It’s that time of the year when I return from my Xmas holidays in snowy Easter Europe and, left with the extra pounds gained over the festive scoffing marathons, a couple of remnants of the NYE cakes - which I stuff my suitcase with, of course - I am sat back at my own place back here in Manchester and try and recover from all the rest I’ve had. May sound funny but it’s completely true.
To avoid being stuck too much on the idea of the Christmas now a faint shadow, I go through the calendar, start organising and getting myself revved up for the upcoming year. I will spare you all the cheesiness of all my wondrous, exciting and tantalising plans; all I can say, I am planning on doing more sketching, more painting and more experimenting in 2015.
Which brings me to the tool of the experimentation. The machine, the analogue stylus and the feared hand-accessory. It means different things to everybody: Pen?Pencil?Charcoal?Pastel?Oil?
Chances are, we all have our loves and pet-hates. I personally can’t seem to tie friendship with pastels. There is a flatness about it that doesn’t suit my work - or, at least, so I’ve been believing so far. The natural remedy to the ailment is to run down to the art shop(in my case, Fred Aldous or Blyth’s in Manchester) and crack the wallet. Occasionally, if I feel adventurous, I’ll buy online after recommendations or even go by reviews.
I see art supply buying as a very serious matter. It’s quite dramatic, life&death-like and can never be done too hastily. Friend and fellow sketcher, Mike (whom you know from the Manchester Urban Sketchers facebook page and the numerous outings to which he taxi-drives me and Lucie - another avid urban sketcher) recently commented on a post on the Manchester group page. The whole conversation was about buying supplies and the addictive nature of it - you know you don’t necessarily need it but you buy it nevertheless. I can certainly think of a couple of impulse-buys over the past few years and although I have managed to tame the beast over time, it’s never quite dormant because the feeling of picking up some new mysterious pen or brush in the shop is addictive and most certainly causes whatever Candy Crush Saga, chocolates and other I’m-not-gonna-name-them substances cause in the hypothalamus. The latter is me preaching about the unknown, by the way.
Anyway, think of this post as a parade of what I have and a an inventory to remind me that I need to stop and think next time I see that watercolour set on the shelf. Or even a substractive list?What else could I try?
Here’s the paraphernalia:
1. THE PEN - I do mean, 'the'. Rotring Art Pen - This trusty little leaking git has been my on-and-off companion for the past 4 years. I first got this when I was in university and although I look like I've murdered somebody after every use, I somehow love the agility and its balance in the hand. It produces a steady fine or extra-fine line depending on which width you go for. Think of it as the 'beans on toast' of sketching.
2. The 'other' pen - I know this sounds a bit dramatic but this pen was introduced to me by Lynne Chapman(Yorkshire urban sketcher) last year and I was hooked. The clever little crooked nib allows for a variation in line depending on how much you tilt the pen. I got mine from Andy's Pens .
3. Tombow ABT - this WAS an impulse buy. Saw it in Paperchase a few months ago, loved the brush nib and got it. 'Only 3 quid', I said. Got home and realised it's a replica of the Pentel brush pen thing which costs quite a bit more. Win!
4. Dr. Ph. Martin's liquid watercolours - these were a strictly 'these are for work and are essential' excuse. They aren't lightfast so all the work I do with this either goes in a folder or gets scanned in. Occasionally I will splash a few colours on my urban sketches just for fun but I don't get attached, knowing they could disappear in time. You can get 3 different sets, A, B or C depending on what sort of colours you prefer. Set A is the run of the mill watercolour basic selection. 12 of them are roughly £60. Ouch.
5. Coloured tape - I recently came across a few urban sketchers who use collage really well. I decided to give it a go myself and I can proudly say I have so far stuck down 50 inches of these goodies on various sketches. I shall purchase more soon - they're an interesting addition to a lot of textured subjects. The sketch here is an example.
6. Water brushes - Lucie got me these from Cassart in London, £6 I think. In other words, this wasn't my impulse-buying at play. I do love using these, especially the big chunky one for bold strokes in big areas that need extensive coverage. I tend to leave the water inside the little 'reservoir' which has caused me trouble so far in cleaning them. Working on it. Working on it.
7. Traditional brushes - any sizes. The professional ones don't shed any hairs so worth the investment. The student ones are like a cat during a heatwave.
8. Pelikan felt tip pens. These are like pantone cards - flat and boring. Used sparingly, however, can deliver nice results. I call them nursery pens. Don't they look primitive, bless them?
9. Cotman and professional Winsor&Newton watercolours: here, inconsistency rears its ugly head. Going back to what I said about the brushes needing to be professional, well...I may not be so orthodox when it comes to colours. I bought my favourites in professional quallity. The rest of them will do in student quality. Favourite colours: Naples yellow, Alizarin crimson, burnt sienna, indigo and cerulean.
And last but not least:
10. Noodler's Ink. This is consistent black, waterproof and can be used for washes as well. It does clog the pen so have to be a bit careful. Paid £10 for a bottle and I'm sure it will last a while.
There you go. And when you think of it, there is so much more to explore... paper types, brands, formats etc. For all I know, I could be sketching on toilet roll in a year. I will definitely keep experimenting, shop around - funds allowing - and get back with a follow-up. Maybe you have noticed there are no pencils or rubbers in this list. I like to go straight in without pencilling in so I never carry either.
I hope I've shown you some new/reminded you of some alternative tools. Happy sketching/shopping!