Sunday, November 29, 2015

Watercolor Marker Review: Distress Markers

I often feel like manufacturers who specialize in 'craft' products are intentionally pulling the wool over their customers' eyes.  Often the products you're paying for are uni-taskers: diecutters and embossers are really just stripped down printing presses, and many of the techniques stampers and cardmakers use are watered down printing techniques that are treated like innovations when they're really just overpriced simplifications.  Still, there are many products marketed towards crafters that artists may find useful-  many convention artists use the Silhouette for sticker and vinyl cutting, stamping markers make affordable watercolor markers, masking and stencil making techniques can be modified to suit the needs of the artist.  There's a lot of potential for cross over in the art and craft supply markets, and often the distinction is an arbitrary one that is insulting to both parties.  For artists, what we do is deemed over complicated, not worth the effort, not worth the money.  For crafters, everything is presented as foolproof and low risk, but real techniques aren't taught because these people aren't 'artists', and it's assumed they aren't willing to take the time to learn.

I'm not a fan of either of these camps.  I think art and illustration should be approachable, and I don't like supplies that make low ceiling'd assumptions about my interest level or abilities.  With the advent of the internet, and the accessibility of information, you can learn how to do almost anything, if you're willing to sink the time, research, and practice into it.  Many art supply stores offer classes at a variety of skill levels, and draftsmanship can be improved through practice and research.  Many crafters sink a significant amount of money into their collection, and they deserve products that perform as advertised, and they deserve to know (if they're willing to look into it) which products will serve multiple purposes in their studios.

Ranger's Tim Holtz Distress Markers are very clearly marketed towards crafters, scrapbookers, card makers, but are not marketed to illustrators or artists.  I have never seen these markers sold in a dedicated art supply store like Dick Blick, Jerry's Artarama, or Pla-Za, and I first found out about them by sifting through endless craft supply review videos doing research for this blog.  I am not the target audience, I will probably hold these markers to harsher standards than they were designed to meet, and I think that's a good thing.  If a craft product can't stand up to my standards, they may fail to meet yours, and for many of these marker reviews, the only real differences between what I'm looking for and what a crafter may be looking for are the following:

  • I often want colors to perform in very specific ways, and I will not forgive them for that failure.  Good enough is NOT good enough if you're paying more than a dollar per marker.
  • I expect a reasonable range of skin and hair tones because I primarily render figures
  • I am often using artist grade papers and inks, so I expect no negative interactions with craft grade products
  • I am working with original illustrations, not stamps or print outs, so I am going to be more disappointed at the time wasted if an illustration is ruined because a product fails to perform as promised
  • I have a body of reference to compare to- artist and student grade art materials, years of posts and pricepoints at my fingertips, so it's harder to sell me a bunk product, but I may be unnecessarily harsh on a decent product that is mismarketed.  When this happens, I usually revisit the product later

I recognize that many of my readers have found this blog as crafters researching a product, and I apologize if any of my crafter readers are offended.  I do not think my blog is the end all be all source (hence why I link other reviews at the bottom of most posts), but rather an alternative to craft supply bloggers who are often sent free product, create opinions based on a limited amount of use or access to product, or are compensated for every post written or recorded.  This blog is fueled by my intense curiosity and passion for art and craft supplies, and paid for out of my own pocket by selling things from my online shop or in person.

I'm a comic artist and an illustrator by trade and education, and this blog does not contribute in a meaningful way to my income.  If you like what I do, and you'd like to help support this blog, there are a variety of ways you can do so.  You can signal boost my work by sharing it to your Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Pinterest, you can send me a little tip via Paypal using the sidebar donation link, you can purchase copies of my ongoing, all ages watercolor comic, 7 " Kara through my shop, you can make your purchases through my Amazon affiliates links, or you can email companies on my behalf.

All that said, as I researched Tim Holtz Distress markers, I became excited about these products.  They're designed to work with and compliment Ranger's other Distress products, including mists and stamp pads, and feature something I hadn't seen before- an opaque white marker with a solid foam brush nib.  I watched A LOT of Youtube videos while waiting for my MarkerPop markers to come in, and I noticed that one of the biggest concerns consumers had was whether or not these were better than the existing Tombow ABT watercolor markers.

Watercolor Marker Review: Distress Markers
  • "water-reactive" waterbased  
  • According to Cha 2012- Time Holtz Demos his New Distress Markers!, these are made for blending.
  • Colors aren't supposed to turn to mud - AKA color pigments should remain pure and distict on the paper, regardless of blending, layering or addition of water
  • Retail for $3.50 each according to video
  • Designed to go with the Distress Ink Pads, which I have no experience with
  • Twin Tipped- brush and detail nib
  • In 2015, Ranger will be releasing a new Distress color for every month, and this includes the Distress markers, so it seems like there are plans to expand the line.

These Ranger Distress markers were both purchased at the Michaels in Champaign, IL and ordered through MarkerPop when I ordered my Zig Clean Color Real Brush markers. This was first time I've ever seen them in person, despite going to two Michaels in NO, and two in Nashville.  Also ordered from MarkerPop, openstock.  About a month later, they've popped up in the scrapbooking section of the Nashville Michaels.

There were 35 original colors, and I should have purchased the bucket set on Amazon before buying a set of 5 at Michaels, or buying individual markers through Markerpop, but I had difficultly finding how many colors were in the bucket, and what colors were available overall, or a chart of what color names actually looked like..  Now there's 49, and you can buy the entire set (and help out this blog) by clicking this affiliate search link.  Distress markers are available openstock through certain sites, in packs of 5, in sets of 12, or all 49.

Colors I purchased:

Picket Fence (opaque white)
Shaded Lilac
Abandoned Coral
Vintage Photo
Evergreen Bough
Frayed Burlap
Victorian Velvet
Walnut Stain
Rusty Hinge
Tea dye
Worn Lipstick
Milled Lavender
Brushed corduroy
Tattered Rose
Weathered Wood

Entire Collection

According to several of the videos linked at the bottom of this post, these markers can be used with a mist of water  cheap watercolor background, which makes me think you can probably can do this with other watercolor markers that have free flowing pigment, like Zig Art and Graphic Twin

In my opinion, as an artist who selects colors for very specific uses, these colors have somewhat silly names (for an artist) that are more poetic that descriptive, so I didn't trust the names to give me an idea of the ink color.  Also, for a designer who supposedly really likes the grungy browns (Tim Holtz), the Distress line is pretty threadbare when it comes to use-able skin and hair colors (i.e. BROWNS).  I realize these markers weren't designed to be used for illustration, but a lot of stamps do feature people, so it's important to have a good selection of realistic colors, especially good skintones, hairtones, blushes.  As late as it is in 2015, Holtz, Distress, and Ranger do have time to introduce these colors as part of their 2015 color of the month sales plan.  At the time of writing, I was unable to find an official Ranger color chart for these markers, so I had to do some digging around.

Distress Marker Color Chart

Distress Marker color chart by Jennifer McGuireInk 

Questions I Had Going Into This Review

Do watercolor blenders work, like Tombow ABT or Marvy LePlume II?  Do Distress markers, which are dye based, play well with other dye based watercolor markers like Tombow ABT, Marvy LePlumeII, Zig Art and Graphic Twin?

This review will cover the basic qualities of Distress markers, but if there's interest, I'll revisit this post later to answer the above questions, and any questions you guys may have about Distress markers.

Something I found REALLY intriguing was the fact that Pickett Fence is Opaque white- goes on clear, dries white, and can supposedly be layered to build up layers of white.  Pigment ink, not dye based, felt tipped bullet nib, not plastic finepoint like other Distress markers.  A workable opaque white marker is a big deal for artists like myself- it can be used for corrections, to subtly lighten over rendered areas, and for special effects.  I've tested a variety of white inks over the years, and am still amassing a collection of white artistic products.

The Pens

To the left, a five pack of Distress markers purchased in person from Michaels, because I was concerned that the markers I'd ordered sight unseen wouldn't include usable skintones.  I ended up having a couple duplicates, which were pulled and set aside before this post was written.  On Amazon, it is difficult to find what colors are included in each 5 pack.

The print is hard to make out, so I'll transcribe it here:

Tim Holtz Distress Markers are water-based inks for coloring, journaling, stamping and more.  The dual tip markers are idea for many coloring techniques:
  • Use the brush tip  for coloring and shading 
  •  Use the detail tip for journaling and drawing
  •  Use the color directly on rubber or clear staps
  • Store markers horizontally
 Markers coordinate with the Distress palette of products.
The Markers 

Unpackaged, I noticed that Distress markers use the same body as Chromatix alcohol based markers, with slightly different body screening.
Top: Chromatix
Bottom: Distress Markers
With both markers, if you can see the black band, it means the cap isn't on securely.

The Swatch Test:

Picket White Tests 

To test the opacity of Picket Fence, I pulled out my handy black sketchbook, which I use for all white ink tests.

The ink did indeed go on clear, which makes it difficult to see where you've applied ink, but after about 20 seconds or so, it dries opaque.

The smaller nib is scratchy and dry, despite these markers being stored horizontally.

Layering Test

Layer 1

Layer 2

Despite promises that Picket Fence can be layered for subtle build of of opacity, applying additional layers just reactivates the original layer, so you can't really build up opacity through additional layers.

Marker Swatches on Watercolor Paper

These markers were swatched on 400 series Strathmore cold press watercolor paper.  Each end was swatched, water immediately applied, and attempted to blend out before the other side was swatched.

The smaller swatch came from the plastic nib, and does not take to water easily.

The finished swatches and their corresponding markers.  Most of these markers stayed true to their dye when water was added.

Since these markers are designed to blend, I decided to go ahead and do some blend tests.  I'm using Canson's Biggie watercolor paper in 160lb cold press.  This is a wood pulp based paper that I've had positive experiences with direct application of waterbased markers.

The first blend test is me blending colors into one another using just the markers.  These markers do not blend the way alcohol based markers do, and while they can be layered, you aren't going to get a perfect gradation this way.

I pulled out two common waterbased colorless blending markers, the Tombow ABT colorless blender, and the Marvy LePlume II colorless blender.  Distress markers blend easily with the Tombow ABT.

There's still a line where the marker last went down that you can't really blend out with the markers alone.

I'm not a fan of the fine tips on these markers.  Not only does it feel scratchy, and stingy with the ink, but you can't get the line to blend out when you apply water.

The Field Test

Colors Used:

Victorian Velvet (backround)
Dried Marigold (skin base)
Abandoned Coral (blush, accents on Kara's outfit)
Weathered wood (whites of eyes, shadows on clothing at end)
Milled lavendar (first round of skin shadows)
Shaded lilac (only a few secondary shadows)
Rusty Hinge (base of Kara's hair, base of Kara's eyes, first layer of freckles)
Vintage Photo (second layer of hair and eyes)
Shabby Shutters (Kara's Dress)
Evergreen bough (Kara's quilted vest)
Picket Fence (white highlights)

Can be blended out if you apply it to the masking tape first, and use a wet brush to apply to your watercolor paper.  Direct application can also be easily blended out with a wet brush- no scrubbing needed.

Unfortunately, applying marker to the masking tape seems to cause some damage to the Distress marker's brush tip.  Color applied from the fine tip is much harder to blend out when applied directly to paper- could the plastic tip be slightly abrading the paper surface?  It did abrade the paper- when I go over it with the brush nib (which is significantly lighter in color, le sigh), it starts pilling the paper. So if you want to use this for watercolor applications, don't use the plastic fine tip directly on your paper.

I applied the milled lavendar directly to the paper, as it's such a light purple, I thought diluting it would make it just about useless, but unfortunately, the application of the stuff brush nib to the paper causes further paper damage where the plastic tip had scratched up the surface.  What's the point of watercolor markers if using them directly on the paper ruins the paper's surface?

Although I only found one good color for Caucasian skin- Dried Marigold. You'd never guess it works as a skintone based on that name or the color of the cap, but swatching proved otherwise.

Blush was applied first to the masking tape, then to Kara's skin with a clean wet brush.

I applied color directly to Kara's hair, as I've had mediocre experiences in the past with trying to blend hair, and honestly, it often just looks better if it's directly applied, rather than washed in.

The green of Kara's dress was applied directly to shadows , and washed out to fill the rest of the area.

Color was reapplied to make the shadows a little more distinct.

I'd had some decent results with blending out initial applications of brush side ink to paper with a wet brush until I applied Evergreen Bough to Kara's vest.  It took some working, but I managed to get the application to look intentional, rather than an inability to apply color (or an inability to get color to blend out), but I still found it pretty annoying.

When everything dried, it was time to pull out the Picket Fence and apply white highlights.

The Verdict

I know some crafters are curious as to whether or not Tim Holtz Distress markers are worth buying, especially if they already own Tombow ABT watercolor markers, or Zig Art and Graphic Twin markers.  While I think the Distress markers have a number of issues, I think there are unique colors that may appeal to you if you like muted, soft colors (as I do).   I am NOT a fan of the color naming scheme, and I hope Ranger releases an official color chart with all the available colors soon, especially since they released 12 new colors in 2015.  I do not think the Distress markers are a replacement for Tombow ABT or Zig Art and Graphic Twin, but I do think they're a very nice addition to your existing collection of watercolor markers.  You can purchase Distress markers in sets, but if you're looking to augment a collection, I recommend buying them openstock through MarkerPop, which is where I purchased my openstock Distress markers.  You can find the 2015 new Distress markers, as well as some sets to get you started, in the widget below.  Purchases through that widget help to financially support this blog, and are always much appreciated.

I was really excited by Picket Fence- it's an opaque white watercolor marker, and I was promised (through several CHA and Ranger videos on Youtube) that I could wash the white out to blend the application, or even layer it.  Initial tests on black paper were pretty underwhelming, and attempts to layer it, even after allowing it to dry, just cause the paper to pill.  If you're going to use Picket Fence, make sure your paper is absolutely dry first.

Picket Fence can be blended out a bit with water, but it dries with a shine to it, which is a bit obnoxious when the rest of your work is matte.  If you want to use color pencils in conjunction with Distress markers, I recommend you apply your regular Distress markers first, then your color pencil, then your Picket Fence.

Watercolor Markers In Order of Preference:

  1. Zig Art and Graphic Twin (I seriously think these are fantastic, especially their brush nibs!)
  2. Tombow ABT Colorless Blender (even useful with waterbased markers like Crayola and Up and Up)
  3. Docrafts Artiste Watercolor Markers
  4. Crayola Washable Supertips (Yep)
  5. Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers
  6. Tombow ABT
  7. Zig Clean Color (Not really that hot on the colors or the fact that once applied, they can't easily be blended out without leaving a harsh line of original application, but the individual nylon bristles won't tear up your paper)
  8. Distress Markers
  9. Lyra DuoAqua
  10. Marvy LePlume II (They just always seem to be dry when I buy them, and they feel lighter than other brands)

Videos used in researching this review:  

CHA 2012- Tim Holtz Demos His New Distress Markers!
Distress Markers- Jennifer McGuire Ink
Penny Black and Jill Foster Distress Markers- PennyBlackInc
Tim Holtz Distress Markers Techniques-laurelscrafts
Distress Marker Techniques: Blitsy Creative Team- laurelcrafts
Distress Markers Watercolor-waterfilterlove
Comparison Video Spectrum Aqua VS. Distress Markers- Tina G
Distress markers tutorial- nicoletta zanella
New Distress Color March 2015-Tim Holtz
Tim Holtz demos at Ranger-CHA Mega Show 2015-ScrapTimeVideos

Links used in this review:

Jennifer McGuire Ink- Video+Giveaway+Chart: New Distress Markers

Openstock source for Distress Markers

(note, I am not an affiliate, nor are they a sponsor):
Simon Says Stamp

Friday, November 27, 2015

Walmart Art Supply Review: Royal Langnickel Brush Value Pack

The Art Supply section of the Luling Walmart.  Larger than it was when I was in undergrad, smaller than when I was in highschool.  You aren't spoiled for selection here.
For many, this is a sadly familiar sight- the third of an aisle dedicated to art supplies.  Your options are as limited as your budget if you're shopping at Walmart for your art supplies, but I know this is it for many young artists, or artists on a budget.  We've already covered two brands of watercolors sold at Walmart- Alex, Crayola watercolors, and Crayola markers, and I used Walmart-available brushes for both tests.  If you haven't checked those reviews out, I highly recommend them, and if you're interested in the Royal Langnickel brushes I used, you should keep reading!

A wide variety of brushes to choose from.  Wait, no, that's not right.  A tiny variety of rushes to choose from, but retrospectively, all three packs are marked as being usable for acrylics, watercolor, or tempera.
    My Walmart, not surprisingly, didn't have a very large selection of brushes to choose from, and no open stock brushes, which may have been for the best.  Most of the bristle brushes on sale were made by Royal Langnickel, a brand I don't currently use.  You can see their selection of 'Good' brushes here, which is the section I assume the Walmart brush set falls into.  This page fairly represents the selection of Royal Langnickel brushes that were available at my Luling Walmart.  The site lists these brushes at $9.99, but I paid $7.97.

    I opted to buy the only set that advertised as being for watercolor- a squirrel and camel blend with bright yellow ferrules and green plastic handles.  The included card gave me an easy rundown of the deets:
  • Comes with a Free Brush Pouch
  • 10 Brushes total
  • Sabel/Camel
  • For Acrylics, Watercolors, Temperas, and Oils
  • Features an Exclusive Edge
  • Brushes include a flat-5/8", Shaders in 2, 6, 10, Rounds in 1, 3, 5, Detail Rounds in 3/10, 2/0, 0
  • The back of the package recommends washing in soap and water, and reshaping with fingers, and I'm going to do just that before painting.
The Packaging

The Free Brush Pouch has me torn- I'm not really into the fact that it's a walking advertisement, but I LOVE when companies introduce reusable, sturdy packaging.  I suppose you could just cut the top tag off, and it'd be just as good as any other pouch, so points to Royal Langnickel.  The package has one of those little plastic ties to keep people from stealing brushes, but that's easy enough to snip, and this type of package generates very little waste, and means artists who are just starting out don't have to find storage solutions immediately.

The back of the package has a brush guide that explains what each type of brush is generally used for, as well as care tips, which is really handy if you're new to watercoloring and need a bit of a brush primer.

The Brushes

These brushes feature what Royal Langnickel touts as an 'exclusive edge'!.  Usually you see this sort of edge on cheaper acrylic hog bristle brushes- it's used to scrape away paint or do sgraffito techniques.

It looks like the majority are made with squirrel hair, except for the mop (the largest brush), which is a bit coarser and may be camel, as the package promises squirrel and camel fibers.  These brushes are intended to be used for Acrylics, Watercolors, Temperas, and Oils, but squirrel is a bit soft for acrylics.

Upon opening the package, I found the brushes somewhat hard to remove, as they'd all been taped together at the bottom.  They also feel really cheap, which shouldn't be surprising, as I only paid $7.97 for all of them.  The metal ferrule feels light and flimsy, the plastic bodies are green plastic with a slanted edge at the bottom, and also feel very light.  The size of the brush and Royal Camel Hair are printed on the side in gold paint.  Some of the brushes have plastic caps over the bristles, while others do not, but all of the brushes have glue to protect the bristles.  So the first thing I'm going to have to do is wash the glue out.

Preparing Brushes for First Use

So I've promised you guys that I'd try and do more video work for the blog, and this rough video was one of my first attempts.  I demonstrate how to prepare brushes for first use, using nothing but what was on hand in my mom's bathroom (I was visiting out of town).

I noted this in the video, but for any of you guys who opted to skip it (and there's no shame in admitting it, sometimes I skip videos too if I'm not in a good place to watch them), these brushes started shedding hairs as I washed them, even though I was using cold water.  Not really a sign of great things to come.  I shampooed and conditioned the fibers, and left them with conditioner in them overnight.

I used what we had available, but you can use baby shampoo and a cheap, unscented conditioner for a better result, or you can use actual brush soap.  But if you have brush soap on hand, you probably don't need me to teach you how to prepare brushes, do you?

After Washing

The brushes are much, much softer, although the mop has very wavy fibers- must be the camel hair.  While washing the brushes, I really noticed how badly balanced these brushes really are- the plastic body isn't heavy enough to compensate for the metal ferrule (as lightweight as it is- it must be aluminum, so maybe it won't rust or tarnish) and the hairs that make up the brushes themselves.
Unfortunately, as I'm leaving Luling on Saturday, I'm going to have to pack these babies up and test them when I return to Nashville, sometime after Saturday.  I am packing these brushes without any protective agent to prevent the bristles from getting bent, but I could have left the dried, hardened conditioner in for shipping, and washed them in Nashville.  At this point, if the bristles are bent when I resume this review, that's my fault.  I will note that the 0 round is already bent, and I think I mentioned that it was bent in the video about washing and conditioning your brushes.  With a little care, they pack into the pouch ok, and hopefully the stiff plastic will keep my brushes safe during their travels.  With this sort of case, you have to let your brushes dry out completely, or they will mildew.

Brushes washed, dried, repacked, and labelled for shipping.
The plastic case kept my brushes safe on the flight from New Orleans, La to Nashville, TN, and my brushes were ready to go. 

The Field Test

I used a Royal Langnickel round for the swatches as well, as I wanted to see how well they performed at scrubbing and releasing pigments.

Did the Daler Rowney Swatch Test with the 5 round.  It's ok.  A couple straggly hairs even after washing and conditioning, but not the absolute worst brush I've ever used.  Definitely feels light and cheap in the hand after years of painting with wood handled brushes.

The 5 doesn't really ever pull a point, so you can't get any sort of detail with it, it mostly just pushes the paint around.  It has no belly, so it just sort of slops the water right onto the paper.

The 2 round does a little bit better job of holding a point and pulling details, but it still fights me when it comes to details.

Daler Rowney, Daler Rowney Simply Watercolors, watercolor test

And here's the finished watercolor!  Check the Daler Rowney Simply Watercolor Review to see what I thought of these paints!

I also used a combination of the Crayola brush with the Royal Langnickel Brush set for the Crayola test.

This is what they looked like after the Daler Rowney test.  I didn't clean them in between, other than rinses in a cup of clean water.  The yellow brush is the Crayola watercolor brush, included with the 8 piece Crayola children's watercolor set I purchased.  The Crayola brush looks similar to the Royal Langnickel brushes, other than having a bump of plastic above the ferrule to keep it from wiggling out of place.  I prefer the silver ferrule (probably aluminum) to the strangely yellow ferrules of the Royal Langnickel brushes.

I used the (I'm assuming) camel hair mop to apply a wash.

And knocked in background details with a smaller flat brush.

Left: Crayola Brush.  Right: Royal Langnickel Size 2 Round
 As you can see, the free Crayola watercolor brush holds it shape as well as the Royal Langnickel brushes do, especially after a wash and conditioning.  Both brushes have real hair bristles with metal ferrules that are double crimped toward the plastic body.

washable watercolors, Crayola, Crayola watercolors

And here's the finished Crayola test.  Check the review to see what I thought of the 8 pack of Crayola washable watercolors!

The Verdict

These brushes handle like beaten up, mistreated Escodas or Series 7s.  They COULD be decent, but there's just enough wrong with them that they would never be your first choice if you had better options available.  Even with cleaning and conditioning, the brushes still just push paint around, which isn't really what you want with a good watercolor brush.

Although these brushes aren't the absolute worst (at least they don't shed hairs in my paint, YET), I recommend skipping these if you have better options in your area.  Brushes are an investment that can last a long time if well taken care of, so there's no excuse to scrimp.  If you don't have better options in your area, or you want a full kit from the get go (and plan to replace brushes as you go), these are an alright start.  These would be fine for a beginner watercolorist, or a particularly adept child with an interest in watercolor.