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link list of all the reviews & recommendations i have done!

SOMETHING TO KEEP IN MIND BEFORE PROCEEDING: the shit i say here is based entirely on my amateur, wholly unresearched opinion! relax!

ETCHR PRODUCTS

Tagetted ads. You can prevent them by putting in a lot of effort, and this is why I have not done anything to prevent them. For many, many years, the algorithm has struggled to get me to click a link, nevermind actually buy something after clicking. Etchr changed that.

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An important element of this story is that I live in Australia, a country that hates the arts with such a burning fury that for some reason only a handful of brands (compared to say the USA or Europe) sell products here, often at a steep markup. To get specific brands, I often have to import, which means absurd shipping costs on top of our monopoly money being pretty worthless to the countries who manufacture the art supplies I actually want. When I buy a traditional art supply, I fucking mean it. I search for reviews, I scour for examples of the product in question being used. Getting a shitty product is a huge out of pocket hit I prefer not to take, since I then have no choice but to use it with a big frowny face while I save up to replace it with something good.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to find here is a decent sketchbook, something on par with the Bee Paper Super Deluxe, which incidentally remains my all-time favorite all-rounder sketchbook. Bee Paper has all but stopped exporting their products here and I'm pretty bummed out about that! I started seeing Etchr ads pushed to me back when they were just selling their mini palette. I LOVE watercolors and while I thought the palette was a neat idea, I didn't see a big use for it, having already solved my personal 'how do i paint on the go' problems. Not long after that, they started advertising their sketchbooks, a bundle of three, with a variety of paper, for NO International Shipping! NEAT!

There was no option for a single book, which was unfortunate since that meant a bulk-buy price, and even without shipping I couldn't justify it right away. I DID order the test samples of their different paper types, and I didn't think it was bad! It had the mixed media quality I'd been expecting and it was decent, as far as I could tell from the VERY small square of paper. I filed it away in the back of my head that if I ever had the spare cash AND a need for a new Mixed Media book, I'd grab some. It took a few years, but the time came, and I was excited! All the reviews on their sites are suspiciously glowing, but otherwise I couldn't turn up much, negative or positive - my expectations were in the normal range. I also grabbed their set of 'watercolor' brushes, because why not? I'm always on the hunt for cheap brushes to thrash, and finding that combo of 'brush is still good, but not so good that I feel bad using it for anything that isn't a Serious Painting' is tough.

I ordered the A4 Hot Press Landscape Bundle and Watercolor Brushes: Set of 10, for future reference. I did NOT take any pictures of the sketchbooks when I unboxed them because I did not think I would be writing a review of them. Oops! You will have to trust me when I describe to you how they came to me earlier this year: in hilariously wasteful packaging. The 'bundle' - the only way they claim to be able to sell them to you - is three individually packaged and shrink wrapped sketchbooks. Each book is shrink wrapped and tucked in it's own little box, which was ALSO shrink wrapped, and they were in turn wrapped up together in a stack. The chemical smell that greeted me when I opened them was sour and weird, and so my initial impression on receiving my brand new sketchbooks was 'oh no did I get scammed' which isn't a great start!

The brushes looked & smelled fine. Regular synthetic brushes in a nice carry case.

Determined not to be thrown off by bullshit packaging, I focused on the positives: the sketchbooks were undamaged despite a big smoosh that had been inflicted on the package itself, the brushes looked decent, and I absolutely LOVE to make a little test page & decorate the covers of my books! Etchr sketchbooks (at least the version I ordered - the 'fancier' versions have faux leather I think? i don't feel like looking it up) have textured canvas covers, and so I set about making mine gay ASAP. It has an elastic band to hold it closed and a little ribbon to mark your place, plus a pocket in the back for storage.

Nice!

Usually I try a variety of mediums - ink, pencils, markers, etc - but at the time I was on a huge watercolor kick and so exclusively used some new half-pans I'd gotten & tested some old favorites while I was at it. My initial first impression after this? EXTREMELY positive! I loved it! It retains pigment really well, it takes my overly-wet style without wrinkling TOO much, and overall wasn't a struggle to work with. Both sides could be heavily worked without disrupting the piece on the other side. My only negative thought at this point, other than the weird packaging situation, was that I didn't like how narrow the paper was. I prefer a full A4 or bigger and knew that wasn't what this was, but I didn't realize how much I liked the bigger paper until I had to letterbox my stuff. The brushes, at this stage, were... fine. I wasn't that wowed by them, but I hadn't really put them through any paces so I wasn't prepared to make a judgement.

Then I turned the page. The binding is fucking weird. Most of the paper is totally fine, but the way they bound the interior cover and then... weirdly glued another piece to it?? I don't know how to describe it, just look:

All three books, front AND back, have this issue so I don't think it's a one-off binding mistake. It's a mild irritation in a book that otherwise lays perfectly flat, but for what I paid for it, I was annoyed they just figured it was fine to have this annoying shit as an acceptable 'quirk' of their product. I futzed around with the brushes some more before doing something larger to really give em a whirl and wow! These are awful brushes. Often people recommend shitty, cheap products to beginners so they can learn without feeling guilty about 'ruining' a nicer version, and I absolutely hate this advice. Shitty products give you a very poor idea of how a properly made version will work! These brushes did not apply pigment properly no matter how wet they were - which wasn't very, considering they are watercolor brushes - and on top of this unforgivable brush sin? They were immediately dropping hairs. I have random cheap synthetic brand brushes that I've been thrashing for YEARS and they haven't dropped a SINGLE hair, but I had barely had these 24 hrs and was picking long faux sable out of my paint. Absolutely unacceptable for a website that makes a real big deal about how they're Doing All Of This For You, The Artist. Trash. I even gave them a second chance after writing this, and since I've been using much nicer brushes in the interim, the experience was even worse!

VERDICT:

ETCHR SKETCHBOOK RATING: 3/5 Yeah Sures

The background of this website was painted across two pages in this type of sketchbook! If you have the cash and want to try something new, or really like the style (they have a variety, including cold press and portrait!), these aren't terrible! Aside from some weird binding & having a personal dislike for landscape style paper, this is an overpriced BUT pretty decent sketchbook. It's tolerant of ink, watercolor and gouache, and you can work both sides of the paper without issue (NOTE: I don't use alcohol based markers so I didn't test that but I am assuming they will bleed through & that this paper would suck ass for markers). The lay-flat is mostly good and the paper is good quality even if it starts out a little stinky. Keep in mind that if you leave it lying out for a month while you're really depressed, the canvas cover collects A LOT of dust. The undecorated one I left out is now a dingy grey I cannot seem to brush off.


ETCHR BRUSHES RATING: 1/5 Absolutely Fucking Nots

Do not buy these brushes. I felt completely bamboozled. They're better than those brushes that come with paint-by-number stuff from the grocery store and they're certainly cheap, but I hate them. They get a one SOLELY because the carry case they come in is honestly really good. I suspect that is what you are paying for. Throw the brushes away.

DERWENT INKTENSE INK BLOCKS

It's absolutely insane how good these are.

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I found them kind of on accident in like 2016 and I've been obsessed with them ever since. They wound up being a key player in rekindling not just my love for making art, but making it traditionally. Here is why you should try them out!

I think we can all agree that Derwent is a sturdy brand. They sell pencils in cool tins that make you feel just a little bit fancy (DON'T LIE), and the ink blocks are no exception. There are also Inktense pencils, but I am so obsessed with the blocks that I haven't even thought of trying them until right now writing this. But also... you kind of don't need to!

You can actually apply pigment directly to the paper, add water, and then continue to work with it while it's wet, allowing you to make some extremely cool effects.

And here comes the wild part. I'm not finished. Inktense stuff... dries waterproof. You can lay down a base and then paint over it without washing anything out. You can ink sketches with it and the pencil erases from behind it. It can be as transparent or as opaque as you need. The different blocks mix together really well, allowing you to take even the smallest offering (a set of 12, I believe) and be able to have all the colors you need. It's hard to communicate how exciting this is, especially compared to working with regular watercolor. You can layer watercolors, that's kind of the point, but the water can still effect the rest of the paint. Not here! I just absolutely love it. I still have my original set of twelve and it's VERY well loved.

I think an important part of why I love them so much is how they really pop even on paper that isn't really meant to be absorbing so much water and pigment. The color is so vibrant, and you get so MUCH on your brush (even with otherwise pretty garbage brushes, in my experience) without much effort, and maybe hilariously, having a less finicky version of watercolor paint primed me to get really into watercolors. And maybe it will get you interested, too! Like a lot of properly made, quality traditional supplies, they aren't cheap, but the 12 set isn't too bad, and it's honestly all you need, especially if you have a paint/gel pen for white (the larger sets come with a white, which I find valuable). It works well on a variety of paper, shitty and otherwise, so no need to buy a sketchbook with special paper, either. I think one of the absolute best things about these is how portable they are. The tin is already self contained, the lid is perfect as a makeshift mixing palette (nevermind that the sets come with mixing area inserts included!), and the only other things you need are a water brush and something to draw on.

I wish I could remember what led me to these, but they hold a really special place in my heart for their place in my endless journey to never have any non-art related hobbies. A lot special times I've spent with friends have been while painting with these since they're a whole lot easier to carry than my big ol' Artbox of Serious Paint Supplies or a backpack loaded down with WACOM branded detritus. They're special to me, and maybe they will be to you, too, if you haven't heard of them! Or maybe they'll lead you somewhere special. You know about them now, and can make an informed decision now that you know that one mentally ill person online has associated a grandiose value to them!

VERDICT:

INKTENSE INK BLOCK RATING: THESE WATER SOLUABLE INK BLOCKS FUCK

I can't recommend these enough. I think the only 'complaint' I have is that the white isn't included in the 12 pack, and you have to go a size up to get it, which leads to a second complaint in that dang. These sets escalate in price QUICK. If you've got the cash though, I don't think you'll regret it. I will be using these until using water for anything but hydration is a crime, so at least a few more years!


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