Welcome to the New Stone Age

A sample of Mitz TerraSkin, a paper I had heard about and been eager to try, found its way to me at the CPSA Colored Pencil International Show and Convention in Kentucky last week.

4″ x 5 1/2″ sample of TerraSkin paper (background blotter paper and ink blots available separately).

There were oodles of colored pencil artists at the convention who also received these samples and can try it for themselves, so I have restricted my testing to graphite, ink and silverpoint – all among the media suggested on the front of the sample piece.

Interestingly, my success with the first round of pen & ink (below) seemed to depend on the pen used. All of the pens have Rotring Brilliant black fountain pen cartridge ink in them, but ink from the Platinum Carbon fountain pen with the finest tip bled like crazy, while that from the Rotring Art Pens behaved much better. Unfortunately, the stipple dots were not dry and still printed quite nicely on my finger about 20 minutes after I laid them down. Not a good substrate for me to work on in pen & ink – I’d have the ink all over my hand and the paper (plus a few nearby surfaces, guaranteed) in very short order.

TerraSkin paper with ink & graphite swatches

When I tried the same set of pens with my current favorite, Noodler’s Ink (below), it was an epic fail. Rather than just the ink from Platinum Carbon fountain pen bleeding and feathering on the paper, all of the pens showed the same problem – not a crisp line to be found! The other issue with the Noodler’s is that this particular ink is from their “Bulletproof” line, meaning that once it is applied to a surface containing cellulose (my drawing paper, ink blotter and/or cotton shirt), it is permanent and waterproof (but not meant to stop actual bullets). Since the TerraSkin’s components are crushed mineral powder and nontoxic resins, Noodler’s Ink has no cellulose to make it waterproof. Even after the ink is long dry, it still bleeds and runs when wetted.

This does not necessarily mean that TerraSkin is not appropriate for pen & ink – there may be other brands and/or types of ink much better suited to use on this paper. For me, I’ll pass.

The graphite swatches (above) faired much better – graphite goes onto this paper very smoothly. The feel of it reminded me of Yupo paper, but with a bit more tooth. The white specs that show through graphite drawing on most papers are very minimal on TerraSkin, and show up only when I used the pencil lightly and/or on the side of the point. If I held the pencil up straight and used the tip of the point, coverage was virtually complete, especially with light pressure. There is no visible grain or pattern to the specs as happens with some papers, and even my softest, darkest 9B Grafwood pencil smudged surprisingly little when pushed with my finger.

Noodler’s Ink on TerraSkin – FAIL!

The big happy surprise came when I picked up my silverpoint pencil – silverpoint is listed in the “ideal” list of media, but one never really knows until one tries it out just how ideal it truly is. Although it is difficult to see at the bottom of the two photos above, the silverpoint writes quite nicely on this paper. I am not aware of any other paper that is ready-made for silverpoint drawing – all require a surface coating of white gouache, silverpoint drawing ground or other suitable preparation. It is a treat to have paper ready to draw on without any prior fussing and drying time.

Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff carries TerraSkin products – sketchbooks as well as sheets and rolls of paper, and the Etsy shop MitzRocks offers a slightly different selection of TerraSkin sketchbooks, journals and papers as well.


August 8, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , . Art Paper, Art Supplies, Drawing, Drawing Paper, Fine Art, Pen & Ink, Pencils, Silverpoint & Metalpoint. Leave a comment.

Write It in White!

I’ve been getting into pen & ink lately, a surprise even to myself – a heretofore devout and exclusive pencil enthusiast. A friend passed on some beautiful Rotring Art Pens – a fountain pen created for drawing! It just took the right tool to get me hooked. I’ll save those for another post, but using the pens in a Fabriano Artist’s Journal, filled with several colors of Fabriano’s Ingres pastel paper, gave me the itch for a nice white to stand out with my black and brown fountain-pen inks against those colorful journal pages (in Googling for a Fabriano Artist’s Journal link for you, I’m only coming up with journals filled with cream/white sheets, so this multicolor version of the journal may sadly no longer be available).

The Fabriano Artist's Journal, Noodler's Ink and the Sakura Gelly Roll white gel pen

The Fabriano Artist’s Journal, Noodler’s Ink and the Sakura Gelly Roll white gel pen.

JetPens.com was kind enough to read my mind and send along an opaque white Sakura Gelly Roll gel pen for review, so I ordered a couple of friends for it, also from JetPens. Test-driving new writing materials is always fun, and this was no exception.

The Gelly Roll is .4mm medium point; its two new friends are both Mitsubishi Uni-ball Signo gel pens – the Angelic UM-120AC .7mm and the Broad UM-153 (the point size is not specified on this one, but as you can guess from the name it’s a great broad point). All are described by Jet Pens as being great for artists and crafters.

From the initial test run, I am happy. Not thrilled, but the gel pens definitely performed to their gel-pen utmost, as far as I can tell. Gel pens usually have that “track” down the center of every mark they make – the structure of the pen is such that the little ball in the tip distributes a bit more ink to the sides of each stroke than in the stroke’s center, so in a white pen one sometimes sees a darker streak down the center of each mark. This is a minor quibble, inherent in gel pens from what I can tell, and not a drawback for sketchbook work – just something to consider if one is producing fine art.

White gel pens with their test swatches on black paper.

For comparison’s sake (upper right in the photo above), I used stipple, a quick sketchy stroke for opaque coverage, and line to see how the three pens stack up. The Uni-ball Signo Broad (bottom pen pictured) has both the widest, whitest line and most reliable ink flow of the three. It starts more quickly than the other two and covers most opaquely. The Uni-ball Signo Angel (middle pen pictured), with it’s .7mm point, trailed the Gelly Roll (top pen) in opaqueness, but has the advantage in reliable start and coverage in the sketchy line department. The Gelly Roll started out very well, but did give me some attitude after writing for a little while with it – you can see in the sketchbook shot above how in most of the white swirls it’s pretty opaque. Toward the end of that run (lower left swirl and more noticeably in the text at page right), the pen just started to quit on me. I was able to get it back to full, opaque flow with some fiddling, but don’t yet know if this is a nasty habit or just a fluke from a new pen.

All in all, I will definitely be exploring more uses for these, both art and craft. All kind of applications come to mind, from the ability to address dark, colorful envelopes to adding highlights to pen & ink drawings on a spectrum of paper colors. At the very least, they are quite portable and will get a workout with my lovely new fountain pens and colorful sketchbook.

Disclaimer: I have no connections to Jet Pens outside of being a satisfied customer. They’re a long-time fave of mine, and not just because they can read minds. They make some excellent, otherwise-hard-to-find art toys available at reasonable prices with excellent service.

June 10, 2012. Tags: , , , , , . Art Supplies, Fine Art, Pen & Ink, Portability. 4 comments.

The Corner Box: for Still Life, Photography, Etc.

I’ve received a few inquiries about just what it is that I am using for a background in the blog photos. It’s a corner box, a terrific and inexpensive little creation I learned about from teaching artist and author Margaret Davidson. I have been using them for setting up still-lifes for drawing, but they also make great backdrops for photographing art toys!

Here is a quick how-to for creating your own corner box.


  • Foamcore sheet
  • Box-cutter knife
  • Cork-backed ruler or T-square (24” is a convenient size)
  • Strong or removable artists’ tape
  • Recommended: a piece of cardboard or a cutting mat under your foamcore to protect your work surface

Diagram for making your corner box

Creating Your Corner Box:

  • Start with a sheet of foamcore, roughly 22 x 28” in size (size is not critical – a larger sheet will yield a larger corner box, a smaller sheet a smaller box)
  • Draw dividing lines in pencil sectioning the sheet into four quarters
  • Using your ruler as a guide for your box knife, cut completely through one quarter and remove that section
  • Cut the remaining quarters about halfway through the foamcore, fold the two side flaps up to form a corner box, and tape the spine (use removable artists’ tape if you’d like to fold your corner box down again for storage)
  • The uneven edge can be trimmed off if you like
  • That leftover quarter piece may be used as a lid to help control the lighting in your corner box, or further divided to make a smaller corner box

Here's your corner box with the "lid" resting on top to screen light

Using Your Corner Box:

  • These are very helpful for reducing visual background noise and controlling the lighting on your subject.
  • They can be lined with colored paper or draped in fabric to change the background from light to dark (or to a particular color) to better view your subject.
  • To keep your subject steady, a small amount of poster putty will tack it in place.
  • Once your subject is in place, tracing the object’s shadows right onto the foamcore (in pencil, so you can erase and reuse) allows you to record your lighting setup should the corner box or your light source shift during use, or if you need to put your setup away between uses.

Still life set up in a corner box

August 10, 2011. Tags: , , , . Art Supplies. Leave a comment.

IMO: Supporting Your Local Art Store

Although I long suspected and half believed that I could not draw, I had always wanted to learn. Having signed up for a beginning drawing class years ago, I was in a small panic — I had a list of supplies to buy and didn’t know what half the items were. At that time, I had no art friends, art knowledge, art books or art resources — I didn’t even know anyone who drew or painted. A great photographer friend with an art-school background explained some of the basics and pointed me toward a local art-supply store. I think I learned to draw despite that class, and part of my success can be attributed to the patient, helpful staff at that store, especially Mike — one of the people who encouraged me to keep drawing, learning, experimenting and improving when I was starting out.

Mike drew and painted beautifully, knew a great deal about the media he worked in and many others besides. He held a full-time job and spent many of his evenings and weekends working part-time at the store. He was generous with his knowledge of and passion for creating art, and eager to share his enthusiasm with other artists, even the most inexperienced beginners. I could bring questions about materials, composition, my current drawing, or just about anything art related to the store on a slow night, and Mike took the time to offer patient help with whatever it was I was stuck on.

Since then, art stores have expanded their services to bring more people in — many offering classes, workshops, gallery space, scanning and printing services, some even providing a community area where artists can gather to share social and creative time. These stores have taken a beating in the past few years — competition from big-box craft stores and internet-based art suppliers, a difficult economy and higher fuel costs (translating to higher shipping costs for store stock) have eroded profits and driven many out of business.

I do enjoy catalog and online shopping, and can often find more of what I want in a single place, sometimes at more competitive prices than at the brick-and-mortar stores. That online bargain isn’t so sweet, though, when I have questions about the art materials, or need something pronto and waiting a week or more won’t do. I don’t want to be without the option of walking into a local store, connecting with other artists and checking out the art materials in person (not to mention finding those serendipitous items there in the store that one can’t quite live without). For that reason, I buy my supplies locally, ordering online only when I can’t find something around me. Without that local art store years ago, and the assistance and encouragement of Mike and the other staff, I might not need art supplies today.

There are many Mikes out there; you’ve probably met some. They’re helpful, knowledgeable, patient and eager to share their passion for art, but you won’t find them at an online supplier or big-box store. If you are fortunate enough to have an art-supply store in your area, please consider buying local — not only are you supporting a community business and the jobs it provides today, but you’ll help them to be there for you and future artists tomorrow.

August 6, 2011. Tags: , , . Art Supplies, Opinion. 2 comments.

Shaving Brushes for Artists

As you will see over the course of my posts, I look for portability in my art materials. I am VERY blessed with some terrific art friends; we gather a couple of times a week to make art together. In addition, I teach and take art classes a few times a year. Between the classes, gatherings of friends and the occasional outdoor sketching venture, I find it very handy to have a couple of art bags stocked with with supplies and sketchbooks at the ready. Even if you don’t take your art on the road, smaller stuff just takes up a lot less space; I’ve never known an artist who couldn’t use a little more room in their domain.

Silver Lead Mop Brushes and Judikins Color Dusters fit the need for a dust brush that’s quite petite and portable. In addition, the brush-head area on these is diminutive as compared to a drafting brush, so if you need to remove dust from a small area without disturbing the surrounding drawing (take note, graphite users), these are much easier on your art. I keep both on my drawing table, and one or the other in each of my drawing bags – something to remove eraser crumbs, pencil sharpening bits and random dust from art in progress.

Silver Lead Mop Brushes come in a set of six assorted colors

The Silver Lead brushes are recommended for use as paintbrushes by very young children and people who have difficulty gripping a smaller, traditional brush handle. Stamping enthusiasts may recognize the Color Dusters as a tool to apply a small area of stippled-looking stamp-pad ink. Both work beautifully as inexpensive, very portable dust brushes.

Judikins Color Dusters are available singly and in packs of four

Both brands use hog bristles in the brush, and shed a few bristles when they’re new – nowhere near enough to affect the use of the brush, and it does stop after they’ve been used a bit.

The Silver Lead Mop Brushes can be found very inexpensively on Dick Blick’s web site* (under $5 for a set of 6 – split ’em with a friend). The Color Dusters are available at stamping & crafting stores (the Judikins company has helpfully provided a “Where to Find Color Dusters” web page, and prices for a set of four vary by store – usually $4 – $6); I’ve also seen them for sale on eBay.

*Dick Blick posts special offers on their home page and on a Special Offer page on their web site; always check for the day’s discount before placing an order!

August 1, 2011. Tags: , , , , , . Art Supplies, Dust Brushes, Portability. Leave a comment.

Erasers With a Point

For artists with precisionist tendencies, the Tombow Mono Zero erasers are an essential tool. Ever tried to carve an eraser to a point with an Xacto knife to erase that tiny little spot? These render such efforts unnecessary. The petite points on these white elastomer “click” eraser pens are available in a rectangular eraser point of 2.5 x 5mm and an extra-fine round-point eraser 2.3mm in diameter. Having used these for a few months now, I find them indispensable for small, precise erasures.
At about 12 cm/4.75″ long, they’re light in weight and quite portable – great for tucking one of each into your mobile art bag or pencil case, and they don’t take up much space on the drawing table.


Tombow Mono Zero eraser refills come two to a package. Unlike some of their larger eraser-pen counterparts, the refills are inserted through the tip of the pen instead of the top.

The eraser part of the refill is about 5cm long, and comes attached to a plastic post that fits into the clutch mechanism of the eraser pen.

I’ve found these eraser pens and their refills at JetPens.com and ArtSupplyWarehouse.com. Jet Pens offers free domestic shipping on orders over $25, a total not difficult to reach with their excellent selection of writing and art toys! The Mono Zeros are difficult to find in the brick-and-mortar world (at least around me), so I suggest picking up a few eraser pens with refills when you do buy them.

July 27, 2011. Tags: , . Art Supplies. 3 comments.

Pencil Pointers: the Foray Electric Sharpener

The average #2 yellow pencil on the street is of standard diameter – about 7mm around. Artists’ pencils, however, come in a variety of diameters depending on their maker, some up to 10mm. This can be inconvenient at best for artists looking for a sharpener that works for all of their various pencils, as most sharpeners are made to fit the standard diameter.

The Foray Multi-hole Electric Sharpener.

Foray, a private-brand label for Office Depot products, makes a multi-hole, helical-blade, electric sharpener that accommodates these larger-diameter pencils, their average-sized cousins, and a few sizes smaller and larger than I have yet encountered in Pencildom. The Foray Multi-hole Electric Sharpener, ordered online from Office Depot, was a great surprise – it was far less expensive, quieter (although not quiet) and makes a better (and beautifully smooth) long point for drawing than competitive brands of multi-hole pencil sharpeners sold by the art supply stores.

A slider guide adjusts for pencil size and holds your pencil steady
while sharpening.

Drawbacks are few, but include limited availability (it’s only sold through Office Depot’s web site, and not regularly available in their stores) and a slightly uneven sharpen (rotating the pencil each time it’s sharpened easily fixes this). The noise level, as mentioned before, is not quiet but not at all loud for an electric sharpener, and not as noisy as similar models I’ve used.

My high-tech arrangement for removing sharpening dust from pencil points.

Interestingly, the web text on Office Depot’s site describing the sharpener says that the “Adjustable design conveniently sharpens 3 pencil sizes.” As one can see in their product photo and I can vouch for from my own model, the sharpener actually adjusts to accommodate five different pencil diameters.

The sharpener easily accommodates average-diameter pencils (Prismacolor Verithin at right), as well as larger-diameter pencils (Caran d’Ache Grafwood graphite drawing pencil at center and the chubby Ticonderoga “My First”
#2 pencil on the left).

Having used the Foray sharpener with many brands of color and graphite pencils for close to a year now with no difficulties, I would not hesitate to recommend it.

July 18, 2011. Tags: , , , . Art Supplies, School Supplies. Leave a comment.


After a few suggestions to start a blog such as this, here it is, friends! (You know who you are.)

Expect some fairly random posting, no schedules here, just inspiration when it hits. Your input, suggestions, comments, etc. are always welcome – I look forward to connecting with other people who get as excited as I do about this stuff!

As I noted in my profile, unless otherwise stated in my posts, I am in no way connected to the companies or products reviewed, nor do I receive any form of compensation from those companies.


July 15, 2011. Tags: . Art Supplies. 2 comments.

Zip It!

A good first, and true toy, the Zipit pencil case is just what it sounds like – a pencil case constructed of a single, long, trippy-colored zipper! I found this one at Staples for $6, but a quick web check shows that not only are these available elsewhere (Amazon.com, eBay, etc.), but that there are many other incarnations of Zipit – laptop cases, totes & handbags, messenger bags and of course the pencil cases. The company web site can be found here: http://www.just-zipit.com/.


Love the tag line!

Before playing with it …

… and after! It can be unzipped all the way to the bottom – not the most practical feature perhaps, but it scores high on the fun factor!

Oh, and did I mention it also holds pencils?

July 15, 2011. Tags: , , , . Art Supplies, School Supplies. Leave a comment.