Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Butterfly Observation Journal

Some people are bird watchers.  I, however, am a butterfly watcher.  And, being the journal-obsessed person that I am, I have begun keeping a journal to record my observations.

I use a small, inexpensive Mead Journal and write in it with a black Sharpie Pen Grip.  (I like to always use the same type of pen in a particular journal - it lends some uniformity to the entries.)


For each entry, I write down the date, time, location, weather conditions, and temperature as well as the species of the butterfly (both common and scientific names) and some sentences on what the butterfly looked like, what it was doing, how I identified it, how sure I am of the identification (often, not very!), etc.  I will also note whether or not I managed to photograph the butterfly (probably not - they fly fast and when they land, like to position themselves under grass blades).

Lorquin's Admiral, Limenitis lorquini
Observation journals like this one are great for anyone who wants to keep a journal but who is not interested in the more personal kind of journals.  You can keep a journal of your observations of insects, birds, the weather, the traffic, the people you see while shopping at the grocery store, or anything else.

If you are interested in becoming a butterfly watcher, I recommend that you read The Audubon Society Handbook for Butterfly Watchers by Robert Michael Pyle.  This book even contains a chapter on "Records and Field Notes."  Pyle writes:
"Even more than binoculars or forceps, the notebook is an essential item for the serious observer who wants to learn as well as enjoy.  Any sort of notebook will do - I've tried dozens of species, from little spiral memos to weatherproof professional models.  The paper should be of good quality so that  it will not deteriorate in a few years from its own acid; and the pages should be bound in firmly, so that a gust of wind will not swipe a whole week's writing in an instant.  You want a book that will be easy to carry and handy to use but not so small that it gets overlooked or easily misplaced."
Sounds like good advice, and I love how he describes the different kinds of notebooks as different "species"!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Do Men and Women Relate to Office Supplies Differently?

Recently, there was a post over at The Art of Manliness blog entitled "The Manly Tradition of the Pocket Notebook."  This post has been linked to in a variety of places, which is how I stumbled across it.  Now, I love pocket notebooks (all notebooks, really) and, despite the fact that I am a woman, I found the post interesting, well-written, and well-researched.  Yet a number of questions began to arise in my mind.

Is a man's notebook different in some way from a woman's notebook?  I can see that, historically, there may have been, since society dictated different roles for men and women, and their different experiences may have required the keeping of different types of notebooks.  But what about today?  Do women and men use and collect notebooks, pens, pencils, and other office supplies differently?

Many companies have produced versions of their products that are targeted specifically at women, which I think is ridiculous.  If something is pink and has floral designs on it, then I will be less likely to buy it, not more.  There do not seem to be similar products targeted specifically towards men.

The practice of keeping an art journal seems to be more popular among women than men, but I could be wrong here.  Perhaps there are many men doing a similar thing but they just do not talk about it as much, or they call it something else.

What are your thoughts on these issues?  Do men and women relate to office supplies differently?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Uni-ball Vision RT Bold 0.8mm Black

I have been unable to become terrible excited about the Uni-ball Vision RT.  Although there is nothing particularly wrong with this pen, it is probably best described as being of average quality.

First of all, although the writing quality is reasonable decent, this pen does not write nearly as smoothly as I had expected, especially as compared to the other Uni-ball Vision I own.  I experienced more than a little skipping, even on the smooth paper of my Rhodia pad.  In fact, the Vision RT seems to be an entirely different pen altogether from its non-retractable cousin.


The Vision RT has one unique and interesting feature: it is designed so that when you lift the clip (for example, to clip the pen onto your shirt pocket), the tip of the pen is automatically retracted into the body of the pen.  This is supposed to help prevent leaks (because nothing is worse than an ink-stained shirt pocket).

The Uni-ball Vision RT also claims to have two other leak-prevention features: an "elevator ink system" and a "spring-loaded tip."  I'm not sure what an elevator ink system actually is (although it no doubt sounds impressive) and I've seen many pens with spring-loaded tips (although I'm not sure how, exactly, a spring in the tip of a pen prevents leaks).  The "auto-retractable clip," however, is something that I have never seen before and that I wouldn't mind seeing becoming a feature in more retractable pens.

Finally, the physical appearance of the Vision RT is fairly striking and the pen is of a shape that is comfortable to use.  But looks aren't everything and, despite the retractable clip, the disappointing writing quality makes the Uni-ball Vision RT an average pen.  There are many things I like about it, but I do not love it.

Related reviews: Gourmet Pens, OfficeSupplyGeek, Cheap Pen Review, Random Babbles, The Pen Addict.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Further Tests in the New Rhodia Webnotebook

Although I reviewed the Rhodia Webnotebook last week, I still wanted to do some further tests in the book with watercolours and other media.  Well, I don't actually own all that many interesting art supplies to test, but I did finally get around to testing the ones that I do own.

In the first test, I used a Uni-ball Fusion rollerball (just because it was the first pen I grabbed out of the drawer) to draw a mandala.  I then used watercolour pencils to colour the mandala, applied water to blend the colours together, and added some final details with a Staedtler Triplus Fineliner.


The pens wrote very well on the paper.  Because of the smoothness of the paper, however, I found it hard to lay down a thick layer of colour with the watercolour pencils.  The colours blended very well when I added water, yet the resulting mandala appeared somewhat pale and washed out (see other watercolour pencil mandalas in my Heinz Jordan Permanent Sketch Book here and here).  The paper did, of course, warp after the water was applied.  It wasn't that bad, but I've seen better.

In the second test, I used paint markers and ordinary pencil crayons to create another mandala.


The paint markers glided on wonderfully (but they write on everything) and the colours were brilliant on the off-white paper.  However, with these pencil crayons as well as with the watercolour pencils, I felt that I had to press down harder than usual on the paper to get a thick, dark layer of colour, and I didn't really enjoy using the pencils on this paper.  Again, this is probably due to the thinness of the paper.

Overall, pencils are probably not ideal for this notebook.  Watercolours can be used if you don't mind the warping and plan to only use one side of the page.  But if you work mainly in pen or marker, then this notebook will be an excellent choice.

(And in case you were wondering, I still haven't decided what I'm going to use my Webbie for.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Scrapbook Journal

A while ago, I bought a huge spiral-bound sketchbook (it's 11 x 14 inches).  There's nothing special about it, although it does have sturdy covers, an elastic closure, and fairly heavy paper.  I never planned to actually sketch in it - I am using it instead as my scrapbook journal.


A scrapbook journal is a place for all those bits and pieces of paper that you accumulate: clippings from magazines, old greeting cards, old calendar pages, small drawings and doodles, and all sorts of odds and ends and paper scraps.  Some of these things I use in collages, but others I like just as they are and I don't want to see them cut up, painted on, or otherwise altered.  So I came up with the idea of a scrapbook journal.  It is something like a commonplace book, but for images rather than for words.


I glue each piece of paper into the book and I write beside it a few sentences about why I have saved it, why I like it, and what it means to me.  I write the date at the end of each entry.  Because the pages are so large, I am leaving lots of white space around the images and words instead of stuffing each page full.  I love the way the pages look - they have a calm, quiet look about them - and I am sure I will enjoy reading these pages and looking at the images in years to come.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Homemade Pencil/Pen Cases

I have never been able to find the ideal pencil case.  Excessive numbers of pockets and pouches are too confusing, while single, large, deep pockets swallow pens into their depths, never to be seen again.  The ones that I liked best were those that rolled up, but the price of the one I wanted (the 122KCal Roll Pencil Case found at JetPens) was higher than I wanted to pay, especially after taking into account taxes and shipping.

And the design of this pencil case looked so simple.  What if I just made my own?


Well, I actually enlisted my mother to help me make this one, as she is much more of a sewer than I am.  We found some sturdy fabric in a colour I liked (I think it cost about 10 cents at our local thrift shop) and some thinner fabric in a complementary colour for the liner.  We based the design of the pencil case on the 122KCal Roll and, although there were a few false starts where fabric was cut to the wrong size, we eventually ended up with this:


It is about 13 inches long and 7 inches high and includes 5 pockets, each of which holds 2-4 pens, depending on the size of the pens.  The case would not hold standard-length wooden pencils, but obviously if you made this yourself you could adjust the dimensions.  With the top flap (which prevents the pens from falling out) lifted, the case looks like this:


I really love this pencil case (actually more of a pen case) and I can't wait to start using it when I return to university in September.  (I'm such a nerd, I'll probably be showing it off to everyone.)  I am very thankful to my mother for making this for me.

My mother actually enjoyed making this case so much that she offered to make me another one, which is very similar to the first version, although with rounded corners:


This was meant to be the "new and improved" version, but I think I actually like the original best.  Still, I love both cases and, as you can see, I already have them stuffed full of pens.  I think that I will use one to hold pens that I carry with me to class and one to hold pens that stay at home.  Of course, that is still not enough to hold all of the pens I own...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rhodia Webnotebook

I was very excited to find my new Rhodia Webnotebook waiting for me in my maibox last Friday.  Many thanks to Stephanie and Karen for getting this notebook to me to review.  Be warned, however - this is a lengthy review!

This is the large, unlined version of the Webbie with an orange cover (my photo really doesn't do justice to the brilliant orange colour).  The cover is made of a smooth, rubbery-feeling material and is slightly flexible.  The Rhodia logo is prominently displayed on the front.  Although this is the large version, it really isn't all that large, having dimensions of only 14 x 21 cm or 5½ x 8¼ inches: still quite portable.


The notebook closes with an elastic band; the elastic feels tight and secure when closed.  The elastic leaves some dents in the soft material of the cover when it is removed.

The endpapers are orange.  When I first opened my Webbie, the front and back endpapers and the first and last pages of the book were stuck together with some stray glue and there was a tiny bit of glue on the cover as well.  That seemed a bit sloppy, but at least the pages peeled apart with no harm done.

The paper is very smooth (seriously, if it was any smoother, you probably wouldn't be able to feel it at all), and a pleasing off-white colour that I always think looks so much more sophisticated than plain white.

There is also an orange ribbon bookmark (creased from being folded into the book) - nothing special there.


The book contains a back expanding pocket - again, this seems fairly standard, and I never use these things anyway.  (Do you use back pockets?  If so, what do you use them for?)


One great thing about this book is that the pages lie flat, although possibly not quite as flat as the Heinz Jordan Permanent Sketch Book that I reviewed a while ago, and the pages required more creasing and pressing on to lie in the flat position in the first place.


The Webbie contains 192 pages or 96 sheets, made of "Clairefontaine brushed vellum 90g paper."  I don't really know what "brushed vellum" means, but, as I mentioned before, the paper is very smooth and is an off-white colour.  I tested several pens on the paper:


The smoothness of the paper made all of these pens a joy to write with.  They all performed very well, although there was some very slight feathering with the Uni-ball Vision and the Pilot V5 Hi-Tecpoint (both of which seem to feather on just about everything anyway) and an even slighter, barely noticeable bit of feathering with the Staedtler Triplus Fineliner.  I wouldn't consider any of it much to worry about.  There was slight showthrough with all of the pens, but no bleedthrough at all.


I can definitely see this notebook becoming one of my favourites, and I would also like to try watercolours and some other media in this notebook some day, but that will have to be the subject of a future post.  Now, my only concern is: what will I use it for?  The unlined pages would be ideal for a sketchbook, but it will be quite a while before my current sketchbook is finished and I don't really need another one.  Perhaps a journal of some sort?

Related reviews: The Well-Appointed Desk, Peaceable Writer, Ink Nouveau, Seize the Dave, Comfortable Shoes Studio, The Dizzy Pen, Spiritual Evolution of the Bean, Faint Heart Art, David Wasting Paper, For Love and Idleness, Rhonda Eudaly, Amateur Economist.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

An Old Favourite: Zebra Sarasa 0.7mm Black

What pens would you recommend to someone who doesn't have the same pen obsession that you do?  One of the ones that I would recommend is the 0.7mm black Zebra Sarasa gel pen: it writes very smoothly, is readily available at local stores, and has some of the blackest black ink that I have seen in a gel pen.  It is a familiar, comfortable, dependable pen.


At 0.7mm, this pen is not probably not going to end up in my list of top pens, but that does make it more accessible to those people who may be more familiar with the basic ballpoint pen.  This is probably the only gel pen that you will find in my mother's pen cup, in among all her ballpoints and cheap mechanical pencils.  The Zebra Sarasa is a basic pen: retractable, with a standard yet fairly comfortable grip, simple design.  It can't go wrong.

What pens would you recommend to someone?

Related reviews: Pens 'n' Paper, The Pretense of Knowledge.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A New Use For a Useless Marker

Have you ever tried to write with a gel pen on paper that you had coloured with pencil crayons?  If so, you probably noticed that gel pens and pencil crayons don't get along.  However, there is a solution:


Back when I wrote about my worst five pens, I mentioned that one of them was the white Sakura Permapaque Opaque Paint Marker, which is completely useless for its intended task.

But this marker is not completely useless.  Use it to colour over paper that has been coloured with pencil crayons, and you will create a surface that is friendly to gel pens.  The marker does not change the colours of the pencil crayons, but it does blend and soften their colours.

Here is my test, using a Staples Gel Mini, which is an acceptable but not great gel pen that barely writes at all on top of pencil crayons:


You can see that the gel pen wrote much better in the second example, where I used the white paint marker over top of the pencil crayons.  You can also see a bit of that softening and blending that I mentioned earlier.

You can also avoid some of the pencil crayon-gel pen problems altogether by using a better quality pen, such as a Sakura Gelly Roll, which writes on almost everything.  But even then the marker still helps the pen to write more smoothly and the colours to show up better.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

From the Art Journal: Grid + Mandala


This is one of my favourite art journal page spreads that I've made in a while.  I love the contrasts: the squares of the grid and the circle of the mandala, the cool grey background and the warm greens and browns of the mandala and grid, the spare black lettering and the intricate designs of the mandala.

These are the last art journal pages in this notebook, so I probably won't be sharing many more pages with you for a while.  I am getting a bit tired of these multilayered, painted and collaged pages.  I want to work more in my sketchbook journal, practicing my sketching and drawing skills.

What about you?  Do you keep an art journal or sketchbook journal?  What art projects are you currently working on?

Friday, August 6, 2010

An Old Favourite: Quo Vadis Habana Notebook

I have two Quo Vadis Habanas, and both are among my most frequently-used notebooks, having a permanent home in the corner of my desk.  Both are the small versions (10x15cm) - the perfect size for slipping into my backpack or desk drawer.  The red one is lined and I use it mainly for planning blog posts, making to-do lists, jotting down the titles of books that I want to read, etc.  The black one is unlined; I use it for my daily journal.


The Habanas are great little notebooks with a sturdy yet flexible cover, elastic closure, and back pocket (which I think could be eliminated - I never use these pockets).  The paper is a pleasing off-white tone, a welcome change from the bright white of many other notebooks.  In the lined version, the lines are about 6mm apart (just right) and are a pale grey colour that makes them very unobtrusive.  The lines do not run to the very edge of the page.


The paper is smooth and thin.  All of my pens write very well on the paper, although, due to the thinness, there is some showthrough with all my pens.  The only ones in the writing sample that bled through were the Pilot V5 Hi-Tecpoint (the worst offender), the Pentel EnerGel (very slight), and the Sharpie Pen (very slight).  No feathering at all - all the lines were crisp and the colours bright.


I love my Habanas, and I was very sad to see that my university bookstore no longer seems to sell them.  Luckily, I know of one stationery store in my area that still does.  I do, though, have a question: are the Habanas sold in Canada different from those sold in the United States?  I know that the packaging is different.  This has always confused me, so if some kind person could enlighten me on this I would be very thankful.

Overall, the Quo Vadis Habana is an excellent notebook that remains one of my favourites.

Related reviews: Gourmet Pens, Unposted, Black Cover, Lady Dandelion, BTI Books, The Pen Hunter, Life Imitates Doodles.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pilot FriXion Ball 0.7mm Green

When I reviewed my first erasable pen (the Color-Pencil-Like version of the FriXion), I was skeptical of the very idea of an erasable pen.  Why not just use a pencil?  But erasable pens are starting to grow on me, so much so that I thought I'd try out the Pilot FriXion Ball, which is readily available at most stores in my area.


The Pilot FriXion Ball writes very similarly to the Color-Pencil-Like, but it is much more comfortable to use.  The Color-Pencil-Like had no grip whatsoever, while the Ball has a very nice tapered grip that is, I think, one of the best that I have used.

It writes very smoothly, and would be great to use even if you didn't care about the erasable part.  The green ink was a surprise - instead of the bright green I was expecting, it is more of a dull greyish green.  It is not necessarily displeasing, just different.

The position of the eraser has been mentioned by many other reviewers - it is on the end of the pen rather than on the cap.  When the cap is posted on the end of the pen the eraser is inaccessible.  Every time you want to erase something, you have to move the cap.  Rather annoying.

The eraser itself works reasonably well, although you do have to work at it more than you would with an ordinary pencil eraser, and after erasing, I could still see a (very faint) greenish tinge to the paper.

Overall, the Pilot FriXion Ball is a fairly nice pen, although if it was 0.5mm or smaller rather than 0.7mm I would like it even more.  I see that JetPens does have the 0.5mm version of the FriXion Ball as well as the 0.4mm FriXion Point, a pen that I would like to try.  Has anyone tried the Pilot FriXion Point and, if so, what did you think of it?

Related reviews: Pocket BlondeOfficeSupplyGeekGood Pens, Imy's World, The Pen Addict (1), The Pen Addict (2), The Pen-Guin.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Drawings from Nature Art Cards

I received this set of 8 art cards from a giveaway on Milly's lovely Drawings from Nature blog.


The cards can be used as postcards or kept and framed as prints.  I would love to frame mine, but unfortunately it is impossible to find frames around here that are the right size (6x8 inches).  The cards feature precise, detailed drawings and paintings of small objects from nature: leaves, feathers, seeds, shells, and a dragonfly.  They come in a sturdy paper pouch that is illustrated with drawings just as nice as those on the cards themselves.  These cards would make an excellent gift for any nature-lover that you know.

As a personal touch, Milly included a handmade gift tag with my cards:


Milly, also known as Eileen Postlethwaite, is based in England's Lake District, where she creates her art and collects the items that she draws from nature.  Check out her blog and website.

On another note, don't forget to check out the latest edition of the Carnival of Pen, Pencil, and Paper over at Daydreamers Welcome.
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