Thursday, January 31, 2013

January Miscellany: Watercolours, Pens, and Portraits

A relatively long miscellany this month - as I sit in front of the computer trying to recover from the nasty cold that has attacked me this week...
  • I love Daisy Yellow's writing box.  I have a small pencil case that I use to store my essential supplies in, but I'd love to have something a bit larger that I could take from room to room.
  • iHanna is experimenting with watercolours, something that I'd like to get into more.  These kinds of watercolours do intimidate me much more than the watercolour pencils that I'm used to, but I would like to try them out one day.  I also love the muted green and grey colours that Hanna used.
  • Millie's planner pages are awesome.  They're so colourful, and I love her all of her little doodles and drawings.  My planner pages are so boring.  They're very functional and they work well for me, but they're not very interesting to look at.  I don't think a DIY planner like mine would be ideal for this sort of thing.  If I was going to make my planner look this nice, I think I would prefer a bound book because I would want to keep it afterwards.  An idea for the future...
  • Speaking of colourful, check out Azizah's review of the Rhodiarama notebook.  I love the endpapers, and how the elastic closure is a contrasting colour to the notebook colour. While it seems strange to see a Rhodia notebook that is neither black nor orange, I really want to try one of these out.
  • I think I might like this pen: the Pilot Razor Point II, as reviewed by Economy Pens.
  • And here's a pen that I already know I like: the Marvy Le Pen, as reviewed by Ink of Me Fondly.  And I love her colour selection.
  • Here's a clever idea: tea tag tabs from DIYSara.  I love collecting random bits of ephemera, although I've never collected tea tags (the tea I drink doesn't have tags), and it's great when that ephemera can be used in interesting and useful new projects.
  • I've also been admiring Michelle's new portrait journal (more portraits here and here).  I've been thinking of doing a month-long portrait challenge because they are something I'd like to get better at drawing.  I just don't have time for all of my potential projects...
  • And, finally, yet another review of the limited edition apple green Lamy Safari.  I always enjoy Mary's reviews.  They are clear and concise with great photos and a refreshing sense of humour.  And of course I love the pen as well.
As always, stay tuned for more posts and reviews coming up next month!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Pencil Review: Staedtler Norica HB

The Staedtler Norica can be thought of as the poor cousin of the Staedtler Mars Lumograph.  At first glance, you might even mistake the Norica for the Lumograph.  Both are blue, hexagonal wooden pencils, but the Norica is a duller, almost grey blue, and it has a silver-tone ferrule with a white eraser on the end - features that the Mars Lumograph lacks.

Another good clue?  The Norica is also much more affordable than the Lumograph - not surprising for a pencil that is marked as a general everyday writing pencil rather than as an artist's sketching and drawing pencil.  But the Norica is actually quite a good general everyday writing pencil.  The lead is nice and dark, and that eraser on the end isn't bad either.  It wouldn't be very good for any large-scale erasing, but for making a quick correction to your writing, it erases quite cleanly and well.

The eraser is also latex-free, the lead is supposedly "break-resistant", and the Norica is available in two degrees, HB and 2H.  Based on this post at pencil talk, it looks as though different versions of the Norica may exist, depending on what part of the world you're in.  Mine's from Canada, and I can't say anything about any of the others out there.

Overall, I really like this pencil.  If I hadn't already discovered the Lumograph, the Norica probably would have become my favourite wooden pencil.  It is step above similar everyday writing pencils (such as the Dixon No.2/HB, which is by far the most commonly used pencil (or at least the most commonly lost pencil) in local schools), yet it is still easily affordable.  If you're looking for a good basic pencil, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Staedtler Norica.

Related review: pencil talk.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Shades of Black (and White)

Black and white seem to be appropriate colours for this time of year, when snow covers the ground and creates a monochromatic landscape.

Left to right: Pentel EnerGel 0.7mm Black; Sakura Gelly Roll Black; Sharpie Pen RT; Sharpie Pen Grip; PaperMate Gel 0.7mm Black; Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen Super-fine; Zebra Zeb-Roller 0.5mm; Pentel Slicci 0.3mm Black; Pentel Superb Ballpoint; black china marker; Laurentien pencil crayon; Prang ColorArt crayon; Pentel Super Hi-Polymer HB 0.5mm refill leads; black-handled scissors; clip.

Left to right: Sakura Gelly Roll White; Uni-ball Signo Broad White; Artline 440XF Paint Marker White; Laurentien pencil crayon; Prang ColorArt crayon; Lexar memory stick (I hope you don't mind the inclusion of a non-stationery item!); Rhodia Webnotebook Dot Grid A5 Black; Banditapple Carnet Peewee Black Notebook; and Rhodia Classic Staplebound.  Background: Quo Vadis Habana A4 Black.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Avery Removable Label Pad

One thing that I would like to do this year is review more items that are not pens or notebooks.  Perhaps as a way of beginning that, the item I'm reviewing today is this Avery Removable Label Pad.  This pad includes adhesive paper labels attached to a single card backing.  The labels are available in a variety of sizes, colours, and styles.  I'm reviewing a sample pack that includes 15 1" by 3" labels in three different designs: fluorescent orange, fluorescent green, and white with a red border.

The clever thing about these labels is that, while the entire back of each label is adhesive, each label also includes a non-adhesive tab on one end.  This tab is perforated so that you can leave it on to make it easier to remove the label later, or you can tear it off for a neater look and to make the label a bit more permanent. This perforation works very well, and I only needed to fold it over once to tear it off very neatly:

So, how well do these labels work?

Here is the white and red label on the paper cover of my Banditapple Carnet notebook, which I'm using as a book journal:

The label initially attached very cleanly and - apparently - securely, but I noticed afterwards that the label was beginning to peel off on the left side.  That's not good.

And here is the green label on the glass jar that I'm currently using as a pen cup (I didn't remove the tab in this case because I don't really want a label on my pen cup - I just wanted to try it there for the purposes of this review):

In this case, I attached the label to the glass jar, then removed it and attached it to the cover of my notebook, where it attached securely, with no peeling off at the ends.  I think the first label peeled off at the end because of the way I removed it from the pad.  As the label is removed from the pad, it curls up and that curl can remain even after you attach it to a surface.

Finally, here is a mini writing sample on one of the labels:

Paper quality is not a major issue with an item like this (most people will probably just use a Sharpie or a similar marker to write on these labels), but since we're all paper-obsessed here anyway, I thought I might as well do a quick test.  The results?  All of the pens I used worked, but they did not feel as smooth-writing on this paper as they do on normal paper, and the gel pens took a lot longer to dry - I would guess that both of these issues might be do to this paper being slightly less porous than normal writing paper?

Overall, I really like the look of these labels and the idea of the perforated tab.  However, I was not pleased that the first label I used did not stick completely but persisted in peeling off at the end.  I don't use labels very often, and I'm not sure if I would buy these for myself because of that.  If you do use them, remove them from the pad carefully and hopefully you will not encounter that problem.

Related review: OfficeSupplyGeek.

**Disclaimer: This label pad was sent to me as a free sample from Avery, but all of my opinions are my own!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

My Productivity System

Last month I shared with you some pages from my updated DIY planner and I promised that I would later share with you a post on my productivity system.  Well, this is later, and since it's the new year and you might be looking for ways to accomplish your goals and resolutions, here it is!

My productivity system is based on both Leo Babauta's Zen-to-Done (ZTD) system and Jordan McGilvray's Middle Way Method.  If you want to get a feel for where I'm coming from, I highly recommend you check out both of those posts, but my productivity system has (I think) its own distinctly personal flavour as well.  I firmly believe that, instead of just following someone else's system, you should take the time to develop your own system.  I hope that by sharing my system with you, I will give you some ideas and inspiration for your own life.

My DIY planner.

My productivity system can be broken down into three main areas: goals, daily planning, and reviews.  I'll discuss each of these in turn:

Once a year, I write down all of the things I want to do, small and large - from publishing my novel to exercising more to cleaning my desk to buying ink for my fountain pen.  I use my current to-do lists, journal entries, and morning pages to help me create this Giant To-Do List of Doom.  Once it's completed, I go through it with a set of highlighters and organize all of the points into categories that make sense to me.  Last year, I had nine categories; this year, I have only six - Writing, Social/Marketing, Productivity/Empowerment, Health/Fitness, Creativity, and Spirituality.  These are highly personal categories that make sense to me at this time of my life.  Using these categories serves to both organize all of my tasks (instead of one huge, intimidating to-do list, now I have several smaller, more manageable and less scary to-do lists), and identify the most important areas of my life that I want to set goals in.

The next step is to write my mission and vision statements.  My mission statement is more general, while my vision statement is a more specific statement (in the present tense) of what I want my life to look like in the next five years or so.  These statements tie together all of my goals, reminding me that everything is interconnected, and can also be used as affirmations.

Finally, I set my goals.  I set 5-year goals, yearly goals, quarterly goals, and monthly goals.  This may seem a bit excessive, but for me, my 5-year and yearly goals can feel very intimidating.  Breaking things down into quarterly and monthly goals makes my goals feel much more doable and possible.  Like my vision statement, I write my 5-year and yearly goals in the present tense, as though they have already happened.  I set my monthly and quarterly goals at the end of every month and quarter, and I make changes to all of my goals throughout the year if they need it.  I have thought a lot about this process, and before you set any goals, I would highly recommend that you read this article about living with no goals to decide if goals really are right for you.  I agree with most of the article, but after some reflection, I decided that working with goals was right for me.  If you do use goals, recognize that they're a process, not a destination.

Daily Planning
While goals are important, they are not essential, and the main part of my productivity system is my system of daily planning.  This is where I wanted to keep things really simple so I could focus more on actually doing things rather than on the planning itself.

At the end of every week, I select 4 to 6 Big Rocks for the week.  These are usually based on my monthly goals, and they are the main tasks that I want to accomplish that week.  For example, this week, one of my Big Rocks was to write this blog post (which is connected to my larger goal of clarifying my personal productivity system).  I also select a habit on which to focus for the week and I choose my Next Actions of the week (tasks I can work on if I have some extra time or if I get my Big Rocks done).  All of this gets written down in my Weekly Planning pages (see my blog post on my DIY planner for more details on these pages).

With all of this done, at the beginning of every day all I need to do is select my most important tasks of the day (no more than 4, and they are usually directly related to my Big Rocks of the week), and schedule them in at a specific time.  I need to commit to doing things at a specific time or else I know that I'll probably just procrastinate and end up not getting anything done.

Finally, reviews are essential for maintaining my focus and motivation.  I have four levels of reviews: weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly. During my weekly reviews, I back up files, clean out my inboxes, print pages for my planner, review my goals, check completed items off my to-do lists (something that always feels good!), and select my Big Rocks for the upcoming week.  In my monthly and quarterly reviews, I read my old morning pages, review what I accomplished in the past month or quarter, and set my goals for the upcoming month or quarter.  I also use this time to deal with any areas of built-up clutter in the house.  Finally, in my yearly review, I read over old journals, finish off old projects, make a list of accomplishments of the year, and set my goals for the next year.

Although my system may sound complicated, it is actually very simple in practice and makes a lot of sense for me, my lifestyle, and the way I work.  I started out using the Middle Way Method, switched to ZTD, and then gradually began tweaking things to make a unique system that worked for me.  It took a few months to get things the way I wanted them, and to establish the necessary habits and routines in my life.  My system is still a work in progress, and I'm sure it will continue to evolve as my needs and situation in life change.

Now that I have my system in place, I only need to take a few minutes every morning to plan my day.  Because I have all of my goals set up and written down, I don't need to spend time during the day thinking or worrying about these, and I can trust that what I am working on today has some connection to the larger goals in my life.

Do you use a productivity system of some kind?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Sakura Gelly Rolls Gold Shadow & Silver Shadow

The Sakura Gelly Roll is the classic stick gel pen that comes in a vast array of colours and types - from glittery to fluorescent to metallic to three-dimensional ink - as well as in standard ink colours.  Because they're generally wet-writing pens that write with a relatively wide line width (around 1.0mm I would guess, although there are slight variations among the different varieties), I use them primarily as craft pens rather than writing pens - and they are also marketed primarily as craft pens, i.e., pens that you can use for doodling, scrapbooking, mixed-media art journaling, and other art and craft activities.

The Gold Shadow and Silver Shadow Gelly Rolls are the latest additions to my Gelly Roll collection.  I chose the Gold Shadow in green and the Silver Shadow in blue.  Just as with other Gelly Rolls, the design of these pens is very basic and minimalist, just a translucent round barrel with no grip and a basic cap.  The cap indicates the colour of the ink, and the symbol on the clip indicates the variety of the pen.  The Gold Shadow has an opaque metallic-coloured cap; the Silver Shadow a translucent coloured cap.  Although the design is not really important because I do not use these as writing pens, one thing I really don't like is the barcode printed directly on the barrel.  This is not a major issue, but it is something that always irritates me with all kinds of pens because it just makes the pen look cheap, and not in a good way.

I do love these little designs on the clip that Sakura always matches to each variety of Gelly Roll. 

But on to the important stuff - how well do these pens write?  Well, they're Gelly Rolls, so they're wet writers, but in comparison to other Gelly Rolls*, these Gold and Silver Shadows seem even wetter and inkier than usual.  They also write with a very bold line (the Silver Shadow may be slightly bolder than the Gold Shadow), so you won't want to use them for small details or for writing if you have small handwriting.  Unsurprisingly, considering the inkiness and boldness of the line, these pens are also very slow to dry.  This is also typical for Gelly Rolls, but also seems even more pronounced with the Gold and Silver Shadows than with other Gelly Rolls.  And (with the Gold Shadow much more than the Silver Shadow), the ink has a rather "sticky" or viscous quality, so that if I don't lift the pen high enough off the page between letters (or doodles), I get this little line of ink between the letters as the ink trails from one letter to another.  The ink in these pens also seems to be a bit more prone to bleeding through paper than that of other Gelly Rolls.  Curiously, it is only the coloured part of the ink that bleeds through, while the gold and silver seems to float on top of the coloured ink.

Mandala drawing.  These pens are way more fun to doodle with than they are to write with.

If these pens were marketed as writing pens, they would be a complete fail because of the issues I have identified above.  But, because these are craft pens, I'm not judging them by the same standards as a writing pen.  They write very smoothly (definitely a lot smoother than the standard Gelly Roll) and lay down a lot of ink, which makes them great for doodling or adding some colour and metallic shine to a journal page.  They write with a gold or silver line that is outlined in colour.  They write well on both light and dark paper, although the Silver Shadow stands out better on dark paper than the Gold.  The main concern I have with them is the drying time.  Especially since I turn my page around a lot when I am drawing a mandala or something like that, I have to be careful with these pens because it would be very easy to turn my page into a smudgy mess.  Another thing I don't like: These pens really don't have much colour in their lines.  The gold and silver dominates and the colour only appears in a narrow border.  On some papers there really isn't much difference between these pens and ordinary gold or silver pens (especially on the dark cardstock in the writing sample below).

These aren't writing pens, but here's a writing sample to show you how they are to write with and to compare how they look on white and dark paper.

Trying to show the metallic shimmer of these pens.

Overall, the Gold Shadow and Silver Shadow Sakura Gelly Rolls are not bad craft pens, especially if you are looking for a bold metallic pen with a hint of colour.  They are not my favourite Gelly Rolls, and they definitely have a different feel to them than the other Gelly Rolls that I have used.  These are nice pens, but I do not think I'll be using them very often.  I like them, but I do not love them.

*Other Gelly Rolls: When I refer to other Gelly Rolls in this review, I'm really just referring to the standard Gelly Roll, the Gelly Roll Moonlight, and the Gelly Roll Stardust, these being the only other Gelly Rolls that I have used so far.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Old Art Journals Rediscovered: Demo Journal

Around the end of 2009, I was looking for ways to re-invigorate my art journal practice.  I found a great series of very detailed videos by Teesha Moore that were just perfect (see links at the end of this blog post) and I created this journal to demonstrate on my blog the very techniques that I was learning through Teesha's videos.  The book I used for this journal was also one of the very first books that I made and bound myself.  It is a very simple single-signature pamphlet that I made with only three sheets of watercolour paper, and the entire journal has only five page spreads, all of which I've shared on this blog before.

My favourite page spread in this journal is still by the far the first spread of this book.  The colours (greens, browns) and shapes (circles, leaves) on this page are ones that still appeal to me and that I still love to use.  The techniques that I first began to learn and explore on the pages in this journal are ones that I used again and again over the coming years.  I'm currently moving away from these kinds of complex, multi-layered journal pages, but I still love to remember the hours and days I spent adding more and more details to these pages, slowly building up layer after layer.  Many thanks to Teesha Moore for providing the videos that were the inspiration for this journal.

Which artists and teachers have had an influence on you and your work?

Links to Teesha Moore's art journal videos:

Other pages from this journal: Early in the Morning, Dark Wings, Winter, What Have I to Give


Old Art Journals Rediscovered is a series of posts dedicated to rediscovering the art journals that I have created over the past four years. In each post, I will introduce you to one of my old art journals, and share with you one page spread from that journal - not the page spread that is the prettiest or the fanciest, but the one that speaks most clearly to me today. I hope that by sharing with you the evolution of my own art journals, you will feel inspired to start your own explorations with art.
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