Art Materials Nostalgia—Work It

November 14, 2016


Above: The set of 24 with some extras of my favorite colors—Berol Karisma Colour Pencils. In the front, a Global padded pencil case.

Decades ago a large portion of my artwork was in color pencil. It's a labor-intensive medium (stroke after stroke after stroke) but it allows for looseness and detail, and it's fun to use.

Recently I've been clearing things out of the studio, clearing and organizing storage shelves, bookshelves; getting rid of materials I no longer use: found objects, whacky beads, old watercolor sets I'm not interested in battling with.

We all have limited space. Everyone, even if we think we have a huge space—I have friends in warehouse artists lofts who have nothing but space, but really don't have any space.

KarismaColorLabelLeft: The box label from the Karisma Colour Pencil set I'm writing about today. (It was wrapped around the box.)  

Bonus Nostalgia: It's fun to see the typeface Mistral used on the packaging—a fun face, much used (and abused) in the 1980s and 90s—often used in an unreadable way. Here it works just fine. 

Because I love to experiment with materials sometimes, because of limited space things that don't get used often get put away and pushed to "the back" and "out of sight—out of mind" comes into play, and we don't use the items we don't see.

I'm not advocating that all of our art stuff needs to be on view—I'm simply suggesting that every few years (2 or 3 at the most) you really need to go through your supplies and weed out things that you aren't going to need.

I'm also not advocating that you give up those paint brushes that are "ruined" or "toasted." No, that stuff you can still use, just like you can still use the Faber-Castell Pitt Calligraphy Marker even when they get dried out (because the it's like graphite, only it's ink!!! Yay!).

But if you go through your studio and weed out what you aren't going to use then you make space for where you are currently mentally and creatively.

My sort studio sort through was long over due. I was frustrated that often I needed to wait until Dick got home before I could go into the storage room and pull something out, because I couldn't lift stuff to get to what it was I wanted.

So little by little, early this fall, I started going through the studio. I'm still not finished. I'm in the middle of shooting another online art journaling class and we often leave the lights and camera tripod up. That means I can't really get at some stuff. It's a stop and go process—but it's going forward and I could not be happier.

Sometimes there is a bit of sadness, or at least nostalgia. When I pulled down a plastic box containing the Karisma Colours shown in the first photo for today's post I couldn't believe the find!

Inside the plastic box, swathed in layers of thick paper toweling (industrial strength, cushy paper toweling) were my favorite set of pencils EVER. (And I've been using color pencils since I was 9 years old and got my first set of Derwents.)

I thought these were lost, or perhaps inadvertently given away. Many supplies I'll give away after I stop using them, but these I would never give away. I even have short, short stubs of these pencils.

Why are these so great? The leads are smooth, buttery smooth. The leads are hard enough that they don't crumble when you want to apply hard pressure for burnishing. The leads are soft enough that they apply rich, saturated color across the tooth of your paper with hardly any pressure. They are simply yummy.

For only a few months in the early 90s (I believe it was then) these appeared at Wet Paint. I bought a set, I used them, fell in love, and bought singles of my favorite colors (yes, that dark Indigo I love so much!). And then not long after that I returned and learned that Wet Paints distributers were discontinuing them or couldn't get them, or something. I had to shake off the disappointment and throw myself into something else. I started messy with new choices for my Daniel Smith watercolor palette. I didn't realize it yet, but my life in color pencils, despite teaching color pencil techniques for another 15 years was over.

Sure I still use color pencils in my mixed media work. And I still teach color pencil and demonstrate a bunch of approaches for my students, but I rarely rush into the studio eager to pull out the pencils and get started on some new piece. I reach first for my watercolors or gouache, and then the pencils come out for the "mixed media" aspects if that's where I want to go.

Seeing these pencils again made me want to run to the drawing table and start a color pencil sketch. I couldn't do that because I had piles of stuff I was sorting on the drawing table, but was remarkable to me to feel that pencil pull again.

Now that they have resurfaced I have placed them in an area of easy access. I'll be using these up, enjoying them. (They are also in a Global Pencil case so that they are more protected. I was actually surprised that they weren't already in one as typically the first thing I do is put new pencils in a Global case.)

Note: Since I first wrote about Global Pencil Cases in December 2008 they have come out with canvas versions of their case. So if you don't want a leather case you have options wherever these cases are sold. 

All the other pencil sets I have are placed away—stored in an easily accessible place should I need to get at them, but out of the way in the studio, so that they aren't keeping other things from being reachable.

I'm even having dreams about my favorite papers for pencil sketching!

Think about clearing and sorting your work space or storage space for art materials. If you haven't used a particular medium for a couple years is it something you're still interested in? If so make a play date to use it. (You could do a "Project Friday.") If you feel the medium no longer exerts a pull on you consider donating the related supplies to an art group, school, or friend's child. Supplies that aren't being used are a little sad—all that potential and no action. Release them. Release yourself for new discoveries—or find an old friend who brings back good memories and entices you back.

Remember, supplies will come and go. Companies get purchased. Lines get discontinued. Distributors run into "issues." Demand drops below an economically supportable point for manufacturers or sellers. It's good to have favorite supplies. But it's also good to accept that things are gone and use up what you have. It's all an adventure.

Project Suggestion: Take a couple hours this week to go through your studio space, the spare room you work in, your desk—wherever you have your art supplies. What supplies do you have that you aren't fully utilizing right now? Did you buy a set of watercolors but never sign up for that local class? Did you succumb to the lure of a new acrylic ink but never cracked open the bottle? Whatever it is, whatever you have pull it out where you can see it and make a list of the things you might need to do in order to use it—e.g., get suitable paper or canvas, read a book on the medium, take a class, simply make time!

Now look at your calendar. Find two weeks to pencil in where you'll work using this medium EVERY DAY! And don't avoid holidays—I've done some of my best series of paintings on Thanksgiving weekend while prepping and cooking for 12 or more people. Learn to work in the spaces of your life.

I suggest you start your usage project as soon as you read that book, so that you simply make time—but give yourself a week to get something organized. Make sure you pick a subject matter that is easily available to you—draw portraits of a pet or family member. Paint pictures of flowers from your garden.

Then mark the project on your calendar and each day show up at your workspace and make art with that medium or tool or supply. Learn what you can do with it by sitting with it for 60 minutes a day for two weeks. Use it up. There is no waste when you are learning! You might even find your way back to your first love.


    • Tina M Koyama
    • November 14, 2016

    Colored pencils are currently my favorite medium for both urban sketching and small still lifes! I didn’t know you ever worked in colored pencils! I hope your nostalgia prompts you to share some of those old works as well as any current insights.


    • Sabrina
    • November 15, 2016

    Oh, these were my first artist grade colored pencils! Got a couple of them when I was still at school, and used them for coloring doodles. I never considered anything I did with them as art or something worthy, but I remember that I loved to color with these pencils! They were discontinued shortly after that and I bought some Polychromos instead when I needed a new color. Never liked them the way I loved the Karismacolors. I still have the tiny stumps of them, and wish I could get a whole set now, being more serious about drawing and painting!

  1. Reply

    Sabrina, thanks for writing in because I have never met anyone else that used these pencils because they were available here for such a short period of time. It’s great to know that you also had a few short moments of fun with them. Maybe you could make those stubs into a necklace!!! At least we got to use them then!

  2. Reply

    I’ve started tidying up my studio (again) too, a few weeks ago. I felt exactly the same. That I had too many supplies, and that the ones I didn’t use took up too much space and prevented me from getting to and using the ones I actually want to use. Not to mention all the ones that I might actually use if I remembered that I had them… I felt that it all ended up with me not doing anything at all.
    At the beginning of the year, I gave a whole bag with (glittery) gel pens, glitter glues, coloured pencils and cheaper watercolour sets to a friend of mine for the 4 year old daughter who loves to draw. I just saw her last week and she told me that her daughter still loves using all the pens and colours. Some of my stamps and stencils have gone too.
    Right now, I’m going through my acrylic paints, sorting them into smaller boxes, making colour charts and starting a colour mixing reference book. I can’t believe how many colours I have accumulated over the years, many of which I’ve probably never even used. My goal is to thoroughly get to know my colours and reduce them and only have the ones I actually want to use. Art supplies are wonderful, but too much can be a bit overwhelming…
    And now I want to get out my coloured pencils again! (My favourites are the Faber Castell Polychromos, and they all live happily in a leather Global Pencil case, which I found thanks to you mentioning them on your blog some time ago 🙂 I always enjoy reading your blogs and your tips!

    • Sabrina
    • November 16, 2016

    I like the idea of a necklace, Roz! Like some kind of artists amulet!

    • joanne
    • November 17, 2016

    I have a whole cabinet of art supplies–purchased with great hopes, but never opened or used. Have always said I would use the stuff when I retired. 70 and still working. I just hope I can still USE them when and IF I ever stop working–for someone other than myself.

    I found a scrap of paper in the attic–while looking for something else–I had used erasers to carve a set of number stamps. The scrap was a test printing of all the numbers. I have it on the wall–so I can be reminded.

  3. Reply

    Joanne, I’m going to tell you something I tell all my students. DON’T WAIT, not even one more day. Start using all those supplies now.

    YOu’re 70 and still working. When will you have time if not now? And using art supplies needs dexterity that takes practice which takes times, so you need to start now to get that practice in.

    Fifteen minutes a day sketching, then sketching and a little painting, if that appeals to you.

    And once you’ve made that hole in your day you can advance it to 30 minutes and then you’ll really get a lot done each day. And when the time comes that you are retired and feel you have time to do more you’ll be ready to jump in with both feet.

    Go to the category list of my blog and find “Project Friday” and read those posts. Start doing something about this today!

    I love that you have those hand carved numbers print on your wall. Let it remind you each day to find those 15 minutes!

  4. Reply

    You raise a great issue—too many supplies are overwhelming. This is true about supplies, and also about colors. We don’t need all that we sometimes acquire. Weeding things out is a great idea.

    I’ve also found that acrylic paints don’t last well for me over time (tube paints) so if we don’t use them we lose them to waste because we have to toss them.

    I recommend that once you go through a set of supplies like acrylics you then take two weeks of time and spend a little bit of time each day using that supply to make art, really play with it every day of the two weeks.

    Then you can go back to the organization of a new item like your pencils and then use them for two weeks and so on. Then you’ll reconnect with all of the stuff you’re keeping!

    I’m so glad you’re going to reconnect with your color pencils and that you’ve had them safe in a case!!!!

    Thank you for reading.

  5. Reply

    My only suggestion is that you might want to put a thin layer of varnish or some sort of sealant on the pencil tips so they don’t mark your clothing, but color pencils aren’t as apt to do this as graphite.

    I’d love to see a picture if you make a necklace!!!

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