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.
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