Monday, September 30, 2013

September Miscellany: Collages, Travel Kits, Pencils

Is it the end of September already?  I'm afraid it is.  It was a busy month for me: I was away from home for a third of the month on different trips, so I was unable to spend as much time with this blog as I have in past months.  To (somewhat) make up for it, here's an extra-long selection of links for you!

  • In week 30 of her 365 collages project, iHanna made collages out of daily ephemera - post-it notes, to-do lists, and other scraps of paper that most of us probably throw away.  I think this is a great idea: it's a form of recycling, you don't have to worry about using copyrighted material, and the collages look awesome.  I'm going to have to try this myself...
  • Amazingly beautiful pencils: pencil talk shares four pencils from Caran d'Ache made from four different exotic woods (and the full series of eight).  Seriously, these are beautiful.  Any readers who don't like wooden pencils should just go over and take a look at these.
  • Wayne Wolfson's art travel kit shared at Rhodia Drive - I love seeing what people choose to bring with them in their travel kits.  I think it shows well what someone's favourite, most-used items really are.
  • Also check out Daisy Yellow's art travel kit in #18 of her Daily Paper Prompts series.  I'm especially fond of her washi tape covered mint tin to hold tiny scraps of ephemera.  I made a travel kit of my own last year, but I wasn't entirely satisfied with it.  I need to make another one.
  • Jenny Frith shares a flip-through video of her gratitude journal.  I love the idea of a sketchbook gratitude journal, and Jenny's pages are always awesome.
  • Another one of my readers has started her own blog!  It's called Windi's Musings and she's writing all of her posts by hand, which is something I admire but would probably never do myself (because most of the time my handwriting exists on a slippery slope between relatively neat and completely unreadable, and can easily degenerate from the former into the latter).
  • I'm currently fascinated by the idea of the stapled collage - a creation by Lauren Bergold that is a collage held together by just one staple.  You can read about the idea here and see the deconstruction of her stapled collage here (I also have to add that I love all the wonderful papers she used for this project). A neat idea, and one I may have to try, although I don't know if my mini stapler would be able to staple through all those layers of paper.
  • Finally, Mary reviews all three Pilot Petit pens - the fountain, sign, and brush pens.  Very cute and colourful pens, but I'm still disappointed that Pilot discontinued my favourite dark green from the available colours.

That's all for this month.  See you in October!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Storing Paper Scraps & Ephemera

Although reducing the amount of clutter in my environment is important to me, I also collect paper scraps and ephemera - items like vintage greeting cards from the thrift store, bits of wrapping paper and origami paper, ticket stubs, pamphlets, postcards, images cut from magazines, and stickers.  Some of these I use in my art journals, others I occasionally display on my bulletin board.  Most of them, however, I need to store.

A very small selection of my paper scraps and ephemera collection.

I've experimented with different ways of storing my paper scraps, but I've finally settled on a simple method that also allows me to reuse other items that would normally be thrown away: paper folders and boxes that used to hold stationery (cards, envelopes, and writing paper).  I found two paper folders (roughly A5 size), took out the remaining stationery, and filled one with paper scraps and the other with my sticker collection.  Although this is a very simple method, it works perfectly for me: the folders are just the right size for most of my paper scraps, they allow me to look through my collection without needing to actually remove anything from the folder, and they can be easily stored in a desk drawer or on a shelf of a bookcase.

The top folder holds paper scraps (and is stuffed way fuller than it should be), the bottom stickers.

If you wanted to, you could collage over the folders to customize them, but I've left them alone for now.  In the past, I have also covered folders like these with clear packing tape to protect them, but I haven't needed to do that with these since they spend most of their time just sitting in my drawer.

Box of small paper scraps and a few small tools.

Finally, for smaller scraps, I've used this sturdy cardboard box that once held greeting cards.  I can also slip some small tools inside this box (shown here, a stencil, corner rounder, and glue stick), so it helps to keep some of those items contained as well.  I probably will cover this box with collage at some point, because I don't really like the images on it.  (Apart from the storage methods shown in this post, I also use a larger paper folder for larger scraps and the plastic folder seen in this post for my favourite scraps.)

Do you collect paper scraps and ephemera?  If so, what do you use them for and how you store them?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pilot Hi-tecpoint V5 Grip

The Pilot Hi-tecpoint V5 was one of the earliest pens I reviewed here back in 2010.  It seems fitting now that 3 and a half years later, I'm revisiting this pen with a review of the grip version, the Pilot Hi-Tecpoint V5 Grip (in purple).

The Pilot Hi-tecpoint Grip is a definite improvement on the original Hi-tecpoint.  While the original was a decent liquid ink pen, its plain stick design was boring and its lack of a grip made it uncomfortable to use for longer writing sessions.  I also found that the ink skipped a bit, just enough to be annoying.  The Grip version, however, has a soft grip, making it much more comfortable.  And the Grip's barrel design reminds me a lot of the design of the 0.5mm Pentel EnerGel.  Because the EnerGel is one of my favourite pens, that alone makes me feel more positive about the Hi-tecpoint Grip.

The main thing I love about this pen (as I did about the original) is the needle-point tip.  I always love needlepoints, and this one feels sturdy and in no danger of bending or breaking as I write.  And to me, the Hi-tecpoint Grip also seems to write much more smoothly than did the original Hi-tecpoint.  There's no skipping at all, and I find myself enjoying writing with this pen much more than I did with the original.  The Grip also does not bleed though on cheaper papers as much as the original did (and none at all on Rhodia, although there is some showthrough there). Again, it reminds me a lot of the Pentel EnerGel (though it's not quite that smooth).  This came as a surprise to me, because I wasn't expecting any difference in the ink.

Overall, the Pilot Hi-tecpoint V5 Grip is definitely one of the better pens that you'll find in the average office supply store.  It may not be one of my all-time personal favourites, but I would recommend it and I think that it would be a great pen to start with for someone who's just starting to expand beyond the basic ballpoint.  And if you're trying to decide between the Grip and the original versions, go with the Grip.  For me at least, it's the better pen.

Related review:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pencil Review: Faber-Castell Castell 9000 4H

At first glance, wooden pencils might not look that interesting - compared to pens, they don't have as much variation in size and shape, and, apart from coloured pencils, they all come in the same "ink" colour.  But there's a lot to explore with wooden pencils - different brands (many of which have long and interesting histories) and an array of different lead hardnesses.

Take this pencil for example.  It's a Faber-Castell Castell 9000, and it was first introduced over a century ago in 1906 by A.W. Faber.  It's also a 4H, making it much harder than the medium to soft (HB, B, 2B) pencils that I've been using up to now.  I had no idea how much different a harder pencil would be.  I'm not yet sure what I will use this pencil for, although there are things I like about a harder lead: it keeps a sharp point longer and, because the lead contains more clay, it looks less shiny on the page.  But it's also not as dark as a B pencil (B is blackness, while H is hardness).  (You can find out more about pencil grades in this excellent article.)

The Castell 9000 has a green body - but a darker, more staid green than the General's Kimberly pencil I reviewed earlier - and gold lettering, a colour combination I love.  I'm not as fond of the white lettering and the barcode on the other side of the pencil, which to me looks cheap, but it's a minor issue.  I'm a bit curious about the description of "water based varnish" - why would this be significant?

The Castell 9000 is hexagonal, and seems to be quite easy to hold.  Having used hexagonal, round, and triangular pencils, I think I prefer hexagonal - it's more comfortable than triangular and easier to grip than round.

Quick sketch and writing sample.  Yes, it really is that faint and it's not just my photo.

As I said before, 4H is relatively hard.  Because of that, the lead is too light for writing, and after doing some quick sketching, I don't think it's a pencil I would use regularly for sketching either, although I could see myself using it along with my softer, darker pencils.  When sketching, I can use it to build up layers of darker gradations of light grey, making it suitable for light shading.  It would also be good for a rough initial sketch that I could later fill in with a darker pencil, or to roughly sketch in a background that I wanted to fade away (as I did with the leaves in the sketch above).  However, as I've said before, I still need a lot more experience with pencil sketching.

Overall, the Faber-Castell 9000 is another great pencil to try out, although until I try it in a softer grade, I won't be able to compare it to any of the other pencils that I have used.  Although 4H may be a bit too hard for me, I am still happy to have used it as it's given me a chance to expand my pencil experience and knowledge.

Related reviews: pencil talk, Pencil Revolution, John the Monkey, Lung Sketching Scrolls.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Six Ways to Simplify Your Planner

Your planner is the tool that you use to organize your life, manage your to-do lists, plan your days, and track your goals.  If you use a paper planner, you should periodically clear it of clutter, so that you're not distracted by unnecessary papers and so that you can minimize the weight and bulk of your planner.  This is especially important if you're a student or someone else who needs to carry your planner around during the day.  And if you want to organize and simplify your life, how can you do that with a disorganized and cluttered planner?

That said, here are some suggestions for how you can simplify your planner and clear it of clutter:

[Note: Most of these suggestions are for ring binders (or any kind of planner where you can add and remove pages) but I have included a few ideas for those of you who use bound planners.]

  • Remove any loose papers.  I tend to stash loose papers in the back of my planner or in the pockets in the front and back covers, thinking that I will refer to them later, but I never do and they just accumulate.  Take these out and recycle them.  If the information on them is important, transfer it to a page in your planner or act on it.
  • Take out old sticky notes.  I sometimes use sticky notes for important reminders and short lists.  Take these out when you no longer need them to cut down on unnecessary bulk.
  • Minimize the number of past and future monthly, weekly, and daily planning pages that you keep in your planner.  If you use a ring-bound planner, you don't need a year's worth of weekly planning pages in your planner.  I try to have no more than 6 weeks ahead and 6 weeks back in my planner at a time.  Decide what you need, and store the extra blank pages in a separate binder until you need them.  Also make sure that you set aside a time every few weeks to clear out the used pages and insert more blank pages.  For monthly pages, you probably only need to have the last 3 to 4 months and the next 6 to 8 months in your planner.  I don't use daily pages, but if you do, minimize those as well.
  • Consider whether the monthly, weekly, and daily layouts that you're using suit your needs.  Are you making full use of them?  Are some pages or parts of pages going unused?  If you use a ring binder, can you buy different inserts that will work better?  If you use a bound planner, what other planner formats are available?  If you can't find an ideal format, consider a DIY planner to customize your planner to your needs.
  • Re-write your to-do lists.  This step may not clear out any more paper from your planner, but it does help to reduce visual clutter.  Go through your to-do list item by item, checking off completed tasks and taking out items that you do not truly need or want to do.  If some tasks have been sitting on your to-do list for a long time, consider whether you can break them up into smaller tasks or re-write them to make them more do-able.  If your to-do list is starting to look messy at this point, re-write it entirely.
  • Take out unneeded reference pages (and any other page you don't use regularly).  If you don't refer to a page at least once a week, it probably doesn't need to be in your planner.  If you use a ring binder, take out any reference or project pages you no longer need.  If you use a bound planner, how many pages in your planner do you rarely use or look at?  If you have a lot of unused pages, consider trying a different planner, or switching to a ring binder or a DIY planner.

After going through these steps with my own planner, these are all the papers that I took out:

I knew my planner was getting cluttered, but I wasn't expecting it to be that bad!  Although I'm usually good at taking out old weekly pages, a lot of reference pages that I never looked at had built up, and I had stuck a bunch of loose notes in the back of the planner one day because I didn't know what else to do with them.  Now that all of this has been removed, my planner looks thinner and feels lighter, and it's easier for me to find what I'm looking for.

Here are some useful links:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Staedtler Riptide & Polo Mechanical Pencils

This is a quick review and comparison of two mechanical pencils from Staedtler: the 0.7mm Riptide and the 0.5mm Polo.  I've owned the Polo for years (it was originally part of a geometry set I bought for school), while the Riptide is a recent addition.

Staedtler Polo (top; the writing on the barrel is starting to wear off) and Riptide (bottom) mechanical pencils.

Both the Riptide and the Polo are basic mechanical pencils.  The Riptide is longer, with a slightly wider barrel, possibly making it more suitable for someone with larger hands.  It is also probably the most durable of the two pencils, as its clip and tip are metal, whereas on the Polo they are plastic, and it generally feels sturdier in the hand.  The Riptide has a soft-but-not-squishy grip, while the Polo just has a grip section of ridged plastic.  Another difference between the two: the lead sleeve (the metal part that encases the lead) on the Riptide can be retracted, which is useful if you want to protect the pencil or to protect yourself from getting inadvertently poked if you keep your pencil in your pocket.

I really love the grip on the Riptide (the design of it also looks fun), but the Polo's grip is rather lacking.

Both pencils come with erasers.  The Riptide's eraser is about the same size as most pencil erasers, but the Polo's eraser is pathetically tiny and should be reserved for only the most dire of erasing emergencies.  (Everyone has an erasing emergency now and then, don't they?)  The Polo's eraser comes with a cap, which gives this pencil a somewhat neater look, but in my experience, these caps often end up getting lost.

Comparing clips (left) and erasers (right).  The Riptide's eraser has been worn down because it's actually usable, while the Polo's eraser still looks like new because I've never touched it!

Based on this quick comparison, I would say that the Riptide (which is also available in 0.5mm, I should add) is the better pencil, although I do prefer the bold black and neon yellow colours of the Polo over the Riptide's red and blue.  Both are decent, if mostly unremarkable, mechanical pencils.  Grab a few Riptides and have one in every place where you might need a pencil.
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