Sunday, June 30, 2013

June Miscellany: Hand-Lettering, Index Cards, Tiny Notebooks

I can hardly believe that the year is half over already.  Amazing.  June was a busy month for me, but as I've been fine-tuning my productivity system, I feel like I'm becoming more productive and getting more done.  Here are some links for this month:

  • Check out this awesome step-by-step guide to hand-lettering from Sean Wes.  I haven't been that interested in hand-lettering in the past, but reading through this guide makes me want to give it a try.
  • Here's a lovely video demonstration of drawing with watercolour pencils kindly recommended to me by reader Tina.  Check it out if you're interested in learning more about how to use watercolour pencils, or if you just want to be amazed by someone's artistic skills.  You can also read my earlier post on how I use my watercolour pencils.
  • I also love Tina's mini watercolour kit in a mint tin.  A couple of years ago I had a mild obsession with anything created in a mint tin, and I'd love to create a kit like this for myself one day.
  • Another video: this one's from iHanna on creating a collaged and painted index card.  I love creating art on index cards; it's such an easy and un-intimidating way to explore different mediums and methods.  Hanna created this video for Daisy Yellow's Index-Card-a-Day (ICAD) 2013 challenge.  I participated in ICAD last year, but I have so many projects on the go now I decided not to do so again this year.  Check out my index cards from last year.
  • Clement Dionglay from Rants of the Archer has reviewed the 2013 limited edition neon Lamy Safari.  Her reviews are always well-written and well-photographed and this one is no exception.  And her collection of Safaris (shown near the end of the post) is gorgeous.
  • I am in love with Azizah's collection of sparkles and stamps.  Never mind that I probably wouldn't get very much use out of either item.  I actually think I'm in love with almost all of Azizah's collections, from her pens to her inks to her notebooks.  Her collections make my collections look very sad.
  • Check out the Memorandum Card, the world's tiniest notebook.  This looks like the perfect size for a notebook to slip into my pocket (or wallet) for any of those stray thoughts that need to be written down.

That's all for this month!  As always, stay tuned for next month's posts and reviews!  I have another eraser review coming up, and I'll be checking out a new brush pen and (maybe) sharing with you some pages from my latest art journal.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Shades of Grey

Not one of my favourite colours, but I like how these items look all arranged together:

Left to right: Sharpie Permanent Marker Fine Point; Pentel EnerGel 0.7mm; Uni-ball Vision; Uni-ball Vision RT 0.8mm; Staedtler Triplus Fineliner in Grey; Parker ballpoint pen; Earthzone Recycled Pencil; Laurentien pencil crayons; one-hole hole punch; stapler; clip; pencil sharpener; mini tape measure; scissors.  Bottom: stainless steel ruler.

I seem to have worked my way through most of the colours now, and I'm not sure if I'll continue this series of posts in some form.  This will at least be the last  "shades of..." post for a while.  Check out past colours: green (still my favourite), orange, blue, yellow, red, black and white, purple and pink, brown.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Rhodia Pencil

When I started getting interested in wooden pencils, the Rhodia Pencil was one of the pencils that I knew I would have to try out.  I love Rhodia's notebooks and paper pads, so surely their wooden pencil would also be great.  Just like the notebooks, this pencil comes in Rhodia's classic orange and black.  The body of the pencil is bright Rhodia orange (it seems even more fluorescent than the colours of their notebooks, and I love it), while the ferrule, eraser, and the wood are black.  This is the first pencil I have used with the wood dyed black, and it's an effect I really like.  The colour of the lead blends into the colour of the wood and gives this pencil a sleek look.

Rhodia Pencil posing with Rhodia dotPad.  The orange is even brighter in real life.

The Rhodia Pencil is triangular, rather than round or hexagonal.  I find it a comfortable shape, once I get it aligned just right in my hand.  The matte finish has a very smooth, almost slippery feel to it.  Sadly, the finish itself is not that good.  I can see several dark streaks in the orange paint, and the Rhodia logo (stamped on all three sides of the pencil) is not as crisp as it could be.  Although these details are not going to affect the performance of the pencil, they still disappoint me a bit, because I do expect quality products from Rhodia.  The pencil is also not marked with its grade.  These pencils only come in HB, but I might forget that.  Or someone else who doesn't know anything about Rhodia might find this pencil and want to know what it is.

The photo doesn't show it very well, but there's a rather obvious dark line running right through the middle of the Rhodia logo.  It starts at the ferrule and runs the length of the pencil.  The logo itself is not as crisp as it could be: the right leg of the "H" has no black in it.

The Rhodia Pencil seems a touch softer than the other HB pencils I have used (although I haven't used that many), or maybe it's just the smoothness of the lead that makes me think that the the lead is softer.  The lead is also relatively dark, which I like.  It also doesn't seem to hold a point as well as the other pencils that I have reviewed, but, again, maybe it's just the smoother lead that is giving me that impression.  I like the way it feels on the page, but I'm not sure that I'd want to use it for a lot of writing.  I think I'd be more comfortable using this as a sketching pencil.  Or maybe I just need more time to get used to writing with it.

The eraser and ferrule are fairly basic, except that they are, of course, black.  The eraser is... okay, I guess, for minor erasing.  I don't like the feel it has on the page, but since I almost always carry a separate eraser with me, I won't need to use it very often.  The edge of the ferrule where it meets the pencil is a bit rough (it looks almost like the black paint is flaking off the edge), but this is such a tiny detail that it would probably be unnoticeable to anyone but an obsessive stationery nerd like myself.  The best part: both eraser and ferrule feel very secure and in no danger in coming off of the pencil.

Love that black wood and the way it blends into the lead of the pencil.

Overall, I would say that the Rhodia Pencil is a good, but not great pencil.  I love the colours and design, but some of the small details could be improved.  It writes well, but I'm not sure that it is the pencil for me.  You, however, might love it.  It is definitely worth a try if you want to expand your wooden pencil collection.

Related reviews: pencil talk, Pencil Revolution, All My Hues, The Leaky Pen, Penpal from Southern Colorado, Granny Kass, Lung Sketching Scrolls.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Taming the To-Do List: Time + Setting Priorities

In April, I wrote about how I use to-do lists, and I mentioned that to-do lists can be a challenge for me because I tend to fill them up with more tasks than I can realistically get done in a given period (but I fool myself into thinking that I can get them done, because I also underestimate the time it will take me to complete each task).  Since then, I've changed the way I use to-do lists, and my lists now are much more realistic and focused on the important tasks that I can actually get done.  I want to share my method of how I tamed my to-do list with you here, in hopes that it will give you some ideas for your own life.

  1. Recognize why you can't accomplish everything on your list.  I couldn't accomplish everything on my to-do list because I had too many tasks on my list and not enough time to do them in.  I ended up in that situation because I thought that I would be able to accomplish more in less time, and that just wasn't possible.
  2. Let go of the damaging beliefs.  I had to let go of the belief that I could accomplish everything.  This has not been an easy thing to accept!  When I was younger, it seemed like I could always get everything done, but that is no longer the case.  I don't know if it's because I'm doing more, the tasks I need to do are larger, or I'm slower than I used to be.  Probably all of those reasons!
  3. Create rough estimates of how long tasks will take.  Rather than trying to estimate times down to the hour or the minute (which would be difficult), I group tasks into those that will take me most of a day to complete, and those that I should be able to complete in an hour or so.  (When doing this, I try to overestimate more than I underestimate; if I'm not sure how long something will take, I just assume that it will take most of the day.)  Any tasks that need more than one day get broken down into smaller tasks.  I assign the longer tasks one unit and the shorter ones half a unit.  Remember these units, because they'll be important later on.
  4. Set priorities.  This is the most important step because it helps me to see clearly what tasks I should focus on first.  To help me rank tasks by priority, I give each task points based on different criteria.  These criteria vary, but for a monthly to-do list, for example, I'll give 1 point for important tasks, 1 point for tasks with a deadline, 1 point for tasks that absolutely must be done this month, and 1 point for tasks that are directly connected to one of my quarterly goals.  Tasks with a higher total number of points are the highest-priority tasks on my list.
  5. Use the results of steps 3 and 4 to complete your to-do list.  Each to-do list I make is for a specific period - a month, a week, a day.  Remember the units from step 3?  This is where they come in.  I decide how many units I will be able to complete in that period.  So far, I have been working with one unit per day (so 30 units a month, or 7 a week).  Starting with the highest priority tasks from step 4, I keep adding items to my to-do list until I've reached my total number of units for that period. Usually, there are a few important tasks left over that don't fit in.  It feels hard to leave those out, but I know that I probably wouldn't have time for them anyway.

These steps may sound complicated, but the most important things to remember are to (a) be more realistic about the time you'll need to complete each task, and (b) rank your tasks by priority and add the most important tasks to your list first.  The details are simply my method of working with those two ideas.  Depending on how many tasks you have or how organized you like to be, you may not need as many steps as I do.  Now that I have the system set up, creating a to-do list for the day, week, or month is simpler than ever.  Although you may need to put in more time at the beginning to figure out what works for you, you'll probably save time in the end.

What methods do you use to tame your to-do list?  Do you use either of the two methods that I described here (being realistic with time or setting priorities)?  Or do you do something else altogether?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Watercolour Pencil Experiments

This set of 12 Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell watercolour pencils was one of the first things I bought after I started this blog in 2009, but I've never reviewed it or written a post about it, mainly because it remains the only set of watercolour pencils I have ever used, and I don't really know what I'm doing when I use them!  I just try different things until I get results that I like.  If I was going to be more serious about it, I might look up some tutorials or books to learn from, but slowly experimenting and trying different things works for me now.

That said, I thought it was well past time for a post to share with you my current method of using watercolour pencils, just to show you how fun and easy they are to use, even if (like me) you don't really know what you're doing and you feel a bit intimidated by watercolour paints.

Watercolour pencils, if you're not familiar with them, are similar to normal pencil crayons except that they are water-soluble, meaning that you can add water to your sketch after you colour it and achieve an effect similar to what you could get with watercolour paints.  I don't know much about different brands, so I can't recommend anything specific.  I have been using these ones for the last several years and I am happy with them, but I'm sure there are other excellent brands out there.  Feel free to share your recommendations in the comments!

I usually start by drawing a rough sketch with one of my Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens (usually the fine or super-fine; I used the fine in this example), or a different waterproof pen.  For this example, I quickly sketched a flower of the African violet that sits beside my desk (step 1).  It's not a great sketch, but good enough for this example:

(Click to view larger.)

After that, I pick the main colour and shade it over the area (step 2), paying attention to areas where the colour appears deeper.  After that, I usually add one or two more layers of different colours over the primary layer to get the colour I want (step 3).  I don't know much about colour theory or colour mixing, but I pick colours intuitively and it usually works out.  It is a bit tricky, because the colour you get with the dry pencils does not look quite the same as the colour you get after adding water.  Finally, I use my Pentel Aquash waterbrush (any paintbrush will work, but I highly recommend a waterbrush because it is so portable and convenient) to brush water over the colour (step 4).  In the photo above, I've added water to the three right-hand petals.  The photo doesn't show it that well, but in this step the colours become a lot brighter and deeper and blend together.  And the result does end up being a fairly close match to the colour of my African violet.

And that's it!  It's a really simple method, and it works for me and my style of sketching.  I'm usually not too concerned about the fine details; I'm just looking for a good representation of the basic colours and shapes for a quick sketch, and these watercolour pencils work very well for that.

I'll leave you with this page I've shared before from last fall's travel journal, because it is a good example of my typical sketching style and of how I work when I am out in the field:

You can see more examples of my work with watercolours pencils here, here, and in many of my cards from last year's ICAD, especially the ones from this week.

Do you use watercolour pencils?  How do you use them?  Do you have any recommendations or suggestions?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Book Review: How to Make a Journal of Your Life

I mentioned this book about a year ago in my series of posts on visual journaling, but I finally bought my own copy of it this spring, so I thought I would write a complete review of it now.

How to Make a Journal of Your Life is a short, small book on the basics of keeping a visual journal.  It's hand-lettered and illustrated throughout by the author, D. Price, which makes flipping through this book feel like flipping through someone's private journal.  Price has a friendly, casual writing style that is easy to read, and throughout the book he stresses that keeping a journal is a simple activity that can be done by anyone.  I especially appreciate his advice on avoiding rules and not beating yourself up if you don't work in your journal everyday, which is a great way to turn journaling into a chore that you want to avoid:
"When there are no more rules about how much time you're supposed to be spending with your journal, and when you feel lighthearted and buoyant about what you want to put in, you'll find yourself enjoying the time and doing good work.  Not just making it another addition to your already busy schedule."
That, I think, is definitely one of the keys to being happy with your journal practice.

How to Make a Journal of Your Life is not the book for someone who wants more information on advanced techniques.  It is a light, approachable introduction on journaling for someone who may be interested in keeping a journal but who is not sure about how to begin or what to put in it (and it would be a great gift for someone like that!).  It would also be a good read for the more advanced journal-keeper who needs a reminder of why they started keeping a journal in the first place.  Most of us tend to fall into ruts, and get stuck doing the same old things in the same old way.  This book can be a gentle reminder to take a fresh look now and then.

Price includes chapters on writing, drawing, photography (I liked that this was included, because not everyone will think that they can include photos in a journal, and photos are a great way to introduce a visual element for someone who may be hesitant about drawing), collecting objects from nature, and including ephemera in your journal.  He even includes a short section on bookbinding, although I'm not sure how helpful it would be for someone who never done it before (if you want a simple guide to basic bookbinding, I'd recommend the bookbinding section in Gwen Diehn's The Decorated Journal).  The photography chapter is a bit out-of-date, since it was written when most people used film, but the basic advice is sound and will still apply even if you use a digital camera.  Oddly, the chapter in selecting a blank book comes last, while I think it would have made more sense as one of the first few chapters, since that is probably one of the first questions that a beginner would have.  But apart from that, I have few complaints about this book.

Overall, How to Make a Journal of Your Life is a great introductory book on journaling for the beginning journal-keeper or for anyone who needs some more journal inspiration.  I think that it would be especially good for anyone who feels nervous around the word "art" or the phrase "art journal".  This may not be my favourite book on journaling, but - especially since I have stopped keeping a journal in the last several months - it is one that I am glad to have on my shelf and that I know I will be referring to for inspiration in the future.
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