Friday, August 2, 2013

Question & Answer With A Penchant for Paper

Thank you all for taking the time to send me your questions.  It's been fun to receive them, and now here are your answers!

Plant City Bob asks: "What do you think is the dollar threshold where a fountain pen's writing performance does not get any better if you spend more money? For example does a $100 pen write as good as you're likely to get regardless of what you spend?"

If writing performance is the only criterion, I think that for me the dollar threshold is relatively low.  For example, I was happy with the writing performance of the Platinum Preppy, a $3 disposable fountain pen.  My Lamy Safari also writes very well.  I think that with more expensive pens, you're spending more for other features (metal body instead of plastic, gold nibs, fancy finishes, different filling systems, etc.) rather than just the writing quality.  Personally, I doubt I would want to spend more for any pen than I did for the Lamy Safari just for improved writing performance, although I might spend more for other features.  That said, I don't have a lot of experience with fountain pens yet, the Lamy Safari is the most expensive pen I own, and I can't afford to buy lots of expensive pens anyway.  Maybe if I had every pen in the world at my disposal I would think differently, but right now I am happy with how my cheap pens write and I see no need to spend more money for better writing performance.  In the end, I think it mostly comes down to your personal preferences for writing performance.

An anonymous commenter asks: "How much do you spend each year on pens alone?"

Although I don't keep track exactly, I do not spend much, and I have been trying to spend less.  I think about each purchase - even if it's just a $3 pen - very obsessively carefully before spending anything.  I also simply can't afford to spend too much money on pens.  This year, I haven't bought any pens (or other stationery items) since my massive recent acquisitions post in March (and most of that stuff came from the thrift store, so it cost relatively little).  I estimate that I probably spend $30 to $60 on pens and other stationery a year (more if I buy a single big item, such as last year when I bought my Lamy Safari), which is probably more than the average person, but probably not nearly as much as the average pen blogger.  Right now, I'm focusing on using the supplies I own rather than on buying any new ones (I still have a lot of pens and notebooks that are just sitting around waiting to be used).

MiataGrrl (Tina) asks: "(1) What is the most extravagant or frivolous stationery-type purchase you have ever made? :-) (2) If you were to be stranded on a desert island, what is the one writing/drawing instrument and paper you would take -- and why?"

(1) I don't tend to be very extravagant or frivolous when buying anything.  My family thought my $30 limited-edition green Lamy Safari was extravagant - but I know that most fountain pens are way more expensive than that so it didn't seem like an extravagance to me.  Pens such as the Stardust Gelly Roll (glittery lime green ink!) are probably as frivolous as I get.  I don't really have a good use for pens like that; they're just fun :).  But they're a cheap indulgence.

(2) If I was going to be practical, I'd take a wooden pencil (probably my current favourite, the Staedtler Mars Lumograph) and a Rite in the Rain notebook to a desert island.  These would allow me to continue writing and sketching under any weather conditions.  I could also use the pencil shavings to start a fire (assuming I could find a sharp rock or something to sharpen the pencil with) and use the bright yellow cover of the notebook to flag down passing ships.  If I wasn't going to be practical (if, say, the desert island had a five-star motel on it), I'd bring a dot grid A5 Rhodia Webnotebook with an orange cover (my current favourite notebook), and a 0.35mm black Pentel EnerGel Euro gel pen (my favourite all-round pen for everyday writing).

Jack/Ohio asks: "There's a debate between proponents of keyboarding, often schoolteachers, and proponents of handwriting in print and cursive, often pen manufacturers and writing enthusiasts. The keyboarders cite uniform legibility and other virtues. Handwriting proponents cite low cost of pens and paper and other virtues.  Where do you stand? Should handwriting be de-emphasized in school curricula in favor of keyboarding, or should the printing-and-cursive curriculum remain, with keyboarding regarded as an additional skill?"

I believe that both handwriting and keyboarding are important skills and that both have a place in modern society.  (For me, handwriting helps me to learn new subjects, be more creative, and write more freely, while keyboarding/typing is essential for communicating with others online, editing, and producing finished documents.)  I use both skills regularly everyday.  I think that schools should continue to teach both skills, and to educate students about the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Also, youth culture these days tends to be very computer-focused already, so I think that most students will become computer-savvy whether they are taught it in school or not.  I received fairly minimal computer instruction in school (and I'm only in my mid-twenties, so that wasn't that long ago :), and taught myself how to type, but I get along fine today.  Computer technology changes so fast as well, so what students are taught in elementary school may no longer be as relevant by the time they graduate anyway.  I think that schools should focus on timeless skills (such as handwriting) that students may not otherwise be exposed to.

Fleur (The Netherlands) asks: "(1) What is your all time favourite paper / notebook?  (2) How do you make sure you stick to your planners? I'm a teacher and every year I make my own planner and decide to be super organised this year, but somehow I never seem to stick to it. So any tips in that department would be welcome!"

(1) My all-time favourite notebook would be the A5 Rhodia Webnotebook Dot Grid with an orange cover (I currently have the black cover, but I like the orange better!).  It's just perfect - good size (not too small, not too large), amazing paper, and a dot grid format that offers the structure of a grid with the openness of a blank page.  There are other great notebooks out there that I haven't tried yet, but the DotWebbie (and Rhodia paper and pads generally) is my favourite for now.

(2) The main way I remember to use my planner is to keep it near me all the time.  I do most of my work at my desk, so I keep my planner open on the left side of my desk, where I can easily refer to it throughout the day.  As soon as I sit down at my desk in the morning, I open up my planner and plan my schedule for the day.  When I finish at the end of the day, I leave my planner in an obvious place so that it's the first thing I see the next morning.  At university, when I went from class to class, I would take my planner out and have it sitting beside me.  As soon as I received a new assignment, I would write it down.

It's important to set up a habit.  Choose a particular time of the day to enter things into your planner.  It's helpful if you tie this into a habit that you already do, such as eating breakfast, drinking your morning coffee, checking your email, etc.  Right after you do that habit, then take out your planner.  Once you have a planner habit established, it should become easier to stick with it.

I've been using some sort of planner consistently ever since elementary school, so it is difficult for me to answer this question since I have rarely had that problem.  If anyone else has any tips for Fleur, please share them in the comments.

B2-kun asks: "What is your favorite sketching kit for field work: sketchbook brand and size and actual drawing tools?"

My Heinz Jordan Permanent Sketchbook (roughly A5 size with a plain black cover), Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens in Fine and Super-Fine, Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell watercolour pencils (I'd like to try out some other brands of watercolour pencils, but for now these ones are good enough for me), and my Pentel Aquash Waterbrush (medium brush with a compact body).  Or just the super-fine Pitt Pen and the sketchbook if I want to be more minimal.

Jack/Ohio asks: "Is there a market for adult remedial penmanship?"

I think there are a fair number of people who would like to improve their handwriting (I would be one of them!), so possibly.  There seems to be a market for just about anything if you can sell it the right way.

An anonymous commenter asks: "I am a big fan of journaling too, though I never actually made it frequent. When I started keeping a journal in the beginning of July this year, it immediately clicked. However, sometimes I find that the entries need that extra "wow" factor - embellishments maybe? I already glue down ticket stubs and all that but I find myself wanting something extra. Could you maybe help?"

Try different colours and kinds of pens.  Try writing with markers or crayons, or practice with a calligraphy pen.  Doodle around your words; try drawing mandalas or zendalas.  Try sketching; sketch your pen, your desk, your hand, or anything else.  (It doesn't matter if you think you can't draw; try it anyway!)  Make prints of photos you take and glue them in.  Cut out pictures you like from magazines and glue them in.  Use stickers.  Paint the page with a wash of watercolours to add some colour before you write in it.  Experiment with acrylic paints, rubber stamps, stencils, pencil crayons, and anything else.  Just keep trying different things until you find a combination that makes you happy. 

You can also check out my "intro to visual journals" series from last year, especially the first post and "getting started."  I would also recommend Quinn McDonald's book Raw Art Journaling, which is a great introduction to keeping a visual journal and doesn't require you to have any special skills or supplies.  Also check out Daisy Yellow's blog for inspiration, especially her Art Journaling 101 post.

Jack/Ohio asks: "Imagine your writing table in 1913: inkwell, dip and fountain pens, blotting paper or blotting sand, etc. Look at your writing table in 2013. Imagine your writing table in 2113. How will your writing table in 2113 be different?"

This is a hard question!  I'd probably still have some wooden pencils, because they seem to me to be a basic item that will always have a place.  And some fountain pens and inks.  Maybe fountain pens will be more mainstream in 2113, since the growing need to reduce waste will encourage more users to explore long-lasting, refillable options rather than cheap, disposable pens.  As for the computer side of things... I have absolutely no idea, as I'm not really into computers (my current laptop is 7 years old and I don't even own a cell phone, let alone an iPad or anything like that).  I'm not very good at making predictions for the future!

Windi asks: "What is that one song that you'll never get tired of listening to?"

I don't listen to music often, but two songs that come to mind are "Utopia" by Brendan Perry and "The Drunk Priest" by Damanta.  Absolutely love both of those.  (Sorry that was two instead of one, but I can't decide between the two of them!)

Jack/Ohio asks: "(1) Imagine a world in which your words are rationed, maybe 1000 words a year, or pick another figure. What do you write about? (2) Is there anything used by the writing community that's at least worth a brief post, but is often overlooked, ignored, or underrated? (I'll nominate scrap paper. I'll have stacks of it cut into fourths at my local copy shop for next to nothing. I once had a pile of 3" X 8" ads cheaply bound with reinforced tape and cardboard backing. I still use 'em.)"

(1) If my words were rationed, I'd write fiction, specifically my current novel.  That is simply the most important piece of writing to me right now, and the one that is closest to my heart.  (And if you're interesting in reading more about my current novel and my other writing projects, you can check out this post on my other blog.)

(2) This is another hard question!  It seems like if you look hard enough, you can almost always find someone writing about just about anything...  Scrap paper is a good one; I use that everyday myself for rough notes and to-do lists.  Maybe binder clips (and other kinds of clips and fasteners); I use them every day as well to hold together stacks of scrap paper.  Pencil accessories such as erasers, pencil sharpeners, and refill leads don't get mentioned much.  Also, the stationery community generally seems to be moving more towards fountain pens and inks and so I don't think cheaper ballpoints and gel pens are being talked about now quite as much as they were when I started this blog.

Armando asks: "(1) Do you use your pens until completely empty? It is hard to say for felt tip pens but is funny to watch gel pens, last week I finished one in just 3 days.  (2) Which is the best felt tip pen you use?  (3) Some time ago you made a review of the Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen, which I really like to use. Have you tested the Marker version?  (4) How many journals you use to carry, besides for drawing, just for writing?"

(1) I nearly always use my pens until the ink is completely empty.  The only exceptions would be pens that are so awful I can't bring myself to use them (such as these, which I ended up giving to the thrift store) and any that break or become unusable in some way (such as some of these disappointing pens).  It can take me quite a while to use up any one pen, since I have so many of them on the go at a time.  Three days is fast!

(2) The Staedtler Triplus Fineliners would probably be my favourite felt tip pens.  I've used those pens for years.  They come in lots of different colours, are a neat triangular shape, and the ink is supposedly "dry safe" (though I've never tested that particular property).  The Stabilo Point 88 pens are also nice; they come in a lot of colours and are very inexpensive.  And I love the Uni Mitsubishi Pure Color-F Double Sided Sign Pens, but I haven't been using these as long, and they're probably a lot harder than the other two to find outside of online stores.

(3) I haven't tried the Marker/Sign Pen version of the Platinum Preppy yet.  I have tried the Preppy Highlighter, though, which I think would probably be fairly similar to the Marker, except with a differently shaped tip.  Have any other readers tried the Platinum Preppy Marker Pen?  If so, what did you think of it?

(4) I have only one main journal for writing, which is currently in an unlined orange covered Rhodia Webnotebook.  I used to write in it daily, but now I'm more irregular.  I also have a black-covered dot grid Webbie, that I write in less often for specific projects.  When the unlined notebook is filled I want to switch my journal into the dot grid notebook, because I prefer writing in it.  I also have a poetry journal, a commonplace book, and a few others, but none of these get used very often.  (You can also check out last year's notebook round-up, but some of the notebooks in that post have since been filled up.)  So the answer to your question is usually just one, sometimes two, and occasionally more!


That's all for now, and thanks so much for the questions, everyone!  (And a special thanks to Jack for all of his questions.  They were great!)  If you have any follow-up questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.  (Though please note that I'm going to be away this weekend, so I may not be able to respond to your comments/questions until next week.)  I may do another one of these posts one day, but remember that you can always send me an email at any time if you have a question.

Thank you all so much again, and see you next week!


  1. Thanks for tackling these questions, Heather, and, likewise, for the props.:)

    Plant City Bob: I have a gold-nibbed Parker 75 that I bought way back. It writes great. So do the inexpensive 1990s Parker Vector (maybe around $5) and Duke 962 (maybe $20) I often use. There's a helpful essay on the Web, "In Praise of Steel Nibs", by the owner of Edison Pens. I've read bits and pieces that modern steel alloys and better manufacturing techniques have pretty much voided the distinction between steel-nibbed and gold-nibbed pens. I'm no expert though.

    Heather, I had to think a bit about my word rationing question. Writer always have word budgets. But, if government somehow restricted what could be written or published, I'd probably write maxims, epigrams, etc. Jack/Ohio

    1. While I hope that I never have to live in a world of government word-rationing, I like your idea of writing brief epigrams. Keep things short and sweet. Maybe word-rationing would have the indirect effect of discouraging wordiness and sloppy writing and encouraging people to be more clear and concise with their words.

  2. Thanks so much for your answers, I am glad to learn from the other answers too. So much to explore

    1. Thank you as well, Armando, for sending me your questions! And I'm glad you've found things to learn from my answers :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...