Spectrum Artists Show Off Their Tools (AGAIN)

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live

Once again, I attended the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live event here in KC this weekend. Its a convention of fantasy and science fiction artists working in comics, fiction, storyboarding, sculpture and more. There are Q&A sessions and artists doing live demos of painting, sculpting and digital techniques. Its an amazing show with A-list artists from all over the world.

A couple years ago, a few artists were kind enough to show me the tools they use to sketch and draw. This year, I was able to talk to a few more artists about their favorite tools.


Tom Kelly showed off his favorite tools to my husband. And was enthusiastic about his Uni Ball Signo Broad opaque white gel pen, the Kuretake No. 13 brush pen, and the Pentel Presto! Correction Pen as a drawing tool. He also kept an arsenal of Sakura Pigma Microns, Sharpie markers and a Pentel Graphgear 0.5 mm drafting pencil.

And he makes stuff like this:

Harley Quinn by Tom Kelly

I met Hector Casanova who is not only an illustrator and comic book artist but also an illustration professor at KCAI. We bonded over our unending love for the Sanford NoBlot pencil. I just write and doodle with my NoBlots but Hector sketches and draws with his hoarded collection. Then he adds water to create a washy blue effect on his drawings like these figure sketches he did at an event at Spectrum this year ( may be NSFW).

Hector Casanova NoBlot pencil sketches

Aren’t they amazing?

Hecotr Casanova Drawing Tools

Hector also uses a full army of Japanese brush pens. I recognize the Pentel Pocket Brush pen and the Pilot Futayaku Double-Sided Brush Pens.

And with these tools are the start of artwork like this:

Hector Casanova Headphones

Pretty amazing, huh?

Review: Copic CIAO Markers

Copic Ciao 6-pack color set

I recently bought the Sea colors 6-pack of the Copic CIAO markers. The set comes with four, watery colors plus black and a clear blender. Each marker uses an alcohol based permanent ink and features a brush tip on one end and a chisel tip on the other.


In general, I think the Copic line of markers is popular with illustrators, particularly those in the comic book and/or animation business. When I was at the local comic book convention last month, I saw a lot of the artists had Copic markers in their kits. The CIAO is a smaller, less expensive version of the professional Copic Markers.

Writing Sample Copic Ciao

I absolutely love the springy quality of the brush tip. Its great for lettering. I’m a doofus with the wide chisel tip though. I blame my left-handedness.

Overall, the colors in the set were pretty though I never figured out quite how to use the blender pen. Because of the lightness of the colors, there was a little washiness in the colors that was not intentional.

After playing around with the Sai Watercolor markers, I was even less interested in the Copic CIAO markers but I suspect that these markers are not really made for the casual user. They reminded me a lot of the old DESIGN markers we were supposed to use in art school for “marker renderings” back in the day when digital photography and mock-ups were too expensive so artists would do a realistic drawing to show potential clients.

When dry, these inks were virtually waterproof which means that other water-based media, colored pencils or paint could be added to a drawing or calligraphy piece. On the right edge, I liberally applied water from a paint brush onto the markers after they were dry for a minute or so and the colors didn’t budge.

Reverse side of Copic Ciao Writing Sample

Then there was the bleed through issue. If you need markers like these for illustration purposes or for the waterproofiness, then the bleed through may not be an issue. For me, they bleed so much as to not be suitable for sketchbooks or even envelopes.

I will definitely use the black for calligraphy with the brush tip and the chisel end for labeling boxes (like a Sharpie Marker), but the other colors might not get a ton of use for my purposes. If I stumble across an illustrator or a young would-be illustrator, I will gift them the set.

Bottom-line: These are not for the casual user but more valuable to the artist, illustrator, animator or art student using heavy duty illustration board, specialty “marker paper” or the like.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Jet Pens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Review: Sai Watercolor brush markers


My friend Madeline of Tag Team Tompkins introduced me to the Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pens and within minutes, I had to order a bunch of my own. What makes these so awesome, you ask? Well, for starters, these brush pens have real bristles at the tips so they will behave more like a real brush than any of the brush pens with felt tip or polyester points.

Then, there are the amazingly awesome colors! There are complex colors like the yellow ochre, pale-almost-there colors like the pale orange and vivid brights like the vermillion orange and lime green. Individual colors are $3.50 each but sets are also available in seasonally-inspired sets of five ($17.50 each) or a 20-color set ($70).

Water test with Sai Watercolor Brush Pens

These pens are water soluble which means you can thin the colors with water to make lighter wash or blend two colors together. I used a water brush to blend through and only lightly brushed the color with water to make the color all washy here.

If you’re not falling over in your chair with the urge to buy one or a whole set of these wait until I tell you a few more things.

Sai Permanent Outline Brush Pen

What if I told you there is also a permanent outline brushpen ($5.25) that can be used to create permanent lines like the leaf I drew in the top writing sample and then applied the water soluble colors over it? Now are you excited?

Sai watercolor brush pens writing sample, from the reverse. On Rhodia.

When I flipped this writing sample over… there was no bleed through, or even any show through. Seriously. Keeping in mind this writing sample was done on good quality Rhodia paper stock but still… that’s pretty cool for thick, juicy markers to not show through at all. Or maybe that just speaks very highly of the Rhodia paper?

Okay, one more thing and then I think my case should be made. There is a special assortment of extra fine line pens called ThinLine ($4.95 each or a set of all five for $24.75) that come in a few select colors of deep rich hues that are also waterproof when dry and perfect for outlining. With colors like Greenish Indigo and Sumi Black, how can you resist the temptation?

Are you suitably enticed?


DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Jet Pens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Rubber Stamp Organization

Organizing Rubber Stamps

I had been piling my stamps into a large drawer and then I will fish around looking for the one I’m looking for. It was not efficient at all. Then I pulled open my Alex drawer unit and realized I was storing notebooks in a flat file. What?!?! I know, craziness. So, I pulled all the notebooks out and put them on a bookshelf and lined up all my woodblock stamps, graphic side up, in the top drawer. All of a sudden, I am using them more often and can find exactly the one I want, when I want it. Even handle stamps stand up when the drawer is closed so those sit along the edges.

Alex Drawer Unit from Ikea

Feeling the need for some of your own stamps, visit The Shop. I’ve been restocking!

Field Notes for Memory Keeping

Memory keeping with Field Notes

While traveling, I used a Field Notes to keep my thoughts, names of places, restaurants and people, as well as pasting in receipts, business cards and various paper ephemera. I stamped the date and the name of the event on the front of the the Field Notes before I left.

I added the squashed penny with gel Super Glue when I returned. Squashed pennies are great inexpensive keepsakes for a trip. I got this one at the Musee Méchanique at Fisherman’s Wharf, a mechanical toy and game museum where you can play every game! Some took nickels and dimes but most took quarters and ranged from dancing puppets, vintage “peep shows,” pinball machines and classic 80s arcade games. Most American museums or large tourist attractions have a squashed penny machine. You insert 50¢ and one penny (I like to use a shiny penny but anyone will work). Then turn the crank and out pops your penny embossed with a design.

I was surprised how easily my paper scarps fit into the Fields Notes with little more than a fold. I used glue stick and washi tape to attach items and a 4-day trip filled almost a whole book. I used a paper clip to hold the transit cards just in case I needed to use them again. I’m not a scrapbooker but this is the perfect amount of memory keeping. I could complete it while traveling and on the airplane so, once I was home, it was done and all the bits I’d collected were contained.

Memorykeeping with Field Notes

Cut It Out! The best craft knife.

Fiskars SoftGrip Craft Knife

I’ve been wanting to write about my favorite craft knife for some time now, but I bought it several years ago and had never seen it in stores again. Well, we are all in luck because last week, I found it again at my local Joann’s craft shop. Its the Fiskars SoftGrip Craft Knife ($5.69). It has a  soft rubberized grip area with a unique soft arced shape.This creates a comfortable grip and keeps the knife from rolling off the table which is a big plus.

Fiskars craft knife

I use X-acto blades everyday because of my job so finding a comfortable tool is paramount importance. This is the best knife I’ve owned. My daily knife is a soft aqua color that has turned a dull blue gray from years of use. These are photos of my new bright orange version for home use. Goodbye, metal tube knife!

If you’ve never used a utility or craft knife before, I highly recommend adding them to your arsenal of tools. Combined with a cork-backed metal ruler and a self-healing mat, trimming paper, photos or other straight edge cutting will be fast and clean. Detail cutting can also be done with a craft knife and is less hand-cramp-inducing than scissors.

How do you replace the blades?

Untwisting the knurled end will loosen the clamp on the blade to easily replace with a new sharp blade. The Fiskars takes a standard #11 craft blade. I use Excel blades in the box of 100 ($18.75) which is by far the best value. Align the knife blade and tighten the knurled end.

Fiskars Craft Knife

Storing a craft knife   

It comes with a cap to cover the blade but, sadly, the cap does not stay on well and I get nervous removing the cap that I might slide my thumb over the blade when removing it. I’ve actually done this in the past so I definitely have that once-cut-twice-shy behavior. Also, I lose the caps within weeks so its not a big deal to me. I do recommend storing all X-Acto style knives, tip-down in a cup or jar to avoid accidents but the whole point of a knife is to be sharp so use with care. If you need a portable X-acto, I recommend a retractable version like a utility knife rather than a knife with a cap.

Fiskars Craft Knife

What do I do with all the dull blades?

Use an old can or jar with a cover (or make a slot in the lid just big enough to drop your blades into) to put used blades into. When full, tape it shut and drop it at metal recycling facility.

I hope this helps inspire you to try a new tool.

Ink as Watercolor

watercolor ink sample

Watercolor lettering sample (via Well-Appointed Desk)

Following the post this morning about painting with ink, I started thinking of other ways ink could be used. Its very much like watercolor paints so I thought I might share some fun ways to use watercolors that might inspire you to play and experiment with all those bottles of ink and ink samples you’ve accumulated. I wouldn’t recommend trying these with bulletproof or other waterproof inks but most fountain pen inks should play nicely.

Leslie Shewring experiments with ocen inspired blue watercolors (via Decor8 and A Creative Mint)

Leslie Shewring experiments with ocean inspired blue watercolors (via Decor8 and A Creative Mint)

Just brushing ink on paper, like you would with watercolors, can inspire and inform you. You can see the undertones of an ink color easily as well as the range of lights and darks of a color.  Add a little water to ink in a dish or bowl to create color washes.

Watercolor quote by Rocketrictic (via Flickr)

Watercolor quote by Rocketrictic (via Flickr)

Try blending two colors and drawing your favorite quote in ink.

Ink dipped ediging on doilies to decorate gifts (via Decor8)

Ink dipped ediging on doilies to decorate gifts (via Decor8)

The inks can be used to tint other papers, create tissue puffs, coffee filter hydrangeas or something else entirely!

Liquid Masking Fluid demo (via Comic Tools)

Liquid Masking Fluid demo (via Comic Tools)

Use masking fluid to block out areas on your page. Let it dry and then paint over it with your inks. Then peel the latex away to create a fun, colorful piece.

While any paper should work, a heavyweight watercolor paper will give texture and will be less inclined to curl or distort. I’ve been using an Aquabee Super Deluxe 9×12 wirebound sketchbook for playing with watercolor and ink. It is textured (cold pressed) on the front and smooth (hot pressed) on the back. If you’re searching the internet for watercolor paper, think hot is like ironed (smooth) and cold is wrinkly (textured) if that helps to remember the difference.

Hope these ideas inspire you. Drop me a link if you try any of these. I’d love to see what you create.

Ask The Desk: That’s not a pen!

Ask The Desk Header

I received an actual letter from Leah a week or so ago. She asked lots of different questions about pens and tools so I thought I’d include some of my answers here as well as in a letter to her.

She asked:

What pen/nib did you use for the titles of your 12 Days of Inkmas?

The secret is that I didn’t use a pen at all. I used a brush!

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 10.44.46 AM

I got the idea to use a brush from seeing some ink “swabs” on European Paper. They were using a brush to create a lovely little ink swab. I like that a brush was easy to clean and I wasn’t creating a landfill full of q-tips in sampling inks each month.


I’ve used several different brushes that I’ve accumulated over the years to not only create “swabs” but also to create a more interesting header for the 12 Days of Inkmas. I’ve tried to keep up the habit for future ink samples and reviews as I can see the range of shading with the inks this way.

EDIT: The word “Wide Strokes” was done with the Scharff FINELINE 3000 #3, not the #6. Oops!


From left to right: Robert Simmons #2 red Kolinsky hair and synthetic filaments round brush, A. Langnickel 670 #5 Red Sable script brush, Scharff Kolinsky red sable FINELINE 3000 #3 round and #6, and a Silverwhite synthetic 1500S #2 Round.

I’ve acquired brushes over the years from friends, yard sales and various art supply stores. I’m stunned to see how expensive the Scharff #6 brush is ($67)! I’ll definitely take better care of it. I’m confident that any good quality round brush recommended for watercolor, acrylic or oil would make a perfect tool for “swabs” and ink tests. Visit your local art supply or craft shop to pick up a couple.

Just remember to wash out your brushes in water, squeeze dry and reshape the tip to dry. Don’t scrub them and make the bristles flair out  or you risk breaking the fibers and/or hairs. Always dry your brushes with the tip up and don’t leave them sit indefinitely in your wash water or the bristles will bend at a weird angle. If you let them cake with inks or paints, try The Masters brush cleaner. It will save just about all your brushes!

Washi Tape Addict

My stash of Washi tape

I pulled open my “tape drawer” to add a few rolls of the new Scotch “washi” tape to discover that I have amassed quite a collection lately. Some might call it a problem. I call it an enthusiasm.

The best washi tape is still the MT brand from Japan. While the Cavallini paper tape is gorgeous, it doesn’t peel off the roll worth a darn. The new Scotch brand washi tape is a little shinier on the surface than true washi tape but for the price and availability, I’d say grab a couple rolls and decide for yourself. The Martha Stewart paper tape is shiny too and not particularly sticky so I would pass on it completely in the future.

Do you stock up on washi tapes? How many rolls do you have?

Comparing Rubber Stamp Inks

Uni Red "cinnabar" chop stamp pad sample

Conversations got started yesterday about folks’ preference for rubber stamp inks and I realized that this is a topic I’ve never pursued.

Since I like to use rubber stamps to annotate my paper planner and my mail, navigating the array of rubber stamp ink pads is something I thought I should investigate.

There are many different kinds of inks used on stamp pads: dyed-based, pigment-based and gel ink.

Office Depot Felt Dye-Based Ink Pad sample

Dye based inks are what are most commonly found in office supply stores and self-inking stampers. The inks dry fast and is waterproof but depending on the stamp design and the type of material you are stamping, the liquidity of the ink can spread, obscuring your design. I tested a standard Office Depot brand felt pad with dye ink and found it a little runny. Both Clearsnap and Tsukineko offer versions of archival dye-based inks. Tsukineko’s is called Memento and Memento Dew Drops. Clearsnap sells Colorbox Archival Dye Ink pads in large pads and Cat’s Eyes. I have not tried either of these brands but they offer a wider array of color than your average office supply store, probably higher quality inks and the option for small, portable stamp pads.

Tsukineko Dew Drop Brilliance ink pad sample

Tsukineko VersaColor cube ink pad sample

Pigment-based inks are what are commonly found in the craft and scrapbook sections. There are standard pigment-based ink pads, as well as slower-drying and “chalk” styles. The slower drying inks are specifically designed to be used by crafters who use heat embossing powders with the inks and not something that is needed for everyday stamping like a return address stamp. Chalk inks dry to a matte finish comparable to the look of powder chalk or pastel but its just a descriptive term. They are not made from chalk. Both standard pigment-based and chalk-style inks dry fairly quickly and can be heat set (using something like an embossing heat gun or similar tool) I tested the ClearSnap Colorbox Cat’s Eye Pigment Pads, Tsukineko VersaColor Pigment Cubes, and Tsukineko Dew Drop Brilliance. All three of these products are also available in larger 2×3″ pads but I really like the small sized pads for portability.The best thing about the pigment inks is the huge array of color options including metallics and even a decent opaque white.

Colorbox Pigment Ink Pad sample

In preparing this review, I had trouble finding the Colorbox Cat’s Eye pads in singles. They are now available mostly as stacking sets of six pre-selected color packs sets called Queues. I really like the quality of the ink in the Colorbox pigment inks, next to my Uni Cinnabar Chop stamp pad that I picked up in Hong Kong, they are my favorites for retaining the design details of my stamps while laying down an even ink coverage. Since the Colorbox Cat’s Eyes are becoming more difficult to find in singles, I think I’ll probably be seeking out the VersaColor pigment cubes instead. The Dew Drop Brilliance pads are just sopping with ink and it is quite slow drying. The Dew Drop is definitely designed for crafters, not mail art.

Office Depot Gel Stamp Pad samples

Gel ink was a new discovery when I went to Office Depot yesterday on the recommendation to try some “standard” ink pads. I found red, blue and black pads in felt pad dye-based and the gel ink pad. The description on the package stated that it would maintain crisp lines and never need re-inking. In use, the ink was less vibrant than the others and seemed to sort of pool around the edges. I don’t really recommend it for creative uses. To be honest, I’d give this whole concept a pass.

All of the small pads have low sides that allow you to tap your stamp, regardless of size, across the pad so a small pad doesn’t mean you can only ink up small stamps. All the ink pads I tested range in price from about $1.50-$2.50 for a small Cat’s Eye, Dew Drop or Cube to $5-6 for the larger pads regardless of whether they are from an office supply store or an art/craft store. They are relatively small investments so you may want to grab one or two of the smaller ink pads with different ink types and try them out for yourself.

And one last tip, you don’t necessarily need to press hard when stamping to get even and complete coverage. Make sure the stamp is completely covered with ink and then lightly but evenly apply it to your paper, envelope or other ephemera. Having scrap paper nearby to test on is also helpful.

(photos can be viewed in more detail on my Stamp Pad Face-Off Flickr Set)

Sensu Artist Brush & Stylus for Touch Devices

I was snooping around JetPens I stumbled across this unique item: the Sensu Artist Brush and Stylus for touch-sensitive devices. Using the brush end, it’s supposed to better simulate brush strokes in drawing and painting apps and then the other end is a rubberized stylus for drawing and tapping. I know a lot of artists are integrating the iPad and other touch devices into their creative process and I think this might be a cool way to expand the types of marks that can be created. $39.99.

Holler if you’ve used one and let me know how well it works!

Pentel Pocket Brush Pen

The Pentel Pocket Brush pen is one of the best, if not The Best, brush pens on the market. First, the understated look of  the pen is a pleasure to behold with nothing printed on the pen but one elegant character. The pen has a simple silver clip and a solid black plastic body. The cap clicks solidly onto the pen. The pen comes with two permanent black ink cartridges.

The tip is what makes this pen so notable. Unlike other brush pens that use a porous sponge tip shaped like a brush, the Pentel brush pen is an actual filament brush so that it gives and flexes like a real brush. It allows for delicate fine lines and bold strokes, quickly and easily.

While actually drawing and writing with a brush is not my forté, I did want you to see what a variety of line weights were possible with this pen. Clearly, I could use some practice writing with it!

Pen and refills available from JetPens. I purchased my pen from Utrecht.

Faber-Castell PITT Artist Brush Pen

Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pen Brush

I have had this pen floating around in my collection for awhile. I’m always attracted to the Faber-Castell pens because they often have such wonderful colors available. On this trip, I decided to grab this  deep blue gray color called Indianthrene Blue in the brush tip version. The brush tip is a shaped felt tip which looks a brush which gives a nice variety of line variation. Unfortunately, because of the material used to make the “brush” it frays and wears over time making it less precise. The PITT pens are water resistant which would make them good for labeling, kitchen use or addressing or decorating envelopes.

There are dozens of other colors available for the brush pen and PITT pens are also available in a nylon tip style in Extra Superfine (0.1mm), Superfine (0.4mm), Fine (0.6mm) & Medium (0.8mm) nibs and a variety of colors.

Brush pen is available online for $1.60

Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pen Brush

Spectrum artists reveal their tools

Archer Dougherty and her supplies

I had the good fortune of getting to attend the first-ever Spectrum Live art expo. While I was dazzled by the art and starstruck by the artists, I couldn’t help but peek at whatever tools each artist was using to doodle or autograph. Some made me shiver (really, a Bic ballpoint?!?! Your art deserves a better tool!), some made me boggle (What mechanical pencil is that??).

I met two lovely artists who were willing to share a peek inside their tool kits. Archer Dougherty and Chris Ryniak were kind enough to show me their favorite tools so without further ado…

A close up of Archer Dougherty's goodie bag

Archer’s kit was a large zip pouch whose previous life may have been as a document case or iPad sleeve. She said she loved just throwing her tools into the bag with a book or sketchbook and not treating them as particularly precious. She was sitting quietly drawing with a simple lightweight Zebra mechanical pencil which she admitted to preferring when she was out and about because it did not require sharpening and always kept a sharp point.

Chris Ryniak's pen roll

In stark contrast Chris Ryniak carried his tools in a very organized pen roll. His favorite tool was a newly acquired matte Zebra Sharbo X LT3 in orange flame.

Close-up of Chris Ryniak's roll

He praised his Pentel Twist-Erase 0.5 mechanical pencil for the large and wholly usable eraser, to which I can agree.

Chris Ryniak lifted this marker on his last trip to Japan

He also showed me his Zebra Hi-McKee markers which he liberated on his last trip to Japan and which he loves. It seems to be a marker comparable to a Sharpie though I have not found much additional information about it. Anyone have personal experience with these?

As both artists were busy fielding questions and comments from actual art-buying customers, I didn’t get to ask them all the questions I might have wanted but I am grateful for their time and generosity. Hope you enjoyed the peek into their kits as well!

Mongol Watercolor Pencils


This is the most useful product box I’ve seen in awhile. I’m floored at the amount of thought and ingenuity that went into making the packaging useable and functional for these old pencil sets. The snap closure with leatherette band keeps the pencils from escaping inside a bag or desk drawer.


Not to mention that I was tickled to find an old set of watercolor pencils in such good shape.


The box also folds open to act as a stand to see the pencils and keep them within reach.

I’d be willing to pay an extra couple of dollars for manufacturers to improve product packaging to this level of usability and functionality. Tin boxes that can be reused, paperboard that can double as a stand like this, anything but cheap vacuform or cellophane!

Every morning during baseball season around 6:15 a.m., after driving to Midtown from Manalapan, N.J., Petruccio takes a cup of coffee and sketches a one-page illustration summarizing the previous night’s game. The drawings are topped with tabloid-like headlines and accompanied with short summaries scribbled in ballpoint pen. Sometimes, they’re standard portraits. (read more…)

(via WSJ.com)

Faber-Castell makes my favorite “Grip Pencil” — a triangular shaped pencils. It follows that I would also love their watercolor pencils. These are the Grip Watercolor EcoPencils from Stubby Pencil Studio. These are non-toxic and environmentally friendly. I love the color of the pencils and the triangular shape. If you are looking for a more professional grade of colored pencil, consider the Art Grip Aquarelle pencils from Faber-Castell