Thursday, October 29, 2015

Walmart Art Supply Review: uCreate Sketchbook

Sketching is the foundation for many artists.  Reference sketching helps artists strengthen existing skills, hone new skills, and create believable original images.  Every artist has their favorite paper for sketching, from reams of copier paper to expensive handmade sketchbooks, and sometimes it takes a while to find the sketchbook that works for you and the way you like to sketch.

When I was in high school, I filled several Bienfang sketchbooks from Walmart.  They were cheap, only a five minute drive from my mom's house, and the held up to being hauled everywhere I went.  These days, I prefer top spiral bound Blick sketchbooks in the 9"x12" size, but if I can't get those (and I often can't, as there isn't a Blick within fair driving distance) I like Strathmore's sketchbooks with the same dimensions.  I'm not into fancy sketchbooks and I like my spirals mostly out of the way, and for artists who are still trying to grow as much as possible, I highly recommend cheap sketchbooks as a way to get those pages down.  Unlike with fancy, expensive sketchbooks, there's very little 'stagefright' when it comes to the blank pages of cheap sketchbooks- if you screw up, that's fine, rip it out if you like.

When I decided to do the Walmart Art Supply Challenge, I knew I had to buy at least one sketchbook to review, since sketchbooks are so important to illustrators and artists.  While I had a few options at Walmart, I decided to go for a size I didn't currently own- a 9"x6" sketchbook by uCreate, a brand I'd never tried before.  Your Walmart may have a different selection than the Luling Walmart, but Walmart.com has a variety of sketchbooks, to give you an idea of what to look for.  This 9"x12" sketchbook by uCreate is the closest thing the website has to the 9"x6" sketchbook I bought.

If you're online and you're looking for a sketchbook, below are Amazon links to a few good ones that I recommend.  They're affiliate links, so your purchase benefits me and this blog, and is much appreciated.

uCreate Sketchbook Basic Stats

  • "Premium" Drawing Paper
  • 70lb
  • Acid and Lignin free
  • 75 sheets
  • Side Spiral Bound
  • Plastic cover and back, no chipboard
  • Perforated pages
  • Only seems to be available in black at the Luling Walmart.

My usual sketchbooks are Strathmore Sketch and Blick Studio Sketch.  The Blick Studio Sketch is 60lb, but that paper feels much heavier than the uCreate Sketch paper and has more tooth to it.  In the waterbased marker tests, the markers did not bleed through the uCreate Sketchbook's paper, although trying to blend the markers did cause pilling on the paper. 



Interior of uCreate sketchbook.  The sketchook is double spiraled, and the wire is covered with plastic.

uCreate sketchbook with CraZart waterbased marker swatches.

The paper doesn't really have as much tooth as my other sketchbooks I usually buy- Strathmore yellow cover Sketch, and Blick's Sketch, which may affect your experience if you like to use color pencils or non photo blue lead to sketch with.

Field Test 1:  Ink over Bluelines





The size of this sketchbook makes it annoying for me to sketch in, as my hand is always falling off the side of the page.  This isn't really a problem with the sketchbook, as I was the one who selected it for its size, just something to take into consideration if you're used to to larger sketchbooks.




Ink tends to blob out, difficult to pull fine lines with my Kuretake Fudegokochi over non photo blue.  The pad is too small for me to easily pull lines in ink.  Edge of paper and spiral cause sketching problems- my hand is always falling off the page.  More a size issue than a product issue in that regard.

Field Test 2:  Plain Graphite



If you like to sketch with graphite, the paper in UCreate sketchbooks is fine.

Field Test 3: Mitsuo Aida Ink over Graphite





The Mitsuo Aida handles fine in this sketchbook, is less prone to blobbing than the Kuretake over bluelines, no noticeable issues.

Erasing on the UCreate Sketchbook






The paper isn't especially prone to tearing or shearing while you erase, so moderate caution is all that's necessary.  I'd inked the image weeks ago, so there was no smearing and no noticable ghosting of the ink.  Graphite erased cleanly.  No complaints about erasing.


Field Test 4: Copic

Toning







Note:  A blank page was left between illustrations to compensate for bleeding.

For the toning exercise, I uesd BV23, and tried not to layer it too much, as I wanted to see how just a single gray tone would look.  This light application of alcohol based marker only caused minimal bleeding.



For the more serious Copic application, I assumed there would be a lot more bleeding, as there would be more ink applied to the paper.  The paper absorbs Copic ink quickly, and stays wet, which is great for smooth blending.  When paper gets too wet, it does want to buckle a bit. If you want sharp delineations (for cast shadows, for example), you need to let the paper fully dry, which takes awhile despite these being alcohol based markers.  It's not a particularly big deal, nor does it ruin this sketchbook for me, it's just something to be aware of.  This isn't Copic paper, watercolor paper, Bristol board, or even cardstock, it's fairly thin sketchbook paper, so the fact that it can take Copic markers decently well impresses me.  Once the paper has dried, there's no buckling.

For those of you who are curious, I used a wide R20 to lay down a Copic wash, saturated Kara's skin with EOOO to reduce further streaking, did skintone layering with E00, E11, E51, and E32, applied blush with E93, colored Kara's tongue with E04, and applied freckles with E13.  The whites of Kara's eyes were shaded with B000.

In order to get the reflection in the hair that I want, I made sure to let each layer fully dry before applying another color, because I didn't want soft blends in the hair.  For Kara's hair, I applied a base saturation color in E97, and layered E08, then E09, and finally E79.

I've created an Amazon Affiliates Widget to link all of the Copic markers I've used for this test.  If you're interested in helping support this blog, please consider browsing those selections.

Full Copic 

Test Head





I put down a quick wash of color with a custom Copic Wide.  A few years ago, I did a tutorial on filling your own custom Copic Wides using Copic refills, as the Wide library is pretty limited.  You can find the supplies you need on Amazon, and shopping through my affiliate links helps financially support this blog.











Colors Used In This Illustration:

Skin:
E000
E00
E51
E11
E93
E34
E15

Hair:
E97
E09
E79
E49

You can get those colors below for your own collection below!



Full Illustration



Since this image is going to have a lot of red in it, I decided to apply a wash of a light green.


And used the Colorless Blender to try and soften some of the edges.


I darked the areas nearest Kara (where she migh cast a shadow) using the pointed tip of my Copic Wide.  You can also use the Original, Sketch, or Ciao in the same color.




Applying blush with E93.





Applying shadow with a very light BV, probably BV000.




Going back and forth between skintones and shadows until the balance is right.


First set of freckles were put in with Orientale.


Second set were put in with Suntan.


And the last set, just a few dots, were put in with Hazelenut.


Darkening a few shadows now that the ink has had a chance to dry.  Working wet into wet with markers leads to a more blended application, working wet into dry leads to a harder line where you've applied the last layer.  Useful for cast shadows.










Applying shadow to the pincushion.


Years ago, I reviewed Shin Han Twin Touch Brush markers, and later I revisited the review comparing Shin Han Twin Touch, MEXPY and Copic.  I liked Shin Han Twin Touch enough that I augmented my Copic collection with Shin Han colors that aren't available in the Copic color family, and I still use them to this day.
















Verdict:

Although Copics and other alcohol based markers do bleed through to the next page, this isn't any worse than with other sketchbooks I've used alcohol based markers in.  If you want to prevent bleed-through, consider inserting a piece of cardstock under the page you're coloring.


Field Test 5: Watercolor

Note:  Two pages were left blank to compensate for the use of water in a sketchbook not intended for watercolor.

Preparing my sketchbook for watercolor.

This is NOT watercolor paper, but I thought it'd be interesting to see how well this sketchbook can handle repeated water applications.  I'll try to have a ginger hand while applying water, but I do expect the paper to buckle a fair bit.  For those of you interested in using your sketchbook as a mixed media art journal, I hope to find some techniques that will help make less absorbent papers more suitable for watercolor techniques.






Ok, even applying a wash is bad news.  The water is immediately absorbed, which results in streaking, and can't be picked up with a paper towel.  I'm going to modify my methods- add a piece of Viva paper towel to absorb the excess water, and maybe try a looser watercolor.  I've wanted to start doing looser, more gestural watercolors, but I tend to only do those in Moleskin watercolor sketchbooks on trips.  I seriously doubted this sketchbook would become a catchall solution, but I may find a quicker way to paint while making accommodations for this paper.  It's important to let your paper dry sufficiently- thin paper like this tends to feel wet longer, because there is less paper to absorb the water, so patience is a virtue when using the wrong paper for watercolor doodles.







I decided to put in some white highlights, since the original watercolor wash had such a strong influence on all of the other colors I put down.




The paper takes so long to dry, I'm going to try putting it in the window to give it a chance to dry out while I go take a walk.  This is definitely not a good sketchbook for watercolor field work.

Really can't do watercolor layers on this paper, it all ends up the same shade.  I remember my early watercolor attempts as a teenager were on sketchbook paper simiilar to this, and I was always disappointed with the results.  At the time, I'd assumed it was all me, but now that I'm revisiting this, I think sketchbook paper is just not suited for watercolor at all.  My advice to those of you learning to watercolor would be skip attempts at doing so in your regular sketchbook, and invest in a small pad of watercolor paper.  It will be able to handle the water better than regular sketchbook paper, which is usually made for dry media.  If you're looking for an all around sketchbook, a Multi Media pad, which is designed for dry media, ink, and some watercolor washes, might be a good solution.

The Verdict:

This paper is really really not intended for watercolor, as even basic layering doesn't really yield much change in tone.  The paper absorbs the water so quickly that even super wet washes that are applied fast end up streaky and impossible to blend out, and you can't use a piece of paper towel to absorb excess color the way you could with regular watercolor paper.  Even though I used clips to hold my paper in place, I still found that there was significant buckling, despite me trying to work as dry as possible to compensate for the fact this paper is not watercolor paper.  This isn't surprising, as this is just sketchbook paper, not watercolor paper.  If you're looking for a one size fits all sketchbook that can handle Copics, Watercolor, pen and ink, and sketches, Multimedia sketchbooks might be a better way to go.  Here's an Amazon Affiliates search for Strathmore Multimedia paper.  I use their cheaper Multimedia paper for alcohol based marker tests, but I've heard great things about their Visual Journals.  I believe I have one floating around my studio that still needs reviewing.


Field Test 6: Faux Inkwash

First introduced in the Precise V5 review, part of the Walmart Art Supply series on this blog.



Just like with the watercolor test, the faux inkwash is disappointing, especially considering I can easily do this technique in other sketchbooks.  For some reason, the ink doesn't want to really disperse on the UCreate paper, which means these inkwashes are pretty lackluster in terms of tonal quality.

Field Test 6: Waterbased Marker- Crayola Supertips and Crayola Multicultural Colors



I reviewed the Crayola Supertips as part of the Walmart Art Supply Review, and the Multicultural Colors as an addendum to that.   You can get your own at your local Walmart, or through my Amazon Affiliates links below.





I've had poor experiences using waterbased markers on sketchbook paper and marker paper in the recent reviewing past, so I didn't have high expectations for the uCreate sketchbook's paper strength.



When using waterbased markers on sketchbook paper, it's often best to just render the shadows of what you're coloring, rather than rendering the whole and relying on layering to help define form.




Although I've kept my layers to a minimum, there's still some bleedthrough of waterbased markers on uCreate paper, although not as much as with alcohol based markers.

When applied judiciously, waterbased markers do ok on the UCreate paper- just don't expect too many layers or any blending.  I did layer the browns in Kara's eyes and hair, but I waited a significant amount of time between the two layers to allow the first layer to dry.

The Final Verdict

This is a fine sketchbook with a sturdy plastic cover  that will withstand your travels.  The back is also plastic, not chipboard, so it isn't as rigid as many of us have grown accustomed to, but the coated double wire spirals shouldn't catch on things in your bag.  The spirals are looped over in the back, so as long as where the spirals meet stays at that last page, you shouldn't have an issue with stray loops catching on things and unravelling, but this is something to be aware of.  If Walmart is your main place for art and craft supplies, you could do worse than this sketchbook, although I do not recommend it over my longterm favorite, Blick's top bound spiral Sketch books.  Unfortunately, the size I like is only found in-store, so I can't recommend that if you're looking for an easily available sketchbook.