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!
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