Monday, December 31, 2012

December Miscellany: Brush Pens, Goals, Cacti

It's probably already 2013 for some of you reading this, but for me, it's still the final day of 2012 - which means that it's time for my final monthly miscellany of the year:

  • A comparison review of four different brush pens.  I love the idea of brush pens and would like to use them more often, but I don't really know how to use them.  Any tips?
  • An entertaining review of the Quo Vadis Habana notebook.  I haven't started stockpiling notebooks yet, partly because I haven't yet decided what my all-time favourite notebook is, but the Habana is definitely one that I would consider stockpiling.  I have also recently reviewed the large-sized Habana.
  • A very useful post on the differences betweens goals, resolutions, projects, and tasks.  I've been going through my yearly review over the last week or so, and part of that involves both looking at what I have accomplished over the past year, and clarifying my goals and plans for the year to come.  Reading this post, I can see where I've gotten my goals and tasks confused in the past, and I think that keeping them in two separate categories will help me a lot in 2013.
  • And now that you know what goals are, check out these 5 steps to achieving your goals (and creating the life you want).  I think I do most of these things already without really thinking about it, but I definitely have room for improvement.  Especially in the "action" part... I really enjoy planning, but sometimes actually taking action on my plans can be more difficult.
  • If you're not really into goals or resolutions, try choosing a word of the year.  I did that for 2012, and it really worked well for me (my word was "open").
  • Five things NOT to say to a writer.  I don't think I've had anyone say any of these things to me yet, but they already make me cringe just reading them.
  • This is not related to paper at all, but I love these polymer clay cacti.  For some reason, cacti are the one kind of plant that I have never had much luck growing (and I always end up getting their spines in my hands).  These look like they might be more my style.

That's all for this month, and for this year.  Stay tuned for new posts and reviews coming up in January, and have a happy new year everyone!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Best of the Blog 2012

To follow my top 10 of 2012 post earlier this week, I thought it would be fun to look over the past year's posts and pick my top 10 posts of the year.  These aren't necessarily the posts that were the most popular or that received the most comments, but they are posts that express, I think, the best of A Penchant for Paper and what I've been doing this year.  Here they are!

  1. Pages from the Travel Journal - One of my favourite memories of the year was my trip to the west coast.  I kept a journal during my trip, and the pages I created in that journal are some of my favourite - and most meaningful - journal pages ever.
  2. Developing a Daily Writing Habit - I've been doing more writing this year than ever before.  Not only did I finish writing the first draft of my first novel, I've also been writing more poetry and short stories. My own daily writing habit has had its ups and downs since I first wrote this post, but I'm working on it!
  3. ICAD posts - Earlier this year I completed the Index-Card-a-Day (ICAD) challenge, which was a lot of fun and helped me to clarify and develop my art skills.  I highly recommend it!
  4. Pencil Review: Dixon No.2/HB (+ first thoughts on using a wooden pencil) - If nothing else, 2012 will be memorable as the year I started using wooden pencils again.  And this was the pencil that started it all.
  5. Intro to Visual Journals, Part 1 + Part 2: Supplies + Part 3: Getting Started + Part 4: Resources - A series of posts that sums up my basic philosophy behind keeping a visual journal.
  6. Drawing Practice - In which I discover that I actually can draw, and share some of my drawings!  Hopefully I'll be able to share more of my drawings with you in 2013.
  7. Behind the Scenes: Writing Pen Reviews - A behind-the-scenes look at how my pen reviews get written.  This was a fun post to write.
  8. Book Review: Raw Art Journaling - My new favourite book on art journaling.  I think I'm going to be working with this book a lot in 2013.
  9. Rethinking the Daily Journal - In which I finally get my journal figured out.
  10. Field Notes Memo Books - Notebooks are probably my favourite items to review.  Although I was a bit unimpressed with these Field Notes books, I was so excited to finally have some of my own that this review still makes it into my top ten.

Finally, here are the most popular posts from the past year:

Monday, December 24, 2012

Top 10 of 2012

The end of the year has rolled around and that means it is time for my list of my top ten supplies that I used in 2012!  This is not a list of new products of 2012 or of items that I would recommend, but merely a list of my personal favourites that I loved using over the past year.  Here it is!

Left to right: Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen Extra-Fine, Rhodia Webnotebook Dot Grid, Lamy Safari fountain pen, Pentel Aquash waterbrush, Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell watercolour pencils.
1. Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen Super-Fine

I haven't been doing as much writing by hand this year as I no longer need to take notes for university, but I have been doing a lot more drawing and sketching.  Not surprisingly, my top pen of the year is a drawing pen.  The Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens are the best drawing pens that I have used so far.  The ink is waterproof, lightfast, and quick-drying, making it a good choice to use in my watercolour sketches.  I love a basic black felt or plastic tip pen for sketching, and while I have a set of these pens in four different nib sizes, the finest of them, the super-fine, is the one I reach for the most.  I seriously couldn't live without this pen.

2. Pentel Aquash Waterbrush

A waterbrush is a paintbrush with a plastic handle that you can fill with water and then lightly squeeze the handle to wet the bristles.  This brush has transformed my relationship to my art - I'm not kidding.  It has made using my watercolour pencils so easy that now I find myself reaching for them almost every time I want to create art, whereas before I hardly ever used watercolours.  I know I've said it before, but if you want to getting started in watercolours, the combination of a waterbrush and watercolour pencils is a great way to start.

3. Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell watercolour pencils

Watercolour pencils are just like normal coloured pencils except that they are watersoluble.  Just colour the way you would with a pencil, then add water to it and it turns into a watercolour painting.  This is actually the only brand of watercolour pencils that I have used, so I'm sure there are better ones out there, but I absolutely love these regardless.  I never really used to like working with watercolours until I paired these pencils with my waterbrush.  Now, watercolours are so much more fun and easy, and I find myself reaching for these pencils and my waterbrush nearly all the time.

4. Rhodia Webnotebook Dot Grid

The Rhodia Webnotebook showed up on last year's list, but this year it is the dot grid version (affectionately known as the Dot Webbie) that really captured my heart over the unlined one.  Why is the dot grid awesome?  It still gives you the look of unlined paper, but the dots allow you to precisely line up lists and columns of writing.  The dots also don't break up your writing the way a normal grid does.  And of course all Webbies have Rhodia's usual awesome paper.

5. Lamy Safari fountain pen, limited edition green colour

This is my first "real" fountain pen, and also the most expensive pen I have bought so far.  It writes very smoothly, has an awesome clip, and can be refilled with bottled inks.  And did I mention that it's a beautiful green colour?  The only thing preventing this pen from being higher on my list is that I bought the fine nibbed version rather than the extra-fine.  At some point I'll probably buy the extra-fine nib and switch it with my fine nib and then I'll love this pen even more.

Top to bottom: Uni-ball Signo Broad white gel pen, Pilot FriXion Point 04 Orange, Uni-ball Signo DX 0.28mm Emerald Green, Pentel EnerGel Euro 0.35mm Black, Staedtler Mars Lumograph 2B.

6. Uni-ball Signo Broad white gel pen

The best white pen ever.  Seriously.  It writes amazingly smoothly, and the ink is a solid white that writes on almost every surface.  I originally bought it for writing on dark papers in my art journal, but I haven't actually used it much for that.  I really love it for adding white highlights to my watercolour sketches.  Another essential addition to my art supply kit.

7. Pilot FriXion Point 04

This is not the smoothest writing fine point gel pen I've ever used, but it is the only one I've used that is erasable.  I use this pen in my planner because it is fine enough to allow me to write in small spaces and because it allows me to easily make changes to my schedule and to-do lists.  The slightly greyed, muted colours - although some people don't like them - give a more soothing look to my planner pages than bolder colours.

8. Uni-ball Signo DX 0.28mm Emerald Green

This is a rather unexpected addition to the list.  Although the 0.38mm DX has long been one of my favourite pens, I had mixed feelings about the 0.28mm in my original review.  But given my penchant for fine lines, I've slowly grown to love this pen and I'm willing to put up with a bit of extra scratchiness to get that finer line.  I also love the emerald green colour - it's light and bright, but still dark enough to read clearly.  I usually prefer yellower greens, but this emerald is also a lovely shade.

9. Pentel EnerGel Euro 0.35mm Black

The Pentel EnerGel has long been one of my favourite basic everyday writing pens for its incredibly smooth feel and vivid colours.  Now that it is available in a sub-0.5mm tip size, I love it even more - and it still writes just as smoothly as ever.  I also appreciate the slightly more streamlined and compact look of the EnerGel Euro as compared to the standard EnerGel.  There may be other pens that I find more fun to use or that come in more interesting colours, but for a basic writing pen, this is my favourite.

10. Staedtler Mars Lumograph 2B Pencil

Shocked to see a pencil on this list?  I think I am...  I started using wooden pencils again this year for the first time since elementary school, and so far I have really been enjoying the experience - even though the feel of writing with a wooden pencil is completely different from that of a pen.  This is my favourite of the wooden pencils that I have tried so far, and, while it has not received as much use as the other items on this list, I do want to use it more in the coming year.


So that's all for this year's top ten!  What were your favourite supplies of the year?  Any surprises?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pentel Pulaman Disposable Fountain Pen

The Pentel Pulaman is an odd pen.  It confuses me.  It is marketed as a fountain pen, but instead of a normal nib, it has this crazy plastic nib that looks nothing like any fountain pen nib that I've ever seen.  If you had put this pen in my hand without telling me anything about it, I probably wouldn't have even guessed that it was a fountain pen.  The actual feel of it when writing is more like that of a felt-tip pen.  And it reminds me more than anything else of the Zebra Zeb-Roller I reviewed a few months ago - similar understated, minimalist design, similar scratchy feel to the nib - except the Zeb-Roller is a needlepoint rollerball pen and the Pulaman is a quasi- fountain pen /  felt tip pen thing.  Or something like that.

It looks fairly normal from this perspective.  But when you look closer...
Weird nib, right?  Like some kind of alien technology.

Confusion aside, I actually rather like how the Pulaman writes.  It has a rather obvious scratchy sound and feel to it, which I like for some odd reason but which may not appeal to everyone (and which means that this is probably not the best pen to bring to, say, an exam, where everyone in the room will be able to hear your pen).  The ink itself flows very smoothly, with no skipping.  Unlike normal fountain pen nibs, the plastic nib doesn't seem to be as fussy about which angle you hold it at, although certain angles cause a relatively minor amount of ink splatter on the page.  It is not really very noticeable, and the more practice I get with writing with this pen, the less it seems to occur.  One thing I definitely love about the Pulaman: it's finer-tipped than most of the other disposable "fountain pens" that I have used, and certainly much more so than the Pilot Varsity I reviewed last month.  I'd say it feels comparable to a 0.5mm felt tip pen or rollerball, which is just about ideal and a definite plus for me.

Apart from the crazy nib, there isn't much to say about this pen.  The Pulaman is, as I mentioned before, very minimal and basic in appearance.  Although it may not win any points for good looks, there is something about this extreme minimalism in a pen that appeals to me.  The pen body itself is a dark brown, while ink colour is indicated by a plastic section on the end of the clip and by the plastic on the top and bottom of the nib.  There is no branding on the pen other than on the metal clip (a nice sturdy clip by the way, albeit a bit stiff).  One thing I don't like: the nib itself is white plastic, which seems out of place on an otherwise dark-bodied pen and is stained with ink, giving it a rather messy look that vaguely annoys me.  A better idea (in my opinion) would have been to have the entire nib coordinated to the ink colour.

When I first started using the Pentel Pulaman, I had mixed feelings about it.  But it's starting to grow on me.  The more I use it, the more I love it.  It's an odd and quirky pen in a plain package.  It's the kind of pen that you'll probably either love or hate.  It's the kind of pen that will have people asking you, "What kind of pen is that?"  And then, of course, you can give them this complex answer involving nibs and feeds and inks and the alignment of the planets and who knows what else that will confuse them utterly and make them sorry they ever asked.  It's probably not for everyone.  I wouldn't describe this as a beginner's fountain pen, because it really wouldn't prepare you for the experience of writing with a "real" fountain pen.  Writing with the Pentel Pulaman is an experience in and of itself.  Check it out.  It may surprise you.  And maybe even you, like me, will find yourself falling in love with it despite yourself.

Related reviews: The Pen AddictOfficeSupplyGeek, Papericide, Pentorium

Friday, December 14, 2012

My DIY Planner Revisited

About a year and a half ago I shared with you my DIY planner, a paper planner that I cobbled together out of planner forms printed from D*I*Y Planner (an awesome site that you should check out), inspiration from one of my favourite creativity blogs, and my own inventiveness.   I've tried different things with that planner since then, but it really came together for me this summer.  I was doing some more focused work with goals, planning, organization, and productivity systems (that will be the subject of a future post!), and my planner quickly became an absolute essential tool that I now can't live without.  Because I've made quite a few changes since my original post, I've written this post to show you my current planner setup and perhaps inspire you to create your own DIY planner for the new year.

My DIY planner, shortly after I created it back in 2011.

A bit of background if you haven't read the original post: My planner began as a standard 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 inch three-ring binder, covered with a stretchy fabric textbook cover to give it a more colourful green cover. This also had the added bonus of creating pockets on the front and back inside covers that I can use to store loose papers.  I also added six tabbed dividers that I covered with decorative papers to liven things up, and a bookmark to mark the current day.  If you want more information on how to make your own planner, check out my original post or iHanna's awesome post.

My DIY planner today, with my revised tabbed sections.

Now, let's get into my current planner setup.  The photo above shows the six tabs that I'm using: Reference, Monthly, Weekly, To-Do Lists, Goals, and Notes.  The Reference section contains details on a long-term personal project that I'm not going to discuss.  The Monthly and Weekly sections contain - obviously - monthly and weekly planning pages printed from D*I*Y Planner.  I use the monthly pages primarily for planning blog posts.  As you can see on last month's page spread below, I have all of my blog posts for both blogs written in on the dates that they are published.  This is very useful for me because I like to have a precise blogging schedule and I often write many posts at once and schedule them to be posted later.  This allows me to keep track of what is being published when and what posts I have already written.  I mark the current month with a small sticky note to make it easy to refer back to that month (it was still November when I took the photo) and cross the days off as the month progresses to give me a sense of progress and accomplishment.

Monthly planning pages.

My weekly planning pages are the core of my planner.  These are what keep me (somewhat) sane.  D*I*Y Planner offers a number of different weekly planner forms, but the hour-by-hour planning one works best for me.  I really need that structure to my day, partly because I'm a terrible procrastinator otherwise and partly because I don't currently have the structure of a nine-to-five job.  I'm working from home as a writer so my days really don't have much structure unless I create it myself.

Weekly planning pages.

Each section of my weekly planning pages has a specific purpose.  Most of these relate back to my productivity system, which I'm saving for a future post.  The main section is for planning my days hour by hour.  When I complete a task, I check it off with a bright, bold check mark.  This gives me a sense of accomplishment and a positive feeling about what I've done.  I use the column on the far right for my Big Rocks of the week (these are part of the awesome Zen-to-Done productivity system, which you should also check out).  Essentially, these are 4 to 6 major tasks that I commit to completing during the week.  I use the bottom section on the right-hand page for writing down the habit(s) I want to focus on during the week (e.g., exercising, writing in my journal).  Finally, I use the bottom section on the left-hand page for writing down additional actions selected from my to-do lists.  Unlike the Big Rocks, these are not essential items that need to be accomplished this week, but simply items that I will work on when I have the time.  Lately, I've starting listing these items in order of importance, which makes it easier for me to see what should be done first.

A look at the top of my Blogging to-do list, or Actions page.

The next two sections are To-do Lists and Goals.  My to-do list section consists of nine separate to-do lists, each dedicated to a different area of my life (writing, blogging, health/fitness, etc.).  These are my master to-do lists, and not the ones that I refer to on a daily basis.  I list items on the lists in roughly the order in which I want to complete them.  The headings I use for these lists relate directly back to the areas of my life in which I have identified goals in my Goals section.  I use Action pages from D*I*Y Planner for these lists.  Towards the end of the section, I also have a few check-lists for things that I want to buy, things that I've won, and things to make.  I'm not going to discuss my Goals section in detail here, other than to say that I don't use conventional goals.  I write my goals in the present tense, as though they have already happened in my life, and they all relate back to my central mission and vision statements.  Finally, the last section, Notes, simply contains notes on my weekly and monthly reviews, and some blank planner pages and notepaper.  Again, I'll be writing about all of these things (goals, mission/vision statements, periodic reviews) in a later post.

And that's it!  As you can see, my DIY planner is highly personalized to my particular needs.  I would certainly not recommend this particular setup to anyone else.  You should experiment to discover what works best for you, but I do hope that I have given you some new ideas.  The best part of creating a DIY planner is that you can customize your planner to contain exactly what you need (and if you're really hard-core you can of course design your own planner forms as well).  And, unlike with a purchased paper planner, you don't need to feel stuck with a particular planner format for an entire year.  Print out the pages you need for a month, then if that doesn't work for you, try something else the next month.  I've used quite a few different planning formats, from electronic organizers to paper planners (in daily, weekly, and monthly formats) to mimimalist DIY to-do lists used for keeping track of my assignments in university, but none of them have made me as happy as this DIY planner does.  I highly recommend the DIY approach to planners.  It may take a bit of tweaking to figure out the best system for you, but when you do, that is a great feeling.

So, tell me about your planner.  Is it paper or digital?  DIY or purchased?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Quo Vadis Habana Large Notebook

The small Quo Vadis Habana has long been one of my favourite notebooks (in fact, it was the first notebook I bought after I became interested in pens and paper), so I was excited when I recently had an opportunity to try out a large Habana with unlined (blank) pages.  Just like the small, the large Habana has a leather-like, flexible cover with rounded corners; an elastic closure, ribbon bookmark, and back pocket; and 80 sheets (160 pages) of creamy-coloured, 85g Clairefontaine paper.  It is similar to the Rhodia Webnotebook, but with a more flexible and textured cover that lacks Rhodia's prominent branding, and with thinner paper (85g compared to the Webbie's 90g).  The Webbie is also not available in this large of a size.

The Habana is available in three sizes: A4 (large), A5 (compact), and A6 (pocket).  At 21 x 29.7 cm or 8 1/4 x 11 5/8 inches (A4 size), this large Habana is definitely the largest bound notebook that I have ever used - so much so that I actually feel a bit intimidated by it.  The cover has a leather-like texture and it is firm but still relatively flexible.  I actually prefer the Habana cover to the cover of the Rhodia Webnotebook, as it seems to be less likely to show scuffs and scratches.  The covers of the small Habanas that I have been carrying around with me for the last four years still look like new, while the cover of the Webnotebook that I haven't been using for as long has a number of minor scratches on it.

From top to bottom: pocket (A6) sized Quo Vadis Habana, desk (A5) sized Rhodia Webnotebook, large (A4) sized Quo Vadis Habana.

Left: The name of the notebook is discreetly printed on the bottom of the back cover.  The photo also shows a bit of the leather-like texture of the cover.  Right: Checking out the back pocket.  This is a large notebook, so that's an especially roomy pocket!

Inside, the endpapers of the Habana are made of the same paper as the interior pages, allowing you to use them as the first pages of your notebook, if you so desire.  The paper is very smooth, with a lovely creamy ivory colour.  This colour may not be to everyone's liking, but I like it, and it is more soothing and restful to look at than bright white.  The Habana is also available with white pages.  The smooth texture of the paper makes it truly a joy to write on with all kinds of pens, but because it is so smooth, inks are going to take longer to dry than on more absorbent papers.  This isn't an issue with most of the pens that I use, but if you use bold, inky pens or if you are left-handed, please use caution when writing in this notebook!

My test pages, with a Lamy Safari fountain pen for scale.

The paper in the Habana is a bit thin, so most pens (especially the bolder, inkier ones) do show through at least slightly to the other side of the page.  None of the pens I used actually bled through and only the Pilot Petit1 fountain pen showed even the slightest bit of feathering (and that pen seems to feather on just about all papers that I use it on).

Strangely, my photo doesn't really show the show through.  But it is there.  Trust me on this.  And also my camera continues to frustrate me by making the front and back of the page look like they are different colours.  This is NOT actually the case and I have no idea why this always happens!

As I mentioned, the Habana I'm using is the large, unlined version.  Normally I prefer writing on plain paper over lined, but simply because of the size of this notebook I would hesitate to use it for a written journal.  My handwriting is usually so small that I think it would look lost on such a large page unless I used wider-nibbed pens, which I don't really want to do.  I will probably end up using this notebook as a sketchbook of some sort.  With that mind, I also practiced drawing a mandala with my Pentel Pulaman fountain pen, Faber-Castell Pitt brush pen, and Pentel Slicci fine-tipped gel pen.  It did feel freeing to have so much space to draw in, but I think it will take some time for me to become used to working in such a large notebook.

Overall, the Quo Vadis Habana is a great notebook that I can't find any major faults with.  The paper may not be ideal for everyone, but I love it and this is a notebook that I will always enjoy using - although I am still not sure whether this large size is the ideal size for me.  The Quo Vadis Habana is a notebook that I will not hesitate to recommend to anyone looking for a quality notebook.

Related reviews: Life Imitates Doodles, Plannerisms, Ink Nouveau.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Marketing Yourself

iHanna is currently running a giveaway for a copy of the book Market Yourself: A Marketing System for Smart and Creative Business Owners.  Check it out if you're interested.  I think it sounds like a great book, because I would love to learn more about marketing myself, my writing, and other products that I might be interested in selling - which one day I hope will include prints of photos and artwork.

I'm also curious: Are you self-employed as a writer or an artist?  Do you have any secrets or tips you'd like to share?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Old Art Journals Rediscovered: Collage Journal

Throughout the roughly four years that I've been keeping art journals, I've kept both the more "traditional" mixed-media journals as well as a series of collage-only journals that I call collage journals, scrapbooks, or simply gluebooks.  The rules are simple: collage and pen work only, no paint.  I have kept these journals partly to challenge myself (to see what I can make with limited materials) and partly to use up all the paper scraps that I keep accumulating - although somehow the amount of papers and ephemera that I have stored away never seems to really decrease!

I kept this collage journal from 2009 to 2010, and on the pages shown here, I used graph paper, wrapping paper, dollhouse wallpaper, magazine cutouts, stickers, and some of my own recycled doodles that I cut out and glued in.  I also added details with gel pens.  The theme of this page spread is, obviously, gardens.  This page still appeals to me today because of its colours and imagery, most of which I still find myself using (in various incarnations) today.  Inspiration from nature has been one of the most consistent themes in my work over the years.  I also love this page today because of its colourful exuberance - something that I think I lost for a while but may be getting back now.

What images and themes repeat themselves on your art journal pages, or in your written journal?

Other pages from this journal: Old Art Journal Pages, Exploring Colour: Collages

Old Art Journals Rediscovered is a series of posts dedicated to rediscovering the art journals that I have created over the past four years. In each post, I will introduce you to one of my old art journals, and share with you one page spread from that journal - not the page spread that is the prettiest or the fanciest, but the one that speaks most clearly to me today. I hope that by sharing with you the evolution of my own art journals, you will feel inspired to start your own explorations with art.

Friday, November 30, 2012

November Miscellany: Ideas, Ink, and Colour

My monthly miscellany posts are collections of links and thoughts that don't get developed into full blog posts.  In this month's miscellany, we explore organization, idea generation, fountain pen ink, and more.  And there's something a bit special at the end, so make sure to scroll down to check that out.

  • Five ways to better organize your desk.  I must admit that I'm one of those people who is naturally organized.  I can't focus well if my workspace is cluttered and disorganized, so I have to stay organized or else I won't get anything done.
  • An interesting suggestion for generating more ideas: the list of 100.  Probably the thing I struggle with most in my writing and creativity is the belief that I don't have any ideas, or any good ideas.  This method counteracts that by forcing you to come up with a lot of ideas in a short time.  Chances are, if you just have more ideas, good or bad, you're more likely to have more good ideas as well.
  • Millie reviews the Cartesio notebook, a pretty, colourful notebook that ended up being a disappointment.  It's always good to know what notebooks to avoid.
  • Gorgeous artwork that incorporates an old envelope.  (Another one here.)  I love both birds and vintage ephemera, so these are just about perfect.
  • I also love colour-themed posts, and this post of ocean-inspired blues is beautiful.  It makes me want to start creating my own vignettes of colour.
  • The Pen Addict podcast has returned!  I've just started catching up with listening to the old podcasts.
  • Tips for buying for your first bottled fountain pen ink.  I definitely think this post will come in handy for me, as I'm currently trying to decide what bottled fountain pen ink to buy for my new Lamy Safari fountain pen.  I'll probably end up with a nice dark green, but there are just so many inks to choose from.
  • And finally (to save the best for last), I've recently started a new personal blog, so if you can't get enough of me, or if you just want to find out more about some of my other interests (mainly in nature and photography and occasionally writing and creativity in general), feel free to check out my new blog, At the Edge of the Ordinary.

That's all for this month!  Stay tuned for new posts and reviews coming up in December, including my top ten list for 2012.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Book Review: Raw Art Journaling

Quinn McDonald is the author of a great blog on creativity and journaling called QuinnCreative.  She is also the author of a book called Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art.  Frankly, I love this book.  A lot of the books out there on art journaling seem to showcase pages that look a lot alike (and I feel the same way about a lot of the art journal blogs out there).  Quinn's book is different.  It's original and fun and very approachable.  As Quinn states repeatedly in the book, you don't need to know how to draw, you don't need to know how to write well, all you need is the willingness to create meaning from your art and to embrace imperfection.

If this sound a bit new age-y, don't worry.  Raw Art Journaling is filled with practical exercises to get you creating art.  Most of the exercises are very simple (in method, if not in the results you might get from them), and require little more than a pen, paper, and perhaps something to add colour with, such as watercolour pencils or markers (my personal favourites).  But the techniques Quinn shares are not just for beginners.  Rather, I see them as exercises that even experienced journal keepers could return to when they feel the need for some fresh energy or when they are feeling bogged down in their work.  Raw Art Journaling is the book that you will want to have on hand for days when you are tired, stressed out, worried, and feel daunted by doing anything more than doodling squiggles on the page.  In Raw Art Journaling, Quinn shows how even those squiggles can be a way to express meaning through art.

Raw Art Journaling is also the book that you will want if you are a beginner, and especially if the complex, multi-layered art journal pages that are so popular in so many blogs and books intimidate you or don't appeal to you.  Quinn's techniques do not require you to buy any fancy art supplies (although you certainly have the option to do so if you want to).  Many of them are based around the creation of abstract patterns and designs that you can use to express yourself without the need to be able to draw.

I love diversity of the exercises in Raw Art Journaling.  I borrowed this book from the library so, sadly, I did not have it long enough to try out all the exercises, but I will definitely be buying a copy of my own in the near future.  Quinn includes exercises for found poetry (great if you don't know what to write), adding words to your journal pages (less is more, and often just one word will do), one-sentence journaling, haiku (not a typical topic for a book on art journals), hiding your words (not something I really have a use for, but I can see its value for those who feel nervous committing some of their thoughts and feelings to paper, where other people may be able to read them), repeating designs, abstract landscapes, altered photography (I didn't have time to try this, but it looks fun), and bookbinding (including one book made from a cookie box).  All of Quinn's instructions are very clearly written and easy to follow.  For more experienced journal keepers or for those who want to expand their skills, she also offers additional tips that allow you to modify her original instructions.

I love this book so much that I really don't have any complaints about it.  The only thing I can say is that I would have liked to see more examples of other art journal pages.  For a few of the techniques, Quinn shares examples of journal pages from other artists.  I would have liked to have seen more of those, but that is not really a complaint, just something I would have liked more of.

I'll finish off this review by sharing with you a couple page spreads I recently created based on exercises in Raw Art Journaling:

I have created pages that are more elaborate than these pages, but I haven't often created pages that are as full of meaning as these pages are for me.  Although they are a bit rough and, yes, raw, around the edges, I really love how these pages turned out and I look forward to experimenting with these techniques and ideas again.  Thank you very much, Quinn, for a great book.  I highly recommend Raw Art Journaling to anyone who is even remotely interested in journaling or in creating meaning through their art.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Staedtler Textsurfer Classic Highlighter

I don't use highlighters often, but I've long admired the Staedtler Textsurfer Classic for its shape and bold design.  It has a flat, wide shape - similar to that of a carpenter's pencil, but larger - approximately 12cm long when capped and slightly over 2cm wide.  While this would probably not be an ideal shape for a pen, it works great for a highlighter and looks great as well.  The Textsurfer is flat so that it won't roll off your desk, its chunky shape makes it easy to locate by feel alone in a crowded pencil case, and its wide clip allows you to easily clip this highlighter to your notebook.

The Staedtler Textsurfer Classic has a bold chisel tip that produces wide, crisp lines.  Some highlighters feel a bit mushy on the tip but this one is very firm, and because it is fairly wide (nearly half a centimetre), it should have no problem completely covering most lines of text.  It always annoys me when I'm using a highlighter that produces lines that are too narrow to completely cover a standard line of printed text.  If underlining is more your style, then using the other side of the tip produces a fine crisp line that is perfect for underlining.

I also love the bright green ink of this highlighter.  It is a light, bright shade of green, but is not really fluorescent.  (I must apologize for the photos in this post; it was impossible for me to accurately capture the colour with my camera, which insisted on making the colour appear duller that it really was.  In real life, the colour is much brighter.)  Fluorescent colours are fine, but they can be a bit harsh and hard to look at.  The Staedtler Textsurfer Classic is great because it's not fluorescent but is still bright enough to really stand out on a page.  And it is light enough so that your text or writing can still be easily read beneath it.

One of the selling points of this highlighter for me is that it is marketed as inkjet safe.  This was very important to me back in university, as most of my class notes were posted online and I printed them out at home on my inkjet printer.  Highlighters that smeared the ink were very annoying, and this was the main reason why I stopped using highlighters for several years and switched to underlining with a coloured pen instead.  The inkjet safe aspect is not as important to me now, but I still wanted to check it out.  I was printing out a few blank planner forms for my DIY planner, so I quickly swiped the Textsurfer over the text and, to my delight, it worked great with no smearing at all.

These days, I use highlighters mostly for colour-coordinating my own handwritten notes, so I also wanted to test how the Staedtler Textsurfer worked with different kinds of pens.  Results here were a bit more mixed.  I let the ink dry for a few minutes before highlighting, but the Textsurfer still smeared the ink of the gel pen and also (very slightly) the ink of the fountain pen.  None of the other pens had this problem, and I suspect that the gel and fountain pen inks may not have been entirely dry.  The smearing was not so significant as to render my writing unreadable, so I wouldn't worry about using this highlighter with different kinds of pens, although I do recommend caution if you're using pens with slower-drying ink.

The Staedtler Textsurfer Classic is a great highlighter.  I wish I had started using this highlighter years ago when I was still in university, because I'm sure I would have been able to put it to good use back then.  It's not as fun to use as my Sharpie Gel Highlighter, but it probably has a much wider appeal.  It also has the added bonus of being refillable with this cool-looking refill station.  I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Staedtler Textsurfer Classic to anyone looking for a quality basic highlighter.

Related reviews: OfficeSupplyGeek, Shared Reviews

Friday, November 16, 2012

Shades of Red

I haven't compiled one of my "shades of..." posts in a while, partly because I'm running out of the colours that I have the most of.  This one's red, and I was actually surprised by how many red-coloured supplies I own.

From left to right: Pentel EnerGel RT 0.7mm Red; Zebra Jimnie Ballpoint Red; Zebra Sarasa 0.7mm Port Red; Pilot Varsity Fountain Pen Red; Bensia non-sharpening pencil; Pentel Slicci 0.3mm Red; Sakura Permapaque Opaque Paint Marker Red; Pentech Rainbow Stix 1.3mm mechanical pencil; Bic Cristal Ballpoint Red (sadly missing a cap, but then it was just a found pen after all - and it's just a ballpoint); Stabilo Point 88 Red; 2 no-name pencils; and 3 Plaid paintbrushes: #1 fan blender, #2 liner, and #10 liner.

From left to right: Daycraft Juicy Notebook; Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell watercolour pencils in Pale Geranium Lake and Dark Carmine; Laurentien pencil crayons; Prang Color Art crayons; random ticket; ladybug themed clip.

From left to right: small, lined Quo Vadis Habana notebook; Pentel Slicci 0.3mm Red; Zebra Jimnie Ballpoint Red; 2 random novelty pencils; miscellaneous clips and pins.

Compiling this also made me realize that I really don't have a lot of variety in my supplies: most of this stuff (with a few exceptions) you've seen before in different compilations, albeit in different colours!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen

The Pilot Varsity is (thanks to a terrific giveaway at Pentorium) a recent addition to my growing collection of "disposable" fountain pens.  These are inexpensive fountain pens, usually around three dollars or so, that are generally not intended to be refilled (although many can be refilled, with a bit of work).  Their "disposable" nature kind of defeats part of the purpose of a fountain pen, in my opinion, but they are still great affordable and non-intimidating ways for beginners to get started with fountain pens.  I've reviewed a couple of these fountain pens already: the Platinum Preppy and the Pilot Petit1.  So how well does the Pilot Varsity compare to these?

To begin with, the Pilot Varsity sports a striped barrel with a vaguely retro-ish feel, and a black cap that is clearly marked on the end with the ink colour.  The pen has a small window on one side that allows you to judge the ink supply.  (And it looks like the barrel is only about half filled with ink when the pen is new.)  I don't have anything to complain of with the design of this pen.  It's fairly basic, but sufficient for the price.  One thing that I do like: the plastic body feels quite sturdy.  One of the major complaints that some have about the comparable Platinum Preppy is that it cracks easily; I doubt this would be an issue with the Varsity.

If you are familiar with the Pilot Petit1, then the nib of the Pilot Varsity is very similar to the nib of the Petit1, except that the Petit1's nib is marked with an F, and the Varsity's nib is marked with an M.  Since, as I mentioned in my review of that pen, the supposedly fine nib of the Petit1 is really not very fine, I was unsurprised to discover that this medium nib is quite bold - at least for my small handwriting.  If you have large handwriting, or just like bold pens, the Varsity could be a great choice, but it is definitely not ideal for me.  The ink flows out very well, almost even too well - seriously, this thing feels like it is just oozing ink.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but because it is laying down so much ink, it is probably going to bleed through or show through most papers.  There was a bit of bleed through in spots on the Rhodia paper I used for this review, but on the cheaper notebook paper I wrote my draft review on, the other side of the paper was rendered unusable by the amount of bleedthrough.  Feathering, however, was actually fairly minimal.

One thing I do love about this particular version of the Varsity is the red ink.  I don't use red ink very often, but when I do, I like an intensely saturated shade and this ink is certainly that.  It is a deep yet bright shade of red (it turned out slightly lighter on the Rhodia paper than on my draft notebook paper) that definitely stands out on the page.  The ink does not have much shading to it, but it looks great nonetheless.

As a final note, I should add that although the Varsity is marketed as a "disposable" fountain pen, it can actually be refilled.  I don't love this pen quite enough to want to that with mine, but if you do, a quick search on the Internet should lead you to a number of articles and videos.

Overall, the Pilot Varsity is not a bad introductory fountain pen, but it's not for everyone.  If you have small handwriting and prefer fine-tipped pens, you'll probably want to skip the Varsity.  Personally, I find myself with no strong feelings towards it, either positive or negative, probably because of that very issue.  It's a perfectly decent pen, but it simply does not suit my handwriting.  If you think you'd love a bolder, broader nib, give the Pilot Varsity a try, but if you don't, I'd suggest the fine-nibbed Platinum Preppy instead.

Related reviews: Peninkcillin, No Pen Intended, Good Pens, OfficeSupplyGeek, Pen and Design, The Daily Acquisition, Life Imitates Doodles, On Fountain Pens, Simplicity Embellished, Pentorium

Tips for refilling this "disposable" fountain pen: Peninkcillin, Good Pens

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Old Art Journals Rediscovered: The Art and Poetry Journal

I started my first art journal in December of 2008 - nearly four years ago now.  I forget exactly how I first heard about art journaling, although I think it may have been through a blog on mandalas (something I have long been interested in).  One link led to another, and the more I found out, the more I wanted to try it for myself.  I had no fancy supplies, just a bunch of stickers and scraps of wrapping paper and a set of craft acrylics, but I grabbed the first spare notebook I could find off my shelf and started out.

Flipping through this journal now is almost like looking through the journal of a stranger.  This journal marked the beginning of the most artistic work I had done since elementary school, and my work today seems very different from this.  I stuck stickers on nearly every page, and used a lot of acrylic paint backgrounds.  My drawings are small and awkward, my paint strokes are bold, and my colours are bright and, occasionally, clashing.  The book I used was a hard-covered journal that I had used for taking notes in before.  I painted the cover, but because it was such a smooth surface, much of the paint simply flaked off again.  I had to tear out over half the pages so that the book wouldn't splay out too much.  It had a glued rather than a sewn binding and I'm amazed that this book actually survived in one piece - it must be all the acrylic paint holding it together.  I also used this journal for some of my early attempts at writing poetry using exercises in the book The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell - hence the title I gave it, the "Art and Poetry Journal."

The page spread I chose to share with you today is one of the earliest ones in the book.  Both of these pages were created separately, but the page spread as a whole really expresses the dichotomy I was experiencing in my life at the time: the happiness at exploring my creativity, and the depression that I was also going through then.  It is a page spread that I feel both happy and sad to look at today: sadness for how trapped I felt then, and happiness for how, even at one of the darkest times of my life, I was able to find some joy in art.

What do your old journal pages say about you?  What do you think when you re-read your old journals today?

Other pages from this journal: Old Art Journal Pages, Art Journal Prompts.


Old Art Journals Rediscovered is a series of posts dedicated to rediscovering the art journals that I have created over the past four years.  In each post, I will introduce you to one of my old art journals, and share with you one page spread from that journal - not the page spread that is the prettiest or the fanciest, but the one that speaks most clearly to me today.  I hope that by sharing with you the evolution of my own art journals, you will feel inspired to start your own explorations with art.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Recent Acquisitions: Pens and a Pair of Pencils

I like to do occasional posts showing you the items that I've recently acquired.  This batch of items consists of a bunch of pens, as well as a highlighter and a couple of intriguing pencils.

From top to bottom:
  • Staedtler Textsurfer Classic highlighter in green - I've been wanting one of these highlighters for ages (despite the fact that I rarely use highlighters) and finally I gave in and bought myself one.
  • Pilot FriXion Point 04 erasable gel pen in green - These pens are among my favourites, and I'm slowly adding to the colours that I have.  Because they are erasable, I use them for writing in my planner.  I also really like their muted, somewhat greyish colours - although that is actually a reason why some people don't like these pens.
  • Sakura Gelly Roll Gold Shadow in green and Silver Shadow in blue - I don't use Gelly Rolls that often, but I do like trying out all of the different varieties.
  • Platinum Preppy highlighter in green
  • Platinum Preppy medium-nib fountain pen in blue black
  • Pilot Varsity fountain pen in red
  • Pentel Pulaman fountain pen in black - These last four pens I received in a recent giveaway over at Pentorium (which is a great blog that you should check out, by the way).  Entrants had to answer the question of, "If you had $5.00 to spend, what would you get from JetPens and why?"  I put quite a bit of thought into my answer, and because I think it was pretty awesome (and Jono and Charlotte apparently agreed!), I'm going to share it here as well:
"Hmm, 5 dollars isn’t much… but if I had to choose, I would say the smallest Rhodia Pad (2 by 3 inches, for $1.60) because Rhodia paper is always awesome and I will need some good paper to use with all the great pens in your giveaway, and a Rhodia wooden pencil ($1.90) because I’ve always wanted one and because I should have a pencil as well as some pens, and finally a Seed Anatas Eraser because I’ll need an eraser to go with my pencil and because it looks cool and because it costs exactly $1.50, which is all that I have left at this point. All of that adds up to exactly $5.00. And I haven’t included any pens because if I win your giveaway then I won’t need any more pens! Well, not for a few days, anyway…"
I'll be reviewing some of these pens in the coming weeks and months, so stay tuned for that!

Along with all those pens, I also recently picked up these two pencils at the thrift store.  Neither pencil has ever been used, and both were in with a whole bunch of kid's novelty pencils.  These were the only two interesting ones.  The top pencil is an Eagle Mirado made in Canada, and it seems vaguely familiar to me, so I think I must have seen some around when I was younger.  The bottom pencil is the one that I find the most interesting.  It is a General's "Blue Boy" Carbo Weld #909 made in the U.S.A.  I've heard of General's pencils, but I have absolute no idea what "carbo weld" means and I can't seem to find any information about this pencil on the Internet.  Does anyone know anything more about it?  It looks like an intriguing pencil and I'd love to know more about it, especially about when it was likely made.  And if you know more about the Eagle Mirado, feel free to share that information as well!

So what new pencils and pens have you acquired lately?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Daycraft MyTravel Notebook

The Daycraft MyTravel Notebook is a hardcover notebook with squared ruling, and the second sample notebook that I received from Daycraft.  The MyTravel is a bit larger than the Juicy notebook I reviewed previously, at 123mm by 171mm, or a bit larger than A6 size.  It comes in three colours: yellow, black, and white.  The notebook I'm reviewing is the yellow version.

Daycraft MyTravel notebook.  Hard to photograph well.  The yellow is actually yellower than that and the brown is browner.

The Daycraft MyTravel Notebook has the unusual feature of double covers - presumably to add extra durability and ensure that the notebook will survive your travels.  In other words, when you open what you think is the front cover, you discover that there is actually another front cover awaiting you.  The outer cover is made of a thicker, sturdier cardboard, while the inner cover is made of a thinner, slightly more flexible cardboard.  Overall, the notebook is quite stiff and not flexible at all.  At the back, the two covers are glued firmly together.

See?  Open it up and there's a whole other cover inside.  This reminds me of those boxes where you open one and there's another box inside and then you open that one and there's another box in there and you just keep going and going....  Luckily, there are only two covers.

However, while the double covers increase the durability, I do have a few concerns about the outer cover (the inner cover, being protected most of the time, isn't a concern).  Since this is a travel notebook, I would assume that it would be frequently pulled in and out of your bag and be possibly subjected to changing weather conditions.  For increased durability, I think that some kind of water-resistant coating on the outer cover would be a useful addition to this notebook.  And because the cover is made simply of cardboard, it has a rather rough, unfinished feel.  This may appeal to some people as it gives the notebook a rather rugged appearance, but I would think that the edges of the cover might become rather scuffed and worn over time.  Again, you might like that look, but others may not.

The outer cover of the MyTravel notebook is printed front and back with a map of the world, and boasts an elastic clasp in the contrasting colour of turquoise (the black and white notebooks have a relatively boring black elastic).  I love the colour, but the elastic feels a bit loose and it wraps horizontally rather than vertically, which for some reason I find confusing (but that's probably just me).  The inside of the outer cover is printed with the phrase, "The world is a book and those who don't travel read only a page" (for the curious, Google tells me that this quote is attributed to St. Augustine) - very suitable for a travel journal - and gives a place for you to write your name.

Elastic.  And yellow words that you probably can't read in my photo.

The inner cover is plain (allowing you to easily customize it with your own title or artwork if you so desire), with that contrasting turquoise again on the spine.  The inside back cover includes a pocket - and although I don't use notebook pockets much, it is a useful addition to a travel notebook.  Inside, the endpapers are, once again, a brilliant shade of turquoise.  I love the way Daycraft designs the colours on their notebooks, and I really appreciate the contrast between the relatively plain brown cardboard cover and these bright endpapers.  The notebook also includes a narrow brown ribbon bookmark.

Pocket.  And bookmark.  And check out that turquoise!

Although I love the endpapers, I must admit that I was a bit horrified when I first saw the pages of this notebook.  Although they are gridded (which normally I would love), the ruling is very wide - nearly 1 cm.  This is way too wide for my small handwriting.  On closer examination, however, I discovered that there is a method behind this madness.  Small blue numbers run along the left-hand and bottom sides of each page spread, from -90 to 90 to the left and from -180 to 180 on the bottom.  The lines of this notebook are mimicking the lines of latitude and longitude on the Earth!  Clever indeed, but in this case the cleverness may have gotten in the way of the usefulness of the ruling - at least for people with small handwriting like me.  A solution for Daycraft could be to add dotted lines between the lat/long lines, creating an optional "sub-ruling" of 0.5mm for those who want to write smaller and want the guidance of the lines.  As it is, I'll probably just disregard the lines altogether and write in whichever way I please.  Luckily, the ruling is a pale enough shade of blue that I can do that easily.

These numbers totally puzzled me at first - and then I figured it out and I felt so clever.  Yes, I am easily amused.

Despite the issues with the ruling, the Daycraft MyTravel notebook has, if anything, even better paper than the Juicy notebook.  No bleedthrough and essentially nonexistent showthrough for all pens I tried, except for the Sharpie marker (and even that one had surprisingly little bleedthrough).  You can see some very slight shadow on the reverse side of the page, but it really is so faint as to be scarcely noticeable.  None of my pens feathered, even the wettest writers.  The paper is 81.4g and is 100% recycled.  I know that some people don't like recycled papers, but this paper has nothing to complain about.

Writing sample.  Sorry if my writing is a bit smaller than usual!

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the Daycraft MyTravel Notebook, and I do not love it as much as I do the Juicy notebook.  On one hand, the book is very well-made with great binding and terrific paper.  On the other hand, I feel that the design of the outer cover and of the interior ruling could have used a bit more thought, and it is really the wide ruling that is preventing me from falling in love with this notebook.  I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this notebook for its paper quality alone, but those other issues may prove problematic in some cases.  Daycraft produces notebooks in a wide variety of styles, however, so if this one doesn't work for you, it's quite likely that another one will!

Related reviews: Plannerisms, Life Imitates Doodles, On Fountain Pens

**Disclaimer: This Daycraft MyTravel Notebook was generously sent to me for the purposes of review by the folks at Daycraft, but all of my opinions are my own!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October Miscellany: Handwriting, Pencils, Erasers, and More

My monthly miscellany posts are collections of links and thoughts that don't get developed into full blog posts.  In this month's miscellany, we explore handwriting, pencils, erasers, and brush pens, and meet two individuals who own way more journals and pens than I do.  It's a relatively long miscellany this month, so let's get started!

  • An article from the JetPens blog on what your handwriting says about you.  When I did this analysis for myself, my handwriting actually didn't say much about me at all, as my handwriting has hardly any of the characteristics described in the article - but maybe your handwriting will be more revealing.
  • Regardless of what your handwriting reveals about you, check out this great article on why handwriting matters.  It is a bit long, but well worth the read, and is apparently actually an extract from a new book - perhaps a book that I should be checking out.
  • To continue the theme, check out this article from Tiger Pens on 6 reasons why taking notes by hand still wins.
  • Some useful tips on differentiating between pencil graphite grades from the European Paper Company.  I always knew that B was soft and H was hard, but now I know that it's a bit more complex than that.  Good to know, especially since I'm starting to use wooden pencils more often.
  • For more on pencils, check out this fun pencil shaving artwork from Marta Alt├ęs (via The Well-Appointed Desk).  The drawings are simple but very expressive, and I love how the artist used the pencil shavings to create different shapes - I think I could almost do this kind of art.
  • A great article all about the Pink Pearl eraser (via Pencil Revolution).  I remember craving one of these erasers back in elementary school after reading about a character in one of Beverly Cleary's novels who owned one.  (I have always been a bibliophile, and I have always wanted to be like the characters in my favourite books.)  This article even quotes from the very same book that I remember, so check it out.
  • Pentel Brush Pen doodles from Gourmet Pens.  I just don't really get brush pens, and I've never been able to use them as well as this.  I think Azizah is a much better artist than she thinks she is!
  • I don't usually use prompts in my writing and art, but as I'm trying to write more fiction I think that I may start.  And these links to a plethora of writing prompts may come in helpful.
  • Awesome notebooks that look like the bark of trees: Woodpecker Notebooks from Writersblok.  I want one of these!
  • This amazes me: Michelle Reuss at Lost Coast Post currently has 28 journals and 17 sketchbooks in progress (not to mention the dozens of unused ones waiting in the wings).  I think that I have a lot of notebooks on the go when I'm using, say, a dozen at a time, but that is nothing to what Michelle has!  I honestly can't imagine using so many journals at once; I think I would be completely and utterly overwhelmed.  I admire anyone who can keep that many journals and sketchbooks at a time.
  • And Michelle may have a lot of notebooks in progress, but Azizah has a lot of pens and she recently did a penventory.  This also amazes me.  I'd be happy to have even a tenth of her collection.

That's all for this month, and I'll see you in November with a review of another notebook from Daycraft and a new series of posts on art journals!
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