Wherein I Talk Too Much about Art Supplies

When struggling with physical and mental illness, work and home frustrations, and still healing from the difficulty whirlwind that has been 2014, it’s good to stop and take notice of little bright spots when you can. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of bright spots in the year, but now that winter is setting in and darkness arrives each day so much earlier, struggles are often amplified and it’s important to give yourself a break from the bleak every now and then.

Really this post is for me to wax poetic about the art supplies I have waiting for me when I get home. I’ve been tracking the shipment and just saw that my stuff has indeed arrived! Oh dickblick.com, how I love thee.

For those of you who don’t know, this year I discovered the wonderful world of high-end markers. I’ve always liked nice pens and markers in general. I doodle a lot and as any “serious” doodler knows, satisfying doodling is all about the feel of the pen on the paper, the flow of the ink, and the boldness of the color. I was, however, only acquainted with the likes of Crayola and Sharpie markers and had largely ignored them as an artistic medium once I hit my teens.

Back then I painted with acrylics and slowly graduated to the optimized dry vs. blendability speed of alkyd oils. I never really dug linseed oils because OMG HOW LONG DO I REALLY WANT TO WAIT FOR THESE THINGS TO DRY?! Then I drifted more towards colored pencils and water soluble crayon. Then I was doing straight up graphite pencil drawing.  Like these:

bowl sweet bowl pitcher plants

Then one day this year, I wandered into Staples.

Staples was having a mega sale and I was able to buy two big sets of multi-colored Sharpies for $20. I started playing with them and realized that markers were the perfect medium for the kind of style I really like. Basically, I like to draw everything in “stained glass” style, with dark outlines and bold solid coloring. I also found that I liked the way shading looked with markers because you could see the gradient as a series of lines. Here’s an example:

A Squid At Home

Within a few weeks, I had filled a sketch book with abstract drawings and had killed many of the Sharpies. As it turns out, Sharpies aren’t really built for heavy ink coverage.

By then I was hooked and decided that I needed to go to the next grade of art markers. This meant grabbing a set of Prismacolor markers. These were definitely way more expensive than Sharpies and they seemed to be worth it. Their colors were super saturated and vibrant. My complaint however is that these markers are expensive and not refillable and don’t last any longer than Sharpies do (for the type of art I do).

And so it was that I went in search of a higher echelon set of markers. Art supplies are one of those categories of materials where you really do get what you pay for. There’s a lot of stuff that I don’t care that much about. If it’s cheap, it’s cheap and I can make it work or I find something that works really well but is lower cost because it lacks a bunch of unnecessary features. But artistic media quality is directly proportional to its price bracket. And that’s how I found out about Copic markers.

I had noticed Copics while on Amazon looking for Prismacolors. The price difference was pretty huge and I wasn’t ready to make that kind of financial commitment. After the Prismacolors died in a disappointingly short time, I decided to look into these fat cat markers and see what all the hub bub was about.

The main advantage that I saw from websites was that Copic markers are refillable. This is huge. Sure, one marker costs $8, but a bottle of refill ink costs $8 and is good for 5 or 6 refills. The nibs on Copic markers are also replaceable. Basically, Copic markers appeared to be a true investment with good returns. To me it looked like the price was about the endurance and longevity possible with them and since this was my number one complaint, I knew that I needed to try them.

So I went and bought myself a $400 set of 72 markers for my birthday. The ink flow is lovely and the colors, while not quite as vibrant as Prismacolor, are quite satisfying. But here’s the most impressive part: I bought those markers in March and use them often and none of them have run out of ink. Talk about quick return on investment!

Now, the longevity of these markers is likely also due, in part, to the paper I use now. Did you know that there is special marker paper? I didn’t until I was farting around on the internet. Marker paper is just absorbent enough for quick drying of the ink, but it doesn’t allow the ink to bleed through. This is likely due to a very high quality clay coating on the paper’s surface and some kind of proprietary method of something or other in the paper fibers. I tried to look it up on the internet and it’s just a bunch of ads for “revolutionary blah blah blah”. But regardless of the possible advertisement smoke and mirrors, marker paper is really fab stuff. Because it doesn’t soak up so much ink, way less ink is required for uniform coverage. I particularly like Bee brand because it has some heft to it. Copic makes a pad too, but the paper is super thin and, while I am impressed that the markers don’t bleed through the stuff, I don’t like how flimsy the sheets are.

In addition to discovering the wonder of Copic markers, I also discovered the awesomeness of paint markers. I have always liked paint markers, but I didn’t really have an application for them in a lot of my work. Or, more to the point, I hadn’t really embraced mixed media yet. But when I started playing with all this stuff, I happened to have a silver metallic solvent-based paint marker and was amazed at how much it added to my pieces.

I went on a hunt for a rainbow of “true metal” looking colors and have been strangely unsuccessful in finding what I want. There are a lot of sets of cheap “metallic” markers that achieve a pastel metallic look using pearlescent pigments in the inks. This is a cheat, really, because metallic = sparkly, right? But it doesn’t. Metallic is shine. Metallic is high reflectance! The pearl markers have their place and are perfect for certain accents, but when I want metallic blue I want it to be ultramarine and look like I could color a Schwinn with it. There is seemingly not a market for “true metallics” other than silver, gold, and copper. I have a “red” one too, but it’s more of a rust color. I, of course, appreciate that because rust is oxidized metal, so the color is at least thematic.  The closest thing I have found recently is this metallic paste that you can rub into paper.  It’s interesting, but I’m still learning what it can do and it seems kind of limited.  Here was my first attempt:

metal tree

OK, so this post really shows that I’ve been working with the printing industry for a long time. I don’t really talk about doing art in flowery ways anymore. It’s been replaced by the practicality of image production. There is plenty of creativity but I generally find talking about the artistic process pretentious and boring (this goes for every kind of art I do, whether it be drawing or acting or playing music). What I really enjoy thinking about is how to physically get different aesthetic results and I really REALLY enjoy seeing how different materials work together. As it turns out, this is quite a large part of my job. Every day, I guide customers through their desired printing/coating process. It’s commonly called technical service, but it could easily be construed as an aesthetic enabling. The best looking/performing print jobs require the optimum combination of appropriate equipment, paper, ink, and coatings and there are just so many options out there that I have learned a ridiculous amount about how to make printed media look good. Apparently, this type of thinking comes home with me every day too.

A few years ago I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Blue Beard, a fictional autobiography of an abstract expressionist who hit his stride in the 60’s. There’s a lot of great stuff in the book but one of my favorite parts is about the artist using a new brand of paint for a whole series of huge paintings. Something was wrong with the paint though and after just a few weeks, all of the paint on the canvases was bubbling and flaking off. I always enjoy when the scientific reality of art is highlighted. Art oft becomes science and science oft become art.

Anyway, as I said at the beginning of this thing, I ordered some stuff from dickblick.com and it’s totally waiting for me on the porch. What did I get? Thanks for asking! I got a fancy case/binder thing that can hold all of my markers and also a sketch pad. It seems to be compact and has a SHOULDER STRAP. I’m excited about this because it allows me to keep everything in one place and should be compressed enough for me to more easily bring the whole shebang traveling with me. Do you know how hard it is to just pick a few colors to take with you when you have a whole 72 to choose from? I also got a few metallic acrylic paint markers (blue, green, and black) in a brand I haven’t tried before. I also got a smaller pad of Bee brand marker paper (to fit in my case thingy!) and a totally different kind of paper called Graffiti paper. Apparently, it is made to accept all sorts of media include, as the name suggests, spray paint and such. I am looking forward to seeing what it’s like. There is little that is more fun to me than nerding out over art materials.

So…there’s a review of some things. It’s true that I’ve been having a bit of a hard time lately, but I keep trying to find ways to cut through it. Good tools and creation of art that doesn’t require an audience to enjoy are good ways. Sure, I like showing my art off, but it’s one of the few things I do where the process of creating is more satisfying than the “public” reaction.

Is it time to go yet? I’d like to art please!

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