Elwood H. Smith
Glimpse of My Watercolor Process
Elwood Smith in his Studio

Filmed for the Syracuse University Illustration program by illustrator and Syracuse professor James E. Ransome in Elwood's studio in Rhinebeck N.Y, award winning illustrator Elwood Smith discusses his process, use of brushes, paints and paper to create the beautiful flat washes in his humorous illustrations.
Click Here for YouTube Link
According to local Rhinebeck illustrator James Ransome, who shot this video, the reason for the soft focus quality of the video is due to "transferring it from PC to MAC mode", but I'm grateful that he documented a bit of my work process, however imperfect. So, thank you, James.
Also, I intend to get some more info up here on Drawger about my latest Kolinsky watercolor brush findings. Soon.
New Animation Project
Greenbelt Land Trust in Oregon called me in late May of this year, asking if I'd be interested in creating a short animation for their website. GLT Executive Director, Michael Pope, and Development Director, Jessica McDonald, were looking for something that would, in thirty seconds to one minute, show what they do. They wanted to to be fun and not pedantic. Although I'm not a pro animator, I was intrigued by the subject matter and thought about it for a few days.

As a long time professional illustrator, I have the necessary skills to submit sketches and, when the client makes changes (which they most often do), I whine for a while, but I always come through with the goods. However, since I've only created my hand-made animations for myself. Which, of course, means I can enter into the project with an idea in mind, but, since I haven't shown storyboards or even an outline to anyone, I can change course at any point in the project. That's why, despite all the work involved in making motion pictures, I've enjoyed creating them over the years.

With that in mind, I decided to write to GLT with this proposal (edited):

I've done some animation commercially, but only as a designer, meaning I provide characters and backgrounds, etc. A professional animation company creates the finished animation. The animations that I've done entirely on my own that have been created as personal projects. I'm not faced with a deadline and there's no client needs to be met. Since there is no input from others, I simply do what I want to do. All of my personal animations are done in traditional 2D style. They are loads of work and, despite all the great computer software now available, all animation takes time to produce. I'm also a musician, so I get the opportunity to create the music and soundtracks.

If you are still interested, I'd be happy to make a fun, Elwoodian animation for Greenbelt Land Trust, but unless I were to hire a pro animator to do the actual animation, I would want lots of freedom to do what I've done in my own personal animations. You'd have the right, of course, to decline what I come up with. I'd want some kind of small kill fee for the hours spent on the project if you reject it, but we can discuss that fee to make it fair.

Michael and Jessica loved my 2D animations and were game to give the project a go-ahead as I presented it. I worked on ideas off and on while finishing up final art for a kids' book and began working on the project in earnest about two weeks after I accepted the assignment.

In this article, you can view some of my early sketches for the Cave Man and the Modern Man. I initially tried to create the art in Photoshop's frame animation program (which I'd only recently discovered), but found it unwieldy. Partly, I'm sure, because I don't really know the software. I may return to it one day.

I ended up going with the great vector software, Toon Boom Studio, my old standby. I normally output the work as a QuickTime movie, which is bitmap, but beginning with vector allows me to output a variety of file sizes, from HD to tiny iPhone movies.

Link to Toon Boom Studio

I used a borrowed Wacom Cintiq 18SX tablet, drawing directly into TBS. (Maggie bought me the amazing Cintiq 21UX for my birthday, but the unit was back ordered. Sadly, I wasn't able to use it on this animation, but happily my new Cintiq arrived last week!

Link to the Cintiq 21UX

I exported a large QuickTime of the animation from TBS and imported it into iMovie "11 for final editing, including adding the sound effects and musical score.

I created the music in GarageBand--where, much to my amazement and delight, I can create symphonic music, even though I can't read a note of music!)

Here's a link to my Mac MobileMe Gallery where the animation now resides:
E.S. GLT Animation
(If you can't play it, just upgrade your QuickTime player to the latest
Oops! I just realized that I'd forgotten to add some images and descriptive text. Sorry about that. I guess I tossed out my rough sketches, but here's a first run at my caveman. He's closer in feel to my normal illustration style and, while I liked him, I wanted the art to be simpler and more rolly polly and squat.
Ditto for my Modern Man.
Here they are, basically the same characters I used in the final animation. These are drawings I wanted to use as my models in my failed experiment using Photoshop's animation program. I love the watercolor texture in these, but since I ended up doing the art in Toon Boom Studio, it became vector art, which in Photoshop would have been bitmap. I'll have another go at the Photoshop system as soon as I have time.
Unlike real animators, I don't create pencil tests or do storyboards. One can argue that my animation suffers because I bypass that important process, but it's how I've chosen to do these things and, while I know there is lots of room for improvement, I'm happy with my results and, over time, I know I'll get better.
However, I do write a short outline for myself and I work out rough sketches and a timing sheet. The one shown here is a more finalized timing sheet, done after I'd worked up a nearly final animation in Toon Boom, but hadn't yet added color. I used this sheet to create my soundtrack and it gave me an idea where the sound effects would fall.
The Attacker characters as drawn using the vector animation software, Toon Boom Studio.
Foliage elements created with pen on watercolor paper that were never used, but were models for the final animation.
A screenshot of my Toon Boom Studio workspace while working on the GLT project.
Screenshot 2 of the GLT project in TBS.
GLT Soundtrack in GarageBand.
If anyone wants to see larger images of any of these, let me know and I'll publish them as images only. -ES

Good news on the new Pelikan pen front. I haven't been all that happy with my used Pelikan 120 pen nibs, so I contacted Richard Binder of Richard Binder Fountain Pens and he suggested I buy a new Pelikan M200 body fitted with an M250 nib.  He said the M250 nibs are gold and therefore have decent spring with a fairly varied line under pressure. He cautioned that the M250 nib is not real flexible out of the box, but that he could custom tailor a more flexible nib for a fee. The basic price for the Pelikan M200 pen with a M250 nib (Binder fine-tunes the nib to assure good flow as part of the sale) costs $132.00 plus shipping. You can write to him via his site if you want to get a customized nib (click on Repair and Restoration on his main page).

Click for Richard's Site

I opted for a non-customized Pelikan M200/M250 nib combo and I love it! I got the medium and it's great for most jobs. I work on 90# Arches cold press watercolor paper and I can get a fairly heavy to quite fine line. I may eventually get a fine version, but one of my old 120s has a fine nib and, while it doesn't flow as well as this new one, it's okay. I'm sure if I send my 120 with nib to Binder, he could fine tune it for better flow. Or, better yet, maybe he could mate the 120 with a gold nib.

By the way, I've been using the Platinum Carbon Black ink now for a while and it's great. It's a little thicker than the old FW ink, but it flows well and doesn't seem to dry up quickly in the nib between jobs. I've let my capped pen sit for two weeks and the ink flowed without my having to rinse out the pen. I'm sure it'll clog up at some point and I may even clean the pen soon just in case, but things are almost back to the good old days.

Happy scrawling!

A sample of my linework using my new Pelikan M200 with the M250 gold nib. The ink is the Platinum Carbon Black Ink. Flows beautifully and the ink is nice and dark with good coverage. As Richard Binder noted, the pen nib is not super flexible, but it's just right for my needs.
Hi, Drawgerites. It's been a long time, but I'm back with an update on my quest for a completely waterproof ink that flows well in my Pelikan 120 fountain pen. I also found a fairly good & inexpensive substitute for my Pelikan 120 fountain pen.

First, the ink. It's Platinum Carbon Ink & it's made in Japan. If you'll recall from my earlier pen and ink post, I used to draw with FW Waterproof India Ink. It flowed beautifully in my Pelikan 120. I could draw with it on my Arches 90# Cold Press watercolor paper, run it under the faucet and the ink would stay put. Not smearing whatsoever. I tried Noodlers and every other brand I could get my hands on and they either smeared when water hit them or they'd immediately clog up my pen. The Platinum Carbon Black is great. I can tell that my pen will need cleaning somewhat regularly, but I can go for a day or two without drawing with my pen and it'll still flow okay. I suspect that if I let it sit--as I could with the old FW formula--it will begin to clog up. Too bad the company that bought FW changed it from carbon ink to acrylic. I don't like the new stuff at all. The Platinum Carbon comes the closest to the old FW and I've found it to be a superb ink. It's pricey a $22.50 a 60cc bottle (at JetPens), but I'm willing to pay a premium for a premium product.

Make sure you get the Platinum Carbon Ink. The Platinum Fountain Pen Ink is NOT waterproof!
The JetPen item number is PLATINUM INKC-1500.

JetPen also sells the Lamy Safari pen I want to talk about. Unfortunately, they only sell it with an Extra Fine nib. I like a medium nib because I work on Cold Press Arches, which creates a finer line than I'd get if I worked on a hot press Arches or a kid Strathmore paper. I found a Medium nib Lamy Safari on Amazon. I bought mine for $25.00 and got Amazon's FREE Super savings. Note: I see that Amazon now sells it for a mere $23.50. To get the Super Savings, maybe you could get the converter.

Lamy Safari Charcoal Fountain Pen - Charcoal, Medium Nib L17M
List Price: $30.00
Amazon Price: $23.50

Lamy Safari on Amazon

The Lamy Safari is not nearly as flexible as my Pelikan 120, but I've done a couple of jobs with it and the line looks just fine. I imagine the nib will become a bit more flexible as it gets broken in. I put a converter in it and have been using the Platinum Carbon ink with good results. Today, I discovered that JetPen sells the Platinum Carbon Ink in cartridges. I assume it's the same ink and if the cartridges fit, I can use them in my Lamy Safari. To play it safe, I bought the Platinum Carbon Desk Fountain Pen. It takes the Platinum cartridges AND they claim it flows well with it. The downside (for me) it that the nib is an Super Fine. I hope it's flexible. I'll report back.

By the way, JetPen also offers lots of other interesting imported fountain pens, plus a nice selection of Magna Pens and what they call Comic Pens. I haven't tried any of those so far, but you might want to visit the site and dig around. Let me know what you discover.
Platinum Carbon Black Ink
Lamy Safari Fountain Pen
Platinum Carbon Desk Fountain Pen
Review of Platinum Carbon Ink
Click Here for Review

Feb 21, 2010
(Sheryl Schopfer gave me permission to reproduce her review. -E)
Platinum Carbon Black ink is a carbon-based ink that is made for use in fountain pens. This ink is essentially India ink without the shellac or other adhesive. It addresses the issue that many fountain pen artists face, of needing a waterproof ink that is safe for use in fountain pens.

As I previously mentioned, Noodlers makes lines of "waterproof" and "bulletproof" fountain pen inks that are waterproof in the sense that they cannot be washed away with water. However, they are not necessarily waterproof in the artist's meaning; the inks sometimes can be smeared with water applications. So, the inks are not as useful to those who like to sketch in fountain pen and then watercolor those sketches, for example. Platinum Carbon Black ink is waterproof in the artist's meaning; the ink does not smear in water (or alcohol, which is a terrific bonus).

Though the ink is intended for use in fountain pens, I recommend being careful in selecting which fountain pen to use. The ink is still carbon-based, meaning that it contains suspended carbon particles. Though these particles are very fine, they can eventually build up in the narrow feeds of most fountain pens.

I have used Platinum Carbon Black ink in Kaweco Sport fountain pens, Kaweco Sport ink roller pens, the Kuretake brush pen, and the Platinum Carbon brush pen - soft (one of the two pens for which this ink is specifically intended, the other being the Platinum Carbon Desk fountain pen, a fountain pen with a broader feed than usual). The ink rollers and brush pens handle the ink beautifully; these pens have fairly open and broad feeds compared to a fountain pen. In the fountain pens, however, the ink tends to dry on the nib and clog fast. Dipping the pen's nib in water usually gets it restarted, but I recommend not letting the ink sit more than a few days in a fountain pen, fully cleaning the fountain pen between each refill, and designating this ink to only a few fountain pens that you are willing to risk clogging badly, just in case the clog becomes irreparable.

All that said, this is an enjoyable ink to use. I have used it for both sketching in ink and inking planned drawings. It erases more than an India ink would, so I sometimes re-ink lines after erasing away the pencils. The ink is waterproof and alcohol-proof, so I have been able to use it in pictures that I water color or color with alcohol-based markers without smearing.

Platinum Carbon Black ink, being an import and a very niche product, is much more expensive than other India inks or fountain pen inks. So, I do not make it an all-purpose replacement for either, instead using it for specific purposes.
I just finished an animation for Halloween. Maggie is designing a promotional emailer with a link to the animation. Rather than swipe a frame from the animation, she wanted me to create new art for the mailer. Several days ago, I bit the bullet and bought a Wacom Cintiq 12WX tablet. I've never been comfortable drawing with my Wacom Intuos 2. That disconnect between my hand and my computer screen drove me crazy. I have never gotten used to it. It's okay for many things--like paint-bucketing and making photos better--but not for drawing. Not for the way I twist and turn my tracing pads and watercolor paper while I work. When I'd try to do that with the Intuos, my lines looked like a 6-year old drew them. I nearly wore out Undo.

I'm still getting used to the new Cintiq, but drawing directly on my art surface is a joy. Because of the thickness of the glass, there is a small disconnect between the tip of the pen and the drawn line that takes some getting used to. The tablet has an adjustment to compensate for that disconnect, but it ain't perfect. Nothing is perfect, not even my trusty Pelikan 120. And, needless to say, not me.

So here's a preview of the art I came up with along with a screenshot of one of the animation frames that I used for reference. I drew the final line art in Corel Painter using my new Cintiq. I added the color swatches and photo background in Photoshop. Needless to say, the animation, which we'll make available for viewing just before Halloween, is a bit strange. 30 seconds of oddness. Just right for all my Drawgerite friends.
The frame I used from the animation to make my mailer art.
Opening title from Billy Pumpkin animation
Okay, I put Billy Pumpkin up on YouTube. I hadn't thought this out--I just wanted to show off my lillustration done using my new Cintiq--and now I'm afraid your expectations have jumped up to a Pumpkin-Orange Alert level. It's merely a simple, little movie. A brief 30 second clip of Elwood's weird world.

Click Here: Billy Pumpkin

Kolonok Kolinsky #14

Searching for the perfect watercolor brush.

For years I used the superb Strathmore Kolinsky Watercolor Brushes. I began buying them in the late 70's, when I lived in New York City and, as I recall, I got a number 7 for around $35, which was pretty expensive back then. Once in a while I'd get one with a less than stellar point but, over all, they were consistently excellent. The Strathmore Kolinsky's handle was natural, unfinished wood, without the usual lacquered finish. I found that to be a great feature--no slipping around when held. Before discovering the Strathmore, I bought mostly Winsor & Newton Series 7, using a smaller brush for details and a larger one for bigger areas. The Strathmore number 7 did it all. I could lay in a good-sized sky and, with the same brush, place color in a miniscule coat button--no problem. The Kolinsky had a long, tapered point, as sharp as a needle and the brush body would snap back after pressing down, laying a wash, effortlessly. Little did I know I was being spoiled rotten.

Seemingly, overnight, the quality dropped. Strathmore dealers said it was climate change, with shorter winters affecting the sable's coats. For a couple of years, I continued to buy them, hoping to regain the Strathmore magic, but finally I gave up--they had become mediocre tools. As far as I can tell, Strathmore no longer makes a Kolinsky. Over the past 10 or 15 years, I've been trying every watercolor sable brush I can find, inexpensive and costly brands alike. Isabey, Arches, Simmons, Langnickel--every one I tried was, at best, mediocre. Dick Blick has a line that they say is excellent, but I find them merely okay and they don't last--that is, the point begins to fray very quickly. They also sell a pretty nice Raphael Kolinsky and, though it's better than the Blick model, it also doesn't hold up & the quality is uneven.

I had high hopes when, after doing an extensive web search I discovered a highly-touted brush, the Kalish Kolinsky:

Kalish Review

The company, run by the friendly husband and wife team, Harry and Ruth Kalish, makes brushes primarily for companies who make dentures, but this Watercolor Painting online review led me to Kalish:

Kalish Finest Brushes

A number 7 Kalish Kolinsky is only $35.00, which is a bargain for a high-quality brush. I chose the SERIES 7 FINEST KOLINSKY DESIGNER brush--supposedly a more tapered point than the Round. I have found the brush to point quite well but, sadly, it lacks snap. I was (am) very disappointed since I spent some time talking with Harry while Ruth was waiting to get online to process my credit card. He agreed that the old Strathmore Kolinsky was a great brush and assured me I'd be delighted with their Finest Kolinsky. Maybe I just got a particularly wimpy brush but, considering Harry knew my preferences, I'm in no rush to try another. Here's the reason I'm in no hurry to try another Kalish:


Located in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, Kolinsky Art Brushes sells several brands including the one I initially purchased, a Martin/F.Weber Winter Harvest Kolinsky. It sells for U.S. $44.99 plus $17.95 Express Mail shipping = $62.94 total. Another disappointment. At first. The Winter Harvest had great snap, but the tip of the brush frayed ever so slightly. I could meld it to a point, but as soon as I used it, the hair splitting returned. I contacted the company via e-mail and Elena Suslova (Customer Support) offered to send me a replacement AND a NUMBER 14 (!) Kolonok Round, which she said had the best point of all her brushes. Try them out, she said, and send back whatever you don't want. I'm not sure if Elena made this offer because she and her mates, Sergey and Vladimir are Russians or because they are Candians (or because they are a combination of both) but I was impressed.

But, a number FOURTEEN? Elena wrote: "For your detailed work Round # 14 seems the brush with a big diameter but it has a long fine point." I found that hard to believe. A freaking number 14, when a number 8 seemed to me to be oversized? The package arrived some 10 days later (it takes way too long to get stuff from our Northern neighbor, even when using Expedited Mail) and the second #7 Winter Harvest ended up being as problematic as the first. But here's the weird thing:

The big, fat number 14 is an AMAZING brush. It's a handful, but it points like a hypodermic. I can slosh my watercolor paper, filling in a HUGE SKY and then use it to paint a MITE'S EYE! And it snaps back like a mousetrap. Okay, enough bad rhyme. But I'm not kidding, it is one amazing brush. It costs a mere $72.99 U.S., an unheard of price for a humongous brush and really great price for a brush of this quality in any size.

Elena says her company continues to scout around for the perfect brush and she'll let me know if they find a number seven or eight that points like this 14. The only drawback with this big fella is that it holds a massive amount of watercolor, so I need to wipe it on a paper towel before doing details otherwise the flow is a difficult to control. In every other respect, though, this is a gem.

I've included 2 pictures of the #14. That big, fatso Hummer of a brush at the top does look unconvincing as a pointer. Trust me, the "Kolinsky Sable 1001 Round Size 14" points easily as well as a Da Vinci #3. And with this Kolonok you can lay in a stream of watercolor from New York City to Kingston, Ontario on a single refill.

Master Penman
Vintage Pens

Attention Nibsters!

Cap that Pelikan 120 you just purchased on eBay and click on this link:

You haven't gone there yet? Okay, if you have any interest at all in fountain pens, here's why you should follow my suggestion:

A friend (the very talented cartoonist-turned illustrator), Tim Haggerty was in his Doctor's office recently reading an old issue of Fortune magazine and stumbled upon an article about a guy who lives in New Hampshire who, not only sells and repairs fountain pens, but modifies the nibs. The guy in question is Richard Binder and I'm delighted to share Tim's discovery.

Binder dabbled with fountain pens over the years, but in 1998, he began collecting vintage pens in earnest, which led to his selling and, eventually, repairing them. In Binder's own words:

"I intended to sell vintage pens that I’d purchased and restored, and I do sell a few of these pens; but my business rapidly decided without my help that it was going to be based primarily on high-quality repair and restoration for clients. I then branched out into nib adjustment and customization, and I find this latter skill very rewarding; to hand a nib to a client and get a “wow!” in return is a great kick."

Well, that's a kick I hope to deliver. Binder is an authorized retailer for Bexley, Conway Stewart, Filcao, Pelikan, Signum, and Taccia fountain pens. I've never heard of those brands, since my Pelikan 120 has long served my specialized needs, but I'll bet if Richard sells them, they are high-quality pens. If you purchase a pen from him and order its nib customized, Binder will customize the nib to your specifications. According to his site, nib customization begins at $30.00.

Binder's personal collection focuses primarily, although not exclusively, on vintage American pens. On his site, he has some delicious photo of vintage Waterman's, Esterbrook, Sheaffer's, Eversharp and Parker pens.

Shown in the photo are four of my favorite models from Binder's collection. Two Parker's, a Chilton and a Crocker.

1. Parker Jack-Knife Safety Pen
2. An exquisite Parker Duofold "Big Red"
3. The Chilton "Golden Quill"
4. The Crocker Ink-Tite
My Trusty Pelikan
Monkey is over at the Hudson Valley Mall. Finally, I can get my two cents in. I want to talk about my favorite tool, my trusty Pelikan 120 Fountain Pen. I've been using a Pelikan 120 since about 1978. I get a good, flexible line with nice variation (thick and thins) using a fountain pen. Sadly, the 120 is no longer in production, but you can get 'em on eBay for around $30, if you keep trying. I am not an eBay user, but my pal, Mike West, who is, tracked down three beauties, none costing more than $100, which is less than a good new Pelikan. I was so relieved to find some. I originally had three 120's and was down to one. Thank you Mike!

I prefer fountain pens, though I did learn to master flexible dip pens like Gillotte. Fountain pens allow you to draw for long stretches without dipping into a bottle and there are no sudden blobs of ink on your nearly finished drawing.

Which brings me to Ink.

I used to use FW waterproof India ink, but the new owners changed the formula from carbon to acrylic. I was in dispair as ran low on my old supply of the good FW, but finally found a great,, very waterproof and flowing India ink. It's made by Dr. Ph. Martin's. I tried several of the Dr. Martin's inks and the most waterproof (if that matters--it does to me, since I color my work in with watercolor) one are these two:

Dr. Ph.Martin's Black Star HICARB
Dr. Ph. Martin's Tech 14W Black

Both are available here:

AOE Art Supply

I've tried every other Waterproof India Ink I could get my paws on and none were truly waterproof. They also had serious flow issues.

My pen may not work for your needs, but I thought I'd let you know.

I think the simian just came up the driveway.

Terri wrote to let me know that my original link to AOE Art Supply has been changed.
Here's the new one:
AOE Art Supply
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