Review – Dick Blick Medium Vine Charcoal

I must admit before I start here that I’m not really one for charcoal as a drawing medium. It requires a fair amount of space that it’s alright to be perpetually stained with black. So, you basically need studio space in order for it to be at its peak performance, and I do not have studio space. But, I can take art classes, and that is where most of my experience with vine charcoal comes from. There are quite a few places to buy it cheaply, and the manufacturing process is probably one where it would be difficult to weed out natural inconsistencies. From my experience with several different brands, I have a hard time really telling the difference; but the main ones I’ve gone with is a set from Dick Blick, mostly because they were the last ones I was able to try out.

Vine charcoal is a particularly finicky type of drawing medium that goes down smoothly with a rich black color, and wipes away to nearly nothing with a hand or a cloth (though, if applied directly to paper, even an eraser won’t be able to remove the last ghost of a line). The sticks themselves are essentially raw: they are just vines that have been charred. Most sets (including this one) give you a pretty good selection of widths, all at around the same length. Even the girthiest of these break quite easily and most artists break them down a more manageable size both for this reason and to make manipulating them easier (I personally don’t for the most part, but then again I am persnickety). This particular set performed well. I was able to sketch with ease and clarity, while erasing and blending quickly and as cleanly as possible (and the dust trapped in my cleaning cloth made excellent shading powder in other drawings).

Blick offers a wide range of relatively inexpensive products of quality along with their brand-name selection. These fit in nicely and will get the job done. If you’re already ordering art supplies and want some vine charcoal I’d certainly recommend this (or if Blick is actually your local store)(shipping would probably be too much to make this worth ordering alone). And while there certainly may be better charcoal out there somewhere, you won’t have any problems practicing or finishing drawings with this stuff (just be sure to get a fixative if you don’t want it to disappear).

Table Topics Family 49 #97-98


1. Would you travel to space if you could?

2. Have you ever been teased at school?

ANSWERS By: Austin Smith

1. No, if I could pass that opportunity on to someone else I would though.

2. Yes, plenty.

Games That Teach – Hive and Spatial Orientation

We’ve all played the classic abstract strategy games: chess, checkers and the like. But those are old games. In that last century board games became a family staple and became more colorful and extravagant. And in the last few decades they have advance tremendously in both fun and art design. The days of any new abstract strategy games coming out seemed to be over. Until, that is, Hive came out and opened up the genre again.

The Pieces of Hive
The Pieces of Hive

Hive has won tons of award and gotten some serious buzz (get it?). It’s an abstract that is even more abstracted because it doesn’t have a board. In theory it is played on an infinite grid of hexagons (which is how the game on the iOS and other devices is played) though this grid can only really be about 30 hexes in diameter because of the limitations of number of pieces.

It is also unique in the fact that it has no piece elimination. None of the pieces you play on the board can be eliminated. And you get to choose which pieces you put out first. The objective is to surround the enemy’s queen bee with six of any color piece. And it’s usually a very short game, the longest I’ve played being about ten minutes.

But in my opinion where hive really shines is in the spatial aspect. Each piece moves differently in the two dimensional plain. There are specific, but simple rules governing where you can and can’t move your pieces. It isn’t always obvious where your next move will be, and predicting your opponent’s move can be especially tricky.

Sample Game Unfinished
Sample Game Unfinished

Now I work with spatial things quite a lot, being a cartoonist and graphic designer. I also like to play chess a lot, though I’m not very good, which requires some spatial orientation. But even I can be baffled by Hive at times. It’s such a simple game, but it makes you think so hard, and that is what good games do. Of course you can play more casually as I and most people I play it with (they’re not very cerebral gamers, or even gamers) want to. But even then it’s still flexing your spatial brain muscle or whatever.

Now like, I said spatial resigning is only good in a handful of jobs (architect, graphic designer, artist) and this game really isn’t a teaching tool, it’s more of a practice thing. It helps you get in the zone for such things and it can really be quite relaxing in doing so. It’s one of those games where you marvel at how the other person won rather than being bitter about the fact that you lost. At least to me it is.

So if you already have one of the occupations I mentioned earlier, or are looking into one, try out Hive, it’s great and it can sometimes really help you and let you enjoy things you’ve learned. And you can brag to the people you beat about how your job actually gave you some skill.

What Makes a Post Freshly Press-able: WordPress is Self-centered (Occupy wall street, election, cats, babies, space, etc…)

Every day nineteen or so people appear on the front page of This is the freshly pressed section that is the first thing seen by all who enter wordpress. Regardless or whether or not the posts are freshly pressed they are there, and many people wonder why those who end up there do. It seems like it has something to do with the ideas expressed in the post or the relevance of said post to current events. But lately there has been one or two freshly pressed posts about wordpress itself and mainly how to get freshly pressed.

I can understand how one or two can be relevant, even in sequence, but for over a month having a post about yourself on the front page is pushing it. I would understand if wordpress was mainly about itself, but it isn’t. My impression was that the freshly-pressed section was to highlight some of the better blogs out there (or at least the better posts). WordPress is about the community, and when the site keeps highlighting itself it just comes off as self centered.

I mean really wordpress, what about all those other bloggers out there, like me? Why can’t we (I) be on the front page? I mean I do great stuff, and none of it is ever appreciated. Just because you created and maintain the best blogging service and software on the web doesn’t mean you can be selfish about it. Just because you facilitate my ability (read: addiction) to Blog you think you can just promote yourself over me.

And what about what info I can consume? I could be reading about the “occupy …” protesters I don’t like, or the upcoming presidential election I hate everybody in, or someone’s post about their cat, or babies, or about wasting resources looking at and landing in space, but no, I can only read about wordpress. WordPress, wordpress, wordpress. Shame on you wordpress!  Didn’t your mother teach you about humility?