BIFL Drawing and Writing Supplies

A few months ago I emailed Jetpens to suggest that they consider moving away from plastic shipping materials, or to at least give the option of using entirely paper-based shipping materials, and to also ask if they might someday put together a zero waste product guide. They kindly took my suggestions into consideration, but we’ll see if they’ll ever make them happen!

In the meantime, here’s my own product guide. I did a long suggestion list for more zero-waste friendly art supplies a while back, but didn’t get into specifics much. So based on my own experience making art, here’s the closest thing to a Buy It For Life list of drawing/writing supplies that I can think up. (Most of these are Jetpens links; I’m not an affiliate, they just happen to be the only US-based merchant that sells a lot of this stuff. I’m also a happy customer of theirs, FWIW.)

Rollerball Pens

Rollerball and other ballpoint-types, while convenient, are not the most eco-friendly option out there. Ballpoint ink is made via highly complex industrial processes, and is comprised of oil, solvents, and dye. Gel pens are worse, though, and I recommend staying away from them. Their opacity is due to many more chemical additives, gums, and other thickeners. If a ball-type pen is necessary for your use, at least try to stick with a regular ballpoint style ink.

  • The space pen:  This handy pen has been around for years and years, and was immensely popular a decade or so ago (ask around and you’ll surely find someone who still uses theirs). It’s reported to be one of the more durable ballpoint pens on the market, and AFAIK, it can take a good pounding. The refills are not especially cheap, though, and can only be bought in packs of one on a blister card. $20
  • Karas Kustoms Retrakt Pen: This pen made it onto the website’s own BIFL list, but the neat thing about it is that it’s compatible with a huge range of refills from a bunch of different manufacturers, and takes a bunch of different kinds of inks too. It comes in a brown craft box with little plastic packaging. $50-100
  • CW&T Pen Type A: “Over-engineered to crazy town”, this pen seems to be built like a tank. It uses Hi-Tec-C refills, but the pen itself comes packaged in a cardboard tube instead of plastic. $160

Fountain Pens

Ink-wise, fountain pens win the environmentally-friendly race, hands down. Fountain pen ink is, comparatively speaking, simpler to make because its water-based, and it is possible to make them with 100% natural materials (if you so choose to make your own!). A such, there is a much wider variety of inks on the market to choose from, in a wide range of colors, compositions, and amounts (for the bulk nuts among us). For a much greener, BIFL option, I wholeheartedly recommend a fountain pen.

  • Lamy Safari: Yes, this is a plastic pen. But it’s an ABS plastic pen – the same thing Legos are made from, and we all know those things last forever. This model of pen, as I understand it, is a well-loved EDC pen for many people, and may just be the cheapest BIFL fountain pen option out there. $30
  • Kaweco Brass Sport: You didn’t think you could get away without hearing about this pen again, did you? As an owner of this amazing writing and drawing tool, and someone with first-hand understanding of how durable this thing is, of course it’s going to make the grade. This Kaweco – versus the plastic Kaweco Sports – comes in a very nice metal tin. (There is also a Sport pen made with an aluminum body that runs about $80, which I imagine is just as durable.) $96
  • Kaweco Liliput: A few of these have also made it to the site’s BIFL list, and they’re all metal-bodied pens, so there’s not too much more to say here I think. $58-175

Honorary mentions: J. Herbin inks, which are purportedly made from 100% natural components, and dip pens, which are cheap, durable, and rely on even fewer industrial manufacturing processes than fountain pens.


Pencils are a bit tricky. Because on the one hand, you’ve got your mechanical pencils/lead holders, the bodies of which could probably withstand a nuclear blast, but whose refills come overpackaged in ridiculous amounts of plastic; and on the other, you have the generic #2 pencils, which are much simpler, but will inevitably wind up a near-useless little stub of wood and graphite. What’s a green BIFLer to do? So here are a few options, depending on your needs.

  • #2 pencil, sans eraser, + pencil extender: I learned to make use of a pencil extender in art school, where sharpenable drawing tools would get used up faster than toilet paper, and throwing away 3-inch stubs every week was like throwing away money. A pencil extender is just a piece of wood or plastic or metal that clamps onto the end of your too-short pencil, and lets you use it some more. I recommend doing this with eraserless pencils, just so you don’t have a metal/rubber end to deal with afterwards.
  • 100% recycled #2 pencils: Another option is to just use pencils with 100% recycled body content. They make them out of wood pulp, newspaper, and other stuff nowadays. Unfortunately, they always come with eraser heads.
  • Carpentry pencils: You know the ones: they’re sort of oblong instead of round, chunky, eraserless, and need to be sharpened with a knife. You can get these by the handful at hardware stores, and if they’re durable enough for use at a contruction site, then they’re good enough for you!
  • Graphite stick: Also known as woodless pencils, using a graphite stick eliminates the wooden body altogether and doesn’t really need sharpening. Not so great for writing, since the larger ones are usually very chunky and not especially sharpenable, but if you really just need to draw with graphite for some reason, this is a good way to go. The other downside is that they usually need to go in their own container, otherwise they’ll get graphite on whatever they come into contact with after a while, and everything in your bag will wind up black and shiny.
  • Lead holder: A lead holder differs from your typical mechanical pencil in that they usually make use of larger lead sticks: several inches long, and at least several millimeters in diameter. These refills last a long time. (A tip on making your leads last longer: go with the lighter, harder leads, as the softer hardnesses break down faster and release more mineral particulate when scraped across paper. So when shopping for leads, be sure to pick out something with an “H” instead of a “B”. But not too hard, though, otherwise you’ll have difficulty erasing.) Here’s a selection of metal-bodied lead holders$20-112
  • Good quality drafting pencil: If you insist on mechanical pencils, then at least pick one with a thicker lead. 0.5mm pencils sure do make you feel like a sophisticated writing machine, but they’re fragile, and their leads are easily broken – and therefore wasted. I recommend at least 0.9mm simply for the robustness factor. If you have a choice of lead hardness, again, go with something on the H side of things. Here’s a selection of metal-bodied drafting pencils. $16-20

When it comes to Buying It For Life, you don’t always get what you pay for – a $30 Lamy Safari will probably prove just as trusty as my brass Kaweco over the years, let alone something well into the three (or four!) digits that was designed with the collector in mind. Meanwhile, none of the pencil options listed above will come as close to being as BIFL as a simple $3 chunk of graphite.

Either way… let’s ditch the disposable pens, yeah?

Going Analog: Part 2


There is, my awesome little Kaweco Sport~

I’d only just started dipping my toes into the vast, deep waters of the world of fountain pens when I wrote my post on zero waste (ish) art supplies, and had only used the Kakuno at that point. I guess I’d been so used to writing with cheap, dry, ballpoint and gel pens that just about any fountain pen felt better in the hand! And while the Kakuno does write like butter, I had no idea what was in store for me once I started going down the rabbit hole.

So if the $12, kid-friendly, relatively cheaply made Kakuno is like butter, then the Kaweco Classic Sport, a design that’s been unchanged since its debut in 1935, writes like a chilled glass of Laphroiag.


Fountain pens.

Nobody really uses them anymore… except when they do. Fountain pen people are loud, proud, a little obsessive, and I’m beginning to see why. If you’ve resisted the keyboard creep in our lives, and refuse to let go of your analog note-taking or calendar-planning ways, then you really ought to take a gander at what these things have to offer you. They’re not made for chicken scratching on the backs of receipts or in the margins of some report or another, they’re made for writing. (And drawing.)  And even the cheapest of them are an absolute joy to use. They don’t cramp your hand from needing too much pressure or having too thin a grip. They don’t go dry like ballpoints do. They don’t skip like gel pens do. And what’s more is that they’re made to be used for a long time.

Sturdy construction coupled with a dizzying array of inks to refill your pen with and spare (always metal) nibs to choose from mean that some of these pens will outlive their owners – and not photodegrade into a million bits of plastic too, if you opt for a metal piece.

Bea Johnson and a lot of other prominent zero wasters use them, and I can now count myself among their ranks. I probably won’t have to throw a drawing pen away ever again, once I phase out use of the disposables I already have!

The Kaweco Classic Sport ran me $25, but I wanted to use a special waterproof drawing ink with it, so I shelled out another $20 for a bottle of Platinum Carbon Ink, and a couple extra for an ink converter and plastic syringe to fill it with. Ink converters are basically do-it-yourself cartridges that you can fill with whatever sort of ink your heart desires (and your pen can handle) that are made to be reused. These are handy for using inks that come in bottle form rather than cartridge form, and also handy for us zero waste types who don’t even want to throw cartridges away if we can manage it. (Though cartridges do last a while, even the small kinds, and the generic ones are very cheap.)

What sort of pen might you, dear reader, find useful? Well, I’ve only ever owned two fountain pens in my life, so I’m not the person to ask. But Jet Pens, my go-to for all of this stuff, is. They have a good number of very informative blog posts about their products, how to use them, how they compare to each other, and how they work under typical conditions. Here are a few that you might find informative:

And the article that helped me settle on my brand of ink:

I started with the Kakuno, which is still super fun to write and draw with, but I chose to graduate to the Kaweco (versus a Lamy or similar) for a few reasons. One, the Sport is compact – very important since I work out of the house a lot of the time and sometimes live out of a duffel bag. Two, I just like companies that have been making the same product for many years. In this case, about 80 years and change, to be exact. It’s got a bit of that timeless vintage flair that I love so much, but most importantly, it means that the design has stood the test of time and needs no improving on. And third, it’s because I mostly wanted their brass Sport which runs $90+, and I wanted to make damn sure I was doing to like it LOL. I will probably get a Lamy at some point, as having an “indestructible” pen that wouldn’t break my heart to lose will come in handy for me. These cheaper Kawecos are still a slightly cheaper plastic, after all, and though it may take years, it’s still only a matter of time before they start showing stress cracks.

Take a look at the links above if you’re interested in getting yourself a pen! And if you want to dive right in with a Kaweco, I’m not going to stop you. (By the way, Jetpens is great for US folk, but there are other companies that are better suited to other buyers – I think Cult Pens ships from the UK, f’ex.)

So how, exactly, does it feel to use? What’s the real difference between a fountain pen and a normal writing or tech pen?

(Warning: Art nerd alert.)

As I said in part 1, I never really thought of digital art as something that had a lot of value – I certainly didn’t value all the hundreds of crappy digital drawings that I did for the sheer convenience of the medium rather than for any particular love of what I was doing – and so for a long time I’d saved the disposable pens for the more disposable work. Up until only about 2 years ago did I stop drawing comics in pen and nib, and right away I noticed a difference in what my hand was doing.

Nibs force your hand to move in a certain way, and it forces the development of a particular kind of muscle memory. Felt-tip, ballpoint, technical pens, and the like, do something different to that muscle memory. My impression is that this has almost entirely to do with the fact that nibs are not omnidirectional (for lack of a better term): they do not lend themselves to moving any which way whenever you want. You have to build up a kind of inertia otherwise the ink will skip, or the tip of the nib (for very fine tips) will catch on the grain of the paper, and you have to use them at a certain angle and hold the pen a certain way. Now, very rarely is any of this conscious or frustrating – your hand will quickly intuit what the pen can and cannot do after using it for a few seconds – but it is a vastly different way of making marks on paper than the sort of ugly, hamfisted way that a ballpoint might. And this is the beauty of fountain pens!

Drawing with a fountain pen is slower, but because of the way it restricts the movement of your hand, it also creates a pretty zen-like experience of mindfulness. I’d lost that mindfulness when I stopped inking with nib. When my pen could do whatever I wanted it to do at a moment’s notice, I didn’t have to think so hard about where I wanted my next line to be. I’d just draw something approximating what I needed, hoped for the best, and for an embarrassing percent of the time, that line wound up wrong. It’s in this way that my draftsmanship started to slip. I lost my eye for specificity and my got lazy, and as a result the details particular to one thing or another became less habitual. In other words, the visual language I might have employed to distinguish, say, a rock from a brick started blurring. (Apologies if this is all too esoteric!)

I’ve done a few pages with the Kaweco so far, and already I can feel my old hand coming back. It’s forcing me to slow down and think about what I’m doing. It’s forcing me to be meticulous. And now that I’ve been filling in my blacks (the parts of comic book line art that are, well, filled in with black) with brush and ink, instead of doing it in Photoshop, I’m slowing down even more. I’m having to commit to the lines that are on the paper much more than before. I’m not thinking in terms of “Oh, I can just fix that up later after I scan.”

And guess what? I’ve barely made any mistakes on these pages so far, when I routinely make quite a few at least. Sometimes to the tune of having to redraw half of an entire panel. It’s at least definitely saving me frustration, if not time, and my originals are once again becoming pieces of art on their own terms rather than a means to a digital – and ephemeral – end.

zwm ap

I’ve got a long ways to go before I stop doing anything but color correction and pre-print formatting on the computer, though, and in the meantime, my closer “daunting” goal is to get away from Adobe products as I make the jump to free and open-source alternatives. I’ll be experimenting much more with GIMP in the near future as my current gig wraps up, and writing about that experience as well.

Going Analog: Part 1

That’s it, folks: a couple months ago I made decision to go analog with my art, and in a few more years, I hope to be free from the shackles of Adobe, and therefore the shackles of expensive and bulky (Windows) computer set-ups that can sufficiently run the bloated behemoth that is Photoshop.

Why? Well, for a number of reasons – many of which I explain in detail here. (No, the cloud is not a green or eco-friendly alternative to real product. It’s just a form NIMBYism.)

For those of you who aren’t aware and who don’t want to read that first link, the jist is this: Adobe has, by most definitions, a monopoly on the digital arts market. They’ve spent the last 15 years slowly buying up their competitors and then shelving their software so that users had no choice but to start using Adobe products. PSD, PDF and many other Adobe files are standard filetypes several industries over, and now Adobe has ended their sale of perpetual licensing, forcing all of their customers into the position of renting their software.

This is really the endgame of planned obsolescence. So long as someone owns a product, they can always tinker with it, fix it, and keep it long past its prescribed expiration date. This is bad for companies who make their bread through the sale of yearly or monthly (or whatever) release cycles, and who rely on the novelty of newness itself to move product that is, by all accounts, barely better than the previous product that people just bought.

In the film The Light Bulb Conspiracy (which I totally forgot to include on my list!), the history of the light bulb is explored, as it is arguably where the notion of planned obsolescence was born. Early models of incandescent light bulbs were commonly designed to last in excess of tens of thousands, even 100 thousand, hours. But manufacturers soon realized that they’d be driven out of (growth-based) business if they kept making such good-quality light bulbs, and so standardized an industry-wide 5,000-hour limit which we only just recently decided to start ignoring.

What if the light bulb manufacturers had decided that 5,000 hours wasn’t good enough either, and to make sure that people didn’t resort to candle or gas light for any length of time when their bulbs went out, they decided to simply lease bulbs to every home in the US for a flat, monthly rate per bulb?

That would have been a plot so appallingly preposterous as to belong squarely in the pages of Detective Comics to pre-war Americans. But not anymore – not only do the vast majority of us accept this coming era of non-ownership, but some of us even welcome it in the name of “convenience”.

Well I, for one, do not. And in preparing for my hard-earned copy of CS5.5 to one day stop being supported or compatible with whatever hardware I’m running, leaving me with no other option than to prostrate myself before the fat cats at Adobe, I’m making the transition to go analog. Though that’s not to say there aren’t impeccable, and in some respects, even better free and open-source alternatives to Photoshop on the market, like GIMP or Krita, but I’m doing this for other reasons too.

For one, I grew up using and honing my skills using traditional media, and didn’t start preferring digital until college, when I suddenly had access to all this fancy, expensive equipment. I dabbled with PS7 a little through high school, but didn’t really make anything that could be called “art” until I started making comics in my freshman year. Being a disciple of color, though, I couldn’t think in black and white like a lot of the old cartooning masters often did (thanks to pre-digital printing costs and constraints), and so almost all of my inspirational material was digital. Coloring, lettering, and formatting digitally just seemed to be The Thing To Do. I didn’t take to drawing digitally however, and I never did; for some reason my brain just ceases to understand any sense of scale when it comes to working on a screen. I “lost” myself in digitally drawn pages too easily, and unless I had some kind of real frame of reference, like panel borders I’d drawn by hand and scanned in, it was rare that I could intuitively make heads or tails of what I was looking at. That’s one of the reasons that I still do my lines by hand – I can manipulate those all day without a problem, but as soon as I try to construct a page from the ground up on the computer, I’m lost.

Secondly, the occasions where I do draw digitally (usually quick commissioned illustrations that aren’t meant to be printed out), I rely very heavily on CTRL+Z, and also on the collage-like nature of layers to piece together art. For some people this works fine, but for me, I’ve noticed that I’m barely half the draftsman that I used to be and that I can no longer create pieces from start to finish on paper so easily. This is incredibly frustrating, and as an artist, it’s really a matter of pride. If I can’t take a pen to paper and wind up with a finished product that doesn’t need doctoring up in Photoshop, then what the hell kind of artist am I? There’s a weird undercurrent in contemporary art that has this implication that artists and their works can transcend media. But that’s not true. Art is as much a medium as we are our bodies: that is, fully. 

Thirdly, digital art values speed and efficiency above all else, and the world of commercial art that has built itself on a foundation of digital software values this foremost too. Lightning-fast turnaround times, ever-increasing shortcuts taken at the expense of visual complexity by self-employed artists simply to stay afloat, and entire art forms dedicated to showcasing ideas expressed as quickly as possible (speedpainting) are celebrated as progress. We are outsourcing more and more of our creative labor to expensive machines and esoteric algorithms in exactly the same way that US manufacturers have outsourced manual labor to sweatshops overseas. At some point, it’s going to come back to bite us in the ass… if it hasn’t already.

I am all about slow these days. I do my laundry by hand; I sew by hand (more on that in another post!); I don’t own a car; I make my own pantry staples and condiments; I plan on living in a house that I have built by hand. The next logical step is to take the speed and cold efficiency out of my art-making, and re-learn the art of making art, you might say. I want to rediscover how to enjoy the process as much as the finished product.

This is going to take time, though. I may do lines by hand still, but I will have to revisit hand lettering again, I’ll have to relearn the art of penciling (with Photoshop, you can draw in colored pencils, ink right over them, and not even bother erasing because you can very easily eliminate the color after scanning) and perhaps more daunting of all, coloring. I’ll probably go the watercolor/pigmented inks route for that.

I can’t think of a single artist who works this way anymore, beyond maybe some aging European master whose work I’d recognize but name I don’t know. It’s hideously slow and inefficient work – I might spend 10+ on a page that, using Photoshop, might have taken me half that – but it’s better for me mentally, artistically, and I will be beholden to no one’s bottom line to get my work done. I will also have all my materials physically occupying space with my in the studio. There will be no question of what sorts of resources I’m using up to make my art, and no delusion of where any of it came from and how much I need. It’s a more intimate relationship grounded in reality, I think.

I’d actually started off intending to write a post about the fountain pen I’d bought recently, and how it was going to mark my return to inking with ink and nib in lieu of expensive and short-lived pens like Copic multiliners. But I realized the “why” portion is just as important as the “how”, so I’ll save the actual shop talk for a future post and hopefully share with you the progress I’m making on my transition away from dependence on Adobe and Wacom over the next few years.

Please do read the Archdruid Report piece linked above, though. I’ll leave you with something very important he says that is no longer obvious to many folks. It’s about the internet, but I wager that it’s relevant to all industries that rely on the internet to function, as Adobe does now.

It’s a source of wry amusement to me that so many people seem to have forgotten that the internet doesn’t actually do very much that’s new. Long before the internet, people were reading the news, publishing essays and stories, navigating through unfamiliar neighborhoods, sharing photos of kittens with their friends, ordering products from faraway stores for home delivery, looking at pictures of people with their clothes off, sending anonymous hate-filled messages to unsuspecting recipients, and doing pretty much everything else that they do on the internet today. For the moment, doing these things on the internet is cheaper and more convenient than the alternatives, and that’s what makes the internet so popular. If that changes—if the internet becomes more costly and less convenient than other options—its current popularity is unlikely to last.


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via I MADE YOUR CLOTHES – FASHION REVOLUTION — Artisan Lifestyle Brand and Fair Trade Manufacturer

Reusable/ZW/DIY Art Supplies

Photo courtesy of cicilicious on Deviantart

As an artist, one of the things that’s always been part of my life has been trash. Trash from used up art supplies, the packaging from those art supplies, and the byproduct from using them; everything from the benign, like pencil shavings, to the toxic, like dirty turpentine. As a cosplayer of several years, too, that’s even MORE trashed materials to count. Foam scraps are the biggest culprit here, and it’s one of the many reasons that I’m winding down my cosplay career. (Aside from just no longer having the time or funds to pursue it.)

And so for the better part of the past year, I’ve been on the lookout for trash-minimizing art supplies, on top of looking back over my 8 years of schooling to reconsider other tools that I maybe just never took to. What options are out there? Well, here’s a basic look.


This is obviously the toughest category of materials and supplies because it’s got such a long, colorful history of being so toxic. As art students we’re told stories about painters who went crazy or got sick from chewing on the ends of their paintbrushes (something we’re all guilty of) because of the cadmium present in some of the paint colors. If you work with oil, you’re likely to have some solvent or another on some part of you or your clothes at any given time, and most of that winds up going down the drain when you clean up. (Paint thinner doesn’t evaporate as quickly as you might think. There are countless horror stories of artists who set a rag in the sun only to find their studio on fire afterward.) But what about acrylics, which are water-soluble? Well, they’re quite literally made of plastic.

So what’s a painter to do?

You actually have a few options here, surprisingly enough. Let’s start with the weird.

Egg Tempera

For the layperson, you might think of Renaissance-era Catholic icons of saints or bizarre Byzantine scenes depicting angels and mortals in tiny buildings, all in a rainbow of colors, when you think of egg tempera. But a number of artists still use this ancient method of painting and continue to create absolutely beautiful works with it.

It’s one of the few truly do-it-yourself methods of painting, and no fancy tools or equipment is needed to produce the paint. All you need are eggs, water, and pigment. I shouldn’t have to justify the eggs and water, obviously, but the pigment is an interesting thing to note here. You can actually buy raw, powdered pigments for making your own paints with at most good art stores, and I hear that they last a long time. A little pigment goes a long way, especially, it seems, with egg tempera. For a more economical route, you could also just buy good quality chalk pastels (which can be purchased in bulk at most art stores) and grind those up to create pigments with a mortar and pestle. (The difference between all good and “student” quality materials is the ratio of pigment to filler– this is especially noticeable with oil paint, which can be stretched much thinner when you shell out for the quality stuff.)

If you’re interested, here’s a professional breakdown of making the paints, and here’s a simpler, kid-friendly method.


Making watercolor and gouache of a professional sort at home is pretty labor-intensive and requires the use of weird preservatives and binders, so I don’t recommend going that route, especially for the purposes of minimalism or zero waste. But there are options here.

The first is straightforward: buy tubes of watercolor to use. They’re small, last a long time with occasional use, and the tubes are metal, not plastic.

The second is to use watercolor pencils or crayons, which can be purchased in bulk at most art stores, and used with a wet watercolor brush to disperse the pigment after you’ve drawn on the paper. This doesn’t give exactly the same look as traditional watercolor, and is more akin to drawing, but it’s an extremely accessible way to paint with water, especially for kids.

You can also try painting with DIY dyes made from spices, plants, and other things you might have around the house. A painting made with beet juice red and tumeric yellow? Count me in.


Sumi-e is an East Asian method of painting using only water and black ink, similar to India ink, though it comes in a hard stick form. It’s rubbed on a “stone” with water to create the paint. You can theoretically create your own Sumi-e and India inks using clean soot that you’ve collected, but… wouldn’t you rather leave that sort of tedium to the professionals?

Here’s an explanation of what Sumi-e is, was, and continues to be.


Drawing is the medium where most artists, hobbyist and professional alike, live. Whether doodling on an index card or full-on life drawing, mark-making on a ground (a fancy term for the thing you’ve chosen to draw on) is the oldest and most primal way of producing images. It’s also the most DIY-friendly!

Pen and Ink

This medium is pretty straightforward, though there are a few more specialized options for both the novice and professional. It’s actually got a few sub-categories of its own:

Traditional Pen/Dip Pen

You’ve probably seen these at office supply or stationary stores, usually under a case, and you’ve probably ignored them because they look more like corporate gifts than something someone might actually use on a regular basis. And for the most part, that’s all true. But artists and illustrators use them all the time still, and they sure as hell aren’t paying $100 for their pens! I paid $15 for my Kakuno pen online, and I love it. The fine tip is buttery smooth, its hardy, and it takes generic ink cartridges made by Pilot, which come in a rainbow of colors. The only potential downside is that the ink is water-soluble, so don’t get your drawings wet. To me, this is actually a positive thing, because a dip under the faucet is all it takes to clean the pen.

There’s another type of nib pen that’s a lot cheaper and customizable, and that’s the dip pen. There’s guaranteed to be a wide variety of these at any good art store, with a selection of both pen bodies and nibs. And of course, there’s two kinds of this pen also: the crow quill and the “calligraphy” nib. Crow quills are smaller than the calligraphy ones, and have a specially-sized body to match. Most people use these for drawing and sketching. Calligraphy nibs have the lion’s share of the selection, though, and are handy for writing and drawing in a variety of line weights. Nibs for these are usually Speedball brand and come in packs of 4.

What these two kinds of pens have in common, though, is that they have no ink cartridge, and require dipping into an ink source and “loading” the nib with ink every once in a while. This means you can change ink colors much faster and with much less fuss than the traditional cartridge pen, and it also means you’re not  stuck with any one brand of ink. (See my above comment about DIY dyes.) The downside is that they’re much more likely to make a mess. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve knocked over an entire well of waterfast ink by accident? Yeah, that kind of mess. But I still use them for certain things, especially if I plan on using colored ink to fill in the line drawing. They’re almost indispensable in their versatility and cheapness.


This is an ancient tool of days gone by, the weapon of choice for many an illustrator and cartoonist before the age of computers. I have friends and old professors who swear by them. What are they, though? Well, they’re basically the Rolex of the pen world. Also called a technical pen, they give a perfect (and I mean perfect) line that some artists just absolutely love. Personally, just hearing about owning one made me want to tear my hair out! While they are amazingly precise and reliable, they are a pain to maintain. Because most every artist uses waterfast inks with them, they need to be taken apart and every tiny piece cleaned in solvent (or Windex, shudder) on a regular basis. If you don’t do this, expect to have a $40 piece of junk on your hands pretty quickly. They also tend to explode if brought on airplanes, so taking the thing apart for that is also necessary.

Assuming you take good care of your rapidograph, though, it can last you a lifetime. They can also be reloaded with all manner of inks, allowing you to buy in bulk, or theoretically make your own.

Modern Pen Liner

If you’re an artist, you probably own a few pens in this category: Microns, felt tips, even fine line Sharpies count. The problem with these is that they just don’t last long at all. I’ve been inking comics with these kinds of pens for years now, and it’s been a never-ending search for the “perfect” one: one that doesn’t start to dry out after 2 or 3 comic pages, one that gives me the line width I need, one that isn’t made of plastic and isn’t disposable. Well, enter the Copic Multiliner SP!

These pens are steel-bodied, refillable with an assortment of colors, and even the tips are replaceable.  Neat, huh? And speaking of Copic…

Other Drawing Media


Copic markers aren’t only good quality (if markers are your thing), but they’re refillable (you can even mix your own colors!) and the felt tips are replaceable for them too. Inasmuch as I know, these are the only markers on the market that aren’t completely disposable.

Colored Pencils

When buying colored pencils for general use, I’d definitely go for the wood-free kind that’s just a stick of color so that you can use more of it. Just keep in mind that the main ingredient in colored pencils, like commercial crayons, is synthetic wax. So unless you could find a kind that’s made with beeswax, they’re not even compostable.


Drawing with charcoal is fun, easy, and a totally natural way to go. For those of you who haven’t tried it, it’s a little like a cross between chalk pastel and a graphite stick. It’s as bold or as delicate as you want it to be, and even in its most basic form (the end of a stick stuck on some coals or a campfire), it works really well. Charcoal sticks aren’t generally sold in bulk at art stores because they’re sort of delicate and tend to make a mess when they come into contact with other things, but you can usually buy a lot of them at once, and depending on how hard you draw, they can last a while. But if you want, there’s always the DIY route


Graphite is a good, classic standby. In art stores, you can by plain graphite sticks in various hardnesses; some thicker, to be used alone, and some thinner, to be used in dispenser bodies that are more ergonomic, minimize mess, and maximize your use of the graphite as the stick gets shorter. You pretty much can’t go wrong with graphite.

Well, that’s pretty much it for now. I could cover a LOT more, like printmaking, fiber arts, and sculpture, but I’ll save those for other posts. :3


My Business Is Our Business

I’ve been going on 4-5 months now unemployed. I’ve sent probably a hundred resumes, applications, and inquiry emails over that time, and the only responses I got was to tell me that I was overqualified to work at a grocery store. Thanks for nothing, job market.

But on Sunday I found myself hanging out with some cousins, one of whom was showing us all the delicious Mexican food this little old lady makes for their family on a weekly basis. They pay her, they pick it up from her house, and they munch on it all week like leftovers. And I thought to myself, holy cannoli, could do that! Not only do I love to cook, but I love to cook things that 99% of people don’t even know how to. So after ballparking how much food costs, how long it takes me to cook in general, and then throwing together a basic menu of things that look impressive but are either 1. made of cheap, simple ingredients, or 2. made of a few exotic ingredients that I already use in cooking for myself. All that was left to put an ad on Craigslist and wait.

It didn’t even take long, though. It took all of 24 hours to secure a first client who wants meals for his daughter who has a very long list of no-no foods. She needs to be vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, peanut-free, and baker’s-yeast free, among a smattering of other fruits and veggies she’s sensitive to. Honestly, I can do that, no problem. I’ve learned so many tricks over the past 2 years since getting stomach problems of my own that I can cook for practically anybody. I did get another email almost right away too: someone who’s been doing this for a long time sent me a frustrated note, saying that I was charging too little, and that was not only undervaluing myself, but other people who do this sort of work too. I apologized, noted that I was pretty desperate, but that I would raise my rates for the next client.

But that got me to thinking. Was I really undercharging? How did all of this relate to my politics?

After spending a few minutes with a calculator at this point I estimated that I would be making the least amount of money per hour of cooking than I would if I had more clients; and right now that comes out to be about minimum wage, ~$10/hr. But then I thought about how that didn’t factor in the time it took me to go shopping, and other related tasks. That’s when the anti-money anarchist started coming out. Why do I need to be paid to go shopping at all the places that I already do my own shopping? To walk/bike to and from the store? Not only are these things that I already do for myself, but they’re things that are good for me too. If I just shift my point of view a little bit, I can transform that tiresome errand into the world’s cheapest gym membership. Or if I twist things a little more, I can even see it as being paid to exercise and go for walks. How lucky am I?

I thought some more at this point about the profit motive, and how ruthlessly wasteful it is. How much of a profit do I want to make? How involved do I want this venture to be? Would I still do it  even if I got no money for it? Does this have any place in my ideal community?

I want enough money to get by, at the end of the day. But this is funny to me because my father says the same thing, and to me, he lives extravagantly. Upper-middle class for sure. But to him, any decline in his quality of living, any downsizing, any withholding of material desires, doesn’t even enter into his mind as a possibility. Which is just completely alien to me. So right now, I just want to be able to make my loan payments, move to Canada to be with my hubs, and have a garden. I don’t want a car, house, or a $2000 sofa. I don’t want a Vitamix or a Cuisinart stand mixer. No Keurig, no PS4, no Dyson. Nothing I can’t buy used (well… mostly). In other words, I’d love to be able to live off $1000/mo. Unfortunately, my school loans are almost 3/4 of that right now. I can’t wait to be debt-free.

The other fun thing is that I get to take over another person’s meals and get close to being ZW with the buying and preparation. But looking at the wider picture, I’m in the perfect position to offer this service and do it the way that I am. I happen to be located at a nexus of health food stores and farmer’s markets, many of which are within walking distance. Most people in Los Angeles aren’t nearly as lucky as I am, so I get to help them offset a little bit of their carbon footprint this way also.

All in all though, I am OK with doing what I’m doing and in the way I’m doing it. I love to cook, and I love to cook for others, so this is a healthy thing for me to do, and the money is just the icing on the cake, really. Why should I charge more? I’m not greedy, I just want to survive and not be miserable. If I get to make great, healthy food for others AND support local farmers on their dime? Score.

4 Tips To Help Millennials Find Meaningful Work

I don’t care about the actual tips so much as the rest of this piece, written by a millennial. As someone who’s had more trouble finding work since graduation 3 years ago than not, the statistics cited really do make me feel better. And angrier.

Young people today want to do work with purpose. If you’re having a hard time finding that, these lessons can help.

It’s hard enough for 30-year-olds like me to find any job in today’s job market. Finding meaningful work is even more challenging. One in four adults between 18 and 34 years old say they have moved back in with their parents after living on their own and according to the Pew Research Center, only 54% of American adults ages 18 to 25 are currently employed, the lowest percentage since the government began collecting data 60 years ago. Breaking from tradition, my generation may grow up to be less wealthy than our parents’ generation.

Every generation probably feels like it has gotten the short end of the stick, but critics really love to hate on millennials. They call us the lazy generation, the entitled generation, and the “me me me generation.” Based on the young people I know, these stereotypes couldn’t be farther from the truth. Millennials want to work–and despite being shackled by debt, recession, and the jobs crisis–they aren’t motivated by money. Rather, they’re driven to make the world more compassionate, innovative, and sustainable.

When I interviewed dozens of millennials about their career choices for The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, not once did someone answer that they wanted to “make lots of money,” “have lots of power,” or “retire with a pension in 40 years.”

Rather, they said things like: “I want to teach urban teenagers how to avoid debt and become successful entrepreneurs,” “I want to inspire young girls to think they can become engineers, and not Barbie dolls,” “I want to teach kids living in a food desert how to grow their own food,” and “I want to ensure large corporations reduce their carbon footprint.”

These young people aren’t motivated by climbing the career ladder or their stock options. The majority of millennials have already changed careers and over 90% of millennials expect to stay in a job for fewer than three years. As Nathaniel Koloc, co-founder and CEO of ReWork–a talent firm that places purpose-seeking professionals in social impact jobs–says, “There is no clear way ‘up’ anymore, it’s just a series of projects or jobs, one after another. You can move in any direction, the only question is how you’re devising your strategy of where to move and where you can ‘land,’ i.e., what you’re competitive for.”

Young people aren’t waiting for retirement. They’re asking what their purpose is now, and they’re determined to find the opportunities, organizations, and companies that share their purpose. A recent study by Net Impact showed that the millennial generation expects to make a difference in the world through their work, and more than half of millennials would take a 15% pay cut to do work for an organization that matches their values.

We aren’t the “me me me generation.” We’re a group of determined individuals who refuse to settle because we know how great our impact can be when we find work we truly care about.

So, how do you actually find meaningful work? How do you land a job (or start a company) that contributes to society (and pays the bills)?

First, it’s important to accept that there is no right answer or cure-all when it comes to finding meaningful work. Everyone is different and our purpose is constantly evolving as we meet new people, learn new things, and travel to new places. The millennials profiled in my book have done everything from register thousands of first-time voters, fight for immigrant rights, leave a nonprofit for a tech company, and leave a tech company for a nonprofit. Any kind of work can be meaningful: the challenge is discovering what purpose makes you come alive.

Based on my interviews, I discovered that meaningful work allows you to 1) share your gifts, 2) make an impact in the lives of others, and 3) live your desired quality of life. Getting these three components to align is the goal, but it’s certainly not easy.

Here are four lessons learned from impact-driven millennials that can help you pursue work that matters.

ZW Work and Play

Being an artist of various stripes, there’s a very blurry line separating work and play for me; and sometimes it’s not there at all. (That is… unless I get a job doing something other than art next!) So that’s why these two are lumped together in the same category.

I’ve been trying to write an entry concerning workplace zero-waste habits and have really just dropped the ball for the most part. In my office space I have a mini fridge, a microwave, a computer, printer, scanner, and external HD all hooked up to outlets. Sometimes I have the lights on, but I have nearly floor-to-ceiling south-facing windows so I have ample light until sundown and rarely use them.

I think part of the issue has been that I had a hard time conceiving of how this lifestyle would work in a not-so-leisurely environment where productivity is top priority. In my building, central air runs 24/7 and there’s no recycling. Oy vey.

The other thing is that my office (really, studio) is my second home. I nap on the couch I have there, read there, browse the internet, run errands from there, eat lunch and sometimes dinner from there. It is the only place that I’ve truly been able to call my own for some years; it’s even twice the square footage of the room that I’m renting from my grandmother. I don’t know what it’s like to work at an office, at a place of employ. All my legitimate jobs thus far have been either freelance or telecommute. So that should make doing ZW at work easier, right? It does… but it doesn’t.

My studio space is a mishmash of projects, disparate parts of my life, and sometimes things I really didn’t have anywhere else to put. Like I said, it’s work and play.

The two things that I’ve done as far as that space goes, though, is collect my recyclables, and use a timer power strip for my computer and peripherals even though I don’t have an electric bill in that building. The power strip gives me some peace of mind– it guarantees that my computer setup only runs at a max of 11 hours a day and draws no energy for the remaining 13. But I started asking myself what else could I do?

I started by taking my own advice, I guess. Take a good, hard look at the things that came easy to me, the things that I enjoyed doing but hadn’t previously thought to make an environmental connection to. The first two things that came to mind were cosplay and printmaking.

I’ve been making costumes for more than 10 years now, but my favorite form of cosplay involved armor-making, and a lot of it. I’m talking full-body suits of armor of ridiculous proportions. For several years I was so incredibly passionate about this niche art form, that I founded one of the foremost communities that specialized in it back in 2008. But cosplay armor isn’t real armor. It’s made out of foams and plastics, glues and resins. One of the members documented how sick she got working with fiberglass a few years back, and it wasn’t pretty.

I’ve had my fair share of inhaling incredibly toxic fumes and airborne particulates, and while none of them ever made me immediately sick, I can’t help but wonder the sorts of damage they did to me over the years. I’m sure I’d be horrified if I knew the exact extent. My materials of choice for about 4 years were PVC fabric and cross-linked polyethylene foam (XLPE), and the cocktail of adhesives used to fuse and sculpt them together just so.

This was one that I was working on while in college and eventually abandoned because I underestimated the complexity of the design:

Ugh, just looking at that picture pains me because I so wish I could have finished it.

But think about it; all those shapes, painstakingly cut from flat pieces of foam and fabric. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of little pieces left over that get thrown away. I’ve tossed a lot of scraps in the trash in my day; all of it completely non-biodegradable, most of it barely photo-degradable, all of it toxic to make, toxic to use, and toxic once it ends up gods-know-where at the end of its life.

As an environmentalist, I can in no way justify pursuing this hobby.

And what about printmaking? Well, it’s really a fantasy of mine more than anything else. Paring down the physical possessions was the easiest part, to be honest; weeding the unnecessary attachments was, and continues to be, the hardest thing. This is an example of one such thing. I got into printmaking about 3 years ago–block printing–because it seemed so cathartic and easy. And cathartic is was! But easy, not so much once I really started getting into it. Keeping your rollers and ink plates clean and your tools sharp was just something… I was kind of not really motivated to do. And then there’s that pulling prints without a press means burnishing, which is very hard on the hands, and that loses its novelty pretty quickly. And then there’s the ink itself: non-toxic water-based inks make for terrible prints and dry too fast. But… good ink is oil-based, sometimes toxic, and is a pain to clean. And then there’s the paper. I’ve wastes a lot of paper trying to pull good prints, and then wasted more from either losing motivation before working on the next color, or messing up registration and having to throw a whole run away. Did I mention that this is all virgin paper too?

If I were really, truly passionate about this art form, I could justify it environmentally, mostly because I’d get good enough to waste far less than I do. But mostly, I can’t justify the money this hobby has cost me, and the space and time it requires.

So where does that leave those things?

I still love dressing up, so I’ve decided to keep one good costume around indefinitely: a Jedi costume! I made it myself a few years ago. The belt is made from quality leather and made in the US, pants (I don’t have a suitable pair yet) can easily be found at a second-hand store, and so can boots. Custom lightsabers, when taken care of, last for years and are very easily found hand-made by artisan prop makers. And honestly, when is dressing up as a Jedi ever going to get old?

As for printmaking, I’ve been transitioning into stamp-making for a little while now, and I’ve found it to be much more manageable. There’s practically no mess involved and far less waste just by virtue of the medium being smaller. Quality recycled papers are much easier to find at those sizes and weights than stuff that’s more appropriate for block printing.

I think this has all been part of the process of analyzing my nervous and creative energies, and thinking hard about what they might be better suited for than what tasks I’ve been directing them toward in the past. What activities can I do to keep my hands busy that don’t require mass amounts of waste? I’ve found that gardening and cooking satisfies many of the things that cosplay used to, and likewise stamping for printmaking.

As for work, that’s going to take a long time to figure out for me, and every time I get a new job I might have to start over. But I have been making more and more of a switch over to digital media, even though I used to be a staunch opponent of the whole thing, preferring the physical over the intangible. But I think that’s a whole different post. ;]

The Real Test

So this is the real test. Today I was laid off from my awesome job– I was preparing for something like this to happen sooner or later as it’s a tough industry to break into and make money from, and its an absolutely enormous project, so it’s no surprising that they’re finding it difficult to stay afloat. I totally get it. I was passionate about the project, and I hope that by cutting me loose they’ll be able to see this thing through to completion.

But that still leaves me rather unemployed. And it leaves me to wonder if my new lifestyle can survive it.

If it can’t, then I’ve failed. If you need a sizeable income, or even a steady income, to do this, then it’s not sustainable whatsoever and I’ve got to rethink how I’ve approached this. It’s like that book I quoted in the last post: you can get to be as efficient as you want, but it means nothing for the bottom line unless you can actually exercise conservation alongside it.

So I’m going to take this opportunity to think of all the ways I’m saving money that I wasn’t before to help keep me a little optimistic about the weeks/months ahead. :P

  • Home-baked bread: saving $10/mo
  • Meatless: saving $20/mo
  • Skipping pre-made breakfast products: saving $25/mo
  • Home haircuts: saving $45/mo (granted, I haven’t gone to a hairdresser in over 3 years, but this is still awesome savings)
  • No more comics: saving $15/mo
  • No more disposable razors: saving $10/mo
  • No ‘poo: saving $5/mo
  • Bicycling: saving: $20/mo on transit fare

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. It’s not like I suddenly have $150 more in my pocket every month when compared to an average month last year. My animal protein, for instance, has been replaced with stuff like oats, avocados, and seeds, which were completely absent from my budget before. But the net efficiency and savings I’ve gained are still well above the red. So:

  • All things considered: I’m still saving about $100/mo right now, give or take, when compared to my old spending habits. (~$55/mo if you discount the haircuts.)

I can’t help but be glad I don’t have more bills than I do. I have student loans, a commercial lease for another 7 months (which was meant to help me perform better in my salaried position), and a few medical bills that need sorting out. This isn’t anything particularly extraordinary, though; I’ve been here before, and I expect to be here again.  I can only hope to be better at surviving each and every time it happens.

I’ve already started on building up my portfolio so I can get into a position where I might start making some passive side-income via Etsy, Redbubble, and other places. But if any of you are interested in doing some ZW shopping, I’ve put together an Amazon store (not that I particularly support Amazon as a business) that makes me somewhere around 5-10% commission for everything you buy through there. Everything I’ve listed is Prime compatible, and I’ve listed as many things as I personally own or that’s on my wishlist as possible.

And always, thanks for reading the blog. :]