Archive for the ‘Product Reviews’ Category

Product Review: HP Envy x360 Laptop

I am a computer science graduate student with an undergraduate degree in art and design. I have had this computer for five months and keep it at home on a desk; I carry a beater 10-inch wiped netbook with Linux xUbuntu to class. I bought the HP Envy x360 12GB RAM / Core i7 / SATA HD 500GB / SSD 128 GB for a little over a thousand US dollars at a local brick and mortar store.

◙ It is flawed — walk away!! ◙

I do not like island / Chiclet / Mac style keys. At least they are crisp, I have a full size QWERTY with 10-Key number pad, and it is easy to turn the back-lighting on and off.

1) The keyboard only came with one CTRL key, on the left! I use copy and paste a lot for code and other text, so I had to remap the keyboard and sacrifice the ALT key on the right to make it a CTRL key.
2) The insert slips into overwrite at odd times in a text field forcing me to stop typing and correct it.
3) The cursor loses focus and drops a right hand click drop down menu when I am trying to use the touchpad, causing me to hit the ESC key or try to move the cursor and click somewhere new, sometimes several times a day, which is annoying af.
4) The cursor loses focus and vanishes completely, requiring me to shut down the laptop and hold the power button for 15 seconds. Sometimes I have to do this two or three times. This makes me shut down all my projects and programs and is extra annoying af.
5) The pen stylus costs a lot but does not work for crap with Adobe Illustrator. The tablet screen often cannot differentiate between a hand touch and the pen stylus so if for some reason you are the master of “hover pen” vector technique then this may not bother you. It does not register drawing points on a path well. It is mediocre with Photoshop. I would describe it overall as under-performing compared to any Wacom product, even the non-visual pen stylus tablets.
6) The OS / HP skin of the OS is LOADED WITH ADVERTISEMENTS! I was bombarded with ads and click-bait. I downloaded an ad suppressor app that hid all of the sources except one which I cannot pinpoint that launches from the lower right hand corner of the bottom tool bar. These are full out advertisements for external media and products that have nothing to do with my laptop. You cannot strip these off via the Control Panel, they are hard built into the OS. I learned C / C-Sharp / C++ coders have stripped out the adware on their copies of Win-10 but it just re-installs itself whenever there is a Windows update. Advice is to find a reputable suppression app unless you love love love pop-up ads interrupting you all the time.
7) I immediately ditched McAfee and have a very aggressive and detailed firewall / anti-spyware / anti-virus suite which has stopped un-authorized attempts to access my webcam over 100 times in the five months I have had this laptop. This has been ongoing and I am not visiting any unusual websites: my server use is through my university, so it is very boring information searches for class projects or a knitting pattern and some online shopping. Literally I would show anyone on earth or my mother my use history, it is that boring and vanilla. No clue what’s the sneak attacks to access the webcam but it seems to be new to Win-10. Using Chrome most of the time and Firefox some of the time, so I do not think it is from a browser and also neither of those companies were sending themselves data from the Pentagon. Looking at you, Microsoft…

I am stuck with this laptop because I paid for it and I need to use particular software in Windows like Adobe, Axure, etc. I do not have the technical skills or experience to parse which problems in items 1 – 5 are OS versus hardware failures. This is just a collection of my experiences. I regret giving HP a chance, but, hey, my beloved Toshiba laptops are gone. I just wanted a keyboard I could live with and hoped the tablet features would be nice. 😦 HP is evil and their tech deserves to be burned as a coal substitute.

Product Review: Staedtler Master Carve Block

September 14, 2015 2 comments



I had tried a few different kinds of soft carve media blocks as an alternative to linoleum. I did not like any of them! The prior brands were easy to carve but were not good for fine lines -or even clear lines- as the edges would cut raggedly or crumble. I carved the blocks as soon as I bought them, in case the soft media blocks can dry out and harden with time like linoleum. Then I tried a Staedtler Master Carve block and it was totally different, holding fine, clear lines like linoleum while being as easy to carve as a pencil eraser. I am so hooked on this product!

This is the carving I did with the block. I used Dockyard Microtools 1 – 2 mm V and U gouges to do the carving. I wanted the pattern of the cat to be hair-like and to also have cuts in the block delineate the fur. I also like carving with gouges a lot, seeing the line appear in one cut as it curls away from the block. Sharpie marker is helpful to get the design on the Staedtler block so it can be carved; once the ink was dry it did not smudge or wipe off.


Carved block before printing.

Carved block before printing.


I was thrilled with how smooth and easy the gouges cut through the block. This media would be great to carve with an Xacto knife or any other block print cutting tools. I carved the background around the cat because I wanted to print the noise and have that as a comparison to the positive image.




I used my preference of an oil-based intaglio ink to print. Oil-based ink takes longer to dry but does not smudge and has a richer, deeper color. Both the positive design and the background noise printed wonderfully with the Staedtler Master Carve block. I used an Asian paper with some mulberry tree fibers and shiny silver flecks in each sheet for printing. The final print on this paper is very lovely. It makes me feel like a cozy cat is curled up on a snowy day so I titled this piece “Winter”.

Product Review: Astra Neon FX Pencils by Chartpak Koh-I-Noor

Astra Neon FX pencils

photo from Blick online

If you are bored and want some really bright hues or maybe, like me, kind of miss certain aspects of the 1980s then these pencils are waiting for you.  The package says “Alarmingly! Bright! Pencils!” and the set delivers.  Also, it has a blue pencil which is missing from a lot of the new neon products that are cropping up.  I used them on pencil drawings I made at museum’s Picasso show and they are really fun.  I do wish there was a purple in the mix but it’s still a good buy at under $5.  They handle great on paper and also blend well with Prismacolor  pencils.

ATC Neon Homage Picasso 1946

Read more…

Bic Mark It Permanent Markers Are Not Artist Grade

March 1, 2013 7 comments


Bic Mark It Permanent Markers are not archival and are artist grade materials even though they are advertised as being acid free and neutral pH.  They are not archival or for conservation of permanent art work.  Ever since I mailed my Sharpie markers back to the manufacturer for a refund, I have been looking for a product in the same price range that will not decay.  Bic Consumer Affairs department  responded to my inquiry about the pens being lightfast and/or not degrading over time:

We do not recommend that they be used for archival purposes, as our products have not been designed or tested with this purpose in mind.

We suggest you visit a local arts supply store in your area.  They might carry a pen that will suit your specific needs.

The ingredients of BIC inks are proprietary.

Bic wants a slice of the arts and crafts market, they have built a website to promote the markers as art supplies and hired crafting bloggers.  The bottom line is that this is just a marketing campaign for office supplies.  Like Sharpies, they have a great range of colours and will work on a wide number of materials; and like Sharpies they will be fading and changing colours in a short period of time.


Loving Fountain Pens

February 18, 2013 Leave a comment


I have been into drawing a lot lately and decided to use fountain pens for the first time in a long time.  I pulled out two old Sheaffer plastic cheap fountain pens.  They are fun but have disappeared from office supply stores, so I bought a nice hefty cigar shape fountain pen from Amazon.  It seems that there are a slew of fountain pens available in Hong Kong and one can be purchased, shipping included, for $5 and up.  They usually come with a refillable ink cartridge inside but no ink.  I recommend buying a pen other shoppers have rated well.

Waterproof inks are not recommended; they can clog the pen too easily.  I am enjoying using a bottle of Windsor Newton sepia calligraphy ink.  The pen did not work right away; I needed to hold the nib under a faucet of running water and then let it dry out and it was fine.  It had dust or something from the factory, maybe a little corn starch so the manufacturer can tell if it was used should anyone return the merchandise.

Part of the enjoyment of returning to fountain pen drawing is how portable a fountain pen is.  You can get a range of line widths more like a dip pen but it is a lot easier to carry around.  This has been fun for making artist trading cards.  I can just put a pen and pencil with some ATC blanks in my purse or bag and carry them around with me.  If I want to add depth, I ink wash in the background later at home.

ATC Snow Shovel



ATC Winter Wolf

How To Use Rubber Cling Stamps: Hack Them

January 14, 2013 Leave a comment


I came up with the best way to use cling stamps; you need to hack them.  These are a fairly new crafting product called rubber “cling” stamps.  They are available in big box arts and crafts stores.  You have to buy a thick acrylic block separately to place the stamps onto in order to use them.  The idea is to pull the stamps off a sheet of clear plastic they are sold with, arrange them onto the thick acrylic block holder and stamp with them.  The upside is that you can see through the clear block where to place the rubber stamps onto the acrylic block holder (the printed back side of each stamp with the image is sticky); you can see the surface you are stamping onto (unlike regular stamps mounted onto wooden blocks) and the cling stamps can be taken off and re-positioned at will.  The downside is that putting the stamps back onto the plastic sheet they are sold with is very annoying, and the adhesive back sides are at risk of collecting dust, debris and -where I live- dog fur.

Also, the thick acrylic block is the most expensive part of getting a set of cling stamps together.  I went to hackerspace Pumping Station: One with a solution in mind.  I raided the 1/4″ thick clear scrap acrylic, discards from other members, and used the laser cutter to make my own backs for the stamps.  I bought three sets of stamps for a total of $8 (before tax) because they were clearance items.  This gave me a total of 19 image stamps plus a whole set of alphabetical stamps that resemble typewriter keys.  I sat with a ruler and measured them and used the laser cutter to cut the backs.  I decided on rounded corners for the images and rounded backs for the alphabetical set.  Total cost for this project: $8 and sales tax.  They stuck fine onto the 1/4″ thick acrylic and stamp well.  It is much easier than trying to stamp with them without any backing material and much more cost effective than buying the additional backing block pieces for sale.

UPDATE 1/15/2013  Fatherted on Swap-bot advised that there are other modifications to dodge buying the backing block:


hey, if you want to stamp with cling stamps, you can also use a cd or dvd case or a flat dish or a plastic box. or the lid of your inkpad, it all depends what you like 🙂


Sharpie Markers Are Not Art Supplies

October 30, 2012 43 comments


I called the company and learned that Sharpie markers are not archival or good at all for the creation of long term art work. I loved Sharpie markers when I was in high school and all of the drawings I did with these pens are ruined.  They have radically faded and discolored.  I was mostly trying to draw comic books and do line art.  I had gotten tired of India ink with dip pens and liner brushes, and the fine point Sharpie pens were really easy to use.  All of my black Sharpie drawings turned shades of greens, purples and browns.  Areas I filled in with India ink or another kind of marker are still jet black.  These drawings were not exposed to sunlight, either; they have been kept in my portfolio since I made them and were on artist grade drawing paper.

Yeah, don’t hate.  I was trying to do my own Advanced Dungeons & Dragons inspired comic book when I was a teenager.  The original is so faded and pale brown, I slammed it in Photoshop to make it more visible above. The line art had been jet black.  It is now a pale washy greenish-brown and not even faded a consistent color from area to area. 

Sharpie has a lot of advertisements and their website imagery [such as the colorful drawing at top of this post] promotes the pens as art supplies.  They took out a lot of advertisements in my art college magazines and publications.  I was hoping the contemporary Sharpie was a better product than the ones of the past.  I was being lured in again by the Sharpie felt-tipped goodness and the wide range of colors and metallic hues available.  They are easy to use and the felt pen tips are great; I found the permanent-when-dry quality of the ink stable enough to not bleed or wash away for under drawing on canvas for acrylic painting.  Unfortunately, even the new Sharpies do not have long term permanence.

Here is a comparison of more of my teenage comic book art from 1992. This image: most of the art was done in black Sharpie marker and way too much hatching, lol. Large flat areas I filled in with a brush and India ink from a bottle. This is an unmodified camera phone photograph. The paper was artist grade sketch, probably Utrecht brand since that was where I bought my stuff then.


This comparison shows another comic from 1992 (on the right) where 1) my friends and I got bored and switched from AD&D to White Wolf’s Vampire the Masquerade, and 2) I used India ink from the bottle, brushes and dip pen for the line art. The paper is brighter because it was Paris paper. These two comic pages are the same age. All of the art had been jet black but the Sharpie ink has decayed badly.


I spoke with Beth at Newell Rubbermaid Office Products [800-346-3278] the parent company of Sharpie markers in Oak Brook, Illinois.  She advised me that Sharpies are alcohol based and are not archival in any way.  The same is true for the oil-based Sharpie paint pens; those will rapidly decay and discolor also.  

This is sad for my HBBF and everyone else who are sports fans because contemporary professional athletes autograph player cards and memorabilia exclusively with Sharpie felt tip pens.  All of those lovingly collected player autographs are going to have a short shelf life.  I saw discoloration and changes in my Sharpie drawings in as little as ten years.  Worse, fans and autograph hunters often pay -sometimes large sums- to get their items signed by players and usually wait in long lines.  Therefore, Sharpie ink is only good for ephemera. You cannot count on it to look like it does years in the future so use it for throw away sketches, kicks, street art and anything you do not want to have long term.

UPDATE 11/13/2012:  I mailed my Sharpie markers and paint pens back and got a refund check for the retail price, sales tax and the cost of shipping with a very polite apology letter.  If you want to return yours, mail them to: Newell Rubbermaid Office Products Attn: Consumer Affairs 2707 Butterfield Rd., Oak Brook, IL 60523-1278 USA and include a letter explaining the reason for the return.

UPDATE 3/01/2013: Bic has a similar product that is advertised as acid free / neutral pH but is no better and will also fade and discolor over time.