Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July Miscellany: Blog Updates + Old Posts

This month's miscellany is going to be a bit different.  I don't have my usual round-up of links for you, and instead I'll be updating you on what's going on with the blog lately:

That's all for this month!  I'm looking forward to August and I hope you are too.  See you then!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sanford / PaperMate Liquid Expresso Extra Fine Line Pen

Like the Bic Exact-Tip Roller I reviewed earlier, the Sanford Liquid Expresso Extra Fine Line Pen was another thrift store find.  Also similar to the Exact-Tip, this is an older pen that may no longer be available in the form that you see in my photos.  It may also be called the PaperMate Liquid Expresso, and on some sites where it was being sold, it appeared in the photos as the Liquid Flair (although the seller still described it as the Liquid Expresso).  So all of that's a bit confusing, but it does seem that this pen is still available, in some form.

I didn't get just one of these of the thrift store, I got three.  Even better.

Let's move on to less confusing topics.  The Liquid Expresso is a liquid ink, porous point pen.  In appearance, it's actually quite similar to the Exact-Tip Roller, although it lacks the Exact-Tip's cushiony grip.  The spring-loaded clear plastic cap in turn reminds me of the Platinum Preppy fountain pen.  It has a wider barrel, which I don't mind, but I know that some people don't like wider barrels.

Just squint your eyes and imagine that the tips of these pens are in focus.

My main problem with this pen is the grip area, which has two sharp plastic edges which are positioned exactly to rub on my thumb and forefinger (I've helpfully pointed them out for you in the photo below).  I seriously don't get why anyone would make a pen like this.  And it's a problem I've encountered many times before.  Doesn't anyone realize that sharp edges aren't comfortable to hold while writing?  In this case, I can tolerate the edges, but I suspect they might feel worse if I was writing for a longer period of time.  This may or may not be an issue for you depending on how you grip your pens.

Marvel at my awesome Photoshop skills.  Those are arrows!

The best part of this pen is the way it writes.  It is very smooth and inky (relatively wet-writing), with no scratchiness or skipping, and the ink is a gorgeous deep black colour.  It does bleed through cheaper papers, and it even feathers and shows through on Rhodia paper.  But I guess that is the price to pay for the smooth inkiness.  Just don't be fooled by that "extra fine line" business.  This is not a particularly fine pen; I would say it's comparable to a 0.7mm gel.  It's not my ideal line width, but is still acceptable for everyday writing.  If the line actually was extra fine, then I think this could easily become one of my new favourite pens, but as it is...  It's a great pen, but not for me.

The name also bugs me.  I keep calling it "espresso" instead of "Expresso."

Overall, the Sanford / PaperMate Liquid Expresso / Flair "Extra Fine Line" Pen (or whatever it's called) is not a bad pen.  It writes very well, especially if you like medium to wide line widths.  I would love to hear from anyone who has tried the more recent versions.  If the issue with the edges in the grip area was fixed, I think I'd feel a lot more positive about this pen.  As it is, it's not ideal for my writing style, but I still think it's worth a try, if you happen to run across one.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Guest Post: Life as an Addicted Cursive Writer by Alice Jenkins

Author: Alice Jenkins is an aspiring screenplay writer and current freelance writer with a passion for penmanship. She writes for personalized pens supplier PensXpress.
Ever since I learned cursive in the 3rd grade I have used it as my everyday form of writing. No, it was not because nobody told me I could stop doing it once I got to 6th grade, but because I just grew into it. Plus I was frequently told I had nice penmanship. However, it seems more and more that cursive is being viewed as a useless skill and something many public schools should cease to teach. As a (for the most part) lifelong cursive writer this baffles me. Cursive writing has not only given me a seemingly unique skill amongst my peers, it has allowed me to record my thoughts in a quick and elegant manner. Still, I can’t pretend it didn’t have its cons growing up.

Troubles I’ve Experienced Being a Cursive Writer

Writing in Non-Language Subjects: You would not believe how many well-educated math teachers can’t read cursive. After Geometry in high school I felt it was time to compromise so that I stopped getting half credit for making my teachers consult the internet in order to translate what I was saying. Most of the time I was able to get them to change the grade if I could make it reasonably clear what I was trying to say. In the end I opted to use strictly print for math classes from then until I graduated college.

Writing any Sort of Instructions for Somebody Else: From notes of household tasks to be done to grocery lists, my friends and other peers have always found it more difficult to read my writing. Not because it is sloppy or unorganized but because it is in what some might consider another language. You can imagine what it was like if I tried to write in cursive on a white board at the front of a class. Everyone that I know my age or older was required to learn cursive at one point but it seems it was a lot like parallel parking for them, they’re required to show they can do it but never try to do it if they can help it.

Social: This one is perhaps the least flattering of all. When you pass a note to the guy you’re scoping out and he doesn’t ever send a response back it gets all of the doubting thoughts to flood your head. It’s not until you find out that he couldn’t read what you wrote that you feel a bit foolish. This happened with two guys that I knew of back in high school. Plain and simple, common people of the past two decades do not want to see cursive outside of a signature or a classroom focused on teaching cursive.

Benefits of Writing in Cursive

Taking Notes: I am the fastest and most efficient note taker I know who records them by hand. Cursive allowed me to write so much faster because my pen or pencil leaves the paper a lot less often than it would if I was printing. I read my cursive just fine so my notes are as good as they need to be and as an added bonus I never had to worry about being asked to take notes for friends that decided to skip class. My notes were useful to me and for the most part, only me. This is one of the few situations where it felt good to be on my own little writing island.

Private Thoughts: Its cliché, I know but I did have a journal in which I recorded my thoughts and goals throughout the end of high school and college. I wouldn’t say it was a diary, I definitely didn’t write about all my deepest secrets every other day. I would rather call it my own personal confidant in which I could list my own personal goals and ideas that I would rather not share with the world. A few of these more personal goals would revolve around dieting for a targeted weight, career passions I wanted to pursue, outlandish goals I wanted to reach, etc. Cursive writing made people take one look at my writing and immediately give up after a sentence. Consequently I was never worried about leaving it out on the living room table.

Social: In the most contradictory statement I have said all month, I would say cursive writing has given me a unique social standing that I feel blessed having. To my friends it has marked me as a writer and allotted me such respect in that regard that at least one person always sees fit to get me a custom pen for my birthday every year. My precision handwriting and habitual indulgence in something that is considered a dying art makes me seem special and I am grateful for that.

Studies have shown that writing in cursive may actually improve brain development in areas such as working memory and understanding of language. A New York Times article published this last April, featured occupational therapist Suzanne Baruch Anderson of the Beverly Hills Unified School District in California. She stated that “cursive handwriting stimulates the brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something that is absent from printing and typing”. If you were to type cursive writing into any major search engine “News” category you would see countless articles claiming it to be unnecessary to learn and something that should be dropped from the teaching curriculum in public schools.

What are your thoughts on cursive writing? Have you had similar experiences as I have? Is cursive truly a dying skill?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen - Twin Tip - Black + Grey Ink

I don't have a lot of experience with brush pens, but the Tombow Fudenosuke caught my eye and I had to try it out.  Although this brush pen is available in single-tip versions (both hard and soft), I chose the twin-tip - black on one end and grey on the other.  While I still have much to learn about using brush pens, my experiences with this brush pen have been a lot more positive than they have been with the other brush pens that I have used.

The Tombow Fudenosuke brush pen has both a finer and firmer tip than that of the other brush pens I have used (the Sakura Pigma brush pen and the Faber-Castell Pitt brush pen).  Because of this, I have found that this pen has less line variation, making it feel more like a "normal" pen and easier for me to use.  I can still get some line variation to play with in my sketches, but - unlike with those other brush pens - it feels more controlled and I don't have any big fat lines messing up my work.  I also find this pen easier to write with (and it would make a fine writing pen if you didn't want to sketch with it at all).  I am happy that I have finally found a brush pen that I actually enjoy using.

Some quick sketches and a writing sample.  I actually really love the way my writing looks with this pen.  It makes even messy writing look good.  As always, click to view larger.

As I mentioned above, I'm using the twin-tip version with black and grey tips.  So far, I feel conflicted about whether I like this feature or not.  It's more convenient, because I can carry one pen instead of two.  But so far I mainly use the grey ink for adding shadows to sketches, and to me the grey seems a bit dark for this.  Because I use the black more than the grey, the black will probably run out of ink first.  And to me the grey tip feels slightly softer than the black tip, and so I don't enjoy using it as much as the black.

Close-up of the black tip.  Note the rings of colour on either end that indicate ink colour.  The caps are also colour-coordinated.

Like most art/sketching pens, the Tombow Fudenosuke has a very basic design.  For the most part, it works.  The main problem I have with this pen is the caps.  The black cap fits very tightly, so much so that it can be difficult to snap it back on after removing it.  Once I thought I had put the cap on but in fact I had not pressed it on hard enough and it fell off while in my pen case.  When I saw what had happened I was afraid that the ink might have dried out, but luckily it had not.  The grey cap has the opposite problem - it feels almost too loose, making me afraid that it may fall off.  Still, as I use this pen more, I am getting used to both of these issues and they seem less important now than they did at first.

Overall, the Tombow Fudenosuke is still my favourite of the brush pens that I have used so far.  Although I would probably choose the single-tip hard version in the future, I enjoy sketching with this pen and playing with the black and grey inks together.  Even my Faber-Castell Pitt pens (usually my first choice for sketching) have been getting neglected lately as I've been reaching for my Fudenosuke instead.  I would recommend this pen, especially if you haven't used a brush pen before or if you have been unsatisfied with other brush pens that you've tried.  And unless you really love the idea of having black and grey inks together in a single pen, you'd probably be best off sticking to one of the single-tip versions.

Related review of the twin-tip brush pen: No Pen Intended.

Reviews of the single-tip hard and soft brush pens: The Pen Addict (1), The Pen Addict (2), Atomic Venetia, Stationery Review, Spiritual Evolution of the Bean.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Five Disappointing Pens

Some pens write consistently well, from the time you first uncap them to the time you use up the last bit of ink inside them.  Other pens, however, are disappointments.  They may start out writing well, but over time, things change.  I try to use my pens for a fair amount of time before reviewing them, but I have still encountered a few pens that ended up as disappointments after my initial positive reviews.  Here's a list of my top five disappointing pens:

1. Zebra Surari 0.7mm Violet
In my review, I described this super-smooth ballpoint (which is similar to the popular Uni-ball Jetstream) as "an excellent choice".  I had some misgivings about the pale ink colour, but the pen was still usable and I spoke glowingly of how smooth it wrote.  But, in the months after that review, the ink colour actually become even paler.  I don't know how this is possible, but when I compare the ink colour now to my original writing sample, it looks like it's written with a different pen.  The ink is now simply too faint for me to use.  (I don't think it's because the pen was sitting around unused for a long time.  When the problem first developed, I was using this pen regularly.  The ink colour just gradually became lighter as I used up the ink.)  I'm very disappointed with this pen.  I would never recommend it, and, while the darker colours may be safer choices than this one, I don't really have any interest in trying out any other versions of this pen.

2. Zebra Sarasa 0.4mm Olive
When I reviewed this pen, I commented on its scratchiness.  That alone made it a pen I wouldn't recommend, but I could live with it and I still liked the ink colour.  Then, some time after writing that review, I was peacefully writing when the pen started becoming even more scratchy and then the small metal ball in the tip of the pen popped right out.  Obviously, the pen was completely unusable after that and I had to throw it out.  It was a disappointment because the 0.7mm Sarasa is one of my favourite pens, and I have never had anything like that happen to any other pen I have used before or since.  The only good part of this story is that I bought the pen in a close-out sale at JetPens, and JetPens no longer carries the standard Sarasas in this fine of a tip size.  And that is probably a good thing.

3. PaperMate Biodegradable Ballpoint
This pen's problem is similar to that of the Zebra Surari, but it's not as disappointing since I was never that crazy about this pen in the first place.  In my review, I wrote, "I need to exert considerable pressure while writing to make a mark on the page and, even then, I don't feel as though the ink is dark enough."  Still, the pen was usable.  I tried to use this pen again a while back and the ink colour had become so faint and I felt like I had to press so hard on the page while writing that, once again, the pen had become unusable.  It had changed from simply not great to absolutely atrocious.  Unlike the other pens on this list, however, this pen may be able to be saved.  I have a few spare ballpoint refills around that might fit in this pen, and since I do still like the pen body, this story should have a happy ending.

4. Stabilo Colorgel 0.4mm
I'm cheating slightly to include this pen on the list, because it actually disappointed me before I wrote the review, not after.  It wrote smoothly when I first bought it, in a nice dark shade of green, and the pen came in a rather fun-looking design.  Then it became more inconsistent and scratchy, the cap oddly became too loose to fit, and the pen finally stopped writing altogether.  Was it because the ill-fitting cap allowed the pen to dry out, or was it doomed from the start?  Who knows?  Another disappointment.

5. Sakura Gelly Rolls White and Black
I feel a bit reluctant to put these pens on this list, but when I compare them to the other Gelly Rolls pens that I have used and loved (the Stardust, Moonlight, and Gold and Silver Shadow Gelly Rolls), these ones have been a disappointment.  The problem?  The pens (especially the black, the white is still acceptable) no longer write smoothly at all, and it is impossible to get a smooth consistent line from the black without skipping.  I suspect that the fault may be partly mine for letting the pens sit too long unused, BUT I have done the same thing with the other Gelly Rolls I own and they still write perfectly.  So these ones seem to not be of the same quality as the others and they are a disappointment.  I still recommend Gelly Rolls, but not the standard versions.  (And if you're looking for a good white pen, try the Uni-ball Signo Broad, which is WAY better than the white Gelly Roll.)


So that's my list of disappointing pens!  While some of these may have been uncharacteristically bad experiences with otherwise decent pens, I wouldn't recommend any of these pens, and I doubt that I'll ever be interested enough to try any of them again, even if someone tells me that most examples of the pen are perfectly fine.  I'd rather stick with the pens that have never disappointed me.

What pens have disappointed you?

(For more disappointments, check out my list of Worst Five Pens from three years ago.)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Retractable Eraser Review: Sanford SpeedErase vs. Pentel Clic Eraser

Last July, I brought you my first eraser review, a comparison of the Pentel Hi-Polymer, Staedtler Mars Plastic, and Staples brand erasers.  Fittingly, this July I'm reviewing two retractable erasers: the Sanford (or PaperMate) SpeedErase and the Pentel Clic Eraser.

A retractable eraser is an eraser refill held within a pen-style holder that has some mechanism for retracting and advancing the refill.  A retractable eraser may be more convenient to use than a traditional block eraser, is better for erasing in small spaces, and fits better in many pencil cases.  Both of the retractable erasers that I'm reviewing today are older models; the Sanford SpeedErase is sold today as the PaperMate SpeedErase, and the current design of the Pentel Clic Eraser has a slightly different grip and clip than the one I'm reviewing here.

Both retractable erasers look similar on the outside: both have a basic clip and textured plastic grip section.  Where these erasers are different is in their retracting mechanism.  The SpeedErase operates like a normal retractable pen.  You simply press in the plunger at the end, and the eraser will be advanced.  The fun part is these "teeth" (sorry, I don't know what else to call them) that come out at the top when you do.  I assume they help to move the eraser refill along, and they do create some scuff marks on the side of the eraser refill as they catch on it.  I suppose those marks might bother some perfectionists, but they've never bothered me.  The Clic Eraser, on the other hand, works like a box cutter or utility knife: you slide the clip along the side, where it snaps into different positions and advances the eraser refill, making an obvious and rather loud clicking noise.  This is also kind of fun, but could get annoying.  And, also, when your eraser is getting used up, your clip will end up near the top of the eraser body, which would just be weird.

Retracting mechanisms of the SpeedErase (top; the right photo shows the "teeth") and the Clic Eraser (bottom).

Both erasers erase fairly cleanly, although I do see slightly more shadow remaining with the Clic Eraser than with the SpeedErase.  Both leave little eraser dust to brush away.  The small size of the end of the eraser (comparable to the size of an eraser on the end of a wooden pencil) makes it easier to erase smaller areas.  I also find that these erasers are easier and more comfortable to grip onto than a block eraser.  You can find refills for both the SpeedErase and the Clic Eraser, and you may also be able to find refills from other brands that will fit.  Avoid the Staples brand refills though; I've used those in the past and they're rather awful.  The refills from the Clic Eraser will fit in the SpeedErase, but if you want to use the SpeedErase refills in the Clic Eraser, you'll have to cut them shorter and carve one end narrower.  The Clic Eraser refills are held in place in a slot inside the eraser body that the narrower end pushes into, and without that they'll just fall out.

That was kind of confusing so I hope it made sense!  Here's a photo showing how they erase (sorry for the poor quality of this photo):

Overall, I don't see any strong advantages of choosing one of these retractable erasers over the other.  To me, the retracting mechanism of the SpeedErase is more convenient and less annoying than that of the Clic Eraser, although the Clic Eraser is more fun to use.  (I'm sure if I had owned a Clic Eraser when I was younger, I would have driven everyone crazy by clicking it back and forth constantly.)  I am biased in favour of the SpeedErase since it is one of only a few supplies (the others being the Pilot Hi-Tec-C and the Zebra Sarasa) that I have used ever since high school.  But both the PaperMate/Sanford SpeedErase and the Pentel Clic Eraser are good choices.  Although I do use block erasers more often now than I used to, retractable erasers like these are still my first choice.  If you've never tried a retractable eraser, I would recommend either of these.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Introducing... Question & Answer With A Penchant for Paper

Send me your questions!  Throughout July, I want you to send me any questions you have about any topic.  At the beginning of August, I will compile all of your questions with my answers into one post.

  • Leave your questions in the comments sections of this post OR email me your questions directly at heather [dot] papertrees [at] gmail [dot] com.  If you choose to email me, please make sure that you clearly state somewhere in the email that your question is for my upcoming Q&A post and let me know how would like your name to appear on my site (or if you want to remain anonymous).
  • And remember that if you do want to ask a question anonymously, you can always leave an anonymous comment on this post.
  • You can ask me questions about any of the topics I have discussed on this blog, including pens, pencils, notebooks, paper, journaling, writing, blogging, art journals, sketching, mandalas, books, productivity, to-do lists, and planners.  But I am also open to questions on any other topics if you just want to get to know me a bit better.
  • You can send me more than one question at a time.
  • Although obviously I don't know everything, I'll do my best to answer all of your questions.
  • You can send me your questions from now until August 1.

I think this will be fun, and I'm looking forward to receiving everyone's questions.  Start sending them!
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