Monday, May 28, 2012

Intro to Visual Journals, Part 2: Supplies

(Not sure what visual journals are all about?  Start here: Part 1.)

I have a "less is more" philosophy to supplies for visual journals.  The best supplies, I have found, are simple, inexpensive, and very basic.  Start with what you have and with what you are already comfortable with using, and gradually start experimenting with other supplies as you gain confidence.  Remember, it's not the supplies that make you an artist.  If your goal in keeping a visual journal is to improve your artistic skills, then practicing your art on a regular basis will be far more valuable to you than having all the "right" tools.  And if your focus in keeping a visual journal is more on the writing, then you'll probably be happy with a minimal supply kit - perhaps nothing more than a handful of coloured pens.

All of that said, here's an overview of the basic supplies that you'll probably want have on hand:

The Book
The book can be whatever you prefer to work in, but you may find it helpful to keep these tips in mind:
  • Don't choose such a fancy journal that you feel intimidated to use it.  If you can't bear to make a mark in even the most basic of notebooks, try stapling together some sheets from old brown paper bags.  You may be amazed at what you can accomplish when you don't have to worry about "messing it up."  (And check out this video: "Junk Journal".)
  • If you want to do a lot of collage, use a spiral-bound book.  If you're adding a lot of bulk to the pages, the pages will start to splay out, so you'll need to remove some of the pages to compensate.  And trust me, it's lot easier to do that in a spiral-bound notebook
  • If you want to use a lot of paint or other wet media, make sure you're using paper that's relatively heavyweight.  Similarly, if you're using markers or pens that are prone to bleeding through, make sure the paper you're using can cope with that.
  • It is probably best to steer clear of lined notebooks for visual journals, but if you plan to do a lot of writing and you're obsessive about getting your words lined up, try a dot grid notebook.  The dots still provide a guide to your writing, but aren't as intrusive as lines.
  • Finally, the book itself is entirely optional!  It is possible to keep your visual journal on loose pieces of paper, or on loose-leaf pages that can be inserted into a binder.  This is also a great option if you're still feeling intimidated by or hesitant about working in a bound book.

Pens, Pencils, Paints, etc.
This is an area where you can go crazy with way more stuff than you really need.  Again, start with the basics:
  • A basic black waterproof pen.  This is essential for me.  I use it for adding text to pages, drawing mandalas, and sketching.  I prefer the Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen, but a Sakura Pigma Micron or even a Sharpie Pen would also be a good choice.
  • A few basic pencils in different hardnesses.  I don't use pencils much myself, but if you're working in a bound journal, you may want to steer clear of the very soft pencils, as they can smudge quite a bit.
  • A handful of coloured gel pens.  The Sakura Gelly Rolls are a good choice for multimedia, as they are available in a multitude of different colours and styles and write on all sorts of surfaces.
  • A basic palette of paints.  Stick to a basic palette that you can mix to create all the colours you need, rather than trying to buy individual tubes of every colour under the sun.
Of course, your list of basics may be different from mine, but your main objective is to find supplies that are of a high enough quality that you can get the results you want, but not so expensive that you're afraid to use them and experiment with them.  If you're hesitant to try certain supplies, see if you can find easier to use or less intimidating alternatives.  For example, if you want to try watercolours but are intimidated by paints, try watercolour pencils, which are as easy to use as your kids' pencil crayons but still give you great colours and effects.  If you want to get into fountain pens but are not sure if you want to spend that much money on one pen, try an inexpensive disposable model such as the Platinum Preppy or Pilot Petit1.

Other Tools
These include items such as scissors, glues, tapes, stencils, stamps, rulers, erasers, sharpeners, sprayers, rollers, punches, and the like.  Again, it would probably be really easy to just go crazy here and pick up one of each until you're drowning in supplies, most of which you'll rarely use.  I'd recommend that if you find that you need one of these items, first look around your house to see if you have anything that will work.  If not, then you can go out and buy a basic tool that will do the job for you.  The best tools are the ones that are flexible enough to be used for multiple purposes.


My main advice when selecting supplies for your visual journal is, as I said earlier, to start with what you have and with what you know, get comfortable doing whatever it is you want to do in your visual journal with that, and then gradually expand to other supplies that you're interested in trying out.  But as for actually how to get started in your visual journal . . . that will be the topic of the next post in this series, which will be coming out in about two weeks!


This series of posts is focused on the basics of keeping a visual journal, especially for people who don't think of themselves as artists, who aren't interested in spending a fortune on fancy art supplies, and who might be a bit intimidated by many popular sites on art journals or sketchbooks.  If you have any questions about visual journals or suggestions for future topics in this series, please let me know!

(See Part 3: Getting Started)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

PaperMate InkJoy 700 RT 1.0mm

It seems like there's been a rash of these "super-smooth" ballpoints going around lately: the Uni-ball Jetstream (okay, that one's actually been around for quite a while), the Pentel Vicuna, the Zebra Surari, and now the PaperMate InkJoy.  Frankly, they all start to blend together in my head after a while, so that I keep asking myself, "Wait a minute, which one was that again?"  Generally, I think they're the kind of pens that, if the only pens you've ever used are the kind you can buy a dozen of for a dollar at a back to school sale, then you'd be pretty impressed by them.  But if you're a serious pen fanatic addict user and you've already discovered gel pens, liquid ink pens, and even fountain pens, then these "super-smooth" ballpoints may not be quite that exciting.  These days, a ballpoint pen has to be truly exceptional for me to get excited about it.

Anyway, excuse me while I get off my tangent and get back to the main purpose of this post: to review the PaperMate InkJoy.  My first impressions on using this pen were positive.  I'm afraid that whenever I think of PaperMate I always remember these awful erasable ballpoints I had back in grade eight.  The tips would always get all gummed up with ballpoint lint, and the eraser merely smeared the ink around on the page.  Trust me, they were awful.  So I was quite happy (and yes, even a bit joyous) to discover that the PaperMate InkJoy is a distinct improvement on those erasable ballpoints of my memory.

Still, it's not that exciting.  Writing with the InkJoy, I can still tell that, yes, this is definitely a ballpoint pen.  It still writes with that slightly streaky, greyish line that I associate with ballpoints.  It occasionally deposits the odd glob of ink on the page.  Although it is somewhat smoother than the average ballpoint, it is really not that smooth, and certainly not nearly as smooth as the Uni-ball Jetstream (a pen that can, on occasion, almost, almost, fool me into thinking that it's a gel pen).

The InkJoy comes in a number of different models.  (Check them out on the InkJoy's website.)  Most of the models come in a variety of different ink colours, but the one I'm trying out here is the 700 RT model, which is in my opinion the classiest looking of the InkJoy models but which is also only available in black, blue, and red.  The thing that I like most about the 700 RT is its sleek, understated white body.  For some reason, pens with a white body always appeal to me, perhaps because they aren't all that common, or perhaps because they exude an atmosphere of purity and serenity that I hope will leak over into my writing (unlikely, I know, but I can still hope).

The PaperMate InkJoy 700 RT sports, in addition to its sleek white barrel, a firm, slightly grooved grip that I find wholly unremarkable, and a shiny metal clip that appears to be both sturdy and relatively flexible.  One thing to be careful of: If, for some completely innocent reason, you end up with ink on your fingers and then pick up this pen, the ink will transfer from your skin to the shiny white surface of the pen.  The ink will rub off again with some effort, but you may be best off to simply avoid this particular model of InkJoy if you have a tendency towards inky fingers.

In conclusion, if you're looking for a slightly-better-than-average ballpoint pen, the PaperMate InkJoy, while it certainly is not the best place to look, is not a bad place to look either.  If ballpoints are the pens you mainly use, then you'll probably love the InkJoy.  I surrendered this InkJoy to my mother, who really only uses ballpoints and thought it was a great pen.  If, on the other hand, you've discovered other, better kinds of pens and you're trying to decide whether or not you really need another ballpoint pen, then. . . you probably don't.  Or at least, not this one.

Related reviews: Gourmet Pens, Economy Pens, Stationery Review, OfficeSupplyGeek, Rhonda Eudaly, Bryanlyt.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Intro to Visual Journals, Part 1

The word "journal" (akin to "journey") is derived from the Latin dies, meaning "day."  A journal is worked in day by day.  It is not a finished, polished product, but a place where you can experiment, imagine, dream, hope, plan, organize, worry, fret, make to-do lists, sketch, draw, glue or tape in scraps of paper, and doodle in the margins.

A visual journal is a journal that includes both written words and images of some kind - sketches, drawings, doodles, paintings, collages, scraps of ephemera, etc.  The visual element can be as small as a thumbnail sketch or a glued-in fragment of paper on every other page, or it can be as large as a full page spread covered in multiple layers of paint and collage.  There are as many potential styles of visual journals as there are potential journal-keepers.

A Sampling of Possible Visual Journal Styles
The notebook with visual additions is probably the most understated and unrecognized type of visual journal.  At first glance, it appears like an ordinary written journal or notebook, but it also uses different colours of pens, and elements such as doodles, arrows, cross-outs, and highlighting to add a more visual element.  The purpose of this journal may be to increase the flexibility of handwritten notes, or to add some fun and colour to an otherwise mundane notebook.
The sketchbook journal can be a simple bound sketchbook with plain white paper.  Its pages can include both realistic and abstract sketches and drawings using pen or pencil, with perhaps some colour added with pens or watercolours.  Handwritten notes may be added on the sketching process.  The purpose of this journal may be to practice sketching or drawing skills, or to improve one's skills of observation.

The art journal is what most people think of when they think of visual journals.  The pages in this journal likely have multiple layers of paint, collage, stencilling, details added with pens and markers, etc.  The images may be abstract or realistic, and the pages may contain many words or none at all.  The purpose of this journal may be to explore different artistic techniques, to cope with stress in other areas of one's life, or to learn to express oneself in new ways.

There are countless possible reasons why you might keep a visual journal (or any journal).  For example:
  • To chronicle your everyday life.
  • To provide a record for future generations.
  • To develop, practice, and hone your artistic skills.
  • To relax and relieve stress.
  • To connect with nature through sketches and written observations.
  • To contain memories of your travels.
  • To practice your writing skills.
  • To track a certain activity, such as bird watching, amateur astronomy, gardening, running, cooking, etc.
  • And above all, simply to have fun.

Whatever the reason, including a visual element in your journal can expand your journalling practice.  Drawing, painting, or gluing in scraps of paper trigger other parts of the brain than writing, and can also supplement your writing, providing more information than your words could do alone.  Just think how much richer your journal of your trip to France would be if you included sketches of the sites you visited as well as wrote about them.  You don't need to be an artist to keep a visual journal.  You don't need to be skilled at drawing or painting.  You can be male or female, young or old.  All you need is a desire to keep a journal that goes beyond mere writing.

This series of posts will focus on the basics of keeping a visual journal, especially for people who don't think of themselves as artists, who aren't interested in spending a fortune on fancy art supplies, and who might be a bit intimidated by popular sites on art journals or sketchbooks.  In future posts in this series, I'll explore supplies and resources for keeping a visual journal, and suggest some ways to get started.  If you have any questions about visual journals or suggestions for topics in this series, please let me know!

(See Part 2: Supplies; Part 3: Getting Started)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Developing a Daily Writing Habit

So.  You want to be a writer.  The bad news about that is that now you're actually going to have to sit down and write.  But that's easy.  You'll just sit down at your computer tomorrow morning and write for the next six hours or so.  And you start to do that, but then the phone rings, or you are gripped by a burning desire to check your email or Facebook or Twitter or whatever, or your cat walks across your keyboard, or your kid or significant other or room-mate or parent or arch-enemy demands your attention, or an alien spacecraft lands in your front yard, or...  You know how it goes.  Suddenly, it becomes easier to do just about anything other than actually write.  And the next day is much the same.  Soon, you feel so guilty about not writing that just thinking about writing becomes painful.  The solution?  You need to develop a daily writing habit, easily and painlessly.

I've been focusing on developing my own daily writing habit over the last few weeks, and I've already learned quite a few important lessons, from past mistakes, from what I'm doing differently this time, and from the excellent Zen Habits blog, an excellent resource if you're looking to develop any new habit in your life.  Here are the basics of developing a daily writing habit.  I've been following these three simple steps myself and so far, they have worked amazingly.

  1. Start small.  Sure, you want to be able to write for an hour or more everyday, but chances are you won't be able to maintain that habit for long because it will just be too much, too soon.  A better method is to start with just 5 minutes a day and gradually increase that time.  I've been adding 5 minutes a week, but you could do whatever works for you.  Not only does this help you to develop a habit that is easy to maintain, it also creates the desire to write for longer periods, which is a positive feeling that will keep you motivated.  When I was writing for only 5 minutes a day, I felt very limited by what I could write in that short time, and so, instead of dreading to force myself to write for an hour every day, I was looking forward to writing for 10 and 15 minutes a day.  Today, I wrote 580 words in 15 minutes; if I maintained that rate for an hour every day, that would be 2320 words a day and 846,800 words in a year!  My goal is to work up to an hour a day in two 30-minute session, but right now I'm still at 15 minutes.   (And even only 15 minutes a day would still give 211,700 words in a year!)
  2. Don't commit to writing at a specific time of the day, because schedules change, but tie your writing habit to another daily habit that is already established.  You could decide to commit to writing every day at 10AM, but what if one day you sleep in or you have an important appointment then?  Your schedule will be disrupted and you may very well end up not writing at all.  Instead, tie your writing habit to another habit, one that you already do everyday without fail, such as getting up, going to bed, eating a meal, brushing your teeth, etc.  Write just before you go to bed or as soon as you wake up.  Write right after breakfast or just before lunch.  Instead of turning on the TV right away in the evening, write for 5 minutes first and then turn it on.  I currently write for 15 minutes as soon as I turn my computer on after breakfast.  I don't eat breakfast or turn my computer on at the exact same time every day, but I still do those things every day.  The advantage of this is that not only is it easier to fit writing into your schedule, but also you will be less likely to forget to write, since one habit will remind you of the other.
  3. Finally, if you miss a day (for whatever reason), don't worry about it, and just move on.  You'll probably miss a day now and then.  This is perfectly all right.  But don't feel guilty about it or allow your guilt to prevent you from getting back to your habit the next day.  Also, don't feel that you have to "catch up" if you miss a day.  If you miss one day of writing for 10 minutes, don't try to write for 20 minutes the next day to catch up.  That will just increase your stress and make it harder for you to motivate yourself to write the next day.  If you miss a day, just acknowledge it and then move on.  However, if you find yourself missing many days, take a closer look at what you're doing and see if some changes are necessary.  Are you trying to do too much?  Do you keep forgetting?  Are you trying to write in the evenings but you're finding that you're too tired to even think straight then?  Make adjustments, and try it that way for a week.  If even 5 minutes seems like too long, try writing for just 2 minutes.  Or commit to writing just one sentence a day.  Maybe that one sentence will turn into ten sentences.  Or maybe it won't - but at least you'll have one more sentence than you had yesterday.  The important part is developing the habit of writing daily, however small it is.

As I mentioned earlier, I've been following these three steps for the last few weeks and have been very successful with them.  Not only have I been writing every day, I have been enjoying it as well and feeling good about myself for not just saying that I want to be a writer, but actually writing!

What do you do to get yourself writing daily?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pentel EnerGel Euro 0.35mm Black

I've reviewed quite a few incarnations of the Pentel EnerGel here in the past, but this one, the Pentel EnerGel Euro in 0.35mm, will probably be the last one I'll review in a while.  Fittingly, it is also probably my favourite of the EnerGel pens that I have used.

The main reason for this one being my favourite is that 0.35mm needlepoint tip.  I love fine-tipped pens (i.e., anything 0.5mm or less) generally, and I especially love needlepoints, which makes this pen just about perfect.  However, being a "liquid gel ink pen" (whatever that means, other than being a way to hopelessly confuse me as to whether this is a liquid ink pen or a gel ink pen), the line width of this pen appears slightly wider than that of a comparable gel pen.  Based on some comparisons, I would say that this 0.35mm EnerGel Euro writes more like a 0.5mm gel pen.  Not that I really mind.  This pen is terrific.  It writes with a deep black, fine, crisp line, and did I mention that it is very smooth?  It's not quite as smooth as the 0.7mm EnerGel, but for 0.35mm (or even 0.5mm), it is amazing.  Heavenly, even.

As you've probably noticed from the title of this post, this pen is not an ordinary EnerGel, but an EnerGel Euro.  The puzzling thing about that is that the pen itself is not actually marked "EnerGel Euro" but just "EnerGel", which makes me wonder whether it really is an EnerGel Euro or if the whole "Euro" thing is just a conspiracy to make us all think that this pen is something shockingly different than the "real" EnerGel.  It is all very mysterious.  Still, JetPens calls this pen an EnerGel Euro, and that is what I bought it as, so I suppose I shall have to trust them.

My confusion is further complicated by the fact that there aren't really any substantial differences between this pen and the standard EnerGel pens.  It is very similar in appearance, being only slightly shorter and slimmer.  It has the same basic, slightly textured grip, the same lid design, the same band across the middle labelling it as a Pentel pen.  The EnerGel Euro is available in 0.35mm, 0.5mm, 0.7mm, and 1.0mm, and all versions have the same dark blue body, while the EnerGel has different body colours for 0.5mm and 0.7mm (light blue and silver).  I'm also not sure whether the normal EnerGel is available in 0.35mm, but the EnerGel Euro certainly is.  One small feature I miss in the Euro is the clear window to see the ink level.  All the EnerGel Euro has is a tiny gap between the grip and the body of the pen that allows you to peek in.  Just like the EnerGel, the EnerGel Euro is also part of Pentel's Recycology line (i.e., it's made of at least 50% recycled materials), which is another plus if that's important to you.

From top to bottom: 0.7mm EnerGel, 0.5mm EnerGel, 0.35mm EnerGel Euro, 0.7mm EnerGel RT.

I'd love it if the Pentel EnerGel Euro came in a wider selection of colours, but for now I'll just have to settle with black, blue, and red.  I'm not really complaining though.  I really do love this pen.  It is fun to use, and effortless to write with.  It is a great addition to the EnerGel line, and I highly recommend it, especially if you are looking for an easy introduction to the world of sub-0.5mm pens.

Related reviews: OfficeSupplyGeek, The Pen Addict, No Pen Intended, Gourmet Pens, Ink2Paper.
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