Sunday, May 20, 2018

Product Review: Faber-Castell Goldfaber Aqua Colored Pencils (Albrecht Durer Comparison)

Faber-Castell's Goldfaber Aqua pencils

The last time I poked around at the Daniel Smith Seattle store, I spotted a new line of colored pencils from Faber-Castell called Goldfaber (available in both traditional and water-soluble). Based on their pricing, I could see that they were on the low end compared to F-C’s premier pencil lines, oil-based Polychromos and water-soluble Albrecht Durer, but I was curious about how different they might be. Following my own sage wisdom about trying new colored pencils, I resisted buying all the colors and instead got the smallest assortment – 12 colors of water-soluble Goldfaber Aqua Pencils. (Unfortunately, I can’t provide a link to Daniel Smith because the paint manufacturer no longer sells products online except for paints, so the link will take you to I intended to put them head-to-head with Albrecht Durer pencils to see how they compared.

Goldfaber cores and barrels (left) are slightly smaller than Durer's
The Goldfaber pencils come in a typical hinged tin. The standard-diameter hexagonal barrel is a matte-finish gray with a glossy end cap indicating the core’s color. The core is 3.3mm, while Durer’s core is 3.8mm (and the entire Durer barrel is slightly larger). The Goldfaber wood is a lighter color and slightly speckled compared to Durer’s.

Although I tend to use Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles more often now than Albrecht Durer, Faber-Castell’s Durer line is still one of my favorites, and I’m familiar with how these excellent pencils apply, blend and activate. When I made swatches of the Goldfaber colors, I was immediately taken by how similar they feel in softness and texture to the Durer pencils. At least these particular 12 hues changed very little when activated with water (some water-soluble pencils change dramatically after water is added).

I decided to swatch the same hues in the Durer line, and Faber-Castell made that task very easy: It uses the same color numbers on both lines. Strangely, one color in the Goldfaber line – 147 (light blue) – is not available in the Durer line. At first I thought I had lost No. 147 in my complete Durer set (and you can imagine how annoyed I became at that possibility!). I even got on my hands and knees to see if that pencil had fallen out of its “vase” and onto the floor behind my desk. But then I checked Blick’s open-stock inventory, and I realized the Durer line simply doesn’t include 147. The other 11 hues, however, match exactly.

I admit I was surprised to see how similar – identical, in fact – all the colors are, including the way they wash. The Goldfabers seemed equally rich in pigment – yet the Durers cost nearly twice as much. Hmmm, now things were getting interesting!   

At this point I checked Goldfaber’s lightfastness to see how it compared to Durer’s (the latter has artist-quality pigments, most of which have a high lightfast rating). According to the Goldfaber insert, the Aqua line “is available in 48 bright and ultra-lightfast colours.” On Blick’s site, the Goldfabers are described as having “a high degree of lightfastness,” but each hue’s lightfast rating is not indicated as it is on the Durers. F-C says Goldfaber is intended for “both aspiring and hobby artists,” and Blick describes the line as “created for students and hobby artists,” which are clues that the pigments aren’t artist quality.

5/16/18 Faber-Castell Goldfaber Aqua pencils, Stillman & Birn Beta
Now it was time for the rubber to hit the road. Using colors 107, 120, 121, 163 and 166, I first made a test sketch of an apple with the Goldfaber Aqua pencils on Stillman & Birn Beta paper. Initially I was impressed that the pigments applied as easily as Durer pencils on toothy Beta paper. I activated the first layer with water and let it dry, and I was pleased by how fully the pigments dissolved. They seemed very similar to Durer in that way, too. I applied a second layer of pigment, and that’s when I started noticing a difference. The pencil application felt a bit “sticky” over the previous layer, and the colors weren’t blending without
5/17/18 Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer pencils, Stillman & Birn Beta
some effort.

Next I sketched the same apple on the same paper using the same color numbers of Albrecht Durer pencils (this is about as apple-to-apple a comparison as I’ve ever made 😉). Making this sketch confirmed that the biggest difference between the two lines of pencils comes with the second and successive applications of pigment. It’s much easier to blend with Durer pencils, they apply more smoothly over previously activated layers, and I was able to achieve richer hues in less time (30 minutes, compared to 45 for the Goldfaber sketch).

Still, if lightfastness isn’t an issue (I haven’t found clear information one way or another as to whether the Goldfabers have the same degree of lightfastness as Durers, though I suspect they don’t), considering the significantly lower cost, I’d say these Goldfaber pencils aren’t too shabby. I am impressed by how closely F-C matched the pigments in these two lines as well as the degree of water-solubility. If Goldfaber is Faber-Castell’s low-end line, it’s pretty darn good.

As I started thinking about this, I recalled another low-end F-C watercolor pencil: the Art Grip Aquarelle line. I don’t have them anymore, so I can’t compare them directly, but I remember them as being much harder and containing less pigment. The grippy, textured surface and triangular barrel seemed to be designed for younger students. Surprisingly, Blick’s price for them is higher than for Goldfabers. I don’t know why Faber-Castell would need two low-end watercolor pencils, but for my money, Goldfabers are far better. I certainly wouldn’t replace my beloved Albrecht Durer collection with them, but I would definitely recommend them to someone who wanted to give watercolor pencils a try without making a huge investment.

Incidentally, the name Goldfaber isn’t new; it turns out to be the name that F-C used for a line of colored pencils at least several decades ago (as noted on a set for sale on eBay). I wonder how they would compare to contemporary Goldfabers . . . ? (You knew I would wonder about that, didn’t you!)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Bell Harbor Pier (Plus Two Bucket List Items Checked)

5/15/18 Space Needle from Bell Harbor

Located on the north end of the waterfront, Bell Harbor Pier might be one of Seattle’s last remaining secrets. Connected to the Bell Harbor Conference Center by a pedestrian bridge, it probably attracts event attendees between seminars and buffet lunches, but it’s also always open to the public. On a gorgeous Tuesday afternoon, the waterfront was crowded with tourists and other pedestrians on the street level, yet just a few flights of stairs up, I had the pier nearly to myself.

I almost sketched the city skyline (see photo at bottom of page), and the moored boats were also tempting. But when I swiveled around to look to the north, I spotted the Space Needle peek-a-booing from behind a stack of buildings. The Needle is still wearing its ugly hat while renovation continues on new features intended to lure more tourists and their money (yawn).

Now that I know how beautiful and undiscovered the Bell Harbor Pier is, I’ll probably be going there more often just to sketch. On that day, however, I had another motive:

The name Aaron Draplin became familiar to me after I started using Field Notes and discovered that he is the designer of the little notebooks that I have grown fond of using as pocket sketchbooks. But it wasn’t until I had viewed several video recordings of the motivational talks he gives to designers that I became a fan – not specifically of his design work but more of his philosophy toward design and freelance business. I’m not a designer nor an entrepreneur (anymore), yet he was inspiring even to me. I imagine that he is very motivating to young people just getting started in their design careers.

Aaron, Aaron and me!
I’d heard that Aaron was coming to town to give a seminar at a Drbbble design conference, which was to be followed by a party that was open to the public. I decided I would go meet him there. After sketching the Space Needle, I waited in a long line of other people for the party to begin. In the distance, I could see Aaron in the middle of a crowd, and he seemed to be waving to me! Although he knew that I followed him on Instagram and hung out in the Field Nuts Facebook group, we’d never met before. . . was he really waving to me? In fact, he was, and came right over to talk to me! Here’s how he described it on Facebook the next day:

A-ha – so my shirt turned out to be a very good investment! 😉 (That’s the same shirt I wore when I made my pilgrimage to Field Notes headquarters in Chicago last year.) He’s a very cool guy, and I was thrilled to meet him.

Even more thrilling than meeting him? Sketching him! So that’s two things I checked off on my life list that day.

Skyline and Elliott Bay from Bell Harbor Pier

Friday, May 18, 2018

Craftsman with Rhodies

5/14/18 Maple Leaf neighborhood

What caught my eye and brought me to an immediate stop in front of this Craftsman was the brilliant rhododendron bush. Seduced by that color, I later kicked myself for choosing a house with all those fussy dormers.

(I’m hardly one to complain, though. We have been having an unbelievably beautiful streak of sunshine and comfortable temperatures! I hope youre having great sketching weather, too!)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Tudor Shadow Play

5/12/18 Maple Leaf neighborhood

This classic Tudor is another house across the street (it’s just west of the house I showed a couple of days ago). In the early morning and late afternoon, I like watching the interesting shadow play on its rooftop – so much so that a few years ago, I sketched studies of it at both times of day. This time I sketched it around 9:30 a.m., so I missed the illumination on part of the front.

In addition to learning about Maple Leaf’s architectural styles as I sketch this series, I find I’m also becoming familiar with which side of the street to focus on to take advantage of light and shadow patterns.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Junction

5/10/18 West Seattle Junction

Every now and then I tag along with Greg when he has an appointment in West Seattle. I pick a café or corner in the Junction and kill an hour with a sketch. The first time was exactly four years ago today (what weird synchronicity! I had no idea of the date until I searched my blog for that post), when I sketched from an outdoor table at Easy Street.

This time I sat outside Starbucks across the street to sketch the same busy intersection of Southwest Alaska and California Southwest; Easy Street is on the corner. With all the changes going on all over Seattle – new buildings popping up, others crumbling down – it’s comforting to know that four years went by and this building is still the same.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


5/8/18 Maple Leaf neighborhood

The small house directly across the street from ours is probably a simple Craftsman of the same era as our own. In the three decades that we’ve lived here, we’ve seen several couples move in, start a family, and then move out when they realize they’ve outgrown it after one or two children. I sympathize with young families who want to stay in the city but eventually have to move to the ‘burbs to find houses that are both affordable and large enough. (It’s a growing problem in these parts, where the Seattle Times just reported that the cost of living is now worse than the traffic.) The family that lives there now just had their second child, and I’m wondering how long they will be there.

I sketched this from our upstairs bedroom window, where the high vantage point gives me an especially difficult perspective challenge. I took on this same view six years ago (at right) when I was just starting to slay the architectural nemesis. I ended that blog post with this: “Let’s just call this a baseline against which I’ll evaluate my progress.” I hope you can see that I’ve progressed (the trees and shrubs have grown, too!), but I’m not sure it was any easier now than it was then. Practice may have made my results better, but it hasn’t necessarily made the process less challenging.

Rereading that post from 2012 reminded me that I’ve declared several sketching nemeses over time. First it was architecture; then it was cars; and then trees. The only way to conquer any nemesis is to simply practice regularly (avoidance never works; I’ve tried that, too), and I’ve made that effort with both cars and trees. Until I started my current series on neighborhood architectural styles, architecture as subject matter just hasn’t engaged my attention enough to get the practice I need. I’m happy that I finally found an entryway to work on slaying this long-standing nemesis at last.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Vintage Colored Pencils, Part 12: Empire Sunset Dual-Kolor

Sunset Dual-Kolor pencils

I admit I bought these purely for nostalgia.

It had been so many decades since I last saw Dual-Kolor pencils that I didn’t even know they were still part of my psyche. But as soon as I saw the thumbnail image on Etsy of their triple-striped barrels, I instantly recognized them from my childhood. They may very well have been my first colored pencils ever. I was endlessly impressed that each pencil had a different color on either end!

In particular, I remember an orange and green one that had a string tied around the middle; the other end of the string was attached to the kitchen telephone cord. My mom used it to jot notes and grocery lists with some kind of color code (I’m a color-coded notetaker too, so I obviously got that gene from her).

Made by the US pencil manufacturer Empire, Sunset Dual-Kolor pencils were probably considered more of a novelty than a high-quality product even back in the ‘60s. Now, with my vast familiarity with a huge number of colored pencil brands and obvious higher level of sophistication, I can confidently state that these are the coolest colored pencils I have ever owned – at age 6 or nearly 60. They are also among the worst colored pencils I have ever used. Dry, hard, practically unpigmented, they will remain in a vase where I can reminisce about the utter coolness of bicolored pencils.

A bouquet of nostalgia
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