Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Behind the Scenes: Writing Pen Reviews

I've been writing pen reviews here at A Penchant for Paper for about two and a half years, but the times are changing.  I have no plans to stop blogging here, but the focus of the blog will likely gradually shift from the tools (pens, notebooks, etc.) to what can be created with the tools.  It's not going to be an immediate change, however, and for now, I'm simply going to celebrate these years of pen and paper reviews by taking you behind the scenes for a close-up look at how these erudite, insightful, and witty reviews get written in the first place.

Step 1. Write a draft of the review, with the pen being reviewed.
The review begins in my draft notebook - a notebook that is dedicated to writing first drafts of blog posts.  I write out a draft review of the pen (preferably using the pen I'm reviewing) by hand.  To make things easier for myself later on, I also write in descriptions of the photos that I will take and insert the descriptions into the locations in the review where the photos will appear in the final post.  I'll also indicate any links to earlier posts that I want to include so that I don't forget them when I type out the review later on.  I used to write my first drafts on the computer, but writing things out by hand in this way seems to trigger my creativity better than staring at a computer screen does, so I start the majority of my posts this way now.  At any given time, I may have half a dozen or more posts (for both blogs) in draft in this notebook

Step 2. Write a short form of the review to be used as the writing sample.
Draft review completed, I write an abbreviated version of it on a fresh page of my Rhodia No. 11 Pad.  I always write the full name of the pen at the top of the page, and I try to write as neatly as possible, since this will later become the writing sample that you see in my final post.  I've been using the Rhodia pad for my reviews ever since October of 2009, and it had its d├ębut in my review of the Uni-ball Fusion - a pen that I later ended up being less than satisfied with.  I wish now that I had picked up a larger sized pad, because this one does limit what I can include in the writing sample, but I'll probably stick with this one until it is full.

Step 3. Take a bunch of photos of it all.
Finally, it's on to the step that is probably the most time-consuming and problematic of them all: taking the photos.  Despite all of the pen reviews under my belt, I have still not quite perfected the art of pen photography, although my technique has certainly improved since the early days of my very first review (I still cringe to see that photo!).

My camera has a macro setting but not an actual macro lens, so I can't get too close up in my photos.  It can  often be a challenge to get close enough in to show all of the details and yet remain in focus.  The pen also needs to be arranged in something of a pleasing pose (surprisingly difficult to do with a long, skinny object), and the background needs to be something unobtrusive.  I've experimented with different backgrounds, and simply placing the pen on a page of my notebook seems to be the most effective right now.  Lighting is also a considerable challenge; natural light is usually best, but on dull, cloudy winter days this is not always sufficient.  The lighting needs to be bright enough for the colours to show up well, but not so bright that the photos start to become over-exposed.  Shadows and reflections can also prove problematic if the lighting is not quite right.  Usually I settle for a spot in our dining room that has windows on all sides and turn on all of the lights in the room, for a mix of natural and artificial lighting.

Step 4. Edit photos and upload.
After the photos are taken, I transfer them to my computer for editing.  The editing is minimal - usually I just crop the photos and adjust the colour slightly so that it appears close to how it looks to my eye.  The colours often appear dull straight off the camera, so I typically need to lighten them.  Of course, monitor settings vary, and it is probably impossible to reproduce any colours completely accurately on a computer screen.  I convert the photos to a lower size and resolution for uploading to Blogger and then I am nearly finished.

Now, only the easy parts remain: typing up the draft of the review in Blogger, editing it as I go, adding in the necessary photos and links, hitting the Publish button, and watching the comments come in.  Overall, writing a simple pen review is a surprisingly lengthy process that requires a considerable amount of time and effort.  Still, they're a lot of fun to do, and while I do not foresee as many reviews in the coming months as there has been in the past (once I finish off the reviews from my last JetPens order), I'm sure that the odd one will always show up.  I hope that you've enjoyed this look behind the scenes, and thanks as always for your support and comments!

(Pen featured in this post: Pentel EnerGel 0.7mm Black)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Pentel EnerGel 0.7mm Black

What, you say, is this yet another review of an EnerGel pen?  Yes, I reply, I fully admit that it is.  I can't help it, I love these pens, and in my defense I submit that I haven't yet reviewed this exact version of the EnerGel.  I've reviewed the 0.5mm needle-point version in blue, and the 0.7mm retractable version in red, and a review of the 0.35mm EnerGel Euro is forthcoming, but this one is simply the standard 0.7mm version in black.  It is also probably the one that you would be most likely to encounter in the average office supply store.

Like the other versions of the EnerGel, this one writes obscenely smoothly, and the colour is vivid and intense.  No washed-out or grey tones for this pen - this must surely be one of the blackest blacks around.  The ink is relatively fast-drying, which is another bonus.  I don't find the conical-tip rollerball of the 0.7mm quite as fun to write with as the needle-point of the 0.5mm, but that is merely a personal preference.  If you like bolder pens and have larger handwriting than I do (my handwriting is quite small so I prefer fine-tipped pens), then this one is for you.

As another plus, this pen is part of Pentel's Recycology program, which means that it is made of at least 50% recycled materials by weight.  Although I don't believe that most recycled items are quite as ecologically friendly as companies would have us think, recycling is still probably a better option than simply creating more landfills or letting things accumulate in the Pacific Garbage Patch.

The barrel of the 0.7mm Pentel EnerGel is printed with the gentle reminder "recap after use", which always vaguely amuses me.  The body is a silvery grey colour, as compared to the light blue of the 0.5mm and the darker blue of the EnerGel Euro.  The cap of the 0.7mm also has a more angular shape than the cap of the 0.5mm.  I think I prefer the 0.5mm cap, but that is a very minor issue and one that I didn't even notice until I had the pens sitting side by side.  The ink colour is indicated by the colour of the cap and the grip, while a helpful window shows the ink supply.  As with all the EnerGel pens, I find the appearance of the pen pleasing, but not overly exciting.

A family portrait.  Comparison, from top to bottom, of the 0.7mm EnerGel, 0.5mm EnerGel, 0.35mm EnerGel Euro, and 0.7mm EnerGel RT.
Overall, the 0.7mm Pentel EnerGel is a great, classic pen, as are all of its siblings.  I highly recommend it if you're looking for a good-quality basic writing pen, although if you prefer finer-tipped pens I'd suggest the 0.5mm (or smaller sizes) over the 0.7mm.  The EnerGel, in whichever of its incarnations you prefer, is one pen that shouldn't disappoint.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Clean Your Desk, Clear Your Mind?

I'm not an obsessively neat person, and I can always tolerate a certain amount of clutter, but I do appreciate it when my living space - especially my desk - is kept relatively tidy.  However, I have an unfortunate tendency to take items out of the drawers of my desk or out of the cupboard - notebooks, pens, papers, scissors, rulers, etc. - and then not put them back again.  Slowly, these items begin to pile up on the surface of my desk.  At first, because these are the items that I use most frequently, it is convenient to have them within easy reach and not have to open a drawer every time I want to use a particular pen.

This is an old photo.  My desk is not nearly this tidy right now.
But as the pile accumulates, my to-do list ends up somewhere near the bottom and the pile becomes more of a hindrance rather than a convenience.  As the physical clutter in my surroundings grows, it feels that my mental "clutter" increases as well.  It becomes harder to get anything done.  I become more likely to procrastinate or spend hours flipping through web pages rather than writing or getting something worthwhile done.  As the clutter builds, my productivity declines.

Finally, though, I simply can't stand it anymore, and I take however long I need to stow all of the accumulated items away in their places, vowing that I will never let it happen again, although of course I always do.  And when the surface of my desk is clean, I feel inspired, focused, motivated, and productive again.

Have you experienced something similar?  Do you work better when your surroundings are relatively clutter-free?  If so, how do you keep your desk tidy?  Or are you one of those people who seem to need a certain amount of clutter in order to get anything done?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Stabilo Pen 68

Pen?  I have my doubts... The Stabilo "Pen" 68 looks and writes suspiciously like a marker.  And just what does that number "68" mean, anyway?  Does it mean that there is a whole series of Stabilo Pens, from Pen 1 all the way to Pen 67, preceding it, or does it have some dark, occult significance?

A pair of Stabilo Pen 68's, in green and brown.
Regardless, the Stabilo Marker, er, Pen 68 has a long, slim, hexagonal profile, similar to that of a wooden pencil.  The body and cap are the colour of the ink, and the body is enlivened with white stripes, which gives the marker, I mean pen, a rather funky look.  The marker pen lacks a clip, which doesn't bother me since I rarely use clips, although you may, of course, have different preferences.  The cap is small and, although it posts on the end of the pen, it feels rather loose when it does so (especially on the brown - the green isn't that bad).  This, combined with its small size, makes me fear that the cap could be easily lost.

The tip of the Pen 68 was supposed to be in focus in this photo.  Unfortunately, it is not, a fact which I did not notice until I had transferred the photos for this post to my computer, at which point I was, also unfortunately, too lazy pressed for time to take a new photo.
As a pen, the Stabilo Pen 68 is a fail.  Its somewhat chunky felt tip writes with a line that is way too broad for my liking.  I also suspect that the tip may become even softer, and therefore broader, with further use.  The felt tip feels fairly firm now, but it is softer on the green than on the brown, leading to a difference in the width of the line produced by the two colours, which can be seen in the writing sample below.  I wouldn't recommend the Pen 68 as a pen unless you have large handwriting and enjoy writing with markers, or with markers that are masquerading as pens.

As a marker, the Stabilo Pen 68 is fairly decent, although unremarkable.  The colours are bright, the lines are fairly crisp (at least at the time of review, when the markers pens are still relatively new).  Although a fairly broad pen, it makes for a fine- to medium-tipped marker, which means that I'll probably be using it for colouring and adding bits of colour to my mandala drawings.

If you're expecting an everyday writing pen, look elsewhere than the Stabilo Pen 68.  On the other hand, if you're looking for a simple, inexpensive marker, the "Pen" 68 would not be such a bad choice.

And finally, a note to Stabilo: Your "Pen" 68 is not a pen.  It is a marker.  I would appreciate it if it was labelled accordingly.

Related reviews: On Fountain Pens, Spiritual Evolution of the Bean.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Recent Acquisitions

Yes, it is true.  I am becoming one of those horrible people who post the contents of their latest JetPens orders on their blogs, just so all of their readers who have not just ordered some new pens from JetPens can turn green in envy.  In my defence, I had not ordered anything from JetPens in years, so I was absurdly excited to receive this order.  Maybe if JetPens extended their free shipping on orders over $25 to Canada as well as the United States I would place more orders?  However, I should say that the basic shipping to Canada only cost me $5, which is very reasonable, so I really shouldn't complain too much.

And here's what I got:

I'll leave you now to be as envious as you wish.  Reviews of these items will be appearing at irregular intervals throughout the coming weeks and months, although I have a couple of older pens to review first.  And I need to use these for a while before I start reviewing them.

Have you used any of these items?  And what have been your recent acquisitions, from JetPens or elsewhere?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Pentel Fluorescent Marker

The Pentel Fluorescent Marker is a highlighter.  I don't know why it's not called that.  Did someone think that "fluorescent marker" sounded more elite than "highlighter"?  Or is "fluorescent marker" a term that simply means "highlighter" in some parts of the world?

The mysteriously-named Pentel Fluorescent Marker.
Mysteries aside, the Pentel Fluorescent Marker is a long, slim, pen-style highlighter.  In fact, its appearance is probably its best feature.  It is a quieter, more subdued, and even somewhat elegant version of the more commonly seen chunky highlighters that are reminiscent of the markers I used in elementary school, such as this Sanford Accent.

Admire the Fluorescent Marker's cool, calm, collected nature next to this bold and brash Sanford Accent highlighter.
The chisel tip of the Pentel Fluorescent Marker creates a crisp, smooth line that is 3mm in width, good for fine lines of text but perhaps not ideal if you are highlighting larger printing or handwriting.  Turned the other way around, the chisel tip comes to a narrow point that creates a relatively fine line to write with if, for some odd reason, you wanted to write with a highlighter.  The colour is intense and definitely fluorescent, as compared to other highlighters that may have a somewhat washed-out appearance.  Sadly, the intense colour did not show very well AT ALL in any of my photos.

The actual colour of the highlighter is about a thousand times more intense and fluorescent than this photo shows.  Sadly, most highlighters I have used end up with a dirty-looking tip after being used for a while.
When used over the ink of different pens, the Pentel Fluorescent Marker did smear the ink (and I let the ink dry for several hours), especially the ink of the gel pens.  The liquid ink pens smeared the least.  The writing was still legible even when smeared, so it would depend on your personal aesthetic sense as to how much of this smearing you would tolerate.  Ink on printed paper was not smeared, although this highlighter did smear ink from an inkjet printer.  (Most highlighters smear inkjet ink.  Try a gel highlighter, such as this one from Sharpie, if you want to be safe.)

Dishonest practices: never a good policy.
The greatest complaint I have with this highlighter is that it can bleed through papers, especially if it is held down for a while in one spot.  If you just make a quick pass over the page or if you're using better-quality paper (such as the Rhodia paper in the pen test), you shouldn't have a problem, but use caution if you're highlighting thinner papers, such as in a textbook, or if you're highlighting more slowly.

As I've mentioned before, I don't normally use highlighters (and this is only the second highlighter that I've ever reviewed here), so I don't really know what an "average quality" highlighter is.  However, I suspect that this highlighter may be it.  It looks good and has crisp, bright colours, but it can smear some inks and bleed through some papers.  I don't recommend it, unless you are certain that the smearing and bleeding will not be issues for you.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Gluebook Becomes an Art Journal

Despite myself, my gluebook is beginning to look suspiciously like an art journal.  If you recall from my earlier post on it, my first pages were very square and linear in appearance.  Squares and rectangles of paper were neatly lined up with almost mathematical precision.  Now, however, things are starting to get a bit looser.  I'm still cutting out squares and rectangles, but I've stopped using my ruler and they're getting glued down at all angles and even overlapping.  The resulting pages look something like this:

"The Warmth There is in Winter."  Collage, stickers, Staedtler triplus fineliner, Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Brush Pen.
Before, I felt more like a collector, like I was merely assembling a collection of pieces of paper on a page, not that there's anything wrong with that.  Now, however, I feel more like an artist.  My pages have themes.  I choose images for their symbolism.  I draw together colours, textures, and patterns to create a whole that is larger than its parts.  And I'm having fun.  Just me and my scissors and my glue stick.  The top of my desk is already too crowded so I spread everything out on the floor of the library and work there.

"Come Home." Collage, stickers, Staedtler triplus fineliner.
I received a query earlier about the kind of glue that I am using, so I thought I would share it here:

My glues of choice.
On all of the pages in my gluebook I have used my trusty UHU glue stick.  These glue sticks are available just about everywhere around here, and they are non-toxic, acid-free, and archival quality.  I actually used the very same kind of glue back in elementary school and it is still my favourite glue stick to use today!  I like to get it in purple, which dries clear and allows me to see more clearly where I have applied the glue.  These glue sticks are somewhat prone to leaving little lumps of glue on the page when you are applying it, but these can usually be smoothed out.  You also need to apply a nice thick, even layer to make sure that it sticks well.  I go through these glue sticks fairly quickly, but because they are inexpensive and readily available, I don't mind.

If I need a stronger hold, I use liquid white glue of some sort.  The bottle in the photo is of Aleene's Tacky Glue, and I'm pretty sure that the glue in the bottle is the original glue.  When the bottle runs out, I've been known to refill it with carpenter's white glue.  This comes in a plastic jug and it looks and feels basically the same as the tacky glue.  These glues work on just about everything. I mainly use them on paper, but I recently also used white glue to attach fabric to metal, and that also worked well.  These glues do, however, take a while to dry and, because they are quite wet, can cause thin papers to curl, which is why I prefer drier glue sticks for thinner papers.

Vellum paper.  Like other translucent items, hard to photograph well.
The above photo shows something new that I've discovered recently - translucent vellum paper.  I only have a few sheets that came as part of a package of scrapbooking papers, so I have a very limited selection of colours and patterns right now.  I think I will try to find some more, however, as it is great to use in layering in collages.  You can see a small piece of it being used on the left-hand page of the first page spread I showed above.  It looks better in person however, since it tends to disappear in photographs.

Leaf stencil.  Like other shiny, reflective items, hard to photograph well.
Or maybe it's just my photographic skills that are lacking.
Finally, I recently picked up this brass leaf stencil at a local thrift shop, and I would really like to start using it in my gluebook/art journal as well.  I'm a bit unsure though, since I don't think I've used any stencils since elementary school and this one has such a small, fine pattern that I'm not sure how best to use it.  I should just start experimenting, I guess.  Any suggestions?

Do you keep an art journal, gluebook, or something similar?  If so, how has your style of working in it changed over time?  And what new supplies have you discovered lately?
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