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  Big A* ink painting is back for bid on eBayJun 29, 2013 6:58 PM PDT | url
 
The auction of my largest A* ink piece ever, "Wheel," (22" x 16" of pure black ink!) was going really well on eBay--8 bids in just the first 2 and a half days!--but because I've had the account since 2002 and this is the first time I've tried to sell anything, eBay got worried that it wasn't actually me who had started the auction, and shut it down! I spoke to them on the phone and they know it's me now, so I've been able to restart the auction at this new address on eBay.
 
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Since I had to restart it, all the original bids were lost, so if you were one of the wonderful people behind any of those bids, I hope you won't mind redoing your bid on this new version of the auction, which is starting over from zero bids. Thank you *very* much, and I'm sorry for the inconvenience!
 
 
 
 
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  Art auction snafu; my weird "desk"Jun 29, 2013 6:25 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:eBay took my A* art auction down! They were afraid my account had been hijacked, because this was the first time I've tried to sell anything with it since I first registered way back in 2002. So they wanted me to call them and we straightened that out (yes, it's still me!), but the auction will have to be started over from scratch. Very sorry for the inconvenience to those eight people who had bid on it!! I will post the new auction link once I relist it this afternoon.
 
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*sigh* Well, on the plus side I think I got my computer straightened out, although it seems my OEM graphic card can't quite handle the actual nVidia drivers, so I'm back on Microsoft reference drivers from 2007, although these are the *updated* ones from late 2007, rather than the ones from summer 2007 that I'd been using all this time. >_> And actually the ones from later '07 have fixed the tiny compatibility issue I was having, so yay I can play my little video pinball game with all its minor graphical bells and whistles, which is all I wanted to do in the first place. I knew trying to update just for that was silly but oh well, it turned into quite an educational little adventure in computer crashing.
 
Speaking of my computer--and getting back to my obsession with desks that has become apparent through their many appearances in A*, as I was enumerating yesterday--you can actually see most of it in this photo of my makeshift standing desk
 
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which is actually just a bookshelf, and a step at the bottom that I made by laying an anti-fatigue work mat over a solid block of particle boards I sawed to size and nailed together (that was as carpentery as I've ever gotten in my life : o). Oh and there's a sort of foot rest (ie some shelves supported by more nailed-together particle board blocks) at the bottom, and books I still need to read piled on the sides of that, topped on the left side by my rather neglected sketchbook (and that's the corner of my drawing table to the left of the "desk"). And then the very high top shelf holds some drawing aids, old Game Boy games >_>, and other odds and ends, and my weird old Acer Future keyboard sits on a precisely stacked pile books on top (in theory now that I've figured out the height I like I could build a lower bottom step and eliminate the need for the books on top, hum...oh but you know, the non-book height is for drawing with my drawing tablet, although I don't do that much anymore), with my monitor perched on a funny stack of books and a storage bin on top of a folding lawn chair behind it all at just the right comfortable height and viewing angle. It looks highly bizarre but is actually really comfy now that I've got it all just so.
 
 
 
 
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  Does TVTropes have..."Desk Walking"?Jun 28, 2013 7:43 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Tried updating my incredibly ancient video drivers today, which turned out to be sort of a bad idea since my computer then decided to crash at random times, or every time I tried to scan something. : P (I am writing this while installing a bajillion Windows Updates, hopefully one of them will help...) ((Nope, Windows Updating made Windows not boot anymore. System Restore to the rescue! I guess over the weekend I'll try updating again, but this time I'll do Windows Update first, THEN the years-spanning video driver update that went ahead and did some .NET Framework updating of its own last time. : P Although at this point it seems likely that nothing but Microsoft's original 2007 XP video driver will prove to be stable on this ol' system. :PP)) (((Hm except my camera's import program doesn't work now, phoo.))) ((((Actually come to think of it, what probably caused the no-booting problem was WinXP blocking the final part of the install of the last video driver revision I attempted, accusing it of being a virus or something and leaving no way to clean up the interrupted drive install gracefully.))))
 
Anyway presumably that's sort of sorted out for now, so let's not forget to mention that I have a big A* ink painting up for bid on eBay:
 
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Six bids now. : ) 8 and a half days left!
 
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You may have heard of the site TVTropes; some years back I made a little entry there for A*, and since then some gumptious readers have filled it in with a list of some of the horrible cliched plot devices I've made you suffer through on A*. It has a lot of damning evidence compiled, but there is no entry there yet for "Desk Walking," or whatever more clever name it should have, but there should be, because, as in today's page, I seem to keep coming back to scenes of characters walking around desks (often with illuminated doorways somewhere in the background, too :p). Can you recall any? I'll see how many I can get in the *spoilers to this pop quiz upcoming!* next paragraph.
 
Selenis, for instance, did a desk walk-around very similar to the Captain's here around the Major's desk last episode. And let's see... Well, the space station radio operator in the episode before that had a desk and a doorway, but the desk was kind of in a corner so you couldn't really walk all the way around it. No for a good ol' fashioned walk-around we gotta go back a bit further... No walking around bars and ship control panels in 16 doesn't count... Ooh Selenis did walk around the shipping operator's desk on the space station in episode 15, hah. She couldn't walk around the ticket seller's desk at the spaceport earlier in that episode, I suppose... Ooh! Flashback Selenis 0 walks around a desk in episode 14. There's *all* sorts of goings-on around desks in episode 13--well specifically Andiran's, a few times I think, and Gliese's, also a few times. Goodness me. We won't count Selenis' weird couch desk at her moon base at the start of the episode. : P It's a table rather than a full-on desk that Selenis punishes in episode 12, same with the table on Proctor and Mar's ship in 11. But! Mar wallows on his desk earlier in 11 while Proctor walks around it. Proctor kind of buzzes around Mar's terminal desk in episode 9. We won't coun't Nils' control chair in 8... The control consoles in 7 would be a bit of a stretch... Not the bar and tables in 6... Ah, but Proctor whines around Mar's desk in 5, and Mar hovered over Proctor's desk in 2.
 
So, lots of desk action! And don't even get me started trying to count doorway action... I was thinking earlier this evening before all the crashing that maybe this was a Freudian thing some stripe related to my quitting my ten-year game-design-industry desk job to work at home starting A*, where I don't have a real desk. Desk envy? Heck I might as well just rename this whole thing "Supermassive Desk Door," the therapeutic benefit could be huge!
 
Do *you* have a desk worthy of A*? Maybe if it isn't, like, work unsafe or something you could twit it to me on Twitter and I could then share it with the other readers there. Hum I should probably pony up with a proper picture of my own standing desk, which isn't a proper desk at all but a bookshelf with a hilarious step I hammered together to make it the right height. ; ) Maybe I'll have something snapped by the time tomorrow's blog rolls around.
 
 
 
 
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  Big A* ink on eBayJun 27, 2013 4:22 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:I finally got that big ink piece I did over the weekend up on eBay, so you have about nine and a half days to bid on it, if you want. It's the biggest ink thing I've ever done--22"x16", which is over three times the size of a normal A* page--and just to recap, it looks like this, only bigger:
 
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Also it's the first thing I've ever tried to sell on eBay. : o It got two bids like seemingly right away, too, which was exciting, and I guess it's already pretty near the point where I feel it was worthwhile; I'd like to be able to do one or two of these big ink paintings a month, 'cause well it would help a bit with that whole rent thing. :o Anyway it's already off to a pretty good start so yay. :) And yes I will keep bugging you about it for the next ten days, probably. >_> (Okay too many emoticons, get it together.) I will try to have at least a little non-auction stuff to put in the blog too, though.
 
 
 
 
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  Nothing much yetJun 26, 2013 4:33 AM PDT | url
 
Added 2 new A* pages:Hm, today's pages were... Well it felt like one of those days. On the other hand, I got a nicer photo of the big ink piece I did over the weekend:
 
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Assuming I figure out how to do it, this should be going up for auction on eBay early tomorrow evening-ish.
 
 
 
 
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  The supermassivest black painting yetJun 25, 2013 1:06 AM PDT | url
 
Added 2 new A* pages:Over the weekend I painted the biggest ink piece I've ever done:
 
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It's 22"x16". It took a lot of ink! :o As soon as I can figure out how to do it it's going up for auction on eBay--hopefully tomorrow, if I waste less time than I did today. : P I've never sold anything on eBay so maybe somebody will win it for a penny, I dunno. Anyway I hope some people will be interested! It's too big to fit in my scanner but I'll get some better photos before the auction goes up.
 
 
 
 
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  Supermassive Eraser Round-up, Round 3!Jun 22, 2013 5:06 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:My Campus B/HB erasers arrived already, plus I did some comparison testing vs a kneaded eraser, so we're all set for Supermassive Eraser Round-up, round 3--a relatively quick one with lots of pictures, like so:
 
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The first order of business is to test our previous erasing champion of hard H-grade lead erasing (see round 1), the Pentel Ain Dust-Gathering, versus the Kokuyo Campus B/HB Student Eraser, an eraser designed specifically for use against hard lead grades. B and HB are the grades just softer than H; Kokuyo also has a Campus 2B Student Eraser, which is my current champ for daily use on the soft 4B lead I use for A* pages (see round 2), and I threw it in here for the sake of comparison. These first two photos will be of tests done on relatively soft, rough, and thick Canson Illustration Paper, which is what I use for ink work, with the Platinum Pro-Use II 05 drafting pencil seen in the photo above doing the layout work in the ubiquitous Pentel Super Hi-Polymer 0.5 mm H leads.
 
First I tried the three erasers against a big mass of the H lead, to see how well they could clear it away:
 
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All the erasers gathered their shavings together neatly into big rolls. There wasn't a huge difference in their brute cleaning power, but the B/HB cleaned maybe a little more thoroughly, and took less arm work to do it. And although smudging isn't nearly the same huge problem it is when trying to eraser softer grades of lead, smudginess does factor in to how easy it is to erase, even at the harder H grade, so I did a single-swipe smudge test:
 
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The Campus B/HB was the clear winner there, with much less smudging. So that was pretty easy: the Campus B/HB is my new eraser of choice for my 0.5 mm layout work. :) That makes Kokuyo's "Student" erasers my top erasers for both hard and soft pencil work, so kudos to Kokuyo for making some really fine erasers! You just can't beat their stability in particular.
 
Just for funsies I tried the Campus B/HB vs the 2B when up against the softer Tombow Mono 4B lead on the thinner, harder Canson Foundation Bristol I use for daily A* pages:
 
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Sanity prevailed and the 2B was indeed better than the B/HB against soft lead. These things do indeed specialize as advertised!
 
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Meanwhile, the author of the excellent silent, quirky, and sometimes gory fantasy webcomic series Stupid Snake pointed out, in a discussion of what comic authors use to make their comics, that kneaded erasers are pretty keen. As it happens, I picked up a few Prismacolor Kneaded Erasers in recent months, but found they didn't even outperform my old, relatively crummy Staedtler Mars vinyl block eraser for pure paper-cleaning ability. So just to prove it I thought I'd pit the kneaded eraser against the Campus 2B, cleaning the 4B lead off bristol:
 
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As you can see in the upper section, the kneaded eraser is a relatively poor cleaner; it seems to drive the graphite into little pores in the paper where it can't get them out--even the Campus 2B couldn't get them out once the kneaded eraser had driven them in there, so it creates quite a problem!
 
However, this is not to say kneaded erasers don't have their advantages and uses. In the lower section there's a smear test, and while the Campus 2B did smear a little, I just couldn't get the kneaded eraser to smudge at all, even though I tried multiple passes over the thick graphite strip. Kneaded erasers don't leave shavings behind like block erasers do, so there's no mess to brush off your drawing and potentially leave smudges in doing so. You can shape kneaded erasers into various forms, like twisting part of them to a thin point for delicate line work; or you can flatten them out and dab them on the page to create very subtle lightening, or various texture effects. So all in all they're very useful if you're doing intricately shaded work, like the photo copying pencil work that's all the rage on deviantART and YouTube. My style, on the other hand, is more high contrast hack and slash, and for that the graphite-eradicating quality of the block erasers is the most important thing.
 
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As you may have heard me mention earlier, this past Monday the site was switched over to a new, "super-fast" server by my hosting service--but I noticed that at times it was distinctly less than super-fast. :| So I wrote them a note about it, and a day or so later they got back to me and said they'd found and fixed "a drive issue." So far it now *does* seem really super-fast all the time, so that's pretty sweet (I mean, they did this upgrade on their own, I didn't even ask or pay for anything extra :o), and all's well that ends well, hopefully~~
 
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*Next* Monday may be an odd day around these parts: plumbers will in theory be coming to check on an ominous off-color ceiling seepage in my apartment's bathroom (I suspect the plumbing in the apartment above mine may be a bit on the leaky side), and replacement of our building's parking lot is due to begin, which seems likely to involve energetic jack-hammering about twenty feet from my open windows. So possibly my home studio will be uninhabitable, and I'll just have to take shelter with a day pass at the local pinball arcade instead of staying here and slaving away at new A* pages on my drawing table. >_> I don't really think it likely that the horribleness will all come together at once, especially right away in the work week, so probably I'll be able to stick things out here, but one should be prepared for the worst, shouldn't one?
 
 
 
 
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  The Big(ger) Picture(s)Jun 21, 2013 5:07 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Well yesterday's eraser extravaganza set my schedule back a bit, so just one page today. Hopefully I can get my schedule a little back on track by the weekend, because I want to start something I said I'd talk more about a few days ago, namely getting back to doing some ink work, but on a larger scale--on a 24"x18" page, the biggest I have; that's close to 4 times the area of an A* page, I think. ... Whoa actually it's exactly four times the size of an (16"x6.75") A* page, how about that. A page that size is too big for my scanner, so I'm just going to photograph it as best I can and then put it on eBay and see what I can get for it. The theme will be A*-related somehow, I think, and hopefully it'll turn out decently enough to interest some of you readers out there, because I could use some dough to help with rent and art supplies and stuff. In any case there won't be a reserve price and it will sell for whatever it gets, so I suppose some lucky person could theoretically get it for $0.01--plus shipping : p. Oh hm but I still have to find some big flat boxes for these things so I won't be able to put it up for bid until I get those and work out how much it will cost to ship. Well anyway hopefully there will be at least a little interest and maybe I can get one or two of these big ink drawings done each month on the side.
 
 
 
 
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  Supermassive Eraser Round-up, Round 2!Jun 20, 2013 3:37 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Getting the shadows in the scanned version of this page to balance out right finally taught me what Photoshop's "Curves" adjustment tool is for. ;)
 
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Since I rated ten imported Japanese erasers against each other to discover the best eraser for A* in the Supermassive Eraser Round-up a week or so ago, I've got new paper, new pencils, and a whole new batch of erasers--Japanese, American, and German--and so it's time for round 2!
 
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Again, the Pink Pearl in the lower left is just for scale. Oh and two big Faber-Castell erasers at the top aren't actually that long, I just couldn't get them to go back in their little paper sleeves all the way.
 
Last time, I was testing erasers against relatively hard H-grade Tombow Mono lead on relatively fuzzy, thick Canson Illustration Paper. This time around, unless noted otherwise, they're trying to remove darker, much softer 4B-grade Tombow Mono lead from thinner, smoother Canson Foundation Bristol.
 
Let's get some of the easy ones out of the way:
 
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Here we see, in the lower left corner, that the Tuff Stuff and Faber-Castell PVC-Free just can't hang in terms of erasing power (that lower test they're in used a 4B-grade Cretacolor Monolith Woodless Pencil, which was overall tougher to erase, maybe because its graphite flakes off a little more readily than the Tombow Mono's, making more of a mess for erasers to deal with--otherwise I stuck with the Mono pencils, though, because they're what I'm drawing A* with).
 
10. Paper Mate Tuff Stuff Eraser Stick
User reviews of this thin-tipped, mechanically advanced eraser were high, but I felt fairly certain there was no way Paper Mate could make an eraser that could go toe to toe with the big boys--and boy was I right; using the Tuff Stuff is an utterly awful experience: it erasers very poorly, leaves little blobs of debris behind, and the tip wears down very, very quickly. Of course, the point is that it *has* something of a point at the tip and can thus erase tiny little details...but not very well; you'd be far better off, I think, teaming a real eraser with an eraser shield (although I can't say for sure because while I have one, I haven't bothered using it--and part of me wonders if softer erasers might not get a bit cut up against the shield's thin edges; in any case, the Tuff Stuff is still way below what it could be in terms of eraser quality).
 
9. Faber-Castell PVC-Free Eraser
I found this little guy at my tiny local art supply store; it was cheap and I figured why not. The "PVC-Free" label brought to mind the disastrously awful Tombow Mono NP Non-PVC Eraser, which came in dead last in the first round, and yes, this one is just as bad: erases poorly, and leaves lots of shreds. At the current level of human technology, it seems you just need that darn PVC stuff for proper erasing, because the erasers that try to get by without it are terrible.
 
Speaking of which:
 
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8. Midori Slim Eraser
A non-PVC eraser sporting a sleek, slender form factor, designer colors, and a sleeve with punched tear strips that peel off in handy increments as you wear down the eraser, the Midori is about as much style over function as you get in an imported block eraser: for all its cool factor, it erases poorly, and wears down very quickly; don't get this if you want to look cool while actually erasing something. I can see why Jetpens.com doesn't stock this one--I came across it at Hong Kong-based import site stationeryart.com [sic].
 
In that last photo we can also see that the Tombow Mono eraser is holding up pretty well against the previous round's champ, Pentel's Ain Dust-Gathering--and you can see it doing pretty well against the field in the top test of the photo before that, too. First though I'm going to knock off the one in the upper right of that photo, labeled "Hino-tube" in my illegible handwriting:
 
7. Hinodewashi Matomaru-kun Eraser - Paper Rolled
I tested a long, square-ended Matomaru-kun (Jetpens says "'Matomaru' means 'collects' or 'gathers'" in Japanese) in round 1, and later happened to spot this cylindrical version. It feels like it pretty much uses the same eraser material as the other Matomaru-kun erasers, which means that it is a *very* soft, very tacky eraser that really grips onto the paper--it can erase with the best of them, but it takes extra muscle power to move it across the paper. The handy form factor of this "rolled" version helps give some leverage, *but* the string-and-peel procedure needed to open up a new length of the quickly wearing tip is kind of a pain, and when you do expose that new length of tip--maybe four or five millimeters--it is so soft and tacky that it feels as though it's going to rip right off when you try to use it. Just very difficult to use, and the tip is wide enough that it can't really serve as a good spot eraser, either.
 
Which brings us to the other Matomaru-kun, whose test patch was labeled "Hinodewashi" in that same photo (...okay, actually "Hindodewashi," because I am that awful at writing):
 
6. Hinodewashi Matomaru-kun Eraser - Medium
I thought the block form of the Matomaru-kun might make it easier to use than the longer versions, and it does a bit--in particular if feels less likely to tear apart when you're straining away at it--but bringing more of its supremely tacky surface in contact with the paper also just makes it that much harder to move; trying to erase anything with the medium block is a real workout! (I can't even imagine trying to budge the larger size block. :o) In theory this can remove soft lead grades as cleanly as most of the other top erasers here, but it is not worth the significant extra effort needed to accomplish the same level of cleaning that the others can achieve with much less toil.
 
At this point the five remaining erasers are all pretty darn good. Eliminating the first one is easy, though, if only because you just can't get them any more and I didn't want to use mine up:
 
5. Tombow Mono Eraser - Small
A shockingly good eraser considering that it was discontinued years ago (and for exactly what I can't seem to discover over the internet; the most I've got is from Jetpens' description of the newer, "Non-PVC" Mono, which says that the original Mono "can no longer be imported due to US government restrictions on the material composition"; I did try looking for clues as to what this forbidden material might be--it feels like a PVC-based eraser to the touch, but is not labeled clearly yea or nay on that as the modern Japanese erasers are; the only thing I could make out on the label was the katakana for "Vietnam," which is probably where it was made); the Mono's erasing and shred-clearing power easily rivals the best modern erasers, still. I think it is just a *shade* behind them--but it's a very tough call, and I would have had to use up a lot of my sole little Mono trying to make a closer determination. Since you can't really buy the original, discontinued Mono anymore (the link above goes to its listing on stationeryart.com, where Google happened to find me a small stock of a couple dozen of the smallest size original Monos--but they were all bought out in a matter of weeks), it can't really be considered a candidate for daily-use erasing, unless you're one of those fanatic old fans (and who can blame you) who stockpiled them back in the day. I'm quite happy to have found one, and while it seems like quite a good, useful eraser, I'd rather preserve it in a spot of honor in my art supply hoard than use it up in further tests or artwork.
 
That leaves four candidates remaining; I did battery upon battery of tests with them, but there wasn't really all that much difference in their erasing power--they were all darn good at clearing away that 4B lead from the Bristol.
 
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After a page or two of graphite-scrubbing I decided I could eliminate one of them that was something of a duplicate:
 
4. Faber-Castell Dust-Free Eraser
At my local store, Faber-Castell's Dust-Free Eraser, roughly the same big long bar form-factor as the common "Mars" eraser of Faber-Castell's bitter German rival, Staedtler (the Mars was eliminated before the first round really began :p), was cheaper than their similarly sized "Art Eraser" (see below)--and its white vinyl does seem to erase maybe a *smidge* less effectively than the Art's dark green. Still gosh-darned good at erasing soft lead, and cleaning up its own shreds into big, easily removed single rolls.
 
That left three erasers, but try as I might, I just could not be sure that I spotted a clear winner or loser among them in total cleaning power--so at this point I had to start considering other important factors in an eraser's effectiveness. I could think of two: durability/longevity, and smeariness. Of these two, when it comes to very soft lead like 4B, I'd been finding in drawing the recent A* pages in 4B that resistance to smearing is the most vitally important factor after overall cleanliness, because smeared graphite can be a pain pain to clean up--and sometimes just can't be cleaned completely, leaving streaks behind--and because a smeary eraser just can't be relied upon to erase fine details, or to leave clean edges. Considering the surviving erasers from that angle, the next elimination--surprising considering the results of the first round-up--was easy:
 
3. Pentel Hi-Polymer Ain Eraser - Dust Gathering
While the Ain Dust-Gathering reigned supreme at the end of the initial eraser round-up, against hard, light H-grade lead, I noticed even then that it was more prone than the other erasers to smearing when it hit a particularly thick patch of graphite. In H that wasn't a big concern, as it didn't happen too often and the smears could be tidied up pretty easily; when moving to soft 4B lead, though, that inclination to smear became a real drawback, as the eraser left smudges behind that just couldn't be removed, and turned any attempt at fine erasing work into a smudged, blurry area. While it was the most durable of the remaining erasers by quite a bit, its cleaning power, potentially quite high, was too unreliable on the slick 4B surface. It remains my go-to for use on harder lead grades, like H, but not for the softer stuff like 4B.
 
Now I was down to just two! Which would be champ? How to decide? At first I thought durability would be the telling factor this time, as the one I was trying for daily drawing eventually tore--but then the other tore in another battery of tests! But I realized I could deal with tearing, as long as the thing could be counted upon to erase soft lead without disastrous results on the paper--so again it came down to a smudge test, this one fairly clear cut in the end:
 
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A single swipe of each across a field of heavy 4B graphite showed that one of the two, while not as smeary as the Ain Dust-Gathering, was clearly less firm of footing on the slick surface, and made a bigger mess across the page while picking up less graphite:
 
2. Faber-Castell Art Eraser
The Art Eraser was quite a surprise: stumbling across it by chance at the local art supply store, I thought there was no way this domestically available, German eraser could take on the imported Japanese giants--surely it would pale in comparison, as had German rival Staedtler's similarly sized "Mars" eraser. Not a bit! The curiously dark green Art Eraser beat out just about all comers when it came to clearing soft lead from smooth Bristol, and was no slouch at rolling its shavings up into easily-cleaned bunches, either. It was one of the sturdier-feeling erasers of the bunch, too, although in fact I think it is fairly soft, and eventually tore in the course of some heavy erasing drills. I can't really count this as a defect, though, as its closest competitor also tore under heavy pressure--I think it's just a necessary factor of the soft texture needed to clean at this level. As far as I'm concerned, then, the Art Eraser is the best eraser I've found in the States; and, incidentally, although it was pricier at my local small chain store than its "Dust-Free" white-colored Faber-Castell brethren, online superstore Dick Blick currently has it *cheaper* than the Dust-Free at the link above; the printing on the sleeve is slightly different, not having the "Art Eraser" title mine does, but the ID number, "58 71 22," is the same, so I'm fairly sure it's the same, excellent eraser, and at a very low price.
 
And so the soft-lead-erasing champion is:
 
1. Kokuyo Campus Student Eraser - For 2B Lead
The Campus 2B was second-best in my earlier eraser round-up, against hard H-grade lead, but, as the name implies, it really comes into its own when pitted against the softer "B" grades of graphite; it erases as completely as anything, and automatically gathers its shreds into easily removed long rolls, but where it ultimately pulls away from the rest of the pack is in its sure, confident grip on the page: it is much, much less prone to skidding and smearing than the other erasers in its class, meaning you can carve it into the thickest concentration of soft lead in full confidence of being able to pull away a clean, precise edge where other erasers would be able to manage little better than a smudge.
 
Part of what it takes to accomplish this sure-footed cleaning power is a soft consistency, and that means the Campus 2B or similar erasers, like the Faber-Castell Art Eraser or the Hinodewashi Matomaru-kuns, can potentially develop a tear or rip close to where you hold them at the tip after repeated heavy use (it took about four full, heavily erased A* pages before the 2B started to develop its first split), but just cut the tip off cleanly with a sharp knife and you're back in business (do *not* just tear off the tip and continue with the jagged torn edge left behind--that will fragment into many smaller torn sections, soon crumbling the rest of the eraser to bits--that's what happened with my first Campus and Matomaru-kun :p).
 
Also, the first thing to do before you even start using them is to remove the paper sleeve they come with, because the edge of the sleeve will start to cut into the leading end of the eraser once you start flexing it against the page, and then you've got the start of your first tear, and probably very quickly.
 
Another precaution might be to keep your fingernails in fine trim; mine are maybe a couple millimeters long now and *may* be responsible for starting the latest tearing to my new Campus 2B and Faber-Castell Art Eraser, but I'm not certain of that--with the Art Eraser in particular I think it was more likely just the pressure of the tip against the page that led to tearing on its own.
 
Anyhoo that's it for now with the erasers; these Campus 2Bs won't last nearly as long in daily use as the little Ain Dust-Gatherers, but for soft lead you still can't beat 'em with anything I know of. And the Ain may have competition even in the hard lead category, as Jetpens just got the Campus B/HB back in stock--the version meant for harder leads. I've got one of those shipping to me, so we'll have at least one more mini-round-up to pit that against the Ain on H-grade lead.
 
~~~~~
 
Update: The Campus B/HB is here and ready to go against the Ain Dust-Gathering! See round 3.
 
 
 
 
·····
 
 
 
 
  Markers, silly faces, and split erasersJun 19, 2013 12:53 AM PDT | url
 
Added 2 new A* pages:Tried using a big black marker for the dark area in page 68 and, as with the pencil/marker sketch I tried last week or whatever, I'm not sure it really worked out. Oh well, worth a shot.
 
I'm glad Junior is out of the picture for a little bit now because like half the time I just don't seem to know what to do with his face; I seem to have these constant urges to do sort of comic relief characters, but when it comes to drawing them I just can't draw them "seriously," I suppose because of how I feel their personality works, and they end up looking like these ridiculous cartoonish scribbles next to the other much more serious scribbles. : P Hum. He's worked out okay a *few* times though so obviously there's some way to do it all right, I just can't seem to do it consistently.
 
The eraser I was testing out in real drawing for the past couple days to see if it would be my new go-to eraser *did* start to split after two days of heavy erasing--but then, as I was doing some extra eraser testing, my would-be backup go-to eraser split, too! And that one is more smeary than the first candidate, which is actually really amazingly un-smeary, which I've been finding is a huge plus when working with softer graphite grades. So I think I'm just gonna have to go with the first one anyway; I found that if I cut the split end off square with a nice sharp knife, I can go on using the eraser all right; the thing *not* to do is to tear the split end off, because that leaves a jagged surface that just starts to split all over when you try to erase with it, and soon the whole eraser just crumbles to bits--that's what happened with the first one of these.
 
And in even further eraser developments, the B/HB version of that Campus 2B eraser that came in #2 in my earlier eraser round-up is actually in stock at Jetpens.com now; the 2B version did really well on the H-grade lead I was testing at that point, so in theory the B/HB (B and HB being harder grades of lead than 2B) should do even *better* on H-grade lead--so when I get that one in I'll have to try it against the current H champ, the Pentel Ain Dust-Gathering eraser, to see if it can beat it. And then whichever one of those does best is what I'll keep around for the times I use my mechanical drafting pencil and H leads for layouts meant for inking--and I think I will be doing some of those again, although in a slightly different format, but I'll talk more about that in a day or two probably.
 
I may only get one page done tomorrow 'cause I've got someone else's birthday to go celebrate. I *might* get back in time to get two pages in but I kind of doubt it.
 
 
 
 
·····
 
 
 
 
  Who *is* that mystery eraser?Jun 18, 2013 1:28 AM PDT | url
 
Added 2 new A* pages:Looks like my host did indeed move the site to the super-fast new server today--this became apparent when my comic uploading script started breaking; apparently the new server arrangement is a bit more restrictive on the ol "rename" Perl command. :P Anyway I've got that worked out now I think and everything should be hunky-dory, but of course if you see something that broke today do let me know and I'll get it taken care of.
 
If you caught my Supermassive Eraser Round-up from a week or so ago you know I looked at a bunch of Japanese erasers and settled on the best to use as my new eraser for A*. Since then though I've already switched paper and pencil lead grade, and these demanded some new testing--plus, I got a couple different Japanese erasers from a new source. PLUS over the weekend I found a bunch of new erasers to try in my little local art supply store--you may think these couldn't possibly go toe-to-toe with the Japanese super-erasers, and I didn't either, BUT I was very, very wrong. So anyway I have a whole new batch of erasers to present, including these, stripped for temporary anonymity
 
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and one of those will be the NEW eraser of A*! The one tried with the pages today seems good--I couldn't have done the erased edge of Selenis' hair on page 66 without it, for instance--but a previous incarnation of it fell apart in earlier testing, where I was using it slightly differently, so I'm going to give it at least another day of work tomorrow before I declare it the winner. If that one fails, the new A* eraser will be one that isn't even Japanese! In fact, if you're in the States, it's one you might just find right in your local art supply store--and yeah it's a really great eraser! Anyhoo I will have the run-down on all of these in the not-too-distant future.
 
 
 
 
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  The site is gonna be super-fast!Jun 15, 2013 3:40 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:A digital doodle with the ol' Lasso Tool (I was frustrated with pencils last night :p):
 
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~~~~~~
 
I got an email from my host, pair.com, saying that the A* site is being "moved to a lightning fast, new server running the latest operating system (FreeBSD 8) on the fastest platform (64-bit)" on Monday! Neat! I mean I don't think it runs slow at all now, but apparently it will get even zippier next week, so that's nice. : D They didn't mention there being any down time, so hopefully the switchover will happen in a twinkle.
 
Or *maybe* the new server will be so fast that time will run in reverse, and the strip will start going backwards--aw, and just when we're nearing 2000 pages! Hm well I guess we'll see what happens come Monday.
 
~~~~~~
 
I use Quantcast's statistical service to get information on who is reading A*--well, mostly just so I can see if I'm gaining or losing viewers day by day :o--and I got an email from them yesterday saying they just rolled out a snazzy new real-time display of who's visiting A*! It shows current viewers per city on a global map, which is pretty fascinating (for me :p) to watch. :) Yes you over there in Iceland and you in Myanmar, I can see you, hello! *waves* And YOU can see it too, right here; ooh you can even use the button at top right there to make it full screen in a dark color scheme that makes your monitor look like a control room screen at NASA mission control or something. :oo And if you want the boring old static stats with demographic breakdowns and that kind of thing, you can always find those right here.
 
~~~~~~
 
Looking at Quantcast's semi-interactive live map, I noticed a region in South America highlighting when I positioned the mouse over France--it's French Guiana, which is actually part of France (an "overseas region of France," as Wikipedia puts it)! And it is home to France's national spaceport, Guiana Space Center; turns out Guiana is a handy place from which to launch rockets, because (like Cape Canaveral) it's near the equator so you get a bit of an additional boost from the Earth's rotation when you launch eastward, and it has uninhabited territory to the East (aka the Atlantic Ocean), so stuff falling off those eastward-launching rockets probably won't fall on anyone. Guiana Space Center is also the European Space Agency's primary spaceport, because the French were good sports and offered to share it with them; so that's where the ESA launches their supply vehicles to the International Space Station.
 
And if it sounds familiar, maybe it's because I mentioned it and showed a photo of a space launch from GSC way back in 2011, when we were in the middle of episode 13! Boy how time flies.
 
 
 
 
·····
 
 
 
 
  RemarkerableJun 14, 2013 4:58 AM PDT | url
 
Added 2 new A* pages:This was a quick test sketch I did today, seeing how it would go if I used a big marker as fill for pencil lines:
 
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It actually worked better than I expected in terms of how quick it was and how solid the edges of the marker areas were. I'm not sure how well it all holds together, though; then again that may just be because something's off with the drawing of the chin there. : P Anyway this is probably worth experimenting with a bit more, after all I do have a ton of these big markers sitting around from back when I thought I was going to do the strip all on marker, back um in episode 16.
 
 
 
 
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  Canson's Bristol Betters Strathmore'sJun 13, 2013 3:38 AM PDT | url
 
Added 2 new A* pages:My Canson bristol paper arrived today! And I used it for these two latest pages--I don't know if you noticed, since I tidy things up in Photoshop after scanning anyway, but the lines are smoother and the whole thing is cleaner. Why? For one thing, the Canson bristol (I just realized I don't have to capitalize "bristol" :P, even though it gets its name from the city of Bristol, England for some reason) is much smoother than the "Smooth" version of the Strathmore 300 bristol I used for the previous three pages, as perhaps you can see in this little comparison done with a Tombow Mono 4B pencil:
 
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The smoother surface means the lines get broken up less by the paper's texture, and consequently come through much more cleanly when scanned into the computer.
 
Also, although you can't really tell from the photo, Canson's bristol is a brighter white than the Strathmore 300, which actually scanned light gray in some areas rather than pure white--that meant that with the Strathmore, I had to shift light grays to white in Photoshop to clean up the scan, which unavoidably resulted in some loss of detail and line integrity. Canson's bristol, by contrast, scans pure white, so no additional processing of the artwork is necessary.
 
(Strathmore does have two pricier lines of bristol, the 400 and the all-cotton "archival" 500, but when I felt them up at the art supply store yesterday, the 400 didn't feel any smoother than the 300, and the 500, which *may* have been a smidge smoother than the 300, was a much darker color that would make for an even muddier scan.)
 
Finally, Canson's bristol doesn't have the oddly squeaky, rubbery surface the Strathmore does, so drawing on it is a much more pleasant experience, and the eraser doesn't stick to it like it does to the Strathmore; in fact, my 4B pencil marks just erase much more easily and cleanly from the Canson paper.
 
So huzzah! The Canson bristol is everything I'd hoped it would be, and has none of the problems that were bothering me with the Strathmore--and my A* pencil work should look much cleaner from here on out. :)
 
 
 
 
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  POWER leadJun 12, 2013 4:15 AM PDT | url
 
Added 2 new A* pages:Drew today's pages with a 4B Tombow Mono pencil on Strathmore 300 Smooth Bristol, and--aside from the pretty nearly complete mechanical failure of an eraser I thought might work better on that surface--it worked a lot better than I thought it would! I'd been afraid that the soft 4B lead would smear--I used to get pretty smeary even with much harder and lighter H lead on my previous paper, Canson Illustration--but it didn't, hardly at all in fact; I guess that's because the old paper was a toothier surface and loose graphite sort of pooled in the pits in the surface, just waiting to be smudged around, whereas with the smooth 300 surface, it's either stuck on there pretty good, or not there at all. On the other hand, that lack of graphite-grabbing hollows does mean that you can't get the lead to come out as dark on this paper as you could on a rougher paper--which is why hardcore photo-realistic type graphite artists use a rougher paper surface--but the 4B is still pretty dark anyway.
 
One thing that surprised me about the 4B Monos is that the lead is much thicker! Check it out here on the right, compared with an H Mono on the left:
 
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Boom! That's some power lead right there.
 
~~~~
 
I seem to have run out of any idea I had of how to draw Junior in an interesting way. Ugh. Gotta figure his face out.
 
 
 
 
·····
 
 
 
 
  In quest of smoother paper & sharper linesJun 11, 2013 12:21 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Only one page (kinda for Monday) 'cause I spent too much time playing with art supplies, 'cause on Sunday I decided that the toothy texture on the Canson Artist Series Illustration Paper I've been using since oh somewhere in episode 15, and which worked so well for brush work, is breaking up pencil lines too much for them to scan cleanly, particularly with wider/softer leads; if you look at the large versions of the past dozen or so pages, for instance, which were done with a wooden H pencil, you'll see that the lines are fuzzy rather than crisply solid, and even on the small page size, a sort of crayon-like quality is evident and, I think, rather unattractive.
 
So I needed a smoother paper, and fortunately I had a dozen or so pages of the old Strathmore 300 Smooth Bristol that I started with when I first made the switch from working digitally back in the middle of episode 14. I scribbled out a bunch of boringly identical sketches on a page of it, using various pencils--my mechanical 0.5mm drafting pencil with H lead, a Tombow Mono H-grade pencil, and Cretacolor Monolith woodless pencils at softer 2B, 4B, 6B, and 8B grades; the heads on the left in this first photo were done with the 0.5mm, for instance, but the one on the right was probably a 6B+:
 
Image
 
Image
 
Image
 
I found that the Mono at grade H was kind of scratchy on the Bristol, whereas the H-grade 0.5mm mechanical pencil wasn't; also, with the Cretacolors, I found that I really liked the 4B: went on like butter, and wasn't annoyingly soft and crayon-y like the 6B and 8B. One thing I'd suspected but had never tested with those woodless Cretacolors, though, was difficulty in sharpening them; I finally tried one in my sharpener, and, unlike with wooden pencils, it didn't sharpen to a point and then stop, so I probably ground down about a fourth of the pencil by accident. Pshaw!
 
Anyway I found that I was also pretty comfortable on the Bristol with my old 0.5mm drafting pencil, even though it draws very lightly with its thin, harder lead, and I thought maybe since its lines would be more solid on the less textured Bristol surface it would scan without the breakup problems I tended to encounter with it when I was trying it on the Canson Illustration paper at the beginning of this episode. So I did today's page with the drafting pencil on the Strathmore 300 Bristol, but found, upon scanning, that the paper was *just* off-white enough to start to register as patches of gray tone; the pencil lines did indeed come through in better shape than on the rougher paper, but I had to boost the overall white value to get rid of the patchy grays from the paper, and that weakened the lines, so the end result isn't nearly as much of an improvement over the old paper as I'd been hoping it would be. Dang. Also, the hard 0.5mm point feels annoyingly spongy on the Bristol's 2-ply surface, which was one of the reasons I'd stopped using it in the first place--and it takes a lot more elbow grease to erase from, too.
 
This was not, actually, the Bristol I'd wanted to use; Canson, whose Illustration paper I've liked so much, makes a Bristol of their own, which at least one review on the dickblick.com art supply supersite says is smoother than the equivalently priced Strathmore 300. I'm hoping it will also be a tad whiter, but I'll have to wait until the shipment I ordered arrives in a few days to find that out--I had to order some as none of the art supply stores I called around Seattle had any in stock, although the physical Dick Blick store (or "Blick Art Supplies," as they're trying to style themselves now) across town *said* they did, and I drove all the way over there in the morning only to find they actually had the Canson only in the rougher "vellum" surface type. Argh.
 
So as not to have the trip be a total waste, though, I felt some time comparing the look and feel of the more expensive Strathmore 400 and 500 papers that they had in the shop, but found that the 400 felt a little more pebbly than the 300, and the 3x as expensive all-cotton 500 wasn't perceptively smoother, and was definitely darker--almost verging on a very light brown egg color that I can't think will behave very well at all in the scanner. A helpful store clerk who showed up and admitted to a penchant for paper-groping herself (I admitted to nothing >_>) said that she'd heard the only difference between the 300 and 400 was that one was recycled, but I haven't found any evidence for that. I wondered aloud if the Utrecht store, in the same neighborhood as the Blick store, might have some of the Canson Bristol, but the clerk pointed out that the two stores had merged--but I think it's more a case of Utrecht having been absorbed by Blick, because Utrecht stores and web site now just redirect to Blick. So that option was out. : P Anyway, hope remains for the Canson winging its way to me in the mail.
 
The only thing I actually bought at the store was a 99-cent grade 4B Tombow Mono, which turned out to be rather delicious on the old Strathmore 300 Bristol. Here's a scanned sketch from that combination, shown at the same relative size as the regular and large A* pages:
 
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The line is dark enough that it doesn't break up when I have to adjust for the darkness of the paper, and the lead, while much softer than my usual H-grade, is still holding together pretty well on the fairly smooth surface. I think I'll try the next A* page with this combination and see how it goes; I suspect I'll smudge the 4B all over...but we'll see. It would be kind of nice if I could just stick with the 0.5mm mechanical, since I'm most confident with its always-there point--and too lazy to sharpen regular pencils regularly enough--but I think this last page showed that I have difficulty creating contrast between a lot of different surfaces in a complex scene with the narrow and fairly fixed 0.5mm line. Also, the 4B is easily visible to the eye, which would make for nicer originals, and perhaps less eye strain while drawing, too! Anyhoo I'll give it a shot.
 
 
 
 
·····
 
 
 
 
  Supermassive Eraser Round-upJun 09, 2013 6:14 AM PDT | url
 
I've been drawing A* with a pencil for about a year and a half, and for all that time I've been using a Staedtler Mars plastic eraser, as it was the best eraser I found at the local art supply superstore; it was miles better than the old rubber erasers I was used to, so I was pretty pleased with it. But recently I switched from mechanical to wooden pencils, and with all the extra graphite they sling around, things have been getting a bit messy--the Staedtler wasn't quite able to keep up. So I got to wondering if maybe there was something better out there; since the best pencils I'd been able to find were from Japan, I figured I'd see how they are at erasers, and ordered up eleven of the most useful looking items from the block eraser section of import site jetpens.com. Being the finicky person I am, I could not rest until they'd arrived and I'd determined once and for all which was the best.
 
Image
 
The old Eberhard Faber Pink Pearl at the bottom there is just for scale; I did try the Staedtler, to the right of it, against the Japanese erasers, but it didn't last long. Keep in mind that I only tested these erasers with the pencil and paper I use for A*: Tombow Mono Professional Drawing Pencils, grade H, and Canson Artist Series Illustration Paper, a stiff, single-ply 150 lb paper with a little bit of tooth to it and a slight anti-bleed treatment; results with other materials could vary! (For results on Bristol with softer 4B lead, which did indeed yield different results, see round 2.) Happily, all the Japanese erasers are under two dollars a pop, so why not get yourself a few samples and give them a try yourself?
 
Well, let's get to it, shall we? Only one of these erasers can survive! It's battles of elimination, then, and we'll rub out the worst until only the best is left. With one exception: one very popular eraser was out of stock momentarily, so it got to skip the first batteries of tests--but this darling of the people will arrive just in time to face our surviving gladiator in a winner-take-all deathmatch!
 
I don't have a photo of the first series of tests I did with all the erasers (except the Pink Pearl, which I allowed to retire with dignity), because it was a fairly casual test over three modest stripes of graphite that quickly proved insufficiently demanding to distinguish the fine differences between most of the Japanese erasers; it was, however, obvious from the first stroke with them that the Staedtler was outclassed: its stiffer material couldn't pick up the graphite from the paper as efficiently as the softer Japanese blocks, and it shredded more easily into lots of little fragments that have to be brushed off the page, inevitably smearing the drawing beneath them. The Staedtler (a "vinyl" and "plastic" eraser, which I can only assume means PVC) was out.
 
I was able to rule a couple of the Japanese erasers out immediately as well:
 
10. Tombow Mono NP Non-PVC Eraser
This didn't seem to be erasing as easily as the others, and felt awful, crumbling even faster than the Staedtler into little shavings that got everywhere. A far cry from the fabled Mono eraser of yore; Tombow seems to have a guilty conscience about the supposedly unhealthy chemical composition of their beloved discontinued original eraser, but they're overcompensating here and have made a really sub-par follow-up.
 
9. Pentel Hi-Polymer Ain Eraser - Black
A PVC eraser, as were all the Pentel erasers I tested--the Japanese erasers neatly identify their composition with a uniform "PVC" printed on their sleeves--the Black Ain just wasn't erasing as well as the three other Ains I tested, so I saw no reason to continue with it.
 
So much for those. Now it was going to get tougher: I had to find a way to strain these remaining erasers. I tried gouging the pencil tip into the paper really hard, digging deep, graphite-filled troughs in the surface, and even scratching out solid square patches of pure lead covering. Let's see them handle THIS!
 
Image
 
Oh, they handled it--without so much as breathing hard. There still wasn't much difference evident in the cleaning ability of the remaining erasers (and the Staedtler was still in there for some reason, but never mind), but I did rule out two that were maybe not erasing quite as well, and definitely didn't feel as good in action:
 
8. Uni NanoDia Eraser for Kids
I guess I'd like to see Uni's adult eraser--oh wait, more on that later--and come to think of it I'm not sure how this relatively hard, PVC-laden eraser is particularly good for the children: it shreds into tiny bits and makes a mess, and doesn't even clean up graphite as well as most of the other erasers. Maybe this is for the naughty kids.
 
7. Pentel Ain Stein Eraser
You finally figure out what the "Ain" name was for when you get to the "Stein" (get it? :P); Pentel Japan's web site touts the unusual strength of this PVC eraser, and it does feel firm, and I like the long form-factor, but it creates a mess much like the NanoDia, besides not erasing as effectively as the most of the others.
 
Then I squinted a bit harder at the results, noticed that four of the erasers had slightly superior results; that weeded out these reasonably effective erasers:
 
6. Pentel Hi-Polymer Ain Eraser - Light-Erasing
All of the remaining erasers erase pretty effectively right from the first stroke, so "Light-Erasing" didn't really distinguish this PVC eraser (the Ain in the blue jacket in the photo) from any of the other contestants, and even pressing hard didn't quite get the lead out as well as four of the competitors.
 
5. Seed Colorful Radar Light 100 Eraser
These pleasantly sherbet-colored erasers come in a nice big size, and their shavings roll together into easily-cleaned bunches pretty readily, but it wasn't quite cutting the mustard compared to a few of the others when it came to actual erasing.
 
That left me with four remaining erasers. Now I tried really just scratching cubes of...scratches into the paper with really sharp pencil points. Unfortunately, this didn't slow down the erasers a bit. So then I just laid down a big patch of graphite and tried to clear a quarter of it with each one, going in a circle clockwise around that big erased square at the bottom of the following photo, in the same order that you see them listed (in my awful handwriting) vertically, starting with the Pilot Foam at the upper left corner:
 
Image
 
The only thing I could tell from this was that one of the four quadrants wasn't quite as bright white as the others; one eraser was eliminated:
 
4. Pilot Foam Eraser
It gathered shavings together pretty well, came in a nice big size, and erased pretty well, too--it's just that three other erasers erased slightly better. Not a bad showing for the Foam, though.
 
Now I had to get serious: I laid down the biggest, heaviest field of graphite I could, and made each of the remaining three erasers clear a big swath of it:
 
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Gosh dang if they didn't all do an amazing job at that. My arm was getting tired, I was starting to get a little hot and sweaty beneath extra lights at my drawing table with all this scratching and erasing, and worry that I wouldn't be able to pick a winner was starting to gnaw at me. My tired eyes thought maybe, just maybe, one of them had done a slightly better job than the others. But it was such a subtle difference that it could have been a fluke or a trick of the light, so I thought I'd better try again:
 
Image
 
Again, the difference was very, very faint, but I think...I *think*--and this might not even be visible in the probably-not-quite-even lighting of this photograph--that one *was* getting its area just a wee bit cleaner than the others. That meant we had two proud runner-ups:
 
3. Hinodewashi Matomaru-kun Eraser
If you sort JetPens' eraser section by "Popularity," this long, square-tipped PVC eraser is #2; and #1 has a similar form factor, so maybe other eraser manufacturers should take note when it comes to deciding what shape to make their next erasers. It also just erases really darn well; the Matomaru-kun was by far the softest and tackiest on the paper, and just really seemed to grip the lead right off the surface. That's good, but on the other hand, it does require more effort to drag that soft, adhering eraser head across the paper; it's a long body but you have to grip it right up at the tip to get leverage, and even doing that, I had the tip start to split off, the only one of the bunch to have any kind of fracturing problem like that. So if I was going to go with a Matomaru-kun I might opt for the more traditional, thicker rectangular block-shaped version--maybe the one in the flashy gold sleeve. Even though I prefer to ditch the sleeve anyway rather than having to bother advancing the eraser through it all the time as it wears down--which brings up another possible drawback of this eraser: I'm not sure I would want that super-tacky, super-soft surface rubbing against my fingers all that much. Still, it erases like the dickens.
 
2. Kokuyo Campus Student Eraser - For 2B Lead
"Students" in Japan get a pretty awesome eraser, I guess! This one definitely impressed with erasing power, came in a relatively hefty size, and I think it was even one of the best ones at rolling its shavings into conveniently discarded long strings, too. And, intriguingly, JetPens has a listing for a "For B/HB Lead" version, which in theory would be better-suited for my H-grade lead (B/HB being closer than 2B to H in the pencil grade scale)--only it's out of stock, and doesn't have their usual "click here to get notified when it gets back in stock," which does not bode well. Still, I can't really imagine one erasing much better than this "2B" version. (Update: it does--see round 3.)
 
That leaves us with a modestly named but incredibly effective erasing champion:
 
1. Pentel Hi-Polymer Ain Eraser - Dust-Gathering
This little PVC eraser--the Ain in the red sleeve in the initial photo--won't be gathering dust in my art supply pantry of shame--its supreme erasing power is going right to work on a daily basis! The name *is* a little funny, though; I guess they're just somewhat arbitrary, because the Ain "Light-Erase" model, for instance, probably "gathered" eraser fragments about as well as this thing, but this one erased at least as "lightly," which is to say, right from the first touch to the paper you really feel it going to town on the graphite. It has probably the second-tackiest surface after the Matomaru-kun, so it does take a bit more muscle to move it (maybe that's what the "light-erasing" of the other means by comparison, I suppose), but even the Small model--which really is small, like about the width of a penny--can scour a big piece of paper clear very quickly, it's just that good at erasing. It wasn't the best at "dust gathering" its own shavings out of all these erasers, but it does okay at that--certainly better than, say, the Staedtler, which doesn't do it at all. And it has a curious property of sometimes skipping right off thick graphite deposits, possibly leaving a long smear--but it can always clean these up. It does seem to be the most durable of the erasers, though; I'm not sure how, considering its relative softness and tackiness, but this little workhorse wears down really, really slowly, so even the Small is going to last me though a good many erased-many-times-over full pages--and rather to my surprise, I'm finding I prefer the nimbleness of the small size, so I'll stick with that rather than bumping up to the larger version.
 
Oops but wait I'm getting ahead of myself: there was the one, most popular eraser that was all sold out when I ordered the others, and thus arrived later:
 
??. Uni Boxy Eraser
 
The Boxy has almost twice as many reviews on JetPens as the next-most-reviewed eraser (62 vs the Pilot Foam's 32), is the top of their "Popularity" sorted list, and just seems to garner way more love than any other eraser there; I don't know if it's because of its long, square-tipped shape, the black color, or the silly "the basic concept of boxy always aims at a simple life style" phrase printed on the sides. Maybe people really liked the robot dog of the same name from Battlestar Galactica? Anyhoo, it finally arrived, so it was time to put the JetPens champ up against my testing's champ, the Ain Dust-Gathering:
 
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Clear victory to the Ain Dust-Gathering: the Boxy didn't clean as well, left small black shreds everywhere, and even created a couple weird black smears that it couldn't clean back off; if the Boxy had been around for my earlier rounds of testing it would have been eliminated at least three rounds back. It's a little long in the tooth now--some of those Boxy reviews go back to 2007--so maybe that explains both its large, devoted following, and definite lack of competitiveness against some of the young guns in the Japanese erasing world.
 
~~~~~
 
Well, that wraps it up for now: go go Ain Dust-Gathering! Speaking of older (I think?) erasers like the Boxy, though, I did manage to find a certain shop in Hong Kong that claimed to have some of Tombow's original, discontinued "Mono" erasers in stock, so if the one I ordered actually shows up at my doorstep (in the next couple weeks, maybe?), I'll be able to pit that against the Ain Dust-Gathering, which will rule this roost at least until then.
 
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Update: For testing of the original Mono eraser, and testing on Bristol paper with softer lead--where I find a different eraser to be the best!--check out Supermassive Eraser Round-up, Round 2!
 
Update 2: And once I got a Campus B/HB, that just had to be pitted against the Ain Dust-Gathering for the ultimate hard-lead championship! All that and more in round 3.
 
 
 
 
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  How to shave your eraser in 7 easy stepsJun 08, 2013 1:04 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Hey! Tune in Saturday (technically today, but I mean later on) because I'm finally going to get together my report on tracking down the best eraser IN THE WORLD. Probably. Anyway I ordered a bunch of fancy erasers and tested them against each other in a plastic eraser deathmatch sort of thing where there could be only one survivor--because obviously I'm not gonna work on A* with a second-best eraser, sheesh. I need all the help I can get!
 
Many erasers were shaved in the research for this report!
 
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Don't miss it later today!
 
(While you're waiting, why not check out Wikipedia's article on erasers? For instance, did you know that in 1770, Joseph Priestly, better known as the discoverer of soda water and oxygen (his "dephlogisticated air," which he "first tested it on mice, who surprised him by surviving quite a while entrapped with the air, and then on himself, writing that it was 'five or six times better than common air for the purpose of respiration, inflammation, and, I believe, every other use of common atmospherical air'")--in 1770, I say, this somewhat eccentric English theologian and natural philosopher "described a vegetable gum to remove pencil marks: 'I have seen a substance excellently adapted to the purpose of wiping from paper the mark of black lead pencil.' He dubbed the substance 'rubber'."
 
And then later in 1770, I guess, English engineer Edward Nairne (who constructed the first marine barometer) developed "the first widely-marketed rubber eraser" after having "inadvertently picked up a piece of rubber instead of breadcrumbs." In fact, crustless bread was still used as an eraser by students in Tokyo as late as the early 1900s (the bonus was, if you got hungry, you could eat it--although I suppose maybe not if you'd done a lot of erasing with it already).)
 
 
 
 
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  Space graphiteJun 07, 2013 2:41 AM PDT | url
 
Added 2 new A* pages:Today's warmup sketch!
 
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Not sure it helped directly since the first actual page today was an outdoor ship scene. I found out these pencils I'm using can do big black areas pretty easily, which is handy, but it would've been better if I'd planned that out from the beginning, because (as I found) even my new super-eraser can't keep things neat and tidy when trying to work back over a page with heavily layered black space graphite all around it. So it got a bit messy! But what the hey, that's art or something. Learning! Not knowing what you're doing! Woo!
 
 
 
 
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  Massimilia design sketchesJun 06, 2013 2:00 AM PDT | url
 
Added 2 new A* pages:From the sketchbook! A couple design sketches for Massimilia Treban that I did back near the beginning of this episode:
 
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What I really should be doing is like a warm-up sketch each day, because on days where I do two pages, it seems to me that the first page usually comes out a bit too stiff and by-the-numbers-y. I've been doing a lot better on time management this week though, and there are still a lot of things I can improve in that regard, too, so I'm optimistic that I can get to the point where I can do two pages a day where I feel like I really have the time to relax and play with them.
 
 
 
 
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  Revenge of the dither monsterJun 05, 2013 12:35 AM PDT | url
 
Added 2 new A* pages:If you happened across the site at certain times over the weekend, you might have seen that some of the recent pages had been switched from grayscale to dithered black and white; page 46, for instance, looked like this
 
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and page 38 looked like this
 
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and a few other pages had been dot-ified as well. I'd been wanting to try it for a while but I'd only just figured out how to make Photoshop's Floyd-Steinberg "diffusion dither" come out dark enough (Multiply the image pre-conversion until it comes out right, duh : p). I think it's a nifty look BUT after I'd then gone and converted the first 20 pages or so of episode 19 to dots locally, I realized while flipping through them that it just got too...dotty after a while. Also a very perceptive reader on Facebook pointed out that I shouldn't dot-ify the subtitle, because that made it too hard to read, which was absolutely correct; leaving just part of the image smooth did complicate the conversion process just enough to make it annoying, though, and also nullified some of the file size savings (the pages load super fast when they're just dots ;); it also left me with no excuse to use my nifty dithered "smbhax.com" URL stamp in the lower right corner, of which I was inordinately fond.
 
Anyway so that was how I ended up spending half my weekend. Something good did come out of it I think though, which is that I realized some of my dissatisfaction with the non-dotty pages had been that they weren't quite sharp enough; so now I'm applying a teensy bit of sharpening to the new pages after shrinking them down to web size--and in black and white that even makes some of them load faster, so, bonus. It's the smallest amount of sharpening that macros correctly in my ancient Photoshop 4... Well, actually a macroed 0.4 pixel radius 50% Unsharp Mask filter comes out equivalent to a 0.3 pixel radius 50% manually-executed Unsharp Mask for some bizarre reason, but a macroed 0.3 pixel radius one does nothing at all. ... I think PS4 was the first one with the Action macro system, so eh they were still working out some kinks, like how you can't record a lot of operations into Actions. : P
 
Huh I guess if I was really clever I'd make a "low bandwidth" option to show the dot-ified versions of the pages, but eh...probably not worth the work and UI clutter. : pp
 
 
 
 
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  In which I settle the great Mono debateJun 04, 2013 1:28 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:You may recall that a little over a week ago I got a new pencil, the US-market version of Japanese company Tombow's respected Mono 100 pencil. And I tried it against the other big Japanese pencil, Mitsubishi's Hi-Uni, and the Mono I'd found at my tiny little local art supply store was better--for my purposes--than the expensive rival import, so I've been using the Mono to draw A* ever since.
 
But something was nagging at me: import purists maintain that the Mono 100 Tombow sells in Japan is superior to the Mono they ship Stateside. This "Journaling Arts" blog article neatly encapsulates key points of the great transpacific Mono debate: it begins with a reviewer attempting to show that the Japanese Mono 100 and US Mono are equally good in their drawing quality, but slightly different; import elitists then come into the comment section and say that obviously the 100 is superior, as the US Mono must certainly be the same as what is called the just plain Mono in Japan, which is a pencil Tombow Japan sells over there at a distinctly lower price than the 100, and indeed their Japanese literature describes the 100's lead as having significantly improved graphite density over the Japanese plain Mono; arguments over which actually draws better go back and forth, and then near the end of the comments comes someone quoting Tombow USA's answer to the question on the difference, which is that "the lead for the [US version] Mono and Mono 100 are exactly the same. Itís the wood and paint that are different. The Mono have the better paint thickness being 8 times instead of 6 times."
 
That sounded good! But was it true, or just misleading American marketing? Well the only way to know for sure was to compare the two versions myself, so I got some imported Mono 100s from Jetpens for nearly three times the price for which you can get the US-market Mono in bulk online in the States. Looking at their respective packaging for a dozen of each, you have to say that the Japanese 100s in their dark plastic with transparent hinged lid certainly make a strong case:
 
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Notice also that whoever was in charge of the latest packaging redesign at Tombow USA appears to have decided that "Mono" is not a name that's going to fly off the shelves here in the States, so they left it off the box entirely (it was included in the earlier version of the packaging, which you can still see at that last link), leaving them named what had previously been just their subtitle: "Professional Drawing Pencil." Inspiring and instantly forgettable, nice job. : P It's a slightly different story once you get them out of the case, though:
 
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Fortunately, the US Mono, sporting a distinctive if slightly garish painted white cuff near the end, still has the "Mono" monogramming, even if it isn't printed as sharply as on the Japanese version. I'm not altogether keen about the thin white stripe that loops over the butt of the Japanese pencils, though, and you can see that the body of the US version is much more of a real black than the 100, which is actually a dark blue by comparison. I wonder if that's due to the two additional layers of lacquer on the US ones--you can kind of feel the additional thickness of the paint when you hold them, too--or so I have fooled myself into believing; like, the hexagonal edges of the body are slightly more rounded. As Tombow USA marketing stated, the woods do appear to be a bit different: the wood of the Japanese pencils is a little darker, although this is only really obvious before they are sharpened (I forgot to get the faces of the unsharpened ends in the photo, oh well :p), and somewhat more aromatic, with that pleasant cedar smell; the American version has a nice smell for a while after sharpening too, but it is not as strong and fades away more completely with time. Both cut easily in a sharpener, and have their leads nicely centered.
 
I'm pretty sure Tombow USA was also right about the leads being identical between the two: my final drawing test page is below, with the US Mono being the top scribble patches, and the rightmost head sketch, and the Japanese Mono 100 the others...or actually it could be the other way around; I don't remember because I did this test a week or so ago and they really do draw exactly the same:
 
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So there you go! I, at any rate, am completely satisfied that the Mono (aka "Professional Drawing Pencil" :PP) sold here in the States has the exact same, really really nice lead as the Mono 100s you can import from Japan--at least in the "H" grade I use, as I didn't bother trying any other grades. The imported model smells a little nicer, has higher quality printing on it, and comes in a much more imposing case, but the paint job isn't quite as nice and anyway none of that stuff really matters, or at least not 3x-the-price matters. Oh well one thing I did neglect to point out in the second photo is that, as you can see, the Japanese version is 4 mm longer, so I suppose that goes a teensy way toward making up the large price difference.
 
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Whoop actually I am going to post a photo of the ends of the unsharpened pencils after all:
 
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That's the US-market version in the stack on the left, and the Japanese on the right. I had been about to say that more of the Japanese versions had slightly off-center leads than the US versions did, but after squinting at them all a few more times...I think it's pretty much a toss-up. Some of the leads are ever-so-slightly off center, which could mean that they don't sharpen as easily and wear more unevenly than they ideally should, but these imperfections are so slight that they probably won't be noticeable in practice.
 
As I was trying to get a slightly sharper photo I accidentally nicked the table and my nice neat pencil stacks collapsed. So we'll go with this one!
 
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Oh yeah also I only got one page drawn today because I spent all afternoon playing with a dozen different Japanese erasers, all of which were superior to the German eraser I've been using all this time. I will indeed have an overly long write-up on erasers fairly soon, but I'm waiting for one more to arrive--the most popular import eraser, which was out of stock when I ordered the others last week, but just came back in today. : p Two other brands--including a fabled eraser that was discontinued a year or two ago due to probably overblown health concerns--are also en route, but they're coming from Hong Kong and may be a couple weeks, so I won't wait for those. : P
 
 
 
 
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