Some pencils keep getting better

I did not like the Blackwing 530 when it came out (too much bling for my taste), but now that pencil that I’ve been using has gotten worn down and dinged a bit an underpainting of verdigris has been revealed, and I love the effect. It’s just a little reminder that I should give things a chance even if I didn’t fall in love with them at first glance (also this pencil is super difficult to photograph, because of the bling, so forgive me for the potato quality photo).

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Some pencils keep getting better

Moleskine Denim 12 Months 2019 Pocket Weekly Planner review

The Moleskine Denim 12 Months 2019 Pocket Weekly Planner arrived today, and it is a beauty.

I’m not a big planner user, but over the past year I’ve used a weekly planner just to get a better idea of how my week looks like and how to plan ahead accordingly. The slim, minimalist setup of the Moleskine Pocket Weekly planners is perfect for this.

Beyond the regular planner editions, Moleskine offers a wide variety of planners in their various limited edition designs (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Peanuts, Le Petit Prince and more), among them in their Denim collection, which is one of my favourites.

The covers are covered in Denim fabric, with jeans-like labels on them. The craft sleeve around the planner turns with a few minutes of work into bookmarks perfectly sized for the planner:

The endpapers are really nicely designed to evoke various denim labels, and the red elastic closure is echoed in the small back pocket:

As usual with Moleskine limited editions, it comes with a little something extra in the back pocket, this time stickers:

As for the internals, it’s the same as other Moleskine weekly planners, with a weekly schedule on the left side of the spread and a ruler page on the right, monthly calendars and information pages at the beginning of the planner, and a few general planning pages.

If you’re looking for a pocket weekly planner that’s beautiful, lightweight and not overly structured, I highly recommend this planner.

Moleskine Denim 12 Months 2019 Pocket Weekly Planner review

Moleskine Looney Tunes Limited Edition Notebooks and a New Moleskine Two-Go

At almost the last minute of my trip to Paris I managed to sneak in a short visit to a Moleskine store, and was caught by surprise by their new Looney Tunes collection. I’m not a rabid Looney Tunes fan, but the Bugs and Wile E. Coyote were too well-designed to pass, and I’m curious enough about any limited edition that couples Tweety, drawing pencils and a sketchbook to give it a spin. These all obviously come with a Moleskine premium, but if you’re remotely into Looney Tunes, I’d recommend them.

I’ve only opened the Wile E. Coyote notebook at the moment, though I have seen the others open in the shop and they are as tremendously well designed as the Wile E. Coyote one is. The endpapers are so colourful and a lot of fun, and they work with the cover design so well.

It comes with stickers of course:

And a cute B-Side band:

Another pleasant surprise was a new cover colour to the Moleskine Two-Go editions, green. The Two-Go notebooks have thicker paper than regular Moleskines, and they’re smaller than large Moleskines, with one side of the page blank and the other side ruled. I use them as my reading journals, and highly recommend them, especially if you were at all fond of the Arts notebooks of Field Notes’s “Arts and Sciences“.

Moleskine Looney Tunes Limited Edition Notebooks and a New Moleskine Two-Go

Beginner’s Tips to Watercolours, Part 1: How to Build Your First Palette

Watercolours are scary to work with, because unlike other drawing mediums (except ink washes), they have a mind of their own and don’t stay where you put them, and they don’t mix like other mediums, because of their transparency. There’s also a lot of very cheap, poor quality watercolours out there that the beginner may be tempted to buy, that will only be able to produce “grainy” or washed-out drawings. So, here’s how to build your first watercolour palette:

Which company should I choose?

Any company that has artist grade watercolours that has several series of paints, with different price points for each series, is a good choice. The key word is “artist” and not “student” grade, and that Cobalt Blue (expensive) should not cost the same as Yellow Ochre (cheap).

Quick explanation: student grade pigments are low quality pigments whose only winning quality is that they’re cheap. Your time and work are worth more than that, trust me. Artist grade pigments are much higher quality, and since we live in a “post truth” world, don’t trust the label, check that there’s a price difference between different pigments. Certain pigments cost more, and the companies that use them want you to pay for that. Usually companies will have about 4 “series”, with 1 being the cheapest, and where you’ll find most of the browns, and series 4 being most expensive and where you’ll find most of the blues and some yellows and reds. Don’t fall into traps like “this is a Japanese maker,” or “these are hand made,”  — every good quality maker will have grades to their paints. It’s not a “Western” or “Big Company” thing — it’s economical common sense.

OK, artist grade and several, differently priced series, but really, which company should I choose?

It depends what you’re going for and where you live. If you live in the US, Daniel Smith is a good option, since they’re the most readily available. The problem is they come in tubes, which isn’t the most economical or convenient of ways to start working with watercolours. If you want to start with Daniel Smith you’ll either need to buy empty half-pans and fill them, waiting for a few days for them to set, or buy a plastic watercolour palette with wells, fill them and wait for them to set.

Winsor and Newton Professional half-pans are probably the best place to start, if you can get them (and they’re pretty widely available). These are excellent and affordable. Just avoid the Cotmans paints, which are their student grade ones. Make sure that there’s “professional” printed on the label. They are the goldilocks of watercolour pigments

Schmincke Horadam (not Academie) is what I use, and is the favourite of many watercolourists as it has the most vibrant pigments that are the easiest to lift and rework. They’re more expensive and difficult to obtain, and if you’re used to other pigments their vibrancy might scare you off at first. (BTW – Schmincke is pronounced shmin-keh, and not schminkee. It’s a German company).

Sennelier is even more difficult to find, and is the opposite of Schmincke, being more subdued and transparent. If you really want to get into glazing, these may be for you, otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend them.

White Nights watercolours are also good, a midway between W&N and Schmincke, but they’re difficult to find, particularly outside of sets.

Which should I pick: Half-Pans, Full-Pans or Tubes?

Half-pans.

Quick explanation: you’re starting out, so half-pans are the best, and should last you for a long, long time, since you use so little pigment in watercolour painting. This will also let you experiment with different pigments later on, maybe even switching companies without breaking the bank. When you get into “heavy” use, you can switch to full-pans, or tubes, which are the most economical of options, if you actually get to use them.

Which colours to choose?

Start with these: Lemon Yellow, Raw Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Sap Green, Alizarine Crimson, Payne’s Grey (blue tone).

Every company will have them, although their names may differ a bit.

Later on I’ll discuss how to understand pigment labels (so you can pick your own), and which ones to pick for different kinds of drawing, but with these you’ll be able to draw landscapes, portraits and still-life, and they’re all transparent pigments, which means they mix well and glaze well, without creating “muddy” effects.

Quick explanation: this is the standard, classic watercolour palette, except that I’ve switched a few pigments with others that mix better. That’s why there’s no Cadmium Yellow or Cadmium Red here. Payne’s Grey is God’s little gift to watercolourists — you’ll use it a lot for shading and mixing, and as an added bonus, except the Cobalt Blue, these are all series 1 and 2 paints, which make them cheap.

Beginner’s Tips to Watercolours, Part 1: How to Build Your First Palette

This week’s long run: how to run when you really don’t want to

My mom has some very serious health problems, and that (coupled with some travel) has  made me put my running on a two week haitus. Except for an “angry run” of 4k that turned into 6k, I haven’t been lacing up lately, and that’s not good.

Yesterday I put in a 4k, and as usual after a break, it was pretty rough. Not as rough as I knew this morning’s run would be. It was scheduled to be a 10k, but I dropped it to a 7k, knowing that all things considered even that would be a challenge. I would have to fight my lizard brain all the way through this one, so I would have to use all the tricks I had to get through it:

Trick #1: Remove all obstacles to getting out the door. For me that meant setting an alarm, setting out my workout clothes, and charging my headphones the night before.

Trick #2: Promise yourself something nice once you complete the run. For me it was breakfast at my favourite cafe.

Trick #3: Distraction, distraction, distraction. This is the most important thing, and why I chose a new route, and I saved my favourite podcast (Do By Friday) for this run.

Trick #4: Give yourself a break. I allowed myself to stop for breaks, so long as they were only for a few seconds, and I went right back to running again. I needed to decide this in advance so I wouldn’t feel bad about taking the breaks that I knew that I would need. The point was not to beat myself up for something that couldn’t be helped.

It worked, and I got rewarded with some pretty nifty new views:

Get out there and run. You can crush it, no matter what the little lizard says.

This week’s long run: how to run when you really don’t want to

7 Wonders Duel: A Board Game Review

Finding board games that are great for two players is more difficult that you’d think. Two player games tend to have very simple gameplay, as trading, cooperating and complex card tactics are difficult to build into a game for just two. This is especially pronounced in games that are two players or more. They either don’t have special rules for two player gameplay, and then you’re sure for a duller game than a four player game, or they create complex “dummy” players or partial decks that end up never really simulating a multiplayer game. The game ends up not being as fun.

7 Wonders“, a wonderful strategy board game, has a two player ruleset that makes use of dummy players. It doesn’t work great. The trading element is huge in this game and just doesn’t work with two players, and the game becomes much less complex when you only have another player’s strategy to worry about. You end up spending most of your time thwarting the other player, or just trying to barrel your way into as many easy points as possible. Red and green cards take the biggest hit out of this kind of gameplay. That’s a shame, because the game is gorgeous, very clever, and very fun and interesting to play, especially if you enjoy strategy games.

So I was very happy to find out that Asmodee came out with “7 Wonders Duel“, a “7 Wonders” game rewritten for two players.

The basic “7 Wonders” rules are the same. Each play tries to rack up as many victory points as possible. Blue culture cards give you straight victory points. Yellow commerce cards give you gold, resources, or more favourable trading rates. Brown and Grey cards are resource cards, and are much rarer than in the original “7 Wonders”. You are going to find yourself really squabbling for resources, or spending a lot of gold on them. However, it’s in the Green science cards and Red military cards that the game truly differs.

Green and Red cards can bring in an early victory condition, but unless the other player is really inexperienced, I doubt that it’ll happen. They are more interesting precisely because you don’t need to rack up a large amount of them to make the other player sit up and take notice. Two Green science cards with the same symbol on them allow you to pick a bonus chip from the top of the board, each one giving you a significant advantage.

Red military cards make the red marker advance towards the edge of your opponent’s board. At first you gain victory point on them, then they start to lose gold, and finally they can lose the game outright. You’ll tend to spend the game near the middle of the board, but the Red and Green cards are what make you more engaged with the other player’s strategy. If they’re racking them up, you need to start playing defensively, or you’re going to lose pretty quickly.

The game still goes on in three ages, and you still benefit from building wonders – especially those that give you an extra turn or more resources. You can still chain buildings – gaining free builds if you’ve built an earlier building with the required symbol. Especially with Red and Blue cards, you’ll want to keep on eye on what you’re opponent has, because in this super resource constrained version of “7 Wonders” a free build is a big help. Trade is with the bank only, which means that you can always trade – but trade gets more expensive if your opponent has the resource you need. Guilds are as powerful as they are in the original game, and wonders are even more important – and if your opponent builds his four first, you can only build three of your four (there are only 7 wonders after all…).

 

“7 Wonders Duel” is about 30-40 minutes play time, with another 10 minutes to setup and pack it all up. The box is super well organized, and while not compact, can totally slip into a backpack quite comfortably – unlike the huge “7 Wonders” box. It’s a game with engrossing tactics, very beautifully made and fun to play. Each turn is quick, so there’s very little downtime, and you can’t just focus on one aspect of the game (Wonders, Greens, Blues, Reds or Yellows), or you’ll very quickly lose. Even though there’s no trading with the other player, you are constantly looking at each other’s builds, trying to figure out and thwart their strategy, and changing your in response, so there’s no isolated play possible – a huge plus over the two player version of the original “7 Wonders” game. This gets a big thumbs up from me.

7 Wonders Duel: A Board Game Review

A Glimpse into How I Journal

I like my journals to be filled with little sketches and bits and pieces that I collect here and there (labels, business cards, etc). It brings the entries to life, especially when I read through them later on.

So for instance yesterday I created a 3 minute sketch of a group of ladies enjoying themselves at a local cafe:

And here’s today’s page, about to be filled with notes:

So if you go to lunch somewhere, remember to grab their business card so that you can stick it in your notebook later.

A Glimpse into How I Journal