27 June 2014

Mom Review: QoR Modern Watercolor Paints for Students

Dear Lissy,

Well, my sweets, we received a package o' fun in the mail last week:  tubes of the new QoR watercolor paint from Golden.  They provided the paint for this review, but our thoughts and observations are our own.  We use watercolor in a wide variety of subjects and every grade Kindergarten through middle school.  In high school, we primarily use watercolors for tinting and lettering. 

The colors QoR sent us to try out:  Pyrrole Red Light, Quin Gold, Indian Yellow, Hookers' Green, Pthalo Blue, French Ultramarine Blue, Quin Violet, Raw Umber, and Neutral Tint.  We use a limited palette in school work of 3-5 shades.
QoR paint is designed for serious artists, and has been reviewed by some of the top watercolor artists in the world:  why on earth would a homeschool mom be interested?  Simple.  Every artist review I read either raved (or whimpered) about how intense the colors were and how they stayed bright and true when dry.  Those two features catapulted QoR paints to the top of my art supplies wish list for the 2014-2015 year.  But, yikes, artist grade watercolor is spendy, and would we think they were bright enough with only one or two glazes of paint?  Most artists use multiple layers of glazing over the course of days.  We might lay an initial wash, hit it with a hairdryer, and then paint the rest of the picture.  If we're feeling particularly ambitious, we might lay a third wash, but our art time is limited.  (Not to fear.  A single wash of QoR paint is dazzling...but I'm getting ahead of myself.)  I contacted Golden to see if they were interested in a home school market review, and they were kind enough to ship a box of paints with several colors we already use and a few we haven't.   If you want to see the works world class artists (and a few hipsters) are creating with QoR colors instead of just perusing home school art projects, join the QoR Facebook page or check out their website gallery at goldenpaints.com

"Whoa!  Those look like markers!"

"OH, cool!  Look at how that blends.  That is a stinkin' cool effect"  

"Mom, when can I have a turn????"

No way!  Mom, you've gotta see this!  It's still the same color it was wet." 

I don't think you and your brothers have had this much fun with art supplies, well, ever.   We started out with our standard No.8 Round Neptune, but switched to our Pentel Aquabrushes when using dot palettes.  We use watercolors in three different ways, so we evaluated the QoR paints for this review by working with all three.  All tests were done on 130# Pentalic Nature Sketch Journal paper.  Yes, we're dying to work on some 300# Arches with QoR paint, but that wasn't in the budget this week, and we never use it for school.

Pre-mixed Jars of Wash
We study color theory and create mixed media works using watercolor washes.  I typically pre-mix three to four colors of wash in small jars.  We may use a CMYK primary triad when you're little for color theory, but we generally move on to analogous or split analogous color schemes by upper elementary.
WHOA!  Our artist had a hard time with the intensity of the wash with our first wax resist.  We had to tissue the paint off the paper just to see the jellyfish.

Our second wax resist was a success once we figured out the paint.   #8 round Neptune used. 

What I liked...
  • Brilliant QoR watercolor is closer to tempera or dye than traditional watercolors.  All of us really enjoyed the bright, clear color.
  • Only tiny amounts of paint are necessary to create a lot of wash
  • The QoR wash stayed mixed and went on the paper smoothly.  Depending on the paint, the pigment often settles to the bottom of the jar.  QoR paints didn't settle out until they had been sitting for almost half an hour, and several of the colors never settled at all.
  • QoR Paints blend almost instantly. We didn't pre-mix colors on a foam plate or in a separate jar like we have to with other paints.  Double-dipping the brush or even mixing directly on the paper gave smooth, beautiful color and exciting results. 
  • Special effects were stunning. Salt, plastic wrap, and bubble wrap all produced great results with QoR washes.
Learning curve...
  • Professional artist paints can contain toxins.    I looked up each color we had before using them.
  • Thinner washes.  We learned to adjust the amount of wash in the brush; but we initially had frustrations with pilling, cockling, and runs.  On the bright side, our work was much looser and more artistic than it has been in the past.
  • The teeny-tiny amount of paint needed to create wash.  The first color I mixed, more paint came out of the tube just from taking off the cap (about 1/2") than I needed to make up three containers of wash.
  • QoR washes dry without fading.  Fading when dry is our #1 gripe when using watercolors for school work.  Comparison wet and dry pictures are at the bottom of this letter.
We use palettes for watercolor art projects starting in middle school.  I'll squirt about 1/2" of fresh paint in 3 - 5 colors into a simple plastic palette that has a clear lid.  Our palettes have 10 small holes and a large center well, so that allows you to mix several more colors as needed.
The bird silhouette  project again from Joy-Filled Days.   Raw Umber and French Ultramarine Blue.  We did not mix the paint on the palette...just on the paper.         #8 Round Neptune used for this project.
What I liked...
  • Palettes require far less QoR paint than with traditional watercolor.  Really, just a shmear.   No blobs.  You don't need a half inch squirt.  A shmear.
  • The QoR paint "dried" into the palette without cracking or shrinking and easily rehydratedWe have had enough trouble with paint that refuses to rehydrate that this feature of the QoR paints was a major selling point for me.  We didn't lose any leftover paint -- we simply rewet and started right in painting again.  After a week in a covered 2$ palette, QoR paint was the consistency of peanut butter.  The pill box travel palette paint was solid, but still honey-sticky to the touch after a week.
  •  Brilliant colorI can't overstate how beautifully bright and saturated the colors of QoR modern watercolor are -- they're more like markers than paint.  Even thinned out enough to be transparent, the color was vivid.
  • Color mixes beautifully, right on the brush or even on the paper.  
  • QoR paints glaze flawlessly.  We made dozens of Venn Diagrams and the glazes were perfect.  
  • QoR Paints charge easily to create beautiful effects.  Maybe it's the microfine pigment particles, maybe it's the polymer binder; but I've never had such beautiful charging effects.  Flower petals look realistic when the darker shade is charged onto the edges and base of the lighter petal color.
  • Qor watercolors work especially well with all of the special effects -- salt, saran, wax resist, bubble wrap -- except lifting.  Like most home schoolers, our paper is good but not gallery quality. We particularly liked scraping lines.  The QoR mixes enough thinner that it runs easily into the lines and creates beautiful effects.
  • QOR WATERCOLORS DRY TRUE TO COLOR!  Let me say that again in case you missed it:  QoR paints don't lighten as they dry. 
  • Golden has a color calculator on their website that gave us a good idea of how much and what color paint to mix to get the color we wanted.
Learning Curve...
  • Oh, my this was a hot mess at first!    Like using gel instead of liquid food coloring, it's hard to comprehend just how much color is in such a tiny bit of paint. Once we started using just a schmear of paint, things went much better.  FYI, QoR rehydrates so quickly the entire well becomes liquid again.  It isn't like regular watercolor that stays in a cake with a thin skim of liquid paint where you work the brush.
  • The rinse water was colored enough to show on the paper in a matter of minutes.   We started wiping most of the color off the brush onto paper towel before swishing out the rest; but even with a half gallon container of water, the water was painting a light color within 15 minutes.  We eventually used a separate container for rinse water, but aquabrushes worked much better than traditional brushes.
  • Palettes were my least favorite method of painting with QoR. Now onto our very favorite, knocked-my-socks off method....
Dot Palettes

I started using dot palettes a couple of years ago when we picked up our first waterbrushes.  I paint a dime-sized dot of each color we're using onto the journal page or a separate card. A touch from the waterbrush activates the paint and allows us to tint drawings in a nature journal or lab notebook.  The dot palettes allow you to paint without dragging out containers of water and tubes of paint.

The dot palette for a fall leaf and tree.  The artist ended up needing roughly three more dots of the Grumbacher yellow and another dot of Red Light as well.
Have I mentioned kids enjoy dark, bright colors?  Notice there's no chalkiness when dry -- just vivid color.  The remains of the dot palette are on the left hand side of the page. 

The same picture still wet.   QoR paint dries true to color.

What I liked, er loved...
  •  QoR Modern Watercolors act as if they were custom designed for dot palettesThe paints instantly re-wet, and have brilliant color even when you barely touch the brush to the colored dot.  
  • Except for a light stain, all of the color lifts off.   There is almost no waste with this method when using QoR paints.
  •  The color is so strong, we were able to paint traditional art projects using dot palettes.  Normally we just use them for work that needs to be tinted. I extended the "dot" to a 1" x 2" square
  • Using dot palettes with QoR watercolor kept all of the watercolor work transparent and true to the medium.  If you've ever used watercolor with children, you know -- they want it bright and thick, more like tempera.  QoR colors are bright even when transparent, and the dot palettes limit the amount of paint that can be loaded onto the brush.
  • Because of the polymer binder, the paints are flexible when dry.  The dots do not crumble or crack, even when the paper is moved around.  I appreciated not having to treat the palettes with the same level of care as nuclear waste.
Learning Curve...
  • For new tubes of paint, I had to dip a toothpick into the tube rather than squeezing out a dot.  Normally a little extra paint isn't a problem, but with QoR, a 1/4" strip of paint would be enough for several pages of nature journal work.
  • We still had to be careful not to overtint our nature/lab drawings (I may or may not have obliterated an otter with a coat of raw umber that was too thick), but overall this is an easy peasy form in which to use the QoR paints.  Provide each student artist with a test sheet for best results.
  • We realized how spoilt we had become with the QoR paint when we needed a cool yellow and had to go back to Grumbacher. We went through almost 3 ml of paint trying to get the color as vivid as the QoR colors.

Mom's Recommendation:

QoR Modern Watercolors are just plain fun to use.  They're bright, and they stay vivid when dry.  QoR colors blend easily, and their online color calculator helped us determine how much of each paint to use.  QoR paints make great washes and shine brightly in dot/strip palettes, but they're trickier to use straight from a palette for younger students.  The washes are also much thinner, and can be used with dip pens.  I painted through the Watercolor Fundamentals from our 7th grade art course and adjusted quickly to the "same color wet and dry" qualities of QoR after just a few exercises. 

The 12 tube starter kit has all of our favorite colors, including Quins, and costs less than half of what I'd spend in gas for one field trip.  Combined with a handful of aquabrushes  and decent watercolor paper (see the P.S.), that much paint should provide several kids enough paint for the better part of a year unless they are taking a Watercolor course.  Because the pigment in QoR paints is so intense, the paint is a much better value than it appears at first glance, and ends up being cheaper than student grade watercolor tubes from Grumbacher or Cotman. 

QoR paints aren't toy grade:  check up on toxicity for each color before giving to a child, and plan to pre-mix washes or create dot palettes for most student work. 

Tickled pink,

P.S.  To go along with your QoR paints, I recommend these other tools.

Pick up a value pack of three Aquash brushes and the Strathmore Visual Journal with 140# watercolor paper that is heavy enough to use on both sides.  The journal has 22 sheets/44 pages -- just right for a school year. The Neptune brush may be cheaper at another source, but has free shipping for Prime members.  These are affiliate links.

***QoR paints are almost twice as expensive through Amazon as they are from the Jerry's link above.   The Visual Journals are on sale right now (June 2014) through Jerry's at a better price than Amazon, too.  I am not a Jerry's affiliate.***

26 June 2014

Commonplace Books: What Are They And Why Do You Need One (or More)?

Dear Lissy,
Hooray for summer vaca!  You'll be heading off to camp in a few weeks, but right now you're trying to keep yourself busy with everything from painting to reading to crafts.  You're old enough now to learn skills and read books that will stay with you for the rest of your life.  You've even started your very own commonplace book.

What is a Commonplace Book?  
 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines a commonplace book as:  
"n.  A personal journal in which quotable passages, literary excerpts, and comments are written."
A page from my current book, started in late 2013.  Notice the blank facing page so I have room to meditate on (and maybe argue a bit) with these thoughts, or even add an additional similar idea from another source.

09 June 2014

One Quick Tip: Toilet Tissue Reminder Roll

Dear Lissy,

We're at a stage of life where everyone in the house is using -- and using up -- supplies.   We do pretty well keeping a supply of high use items, but every now and then something slips through the cracks and we end up with an "emergency".  This easy failsafe was born after I pillaged our camping supplies and realized I could create the same result without compromising our camping kit.

I keep one paper-wrapped toilet tissue roll with our bathroom T.P. supply.  I only open it if our regular tissue supply is gone.  If I'm not the one to unwrap it, I still see the wrapper in the waste bin (or notice that my toilet tissue is definitely not "Soft as Old Linen").   I just have to remember to put both T.P. and the reminder roll on my shopping list. 

This reminder system works well for a variety of high use items from ketchup to laundry soap.  I purchase a sample or travel sized package of a different brand as emergency back-up.  I only use those items if & when I run out of our regular product. 

I'll never run out of love for you,


08 June 2014

Mom Review: Waterproof New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs

Dear Lissy,

Summer is in full swing here in New England, and I'm taking a few minutes to review an outdoor-friendly Bible.   This compact and unusual copy of the Word made it from Alabama to New England in just two days via padded mailer.

I am reviewing the Pink & Brown KJV Waterproof New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs from Bardin and Marsee publishing.  The KJV version is a text only, verse by verse copy of the Bible printed on synthetic paper. The New Testament retails for $24.95, the Bible for $44.95.  Bardin and Marsee provided my review copy, but didn't influence my review in any way.  I am not being paid, nor will I receive proceeds from future sales of this Bible.

Features I liked:

  • Every bit of this New Testament is 100% waterproof. The cover, the binding, the pages --- all of it.  I can tuck it under the seat while I'm kayaking, and it will be none the worse for the wear.   Somebody (ahem) leaves the Bible tucked in the pocket on the back of their chair or lying on the picnic table overnight?  No problemo!  The dew, or even a thunder shower, isn't going to affect this Waterproof New Testament one. little. bit.  Our side porch at home eats books for breakfast, but I don't have to worry about this Bible being left out overnight by accident:  the dew or blown in rain wipe right off.  The Waterproof NT did not float in our unscientific home testing involving a stockpot and a drop from about 1.5 feet.
  • Being waterproof means the New Testament is also wipeable.   Wipeable may not be quite as glamorous as scuba diving with the Word, but it ends up being a more important feature for me.  Despite my best attempts at hand-washing stations and General Cleanliness for the Greater Good, camp life is sticky, squashy, and dirty.  A damp rag and a quick swipe made quick work of all the grimy bits and bobs that clung to the Bible.  I also didn't have to fuss about making sure the table was dry or not setting the Bible THERE.  Nothing I tried stained it, even pizza sauce.  Wipeable=worryproof.
  • The Waterproof New Testament doesn't feel waterproof.  I was expecting a plastic-y hand feel similar to children's books, but it's much more like a map or guide book.  The cover and pages are a normal thickness, and similar enough to paper that they aren't distracting.  You can write on the pages with a ball point pen or highlight with a dry highlighter if you so desire. The unique material left no ghosting from printing on the other side of the page.   The pages didn't glare when read with my headlight at night, either.
  • The size.  At 4-1/4" x 7" x 3/4", the New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs is the same dimensions as many maps and guide books.  It fit perfectly in both my daypack and regular overnight pack pocket. To keep the size this compact, the New Testament I reviewed has no internal references and very little extra material in the front or back.  The print is small, but similar to or larger than most outdoor guidebooks and maps.
  • Instructions are included for caring for the unusual paper.  Waterproof doesn't mean indestructible.  A clear, concise set of instructions for use and care appear on the index page.  Most notably, don't let the Bible come in contact with petroleum products like bug spray, sunscreen, or even some wipes.  Anyone who's camped much knows to keep plastic and petroleum apart, but I was glad for the reminder.  Temperatures over 150 are not recommended, so the glove box of the car is not a great place to store a Waterproof (or any other) Bible.
  • The extra material was well planned.  
    • Front matter contains a presentation page, index, instructions, and a page of Quick References.  The Quick References includes topics such as Knowing Christ, True Hope, and Decision Making followed by a couple of references that speak to that subjectAny one of the 35+ topics would be good for personal or family study.  (A note to parents:  s*x is one of the topics listed.)
    • The back matter is 7 pages of lined notepaper.  Thank you, Bardin and Marsee -- a very nice touch!  
  • A few technical details.  
    • The pages are gluebound in signatures, not cut and glued individually.  Single pages aren't going to work their way loose and blow off the top of the mountain never to be seen again.  
    •  A serif font.  I find sans serif fonts difficult to read once the print size is reduced enough for compact Bibles.  This copy appears to be in the 7 point font range. 
    • The cover on the copy of the NT, Psalms and Proverbs I reviewed is pink brown with a modern design.  Not my usual choice, but very visible in a pack or at camp.  Sky blue and green/brown are also available.
    • An elastic closure is offered as an accessory and highly recommended.  B & M will install the closure in-house if ordered with the Bible.
    • Rounded corners.  Thank you, thank you.  Square corners are easily damaged in outdoor settings.  Rounded corners are standard on guidebooks, but unusual for a Bible.
    • A tight binding.  Normally I'm looking for a binding that lies flat when open.  The opposite is necessary for a Bible in outdoor settings:  I want a Bible that naturally falls closed.  When we dropped the Bible in a pot of water, none of the interior pages got wet -- just the cover. Had interior pages gotten wet, the publishers recommend squeezing out the excess water, wiping the exterior, and then using normally. I expect looking at the binding that it will loosen and lie flat over time which is why the elastic closure is recommended.
    • Covers can be stamped with your name.  Covers and pages can also be customized by organizations. 
    • Waterproof notebooks and journals as well as suitable pens are also for sale on the site.

Features I would include:

This Bible was designed by people who love and use the Word of God and spend a great deal of time outdoors.   Every detail was considered.  I found nothing I would consider a negative in a specially purposed outdoor Bible.
  • The one change I would make if I were customizing is including a clear gospel presentation with simple graphics in either the front or back matter, similar to the gospel of John put out by the Pocket Testament League.   The Gospel of Christ is one of the topics listed in the Quick References, and the introduction to the QR section specifically highlights that topic as being the most important truth of all.
  • I would love to see Bardin and Marsee offer a Gospel of John with an included gospel presentation for outreach purposes.   Ladies' Kayaking trips, Sportmen's banquets, and Teen campouts have always been powerful evangelistic tools in our churches.  

My recommendation:
I highly recommend the Waterproof Bible for a variety of places that are normally a problem:  boating and the beach, camping, summer camp, porches, potting sheds, and even the kitchen.  The Waterproof Bible would have been ideal when I lived on the Florida panhandle and spent 2/3 of my life dripping wet.   I intend to buy a Waterproof Bible for high school grads planning to attend college or enter the military.  This Bible would also make an excellent gift for missionaries who are in tropical climates or third world countries.

Love you in sunshine and rain,


07 June 2014

Check(list), Please!

Dear Lissy,

Dad and the boys are already gone for the day, and I'm off and running on morning chores.  Years ago when all of you were little, I ran our home with checklists.  Constant interruptions gave me a perpetual case of Mommy ADD, and I relied on checklists to help me do during the busy hours what I knew I wanted done in the quiet of the evening.   

What's the difference between a checklist and a to-do list?  So glad you asked!  A to- do list is a list of tasks that need to be done once.  A checklist is a list of tasks that is repeated daily, weekly, or monthly.  "Vacuum entry" is a checklist item; "Pick up new exterior light fixture for side entry" is a to-do list task. 

I shed my checklists over the past few years as blocks of uninterrupted time became available.   May was exceptionally busy with a flurry of appointments, robotics events, farmer's markets, and sourcing out supplies for a Dear Lissy Bible marking kit.  Regular routines were bumped, and the house is run down.  I'm back to a season of busyness punctuated by constant interruptions, and I have to adjust quickly.  I've talked about "Plan B" before, so I'll keep this simple:

Checklists are an important tool for me when life changes pace.

I'm not taking time to re-invent the wheel.   I blew the dust off my Beautiful Life Manager, ordered new pages, and hit the ground running.   I even scored a DayTimer calendar for just a few bucks to help finish out 2014.  I do find it a little embarrassing to need a checklist to hold my hand at my age -- it seems like I should waft effortlessly through my housework by now.  Wisdom -- doing the next right thing -- reminds me that setting up a system of checklists to make sure the next right thing gets done is wiser than beating myself up for needing a checklist.

I've also noticed your brothers struggling with their day-to-day tasks as they take on new responsibility.  I'm going to be teaching them how to create and use checklists this summer, too.  They are still accountable for their chores, but they are far past the age where I set up "chore time" and oversee the minutia. Checklists give teens autonomy and accountability.  They can do the work anytime they want, provided the work is done to our family's standard by the set time. 

Checklists motivate pre-teens and provide a sense of accomplishment.  You are at the age where I give you a list (not just a task) that must be completed and checked at the time I hand it to you.  We set a timer for the list, and you "punch out" when you've completed the work.   

I need to weed and plant while the garden is still cool.  I hope we have a great summer -- fun is on the checklist, too!