Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ahh...Pen Satisfaction

I received my JetPens order yesterday and I was anxious to try out my new Platinum Carbon Desk Pen to see if I have a smooth-writing, fine-line, black-ink drawing tool, and I sure do!  I am very happy so far with this pen, it is a pleasure to hold in my hand and a pleasure to draw with.  It is very light-weight, the smooth rounded neck is comfortable to hold, and the balance is nice.  I certainly don't fight making lines with this pen, even on watercolor paper.  I guess if this had been my first fountain pen to try, I might not be singing it's praises so much, but since my difficulties with getting the Lamy Safari EF pen to write smoothly, this pen gives me a sigh of, well, satisfaction.

The pen is advertised as a desk pen, presumably because of the extra-long body, but I don't see why I will need to limit its use to a desk.  It is just shy of the length of my Niji waterbrush, and fits nicely into the pouch of my traveling sketch kit (I use an Eagle Creek Pack-It-Sac X-Small).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My First Foray Into Coptic Binding

Like many who keep an artist's journal I find myself in search of the "perfect" journal.  Currently I am working in a 5x7" Pentalic Nature Sketch, which is fine in that it has lots of sheets in a book and the 130 lb. paper holds up okay enough to a watercolor wash.  However, I am finding I am not caring for the spiral binding as it gets in the way when I am working on the left-hand page.   Another disadvantage of spiral binding is that it's difficult to work across a 2-page spread.   A solution filtered into my consciousness when I was reading a Sketchbook Challenge blog profile of Kim Rae Nugent who said she prefers to bind her own journals using a coptic stitch.  She said, "I prefer the coptic stitch for it's beauty and the sketchbooks ability to lie open flat."  That sounded I began my research into bookbinding and coptic stitch on the internet where there a wealth of information on this topic to learn from.

I found several written descriptions of binding using coptic stitch, the clearest one for me on torta gialla's blog.  She had great photos for making book covers that I essentially followed for my first journal.  But to really understand how to do the coptic stitch, I learned more easily and quickly watching YouTube videos.  The best video I found was posted by DaphLife.  Once you get past the cutsie introduction, she launches into a very clear demonstration of binding a book with the coptic stitch, from start to finish.  There's even catchy music to accompany the demonstration, and I found myself humming this tune as I sewed my own journal together.

So I started planning and gathering materials to make my first journal.  First the paper--something inexpensive just in case I flubbed this up.  Certainly not the Arches 140 lb cold press I have stashed in my closet.  Besides, Arches paper is not recommended by Roz Stendahl because it tends to crack when folded.  No, my choice for this project was Strathmore 400 140 lb cold press.  I actually quite like this paper, and I was able to get a 5-sheet pack at my local Michaels at a discount using a 40% off coupon.  Kate Johnson has said that this is one of the papers she uses in her home-bound journals.

Next I needed to decide on size and format.  Roz Stendahl wrote up an article for Strathmore on using their Aquarius II paper for bookbinding, and in this article she provides great information that helps with size and format decisions.  All paper has grain, and it is very important to know the direction of the grain of your paper because all folds in a book need to be along the direction of the grain.  She also provides a couple of "tear diagrams" for tearing up and folding a standard full sheet of watercolor paper where the grain direction is along the longest (30") side.  For my journal I decided the 5 1/2 x 7 1/2" portrait format would be a perfect size and format for me.  Opened up, I could work in a 7 1/2 x 11" 2-page spread if I so desire.  Fortunately, after testing a sheet of my Strathmore 400 paper, the grain direction was along the 30" side like the Aquarius II paper (some papers, like Fabriano, may have the grain direction along the 22" side, so you have to test your paper by starting to fold in each direction and noting the resistance).   I measured, marked, cut, and folded my paper to size.  I cut up two full sheets of paper, yielding 8 "folios" (a folio is one folded piece of paper cut to size) per sheet.  Given the thickness of 140 lb watercolor paper, I saw recommendations of using only 2 or 3 folios per signature.  For my first journal I thought I'd try 2 folios per signature, and 7 signatures in the book.  In the end, this gives me a 28-page book (4 pages/signature x 7 signatures).

What about a pretty cover?  Well that is where an artist's creativity can really shine.  You can use anything from painted aluminum foil, paste paper, fabric, decorative paper, collage, leather, to anything you can imagine.  Myself, I absolutely love batik fabric, so I went to my local Hancock Fabrics (with 40% off coupon in hand!) and purchased 1/4yd of a batik cotton fabric that caught my eye.  I cut the fabric to size as demonstrated by torta gialla and glued that to a stiff non-corrogated cardboard cut to the size of my folded paper.  Since I am frugal, I did not buy the recommended book-boards but cut out my stiff cardboard paper from a Quaker Oats cereal box.  For the inside cover paper I used decorative cardstock paper purchased at Michael's.  I used regular white glue to glue both the fabric and the inside cover paper to the cardboard.

The next step is punching holes, and this requires a punch guide.  For this I took a piece of cardstock paper, cut to match the height of my journal paper, and marked both where the cover punch holes should be, and where I would use an awl to punch the sewing holes in the watercolor paper.  A phone book makes a great cradle for punching the sewing holes with that awl.  I used an 1/8" hole punch for my covers.

So once the watercolor paper is cut and folded, and the covers are created, all the holes are punched, it's time to sew together the journal using the coptic stitch.  I used brown embroidery floss, passed through the beeswax a couple of times.  A curved needle does help in the sewing process, but a straight needle can be used too.  Again, that video from DaphLife was essential to helping me do the actual sewing.  I'd follow along, pausing the video when I needed to execute a particular sewing step.

Here is a pictures of all the tools I used in the creation of the journal, and some photos of my journal!

I am excited to finish using my Pentalic sketchbook and start using this journal!  I am so pleased with how this journal turned out, and how easy it is to actually construct, that I am going to make a smaller journal for my travel sketch kit.  For this, I decided I will try the Strathmore Aquarius II paper that Roz Stendahl is so fond of.  I've never even touched this paper, let alone painted on it, but it sounds great.  This paper is thinner (80 lbs in weight), which would really be an asset for making a smaller travel journal, but formulated to withstand watercolor washes with little or no buckling.  I ordered a 10-sheet pack from Cheap Joes and I am looking forward to receiving it and trying it out.  I've already made a punch guide and tear diagram for this next book, which will be 3 1/2 x 5" in size (5x7" opened 2-page spread).  I have some leather scraps and I think I will try making the covers with it!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Major Blog Catch-up

I've been keeping up with the 75-Day Sketch Challenge and on Day 46 now!  I try to sketch from life, like this barrel cactus trio in our backyard, but sometimes I find it handier (and warmer) to sketch from my large reserve of photos (since I spent many years intensely interested in nature photography!).

I'm not usually a fan of drawing buildings, but I did our newly-constructed LA Fitness gym as a handy subject while I waited for my husband to do an extended workout:

On weekends I often join my husband and his friend rock climbing, and that is a wonderful opportunity for some plein air sketching:

I've really been on a fountain pen kick lately (more on that later), and one thing I've been exploring is pen & wash techniques with water-soluble ink:

And finally, yesterday's sketch is one from a photo I took at the local Butterfly Magic exhibit in February 2006.  I really enjoyed painting this butterfly and will likely do more from the photos I took that day:

So as I've said, I've been on a fountain pen kick lately.  I really love the ink & watercolor style, and since I draw in ink before adding watercolor washes I need a waterproof ink.  I have typically used the Pigma Micron 01 pens, and the Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens (S being my favorite), but I feel a desire to explore refillable fountain pens.  I am not completely new to the fountain pen realm, having bought a Sheaffer cartridge fountain pen and a Sheaffer No Nonsense pen (with 3 italic nibs) back in the 1980's.  I dug those old pens out, re-constituted the dried out ink in the cartridges, and played with those for a while.  I looked to see what other artists use, and I admit, I was primarily influenced by the wonderfully-talented Nina Johansson when I ordered a Lamy Safari EF from Goulet Pens and a big 4.5-oz bottle of Lexington Gray ink (that included a free Platinum Preppy eyedropper pen!).  But I have to admit, that pen did not work for me.  I first loaded the converter up with the Lexington Gray and I found the lines in both writing and drawing, on both regular and watercolor paper, to be too anemic and broken up.  The ink flow was just not there, and the gray went on too lightly for my taste.  So I flushed the Lexington Gray out of the Safari Converter and I refilled with some of the sample of Noodler's Bulletproof Black.  At first I thought this might be a happy match, because even though the pen was "dry", that seemed to be a good thing, because that ink may not bond to the paper (and thus be waterproof) if it's put on too thickly.  However, with further drawing experience with the Lamy Safari and the Noodler's Black ink, I found I was just fighting the pen too much.  I'd have to re-trace over lines I had just drawn because they were either too light or in most cases broken or with no ink flow at all.  It became frustrating--drawing is hard enough when you don't have to fight your tools!  I wanted to like this pen, but it's just not working for me and I'm sending it back to Goulet.

Edited on 1/30/12 to add that Goulet Pens received my return of the Lamy Safari EF pen wrote me an email to inform me that they have refunded me the full amount, and that actually the nib was defective, so it was no surprise that I did not like the pen.  This is good to know!  They did assure me that the Lamy Safari is a great pen and I ought to give it another try sometime.

It didn't help that I really liked how the free Platinum Preppy was working for me!  I filled that pen up with Lexington Gray ink and though a bit more scratchy than the Lamy, it writes a smooth line, never breaks up, so easily!  I don't have to fight this pen!  So it's hard to justify keeping the Lamy when the Preppy suits me just fine.

But I am not done...I recently made an order from JetPens for a Platinum Carbon Pen---Platinum Carbon ink is purported to be very black and very waterproof, and I want to give it a try.  Many caution that this ink can clog regular fountain pens if not maintained properly and used regularly, so I thought I'd try the pen that is designed to use this ink.  We'll see, the order is on it's way!  I also ordered two more Platinum Preppys and a Platinum converter because I want to be able to keep a Preppy in my purse (and not eyedropper'd -- too risky!).  

Well, gotta go play tennis, but I have more to catch-up on in a following post, including my experiences with Coptic Binding and further progress on my Retrospective Trip Journal...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Already on Day 30 of my 75-Day Sketch Challenge

I can hardly believe it but I'm already on Day 30 of my 75-Day Sketch Challenge!  I've been really enjoying it and already feeling more comfortable with the process.  Today I was wondering how charging my rubber stamp with watercolors would turn out, so I brushed on some carbazole violet on the stamp and stamped it into my sketchbook (I see I could use improvement in that process!).  So of course after that I had to set up a little still life of the stamp and brush to use as today's subject for the Sketch Challenge:

I find I like putting little color swatches in the bottom of my page so I can later know what colors were used in the creation of the sketch.

I have also been making progress on my Retrospective Trip Journal, slowing going through chronologically illustrating and writing about memories of trips Mark and I have taken since we've been together.  I am working in a 6x9" Strathmore Windpower Watercolor pad, and I've decided to customize the cover a little bit:
I cut a piece of nice 28lb paper and adhered it to the cover with spray adhesive, and wrote a little title in the corner of the cover, inspired by the children's book "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh".

Here are a couple more pages I have completed since my last post:

I of course need to work on drawing people!  I get so intimidated because I know I don't do that well!  I did use guidelines to draw the Mayan pyramid, using a ruler to sight against my photo on the computer screen.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Project -- A Retrospective Trip Journal

When I recently became inspired to learn to draw better and create travel journals like the wonderful ones I've seen by other artists, I wistfully thought, "Gee, it's too bad I didn't keep a watercolor travel journal on all my past trips."  Then I thought, "Well, why not do it now?"  Why don't I use this wintertime of "hibernation" to look back onto all my past trips that Mark and I have taken together, and create a Retrospective Trip Journal.  It'd be a great way to get some sketching practice in (albeit from photos rather than life), I'd get to relive some great memories, and maybe have a nice trip journal to look through to relive those trips again and again.

So I made a list of all the trips Mark and I have taken since we've been together (since 1983!).  The list is long!  Too long to draw everything, actually, so I will keep it to the highlights for this journal.  Our first trip together was the summer of 1984 when we drove Mark's Chevy Monza (he had just rebuilt the engine) from Flagstaff, Arizona (where we were attending Northern Arizona University together), up through Colorado, to Yellowstone National Park.  Here what I completed a couple days ago of my retrospective journal of that trip:

After graduating from college in 1985 and getting real jobs, it was not until 1988 that we were able to afford the trip of our dreams, a trip to Jamaica!

So far it's been great fun to create these little journal pages as I reminisce on long-ago trips.  I plan to keep it up!