access to art

There’s a moment, when I have a blank page in front of me, and I freeze. I can’t draw, and I’m faking it.

I won a prize for art at school when I was about, oh 9 or something. I was surprised. Other kids were better at drawing at me – I saved most of my effort for my times’ tables. And art class at school, well…we had it a couple of hours a week but we just sat down, attempted to draw stuff, and generally I had indifferent to a complete lack of success. I was pretty handy drawing the diagrams for the chemical experiments but you know, a ruler got you out of a lot of trouble for that.

I really regret this now.

One of the things which really gets on my nerves is people saying “I can’t…” and yet I was doing the whole “I’m not that great at drawing” act which is a little bit hypocritical. And I happened across an unusual movement (unusual for me, that is) called Urban Sketchers.

I like the idea of location drawing although more honestly, I prefer the sort of art travel journal side of things. So I don’t always sketch on location, but often take reference photographs and do some art journalling later. Sometimes it’s hard as in, I haven’t done anything of note today, and there’s nothing to draw.

I like water colours but I struggled with them, and then I discovered watercolour pencils. Sketch with the pencils and then apply water using a brush. I’d like to say simples, but the sketching bit is hard.

Of course, the one thing that ¬†happens when you pick up a new hobby is you become invaded by a certain amount of gadget freakery. The reason I had welding glass handy for this morning’s eclipse which I missed anyway was some camera related gadget freakery. Painting/art is no different. You have no idea how many pencils are to be got. Spend any time reading pencil review blogs where they are just discussing the sort of pencils I had at school and you realise that beyond computers there is a level of geekery which cannot be equalled. I love mechanical pencils but this is something completely different. And then there is the paper. Which is not exactly perfectly available at the moment either. Plus I am choosy.

For the purposes of the pencils, I use a mixture of four sets. My absolute loves are my Caran D’Ache Museum Aquarelles. They are lovely to colour with. They are also impossible to get in Ireland. Mine were acquired in the London Graphic Centre and I have a set of 12. Caran D’Ache sell a couple of configurations, and the pencils can be got individually too. In an ideal world, I’d have the full set of 72. It may be possible to ask Kennedy’s Art Supplies on Harcourt Street to order them as they are Caran D’Ache retailers.

In addition to them, I have a set of Faber Castell Albrecht Durer pencils, also 12, with a slightly different selection of colours. There is also, I think, a 120 colour set of those. In fact, about 4 years ago, Faber Castell did a special anniversary box set of all their premium coloured pencils. I would kill for one. I really would. It’s a beautiful thing. I got my Albrecht Durers from the London Graphic Centre, although they can occasionally be got in some form, usually 12, I think, from the Art’n’Hobby Shop and I have seen them in Kennedy Art Supplies for definition. Evans may have them as well but I’m not sure about that.

The first water colour pencils I got were actually Caran D’Ache’s as well, and I only had a couple of them initially, and they were from what was, until 2013 when the Museum set was born, their premium line, the Supracolor II set. They come in boxes of varying sizes – mine is 18 – but I think the biggest set you can get is around 120 as well, either in a tin box, or a presentation wooden box. I covet that presentation wooden box. I got them in Kennedy’s Art Supplies on Harcourt Street which is, incidentally, a lovely shop. I’m pretty sure Cork Art Supplies have them as well although I’ve never been in there.

The other set, which is probably easier for most people to get, because they came from the Art’n’Hobby Shop, are Derwent Inktense. They are slightly different in terms of make up – I’m not an expert on what’s inside the wooden pencil case. In addition to Inktense, which is pretty much Derwent’s premium watercolour pencil range, they do a straight range of Watercolor pencils which can be got in both Easons and the Art’n’Hobby Shop. My experience is that as far as the watercolour pencils and the Inktense range are concerned, Jervis Street tend to have both, and it’s pot luck with the other branches.

In terms of quality, the Museums are out on a plain of their own, far out ahead of the others. I love them. Next in line, it’s difficult to call a difference between the Albrecht Durers and the Supracolor II. I mix and match. Of my own supplies, the ones I am least likely to use at the moment are the Inktense. The set I have is a 37 piece set including a large number of Inktense blocks. If I had my time back, it’s possibly I would not get the set that includes the blocks (although they have their uses the odd time).

Paperwise, that’s a bit more hassle. The selection of paper on offer in Dublin is…disappointing. The current art journal is going into a mixed media A4 pad by Canson as it’s the right size, there’s more than 12 sheets in it. It’s not pure watercolour paper but it’s doing what I want it to do. There aren’t a lot of other choices and I haven’t tried enough of them to write a definitive view on which is my favourite. I know for the art journaling I like A4 sized paper. For anything outside the art journal, I haven’t really settled yet.

Watercolour paper comes in a couple of different guises, in terms of how it’s pressed, how textured it is, and who manufactured it. Most common, I have found, is Cotman, closely followed by some form of Langton, with Daler Rowney Aquafine and Nouvelles Arches occasionally to be found. From the point of view of a small travel journal, there does exist a Moleskine watercolour sketch book but I have never seen it for sale in Ireland.

The other gadget you’ll require for this game is some sort of brush. I use water brushes which are handy little freaks which you can fill with water and avoid the having to carry water around with you. You have to make sure you get them clean before contaminating colours, and you can use them for pan watercolours as well. I’ve never tried the tubes so we won’t go there.

They are not easy to find in Ireland, sometimes, but the Art’n’Hobby Shop chain tends to have some examples. I got a Caran d’Ache one at the London Graphic Centre and based on my current limited knowledge, they only appear to manufacture one size. Derwent sell three sizes which you can occasionally get in a three pack (recommended, in my experience, that’s usually 3 for the price of 2 priced), and the only other brand I’ve seen here are Pentell, one of which I own.

Being honest, the one I use most often is one of the Derwent ones, their number 3. It’s a nice brush and it has the benefit of being comparatively easy to replace as yes, the Art’n’Hobby Shop tend to have them. The Pentel can be generous, and overly generous, with the water. I love the Caran D’Ache one, but I tend to be mean with it because I can’t get them here. It’s likely that the next time I see them, I will buy two or three. The Derwent one I am using at the moment is starting to show signs of suffering.

I also have five or six Daler Rowney brushes. Theoretically I need to carry a bottle of water and water receptacles around to use them. I tend not to. Having used them in the past, they are very nice brushes, and the range I own gives me a lot of flexibility.