Review: Sketchbox June 2022

Sketchbox is has reliably been one of my favorite art subscription boxes, will this one continue the trend?
Full disclaimer: I was not provided any free boxes by any art subscription companies; everything was paid for by me, out of my own pocket. My opinions are my own.

To start off, lets check the products and if Sketchbox’s appraisals are correct. I use a combination of Blick and Amazon to check the price – if one does not have the product, usually the other does. These are not affiliate links.

Derwent Chromaflow, set of 12 (Custom picked): $19.30
Holbein Colored Pencils, 2: $3.26 each
Holbein Meltz Color Pencil Blender: $8.85
Princeton SNAP Round Brush, Size 2: $1.87
SketchBox Coldpress Pad, 4×6; Unknown as Sketchbox specific, but probably around $9.00

A little different than Sketchbox’s estimates, this box comes to a total of $45.54. I pay $40.00 for the box, including shipping. The box itself (premium) is $35 dollars/month, so is still worth the overall price, in my opinion, if you like to experiment with different art supplies considering these are – ideally – curated to all work together.
Sketchbox has included these colored pencils in the past, being a joint effort on Derwent and Sketchbox’s part, but I believe the colors are different from the past boxes. I am unsure at this time what the ‘Basic’ version of this month’s box contains, as of this writing it isn’t for sale on their Past Boxes page, but be sure to check it in case they do add it.

If I had to guess, I’d say the Holbein pencils are probably not included in the basic box – Holbein is, to my understanding, one of the most expensive colored pencil brands. A Faber-Castell Polychromos cost $2.65 each, while a Prismacolor Premier cost $2.69 each, this is nearly a dollar more than my go-to colored pencil brands. If you look at sets of 12, the Holbein set is going to be nearly forty dollars, whereas Faber and Prisma are both under $20. These are definitely higher-end pencils, and I’m excited to try them.

The colors for my Holbeins were Juan Brilliant and Pink – enough to work with a very fair skintone. I’ve needed skintone appropiate pencils, and while this is VERY limiting, it is better than nothing, I suppose, and I’m not going to turn down a luxury product. The sketchbox-derwent pencils were a variety of bright colors: Black, Pink, Orange-Red, Yellow-Orange, Yellow, Yellow-Green, Bright Green, Turquoise, Light Blue, Dark Blue, Light Gray, and Purple (not the exact color names). This selection was actually quite challenging, as there isn’t a proper red-red nor a brown, meaning I had to cheat just a tiny bit in my piece as I needed a much more red-red than provided. Furthermore, no inking product, eraser, or pencil were provided – I used these to sketch out my test piece, and don’t mind that Sketchbox didn’t provide them. However, if you are i need of these supplies, another box might be better suited to you.

Due to my over-abundance of sketchbooks, I did not use the one provided, but instead my trusty Canson Mixed Media, which does well with most things I throw at it. I’ve used Colored Pencil liquid blender before, but I can never get enough of techniques for blending, so how did it all go?

Raiden from Metal Gear Risisng, and a hint at things to come…

Holbein was always sold to me as the best of both world for colored pencils. They are oil-based but blend like Prisma’s wax-based pencils – and to be sure, these blended very well. It was very smooth and gave a quick lay down, even when blunt. The Holbein’s were the highlight of this box – the rest was average. I have plenty of colored pencils, and while I appreciate adding these strange colors to my list, as my color choices do tend to stray from bright colors, nothing is really special about the other products. A brush is a brush for this medium, and the blender, while works, is no different from my Zest-It blender, though it lacks the citrus smell. Due to the very quick laydown of these pencils, I fear I overestimated my sketchbook’s tooth, and in doing so, may have muddied colors a little more than I intended. They also wore down the tooth of the paper quickly, despite the white patches, I found it difficult to lay any more color on top once blended. However, overall, the colors all worked well together, all worked with the solvent, and the Holbein’s did live up to expectations. I’m considering purchasing more skin tones from them to get achieve creamy consistency.

Review: Kuretake Ai

 Of all the art trends I see on Youtube, the art subscription boxes remain my favorite, purely because I love experimenting and trying new mediums that I haven’t before. These subscription boxes also have the added benefit, ideally, in that the contents contained within have been curated and tested to work together. This isn’t full-proof, however.
Full disclaimer: I was not provided any free boxes by any art subscription companies; everything was paid for by me, out of my own pocket. My opinions are my own.

Someday I hope to go over the big subscription boxes in detail, but for now I wanted to review and recount what product made me fed up with Art Snacks, in particular. Art Snacks, already, is my least favorite of all the subscription boxes, in no small part due to the fact their included contents often don’t go together, and even worse, they love to provide oversized paint markers that barely work in a sketchbook setting.
That being said, the Kuretake Ai seemed promising – when I received it in the box, I was fairly familiar with other Kuretake/Zig products, and according to Art Snacks, this was a new release at the time. It being straight from Japan, the pen has almost no English on it, so I am at the mercy of Art Snack’s description. According to them, this pen was made to mimic eyeliner and other makeup brushes, thus its claim to fame was its extremely fine brush and compact size, much smaller than any other standard liner or brush pen. I can only suspect the ‘Ai’ comes from the word ‘Eye’ due to its makeup origins, but this is pure speculation on my part.

This pen was a huge disappointment for me.

A photo of some of the swatches I've taken testing various pens, brushes, and fineliners.
A sampling of my pens and swatches. The name of the pen is followed by a colored circle and a colored square. The circle is tested with watercolor, the square with alcohol marker.

I‘m no expert with brush pens, my control over them is clunky at best, but in going over all my collection to double check this review, I swatched 30+ pens across companies, brush and fineliner alike, and this pen is by far the worst of them. Its fine line might be its selling point, but for as fine a line as it produces, its ink takes much, much longer to dry. Even a single stroke seemed to take over a minute to dry, and it by far was the slowest drying pen of mine. This is a huge setback, as being left-handed, a quick drying pen, especially a liner, is indispensable. Already weakened by this, I gave it all the time in the world to dry so I could move on to my tests with Alcohol markers and Watercolor.

Normally when I test pens, I use very light colors. I find if any alcohol marker is going to make a pen bleed, it’s going to be yellow (about the only thing that color is good for), but in this test I used one of my innumerable browns. Only a handful of my other liners failed the alcohol marker test, wherein I repeatedly colored over a small square of ink that had been left to dry. The Kuretake Ai failed, however, giving it a second strike.

It also failed with watercolor, which is far more common amongst the pens I have, as many are actually used for calligraphy where ink is not water resistant. If it were not for the alcohol marker failing and the slow drying ink, I could accept this pen amongst my other none-watercolor safe pens. And besides, there was a failsafe medium that I could

Kuretake Ai Swatch Vs. Other Pen Swatches showing it is not water and alcohol proof
Kuretake Ai Swatch compared to the not waterproof Kuretake ZIG Cocoiro swatch.

always turn to when a pen didn’t play well with alcohol or water: Colored Pencil.

That’s right, this is my first and only pen that seems to hate water, alcohol, and colored pencil, even after it has been allowed to dry – which already, it takes a long time to do. And because of that, there’s simply no use for this pen for me, no redeeming qualities at all, and seeing Kuretake say it’s water and alcohol proof on their site feels like an insult.


Final Kuretake AI Swatch
Final Kuretake AI Swatch, showing smudging with all three mediums.

If you like my review or want to read another artist’s take on this pen, check out Kiriska’s review.