Thursday, April 30, 2015

7 Inexpensive Watercolor Brushes to Start Your Collection

If you're a beginner artist, or an artist who goes through brushes like crazy, finding quality brushes that are also inexpensive is an important but daunting challenge.  While taste vary, I'm going to share the brushes that I regularly use when painting, in hopes that that will help some of you make informed choices when stocking your watercolor supplies.

My father, like myself, got the occasional craving for fast food.  At that time, he'd ask the family two questions.  The first was "do yall feel like hot fast and cheap?" and the second was "if you'll fly, I'll buy".  None of us ever mistook fast food for the real thing, but in today's post, you'll definitely feel like these inexpensive store brand brushes are the real deal.

With care and conditioning, these less expensive counterparts will not only last you a long time, but will perform impressively without breaking your budget. 

Before we delve into quality store brand brushes, I'm going to go over some important basics to keep in mind:

Most watercolor artists don't need a cup full of brushes.  You really need just a few basic workhorses to start with, and add to your stable as the need arises.  If you're just starting out, you'll want:

  • A mop brush for washes and stretching paper
  • A couple flat brushes- a 1/4" and a 1" should get you started
  • Several Rounds- I recommend 2, 4, 6 to start off with

If you do highly detailed work like comic pages or tiny faces, I also recommend a 0 and a 1 in round.

When painting, you should go from big to small- blocking in large areas first, leaving details last.

For a basis of comparison, I'm going to be pricing all brushes at a size 4 round.  Various sizes may have different price breakdowns that differ from brand to brand, so if you're interested in a brand, do your research before committing to purchasing several brushes.  Synthetic brushes are often much more affordable than their natural hair counterparts at larger sizes, so my collection is a mix of all natural hair brushes for really small sizes (0-2 in rounds) synthetic/natural hair mixes and natural hair for slightly larger rounds (3-6), and synthetics for my mops, flats, and larger rounds (8-12), as those are mostly just for applying washes and blocking in colors.

High quality brushes that often come with high pricetags tend to be made from natural fur fibers such as Kolinsky and fox.  When looking for decent performance in an inexpensive brush, you should consider exploring synthetic or synthetic blend options. Many of the brushes below are synthetics, but they perform very similarly to natural bristles, although they don't hold as much water, and do have a tendency to drip. Synthetics also tend to be 'snappier' than natural hair brushes, which you may or may not prefer.

While there are excellent store brand brushes available from stores like Utrecht (Vermeer), Blick (they partner with various brands), and Jerry's ArtARama (Creative Mark Rhapsody), which are much cheaper than their name brand counterparts, I'm going to turn my focus to even cheaper options that are a great starting point for any beginner.  All of the brushes below are brushes I myself own and use in conjuction with my more expensive brushes, so I can vouch for their quality.

Some of my recommendations include:

  • Utrecht Series 238 Sable Blend Brush for Watercolor Painting, Size 4 Round: $5.72
  • Princeton Neptune Synthetic Squirrel, Size 4 Round: $4.62
  • Winsor & Newton Sceptre Gold Round, Size 4 Round $6.13
  • Ebony Splendor Short Handled Brush, Size 4 Round $2.63
  • Creative Mark Squirrel LE Limited Edition Brushes (four isn't available) Size 3 Round $3.49
  • Mimik High Performance Synthetic Squirrel Hair Watercolor Brush Size 4 Round $4.49
  • Beste Finest Golden Taklon Hair Brush Size 4 Round $3.99
When buying inexpensive brushes, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • You want a brush that's soft and fairly full- a teardrop shape is my favorite for rounds
  • If the brush looks bushy, and you aren't sure if it's beyond salvaging, draw it between your lips, wetting it slightly, and see if it draws a point.
  • I try to only buy brushes that are in good shape (with the manufacturer's conditioner still in the bristles) that have their plastic cap still on, but only if there are also examples of brushes that have lost their caps and have been noodled around with available so I can see how the brush holds up to abuse.
  • The metal ferrule should be tight on the body of the brush, and it shouldn't shed any hairs. 
  • There should be no cracks in the paint on the brush when you're purchasing it.
  • There should be no stray hairs sticking out at wild angles.

Even inexpensive synthetics need a little TLC, so these basic tips will help you get the most out of any of your watercolor brushes.

Brush Care Basics:

  • Never submerge your brush in water past the metal ferrule. 
  • Don't let paints, even watercolors, dry on your brush.
  • Don't leave your brushes submerged in your waterpots while you're painting.
  • When you're done painting, rinse out your brushes thoroughly.
  • Every so often, clean your brushes with a mild shampoo or brush cleaner, and condition with hair conditioner.  This can go a long way to restoring damaged brushes.
  • Don't leave your brushes out in the open after they've finished drying.  Not only will moths eat your brushes, but if you have cats, they may decide brushes are tasty to nibble on.
  • Allow your brushes to air dry before putting them away.




Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Free Comic Book Day!

This weekend is Free Comic Book Day! This Saturday, you can go to select comic stores to pick up free comic samplers and purchase comics from local comic artists. If you need help finding a location near you, the official site has a handy store locator. If you're a Nashvillian, I'll be at Rick's Comic City. I'm going to update this post with lots of tantalizing photos once I've finished my two newest mini books, but for those who need to know right now, I'll have select mini watercolors, copies of 7" Kara, stickers, select mini prints, hopefully my two new mini books, and I'll be offering sketch commissions

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Brush Pen Review: Tombow Dual Brush

For many art students, the Tombow Dual Brush Pen is ubiquitous with inking assignments.  I was first introduced to this pen my sophomore year of College, in an Introduction to Design class at UNO.  I remember the tip being rubbery and juicy, ready to lay down fat lines with the slightest pressure, and I was eager to find out if my memories held up.

This post isn't the first time I've explored Tombow Dual Brushes!  Way back in November of 2013, Artsnacks sent one in my subscription box, I've briefly touched on them in a brushpen round up from 2011, and I know I have a set of the colored Dual Brushes (intended for illustration) hidden away somewhere waiting to be reviewed.  I guess I'll have to get on that now.

The Pen

These pens are pretty commonly available anywhere from specialized art supply stores to more general craft and hobby stores, and I would assume many comic artists are as familiar with these pens as they are with the popular Faber Castel Pitt Pens. 

The Tombow Dual Brush has two tips, but unlike what I remembered, the large brush nib is not particularly springy or juicy, and tends to get mush quickly.  The other nib is my old nemesis, the bullet nib, and not a particularly forgiving one at that.

Both caps on the Tombow Dual Brush are able to post, so there's no reason to lose your cap.

Brush Pen Comparison

The nib on a Tombow Dual Brush is pretty large compared to many other brushpens, so you'd think it'd be capable of laying down really thick bouncy lines. 

The Field Test

The Tombow Dual Brush pen isn't really capable of delicate linework, as the bullet nib has zero give, so if you want variation in your lineweight, you either have to use the somewhat mushy brush end, or double up on your linework.  Despite the large tip, the lineweights available in the Tombow Dual Brush are not particularly dynamic.

The Verdict

If you're limited to only being able to purchase your supplies in person, the Tombow Dual Brush isn't a bad choice if you're looking for inking supplies.  It's not waterproof, so even sweaty hands will cause smearing, as I learned in that Introduction to Design class I mentioned at the top of the post.  If you do have access to supplies online, I'd recommend skipping the Tombow Dual Brush for better brush pens like the Sailor Mitsuo Aida.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pen Review: Marvy Le Pen

My search for colorful, sketchbook-approved pens led me to Pla-Za, one of Nashville's two art supply stores (the other being a Jerry's Artarama in Antioch, a 30 minute drive).  I'm not really a fan of Pla-Za, as they're a chain that charges independent art supply store prices, and their selection is fairly limited.  In addition, their staff has a tendency to pester a browser with constant inquiries as to whether one needs help, and considering art supply stores are a near religious experience for me, I'd rather be left to wander unharassed.  So I don't usually go to Pla-Za, but since I was downtown getting my Tennessee driver's registration, I decided to pop by and take advantage of a paper sale they were having.  And of course, whenever I enter an art supply store, I can't just go straight to the relevant section- I ALWAYS make detours to the sketching supplies.

This time my detour brought me by Pla-Za's pen selection, which primarily consists of technical pens (Sakura, Copic Multiliner), some brush pens (Pitt, mainly), acrylic (like Montana), and some markers.  These colorful Marvy Le Pens caught my eye, as they were in sunset colors, and I thought they'd be a fun addition to my sketchbook arsenal.

Marvy Le Pens are fairly cheap, I think each pen cost under $2, and the construction reflects that.  Le Pens have a plastic nib, and feel light in the hand, especially when compared to more substantial pens.  The Marvy website doesn't specifically recommend these pens for drawing or sketching, so I can't penalize them for not holding up against technical pens like Sakura Microns or Copic Multiliners.  These pens are perfectly fine for writing and doodling, and have decent ink flow.

As you can see, the nib is pretty tiny.  When inking over non photo blue lead, the ink picks up a bit of the lead, but not enough to cause staining.  You can still see the lead beneath the inks, but it's not unattractive.  Inking over graphite might permanently damage the nib, however.

I gotta be honest, I don't get how people can do dynamic lineart with technical and finepoint pens- it's so labor intensive and there are often better options available.  When it comes to colored lineart, the Marvy LePen selection is pretty extensive with 18 colors to choose from including a pink so hot it doesn't photograph properly (it looks downright neon in these photos!)  I don't know how well Le Pens scan or reproduce, however, so what you see in these photos may not represent what they're capable of.

Marvy Le Pens play decently well with Signo white gel pens, and aren't a bad pick if you're looking to add a little pop of color to your work.

Fude Pen Test

If you immediately try to color with the Le Pens, they'll smear the fude, but if you wait a couple days, they're fude-safe, making them a good choice to add small pops of color to your sketches.
The Verdict
If you already like inking with technical pens, Marvy LePens are a fun addition to your inking arsenal.  If you're like me, and vastly prefer the flexibility of fude pens, Marvy Le Pens make great writing tools, fine doodling tools, but aren't really a viable option for sketching.  They come in a wide range of fun, bright colors, and are a fantastic way to liven up your planners and notebooks.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Fude Pen Review: Uni Brush Pen Set - Gray Fine & Broad Tip

It's always so disappointing when Blogger/Blogspot eats written progress on a post.  Hopefully though the rewrite will be a bit more inspired than the original post.

I've flirted with the Uni Brush Pen set for awhile.  In the cart, out the cart, I always had trouble committing.  It wasn't the price that tripped me up, at $8.25 for three pens on Jetpens, it may not be cheap but it's certainly not prohibitively expensive.   The truth is, there's always new pens on Jetpens that I'd love to try, but if I'm not doing review rounds, I tend to stick to what I know.

The Packaging

One of the things that caught my eye regarding the Uni Brush Pen set is it's unique packaging.  The three pens are housed in a plastic sleeve that keeps them organized

The set arrived in a simple clear plastic sleeve intended for sale display, and that was quickly discarded as it's not needed to keep the pens together.

The pens slide into the case capped end first, with only the back ends visible.  The back ends have little knobs that slide into the holes on the case, ensuring a snug fit so your pens don't go sliding about.

The pens also have rubber bands that denote their size- black means the larger brush tip, grey means the fine fude-esque tip.

 The Pens

The pens themselves feel narrow, even in my childsize hands, and are a little uncomfortable for those of us used to hefty fudes.  The caps are clear and small, perfect for rolling off your desk and getting lost forever.

The nibs aren't particularly remarkable- the small performs like any decent fude pen, the two larges are slightly less flexible than say, the Sailor Mitsuo Aida, but aren't as stiff as a Tombow.

The Field Test

Although the pens take a little getting used to, they lay down fun, responsive inks.

And the gray ink can be applied almost immediately without causing smearing.  I'm not sure how these work with the Fudegokochi, as the Uni Brush Pen Set comes with a very serviceable small tip.

The Verdict

Uni's Brush Pen Set is a great all in one solution for those of us who like multiple pen solutions, but don't necessarily have a lot of space.  The unusual design of this set makes it perfect if you already have an everyday carry case, but not so perfect if you're the sort who likes to clip your pens to your sketchbook rather than lug around a case.  The design takes some getting used to, but yield satisfying results once you're accustomed to their unusual size.

If you don't already have a collection of fude pens, or are looking to get started in inking with fude pens, the Uni Brush Pen Set might be a great start, as it has almost everything you need- a brush for fine details, a brush for large fills, and a grey brush for toning.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Magical Girl March

I'd already mentioned Magical Girl March in my February March Sketchdump, but I thought it merited a post of its own.  Magical Girl March was the first challenge I presented to the Western Shoujo Comic Artists Facebook group, and I encouraged members to post along.  It's based on Ruby's Magical Girl Challenge (I'm afraid I don't have the original source), and the rules are simple: 31 Drawings, 31 Days.  I wasn't hot on all the prompts, but I tried to follow them pretty faithfully.
Magical Girl March, Magical Girls
I'm currently working on cleaning up and organizing these magical cuties so I can offer them as a ashcan at TCAF.  For now though, I can share the original scans here with you guys!
Day 1- Generic

Day 2- Environmental

Day 3- Food

Day 4- Space

Day 5- Sports

Day 6: Mecha

Day 7: Colorful/Rainbow

Day 8: Martial Arts

Day 9: Sailor Senshi

Day 10: Godtier

Day 11: Warrior

Day 12: Musical

Day 13: Evil

Day 14: Child

Day 15: Princess

Day 16: Aquatic

Day 17: Gunslinger/Western

Day 18: Mythological

Day 19: Animal

Day 20: Patriotic

Day 21: Ancient/Tribal

Day 22: Monster

Day 23: Fairytale

Day 24: Singing Idol

Day 25: Pirate

Day 26: Bug

Day 27: Old School

Day 28: Pajama

Day 29: Working

Day 30: Magical Boy

Day 31: Freebie