Friday, October 31, 2014

October Miscellany: Pencils, Commonplace Books, Minimalism

I'm catching up from my month of absence, so this miscellany is a bit longer than average.  I hope that in November I'll finally get my blogging schedule fully back on track again.  Thanks so much to all of you for your comments and support!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Favourite Supplies for Art Journaling

I've been keeping some form of art journal for nearly six years now, and a sketchbook for over five years.  I've tried quite a few different supplies over that time: some worked, some didn't, and some I loved but didn't actually use very often.  But I keep going back to the same few basics again and again.  Whether I call it an art journal, visual journal, or sketchbook, these are my essential supplies.
 
Left to right: Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pen, Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell watercolour pencils, Pentel Aquash waterbrush, Uni-ball Signo Broad white gel pen, paper scraps, UHU Stic glue stick, scissors.

  • A fine black permanent felt-tip pen - This is by far the most important item on this list.  I use this for sketching, writing, doodling, or adding details to a collage.  And because it's permanent, I can use watercolours over it.  My favourite pen in this category is the fine Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pen (which is also light-fast and acid-free, and relatively comfortable to hold), but many other good options are available, such as the Sakura Pigma Micron or even the Sharpie Pen.
  • Watercolour pencils - I used to use acrylic paints a lot in my art journals, but now I've mostly moved away from them and use watercolours more often.  Watercolour pencils are my favourite way to use watercolours; they're such an easy and convenient way to add a bit colour to a sketchbook page.  Although I'm still very much an amateur, this post describes how I use my watercolour pencils.  (And based on how much I've worn down the pencils, the three colours pictured here - dark green, light green, and light blue - are the colours I use most often.)
  • Waterbrush - This is the perfect complement to watercolour pencils, as it eliminates the need to carry water.  It's also very easy to use.  My waterbrush is the Pentel Aquash, but it's getting a bit worn out so I think I'll give a different brand a try next time.
  • Paper scraps - This year's collage-a-week project has taught me that I still really love collage.  This is a good thing, because my collection of paper scraps is extensive and includes magazine cut-outs, old greeting cards, wrapping paper, scrapbooking paper, origami paper, graph paper, old maps, and anything else I can find.  I love all papers, and I love combining them together to create something new.
  • Scissors - Essential for cutting and trimming above-mentioned paper scraps.  My scissors are not any particular brand, but I've owned them for just about forever.  In addition to scissors, I also love my paper trimmer (similar to this one); if I need to cut a lot of papers to size this is much faster and easier than scissors.  I've used my trimmer for years and I haven't needed to replace the blade yet.
  • Glue stick - Another collage essential.  My favourite glue stick is the UHU Stic, which I can find just about anywhere.  It goes on smoothly and is acid-free - just be sure to apply a nice thick layer to ensure that your paper will stick (focus on the edges and corners), and have a piece of scrap paper covering your workspace so your desk doesn't end up all gluey.  If you're gluing heavier-weight papers or painting over your glued-down papers, you probably need a stronger glue, but UHU works for me most of the time.  (And I find it rather amusing that this is the very same glue I used way back in kindergarten!)
  • White gel pen - For doodling and writing over dark backgrounds, and adding white highlights to watercolour sketches.  The best white gel pen I have found is the Uni-ball Signo Broad (or UM-153), which writes smoothly with a thick, opaque white line.  (Although, as I found out the hard way, it will dry up if you don't use it often enough.)

I love how most of my favourite supplies are very basic, inexpensive, and easy to find.  And all of them can fit easily into a pen case to form a simple travel art kit.  As I said in my post on my favourite supplies for writing, the tools you use ultimately don't matter.  What matters is the art you create with them.

If you keep an art journal or sketchbook, what are your favourite supplies?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Eraser Review: Tombow MONO Zero

The Tombow MONO Zero eraser is the most unique eraser I own.  It's a mechanical, retractable eraser with a cool, silver-and-black colour scheme and clean, straight lines.
 

But the most unique thing about it is the eraser itself, which is only 2.3mm in diameter.  Compared to all of the other erasers that I've ever used in my life, this is incredibly tiny.  Here it is compared to a wooden pencil so you can get some idea of how tiny the eraser is:


Obviously, this is not an everyday eraser.  This eraser is for precise erasing, so that you can remove exactly what you want from your work without messing up your surrounding drawing.  Personally, I'm not that fussy about details when I sketch, so I doubt that I'll get much use out of this eraser.  And I'm not impressed with how the eraser works either.  In my test, it left a definite shadow behind, although to be fair, this kind of erasing is not the intended use of the Zero and if you were erasing a smaller area, the shadow would likely not be as visible.  The eraser also seems to me to be firmer than other erasers I've used and so I feel I need to use more pressure with it, but maybe it needs to be that way for strength, because it is so small.


The end of the eraser is marked with the size (2.3mm) in red.  I at first assumed that this meant there were other sizes available (that way you could easily distinguish between sizes), but this is not so.  However, refills for this eraser are available, and you can also buy a similar eraser that is rectangular instead of round, and has a black body instead of silver.  That eraser sounds intriguing as well, and I would love to hear from anyone who has used it.


 
Overall, the Tombow MONO Zero eraser is unique, but not something that I can see myself using often.  If you're a perfectionist in your drawings, you might get more use out of it than I do.  And if you just like collecting erasers, then you'll probably want one.  From the other reviews I've read, I know that some people will love this eraser because of how precise it is, but it is just not for me.

Would you use this eraser?

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Other reviews: Dave's Mechanical Pencils, OfficeSupplyGeek, Comfortable Shoes Studio.

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Note: I received this eraser free of charge from Tombow USA, but that did not affect my review.


Monday, October 13, 2014

My Greatest Productivity Challenge

My productivity system broke down this summer.  It started when I didn't complete all of my weekly tasks that I had written down in my planner.  To be honest, I usually didn't complete all of these anyway (I tend to over-estimate the number of things I can get done in a given period), but now the problem started to get worse.  Some weeks I only checked one or two items off my list.  As I fell more and more behind, I felt more and more guilty about not getting as much done as I thought I should.  When I re-wrote my list of tasks every week, all I felt was dread.  Eventually, I stopped using my planner altogether.  By then, it just felt pointless.


It doesn't matter whether you use a paper or digital planner; the system you use cannot automatically make you more productive, focused, or motivated.  Ultimately, you have to actively make the decision to work on tasks you need to get done.  You can plan, write to-do lists, make schedules, and try different systems as much as you like, but none of this is useful unless you actually do the work.  That's the hard part.

As August and September passed me by, I realized that if I wanted to start being productive again (and I did), then I needed to make a change.

By this time, I also had realized what the main cause of my productivity system breakdown was: procrastination.  Procrastination is, I now know, the greatest challenge I face to my ability to get things done and to make any kind of progress in my life generally.

Procrastination starts as a way of avoiding and putting off a task that I feel is too difficult or large to tackle.  Sometimes it's just that another activity (easier and less important) is much more tempting.  Or that I convince myself that I have lots of time (even when I don't) so I don't need to start right away.  Once it gets started, procrastination builds on itself.  Once I put one task off, it becomes easier to find excuses for not doing other tasks.  And the more behind I get in everything, the more negative feelings (guilt, dread) I start to have around all of my tasks, which means that I turn to procrastination more as a way of (temporarily) avoiding those feelings.

When dealing with procrastination, it's important to start small and build slowly.  Habits cannot be changed quickly.  I know that from years of trying and failing.  A large change is scary and I'll probably procrastinate about it or give up on it after only a few days.  A small change is easy and I can slowly build on it.  It's also important to realize that you cannot conquer procrastination completely.  I expect that this challenge will be with me for the rest of my life, so I need to focus on learning to live with it, not on trying to eliminate it.

I have not yet gone back to using my planner, but I am starting to rebuild my productivity system.  Every day, I set myself a few small tasks, writing them down in a simple pad of paper that I keep on my desk.  I make sure to break down even simple tasks into tiny steps.  If "write next blog post" is too intimidating, then "choose photos" or "write first draft by hand" may not be.  I've also put most of my projects to the side for now.  Part of the problem was that I was simply trying to do too much, so for now I'm just going to focus on one project (blogging).  When I get that on track, I can add in other tasks and projects.  Selecting tasks or setting goals for an entire week or month also feels like too much right now, but as I have more success on a daily basis, I hope to re-introduce this (in some form) to my productivity system as well.

I don't know what my productivity system is going to look like as I rebuild it.  I do know that at some point I'll start using a planner again, but I don't know if I'll go back to a Bullet Journal or not.  I suspect that I may want something with a bit more structure instead.  At this point, I'm trying to keep my mind open to any possibilities.

Most importantly, I have discovered in the last two weeks that I can complete tasks again and that it feels good.  I know that some people perceive writing as a difficult and painful business, but I've found that writing makes me happy.  It's not writing that causes the problems.  When procrastination returns, I will try to remember this.  Getting things done feels good.  Procrastination does not.  And it doesn't have to be more complicated than that.

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Have you ever experienced a productivity system breakdown?  How did you deal with it?  And how do you deal with procrastination?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences on these issues.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pencil Review: Tombow MONO Drawing Pencil Set


Tombow MONO drawing pencils have been on my list of "Need to Try" pencils for quite a while, so when Tombow USA contacted me and asked if I wanted to review a set, I was eager to accept, not just because these were pencils I wanted anyway, but also because this would be my first chance to try an entire set of pencils, something I probably wouldn't have bought for myself.  The set comes with 6 pencils (2H, HB, B, 2B, 4B, and 6B) and one Tombow MONO Zero eraser (I'll review the eraser in a later post).
 

The first impression on receiving the set was that these pencils are beautiful.  They're black with gold lettering and a cream and gold section near the end that labels the grade of the pencil.  They're also hexagonally shaped with no eraser, just a painted cap - both features I prefer.  Unfortunately, a white barcode is also printed on the pencil, which mars its beauty somewhat, but at least it is near the top and so will be the first thing to disappear as I sharpen the pencils.


However, as I removed the pencils from the package, I noticed some white marks on some of them (above photo).  When I examined these marks and the package closer, I realized that they were from the paper of the package sticking to the pencil (I could see marks in the package where this had happened) and possibly removing some of the top layer of paint.  This was rather disappointing, even though it doesn't affect how the pencil writes, so I think in the future I'd try to avoid buying these pencils in blister packaging (which I actually try to avoid anyway, since I hate plastic waste).

 
I decided that a set of pencils deserved an entire page spread of sketches, so I did one sketch with each pencil, to hopefully show you a bit of how the different grades compare to each other.  The 2H lead was, of course, noticeably lighter in colour and harder than the others, and while I'm not experienced enough to notice many differences between the HB, B, and 2B leads, the 4B and 6B were definitely darker and much softer.  I especially loved how dark all of the pencils are.  Even the 2H offered more depth of shading than I expected and the HB also seemed relatively dark for that grade.

Sketches of Staedtler Textsurfer highlighter (2H), pencil sharpener (HB), binder clip (B), scissors (2B), Tombow MONO Zero eraser (4B), and vase (6B).  Sketches not to scale, obviously.  And the highlighter isn't really bent like that.

My favourites were probably the 2H and the B.  As a novice sketcher, I found the 2H the easiest to use, and, as I said above, it shaded better than I expected.  I could see using this to start a drawing and lay out the basic shapes.  I liked the B because it allowed me to get some dark shading, but it was easier to control than the softer pencils.  If I wanted even more depth, then I'd add the 4B to these.  And for writing, I'd probably stick with the 2H or the HB.  Although these are marketed as drawing pencils, I think the harder grades would make great writing pencils since they are nice and dark.


Overall, I really loved all of my sketches with these pencils (actually, I hated them while I was doing them, but when I looked at them later I loved them), but I'm not sure if that reflects the quality of the pencils or just that I'm finally starting to figure out pencil sketching.  I do love my Tombow MONO drawing pencils, however.  They look great and make me feel like a much more serious artist than I really am.  And even more importantly, the harder grades (2H to B) in particular offer the combination of relatively hard yet dark lead that I love and find easiest to use.  I think this set as a whole is a great way to get started and I'd definitely recommend any of these pencils if you're looking for a good quality drawing pencil.  These might just become my new favourite pencils.

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Other reviews: That One Pen, Lung Sketching Scrolls.

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Note: I received these pencils free of charge from Tombow USA, but that did not affect my review.
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