAD Week 8: Staying the Course

Index cards 50-56 from week 8 of Daisy Yellow's Index-Card-a-Day Challenge 2012.
So the final full week of ICAD 2012 has drawn to a close.  I'm feeling sad that it is nearly over, proud that I have managed to create an index card for every day, relieved that it will soon be finished, and excited about the creative projects I'll start next.  This week was a bit of a difficult one for me, partly because I had some family issues this week that made it harder for me to find the time and focus to work on an index card every day.  Still, I did manage to create a card every day, and it was certainly very relaxing and enjoyable to settle down at the end of a stressful day with an index card, a handful of pens, and my trusty watercolour pencils.

Cards 1 and 3 of this week incorporate the cutouts from the final card of last week, although it may be hard to pick out the cutouts in the photos above, particularly in the first card.  The first card also used some leftover paint from last week's card, and was finished off with some watercolours on top of acrylics and a white paint marker, but I'm not too sure about the result.  I'm a bit happier with the third card, but I think it's the bold words that really tie it together and make it work.

The second card is a quick sketch of a cosmos flower growing in our garden.  The petals turned out a bit narrow, but overall I think it's not too bad.  The horde of daisies in the fourth card started when I was using up some acrylic paint left over from a separate painting project.  I dabbed on the yellow paint with my fingertip and stroked on some of the green with my paintbrush.  I thought the yellow circles looked a bit like the centres of daisies, so I drew in the petals and then added some final colour with my watercolour pencils.  Overall, it was a rather fun card.  The mandala on the fifth card was inspired by a mandala that I drew last week, and was coloured with watercolour pencils and gel pens.  I made the sixth card fairly quickly, by simply gluing down the butterfly and strips of paper.  It's not one of my favourites, but I like the butterfly.  Finally, the last card is a quick sketch I did of the lamp on my desk and the bookcases in the library on a day when I was feeling too tired to go outside to find something to sketch.

Only 5 days remain of ICAD 2012.  I'll be posting a wrap-up ICAD post with my final cards and final thoughts on July 31, so please stay tuned and check back for that!  I also have some great new posts planned for August, including a review of my new Lamy Safari fountain pen and my very first pencil review, so I hope to see you all then!

[See all ICAD posts.]

Monday, July 23, 2012

Zebra Jimnie Ballpoint

When I was a child, my mom always had one of the pens sitting on her desk.  She still uses them today.  In fact, the only pens that I have ever seen my mom actually buy are Zebra Sarasa gel pens, Zebra Jimnie ballpoint pens (only in red), and, on one (very rare) occasion, a Post-it Flag pen.  Most of the pens she uses are complementary ballpoints from businesses around town and pens that she used to bring home from work.  She's not too fussy about her pens (unlike me).  But I became curious about this pen.  Sure, it's just a ballpoint, but maybe there was something special about it?  Well, I've tested it out and the verdict is now in: There really isn't anything special about the Zebra Jimnie other than my fond family memories.

The Zebra Jimnie writes like an average ballpoint.  I feel like I have to press extra hard on the page in order to get the pen to write.  Since I tend to hold even non-ballpoint pens with a super death grip, this does not make for a particularly comfortable writing experience.  The ink skips quite regularly, and leaves a somewhat streaky line, also typical for ballpoints.  The best part about it is that the ink does not glob.  For this, I can forgive some of the other issues a bit, since ink globbing is one thing that I just can't stand.  (And even certain ballpoints that have received a lot more hype than this one have fallen victim to it.)  Annoyingly, the Jimnie I'm using has a slight rattle to it when I write.  I determined this to be due to the ink cartridge being loose in the barrel by only a fraction of a millimetre, causing the cartridge to rattle slightly every time I start writing.

The Zebra Jimnie appears to be a slightly larger and longer than normal pen, so may possibly be slightly more comfortable to use for people with slightly larger than average hands.  My own hands are long but narrow, so I can't test that.  It's not an unattractive pen.  It's fairly basic, but the barrel is tinted the same colour as the ink, a touch that I appreciate since it seems to be a bit different than usual.  (Most pens seem to have either a clear or a solid-coloured barrel.)  The grip is firm and long enough to actually be useful, and it is also the colour of the ink.  All of this colour makes it obvious to tell just what the colour of the ink is.  I have a few pens that enjoy leaving me guessing what the ink colour is, especially when they're all tangled together in a pen case, so that is also an aspect I appreciate.

Still, the Zebra Jimnie is only an average ballpoint pen.  Judging from writing quality alone, I don't see any reason why you'd want to choose this pen over any other average ballpoint.  Unless, for some strange reason, you absolutely fell in love with the design or you had some other connection to it, I wouldn't suggest you search this one out.  Because of the family associations I have with this pen, I'll always have a fondness for it, but it's not one I'll be using on a regular basis any time soon.

Related reviews: Gourmet Pens (newer RT version, which, judging from Azizah's review, may be a smoother writer than my Jimnie)

Friday, July 20, 2012

ICAD Week 7: Blues + Greens (with a touch of orange)

Index cards 43-49 from week 7 of Daisy Yellow's Index-Card-a-Day Challenge 2012.
Blues, greens, and blue-greens seemed to be the theme for this week's set of cards - with the exception of the very first card of this week, which was decidedly orange and yellow!  ICAD is beginning to wind down in earnest now - less than 2 weeks remain - and in this week's cards I was exploring some of my favourite themes and things to draw: mandalas, nature sketches, and, of course, the colour green.

The mandala on the first card is not my usual style of drawing mandalas, but I rather like it.  It's quirky and asymmetrical and bold, drawn with a brush pen and coloured with watercolour pencils on an acrylic paint background.  The mandala on the second card, however, is much more like what my mandalas usually are like: lots of fine details and symmetry, drawn with fine-tipped Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens.  The mandala on the fifth card is similar, but I got the inspiration to draw this one from when I was flipping through my sketchbook, looking at some mandalas that I had drawn a couple years ago.  The words on it are "Beyond Intergalactic" because I thought it had a bit of a science fiction-y feel to it, and, for some odd reason, it reminded me of a book I recently read, A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge.  I recommend that book, by the way, if you enjoy science fiction!

The watercolour sketch in the third card is of the scene from our front window.  None of the trees, houses, or hills are quite in the right position, but I think it still looks a bit like the real thing!  I'm not quite sure what the leaves and the boxes in the fourth card are about, but they were fun to draw, and they gave the card somewhat of a three-dimensional look, don't you think?  The sunflower in the sixth card is growing in our yard beside the bird feeder, and I actually think that's one of the best drawings I've ever done.  The bird feeder looks a bit warped, but that sunflower looks exactly like I've drawn it.  I'm impressed with myself.

Finally, the seventh card is most complex one of the set.  The background is acrylic paints, applied with a toothpick and smeared around.  The spirals were painted on with a brush, and then I cut and punched the circles out of the card.  I glued coloured paper onto the back of the card to fill in the holes and used black and white gel pens and paint markers to finish it off.  The finished card looks like it should have some occult symbolism behind it, but I don't think it does.  I'm saving the cutouts to use in my next index card - but you'll have to wait for next week's set of cards to see that one!

[See all ICAD posts.]

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Do You Use a Bulletin Board?

A few weeks ago I was suddenly gripped by the desire to haul my old bulletin board out of the library closet and start pinning papers to it.  Quite a few years ago, I always used to have a bulletin board, and I pinned favourite pictures, cartoons cut from the newspaper, and quotes on it.  After a while, I stopped using it and I took it down.  For some reason, I started thinking about that old bulletin board last month and I felt like setting one up again.

I'm not really sure how other people use their bulletin boards.  This one, I think, turned into more of what I have heard called an "inspiration board" rather than a conventional bulletin board.  The papers pinned to it include magazine pictures of cats that remind me of my own cats, a black and white mandala that I drew a couple years ago, some natural history themed stamps from Ireland (which remind me of both my love for nature and my desire to one day visit that country), miscellaneous ephemera that inspire or intrigue me, and some star stickers.  (And in front of the bulletin board you can see my current collection of lost and found pencils!)  My bulletin board is sitting on top of an old trunk that sits in the library, and I see it whenever I come in.  It makes me happy to look at and see all of my favourite images gathered together in one place.

But I'm curious: Do you use a bulletin board?  How do you use it?  What kinds of things do you have pinned on your bulletin board?

Friday, July 13, 2012

ICAD Week 6: Nature Sketches

Index cards 36-42 from week 6 of Daisy Yellow's Index-Card-a-Day Challenge 2012 
In this week of ICAD, I fulfilled my promise of last week to do some more nature sketches.  The nature sketches in cards 1, 2, 3, and 5 above are watercolour pencils and Pitt Artist Pens, while the sketch in card 6 is of some of the pens and pencils that were sitting on my desk (I decided it was too hot to sit outside that day!) and were drawn using Pentel Slicci gel pens.  The first three nature sketches are my favourites of the week, I think.  I never used to like my sketches or drawings, but I am becoming much more confident in my skills these days and I really like how these ones turned out.  The leaves in card 2 were copied from a field guide on trees, but all of the other sketches were drawn from life.  The flowers in card 3 are called Calibrachoa, and they are growing in bright colourful mounds in two pots we have on our deck.  I would highly recommend them if you are looking for a colourful, fast-growing annual with lots of flowers.  The sketch in card 5 of the chair on our deck was actually the most difficult of all the sketches.  Chairs really are more complicated to draw than you think; they have so many lines going in different directions.  Flowers and leaves are much simpler!

As for the other cards, the blue spiral mandala in card 4 was drawn on a day when it was very hot and I wanted to draw something with cool colours and shapes.  This one reminds me of water swirling around.  Finally, I'm not sure where the final card came from.  It is not my usual style at all, and I don't usually work in that many layers.  It started when I wanted to tear some pieces of paper and glue them down.  I did that, then I added some watercolours and then some doodles in a brown marker.  Then the whole thing was starting to look so busy and awful I decided to just cover most of it with some neutral-coloured, translucent acrylic paint.  Finally, I used a black paint marker to highlight the flower shapes and called it done.  I'm not quite sure yet what I think about it, but I'm really liking the multi-layered look.

There are less than 20 days left of ICAD now.  I'll be sad to be done, but I'm also looking forward to moving onto new projects as well.  I'm thinking of perhaps writing a poem a day for two months after this...  Regardless, ICAD has taught me a lot about my own artistic style and has encouraged me to have more fun in my art.  I feel more comfortable simply playing around and trying different things rather than trying to make every piece of art perfect.  Once again, I highly recommend trying it out yourself!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Great Eraser Review: Pentel Hi-Polymer, Staedtler Mars Plastic, and Staples Brand Erasers

I've never reviewed an eraser before.  In fact, there aren't even all that many eraser reviews out there.  The lowly eraser, an essential tool if you write with a pencil, often receives relatively little acknowledgement.  Well, that is about to change - at least in this post.  Several months ago, I received a Pentel School Essentials pack from a giveaway at Tiger Pens Blog.  Included in the kit was a Pentel Hi-Polymer eraser.  Having never reviewed an eraser before, I wasn't prepared to review it then, but I was curious to see how it would perform in comparison with other erasers.  Hence, this review - in which I compare three common plastic erasers: the aforementioned Pentel Hi-Polymer, the Staedtler Mars Plastic, and a Staples brand eraser.

Here they are!  Exciting, yes?  Okay, maybe not so much.
All of these three erasers are fairly basic looking rectangular white plastic erasers.  Each comes wrapped in a paper sleeve.  This can protect the eraser but can also become rather ratty over time.  The one on the Hi-Polymer feels a bit loose and easily slides around, so it would be more likely to fall off, but the sleeves on the Mars Plastic and Staples brand erasers feel tight.  The Mars Plastic is made in Germany and the Hi-Polymer in Taiwan, while the Staples brand eraser is not telling - but I'm assuming that it's probably China or some place like that.  The Mars Plastic is latex-free, while the Hi-Polymer and Staples brand erasers are presumably not (correct me if I'm wrong, but I checked out the Pentel website and found no mention of the eraser being latex-free).  This doesn't matter to me, but it may be important for some of you.

Taken out of the plastic sleeve, the Mars Plastic is imprinted on the top and bottom with the Staedtler logo, a nice touch that allows the company to set their branding on the eraser even when it is separated from its sleeve (at least until the eraser itself is worn down).  The other two erasers are plain.  The Hi-Polymer has a slightly smoother texture than the others, while the Staples eraser feels slightly stiffer and not as soft as the others.  The Hi-Polymer is probably the softest of the three, but only by a very small margin over the Mars Plastic.

Now, let's put these erasers to work!
This takes me right back to my days in physics class, and brushing the eraser crumbs off my desk until the ground around me was littered with them.  (And for the curious, the pencil I used in this review was a Staedtler Norica HB.)
All of these erasers are going to be messy.  They all produce a substantial amount of eraser dust.  The Mars Plastic may have been the messiest by a very slight margin, as its crumbs seemed to stick together the least.  Based on these tests (and some further erasing that I didn't photograph), I would have to say that the Pentel Hi-Polymer erases the most cleanly of all the erasers, although it is closely followed by the Staedtler Mars Plastic.  The Hi-Polymer also had the softest and smoothest feel to it while erasing.  All of the erasers left some shadow behind on the paper, but the Staples brand eraser was probably the worst - although it actually wasn't that far behind the others.  The worst thing about the Staples eraser was that it made a rough scraping sound on the paper (sort of like two pieces of rough paper rubbing against each other).  That kind of sound just drives me crazy (it's like the sound of nails on a blackboard is for some people) and I probably wouldn't use that eraser just for that reason.  The other two erasers were quiet.

Overall, I would say the Pentel Hi-Polymer is the best of the three erasers I reviewed here today, although both it and the Staedtler Mars Plastic are great erasers, and either one would be an excellent choice.  The Staples brand eraser, although it would probably be acceptable in most situations, is not as enjoyable to use and does not erase as cleanly as the other erasers.  I would not recommend it if you could buy a better eraser (i.e., the Hi-Polymer or Mars Plastic) instead.

Will there be more eraser reviews here in the future?  This one was fun to do, and erasers are fairly cheap, so there may well be more.  Are there any other erasers that you would like to see me review?

Related reviews for Pentel Hi-Polymer: pensandmore, The Writing Utensil Geek, Lung Sketching Scrolls (this review includes a great comparison!), Little Flower Petals

Related reviews for Staedtler Mars Plastic: The Pen-Guin, Dave's Mechanical Pencils, Pencil Talk (this review also includes a detailed comparison with a number of other types of erasers)

Friday, July 6, 2012

ICAD Week 5: Expect the Unexpected

Index cards 29-35 from week 5 of Daisy Yellow's Index-Card-a-Day Challenge 2012.
Week 5 of ICAD saw me getting back into the habit of creating index cards daily (after missing a couple days and having to catch up in the previous week).  In index card 2 above, the butterfly on the left is cut out from a piece of stationery; the butterfly on the right is my drawing of the same.  I think I actually like my drawing better than the original!  The background in card 3 is acrylic paints; the mandala is drawn with a Faber-Castell Pitt brush pen, coloured with watercolour pencils, and highlights added with a white Uni-ball Signo Broad gel pen.

I'm not sure where the carnival in card 4 came from!  But it started when I drew the triangles on the top and thought, "Hmm, these kind of look like tents for a carnival or circus."  So then I drew the other tents and the Ferris wheel on the bottom and coloured them in with watercolour pencils and gel pens.  It ended up being a rather fun card and one of my favourites so far.  And yet another example of how unexpected things can happen when you're creating art!

The sun mandala on card 5 was created on a dull, grey, cold, rainy day when I was longing for summer to return.  I didn't really like the rainbow mandala on card 6 when I first created it, but I'm warming up to it now - although the photograph made the browns look like the purples and the greens look duller than they really are.  Finally, my sketch of a pot of flowers on our deck on card 7 is probably my favourite of the week.  I really love doing sketches like this and having my sketch actually look like the thing that I am sketching!  I think I want to do more of these sketches in the following weeks.

That's all for now!  There are less than 4 weeks of ICAD left to go, so things will soon start wrapping up.  Thanks again for your comments on my past ICAD posts, and remember that it's still not too late to give ICAD a try yourself.  Just check out Daisy Yellow's ICAD FAQ if you need more information.

[See all ICAD posts.]

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Shades of Orange

Orange is probably my next favourite colour after green, but I don't have nearly as many orange pens as I do of green pens, which is a definite shame.  I think I need to plan a shopping trip for orange pens very soon.

From left to right: Sharpie Gel Highlighter; Pilot FriXion Point 04 Orange; Pentel Slicci 0.3mm Orange; Staples Gel Mini in Orange; Sakura Permapaque Opaque Paint Marker in Orange; Staedtler Triplus Fineliner in Orange; Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell watercolour pencil in Light Orange; Laurentien pencil crayons and Prang ColorArt crayons in assorted shades of orange.

From left to right: Rhodia No. 11 Pad; Rhodia Staplebound Notebook; four lost and found pencils: Dixon No. 2 / HB, Papermate Classic HB, Dixon Ticonderoga 1388-2 Soft, and unidentified stub; and Rhodia Webnotebook.

A jar of lost and found pencils (more here).
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