Art Gone Retrograde: The July 2015 Smart Art Box

Originally published on February 3rd, 2016, at
Edited on February 5th, 2016, and February 8th, 2016.
Edited and republished at on March 6th, 2017.
Added to on October 31st, 2017.

We were so impressed with – and got so much enjoyment from – January’s Smart Art box, that my wife decided that we should give one of the available past boxes a go, too. I’m sure that my own love of ink played into her decision, but we’re talking about a woman who has owned her own chop1 for years. Of course she chose the “Chinese Calligraphy” box! This is a more complex box than the one from January, in terms of both parts and preparation, so my complete review will be stretched over three posts: today’s unboxing post, a post on carving the chop, and – finally – a post on the wife and I both completing the actual project.

The box came in the mail yesterday after having been ordered on January 27th. Linda and I were both beyond excited, and we had the box on the kitchen table, iPhones at the ready, within a few minutes of her bringing it in.

The July 2015 Smart Art Box: “Chinese Calligraphy”
The July 2015 Smart Art Box: “Chinese Calligraphy”

Oh! The anticipation!

The July 2015 Smart Art Box, “Chinese Calligraphy” – the spread.
The July 2015 Smart Art Box, “Chinese Calligraphy” – the spread.

And the material reality: This box includes one Smart Art discount card; the project insert with basic information, project pointers, and a suggested project, complete with step-by-step instructions; a TaDa! 2 in 1 Brush Set; one big-ass Golden Panda bamboo sketch pen; a Speedball sketching set (nibs and holders); Speedball Super Black India Ink; three 5″ x 7″ sheets of Nujabi handmade, cold press, watercolor paper; and Lian Zhen’s chop and red paste ink set.

First things first: I’m very familiar with Speedball ink, and hope that you are, too. I generally work with Speedball’s Super Pigmented Acrylic ink in Super Black, because it really is super black! I’m pretty sure that the “Super Black” India ink is going to be less super, and I’ll try to remind myself that this is as it should be, because the project included in this kit has more in common with watercolor than it does with the type of ink work that I normally do.

And second things second: I’ve never heard of Nujabi paper, but I like the look and feel of the included sheets. I’m a bit of a sucker for texture, even though it can be a problem when working with sharp pens and a heavy hand. I can go either way on deckle edges, but in this instance, I find them appealing. (I hate them in books. Hate, hate, hate.) But if you want to know what people who have actually used the paper think of it, see the reviews at Jerry’s Artarama and Creating Flow’s 2011 post “Nujabi Watercolor Paper”.

Contents of the chop box – carvable soap stone, and red paste ink in a pretty little container.
Contents of the chop box – carvable soap stone, and red paste ink in a pretty little container.

I carved some designs on a piece of wood, once, and that didn’t go so badly. I also once carved a linoleum block, and that sucked mightily. The included insert only includes a small blurb about how to carve this chop set’s soapstone block, so I see a bit of Google-fu in my immediate future. Linda and I don’t own any actual carving tools, so I expect that – regardless of what my research turns up – my soapstone chop with be carved with a Genuine Victorinox Swiss Army Knife.

And, if you’re curious about the Lian Zhen whose name graces this chop set? Well, here ya go.

Golden Panda giant bamboo sketch pen
Just so you can get an idea of how giant the giant bamboo sketch pen actually is…

The Golden Panda bamboo sketch pen! I’ve always wanted to try one of these, if for no other reason than its sheer simplicity. If given the choice, though, I might have chosen a size smaller than “giant”. It seems a bit off-kilter, to me, to try to work with a pen this big, but I plan to enjoy trying it out. (And, if nothing else, I have a handy new bedside weapon!)

Speedball sketching nibs
The Speedball sketching set – there are nibs in this package that I didn’t already have!

And this Speedball set brings us right back into my wheelhouse! A Speedball standard pen holder feels completely natural in my right hand, and the crow quill holder (or #102 holder) isn’t much of an adjustment. The 512 (or pointed bowl nib) included in this set is one of my go-to nibs. I have a little bit of experience with the crow quill nibs – #102, #107, and #108; the crow quill proper, hawk quill, and mapping nibs – and am excited to give both the #99 and #56 nibs (or the drawing and school nibs, respectively) a try.

2-in-1 TaDa Brush, all put together
The TaDa! 2 in 1 Brush Set: That loop ain’t there for hanging!
2-in-1 TaDa brush, the hidden brush revealed
This #2 round brush was hidden inside the #8 round.

Lastly, there’s the TaDa! 2 in 1 Brush Set. With significantly more sleight of hand than I actually posses, this set could turn our project session into a bit of a magic act! TaDa!, indeed! Both the Smart Art project insert and Jerry’s Artarama consider this a sumi and Chinese calligraphy brush set. (In fact, the “Project Tools” section for the brush set in the Smart Art project insert seem to be based, in no small part, on the product description From Jerry’s and/or Art Supply Wholesale. WTF? Do you all share a script?) Jerry’s – and ASW – notes that this brush set is made from “bamboo-like plastic”. Ringing endorsement, that!

As excited as I am to get started with this project (minus the carving bit), I think my wife is moreso. She even checked Qu Lei Lei’s The Tao of Sketching2 out from the Anaheim Central Library in anticipation of the box arriving. And her excitement gets me excited.

But the part that’s going to be most difficult for me – again, minus the carving bit – is waiting until after the project’s done before using the tools as I see fit.

Want to know more? Click to read about carving and/or defacing the chop and actually making the art.

1. Two of them, actually.

2. Qu, Lei Lei. The Tao of Sketching. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2006. Print.