Mid-Summer Scribbling (Pencil Pondering?)

 Art, DIY  Comments Off on Mid-Summer Scribbling (Pencil Pondering?)
Aug 022014

One of the things I enjoy doing is drawing. I totally suck at it, but it helps me think about composition and other “visual stuff” that helps me with photography and videography.

I was looking for some good pencils to draw with, and I sort of stumbled into the world of 2mm lead holders. They didn’t change my ability to draw or anything, but they sure lightened up my pencil case. (And my wallet.)

Here’s some stuff I found that I like, and some stuff I don’t like as much. It may be of referential use to someone, so I figured I’d put it up here.

Also, thanks a ton to the Lung Sketching Scrolls for a lot of useful background info on pencils, lead holders, etc. He plays with a bunch of different art supplies, so we don’t have to.

Part of what I wound up doing was based on his advice, and part of it was based on my own experience. In the end, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own, but here’s some data that might be useful as a reference.

2mm Lead Holders:

I love 2mm leads because unlike .5 or even .3 mm mechanical pencils, you can sharpen them. (Think about it– that 0.3 mm pencil? Yeah, it’s flat on top, unless you’re using a Kuru Toga.) Also, unlike those mechanical pencils, they don’t snap as easily. They still break, and when they do, it’s a pain, but it takes a lot of force to break them. And I draw with a lot of force.

Generally, you can get good 2mm leads in the range from 7H to 4B. Yes, 6B 2mm leads exist (Prismacolor Turquoise), but they’re so soft that they break at the slightest pressure. It’s a frustrating experience.

A good 2mm lead holder will get you a pretty decent range to set light to mid-dark grays. Which is a lot, really. I wind up carrying 4 of them with me, with a 7H, 2H, HB, and 2B. I really wanted the 6B to work, but it just crumbles when I put any kind of force into it.

I found a Staedtler 4B that I like for mid-darks, but like anything softer than 2B or 3B, it’s more likely to break if you put force into it. Physics.

When it comes to the lead holder, it’s really a question of personal preference. I’ve tried a few, and I love the Faber-Castell TK9400. It’s smooth, has a lot of flat sides, has no knurling on the barrel, and no annoying clip. I can twirl it around in my hand as I draw, keeping the tip sharp longer. It’s just a lovely lead holder. And it’s pretty cheap, too.

Then there’s the Staedtler Mars Technico, which is pretty easy to find at just about any large Arts and Crafts store. It’s pretty good, but I don’t like the aggressive knurled metal grip on the end. It comes with some nice HB leads, though. Staedtler makes excellent 2mm leads. It’s a good backup to have, just in case.

I used to really like the Art Alternatives 2mm lead holder, which had a removable clip (took a little force), and with the clip removed, became very twirlable in my hand, just like the TK9400. In fact, maybe a little too much like the TK9400, because that version can’t be found anymore. It’s just as well, because it’s also not very sturdy. I pressed too hard on the lead ejector button, and the metal collar on the bottom of the holder went flying across the room. I never found it. No idea where it wound up.

Art Alternatives’ current 2mm holder is pretty similar to the Technico, but after having two of the previous version send parts flying, I can’t recommend them.

Grip Trick:

For keeping a good grip on these lead holders and for telling them apart, I spent a dollar on 4 different colored pencil grips. They make it easier to twirl the lead holders around, and the colors help me tell which is which.

Also, for knowing what hardness is in which lead holder, I put a piece of artist’s tape on the top, near the plunger, and write the hardness I’m using on it. If I change leads, I erase and re-write. That’s in case I forget which color is which.

2mm leads:

Most of the leads I have are Turquoise by Prismacolor leads. A local store sold a bunch to me cheaply, so I bought a range of leads from them. Turquoise leads generally come 12 to a box, and they’ll fit any 2mm lead holder.

I have them in 7H, 3H, 2B, 3B, and 6B. They’re all pretty good except the 6B, which breaks too easily for me. If you have a light touch, maybe it’d work, but with any force the lead snaps. I use the 7H a lot for preliminary sketches. It holds a point really well. (Well yeah, it’s a 7H.)

As I mentioned above, Staedtler makes an excellent HB lead that they sell with their Technico holders. It’s robust, holds a point pretty well, and doesn’t disappoint me either. I picked up a box of 12 of those, and 12 of their 4B leads. The quality is solid. But the box is kind of annoying to get leads in/out of.

Faber-Castell also makes a set of 2mm leads for their holders. I’m trying their 2B leads right now, and I’m pleased. They’re a little longer than the Turquoise leads, and have an easier box to get in and out of. They’re longer than the Art Alternatives holders will allow, but if you sharpen the end in a rotary sharpener, it works out fine.

Get whatever’s easiest to find/cheapest. I prefer the Staedtler and Faber-Castell to the Turquoise, but it’s not a huge difference.


I accidentally bought a Lamy Scribble, thinking it was 2mm. This happened when I was first trying to figure out lead holders. I misheard the guy at the store. It’s a great lead holder, and it feels great in my hand. It feels even better when I removed the pocket clip, which just unscrewed from the top.

Finding 3.2 or 3.15 mm leads takes some effort. Lamy only makes 4B leads, which is fine for mid-darks, but that’s it. They’re also short and the refills are overpriced, from my point of view. Worther makes a good 7B for nice black blacks, and you can find them on eBay. Stabilo makes a good HB, too. I generally leave the 7B in the Scibble, to do the really dark stuff. But be careful– 7B is soft, so it will break.

There isn’t an easily obtainable rotary sharpener for the Lamy. I found a sharpener by KUM, but it’s slow. I wish Lamy had put a sharpener in the head, or made some provision for sharpening the thing, considering the price. The Scribble has been relegated to dark tone duty, which is kind of sad, given how expensive it is, but it’s a pain to keep it sharp.


Yes, these exist. Out of curiosity I picked up a couple to see if I like the experience. I got a “Creative Mark” holder for $5 at Jerry’s Art-o-Rama (because I go by there every now and then.) It came with some 4B leads, which I wound up giving a miss, because they were the famous “no-name” brand. I also ordered an Alvin Hercules off of eBay to see if there’s any difference based on the holder. I found the Creative Mark to feel just a touch more comfortable. The Hercules also feels pretty good. It’s smoother than the Creative Mark, which feels a little grippy with its rubberized surface. It also has a handy spinnable indicator on the back to let you know what darkness of leads are in there.

Alvin has you covered for mid-dark to dark leads in 5.6: I found them in HB, 2B, and 6B. And they don’t break easily. (Probably because they’re so big.) So I have one in 2B and one in 6B. If I could find a good 8B or 9B lead, I’d be happy.

Sharpening is kind of a pain. The Alvin Hercules has a sharpener in the cap, but it’s not very good. I prefer to use a cheap KUM drop-down pencil sharpener, but really any pencil sharpener will do, if you hold the lead centered in the hole, or center and stick a 5.6mm washer over the opening. (I should do that sometime.) Sandpaper always works, too.

Kuru Toga:

For writing, I’ve gotten into the Kuru Toga mechanical pencils by Uniball. The concept is interesting. There’s a gear that twirls the lead by a small increment every time you lift the lead from the page, so it’s supposed to keep your lead really sharp. In practice, it works pretty well, especially for math formulas and printed handwriting, and stick with HB or darker lead. If you write a lot in cursive, it doesn’t help much, because the lead doesn’t lift from the page enough. It helps keep the point sharp when I write in Japanese, or when I print in English.

Drawing is okay, but the line is too uneven for my taste. I don’t like how the sharp tips “bite” into the paper, and I don’t like how the pencil feels in my hand for drawing. Use it for writing. That’s what it’s intended for.

Some reviewers say that it’s vital to get the Japanese over the US version, but I don’t share their experiences. I find the US version to work just fine, and it feels more comfortable in my hand, especially the 0.5mm version. I’ve used them in 0.3, 0.5, and 0.7mm, and I like the 0.5mm the best for writing. 0.3 seems like it would be more precise, and it is, but it breaks too often for my taste, and it tears paper quite a bit, too. It likes to “bite” the paper a lot. 0.7 squirms too much, and feels like I’m fighting it. 0.5 is just right. It doesn’t squirm as noticeably, doesn’t break as easily, and doesn’t bite as much.

If you can find them, the new Uniball diamond leads are sturdy and do a good job, but they’re a little on the pricey side. I tried using 2H with the Kuru Togas, but the lines were waaay too light for handwriting. I switched over to HB and 2B, and things got a lot better. The leads still snap off every now and then, but it’s my favorite mechanical pencil now.


Finally, a word on erasers I love and find to be indispensible. I love the Tombow erasers, especially the Mono Zero round 2.3mm eraser. It’s great for getting into small details and cleaning out pencil roughs. (As soon as I can find one in stock, I want to get the rectangular one, too!)

Slightly bigger, but still handy, is the Paper Mate Tuff Stuff Eraser Stick, which is wider than the Mono Zero, but feels slightly beefier, for fiddly erasing that requires more “oomph.” Also, it’s easily available in the US. (Like at Jerry’s Art-o-Rama.)

Finally, I always have a couple of Pentel elastomer block erasers with me, and a random kneadable eraser or two.

What’s great about this setup is that it’s amazingly portable. I can fit all of it in a small plastic pencil case. Four lead holders, one or two of the bigger ones, a few spare leads, a sharpener, and a couple of erasers, and I’m set.

Getting to that point was a bit of  a lot of  hassle, and I wound up with some surplus stuff I’m never going to use, but it’s worth it if I can get to this kind of happy portable setup.

Slide Duplicating Rig Completed! (Converting FL Bellows to NEX Mount!)

 DIY, Photography  Comments Off on Slide Duplicating Rig Completed! (Converting FL Bellows to NEX Mount!)
Feb 022014

I finally got the parts and tools together, and got this rig together.

I have a Canon FL Bellows with a slide duplicator on the end, and a Sony NEX mirrorless camera. Fortunately, the NEX isn’t too picky about accepting other lenses, so long as you have an adapter that ends in an E mount.

I followed the advice in this post on the Fred Miranda forums (which I mentioned earlier), and I figured I would elaborate on how to attach the L39 to NEX mount on to the Bellows FL, because the OP didn’t really go into much detail.

First, get an L39 (Leica Screw Mount) to NEX mount adapter. There are tons of them out there. I got a Fotodiox adapter for about $20 on Amazon. You want one with a shiny metal liner (which the L39 lens would screw into) that’s held in place with 3 grub screws. (Grub screws are headless screws that are buried in little holes on the sides of the barrel.)

To back out the grub screws, you’re going to need the tiniest screwdriver you can get. In my case, I needed a 0.7mm hex head. It’s just the head– it can be screwed into a handle, or you can just use the bit. I found mine at Harbor Freight as part of one of those microtool interchangeable head hand tools.

It also helps if you have a really bright light, and a magnifying glass. You’re going to be dealing with a lot of tiny screws.

Ok, Got Your Stuff? Let’s Install It!

First, remove the FL mount ring. It’s the shiny metal ring on the back of the FL Bellows. Start by removing the two screws holding the handle on, remove the handle, then remove the retaining screw on the ring. Back the ring out by unscrewing it clockwise. (Righty-loosey for once.) The ring should come off pretty easily. If it gets really tight, you’re turning it the wrong way.

When the ring is removed, there should be one little flat-head screw left at the top of the remaining mount. It will poke out into the area you’ll be mounting the L39-NEX adapter, making it impossible to get the adapter to hold on, so back it out. Take all of these parts and store them in a little baggy. Or recycle them. It’s up to you. (I’m in the baggy camp.)

Back out (but don’t remove!) the grub screws in the L39-NEX mount until the threaded shiny liner pops out. You may need to use a tool with a handle to get enough torque to break the seals.

Now you need to attach the NEX mount to the end of the bellows. It’s more of a matter of positioning the mount and making sure the grub screws are tight. There are two tricky parts here.

First, the bottom right screw is hard to get at when the mount is in the correct position. I used just the head of the driver tool. The bellows hardware gets in the way otherwise.

Second, the red dot on the mount needs to be in the right position. I put it right around 9 o’clock on the ring. To get it close enough, I mounted the NEX and carefully backed out one of the grub screws a hair, then gently moved the mount until everything was parallel and square.

I suppose you could add something like Loctite or JB Weld to make sure it never comes off, but in 5 years some other mount may be the favorite of the day, so I would advise against doing that.

What’s going on here is that the grub screws from the mount are grabbing the end of the old FL mount, which is a smooth tube. It’s a friction fit, so don’t torque it too hard, and be careful when using it for shooting. (Support everything!) I have no idea how prone this setup is to falling apart– only 3 tiny screws are holding the whole thing together.

Duplicating Slides

I dropped in a 35mm f3.5 lens and checked out a test slide, and it fits in the frame just fine now. There’s just enough distance between the bellows and the sensor now that I can get the whole slide duplicator in the frame. I’ll try the 50mm f3.5 macro later and see how it works.

Snowmageddon Round Two? (Random Stuff Post)

 Art, DIY, Education, Music, Photography, Technology  Comments Off on Snowmageddon Round Two? (Random Stuff Post)
Jan 282014

Well, we’re all waiting for the snow to start. We’re supposed to get anything from 2 to 6 inches of snow today through tonight, and as I’ve said many times, we don’t do snow well here. I’m staying off the roads today and tonight, so that means no piano class.


If I Can’t Go to the Music School, Bring the Music School to Me!

I’m going to catch up on my Coursera classes: the Write Like Mozart class, and Pat Pattison’s Songwriting class, which I signed up for again last night.

I signed up for his Songwriting class last year, but I didn’t have time to finish it. What I saw, I really liked. He gives a really good insight into how pro songwriters write songs, and how to improve my own songwriting. (Hint: it involves lots of practice, just like anything else.)

I might also watch some Max 4 Live tutorials. That also looks really interesting.

Bitwig Studio

Bitwig Studio is coming out in late March for $399. The part that’s really interesting to me is the ability to run it in Linux. I think that’s a brilliant idea. But from what I’ve heard, there’s no ReWire compatibility yet, so that’s a big minus for me. This is a good preview of Bitwig, and you can find more videos on their channel.

I wouldn’t mind demoing it to see what it’s like, but $400 is a bit steep for me after G.A.S. ate a lot of my money over the holidays.

I probably shouldn’t buy another new instrument until I’ve gotten good at using the ones I already have.

Rewire and Vocaloid Editor

Speaking of ReWire, I finally found a VST that will let me ReWire the Yamaha Vocaloid 3.0 Editor into Live or Cubase. Cool! You can find it here (the site is all in Japanese). Look for this text “V3Sync ReWire Synchronizer Version 1.3.0 をダウンロード” in the middle of the page, click the link, and install like any other VST. Point the Vocaloid 3 editor to the VST, and it should work.

I know you used to be able to ReWire directly from most Vocaloid 2.0 editors. What happened with 3.0? I have no idea.

Piapro Studio is a good alternative now that it’s at version 1.2. Now you can use sound banks from other companies, too, if you register your non-Crypton sound banks at Crypton’s Sonicwire.com website. I haven’t tried it yet, but I will soon.

Monitor Stand Update

The monitor stand is working really well. I installed it about a week ago, after letting it off-gas for a few days. It adds about 4.25 inches to the height of my monitors, so it took a few days to get used to, but I’m used to it now.

Naturally, just as I say that, I noticed a crack in the wood filler on the right side, near my heater vent. That’s what touch-up paints are for.

Slide Duplicating Project

This is a project I’ve been wanting to get back to for a while. I’m waiting on a Leica Screw Mount to Sony E Mount adapter, and then I may be able to make some good progress on it. I’m going to try what someone did here and remove the FD mount from my Canon FL Bellows, then attach it to my NEX with a LSM to E Mount adapter. That should give me enough focal length to get the duplicate slides in full view.

I hope.

Or I can just throw the whole mess on the copy stand. But I’d rather use a slide copier, because I can aim that at Mr. Sun, and get natural daylight for copying the slides. Artificial light always has weird spectra, even light bulbs that say they are “daylight balanced,” only do so in a way that fools your eye. It does not fool the sensor or the software.

Monitor Stand is Done!

 DIY, Music, Technology  Comments Off on Monitor Stand is Done!
Jan 142014

It only took a month to finish it, but the monitor stand is done. It’s five feet long by one foot wide, with a couple of one by fours supporting it in the middle, and two screwed-together one by fours on each end. It’s sturdy as heck.

Painting it is what held everything up.

It’s been so ridiculously cold here that it’s been too cold to paint. I’ve been using spray paints, too, and they’re even fussier about having temperatures well above freezing.

I started with a simple grey primer, then added two coats of black satin, but it just didn’t do anything for me. It looked very “meh.”

Then I remembered an old woodfinishing project from years gone by. I finished a small 3-legged table with a nice black top, and faux stone legs. The faux stone effect came right out of a spray can.

So I went looking for more of that stuff. It’s been at least ten years, but I figured I could find it somewhere. I did. It was at the last place I checked. It’s a muted Black/White/Grey faux granite look that’s kind of muted. It also needs to have a clearcoat sprayed over it, so it will hold up better with time.

It took me two days to apply the paint, and one more to apply the clearcoat. Now it’s sitting in the garage, off-gassing. I’ll leave it alone for a few days, because I don’t want the house to stink, and I like my brain too much to melt it with the various chemicals in the finishes.

But it looks smashing! The faux-stone spray hides anything I may have screwed up well.

And it’s not made out of cheap MDF that will sag in a year. It’s made out of good old southern pine.

Would it have been cheaper to just buy the stand on Amazon? Well, yeah. It would have been faster, too. But my stand looks really cool, is a custom fit to my desk, and won’t sag. The finish has a rough bumpy stone feel, even. No regrets!

Piano class has also started up again. I’m still terrible at piano. When I get the stand in place, I should be able to practice more.

Also, Push is still fun, although I’ve been using it so much, my fingers are starting to hurt from thwacking the pads so much.

Push or “What Happened to Today?”

 DIY, Music, Technology  Comments Off on Push or “What Happened to Today?”
Jan 102014

I went with Ableton Push. I saw countless videos, read a lot of stuff on all kinds of forums, read all the marketing info, and in the end, I decided on Push over Maschine, mainly because 64 > 16. Well, not just that, but the scale mode in Push really excites me.

Maschine looks like something I may get down the road, especially because it’s really good at tweaking Native Instruments’ Komplete programs, and it has a really nice patch browser.

My Push showed up today, so I installed Live, started messing with Push and Live, and subsequently lost track of several hours just messing around with the scale mode in Push using a plain piano patch.

Oh, about Ableton Live: that’s a nice piece of software there. I had a lot of fun messing with it, too. I like how the tutorials are merged in with the software from the get-go. It made me feel like I could make music right from the start, or just perform with it. Everything feels easy.

I’m still trying to decipher everything about Live and Push, and that’s going to take a while, because I have a ton of other things to do, but I’m excited.

Also, my music composition class starts up again tomorrow. I need to start getting back into composer mode, and get rid of the holiday-induced G.A.S.

The monitor stand is progressing, too. I went and touched up some of the areas with wood filler in them, and sanded them down. I’ll start spray painting the whole thing black this weekend. Primer first, then black.

Push Off to Asheville

 DIY, Music, Technology, Travel  Comments Off on Push Off to Asheville
Dec 192013

I’m heading to Asheville to help the folks out for Christmas, so I’m gone for a while. I may or may not update, depending on whether anything interesting happens or not.

The monitor stand isn’t done yet. I’ll finish it when I get back. It needs more wood filler in a couple of places, and I need the weather to cooperate so I can lay down a finish.

Ableton Push

Ableton has a big sale on all of its software going on. I’m really interested in Push, though. I’ve been watching a lot of videos to see how it works, and how well it works, and it looks damn sexy. Of course, Maschine also looks sexy, but Push looks like it’s more up my alley, because it does scales. Lots and lots of scales.

I’ll need to do more research, though. Getting into Push is another $600, and if I decide to move to Ableton as a DAW, that’d be more money out for upgrading to Standard or Suite. We’ll see.

Everything Breaks at Once

 DIY  Comments Off on Everything Breaks at Once
Dec 162013

Monitor Stand Update:

I went to a large home center chain, and bought an inexpensive pocket screw jig for about $30. The idea was to use pocket screws to attach the top to the supports at 90 degree angles.

Don’t buy the cheap jig. I wound up drilling out the jig more than drilling the wood. Frustrating.

So I moved to plan B. Plan B is really the original plan A, and that’s drilling down through the top of the wood, and covering the holes with wood filler. Drilling and screwing went well, and the wood filler seems to be drying okay. I just have to find time to sand it.

Stuff Breaking Left and Right!

Of course, it’s also been one of those days. My garage door opener has died on me, the same day that two more sensors in the security system died, too. I was going to go up and help the folks out on Wednesday, but now that’s not going to happen until Thursday. Oh well. These things happen.

Making a Stand

 DIY  Comments Off on Making a Stand
Dec 132013

I have a workflow problem. It’s a simple workflow problem, but it has a big effect on my musical work.

My desk and MIDI keyboard stand are arranged in an L shape. Now turn that L 90 degrees clockwise, so it looks like an r. Yeah, like that. The top of the r is where my keyboard is, the stem is where my monitors, mouse, keyboard, etc. are. If I want to work at the keyboard and go through patches, I have to cross my right arm over my left to get to the mouse. (It’s a right-handed mouse– it doesn’t work well with the left hand, and I’m right-handed to boot.)

This makes it really uncomfortable to patch-surf or fiddle with anything on the computer while messing with the keyboard at the same time, and I can’t just dump my MIDI keyboard on the desk and use it that way, because the computer keyboard, mouse, and graphics tablet get in the way.

So I had a think.

If I had a stand, and could tuck everything under the monitors, life would be easier. I could plop the keyboard on the desk, and adjust away while looking at the screen. I checked Amazon, and saw a few stands, but nothing really excited me enough to drop $100 on it. Then I read a comment by one guy, who said he got some wood and screws and made it himself.

What a brilliant idea!

I went by the local lumber yard today and picked up some pine boards for about $30, plus some screws and glue for another $5. We’ll see how it goes.

This blog is protected by Dave\'s Spam Karma 2: 3159 Spams eaten and counting...