“Kids Draw” at the Library

2014-07-08 10.22.30


One of the coolest and most unexpectedly popular programs I run at our public library is Kids Draw. Every Wednesday, from 3:30-4:30, I set up tables and chairs in the downstairs meeting room. Some paper, pencils, and crayons are laid out, along with a few cool New Books packed with fun illustrations, and I pump up some Chip Tunes music from Pandora. Kids and their folks show up, grab their gear and a seat, and doodle away.

That’s it. Instant art event.

As a librarian, this is a hit on a multitude of levels. It’s incredibly cheap, weekly cost consisting of just a few dozen sheets of computer paper and a some simple art supplies used repeatedly throughout the year. As far as planning and prep goes, there is practically none. I keep all of the gear in a basket, snag a handful of good picture books on my way over, and the whole thing takes barely ten minutes to set up, most of that just lining up chairs. And since the focus is on social drawing over artistic instruction, there is no need for a lesson plan, or for the facilitator to even consider themselves an artist.

On a sappier note, it’s wonderful to see the interactions between parents and children. While some of the older kids get dropped off, at our library anyone under 10 must be with an adult. This has resulted in several parents that might not usually think to draw spending a solid hour sketching and doodling. Kids are so much more tuned in to something when they see their parents participating, and you can just watch a bond forming over shared art. As a bonus, the children have a tendency to talk and ramble as they work, and I’ve heard many parents getting a little extra insight into their young one’s day.

Beyond all of that, the educational value, the social value, the parenting value, I must admit that the thing that keeps me so invested in the program is the outright fun of sitting and drawing with these kids each week. We have a core group of regulars who show up for every session (even linger after and help pack up!), and as we sketch away on our monsters and robots and trolls we discuss current movies, favorite books, and general thoughts on life. I get instant Art Direction on what colors look best for certain space ships, and many is the time I’ve been prompted out of my comfort zone by a request for specific cartoon characters or someone’s favorite dinosaur.

If you’re a librarian, I highly recommend trying this out as an easy addition to your regular programs. If you are a parent, perhaps ask your local library to try something like this, or just set aside an hour at home for Art Time. If you’re an artist, grab some pencils and paper and go find some wee cousins, nieces, and nephews to draw with.

It’s worth it for everyone.

Pen Reviews Pt 2

Here is the long awaited conclusion to my Jet Pens Pen Reviews. To recap, all of these pens were generously sent to me by JetPens for the purpose of reviewing and then donating to the Putnam County Library to be used as door prizes at our summer art programs. The summer program went so well that we are actually starting up a monthly drawing club, the PCL Teen Sketch Club, the first meeting of which will be tomorrow. If you know any arty teenagers in the Cookeville, TN area, send them by!

Uni-ball Signo Gel Ink Pen

I am not normally one for ball-point pens, feeling, quite haughtily, that they are the tool of the plebian worker types, not meant for lofty and discerning artisans such as myself. (please read with a thoroughly sarcastic and snooty voice, on par with any Downton resident.) Ignoring for the moment how blatantly idiotic such an opinion is, the Uni-ball Signo does a great job of bridging the gap between Mundane and Artsy pens. It has a nice feel in the hand, with a comfortable rubber grip and a suitable amount of weight. The .38 tip on this was thoroughly fine, allowing me to drop some very delicate lines. And the ink flow was wonderful, no noticeable globbing or skipping. The ink itself is a very nice black, and while I did not test it myself, claims to be water-proof.


All in all, if an Ink Artist should ever have to demean himself so much as to use a Writing utensil for Drawing, he could hope for no better than the Uni-ball Signo.


Sakura Pigma Micron Marker Pens

Sakura Microns were some of the first art pens I ever chose for myself. I greatly enjoyed how they have such uniform width on lines, but also come in such a wide variety of sizes. They can be a great tool for an artist just learning to play with line widths.

This set was an entirely different experience, with 6 pens in a variety of colors, at the same width. I am a creature of habit, almost exclusively inking in the jettest jet black inks I can find, so it was out of the box for me to play around with drawing, and not coloring, in reds and greens and blues. The pens themselves hold up well, as they always have. I know from experience that the nice felt tips will slowly wear to a bit of a point over time, and the labeling on the barrel will most likely rub off a bit, but this just shows your touch on the pen. These are made to be disposable pens, which they certainly are, but at $2-3 for singles, that’s not such a bad thing. The inks are consistent in color, and have a really steady flow, with no noticeable bleed, and the different colors are nice and vibrant.

While these would be poorly served as a coloring tool, I think they would work splendidly for anyone wanting to play around with sketching and doodling in a variety of hues.



Jumbled Inks

Here are a couple quick ones from my sketchbook.

First was a page full of random critters I penciled in, but upon inking I felt that I had left too much empty space, so I added a bunch. Repeat that process several times, and voila!

In a similar vein, I decided to fill a page with dwarves, just sticking them in however would best fit the page. Didn’t intend to give them so much individuality at first, but I’m pleasantly surprised with the results. I think there is a good bit of subconcious Hobbit enthusiasm leaking out in this.

Both were done with some basic finepoint pens, and I made a distinct effort to try to keep my line widths uniform, and just build depth with hatching. Worked out alright, I think.

Pen Reviews pt 1

If you are tired of hearing me swoon about my wonderful library job and babble on about different types of pens, you might want to just skip this post.

Fair warning.

As part of our summer programming at the public library, I have been allowed to run a four part drawing seminar in conjunction with the Teen Program. Each week (with the exception of the one my Dad guest-lectured on) I am covering different core drawing concepts, such as Structures Being Composed of Shapes or the ever thrilling One and Two Point Perspective. It’s a great opportunity to encourage young artists, and it’s a good way for them to network and meet other teens enthusiatic about drawing.

To add a little incentive I have been offering door prizes, and a good deal of these are coming from my favorite pen site, Jetpens. The good folks at Jetpens were kind enough to send me a pack of products to review on the blog, and then give out to the kids each week. So, without further rambling, here is the first installment of my pen reviews.


Staedtler Pigment Liner Marker Pen 0.1 mm

This is a great fine-line sketching pen. It lays a very even line, with no noticable bleed or smudging on heavy paper. It’s the type of pen that makes me want to do a massive hatching and cross hatching piece, and draw in every little rivet and rivulet as I go. The ink is just a shade lighter than absolute black, but this is good for allowing you to stack lines for depth. The pen body itself is a little slender, so if you’re someone with a really fierce pen grip style, you might get some finger cramps, but I had no real issues. I also enjoyed the sleek look of the pen, and the matte gray body prevents any slickness in the hand.

All around, I highly recommend this pen, and would love to play around with using different widths of this.

Pilot V-Pen Disposable Fountain Pen

I was excited to get this one to review, as I’ve been on a big fountain pen kick lately (even though I might not know as much as I should). I’ve not yet gotten my “problem” upgraded to the $50 pens, instead sticking with many along the line of disposables. This Pilot V-Pen is a pretty standard example of such. It has a nice feel in the hand, not too bulky or too skinny. The solid plastic body and cap does give it a slightly cheap appearance, but that’s sort of the point, so no complaints. Speaking of points (ba-dun-chhh) the nib seems to be of nice quality. When I got done spinning the thing in my hands and finally started dropping lines, it let out a very consistent one, if a little heavy for my tastes. The ink is a good darkness, unless I was just racing the pen across the page it left a pretty heavily opaque black line. I did have a little fuzzy bleeding when using this on thick drawing paper, which is not a problem I normally have with my pens. This leads me to believe it must have a pretty heavy ink flow, which could be good or bad, depending on your intentions.

Overall, while I feel this is a perfectly serviceable writing instrument, I don’t think I would recommend the V-Pen for drawing purposes. The Platinum Preppy’s do the job much better, with more variety in pen size, and the option to refill with cartridges.

Zebra Disposable Brush Pen -Super Fine-

This pen is an old friend of mine, and one I am excited to extol the virtues of. Several years ago I went on an Art Quest to find the best brush pen or pens for my needs, and this is one of the few that I brought back from the pen-filled wilds. I have a romantic vision of my interaction with such pens, where I would use a splendidly long-brushed delicate pen to whorl and swirl my way across the page, leaving delightfully smooth ever-changing curves in my wake. The reality is that when I cram such an instrument into my ham-fisted paws all I can accomplish is a jagged and hideous ink mess.

Not so with this Zebra Pen! The firmer tip helps prevent my indelicate lines from smushing and shrinking as I work across the page. It lets me keep a consistent width for the bulk of the stroke, but it is still easy to put a light taper on the tips. And if I really want to bulk up a curve, a little intentional pressure will do just that. The pens come in a few different sizes, but I find the Super Fine to be good for my purposes, mainly comics and such at a fairly small scale. The ink has a nice rich darkness, looks great on it’s own and holds up well to light erasing. The body is a simple plastic one, as expected on a disposable pen, but the nice color and gold flecking help to keep it from looking cheap. The pen is just single use, with no intended refill mechanism. I have seen them disassembled with pliers to add ink, and this seemed to work well, but I don’t know how many times you would want to do so, since the nibs are only intended for a certain amount of use.

I heartily recommend the Zebra Brush Pen. Since finding it, whenever it comes time to replace, I usually just order 3, and make sure there is always one in my art box.



Free Comic Book Day Sketches

Well, FCBD was a rollicking success. We had a crowd of folks come out to Mountain Top, and the line for sketches was encouraging. I was in the company of good artists, with great comic lovers all around, and it was an entirely pleasant way to spend a day, drawing until your hand nearly stops working:]

I did my best to snap some quick phone pictures of drawings as I did them, apologies for odd glares or blurs. I did these with a quick red pencil frame, and filled them out with some sharpie-esque Tul pens and a set of delightful Crayola Super Tip markers (a lot of fun to color with!) These were all quick sketches, none longer than 15 minutes I think, and some as few as 5 minutes. Thusly, rough edges abound:]

Missile Mouse, first sketch of the day!

Captain America


Ted Robo (first request for an original character!)

Moon Knight


Lego BatmanSuperman, choking Captain Marvel and slamming him into a wall. 

Newman Xeno playing chess against Cobra Commander


The Shadow

Wile E. Coyote as a hopeful Blue Lantern, with Flash Roadrunner

Classic Ironman

Hal Jordan with a Tuba


Elmo and Four Duckies


MagnetoRocketeerDerpy Hooves




These were a blast to draw, can’t wait until next year!

Omnicon Aftermath: Con Report

Recent blog silence has been due to the frantic workload leading up to my hometown con, Omnicon!
In preparation, I produced a run of Dungeon Monster prints, a brand new sketchbook collection, and a massive wooden story mural entitled “A Hero’s Journey” for the art contest (that one gets its own post later:). After a several week haze of sleepless nights and coffee-addled days, the con was upon me!

 I had a variety of wares on display at my table, including many of the prints I showcased at the Art Prowl, as well as a new one featuring my art from the official Omnicon 2012 poster, entitled “Cockroaches and Nerds” (also soon to receive a dedicated post). There was a selection of larger sketchcards I had produced, with themes including Marvel Heroes, Disney Pixar, and Hogwart’s Faculty. Also, a series of small watercolor paintings, inspired by my Tiny Link drawings. To further the videogame theme, I offered some brownpaper drawings of Mario, Mega-Man, and Zelda characters.

My favorite item, however, was the Dungeon Monsters print series, available exclusively to those willing to brave the DIE OF DESTINY! Although only a handful had the guts required, we saw both a Critical Hit and a Critical Failure, both accompanied by the appropriate whoops and lamentations.

By far my most popular items were the mini-sketchcards, both pre-drawn and custom made. I had a sampling of characters from Adventure Time, Star Wars, Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon, as well as many original doodles. And I was also asked to draw several unique characters (including a couple Derpy’s:) but easily my favorite commission of the day was a pairing of Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla, complete with Electric Pigeon Soulmate (fascinating backstory here).

All in all, it was a delightful weekend. I can hardly wait for next year! And if any of these pieces catch your fancy, let me know, they might still be available, even if they haven’t shown up in The Shop.


Mario Sketchcards

I recently started building up my sketch card reserve (in preparation for Omnicon, more on that some other time) with some quickie pencil sketches that I later use as inking warmups.

Most are just random monsters and whats-its, but somewhere along the way I got on a kick of doing Mario bad guys. What made it extra fun was doing them very impulsively, in my own personal style, and completely as I remembered them, without reference material (well, except on the Lakitu, I just couldn’t get a resemblance on his face without checking how those glasses looked:)

I think they turned out pretty cool. If any catch your eye, well, you might want to mark your calendar for Omnicon, March 17th &18th …

Hourlies and Dailies

 It’s nearly upon us! The Day draws ever nearer! Put your affairs in order and ready yourself for The Event!

No, no, not the Apocalypse. Much better. Hourly Comics Day!
For those unaware, HCD is an annual web event, created by artist John Campbell, where individuals all over the world (artful and non alike) chronicle every hour of their own February 1st with a very quick and and simple comic.  More details can be found here. In edition, be sure to check out archives of the last several years on the forum, which is also where this year’s comics will be submitted (thread forthcoming.)
Regardless of whether you consider yourself a cartoonist or you are bashful to post a play by play of your life to the entire internet, I highly recommend doing these. Even if just as a personal log. I’ve participated for the past three years, and these comics have become some of my most valued creations, capturing both an entire day of my life and the mindset of myself whilst chronicling it. It is like a multi-layered journal entry, a mental landmark if you will, to which I can look back now and judge just how far I have traveled and grown. Yes, that is a bit deep and sentimental, but truly, these things are pretty cool.
In addition, after I finished last year’s Hourlies, I so enjoyed the journaling effect that I decide to go on with it for the rest of the month. I find the idea of day to day Hourlies to be quite daunting, so instead I decided to jot down one moment from each day throughout February. As you can see below, I didn’t quite make it, somehow dropping the ball just three days short (whether from inability or apathy, I cannot remember) but I’m steeling myself to try to meet the goal this year.
Last Year’s Dailies for February
(click for a larger image, and previous and next from that page to navigate)
Wow, my handwriting really doesn’t hold up to that much magnification. Toddler scratchings!
Anyway, I hope you’ll consider doing some Hourlies yourself this year, and let me know if you do!

Pens and Potter

As a follow up to my earlier review of the Pilot Parallel Pen,  I thought I’d tell you about a few other fountain pens I’ve been using and enjoying lately.
 A new standout for me has been the Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen line. They make several different nib sizes, but the two I’ve been using are the 03 and the 05. The 03 gives a nice, slim line, and has quickly become my first pick for most inking tasks. The 05 is obviously a touch wider, and that little bit makes a big difference on line fineness, so I usually only grab it for bolder outlines or larger projects. The pens themselves seem very well constructed, especially considering the absurdly low $3 price tag (at least at Jetpens, where I do must of my pen shopping, really a very wonderful and useful site, and not one with which I have any formal affiliation:). And what’s most amazing is that these aren’t disposable pens, instead using a proprietary Platinum refill cartridge. To be fair, I have not actually tried the included ink. Instead, I followed these instructions found on Jetpens’ site and converted mine into eyedroppers. (the instructions are spot on, it’s a really simple and highly recommended mod) Now, I can just pour the ink of my choice straight into the barrel, no fuss with syringe filling cartridges or finagling around a pen not meant for refilling. The Black Star Hicarb I’ve mentioned before would most likely work wonderfully, but out of stubbornness and loyalty to an inanimate substance, I first tried my standby Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Black. It actually flows much better than in other pens, leaving a good, consistent, super black line. There is a little work required to get it flowing again after any extended pause, and if I let it set for a day or two I might have to do a minute’s worth of wiping and scribbling, but overall it is a good experience. I may play with combining the two as a future experiment.
The third pen I’ve been toying with is the Pilot Penmanship Fountain Pen. This one has a super-fine nib, and is great for small details and intricate hatching. A bit more expensive than the Preppy, coming in at $8, this one is also a value since it is designed for refills. I actually tried the cartridge that was included, though to little enjoyment. It would be fine for everyday writing or doodles, I suppose, but it was a bit grayish for my taste, and not at all waterproof. After burning through about half of it on busy work, I finally emptied the cartridge and used a syringe to refill with the Black Star. Now it draws like a dream!
I wanted to do a few sample drawings to show off the line quality on all of these, and since I’ve been listening to a lot of Potter books lately (the Jim Dale readings are Absurdly good, and it’s a fun way to re-live the books without spending all the page time) I went with a Chamber of Secrets theme.
(The majority of these were done with the 03, but I used the 05 for Myrtle and the Penmanship for Ginny. All my gray tones were added with this wonderful little marker)

Man, I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the second book. Now, off to Azkaban!


So, it’s been a few days, and I went back to use my trusty Preppy 03 full of Bombay and…nothing. Not even dust. Just etching my paper. Apparently I let the ink be for too long, and it dried up good and solid. So, I disassembled and drained, cleaned all the obvious bits and blew some water through the works (also, I’ve found ammoniated glass cleaner makes India Ink run for the hills, great to clean pens) let it all dry, put it back together and refilled with a Bombay/Black Star half and half mix and…still nothing. Cursed a tad, grabbed some pliers, pulled the metal nib off the end, scrubbed it real good and ran a pin through the ink trough on the pen itself (which was just Filthy with dried gunk) reassembled again and…I’ve got ink. Looks to be working again as well as before, I’ll check back in regarding the ink mix after some experiments.

Further Edit:

Yeah, that whole “Half and Half” ink mix was not the best idea. When everyone on the internet says “Don’t use India Ink with fountain pens”…listen to them. The pens dried within the week, and I couldn’t get anything through them. After another thorough cleaning (getting pretty good at that part!) I have refilled them with just the Black Star ink. It is just a touch lighter than the pure black of the regular Bombay, but it doesn’t much trouble with the fountain pens. The 05 Preppy, really none at all. Might take a couple seconds of practice strokes when I first pick it up to get everything flowing, but fine after that. The 03 is still a bit finicky, sometimes requiring a bit of flexing and shaking after it has been in the pen box too long, but it will start flowing eventually. I am also using this ink in my Pilot Parallel pens, and it flows immediately, nice and smooth. Black Star it is!

Pilot Parallel Pen and Inks Review

I’ve recently been falling back in love with pens in general, and fountain pens in particular. In my fledgling comic drawing days, I was all about Microns and cheapo brush pens, loving the portability and reliable effect. Then, a few years ago, my Dad got me going with nibbed dip pens. Amazing! I loved the feel of the traditional tools, and the ritualistic processes of pouring ink into a well, preparing your pens, cleaning the nibs out afterward. Plus, the unpredictability of the line (at least in my hands) would lead to many happy accidents. And the ink! So richly midnight black! I was hooked.

So it has been for the last several years. I’ve especially loved the product of a dip pen for my big pieces, and intricate projects. However, I have observed that it ties me more and more to my art desk. I love working in my space at home, and can be incredibly productive there, but having part time jobs and life on the go means that often there are other opportunities where I might draw, if only I had the materials. This is where the dip pen began to fail me. It’s not that you Can’t transport it, it’s just that it is a bit more cumbersome, requires a tad more pre-meditation. And those fun little rituals began to feel like chores, and the thing about me and chores is: I don’t like to do them. Which has lead to an inevitable drop off in productivity, for pretty much anything other than formal projects and pointless doodles.

Enter the Pilot Parallel Pen. On a recent excursion to procur art supplies, I came across some of these in the craft store. I went home and did some research, and while there was little mention of them as drawing pens (they are intended mainly for calligraphic purposes) I said “What the heck” and gave one a shot.


Truly, truly, fun to draw with. The edge of the pen gives a nice fine line, and as you swivel you can pick up some wonderfully varied line widths. You can draw with just the bottom corner, if you are looking for uniform thin lines, whilst hatching perhaps. And the broad strokes make it a breeze to do larger Fill areas. I originally purchased a 1.5 mm pen, the smallest of their four options, but I think a larger one could draw just as well, and give you even more options for wide lines.

The big seller for me is that it is ready made to load with your own choice of inks. I am sick and tired of finding that the point on one pen is better, but has crap ink, or another pen draws a terrible line, but has perfect blackness. The PPP is designed to use proprietary cartridges (comes with a black and a red) but I cannot speak to their quality, as I have not used them. It also includes a simple squeeze-bulb converter, listed as being for Cleaning Purposes, but I found it to work fine for loading my own ink (I have seen talk online about some converters not fitting snugly, so this may be a case by case issue, though I have purchased two now and have had no real problems. A drop or two might leak into the casing, but never out of the pen itself. If it truly concerns you, there are better official converters you can buy) At first, I loaded it up with my favorite of favorites, Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Black. This has been my old standby for dip pens, a wonderfully thick dark black, and incredibly waterproof. On the first go it worked wonderfully, and I actually had some mild fits that evening, professing my undying love for a sliver of plastic and metal. However, it turns out that India inks are a big No No for fountain pens of all varieties (I’m teaching myself as I go here:) and it dries quite quickly in the works and can cause long term damage. So, I quested for a replacement ink. The real difficulty is that I need a waterproof jet black, and it seems that the very properties that make India ink so wonderful are what makes them bad for the pens; namely, the shelac used as a binding agent. I played with Higgins Waterproof Calligraphy ink, which had a nice flow and was suitably waterproof, but dries a little light, seeming just a few shades shy of real black. Then, I lucked across what seems to be a fix, and luckily under the umbrella of my favorite brand. Dr. Ph. Martin’s Black Star: Hi-Carb.

Done with PPP and Black Star ink (the graying in the bottom corner is due to poor photography, no fault of the ink)

Perfectly black, gloriously waterproof, and lacking the cursed shelacs that had so vexed my nibs. Success! I have been using it the past two days, and have had no issues. Loaded well with the converter, flows nicely from the Parallel Pen, and starts up quickly after being set aside.  Flow can be a bit wet, but I don’t work on incredibly porous surfaces, so it has not been an issue. They also make a Matte version, not sure of any real difference, although the label doesn’t specifically mention the lack of shelac the way the Hi-Carb does. So, for now, Black Star it is!

I was lucky to find all of this at my local Hobby Lobby (Cookeville is a bit lacking in the art store department). The Pilot Parallel Pen actually came in a bit cheaper than many online stores, at a fair $9.99 (which is a great use for the one-shot 40% off online coupons they often offer) and the Black Star was only a few bucks more than my regular Martin’s, at $8.99. I recommend you give them a shot, and let me know what you think! (although, perhaps, in a less rambling way than I…)

Edit (5/16/13) : It’s been a year and a half since this post, and I’m still loving this pen! Using the exact same one, and no issues at all. It’s a workhorse, takes well to the occasional scrubbing but doesn’t require constant fiddling. The Dr. Martin’s Black Star continued to work well for me, but I recently swapped to Noodler’s Bulletproof Black in my smaller pens, and so I switched the PPP as well to keep ink cohesion across the board. The Noodler’s works great, and is even a little richer black, to my eyes. Also, I stopped using the bulb converter some time ago, and just went with the eyedropper pen method.  The body is so large that it takes a substantial amount of ink to fill it, but it only required a little silicon grease on threads and it has been completely ink-tight. I dig this pen!

(I have no affiliation with Pilot Pens, I am merely an enthusiastic supporter of a quality product)