Brushes: Princeton Neptune Brushes (review)

Many artists love the soft and springy nature of sable or squirrel hair brushes and the fact they hold much more water than synthetic taklon brushes, but for a variety of reasons, some painters prefer not to use genuine animal hair products. Luckily some art supply manufacturers have been working on creating synthetic bristle brushes that mimic natural hair, and one of these is the Princeton Neptune range.

These brushes have been designed to mimic squirrel hair, and they do such a good job that it’s hard to tell the difference in performance between one of these brushes and the real thing. I only have the quill mop and the rigger pictured above, but they have fast become favourites in my brush collection. The rigger lets me create long, continuous lines without having to stop and pick up more paint all the time, and the mop is excellent for creating large washes with a minimum of fuss.

Princeton makes their Neptune brushes in a variety of shapes – including rounds, flats, riggers, quills (also called mops) and mottlers – and sizes, so no matter what size watercolours you like to paint, there will be a brush in this range to suit your needs. They’re also beautifully crafted, with gorgeous wooden handles and gold print. They also don’t seem to shed the way a lot of other brushes do; regardless of whether they were natural or synthetic hair, I often find that new brushes keep dropping hairs in my palette or on my painting the first few times I use them, and then gradually over the time as they get worn. One set of expensive synthetic taklon brushes I had shed worse than my German Shepherd. I’ve been using these Neptune brushes for a few months now and they haven’t lost a single hair.

As always, the price will depend on what size you’re buying and what retailer you’re buying it from, but from looking at the art supply sites I usually buy from online, the Princeton Neptunes seem to be either around the same or significantly cheaper than the equivalent size/shape brush made from genuine squirrel hair in other brands. This means if you do want to make the switch from natural hair to synthetics, you can do so without breaking the bank.

I highly recommend Princeton Neptune’s synthetic squirrel hair brushes to watercolour artists. They perform just as well as the real thing without involving animals, and without causing so much pain to your wallet.

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Pencils: Prismacolor Premier Watercolour Pencils (review)

Several years ago after getting rid of my old Derwent Watercolour pencils, I was looking for some new, reasonably priced watersoluble pencils to replace them. At the time a lot of the alternatives (Caran d’Ache, Faber-Castell etc) were out of my price range, but I did find this tin of Prismacolor Premier watersoluble pencils on eBay for about $60 AUD.

Here’s the chart for the 36 colour tin.

Though the regular Prismacolor Premier line has a huge number of colours, the watersoluble range is much smaller with only 36 colours. There’s a reasonable variety of colours for a set this size, so regardless of what subject you’re drawing or painting, you should be able to manage it easily.

Unfortunately, the lightfastness issues in the Premier pencils carry across into the watersoluble line. I’ve misplaced the original chart I did a few years ago (I’ve put the one above in my window with half of each swatch covered to conduct another lightfastness test) but I remember that after 6 months, about half (if not more) of the colours had faded, including nearly all the reds and purples and many of the blues. This means they are not suitable for fine art unless you’re going to scan it and sell prints rather than the original.

In my review of the Prismacolor Premier pencils, I ranted at length about how terrible the quality of them is (especially since they shifted production from the US to Mexico), with their off-centre leads and constant breakages no matter how carefully you sharpen them. The watersoluble line has the same problem, with some of my pencils ending up only being a couple of inches long by the time I finished the small drawing below.

The leads in these pencils are very soft, though not quite as soft as the non-watersoluble line. This means that they do layer and blend easily if you use them dry. When water is applied, the colour is reasonably concentrated; better than the old Derwent Watercolour pencils, but not as good as Faber-Castell’s Albrecht Durer or Derwent’s Inktense range (note that the Inktense line cannot be rewet once it has dried though). Also if you want a clean wash with no pencil marks, you will need to either press very lightly when colouring the area, or scribble on a separate piece of paper and then pick up the colour with your brush, as moderate to heavy pencil marks will still remain after a decent scrubbing with a wet brush.

Here is the drawing I did with the Prismacolor Premier watersoluble pencils.

If you’re looking to buy some watersoluble coloured pencils, you’d be better off buying some of the Faber-Castell Albrecht-Durer or even the reformulated Derwent Watercolour pencils. Most of the other lines of watercolour pencils do have fugitive colours in their lineup, but at least they’re generally marked as such, and they don’t break all the time, so you won’t be constantly having to buy new pencils.

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Coloured Pencils: Two Cowrie Shells (demonstration)

Time for another little coloured pencil demonstration. My Nan has several jars of sea shells that she and I have collected over the years, including numerous cowries, so a while ago I got a few out and used them as the inspiration for this still life. A lot of coloured pencil instruction books recommend Prismacolor Premier pencils, and since I had a full set that I purchased many years ago from America (when the Australian dollar wasn’t crap), I figured I should see what they’re like. As it turns out, they are definitely not on my list of favourite coloured pencils (I explain why in my linked review above), but at least I got a half-decent drawing out of them. You should be able to find the equivalent colours in your preferred brand, but if you can’t, just go with whatever’s closest to that colour.

Also, apologies for the changing light in my photos; sometimes I worked on it at night under my desk lamp, while other times I worked in natural light during the day.

Prismacolor Premier Pencils:
-PC1026 Greyed Lavender
-PC1008 Parma Violet
-PC1007 Imperial Violet
-PC132 Dioxazine Violet Hue
-PC945 Sienna Brown
-PC944 Terra Cotta
-PC1081 Chestnut
-PC947 Dark Umber
-PC948 Sepia
-PC1083 Putty Beige
-PC1074 French Grey 70%
-PC1052 Warm Grey 30%
-PC1056 Warm Grey 70%
-PC1059 Cool Grey 10%
-PC1063 Cool Grey 50%
-PC1065 Cool Grey 70%
-PC1067 Cool Grey 90%
-PC935 Black
-PC1077 Colourless Blender

Art Spectrum Gouache:

Note: The white gouache is optional; if you reserve the highlights and you’re using pure white paper, you probably won’t need it. However the paper I used was a yellowish off-white and therefore wasn’t as stark white as I wanted it, so I added a little gouache to finish the piece.

Any very small round brush will do. I used a size 20/0 cheap synthetic brush. (if you’re not using gouache, you won’t need a brush at all)

-A sturdy paper is recommended. I used a Strathmore Bristol Smooth ATC, but Stonehenge is another good choice.

Step 1
Draw the outline of the cowries and their shadows, then start applying the first layers of pencil (very lightly). Leaving the area around the ‘mouth’ white, put a light layer of Putty Beige on the speckled cowrie, then add in a few freckles with Sienna Brown and Dark Umber. To colour the shadow inside the cowrie shell, start with Warm Grey 30% on the left, Cool Grey 70% on the right and Cool Grey 90% in the middle, blending into the other two greys. On the purple cowrie, colour the ‘dome’ with Greyed Lavender and put a light layer of Cool Grey 10% around the bottom edge, adding a little Cool Grey 70% for the shadow inside the cowrie’s ‘nose’ (I have no idea what the technical terms for bits of cowries are, so hopefully I’m making sense). Colour in the shadow with a faint layer of Warm Grey 30%.

Step 2
Start adding more freckles to the speckled cowrie, using similar colours you did before: Sienna Brown and Dark Umber, plus Terra Cotta and Sepia. Overlap some of them and make some of them darker. Use Sepia to colour the dark area near the nose of the speckled cowrie, then use Warm Grey 30% and French Grey 70% to create the serrated texture along the opening of the cowrie on the lower side. Lightly go over all the freckles with Putty Beige, but leave some of the ones near the edge of the white area so they remain darker.

On the purple cowrie, add a small, light patch of Terra Cotta under where the main highlight will go, then lightly layer Parma Violet over the whole of the purple area aside from the highlight. Use Dioxazine Violet Hue to darken where the purple meets the white, then add more to the side touching the other cowrie and a little on the top right. Try to make your pencil strokes follow the curve of the shell.

In the shadows under the cowries, add Dioxazine Violet Hue to the darkest areas, then merge out into the rest of the shadow with Greyed Lavender, then go over the whole lot with a light layer of Warm Grey 30%.

Step 3
Using French Grey 70%, lightly colour in the underside and the very top edge of the speckled cowrie to create shading and depth. Now we need to darken the shadow inside the cowrie. Starting from the left edge, add another light to medium pressure layer of French Grey 70%, leaving a little white at the very edge for the ‘lip’ of the cowrie, then do the same from the right side with Cool Grey 70%. For the darkest part in the middle of the cowrie, add a medium pressure layer of Black, then go over this with Cool Grey 90%, making sure you blend gradually to show the shadow getting lighter towards each end. With Cool Grey 50%, lightly colour in the recessed area on the lower lip of the speckled cowrie, to differentiate it between the shadowed interior and the outer shell, then use Warm Grey 30% (ideally with a blunt tip) to show the slight grey discolouration in the middle of the lower white area.

On the purple cowrie, add a few more patches of light Chestnut and then put some Black in the darkest areas using medium pressure. Gently go over the whole purple area with various purples, making sure to concentrate darker purples in some parts and lighter purples in others (I used Greyed Lavender, Imperial Violet and Dioxazine Purple Hue. Use Black and Dioxazine Purple Hue to darken the outline between the purple and white areas. With Warm Grey 30%, add a very light layer over the white area of the purple cowrie; the pencil should barely be touching the paper. Make it a little darker along the bottom edge, and where the speckled cowrie casts a shadow on it. With Cool Grey 50%, make the cast shadow cast onto the purple cowrie by the speckled one a little darker again. Though the white area of the purple cowrie is pale, it still needs to be differentiated and separated from the pale ‘nose’ of the speckled cowrie.

I should note here that I had been intending to reserve most of the white highlights on the cowrie by simply leaving those areas of the paper blank. However at this stage I realised two things: first, I had not left enough white in the correct areas, and second, because the paper I was using was a cream colour and not pure white, a reserved highlight would not look bright enough to accurately depict the light shining on the smooth surface of the shell. This is why I covered most of the purple area at this stage, deciding I would just put the highlights in with white gouache at the end.

For the shadows, add some Cool Grey 90% directly under the cowries (focusing under the speckled one and where the two cowries touch), lightening your pressure as you move out. Layer in Cool Grey 70% over the whole shadow with medium pressure; it should now look mostly dark with just a violet tinge.

Step 4
Using your Colourless Blender, go over the whole shadow under both cowries, with a medium to firm pressure. This will help smooth out your pencil lines and merge the colours together a bit better. Do the same for the shadowed interior of the speckled cowrie. Add a final layer of Cool Grey 90% to the darkest areas of the ground shadow, lightening your pressure as you go out towards the edge.

Scribble the Colourless Blender pencil on some scrap paper to clean any black/grey off the lead. With a medium pressure, go over the whole purple area aside from the light area where the highlight will go. Again, this will burnish the shell and make it look smoother. On some of the lighter purple areas (ie. the highlight area and at the lower front), use White to burnish it. Now take Black and Dioxazine Purple Hue and go over the darkest areas again, with a light layer of Black first, followed by Dioxazine Purple Hue over the top. Let some of the Dioxazine Purple Hue cross into the highlight area, then go over the highlight area again with White.

Depending on how detailed or fussy you are, you could probably keep adding more layers. However at this stage I feared overworking it and ruining it if I kept going, so I called it a day and got out my white gouache. Put a main highlight in the top centre of the purple cowrie, then add smaller ones beside it. Add another one in the discoloured grey area on the front of the speckled cowrie. Water down a little of the gouache, then paint along the upper right of the purple cowrie to show reflected light from behind. Now all that’s left to do is sign your name under the shadow.

Thus concludes today’s demonstration. Building up layers may seem intimidating, but just remember to use a lighter pressure to start with and make your pencil strokes follow the shape of the object as much as possible.

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Pencils: Prismacolor Premier Coloured Pencils (review)

Aside from Derwent, Prismacolor are probably one of the most well-known and commonly-used coloured pencil brands out there. It wasn’t unusual for art supply stores to carry only these two brands, and even now they still dominate the shelves. I’d had Derwent pencils since childhood, since that was what my family bought me, but a few years ago I decided I’d like to try Prismacolor Premier pencils and see what all the fuss was about.

I originally bought the 132 colour tin from America, but after Prismacolor released another 18 colours, I ordered those as well to round out my collection to the full 150 colours.

As you can see from my pictures, just about every colour imaginable exists as a Prismacolor Premier pencil. There are a lot of colours that don’t really have an equivalent in other coloured pencil brands – like some of the very deep purples and extremely pale yellows, peaches and beiges – but there are also a lot of near-duplicated colours, which isn’t surprising for a range this size. Also, there are a lot of fugitive colours in the Prismacolor Premier line. Their pencils are rated on the ASTM scale, with I being Excellent and V being Poor. 85 fall under either I or II (which is the least anyone should be using if they intend to sell or display their work), which means 65 are fugitive. Unfortunately the fugitive colours include most of the pinks, violets and blues (the three neon colours are also fugitive, but all neon colours generally are). Strangely, Prismacolor doesn’t even seem to have colour charts on their site for their products anymore.

Prismacolor Premier pencils have the softest leads of any coloured pencils I have used, aside from maybe the Caran d’Ache Luminance line. Their almost creamy texture allows for smooth blends and even layers of colour, and they are more opaque than other pencils. This makes it particularly easy to add highlights or burnish several layers, as the white and other pale colours go on over any of the other colours and lighten them considerably. It’s easy to see why the vast majority of coloured pencil instruction books seem to recommend Prismacolor Premier pencils (if not by brand name then by the specific colours, at least). Their Colourless Blender is also quite useful for smoothing out layers of colour, even if it does darken it slightly.

Unfortunately, however, there is a catch, and it’s a pretty big one. Their soft leads mean they have always been a bit more prone to breakage than other pencil brands, though any pencil will suffer internal breakage if it’s dropped or knocked around a lot. However, a few years ago, Sanford – Prismacolor’s manufacturer – shifted their production from the USA to Mexico. Since then, the quality of the pencils has dropped significantly, resulting in issues like crooked leads within the wooden casing and even more breakage than normal. If you look at my picture of my set, you’ll see some of my pencils are much shorter than full length, even though I only used them to make colour charts before taking the photo. Many of the colours I used in my demonstration drawing also ended up losing a third to half their length, even though it was a small drawing. This is because they kept breaking when I was sharpening them. The pencils all have USA or MEXICO stamped on them so it’s easy to see where they were made by looking at them, but unfortunately you don’t have this luxury when purchasing online, and it is pretty frustrating to buy a new pencil and have it break so often that by the time you’ve sharpened it, it’s shorter than the pencil it’s supposed to replace.

I’ve seen people blame the sharpeners for being old or having dull blades, but I had the same problem even with brand new sharpeners. Some artists on the WetCanvas forum I visit suggest that you can reduce breakage (or fix leads that have shattered internally) by microwaving the affected pencil for 20 seconds, or putting it in the oven for a short time, but really, if I’m buying a set of coloured pencils, I shouldn’t have to go all Betty Crocker on it before I can use them. I should just be able to take them out of the box and start drawing (also if I wanted to bake stuff I’d be running a cooking blog, not an art blog). Apparently some of the pencils have some sort of foil in the embossed printing on the pencil which catches fire if microwaved, so you have to be careful if you try microwaving them. You could also hand sharpen the pencils using a blade but that’s more time consuming and potentially dangerous if you slip. Either way, no other pencil I have tried requires so much effort to be able to use it.

Yet none of this seems to stop artists buying Prismacolor. And I get it; I really do. Those beautiful creamy leads aren’t quite rivalled by any other brand, and as I mentioned above, most of the coloured pencil instruction books seem to recommend them. But the problem is that as long as people keep buying Prismacolor pencils even with the quality control issues, Sanford is going to have no real incentive to change their ways, meaning they’ll keep putting crappy pencils on the shelves of our art supply stores. And it’s not like they’re significantly cheaper than other brands, either (aside from in America, perhaps). They are a little cheaper than Derwent Artists and Coloursofts or Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils, but if you end up wasting half the pencil because it keeps breaking all the time, are you actually saving money? Other brands may not have quite as soft a lead as Prismacolor Premier but this is more than made up for by the fact you can still layer and blend them perfectly well, and you can actually use the whole pencil you’ve spent your hard-earned cash on.

Here is my drawing done with the Prismacolor Premier coloured pencils.

Even though Prismacolor Premier coloured pencils have a beautiful, soft texture, I find it hard to recommend them because of their constant breakage, lack of quality control and issues with lightfastness. If you absolutely must try them, don’t buy a set; just get any unique colours you can’t get in other brands (it is also worth getting a few white Prismacolors for their use in burnishing and highlighting, and maybe a Colourless Blender). Have a look at individual stock in the shop and make sure the leads are centered (and if possible, avoid any with MEXICO stamped on them). Hopefully one day Sanford will address the complaints of artists and lift their standards, but until then, I’d say if you’re not already using Prismacolor pencils, there’s no real benefit to starting now.

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Watercolour Pencils: Two Chili Peppers (demonstration)

While cutting up vegetables for dinner, I decided to use two of the chili peppers I was going to cook as the basis for a small still life sketch. I had new little sketchbook and some Prismacolor Premier watercolour pencils that had been sitting around for ages unused, so I thought it’d be a good way to do a demonstration and put together a review post for the pencils. That review will be posted shortly, but I wasn’t impressed with the pencils at all (for reasons I’ll discuss in the review) so I’d recommend doing this exercise with whatever other watercolour pencils you already have rather than going out and buying Prismacolor Premiers. It should be easy to find similar colours to those listed here in your preferred brand.

Prismacolor Premier Watercolour Pencils:
-WC2938 White
-WC2916 Canary Yellow
-WC21003 Spanish Orange
-WC2918 Orange
-WC2922 Poppy Red
-WC2924 Crimson Red
-WC2932 Violet
-WC2956 Lilac
-WC2913 Spring Green
-WC2909 Grass Green
-WC2908 Dark Green
-WC21069 French Grey 20%
-WC21063 Cool Grey 50%

Any small round watercolour brushes (sizes 1-4) will do. I used two small Isabey sables and an Escoda Grafilo.

-I used Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook, however this didn’t have much tooth and as a result I couldn’t apply as many layers as I would have liked. I would recommended a more textured paper like Stonehenge.

Step 1
Draw the outline of the red and yellow chili peppers in Orange and Canary Yellow, respectively, and the stalks in Spring Green. Add a little Orange to the shadowed areas of the longer green stalk. Leaving white areas for the highlights, layer Lilac and Spring Green into some of the shadowed areas of the yellow pepper and Canary Yellow into the lighter yellow areas. on the red pepper, colour in the shadowed area long the bottom right of the pepper with a layer of Violet, and then go over this (and the rest of the pepper aside from the highlights) with Poppy Red and then a light layer of Crimson Red. Finally, add a light shadow under both peppers with French Grey 20%.

Step 2
Wet a watercolour brush and go over the colour you laid down in step 1. Start with the lighter areas and then merge into the dark areas; if you do it the other way around, you’ll end up pulling dark colours into your light areas and muddying them up. For the most part, you should be avoiding the highlight areas you’ve left white, but once you’ve dissolved most of the colour, pull a little of the surrounding colour into the white areas to get rid of the stark white of the paper (it should still be much lighter than the rest of the peppers). Let this dry, and then start building up the next layer, beginning with more Violet in the shadow area of the red pepper (towards the tip and along the lower edge where it meets the yellow pepper). If you haven’t already, apply some water to the grey shadow under the pepper to reduce any harsh edges.

Step 3
Continue to build up layers using the same colours from the previous steps. Use Spring Green and Lilac in the shadowed areas of the yellow pepper, and Canary Yellow and a little Spanish Orange in the lighter areas. Add a faint layer of Canary Yellow to the highlight areas of the yellow pepper – make sure it’s still noticeably lighter than the rest of the pepper – then add a layer of White. For the red pepper, bring more Violet from the tip of the pepper up along the lower edge, and go over the whole pepper (minus the highlights) with another layer of Poppy Red and then Crimson Red. Add a layer of Crimson Red with light to medium pressure to the highlight areas, and then go over this with White.

Colour the green stalks with another layer of Spring Green, and apply Grass Green to the shadow areas. Blend the colours again with a brush that is only slightly wet; you want to ‘melt’ the colours together without washing it out into a paler colour. Add another layer of French Grey 20% to the shadows under the peppers, then add some Canary Yellow to the shadow under the yellow pepper and Crimson Red to the shadow under the red pepper. For the darker shadow areas under the red pepper, add a layer of Cool Grey 50%. Gently brush the edges of the shadow with a half-dry brush to soften the edges.

Step 4
Go over the dark areas of the red pepper with Violet again, adding some Dark Green to the very dark areas near the tip. Add another pale layer of Crimson Red to the highlight areas and then another layer of White, using medium to hard pressure. Colour the whole pepper aside from the highlight with more Poppy Red and Crimson Red, merging this into the highlight areas to reduce the harsh outline of the highlight. Using the White, add some marks perpendicular to the direction of the pepper near the shadow area to create some texture, then go over the lightest area of the highlight with White to create the impression of the pepper’s shiny smooth surface. On the yellow pepper, where it meets the red pepper, add a faint area of Crimson Red to show the reflected light from the red pepper touching it. Layer more Canary Yellow and Spanish Orange over the yellow pepper, smoothing out the transition between the shadow areas and the lighter areas. Add more Orange to the dark areas of the green stalks, then go over these with Spring Green, adding another layer of Grass Green for the shadowed underside. Using White, add a thin line of reflected light along the underside of both peppers from the surface they’re resting on (clean the pencil between the two peppers, or you will contaminate one with the colour of the other).

Add another layer of Canary Yellow to the shadow immediately under the yellow pepper, letting it fade out to grey towards the edges, then add another layer of Crimson Red to the red pepper’s shadow. Go over this with French Grey 20%, then add some Cool Grey 50% to the darker shadow under the red pepper. Now all that’s left to do is sign your name under the peppers using French Grey 20%.

Thus concludes this watercolour pencil demonstration. As I mentioned near the start, I wish I’d chosen a sturdier paper as the Beta paper just didn’t have the tooth or texture to take very many layers.  Still, I hope some of you find it helpful with regards to how to layer coloured pencils and how to use watercolour pencils.

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Subscription Art Supplies: SketchBox January 2018 (review)

Yesterday I reviewed the first of the subscription art supply boxes I ordered in December. Today the second one arrived, so I thought I might as well review it as well. This is a SketchBox and it comes from America.

Here’s what it contained:

Along with a SketchBox sticker, it contained two cards: One with some beautiful artwork on it by Alex Dakos and one with a list of all the products contained in the box. Unlike the Scrawlrbox item list, this one also includes the price of all the items (in USD) so you know what you’re getting in terms of value.

The first item I pulled out of my box was the Uni-ball Signo White Gel Pen. I didn’t have one of these but I often see watercolourists and other illustrators use them for white highlights over dark areas, so it will be a good thing to add to my collection. I did a test scribble on some black paper and the ink was quite opaque and went on smoothly.

Next was a Kuretake Zig Gold Brush Pen, with a wonderful brush nib for making calligraphy effects and strokes with the metallic gold paint. I do have various gold markers but none with a brush tip, so it’ll be interesting to try.

Third was a packet of two Magnetips. These are coloured fineliners (in green and light blue) with magnets in the tips. Kind of fun to play with but not a feature I’d go out of my way to pay money for.

Fourth was a Copic Wide. I used to have a set of the normal Copic markers but ended up selling them as I could never get them to behave how I wanted (they always seemed to bleed and run horribly, even if I used them on paper specifically designed for markers). I’m not sure I’ll get much use out of it, but I was happy that I at least got a dark blue one; the colours vary from box to box and I’ve seen other people who got theirs saying they got ugly colours or colours they aren’t likely to use in large areas, defeating the purpose of the wide nib.

Finally there was a set of 12 SketchBox Signature Fineliners. Along with a black and some greys, there are a lot of pinks and purples, greens and blues. They all have 0.4mm nibs and their smooth matte barrels make them quite comfortable to hold. I don’t really use fineliners for much (aside from black for outlines) so I’ll have to come up with a way to use these in some art.

Here are some swatches from all the items in the box.

With subscription ‘mystery’ boxes, you never know whether you’ll get something you love or something you don’t care for; the surprise is half the fun. However, as this box focused heavily on pens and markers (which I’m generally not that interested in using), I was a bit underwhelmed by it all. I was also disappointed that it didn’t come with any card or paper samples to draw on. On top of this, it has the same issue the Scrawlrbox had; if you don’t live with in the country it ships from, the postage (and possibly currency conversion) is really going to hit hard. The items in this box worked out to cost about $43 USD, but I paid $48 USD, which was almost $70 AUD at the time. While I can see how some people would love SketchBox and would get a lot of value out of them for the money, I am unfortunately not one of those people, and I doubt I’d subscribe again.

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Subscription Art Supplies: Scrawlrbox January 2018 (review)

Last month one of my friends sent me a link to a monthly subscription service for art supplies. There are a few of these things around but I decided to try two of them to see what they were like. I thought it would be fun to get some mystery surprise art supplies each month, and it would also introduce me to supplies I might not otherwise buy or use. One of those was Scrawlrbox and the January 2018 box arrived today.

Here’s what was inside:

All the Scrawlrboxes include a sticker (the blue squiggle) and a snack; the snack I got was a Swizzels New Refreshers in lemon flavour. Since I’d just got home from uni and was hungry I gutsed it straight away (it was really strong and sour).

The box also contains a small card with a list of all the items included in the box, along with a picture and description for each. This card has a prompt on the back to inspire you to create. This month’s is ‘Mythical Creatures’. There’s also a sample illustration by someone who used the materials in that month’s box. The illustration I got was a lovely mystical horse in black, white and gold, by an artist called Queer Mortale in France.

So, what art supplies did I get? First was a Derwent Graphic pencil in HB. I don’t mind Derwent pencils and I do use a lot of HB pencils, so this one will get used eventually, but I already have a box of HB pencils I bought at the newsagent.

Next was a Sakura Pigma Micron Drawing Pen with a 05 point. I have a packet of these pens and use them a lot for my illustrations, so again, this will get used, but I was hoping I’d get more things I didn’t already have.

Third was a Zig Brush H2O, a waterbrush. While I already had some waterbrushes, all the ones I had were the standard small round brush tips. This one is wider (about 5mm), more like a flat brush, which is pretty cool; it will be useful for colouring larger areas like skies when I’m sketching on location, rather than having to scribble more with the small round tip brush, and it’ll help me make some nice textured effects.

Last but not least was a little box of Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolours. I had the full set of 36 regular colours and quite liked them; they were a little more opaque than normal watercolours, and probably aimed more at crafters than fine art painters, but they were still fun to play with. This Starry Colours set contains six variations of metallic gold, from red golds and rich yellow golds to pale gold and white gold. These are big pans, with each being about two or three times the size of a typical full pan, so those who love using metallic colours in their calligraphy or illustration will get a lot of mileage out of this set. Given my love of painting dragons, fairies and other fantasy creatures, these will come in handy.

Here are my swatches of all of these products.

Though they weren’t listed on the item card, my box also contained a piece of watercolour paper (I’m not sure what brand but it seems to be a cold press texture in 190gsm) and a thicker piece of black card, which will be good for showing up metallic colours.

Overall, I’m not sure I’d get another Scrawlrbox. On the one hand, everything I got in this one is stuff I either use regularly already or know will be fun and/or useful to add to my collection. On the other hand, between the cost of the box itself and the postage from the UK, I ended up paying $37 AUD for this box of supplies, and to be honest, the content just isn’t worth $37; if I went into a local art shop or ordered from my regular UK art supply store, I could probably get everything for around $30. If you live within the UK and therefore get free postage, this would probably be good value for money, but not if you live elsewhere. Still, it was fun to open the box and see what new goodies I’d received, and I’m looking forward to the other subscription art supply box I ordered.

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