Archive for the ‘Drawing tools’ Category

The tiny companion

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017


I have always had a hard time working in small sketchbooks. Not so much because of the size, but because I haven´t found any decent sketchbooks to use. I have tried Moleskines – good for ink, but not for watercolours, I have tried to bind my own – good paper, but my own binding tends to be a little too chunky for small books. And then I´ve tried a number of others, with crappy paper, or the books don´t open flat, or the binding falls apart, or…

In September, the good people at Stillman & Birn sent me some samples of their new softcover sketchbooks, and I started out trying the small portrait format book, 8,9 x 14 cm. And I have to say, after using it for a while, that these small books are perfect! The paper is my usual favorite alpha series paper, with the right balance (for me) of tooth and watercolour durability, and the covers, although they are soft, are flexible but still really sturdy and strong. The book opens flat in spite of it´s small size, and is easy to hold and use, even standing up (which I always have a hard time with, using larger size books). I really like the rounded corners too.


To make a balanced review, I´d like to say that there is at least one thing that I´m not too crazy about with this little book, but I really can´t think of anything. I´ve been keeping this little fellow in my bags since September (when I´m not drawing in it, obviously), which means it´s been squeezed, scraped, bruised and bent, over and over again, but it´s still holding up fine (see photo below).

Also, it´s getting thinner and thinner, because I´m doing something to it that I´ve never done before: I always draw on whole spreads, i.e. where the spread consists of the same sheet of paper, and then cut them out (I know, so terrible, right?). I´m thinking I´m going to frame these little guys somehow, once I´ve used up the book. We´ll see where that ends up. More spreads coming up in the next posts!



Both drawings: 17,8 x 14 cm, fude nib fountain pen with black De Atramentis document ink, and watercolours, on Stillman & Birn alpha series sketchbook paper.

Vodka and watercolours

Saturday, January 25th, 2014


I have read about it here and there on the internet, and wanted to try it, but never got around to it until now – painting watercolours with vodka in low temperatures. I have been trying out all sorts of different tools for winter sketching outdoors, because the watercolours never dry and even tend to freeze up on the page. But while coloured pencils and PITT artist brush pens and whatnot work fine, they all feel like a bleak replacement for watercolours.


So today I took the plunge and went out to try this at Barnhusbron in Stockholm. I passed by Systembolaget on the way and bought a small bottle of the cheapest vodka I could find (must have looked a bit desperate). I filled up a waterbrush with 50/50 water and vodka at a parking lot (very desperate indeed), and painted away as usual. And lo and behold – it works! The colours didn´t freeze on the page, and they dried incredibly fast, at least to a state where you can close the book without smudging the opposite page. Fantastic!

I was a bit worried that the vodka might smell very badly, or that the alcohol would make the colours go through the paper, but no such thing happened. I could detect faintly, by smelling, which of my two waterbrushes I had vodka in, but no smell whatsoever from the sketchbook page afterwards. The sky in my sketch got a funny, almost granulated look, and the paint felt a tiny little bit thicker than usual, but still runny and smooth to work with.

This simplifies my winter sketching gear a bit. A pencil (because fineliners freeze after a little while), a waterbrush or two filled with vodka and water, and a small box of watercolours. Neat.


21,5 x 14,5 cm, pencil and watercolours with vodka and water, on Stillman & Birn alpha series sketchbook.

The tiny micro little folding stool

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013


I have had some questions from people about my little folding stool, both online and in real life, so I thought I´d write a post on it.

I don´t like standing up when I´m drawing, I want to sit down so I can lay the sketchbook on my lap, to get a sturdy support for the drawing. I want to sit close to the ground for two reasons: 1) I want to reach my paints and water and stuff that I keep on the ground, without having to bend down or lean over to the sides, and 2) I like it when my knees are a little bit above the seat level, so the sketchbook has a comfortable angle to my eyes. It´s like sitting at a leaning drawing board, and gives me a good working pose.

This particular folding stool was a quick solution to the fact that my old one (which was slightly bigger) broke from old age and heavy use in Barcelona in July. I searched online and found this on, and since it was cheap, small and can carry up to 90 kg, I figured it would probably work. And it does. It is not perfect, but it´s ok.

I don´t think that this stool is for everyone, because as I said in my previous post, it is ridiculously small. Microscopic. I added some usual pens in the photo for comparison.

Some measurements – US citizens will have to do their own maths. ;)   The seat height is about 18 cm. The fabric of the seat is 19 x 18 cm, and my butt is ever so slightly bigger than that, so it´s not super comfy to sit on for a longer period of time, but it works for me. When folded, the metal parts measure 23,5 x 25 cm, and the thickness of the whole chair is then less than 3 cm, so it will fit into almost any bag. It is very lightweight, haven´t checked exactly how much it weighs, but it is considerably lighter than my current Stillman & Birn portrait format sketchbook. It doesn´t really add any weight to the bag.

The print on the seat fabric doesn´t seem to be a real brand name, I can´t find it through the usual search engines, and the product images at amazon do not show any print on the seat. I don´t really think needs more links, but if you copy this and paste it into their search bar, you´ll find the stool (along with some others): Folding Outdoor Camping Hiking Fishing Picnic Garden BBQ Stool.

Preparing for winter sketching

Friday, October 25th, 2013


Autumn is upon us, and my drawing materials are starting to give me some problems. The Platinum Carbon Black ink that I usually fill my fountain pens with, is hard to use when the temperature goes below 10°C or so. It takes forever to dry in low temperatures, and I keep laying my hand in it, smearing the lines. But this is easy to fix, I´ll just use waterproof fineliners instead when drawing outdoors. They don´t give me quite the same feeling as a fountain pen, but they are ok. I can live with them.

What is harder to take is the fact that the watercolours also take forever to dry in the cold. I love the versatility of watercolours, they give me the possibility to mix any colour I want, and if I let go of some control, I can get an enormous amount of variations and surprises from them. Plus they are very easy to carry with you. Now I am realising I have to find another solution for the coming winter.


I started experimenting last year with using large grayscale PITT Artist´s pens for drawing outdoors in the cold, because big tools are easier to hold with mittens on. But I must say I missed the colours after a while. I could just buy some coloured PITT pens, but I decided to go for these these Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth Magic coloured pencils instead. Very lightweight, and short, so they´re easy to fit into a pen case in the bag. They are a bit bigger than usual pencils, so should be ok to hold even with mittens. (I coloured the Eldorado at home, simply because I forgot to put the pencils in my bag when I headed out. Plus, my fingers were frozen by the time the ink drawing was done…)

But what I like most about these pencils is the fact that each coloured lead inside the pensils consists of several colours, sometimes tones of the same colour (for exampe light, middle and dark blue) and sometimes more varied mixes, such as the yellow-pink-red in the photo above. Drawing with them gives a little more variation and a little less control than the usual coloured pencils, and this suits me fine. You´ll be seeing some more of these on this blog during the cold season ahead of us.

Flying home

Friday, August 30th, 2013


I have had pencils with mixed colour leads in them before, but not this kind, where the colours are neatly placed next to each other. I found it in a bookshop in Barcelona, and used it for parts of this spread from El Prat and Frankfurt airports on my way home from the Urban sketchers symposium in July.


Exciting with a mixed colour pencil where you can almost control the change of colour by rotating the pencil while drawing.

27 x 21,5 cm, Black Pal mixed coloured pencil, various ink pens and watercolours on Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook spread.

Playing around with a limited palette

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013


Right now I am experimenting with a limited 5-colour watercolour palette, consisting of Schmincke Cadmium Yellow Mittel, W&N Permanent Alizarin Crimson, W&N Ultramarine, W&N Burnt Sienna, and W&N Viridian. I read about it online somewhere (can´t remember where, if I did I´d give proper credit for it).

I have tried limited palettes before, and I seldom use more than five or six colours in the same painting/drawing, but for some reason this particular palette felt extra exciting to try – in spite of the Cadmium colour. I made a whole new plastic watercolour box for it, with only these colours in it, to make sure I don´t cheat with other colours. ; )

Did this trial mixing sheet, to see where this will take me, and I have to say I am pretty impressed with the range of colours I can get from these few.

27 x 21,5 cm, watercolours in Stillman & Birn Alpha Series sketchbook.

Sketching gear ideas

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013
Mini watercolour kit by Ed in Bath, UK

Mini watercolour kit by Ed in Bath, UK

Just a short post with no drawing for those of you who (like me) enjoy seeing the tools that other sketchers use:

Go check out Urban Sketcher Ed´s (Bath, UK) great pages about his sketching gear. Among other things, he has come up with some pretty nifty ideas for making really small watercolour kits like the one in the image here. I wouldn´t mind having one of those in my back pocket when I go sketching…

Follow the link below to his blog, and don´t forget to hover over “Sketching kit” in the main menu on his site, there is plenty more there! (And plenty of sketches on the main page too, of course.)

Mostly Drawing Sketching gear

Slussen with a carpenter

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Another Monday off spent drawing. I went back to Slussen again (have been drawing quite a lot there before), this time with an updated carpenter´s pencil in hand. I was drawing with actual carpenter´s pencils this summer, but missed the real blackness of a good soft pencil.


Then I found this one in an art supply store here in Stockholm, the artsy alternative of the old trusted carpenter´s friend – it is actually a 6B! Much better.


I have been thinking that I need to start trying out tools that would work with mittens on, to be able to do some winter sketching later on. I think this pencil might be a winner. It´s a sturdy tool with lots of expression built in, and doesn´t involve any ink (avoiding freezing issues). And since it has such a clumsy point anyway, it should be ok that mittens are not ideal for delicate detail work.

17 x 24 cm, broad 6B pencil on lousy cheap paper in a folded sketchbook.

Messing up some paper

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012


I am preparing for the workshop at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Santo Domingo in July. It´s going to be all about getting out of your drawing comfort zone by giving yourself some limitations when you work (limited time, tools, colours, subjects – we will try to challenge ourselves in many ways).

In one of the exercises in the workshop, to relax from the pressure of producing great results, we are going to work on messed up papers. A pristine white surface can stifle creativity a bit sometimes, and I´m trying out some nice methods to make paper less threatening. Turns out shoes are a great help in this process.





Another important ingredient in the workshop is to avoid working with your usual tools. I hope each participant will get a chance to try some tools they never tried before. This is something I´ve been working on a lot lately myself, trying to broaden my repertoire of drawing utensils beyond my fountain pens and watercolours.

The BY FAR most annoying tool I´ve tried so far is this carpenter´s pencil (which is what I used in the drawing above). This thing drives me nuts, and I love it.


One second it gives me beautiful expressive lines, the next I completely miss the spot I intended to draw on, because the nib shape is so crazy. I´m definitely bringing some of these pencils to Santo Domingo.

Top drawing: 24 x 19 cm, carpenter´s pencil on half ruined Plano drawing paper.

About ink, and a thank you

Monday, January 9th, 2012


First: THANK YOU so much for all the comments concerning the video in my last post – I am overwhelmed by the positive attention it got, and I´m so happy that so many people seemed to appreciate it. I hope I can put together some more videos in a not too far away future.

I got a lot of questions after the video, about what ink I use. It seems a lot of people are struggling to find fountain pen inks that are waterproof without ruining the pens, so I thought I´d write a few lines about what I use. If you intend to try the Platinum ink that I´m using, please read this long ink nerd text to the end. I don´t want to be the one who tells you this is the perfect ink, and then you end up with expensive fountain pens ruined…

So, here goes: I draw mainly with two inks, or maybe three, when using fountain pens: Noodler´s Lexington grey, Platinum Carbon Black and sometimes Platinum Pigmented Sepia.

Platinum Pigmented Sepia

Platinum Pigmented Sepia is a quite new acquaintance for me, so I don´t have that much to say about it yet. It´s waterproof, a nice colour, and I think it´s probably a good idea to rinse the pen every now and then if you use it, though it´s not as mean as the Carbon black.

Noodler´s Lexington Grey

I´m not going to say so much about the Lexington grey either, because I have rambled on about that before, but I can say that it has never caused me any trouble whatsoever. I love it a lot, I like that it isn´t black, it´s a soft grey, very unobtrusive in a drawing. These days I even dilute it with water before filling my pens with it, to make it even lighter. It´s easier to use than the other Bulletproof inks from Noodler´s that I´ve tried, simply because it dries faster. It doesn´t smudge when painted over with watercolours, and works on any paper that I have used.

BUT. Because there is always a but when something sounds too good, right?

A while back, I got struck by Flex Pen Love. It started with Noodler´s flex pen, then a fantastic renovated vintage Wahl-Eversharp, and then I bought myself a Namiki Falcon with a customized nib (added flex), which is now my preferred drawing tool on some papers. And here´s where the ink “but” comes in.

Noodler´s bulletproof inks are meant to be somewhat waterproof, but they only turn waterproof in contact with the cellulose in the paper. With a flex pen, especielly the Namiki Falcon in my case, you lay down quite a bit of ink on the paper surface, because the pen has a really juicy ink flow. This means that some of the ink never comes in contact with the paper to become waterproof, it just lies on top like a drop. With the Noodler´s ink, this causes the ink to dissolve when you lay down watercolours on top of your lines.

Platinum Carbon Black – with a warning

So I started looking for something else to use with the Namiki Falcon, and found the Platinum Carbon Black ink, which works perfectly for me. It is black, and behaves well with watercolours. It dries fairly quickly, but not super fast. I often accidentally smudge a line with my drawing hand, as in the image above (lower right corner of the bottle). My bad.

BUT. Cause there´s a but here too. Two, actually.

But number one:
I have had to spend a lot of time finding good paper for this ink. It has a tendency to spread and creap on some papers, and a juicy pen makes it even worse. I am quite fuzzy about the surface of the papers I use, they need to be strong enough for working with several layers of watercolours, and still be smooth and good for drawing too, and this ink made some of my favorite papers impossible to use.

But number two, and the most important one:
Platinum Carbon Black ink isn´t very kind to fountain pens. It is a fountain pen ink, but you need to really take care of your pens to use it. I used to never clean my Lamy Safaris while using Noodler´s inks in them, but I have had to change my habits with this one.

If you leave Platinum Carbon black in a pen for too long without using it, there is a serious risk of the pen getting clogged. I have started a habit of rinsing the nib under the tap every time I refill the pen, and then taking the pen apart for cleaning every third or fourth refill. I always make sure to keep the pen capped when not in use – the ink dries quite fast on the nib, which is not what you want with a fountain pen.

During Christmas I had my pens with me on a flight to Northern Sweden, and usually flying is not an issue with the fountain pens that I use. This time, however, a Lamy ink converter containing Platinum Carbon ink decided to leak inside a bright red Lamy Safari, only I didn´t notice until I took the cap off the pen one and a half week later. The nib section of this pen is now severely stained by the black ink, and I haven´t been able to clean it off no matter what I tried. So this is a mean black ink, if you treat it the wrong way.

I think this product page on Platinum Carbon Black over at Cult Pens (I´m not associated with them in any way) is well worth reading before deciding to use this ink. Please scroll down to read all the way down to the end. For your own good.

With all this badness said, I have never had any problems with the ink other than the leaking accident. I do dare to put it in my Namiki Falcon, which is quite an expensive pen, but I make sure to treat the pen to a good cleaning now and then.

If you have any questions about this, please don´t hesitate to ask in the comments section, I´m sure others would be interested too. Ink is an important dark matter, isn´t it? ; )

13 x 12 cm, Namiki Falcon with Platinum Carbon black ink, and pencil and watercolours on Arches Satinée 300 g watercolour paper.

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