Category Archives: Reviews

ArtSnacks: October 2016

Hold on to your panties, boys and girls, it’s ArtSnacks time again! October’s box was a home run.

Ink BottleSpecial Release Muted Collection: Liquitex Professional Ink
$8.95 retail

This month is #Inktober. So, naturally, October’s box includes a bottle of Liquitex acrylic ink.

I gotta say, I am SOLD on Liquitex’s new muted collection. The muted violet color they sent me is fucking gorgeous. I actually already own a set of their basic colors–which are fine but not outstanding–but this shade is so good I’m tempted to use acrylic ink a lot more often just so I can justify buying the whole damn collection.

Downsides: For my purposes, the ink dries a little too quickly, which means you have to move fast if you want to do any blending. Also the cap is a bitch to get off if you close it too tightly. (Nice built-in eye dropper, though.)

Uni-Ball Signo White Gel PenWhite Gel Pen
$3.75 retail

My current favorite writing pen is a black Uni-Ball Signo (bold tip), so I was excited to try out this white version.

White ink seems to be hard to get right. I’ve got a bunch of white gel pens I’ve acquired in my search for one that doesn’t piss me off, but they always seem to be too watery or transparent or unreliable or inside a porcupine or something. This one is my favorite by far. I stress-tested this bad boy by using it to color an entire ghost (see project), and it performed admirably. Nice and opaque, stayed where I put it and fast-drying.

Note: Don’t try this at home, folks. A ball-point pen is not the right tool to fill in a large area. It worked, but I used a LOT of ink and it took forever to fill in all the little gaps. I still feel bad about abusing a pen that never did anything to deserve it…unlike micron pens, which need to be taught a lesson. Seriously, I hate those little bastards. The many, many artists who swear by microns clearly need treatment for Stockholm syndrome.

Copic Brush PenCopic Gasenfude Brush Pen
$7.49 retail

I have never gotten the hang of using brush pens properly, but now I want to learn. This pen is just that awesome. It reminds me of a really good eyeliner. It’s easy to control, and it only takes the lightest touch to get a smooth line–perfect for a hesitant sketcher like myself. This pen will be a lot more useful to me than Copic’s intimidating line of markers.

Lauren Series 4350 Watercolor Brush by Princeton Brushbrush
$5.75 retail

I really like this brush. It’s very precise and holds a lot of ink. It’s not very good for washes, but the springy bristles come to an effortless point for getting color down into stubborn nooks and crannies.

The Project

I had a hankering to use one of the little canvas boxes I have lying around. I dripped the ink some places, brushed it on others, layered it, and blotted to get a nice mottled background. I drew a goofy ghost with the Copic pen and filled it in with the Signo. The white gel pen was great for cleaning up any stray marks around the edges of the lid. (Yes, I make mistakes. Try to act shocked.)

Click the first picture below to see a slide show (with commentary!) of my Halloween treat box. It’s a treat box because I say it is. Work with me, okay? Imagine it full of candy and the souls of your enemies.

Fave Craft Books: Oct. 2016

I don’t know about you, but I have a buttload of craft books lying around. It’s a problem. Let me justify my collection by telling you about a random handful of my favorites.

Stitch Alchemy

Stitch Alchemy
Combining Fabric & Paper for Mixed-Media Art
Kelli Perkins

There is a miraculous substance called “paper-cloth,” and you need it in your life. Paper-cloth is exactly what it sounds like: a combination of muslin, glue, and tissue paper make a surface that is the perfect compromise between the durability of fabric and the versatility of paper. You can do damn near anything with it that you would normally do with paper or cloth alone. A material that can make cards AND pillows? Yes, please!

This book was my introduction to mixed-media. To be honest, I almost never make paper-cloth anymore (although I keep meaning to), but Stitch Alchemy is also a great quick reference to a wide variety of mixed-media techniques. The featured art has a grungy, colorful aesthetic that I find inspirational. I was enchanted with its philosophy of pursuing serendipity–I much prefer to experiment randomly all over a substrate and figure out what to do with the outcome later, as opposed to this “planning” bullshit I keep hearing about.

Photo CraftPhoto Craft
Creative Mixed-Media and Digital Approaches to Transforming Your Photographs
Susan Tuttle and Christy Hydeck

What I love about this book is that it refuses to pick sides. It will tell you how to digitally edit a photograph to get a certain effect, then turns around and shows you how to get a similar effect without using a computer. Photo Craft emphasizes techniques that combine mixed-media and photography rather than segregating them. The downside is that the rapid pace at which software evolves made the Photoshop Elements instructions (and the recommended phone apps) a bit obsolete before the book even hit the shelves. Still, it gives you a general idea of what to look for and where. Bonus: Tips for improving photography and prompts to get projects started.

Print & Stamp LabPrint & Stamp Lab
52 Ideas for Handmade, Upcycled Print Tools
Traci Bunkers

I fucking love this book. With the knowledge it contains, you can go into a dollar store, spend five bucks, and walk out with the materials for making dozens of unique patterns. The concept is simple: one can stamp with almost ANYTHING, and if it won’t stamp it will make an excellent stencil.

 

Beading BasicsBeading Basics
Carole Rodgers

These days, I mainly use this book as a refresher course for beadwork techniques that I haven’t done in a while. But when I first started making jewelry it was a good, solid grounding in commonly-used techniques I could build on. I also recommend the sequel, Beyond Beading Basics by the same author.

Unexpected Knitting

 

 

 

Unexpected Knitting
Debbie New

I knit very seldom, and when I do it’s the most simple stuff I can get away with. That doesn’t stop me from appreciating the genius of Debbie New. This is a woman who can knit teacups, and she is constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with yarn and knitting needles. And she’s willing to share all her secrets with us!

I will most likely never use any of the patterns in this book, but I flip through it all the time to remind myself that art doesn’t have to follow rules. It’s pure inspiration. For example, the first section of instructions is titled “Swatchless Knitting,” which made my eyes drop out of my head and roll across the floor when I first read it. There just aren’t many knitting books that encourage you to take risks. Unexpected Knitting is unexpectedly refreshing.

What books do YOU think I need? Please tell me about them in the comments to help convince my husband to allow me in bookstores again.

ArtSnacks: August 2016

August 2016 ArtSnacks

Please excuse the shitty pictures in this post. I’m waiting on the delivery of some decent lights to up my photography game.

ArtSnacks is a monthly mailing service for art supplies. For a fee of $20 per month, ArtSnacks sends four to five full size products, sometimes including exclusive items. (They also put a piece of candy and a horrible art-themed joke in each box.) Visit ArtSnacks.co for more information.
I am not affiliated with ArtSnacks, and I don’t receive any kind of compensation for writing about their stuff. I’m pretty sure they don’t know I exist.

Robert Simmons Acrylic Short Handle Paintbrush
$5.99 retail (all prices as stated by the information card included with the samples)

brushThis synthetic fiber brush is billed as an Exclusive! First! Look! for ArtSnack subscribers. It’s from a new line by Daler-Rowney. ArtSnacks describes the brush as providing “…both the softness and the control that you need in order to get the most out of acrylic painting” and as “…hold[ing] the paint without losing its shape.” Sounds good to me.

I don’t do any set-out-to-depict-something-specific painting, but I do work with acrylic paint to get abstract effects (mostly on random stuff, but occasionally on an actual grown-up painter canvas). I don’t have a lot of fancy brushes, but I was intrigued by the purported precision of this brush. My hands often shake like a shaved chihuahua, so I’m a sucker for anything that offers really good control.

Keeping in mind I’m no expert, I think this is a very nice brush. I like the short handle. It keeps its point well. I’m satisfied with the amount of paint it can carry. It doesn’t shed. I’ve no complaints, except that it doesn’t magically transform me into someone who can draw a straight line. Turns out a fancy brush isn’t much help if you can’t keep your hands steady. Who knew?

Daler-Rowney System 3 Medium Body Acrylic Paint (Process Magenta)
$6.50 retail

I’m devoted to Golden acrylics. (Seriously, I would take a bullet for that brand of paint. You need some.) Therefore, it’s going to be hard to sell me on any other brand. But for your sake, dear reader, I sacrificed my principles and gave this magenta paint a shot. What follows is a comparison between the D-R paint and my golden standard.

See what I did there?paint-tube

Golden heavy-bodied paint in quinacridone magenta (the closest thing I had to the D-R paint) is thicker and more opaque. It also seems to have significantly more pigment. The D-R medium body acrylic doesn’t apply as smoothly, either.  It’s pretty splotchy unless I’m careful about keeping a lot of paint on the brush. Maybe a painting expert would be happy with it, but I find it a bit finicky for my purposes.

On the other hand, Daler-Rowney paint is certainly cheaper. (The Golden magenta I compared it to is $15.99 for a two-ounce tube on Amazon. The sample is $6.50 for 2.5 ounces.) I wouldn’t hesitate to use it to cover a large area in order to save my precious Golden paint for detail work. It’s adequate paint; it just doesn’t compare favorably to my favorite brand.

Copic Classic Marker (Blue Violet – BV08)
$7.99 retail

markerI was pretty damn impressed to find this marker in my box. (In my ARTSNACKS box, you filthy pervert! Lean over here so I can slap you.) Copic markers are no joke. They’re fucking expensive and meant for Serious™ artists. I actually own a couple, but I never use them because my meager sketching skills are unworthy of their fanciness.

I like the color they sent… although it doesn’t seem to be the vivid purple displayed on the cap. To me, it looks more like a navy blue with just enough red in it to make it technically purple.

Anyway, I can tell the marker is awesome, but other than that I’m not really fit to judge. It shades beautifully. You’ll notice on my final project that I was able to make the color darker close to the stars and blend it out to a more transparent effect at the edges. The down side is that the ink bleeds a bit too much to make a really crisp line without effort, as I discovered when I tried to use the fine tip to carefully stencil some letters. (See draft pics below.) Actually, it’s possible that I was doing it wrong, maybe by moving it too slowly while I outlined. This marker is probably just too advanced for me. I take it back! Please accept my repentance, O Holy Copic!

I will seal this offering in a jewel-encrusted reliquary with my other two Copic markers. Then I’ll embark on a sacred journey to the mythical land of Artopia, fight my way past the silent monks—feared for the pain they can inflict with a simple paintbrush—and scale the tallest mountain. After passing the three trials of the manticore who stands guard, I will place the chest on the dazzling altar of Draw-o-met, goddess of intimidating art supplies. May she bless my next ArtSnacks box with something I’m skilled enough to use.

Small 3D Zip by Baggu
$6.50 retail

whole-bag
Blah blah blah…it’s an expanding bag…blah blah blah…kind of transparent…seems well constructed…blah blah blah…no particular use for it, but I’ll think of something… I gots nothing interesting to say about it. Machine washable. Giant loop on one end (for some reason). Meh. I’ll update if it turns out to be super useful or if it falls apart.

The Project

I didn’t have any spectacular ideas, but I owe my great-aunt a letter. I usually decorate the paper when I write letters, so I decided I’d see what I could do to use the supplies to make an interesting pattern. (Except the bag. It makes a lousy paintbrush.) The paint applied really well to a homemade stamp, and I had fun experimenting with the marker. I admit I cheated a bit. As you can see on my experiment page, I couldn’t come up with an attractive way to use the fine-point brush. I finally just used the end of the handle to make dots.

Please click the first picture below to see a project slide show with commentary.

All the goodies from this month's box, including a sticker and...candy? What?

ArtSnacks: July 2016 Unboxing and Review

I received my first ArtSnacks box this month! If you subscribe to any whatever-of-the-month services, you already know how these things work. You give a company money, and every month they send you a box of samples related to your interests. This particular box service curates several full size art products around a central theme. It costs $20 a month, and is a great way to try new stuff without having to do your own damn research. (There is also a great bad pun on the included “menu:” Why was the painting sent to jail? Because it was framed. Heh. Haha. Ahahaha! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!1! I think it broke my brain.) Since I know my opinion matters to everyone, I put together this little review.

Why are those Prussians always so blue, anyway?

QoR Watercolor by GOLDEN (Prussian Blue)
$15.79 retail (Prices are stated on the card that comes with the box. I have not researched to see if they’re accurate.)

I fucking adore GOLDEN acrylic paints. I’m not much of a watercolor-er, but I was interested to see if this paint color was as saturated as the acrylics. I’ve tried other brands for background effects, but never really gotten the color payoff I wanted.

Again, I’m no expert, but this paint seemed pretty damn good to me. I used a LOT of water to get a drip effect, but the color stayed vibrant. I’d love to see what a real watercolor artist could do with this.

brush handlebrush tip

Elite Synthetic Kolinsky Sable Brush by Princeton Brush
$12.50 retail

The selling point of this brush is that it behaves like a traditional sable brush but is actually synthetic. I’ve always used synthetic brushes, so I’m unclear on the difference. (Did I mention I’m totally unqualified to review watercolor stuff?) This brush is fine as far as I can tell, but nothing special. I did find myself wishing it could carry more water, but it’s not a wash brush, so I can forgive that. It is nice to now have a dedicated watercolor brush like all the cool kids.

 

 

 

brush cleaneropen brush cleanerThe Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver by General Pencil
$2.59 retail

I use solid brush cleaners to maintain my makeup brushes, and I was gratified to discover there’s a similar product for art brushes. It cleaned off the watercolor brush just fine even after I left the paint to dry on it for a couple of days WHICH I SWEAR I DID ON PURPOSE TO THOROUGHLY TEST THIS PRODUCT AND NOT BECAUSE I FORGOT TO CLEAN IT EARLIER I NEVER PROCRASTINATE STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT.

Damn if this cake of soap isn’t tiny, though. I don’t think it’d be convenient to use on a brush any larger than the one they sent me. Also, I haven’t tried it on anything other than watercolor paint, which isn’t exactly tough to remove. I’ll post an update when I get a chance to use it on an acrylic paint-caked brush.

UPDATE: I let acrylic paint dry completely on a fine-tipped paintbrush, and the cleanser took it right off! More updates when I try it on a big-ass brush (provided I remember).

penpen tipHybrid Technica Roller Ball Pen by Pentel Arts
$2.99 retail

According to the card, this pen “boasts a tungsten carbide…roller tip that keeps your line consistent.” It’s also advertised as lightfast and water-resistant. Sounds great, right?

Well, lightfast it may be, but water-resistant it ain’t, much. While the words will still be legible after swiping over the dry ink with water, there will be a lot of smearing. It’s kind of weird this was included to be used with all the watercolor stuff. Plus, the line isn’t as consistent as all that. It’s really easy to get a blank trail down the center of the line if you’re not really careful about how much pressure you apply. This pen is really pleasant to use as an everyday writing pen, but I’d say it’s only adequate for serious drawing.

Yupo paperYup Watercolor Paper by Legion Paper (bonus item)
no price provided

This miniature pad is really intriguing. Unlike traditional watercolor paper, this stuff is nonporous. As you’ll see below, I was able to get some really cool drip and swirl effects with it.

The downside: The instructions warn you to be careful not to smudge the paint as it’s drying and that it’s possible to wipe the paper clean afterwards. What it does not say is, “Don’t handle your work at all, because the slightest touch will smear the shit out of it even after the paint is dried.” It should. I recommend making copious use of a fixative when you’re done.

smartiesSmarties
WTF

Apparently this month’s ArtSnacks were curated by my great-aunt, who coincidentally also gave me Smarties the day I got the box. I’m always happy to receive candy, but I hope next time they send chocolate.

 

The Project

I challenged myself to use all the products (except the soap and the Smarties) in a single project. Please click the first picture below to see a slideshow with captions.

 

Reaper Learn to Paint Kit: Review

So this was going to be a piece bragging about how awesome the Dungeon & Dragons miniatures I painted are, but it turns out what looked flawless at a glance is fucking garbage when I took some closeups with flash. (Click to enlarge the image)

all the fuckups

Eventually I’ll fix all that, but in the meantime I can at least give you a review of the Bones Learn to Paint Kit by Reaper Miniatures. I chose this brand of paint because it’s by the same company that made some minis I bought at my favorite game store in Corvallis. I’m a complete beginner, so that was frankly the only brand I had any experience with.

I’ve been tempted to take up mini painting in the past, but I resisted on the grounds that I couldn’t really justify the expense and time learning would take when it was purely for fun. Luckily(?), Tim’s birthday rolled around right after I had agreed to take over dungeon master duties for our little group (Me, Tim, and Dave). He had created a couple of cool characters to play—-a tiefling paladin and a drow ranger, if you’re interested—-and it occurred to me that custom minis would be a perfect gift. (The fact that I was dying to try mini painting had nothing to do with it. Honest. No, seriously. Why are you looking at me like that?) Anyway, here’s my thoughts on this product.

bones kit frontbones kit open

THE GOOD

The Reaper Kit really does have everything I needed to learn how to paint minis. I was impressed that it came with three projects of escalating difficulty rather than assuming I’d be an expert after only doing it once. (I actually only did the most advanced mini, partly because I’m impatient and partly because I am already familiar with the required techniques thanks to my experience with mixed media painting.) The instructions were detailed without being too technical.

I’m a major fan of the eyedropper bottle style of paint storage Reaper uses. It makes matching custom colors much easier, as in “mix two drops of Viper Green with one drop Pale Saffron and three drops water.” That came in handy when I wanted to, say, make an orange cloak match a belt when I was painting them on different days. I just wrote down the formula and hey, presto! Not even my shitty memory could screw with my colors. It also minimizes wasted paint by making it unnecessary to mix up more of a color than you need “just in case.”

There are two types of paint in the kit: the regular Master Series Paint Core Colors and MSP HD, which has a higher pigment density. That makes the HD ideal for base coats, as it only requires one coat to  get good coverage. You then use the regular paint for washes and highlighting. Personally, I don’t mind applying several coats for a base, but I can see how the HD would be a boon for people who paint minis enough to need to save time and paint.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the case the paint came in was not as flimsy as I had anticipated. It’s made from a good, thick plastic, and the latches close securely. It includes two sizes of brush, which is nice for people who don’t already have a wide variety lying around. They were good enough quality that I only felt the need to use one additional brush (a tiny one for detail work). If the small brush had been a bit smaller, I wouldn’t even have needed that. They’re not fancy or anything, but they’re perfectly adequate for the intended purpose.

THE BAD

The kit doesn’t include red. Now, I realize that red is not used in any of the included projects, but  come on! It’s a “Learn to Paint” kit, which means that whoever is using it doesn’t already have a complete set of paint handy. Would it have killed Reaper to include one little bottle? Yes, the list of included colors is clearly stated on their site, but I don’t blame myself for not reading it closely, because I assumed it was a given that a STARTER KIT would include all the motherfucking primary colors. The set also doesn’t come with primer, but I can understand that. After all, the whole point of the Bones line of minis is that they don’t need to be primed. (More on that under “the ugly” section.)

While I appreciate having two different formulations of paint, I think Reaper could easily break their collection into three types. The opaque HD, the core MSP colors, and one billed as only suitable for use as a wash. One of the colors in particular, Shadowed Stone, is WAY too fluid and watery to have any other use. I found that out when I tried to use it the same way as the other core paints on one of my own projects. I easily mixed what I wanted from the other colors, but it would have saved me some frustration if it had been properly labeled as different from the multi-purpose core colors.

Speaking of washes, the enclosed booklet instructed me to use several drops of water to dilute the (acrylic-based) paint for that purpose. It works fine, but nowhere does it mention the potential problem with that technique. As those of you who use acrylic paint extensively already know, diluting acrylics too much with water compromises the pigment binding and can limit the longevity of your hard work. Acrylic paints ideally should be diluted with a fluid acrylic medium, especially if they need to be thinned a lot. It would be nice if there was a paragraph in the booklet somewhere that lists alternatives for making washes. I admit this is a small, nitpicky, only-an-artist-would-care criticism, though. (For the sake of this review, I followed the instructions to use water, but I grumbled the whole time out of principle. That’ll show ’em!)

THE UGLY

I’m going to quote directly from the booklet, here. “Reaper brand paints adhere well to Bones plastic, and no primer is needed. Once dry, applied paint is also fairly durable, and does not require sealing. Other brands of acrylic-based miniature, craft and artist paints apply well to the material but may not be as durable. Paint applies best to figures which have been washed with soap and water, but Bones miniatures can be painted straight from the package.”

Lies! Damnable lies!

One of the selling points of the Bones plastic miniature line for me was that it wouldn’t be as fussy to paint as metal minis. So imagine my shock when I discovered the day after painting it that the Bones mini I had chosen for my uncle had paint flaking off in large patches. We hadn’t handled it at all (I stuck the mini to a clothespin with putty so I could paint it without having to touch it), the paint just straight up didn’t stick to the plastic. So far, I’ve had to touch it up twice. I’m still pissed about it.

As it happened, I had ordered a bottle of Reaper’s brush-on primer to use on the metal minis I bought. It worked to keep the paint attached to the metal, but I had a hell of a time using it. No matter how much I shook the bottle, mixed it with a straightened paperclip and pled with it, there were still giant granules all over the minis when I has done. I had to go back and scratch them off so they wouldn’t show on the finished product. It’s possible I was doing it wrong. Maybe I was supposed to dump the primer out of the eyedropper bottle, mix it thoroughly, and somehow stuff it back inside. Next time I think I’ll just try using gesso and save myself the headache.

THE VERDICT

Despite the rage over the priming issue and lack of red, I still had a good experience with the kit overall. I can’t deny the convenience of the Reaper painting system. The plastic Bones miniatures are a great idea even though they promise more than they deliver. I fully intend to use this set of paints—and the techniques I learned from the instructional booklet—in the future, as well as purchase more Bones minis. (As a side note, the metal minis I got from Reaper are awesome and more detailed than the plastic Bones, although not as durable.) I’m going to go ahead and recommend the Learn to Paint kit to any of you who are raw beginners in mini painting with the caveat that you be aware of the system’s limitations.

Just stop being stingy with the fucking red paint, Reaper.