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).
I’ve talked about Microns in the past. They are basically THE technical pen. But those are just the black ones. Are the colors any good? Do they hold up to the standard and more importantly are the colors usable in any real way? How will these red and blue 02s stack up?
The bodies are standard Micron bodies. Slick but still grippy. With hard to rub off, easy to read information in convenient places on them and a number on the lid. The color of the base of the pen where the cap clicks in and the ink on the top has been changed to the pen’s color for easy find-ability.
The particular pen I’m using here is an 02, so it’s far from both the stiffest and weakest nibs, though it’s closer to the weaker side. It does bend a little while writing. It’s not large enough to provide much variation, either in line weight or color density. The ink is good, standard Pigma ink, archival, stands up to almost anything. It rarely bleeds and the nib seems to give off just the right amount of ink to have a fast dry time.
But on to the color. They are unmistakably blue and red. They are bright and vibrant, even on a fairly off-white paper, such as Moleskine notebooks and the like. It is brighter than any other pen or marker I have used previously. Almost unusably bright, unfortunately, as I can find no drawing scenario where it would be useful. They are good for organization, though, especially on the aforementioned off-white paper where they don’t look so jarring. They can make handy divider writings and are good for color coded text.
Overall these are superb pens with little purpose. They work great, are incredibly sturdy and last quite a while, though I can find no way to work them into any drawing. Notes and technical sketches are the best place for these. Or, if you just want to have a nice pen in an interesting color.