Friday, February 28, 2014

February Miscellany: Mandalas, Inks, Ideas

February is a short month.  It's also my birthday month.  I'm not sure if it's because of either of those things, but I never seem to get much done in February.  So I'm rather glad to see the end of this month.  Luckily, as unproductive as I was, I still have links:

  • Shangching shares her stationery travel kit.  I often share links to travel kits like these because I always love seeing them.  I think they're a good reflection of the basic supplies that someone uses regularly (and they also make me want to travel more!).  I like everything in Shangching's kit.
  • No Pen Intended reviews the Daycraft bRead Notebook in white, wheat, and whole wheat.  These notebooks are awesome (they remind me of Daycraft's Juicy notebook, which I reviewed here a while back, and also their Cookie Bookie notebook, which I haven't tried).  And the photos are hilarious!
  • If you like drawing mandalas, you should check out this video of a truly epic mandala being created.  The video makes it look effortless, but the artist actually worked on it for over 30 hours.  I also find it interesting how he uses templates, compasses, and rulers to create perfect circles and straight lines, since I usually draw my mandalas freehand (though mine are not quite in this class!).
  • Here's a couple of fountain pen inks I might have to try: Franklin-Christoph Olde Emerald (reviewed by Azizah) and Diamine Ancient Copper (reviewed by Ed Jelley).  Olde Emerald reminds me of Rohrer & Klingner Alt-GoldgrĂ¼n, while Ancient Copper is a gorgeous colour that doesn't look like any other ink I've seen.
  • I love this idea of a seed book to collect ideas.  I'm not too good at recording my ideas, and as a result I end up forgetting many of them before they ever become anything.  I need to start one of these, and I think I even own a partially-filled small Quo Vadis Habana notebook that would be perfect as a seed book...
  • Bob shares his list of budget fountain pens.  I have no interest in expensive pens (partly because I can't afford them and likely won't be able to any time soon, and partly because there are so many less expensive pens that probably write just as nicely, even if they don't look as fancy), so I think this list is great.  And now I've got my eye on the Pilot Plumix - looks like an affordable way to find out what writing with an italic nib is like.
  • Finally, Jono shares his tips for preventing hand fatigue during long writing sessions.  I could have used these back in university, when I spend hours a day copying notes.  I would also add regular practice to his list.  If you write for an hour or so everyday, you'll be better prepared for a long written exam than if you didn't do any handwriting before the exam.  And it also helps to take short breaks during the exam (or other long writing session) to stretch your arm, hand, and fingers.

That's all for February.  I'll have new posts and reviews in March, including reviews of a kind of pencil I've never used before and a multi-pen - I haven't reviewed one of those in ages!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ink Review: De Atramentis Dianthus

When I was choosing my first fountain pen inks, for some reason I kept coming back to De Atramentis Dianthus.  A deep pinkish purple, it's not the kind of colour I usually go for.  And it's scented - another feature that doesn't particularly appeal to me.  But this ink caught my eye nonetheless and wouldn't let go, so I thought I'd give it a try.

De Atramentis Dianthus in Rhodia dotPad.

And after trying it out, the colour is still the main thing I like about De Atramentis Dianthus.  Although it's very different from the colours I usually like, I think it's gorgeous.  It's a bright, intense, saturated shade that hovers somewhere between purple and pink.  It doesn't have a lot of shading, but you can see it you look closely, and it would probably show up better with a broader nib.  The colour alone is so eye-catching, I don't notice or mind the lack of shading.  We have some Dianthus flowers that bloom in our garden in spring, and the colour of this ink really is close to what I remember of the colour of the petals.

De Atramentis Dianthus in Paperblanks journal with lines from the poem "Burning the Old Year" by Naomi Shihab Nye.  If my writing looks a bit fuzzier than usual it's because the ink was feathering a lot in this notebook.

The flow is nice - so much so that I wanted to start doodling immediately after I inked up my pen and started writing.  It seems to me to be slightly on the wet side.  Dry time is moderate (not fast, but not terribly long either).  The problem is that De Atramentis Dianthus is a bit finicky about the papers that it likes to write on.  On Rhodia, it performs beautifully, but in the Paperblanks notebook I used in my second writing sample (and which usually works well with fountain pen inks), it feathered badly.  It was fine in the cheap dollar-store notebook I wrote the draft of this review in, but it bled through like crazy on a different cheap paper I tried it on.  This is an ink that you'll need to test out for yourself on different papers before you start writing any lengthy missives with it.

However, my least favourite thing about this ink is the scent.  It seems to be a bit strong - not overpowering, but it's definitely noticeable as I write with it (and, given that I tend to have a poor sense of smell, it could be worse than I'm noticing).  Although I'm not usually too fussy about scents, to me this doesn't smell even remotely floral and is not pleasant at all.  The Dong-A Miffy scented gel pens that I reviewed last year smell way better than this ink.


Overall, I have mixed feelings about De Atramentis Dianthus.  The colour is beautiful and the flow is great, but the ink has some problems with feathering and bleedthrough and the scent annoys me.  I won't be buying a bottle of this ink, but I'd still be willing to try out other De Atramentis inks in the future - although probably not any of their other scented inks.  And if you love bright saturated colours and don't have any sensitivity to scents, then De Atramentis Dianthus could be the ink for you!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

From the Archives: Notebooks

I don't write as much about notebooks as I do about pens, partly because I simply don't use as many of them.  It's normal for me to have 20 or 30 or so pens in rotation at a time, but 20 or 30 notebooks?  That would be ridiculous!  Also, notebooks tend to be a bit more expensive than pens, good notebooks are harder to find in local stores, and notebook reviews seem to take longer to write than pen reviews (although I'm not sure why...).


Here are some of my best notebook posts:
  1. Rite in the Rain Notebook (March 2010): One of the first notebooks I reviewed, and one that went with me on all of my field trips in university.
  2. What to do with a new notebook? (December 2009): This is always an important question whenever I buy a new notebook.  Sometimes I will let a notebook wait for years until I find the right use for it.
  3. Banditapple Carnet Notebook (August 2011): This is probably the best pocket-sized notebook that I've used.
  4. Plain, Lined, or Graph? (January 2011): Definitely graph for me - and preferably dot grid, an option that I hadn't even tried yet when I wrote this post.
  5. Which Size of Notebook Do You Prefer? (March 2011): I used to use small notebooks (A6 size), but now I'm more comfortable with A5 (5 1/2 by 8 1/4 inches) for my daily journal/planner.
  6. Rhodia No.11 Pad (July 2011): These are classics, and they come in lots of different sizes, though I've only used the small ones.
  7. The Battle of the Pocket Notebooks: Moleskine Volant vs. Rhodia (November 2010): Unsurprisingly, Rhodia was the winner here, but the Volants were actually the notebooks that I ended up using more.  Odd how that worked out...
  8. Notebook Pockets - Do You Use Them? (August 2011): Now that I've switched to a bound journal for my DIY planner, I actually have started to use the pocket in my notebook a bit!
  9. My Notebook System (March 2012): This was kind of crazy...  Luckily I've been able to pare down the number of notebooks I use since I wrote this post.
  10. Rhodia Webnotebook Dot Grid (July 2011): My favourite notebook.
~~~

In July of this year, A Penchant for Paper will be five years old.  As part of the celebration, I'll be delving into this blog's archives and sharing with you some of the best posts from the past five years (with a focus on older posts that newer readers might not have seen).

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sharpie Ultra Fine Point Permanent Marker

I'm sure most of you are familiar with Sharpie markers, but have you tried Sharpie's Ultra Fine Point marker?  I tried a pair of these recently, and I love them.  Using these is a totally different experience than using the standard (fine point) Sharpie marker - more like using a pen than using a marker.


Compared to a fine point Sharpie, the Ultra Fine Point tip is very fine, but as a pen, it's relatively bold.  The Ultra Fine Point writes with a crisp line, and the ink colour is bright and saturated.  I tried both the black and the turquoise, and while the black is not particularly remarkable, the turquoise is a beautiful and brilliant colour (these markers also come in many more colours).  But of course, because these are Sharpie markers, the ink is going to bleed through like crazy on most papers and you're going to get that strong odour that Sharpies are known for (I'm sure there are some people out there who like the way Sharpie markers smell, but I'm not one of them).  Don't confuse this pen-like Ultra Fine Point marker with the Sharpie Pen - these are two different creatures.  (For example, the Sharpie Pen comes in grip versions, and it doesn't bleed through or have a strong odour - but the marker has, I think, bolder and brighter colours.)

Left: some doodling and writing with the Sharpie Ultra Fine Point markers on cheap notebook paper.  Right: the crazy bleedthrough on the back of the page.

Because of the bleedthrough (and the odour), I doubt that these markers/pens will ever become one of my everyday writing tools, but I still love using them occasionally.  The colours are great and there is just something about the way they lay down ink - whenever I have one of these in my hands, I just want to start doodling.  They're kind of irresistible and addictive that way.  I could see these being a good choice if you like a bold line and don't care about using the back of the page (I think they'd be ideal for writing on post-it notes, for example).  They're also excellent if you're a doodling addict.  I warned you.

Sharpie Ultra Fine Point marker on Rhodia.  I didn't photograph the bleedthrough here, but it was still bad - not as bad as the above example, but bad enough to render the back of the page unusable.

I'm not sure that I'd ever recommend these as pens, but they're fun to use.  If you're familiar with the regular Sharpie markers and have never thought of using a marker as a pen, then it might be worth giving the Ultra Fine Point a try.  Just for fun.  But don't blame me if they make you want to do nothing but doodle.

Related review: The Pen Addict.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Update: My 2014 DIY Planner / Bullet Journal

Back in November, I wrote about how I was contemplating making drastic changes to my DIY planner for 2014.  This was inspired partly by my discovery of the simple and flexible Bullet Journal system, and my recognition that I was no longer using many of the elements in my planner.  My needs had changed, and my old system no longer fit me as well as it once had.

I promised you an update on my planner situation, and - since I've been using my new DIY planner/journal system for over a month - the time for that update is now.

The Notebook
I'm using an A5 unlined Rhodia Webnotebook as my planner/journal.  I'm comfortable with the A5 page size (it's not too large, not too small) and it's roughly the same size as the binder of my old DIY planner.  Unlined is not ideal (for this, I would prefer dot grid or graph), but I chose this notebook partly because I've been using it as a journal since 2010 (an embarrassingly long time), and I want to fill it up.  I'll live with the unlined pages for now, and I have a dot grid Rhodia Webnotebook (also already partially filled) that I'll use when this one is full.  The great thing about this system is that you don't need to go out and buy a brand new notebook for it; you can just use any old notebook that you have around.

Monthly Planning

Each month starts with my monthly task list (just a summary, for future reference; my detailed monthly to-do list lives on my computer).

Ryder Carroll (creator of the Bullet Journal) starts his month with a calendar page and a task page.  I start with just a task page (see above).  I need to see all of the months together rather than just one at a time.  Because I had already filled out the first 6 months of 2014 in my old DIY planner, for now I'm just keeping those loose pages in the back of my Webnotebook.  It's a bit awkward, but I didn't want to bother copying out all those months again.  In the future, I think I'll dedicate the first several pages of my notebook to an entire yearly calendar.  (And I'll draw proper calendars with boxes rather than just listing the days; the dot grid format will help with this.)

Weekly Planning

A typical page spread in my planner/journal, showing 2 weeks of planning and 3 journal entries.  I've marked out the different areas to make things clearer for you.  If the pages look wrinkled, it's because I accidentally knocked the book off my desk one day.  Oops.

In 2014, I've also switched to planning by the week rather than by the day.  I've pared down my planning system enough so that all I need on a daily basis is my weekly to-do list.  Instead of starting my page with a daily entry, I start with an entry for the entire week.  I also use this space to track habits (such as exercise, meditation, and clearing off my desk at the end of every day) and note significant events (with a sentence or two and the date).  If you're following along with the Bullet Journal system, I use Task and Event bullets.  I also use stars to mark especially important tasks (usually ones from the previous week that I didn't do) and arrows to indicate when a task has been migrated over to the next week (or month, in the case of my monthly task list).  So far, I have been able to fit two weeks on a page.

Journaling
I also use this notebook as a journal.  I begin each entry with the day's date and a title, and fit the entries in around my planning pages.  Journal entries typically take up more space than weekly planning entries, so they usually occupy more pages in a month.  In January, I used three pages for planning (one page for my monthly task list, and two pages for weekly entries) and four pages for journaling - only seven pages for the entire month.

I've been using this Rhodia Webnotebook for a while, but I think now that I'll be able to fill it before the year is done. 

Sketchbook?
I mentioned in my earlier post that I was also considering the possibility of using this planner/journal as a sketchbook.  I was thinking that the combination of planning and journaling would leave odd empty spaces on the pages into which I could squeeze small sketches.  It wouldn't be my main sketchbook, but a companion to it.  Well, I guess I simply use space too efficiently, because I haven't encountered any odd empty spaces in my notebook, and so no sketches have appeared in it yet.  But I also haven't been doing very much sketching lately anyway, so maybe as I sketch more (and hopefully that will happen one day!), I'll find a way to make a journal/planner/sketchbook work.

Overall
I'm happy with how my 2014 DIY planner / Bullet Journal has worked out.  I love how simple and minimal this system is, and how my planner and my journal now live inside the same notebook.  I feel that this system has helped me to spend less time planning and more time actually doing.  I've also been writing more journal entries, because now my journal is sitting open on my desk beside me all day, rather than being stuffed away on a shelf.

This system is probably not for everyone.  If you have lots of appointments or things that need to happen at specific times on specific days, you might be better off with a more structured planner/calendar format.  That would also be the case if you like to have lots of distinct sections and enjoy adding, removing, and rearranging different inserts.

As you can see from my descriptions, I haven't followed the exact same Bullet Journal system that Ryder Carroll created.  I've modified things to suit the way I plan.  That, I think, is the best part about this system: it is so easily modified.  It's still likely not the perfect planner system, but it's what works for me right now.

What system (if any) are you using for your planner this year?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Pencil Review: Sanford Design Drawing 3800 6B

A recent addition to my pencil collection was a pair of Sanford Design 3800 drawing pencils in 6B.  These are the softest pencils I have yet used, and they're going to be strictly for sketching/drawing.  6B is simply too soft for most writing (especially my small, precise handwriting).


Sanford Design drawing pencils are hexagonal, with slightly rounded corners, making them relatively comfortable to hold, and they have a mottled green finish with gold lettering.  The end of the pencil is left unfinished, rather than being topped with a cap or an eraser.  Honestly, it doesn't really make much difference what's on the end of my pencil (I rarely use the erasers), but... I still don't like the look of the rough end.  A smooth painted cap would have been much nicer.


At 6B, this pencil is quite a bit softer and darker than a traditional HB pencil.  It's useful to achieve a lovely variation in darkness from deep to pale grey (see above) when sketching or drawing.  That said, I was expecting a pencil this soft to be a bit darker than this one is, and when I compared my 6B Sanford Design to my 5B Staedtler Mars Lumograph, the Lumograph gave a noticeably darker and smoother line with less effort.

The sketch is of a small bird ornament that sits on a shelf near my desk.

I doubt that I'll be reaching for this pencil very often.  A grade this soft is probably not one that I'll be using regularly, and if I do need to use a 6B pencil, I'd prefer something with lead that is a bit darker.  I don't think these Sanford Design drawing pencils are bad pencils, but I have other drawing pencils that I enjoy using more (the Staedtler Mars Lumograph being an example).  That said, Sanford Design drawing pencils seem to be on average at least half the price of Lumographs, so if you're on a budget, these ones might be the way to go.

Related review: Lung Sketching Scrolls.
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