Going smokeless

The alternative title “Feeling Letdown By Lakeland Limited” didn’t feel as catchy…

In September we had a run out and visited Lakeland Limited in Windermere, as we were on leave and felt like a trip through the Lakes. During our visit I noticed a food smoker on offer, it was something I’d been looking to buy for some time and this particular model was on sale so we bought one. Now if you’re not familiar with these food smokers they’re quite simple, put some wood-chips in the little bowl, set fire to them and switch on the smoker which pumps air through the little bowl and pushes smoke through a pipe which you direct towards whatever you want to smoke. We used the food smoker a couple of times and really enjoyed the results.

Then we went smokeless…

Less than three weeks after purchase I went to smoke some ingredients for our evening meal, the smoker didn’t switch on. I wondered if the batteries had been from a dodgy batch so I changed them (okay, this involved a 14 mile round trip to the shop to buy some but that was my fault for not having replacements available). Batteries changed and I flipped the switch, nothing, not a wisp of smoke or more precisely not a whirr from the motor in the smoker. Now in the past we’ve had to contact Lakeland Limited customer services a couple of times and had excellent service so we didn’t imagine this would be any different, so I looked for the receipt to return the smoker but it was no where to be seen. I decided to contact Lakeland Limited anyway, I gave them all the details of the smoker being faulty, and told them I’d lost the receipt but provided details of the purchase (total amount, date etc.). The following day I received an email to say they were going to get their finance department to verify the purchase and would be in touch, a couple of days pass and I’d heard nothing else and wanting to get the smoker replaced so I could use it again I got in touch. Lakeland Limited replied that their finance department could take a few days to find and verify the transaction but should reply within a week.

Well, it’s well over a week and nothing, yes, I could chase them again but why should I have to? What happened to companies actually doing what they promise or actually caring about customer satisfaction. As I said in the past we have contacted their customer services a couple of times in the past and they have been faultless in the way they handled things so it’s sad to see such a drop in service from them. The smoker is now in Flusco recycling and I get to buy a replacement if I want to smoke food again.

UPDATE – I posted a link to this review to Lakeland Limited via Twitter and we resolved the issue to a certain extent.

Falling Apart

I’ve been using the Winsor & Newton sketchbooks for some time now. Yesterday I was enjoying myself sketching away in my Winsor & Newton A3 Heavy Weight Casebook Sketchbook, it was quite a nice sunny day which made a change 😉 and I noticed the sketchbook was starting to get a bit warm – but then it has a black cover and as I say it was sunny so there was little I could do. After a while the page I was sketching on fell out, I was a little surprised as you’d imagine and I wondered if I’d been a little rough with the page and tore the perforation. No, it wasn’t just one page that had detached itself from the binding but four. My attempts to push the page back into position were fruitless and any thoughts of carrying on sketching were soon dispelled as more and more pages detached themselves from the book. So now I have a nice black binder with pages falling out everywhere :-/



The problem I have now is, do I replace it with another W&N sketchbook, I like the paper as it’s good quality and I’m used to the grain, but I don’t want another book to suffer the same fate as this one.

Faber-Castell 2mm 3B Clutch Pencil & Sharpener

The Pencil

After much searching for a mechanical pencil with 3B lead I decided to try out the Faber-Castell 2mm clutch pencil with 3B lead. The reason I was on the look out for a mechanical pencil was that I could also have a pencil to hand with a reasonable point when I’m out and about. The usual mechanical pencils with .35mm .50mm and .70mm leads were not suitable as the leads were too thin and did not lend themselves to how I like to scribble 😉 So I ordered the Faber-Castell 2mm along with a sharpening device so I didn’t need to carry a knife with me everywhere.


In the hand the pencil feels a little too plastic – I know it’s plastic but the edges felt a touch sharp and scratchy. It could have done with a clip as well to stop it falling from my shirt pocket, but that’s a minor complaint.

Using the pencil is actually quite nice despite the plastic feel, the balance works well and it’s not too heavy. I tried out a couple of graduations with the pencil before going onto a ‘hat’ sketch (I have a few sketches of Gandalf’s hat now ;-))



I then went on to try a standing stone sketch…


The lead isn’t perfect for me, but it takes to the paper quite nicely, not requiring much pressure at all. I’m going to see if I can get a Derwent Graphic 3B lead to fit, I just need to prize it from inside the pencil first 🙂

Product link Faber – Castell TK9400 2mm 3B Clutch Pencil

The Sharpener

This is quite a tiny little sharpener, but then it doesn’t need to be the diameter of a pencil as it’s just designed to sharpen and shape the 2mm lead of the pencil above.


It works okay, and that is probably the best I can say about it. If you are very careful with the sharpener it will give you a reasonable point, but most of the time it judders and shudders and leaves you with a somewhat fragmented point on the pencil. I’ll probably have to go back to my usual knife to sharpen as it’s quicker and more reliable. One thing the sharpener is good for is creating a nice pile of graphite to smudge and darken sketches quickly.


Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 G19 Asst Soft Grades Tin

I always like to try out different art materials/supplies and as I needed a to restock my pencil pots I bought some of these along with the bulk buy of Derwent 3B’s 😉



The tin is hinged down the side rather than the top or bottom which means it fit on my desk easier (when I use a set of pencils I like the set out above whatever I’m working on so if the hinge is on the top or bottom of the tin it can take up too much space). On opening the tin the first thing I noticed was the 4 softest grades in the set were sharpened to a different point that the other pencils, something that niggled me just a little – perhaps it’s a sign of OCD, but they were calling out to be sharpened all to the same length.

My first sketch with any new pencil has to be of course Gandalf’s hat, here using a 4H…


I then went on to sketch a portrait using a few more pencils from the set – well, nearly all of them…


They do sharpen very well using a craft knife, the wood cuts cleanly and smoothly so you don’t end up jerking and hacking at the lead. The only negative I have with them is the leads appear to be a bit on the hard side compared to what I’m used to and they take a little more work to get any strength to darker shades.


Griping about Gripes

Eighteen months or so ago we bought a new gripe (okay, garden fork, I think the word gripe hasn’t spread far from West Cumbria ;-)). Anyway, I’ve always liked traditional garden tools and so opted for a Joseph Bentley gripe…



It was, I have to say a pleasure to use (or at least as pleasurable as any implement can be when you’re digging the garden). It was always looked after (it cost a bit more than the cheaper own brand DIY store products so we thought it worth cleaning after use and storing carefully on its own hook). So it was a little disappointing when I was digging in the garden and this happened….


From what I could see the stainless steel section that broke was just a thin piece of metal and set in the middle was a thicker piece of metal, but not the solid construction I’d imagined. I wouldn’t mind so much if it had been abused and left to rot in the garden between uses. We’re now down to a small border fork for digging the rest of the veg plot until we find a suitable replacement :-/

UPDATE:- a couple of hours after emailing Joseph Bentley about the fault they’d been in touch to resolve my gripe, can’t fault their customer service at all.

Sterling Publishing – Sketchbook Black: Archival-Quality Drawing Paper A4


  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Sterling Publishing (NY) (28 Aug 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1402740824
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402740824
  • Product Dimensions: 28.2 x 22.7 x 2.1 cm

I ordered this as it was on offer at the time and I needed a sketchbook to throw in my work bag (having ran out of A4 sketchbooks  :?). When it arrived I checked the quality of the paper and it looked quite a bright white smooth finish which made me a bit unsure about whether I’d like it or not (being used to sketchbooks which are slightly off white with more of a textured surface). When I started using it however I quickly began to appreciate how well it took pencil (3b) with minimal pressure required to make any mark. I’ve yet to try ink on the paper but it looks like it would take it well. Here’s a couple of quick sketches from the first page –




Graphic Design Rules: 365 Essential Design Dos and Don’ts


  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Frances Lincoln; Flexibound edition (2 Aug 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0711233462
  • ISBN-13: 978-0711233461
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 10 x 6.3 cm
  • Stefan G. Bucher (Foreword), Peter Dawson (Author), John Foster (Author), Tony Seddon (Author), Sean Adams (Author)

Ask any graphic designer the world over about their preferred approach to setting type, choosing a colour, or beginning a new layout, and you will rarely get exactly the same answer twice. Every creative has their own individual approach, or more importantly their own combinations of the thousands of techniques one can apply when planning a new design project. But there are some dos and don’ts that always figure strongly in any heated debate about what one should or should not accept as the right way to create the best graphic design.
Packed with practical advice but presented in a light-hearted fashion, Graphic Design Rules is the perfect book for the ever-growing group of non-designers who want some graphic design guidance. And for more experienced designers, individual entries will either bring forth knowing nods of agreement or hoots of derision, depending on whether or not the reader loves or hates hyphenation, has a pathological fear of beige, or thinks that baseline grids are boring.
In the style of a classical almanac, 365 entries combine a specific rule with a commentary from a variety of experienced designers from all fields of the graphic design industry. Grouped into six colour-coded chapters – typography, colour, layout, imagery, production, and creative thinking – the reader can either dip in at random or use the book as the source of a daily lesson in how to produce great graphic design.

I bought this book as much out of curiosity as anything else, to see if the rules were the same as I remembered them to be 🙂 It’s proven to be not only a good source of amusement (the writers have taken a witty approach to the subject at times) but also a handy reference and reminder as to the numerous pitfalls in graphic design. The description says the reader can either dip in at random or use the book as a source of a daily lesson – there are 365 Essential Design Dos and Don’ts after all 😉 But I would find it difficult to stop reading after just one ‘lesson’. It’s the type of book which draws you in to the extent you can spend quite a while flitting from one page to the next. Though if anyone takes one rule from the book it should be rule 001Thou shall not use Comic Sans.

Although I said the book was wittily written (try saying that fast after a few drinks) that does not detract from the fact that the book is full of accurate and informative rules, and I’d say there are many folk out there today that would benefit from owning a copy.


3-Minute JRR Tolkien: A Visual Biography of The World’s Most Revered Fantasy Writer


  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Ivy Press (21 Jan 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908005831
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908005830
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 18.8 x 2.2 cm

  We need myths. We would do well to listen attentively when they are told so well.
– John Howe

This books gives a clear and quick insight into J. R. R. Tolkien, his life, and more importantly for those interested in the myths, his work. When I ordered the book I was expecting a short quick guide to Tolkien, one of those books you buy quickly read through, then add to the collection. What I received however was a well structured book which from a design viewpoint has been very cleverly done. The book is broken up into 60 portions, each of which gives a brief yet informative snippet of information on Tolkien. These 60 portions are supposed to take 3 minutes to read which is probably a good average. The book is crammed with a large number of illustrations and photographs which are quite honestly worth buying the book for anyway, however they are presented alongside the text in such a way to make the book one of those which you’ll pick up and browse and random.

For those that have read books on Tolkien before you may not learn much new, however it’s still worth buying as it is so well produced. If you’ve read nothing about Tolkien before you should buy and read this book now 😉

So that’s how it should look

Many moons ago (okay, three decades maybe) I remember sitting at my desk trying to recreate Thror’s* Map, several hours later I’d created a crumpled piece of paper covered in ink which looked, if you squinted quite a bit something like a map. It was quickly filed in the relevant section of the waste paper basket.

A few years later and I was at a different desk but my task was the same, to recreate the map so that it looked just as I imagined it to be when reading The Hobbit, this time I baked the paper in the oven, creased it, cut it, rumpled it…. and it still looked, I have to be honest pretty feeble. So, when I first saw The Lord of the Rings on the big screen there was a glimpse of the map, but it was a brief glimpse at that, I still had a glimpse how the map should really look and it put my attempts to shame 😉

Fast forward a few years and The Hobbit is only a few weeks from hitting the screen and an email arrives from Weta announcing some new Hobbit related merchandise, I click the link and there’s Thror’s map 🙂 They’ve made it available in two versions, as a prop replica, and as a parchment art print.

Image from www.wetanz.com

I opted for the print and placed the order. One week later it arrives (not bad going NZ to UK in a week ;-)) and I remove it from it’s tube and packaging. The map is 12.6″ x 16.3″ and is printed on Italian Marina Conchiglia parchment paper and feels nice to the touch. The creases, cuts and stains are very well done and Daniel Reeve has created an excellent version of Thror’s map, now I feel the urge to visit some of the places shown on the map, time to dig out the book and have a read before the first movie hits the screens.

The only question is now, do I buy the other maps in the range…


*Yes, I know many refer to the map as Thorin’s Map, but it’s stuck in my head as being Thror’s Map from when I first read the Hobbit and that’s what it’ll be for me 😉

First posted here 11/10/12