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Looking Back at Prepping for the Minnesota State Fair

September 26, 2016

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Above: Warm up contour sketches of live finches in an aviary setting. I used a Tombow Calligraphy pen (hard tip) for the sketching and an extra bold (chisel tipped) Uni Posca paint pen for the purple background. I outlined the bird on the recto page with a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen after the purple was down. The journal is an 8 inch square Seabright journal, which I'm still filling before I write a full review on; but you can see other images from that journal by clicking on "Seawhite Sketchbooks" in the category cloud of this blog.

Since I haven’t had time to scan my 2016 Minnesota State Fair Journal yet, I can at least write a little bit about more how I prepped for this year.

You can find a few posts up about my experience at the Fair this year and prepping for it at the following links:

Sheep

What I really wanted to take to the Fair.

And which Paper I was going to take to the Fair.

What I can tell you today, even though I my flip through isn't posted yet, is that I did indeed take different materials and papers on my different visits. The first day I took 9 x 12 inch watercolor boards. The second two visits (which were the sketch out days) I took a 7.75 x 9.75 inch Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media journal. And on my final trip (with Dick along) I took 9 x 6 inch watercolor boards.

I didn’t end up taking gouache on any days because it was easier to simply take the watercolors and pens I’d been testing.

And that brings us to the subject of today’s post—playing around with pens before going to the Fair.

You see it’s one thing to get a new type of pen and test it for waterproof qualities and line quality and such before you go on a trip (and the Fair for me is a trip by any definition), but to then just take that tool or pen to the Fair might prove disastrous for me because I might get there and find out that the line quality doesn’t suit what I want to draw or convey. 

I have to do a round of final testing that involves testing the pens on something live.

I made a visit to the aviary at the eldercare facility where my in-laws reside. The aviary is about 12 feet wide, 7 or 8 feet talk and about 3 feet deep. I draw there for at least short while on most visits to the folks, as it's on the way. The aviary is filled with a variety of finches and they are always curious about what I’m up to. 

In the images shown in this post I tested the Tombow Calligraphy pen. It was something I found at Wet Paint during the summer. It is a fiber tipped pen that has a fine, short point that makes it seem like a small solid fiber-tipped brush pen. It is very fun to write with as the tip imparts a lot of character to your handwriting. Also it has a pleasant, resilient, and bouncy feel that makes it effortless to write with. There is virtually no drag on a slightly textured paper. You can outdraw your eye easily with this pen, and you know what—sometimes that’s a lot of fun—just let loose.

The captions to the three images tell you what I was using. I never did get the Tombow Calligraphy pen in the soft tip version. (It wasn’t sold locally.) I can’t give you feedback on how it writes or draws. But overall, if you like to sketch with a fine tipped pen but want MORE line variation quality than your pigment liners (of any brand) are giving you, this might be the pen for you.

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Above: The second practice spread in the same Seawhite sketchbook. I'm using the same pens as I did in the first warm up sketch. The difference her is that I didn't add the internal color on sight. I used Stabilo Tones at home, working from memory. I was debating on whether or not to take Stabilo Tones to the Fair (I always decide not to because of the nasty habit they have of melting in the heat) and I wanted to test Stabilo Tones on this sketchbook paper. (Combining a couple experiments into one.) I restated some of the line work after adding the Stabilo Tones and wasn't happy with the feel of the pen over the Stabilo Tone. The blue was added on site to the background and it's an extra bold chisel-tipped Uni Posca. Again, bold lines are from the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.

Downside for me—unlike my Staedtler Pigment Liners which are my fine-tipped pens of choice, the ink in the Tombow Calligraphy pens flows at a different rate and even when you turn the pen to the side you get a rather bold line (thin, and fine, but still bold). Compare this to the wide variety of line I get when sketching the the SPL you can see used in the images in this post. (And note that there are some color pencil sketches on those pages, I’m not referring to those. And dry or not I can get this lighter lines with the SPL.) 

Based on these preliminary sketches with live models I decided to pack the Tombow Calligraphy pens for the Fair. I didn’t use them during the Fair however, at least I don’t remember doing so (and the journal isn’t within reach). I favored another pen I’ll write more about later but you can read a bit about it and see an actual 2016 Minnesota State Fair Sketch made with my favorite pen for this year’s fair at the first link given above—the sheep sketches. 

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Above: My final page spread from the sketch outing. One think I was less than happy with was the way I would quickly clog up in an eye space with the Tombow Calligraphy pen, as compared with how I work with the fine tipped SPLs. This is a matter of practice, but it was part of my decision to not use it at the Fair this year. The note at the bottom right was added at home after working with the Stabilo Tone additions on the previous spread. It was an after though just before I went to bed that night. And I'm glad I noted it down because I would have already forgotten it.

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