Thursday, October 31, 2013

October Miscellany: Travel, Automatons, Washi Tape

Here are some links for this month's miscellany:

  • I've updated my index of pen, pencil, and paper reviews.  This used to be on two separate pages, one for pens and one for paper, but as I've started writing more reviews of other items, such as pencils and bottled inks, I thought it would be simpler to group it all onto one page, organized by category.  Feel free to browse this page and look through some of my older reviews!
  • Mike Dudek reviews the Lamy Vista fountain pen.  I have a suspicion that my next fountain pen is going to be a demonstrator.  Maybe not this Lamy, because I would like try some different brands, but... the Vista is a nice-looking pen.  And Mike's reviews are always great.
  • Quinn McDonald offers a few tips for travelling with art supplies.  When I travel, it's usually by RV, so I don't have as many limitations to the stuff I carry with me, but these are still some very useful tips that I will probably be able to make use of one day.
  • I don't usually write about letters or mail art here, but some of the things I love are vintage letters and postcards, such as this appealing pair.  This post also reminds me that I have some vintage stamps and postcards that I should share on here one day.
  • A wonderfully lengthy and detailed post from Daisy Yellow on organizing gouache and watercolour paints.  I love this kind of organization; it's obsessive and geeky and very fun.  I don't own any tubed paints, but when/if I do, I will do this!
  • I saw the movie Hugo last year (aside: I rarely see movies, so whenever I do, it is a Big Event), and I was fascinated by the automaton that played a major role in the plot.  Well, here is a video of a real-life automaton that I think is even neater than the one in the movie.  The attention to detail is amazing: his handwriting is beautiful as well as readable, and I love how even his head and eyes move to follow the motion of his hand.
  • Angela shares a neat idea for covering notebook spines with washi tape.  Not only does this make your notebooks look nice on the shelf, I think you could also write on the washi tape to label your notebooks if you didn't want to write on the notebook itself.  I'm rather embarrassed that I still don't own any washi tape, but this is yet another reason for me to buy some!
  • Finally, I'm loving the pages from Mary Ann Moss's Amsterdam sketchbook.  Her pages always make me want to travel just so I can have an excuse to keep a travel journal.

What have you been enjoying reading about lately?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Growing Wooden Pencil Collection

I never used to use wooden pencils.  I gave up on them in elementary school, believing that they were always dull, always needed sharpening, and always broke when being sharpened.  I switched to mechanical pencils, and then to pens.  But then when we moved to town a few years ago, I started taking walks that led me through the yard of the nearby middle school.  And all around the ground were wooden pencils - neglected, forgotten, broken into pieces, soaked with rain.  I felt sorry for them.  So I started picking them up.  I sharpened them and found them new homes.  I took photos of them and wrote about them here a couple of times.  I began to think that maybe I should even start using them.  I cautiously asked readers for their pencil recommendations, and based on those recommendations I bought myself a Staedtler Lumograph in 2B.

But that pencil scared me.  I realized that I hadn't used a wooden pencil in years.  I hardly even knew how to use one.  Would I write with it?  Wasn't that what all my pens were for?  I never took my Lumograph out its package and stuffed it away in a cupboard so I wouldn't have to think about it, even though I kept reading blogs like Pencil Revolution and Pencil Talk.  Then in 2012 something happened: I realized that I was ready to start using wooden pencils.  I was still a bit scared of them, so I started with the least intimidating pencil I could find, the Dixon No.2/HB, the most common of the pencils I had found in the school yard.  Then I remembered my poor Lumograph hidden away in the cupboard and I brought it out and discovered that I could sketch with pencils too (well, somewhat, anyway).  Then the Dixon and Lumograph started to bring friends home, and I ended up with a collection that looked something like this:

Top to bottom: PaperMate Classic HB, Faber-Castell PITT Charcoal Soft, PaperMate Earth Write HB, Sanford Mirado HB, Earthzone Recycled Pencil HB, Staedtler Mars Lumograph 5B, Artex Company No. 731, Sanford Design Drawing 3800 6B, Dixon Ticonderoga HB (yellow), Staedtler Norica HB, Grumbacher Sketching Pencil 4B, General's Kimberly B, Dixon No. 2/HB, Dixon Tri-Conderoga HB, Staedtler Mars Lumograph 2B, Mitsubishi Uni F, Eckerd Quality Pencil No.2, Rhodia Pencil, Dixon Ticonderoga HB (blue), Grumbacher Charcoal Hard, Faber-Castell Castell 9000 4H, Eagle Mirado-174 B.

That's not quite all of them.  I have some doubles of these, and a few others that I forgot to include, and a whole jar full of found pencils still waiting for new homes.  But that photo should give you a good idea of what my current collection looks like.  I've found most of these at the thrift store, which means that many of them are older pencils or pencils that are no longer being made.  Some of them I found in the school yard.  And a few of them I even bought new.

I love them all.  Whenever I come across a wooden pencil I don't already have, I have this strong urge to pick it up and hold it tightly and carry it home with me.  For whatever reason, pencils have a charm for me that pens, even fountain pens and inks, just don't.  They seem friendlier, somehow.  Homelier.  More comfortable.  You can always count on them to write.  You don't have to worry about the ink drying up, or about tricky issues like feathering, bleed through, drying times, fading, or waterproofness.  You can break them in half and they still write.  You can forget about them for a decade or two in the back of your desk drawer and they'll still write.  If you take notes in pencil, you can count on them to last, unless someone burns them or goes after them with an eraser.  You can't always count on that with ink.

And yet when you use a pencil, you are in fact using it up.  The ink in a pen may run dry, but you still have the body of the pen, which you can choose to keep, refill, or dispose of.  But as you use a pencil and periodically sharpen it, the pencil itself disappears, until all you are left with is a tiny nameless stub.  And pencils are usually made of wood, a material that decomposes more readily than metal or plastic.  For these reasons pencils seem more ephemeral than pens, and I find myself more reluctant to use them.  I am much more of a collector of pencils than I ever was of pens.  I never bought a pen that I did not intend to use, but I have still not quite gotten into the habit of actually using my pencils regularly.  I think that may improve as I acquire more of them, and each individual pencil hence becomes slightly less precious, but I also think that there will always be a few pencils that I will not use, or will use only rarely, pencils that I will simply keep and admire and add to my ever-growing collection.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Ink Review: Diamine Meadow

I have started my journey into fountain pen inks with an ink that I suspect will remain a favourite: Diamine Meadow.  This is a bright, happy yellow-toned green ink.  Not a lime green.  Not a dark green.  Just a nice medium green.  "Meadow" is a good name for it; think grass, leaves, springtime.  It's also almost exactly the same colour as my 2012 limited edition green Lamy Safari.  This is one of favourite colours EVER, so finding it in ink form makes me very happy indeed.

Even if you're not as much of a fan of green as I am, Diamine Meadow is still a nice ink.  For one, it has gorgeous shading, even with a fine nib.  I can imagine that it would be absolutely amazing with a broad or italic nib.  I have noticed, however, that it shows different amounts of shading on different papers.  It's beautiful on Rhodia, for example, but more muted on the rougher (and probably more absorbent) Paperblanks paper.

Diamine Meadow in a Paperblanks journal.  Lines of poetry from "Sometimes" by Hermann Hesse.  The ivory colour of the paper also makes the ink appear slightly yellower.

Diamine Meadow also does not bleed or feather, and is even well-behaved on cheaper papers.  The ink looks darker when the ink is wet, and dries to a lighter, brighter shade of green.  Because I am new to fountain pen inks, I find it difficult to judge whether this is a wet or dry ink, but I certainly have no problems with the flow in my Lamy F nib.  It does not skip at all, but the ink also does not seem excessively inky.

See how nicely this ink matches my Safari?  I love that.

The only potential problem I have found with this ink is the dry time.  On Rhodia, it took over 20 seconds to dry completely.  Dry time is not really an issue for me, so this is not going to make me love this ink any less, but it could be a problem for some.  Keep in mind as well that dry times will probably be faster on more porous papers.  Rhodia has a very smooth finish, which means that inks will dry more slowly on it.

This is a scan of my writing sample, not a photo.  I hope that by including a scan as well as photos of the ink on two different papers, I can give you a more well-rounded (if not 100% accurate) impression of the ink's colour.

Overall, Diamine Meadow is a beautiful and well-behaved green fountain pen ink.  If you're just getting started with bottled inks or if you're looking to expand your collection of ink colours (or if you're looking for a green ink to match your green Safari pen!), then I highly recommend Diamine Meadow.  I think this ink will become a favourite, and I can see myself buying a full bottle of it in the future.  I am very happy with my first fountain pen ink, and I am looking forward to trying more colours!

Related reviews: Ed Jelley, The Five Cat PENagerie, Ink of Me Fondly, Inkdependence.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Blue Pen Comparison

As a follow-up to my green pen comparison, here's a comparison of the blue pens currently in my collection:

I'm not usually a fan of blue ink, but because blue pens are so ubiquitous, it's been impossible to avoid acquiring quite a few of them.  The Bic ballpoint, which must be the most ubiquitous of them all, writes with what I consider to be the default blue ink, somewhat similar to the blue colour of denim: it goes with everything, but isn't particularly exciting or helpful if you want to make a more unique style statement.

Because of that, I tend to prefer the blues that are the most different from the default.  The sky blue Pentel Slicci is probably my favourite on this list: it's a bright turquoise-y blue that is also dark enough to read easily, even with that fine of a line width.  Another favourite is the blue of the Sharpie Pen (the RT version in this post); on its own, it looks fairly standard, but when compared to other blues it looks slightly greenish.  The Centropen Liner's blue is similar to that of the Sharpie and writes with a finer line, but it is certainly not as widely available in North America.  The lavender purple Dong-A Miffy is not quite blue, but then it's not quite purple either, and it is also one of my favourites, partly because it is so different and helps to fill that elusive gap between blue and purple.  My other favourite is the greyish blue of the Pilot FriXion Point, even though I've now realized that it's actually quite similar to the Bic ballpoint blue.

The only blue on this list that I really don't like is the aqua Staedtler Triplus Fineliner; it's simply too light for me.  I don't usually want a deep dark blue colour, but the Pilot Hi-tecpoint V5 or the royal blue Fineliner would be good choices for that, or the blue Pentel Slicci if you want something with a finer tip.

Do you like to write in blue?  What are your favourite blue pens and inks?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pencil Review: Mitsubishi Uni F

I recently came across this Mitsubishi Uni pencil at the thrift store.  I can find little about this specific pencil online, but I'm guessing that it's a close cousin to the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - a well-known pencil from Japan - since it looks almost identical, except that it is printed with "Uni" instead of "Hi-Uni."  Regardless, I am certainly impressed with this pencil and I think that it may become one of my new favourites (okay, I seem to be saying that about almost every other pencil I review these days, but honestly, I love them all).

This pencil also happens to be in the grade of F, which places it between HB and H in terms of hardness - a touch softer than HB, but still relatively dark.  (The F stands for "fine", because this grade - being harder - could hold a sharp, fine point better than HB pencils.)  Japanese pencils generally tend to be softer and darker than their European or North American counterparts, and I think this pencil might actually be a bit softer than some HB pencils I own.  I am fairly sure that this is the first Japanese pencil I have used.

Writing sample with a somewhat marginal sketch of a potted house plant.  And if you're wondering what the dragonfly is doing on a house plant, it's actually a glass plant stake.

I really love this pencil.  The lead is smooth on the page and not scratchy, but not too smooth.  It's not too dark and not too light.  Not too hard and not too soft.  Hexagonal rather than round or triangular, and with the corners rounded off just enough to be comfortable.  It works well for both writing and sketching.  It really is just about perfect.

I'm keeping this review short because I'm not sure if you can even buy this pencil anywhere, but if the Mitsubishi Uni is anything like the Hi-Uni, then I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Hi-Uni based on my experience with this pencil.  And I will definitely be adding the Hi-Uni to my list of pencils I need to try.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Next Step: Lamy Z24 Converter

I recently decided to take the next step with my Lamy Safari fountain pen and venture into the world of bottled inks, so to get started, I bought a Lamy Z24 converter.  If you own a Lamy Safari, Vista, AL-Star, Joy, or Nexx fountain pen, then the Z24 is the recommended converter that you will need if you want to use bottled inks with your pen.  (However, if you don't want to buy a converter, you can also refill empty ink cartridges with a syringe.  I haven't tried this method yet.)  This post is not going to be a review of the Z24 converter, but more of an introduction to using it and getting started with bottled inks.

Here is what the Z24 converter looks like before it's inserted into the pen.  The red end is the part that you'll twist to draw ink up into the converter.  It has the Lamy logo on it to match the pen.  And (hard to see in this photo), the converter also has two tiny nubs on either side of it - you'll need to use these when you're inserting it into the pen.

But before you start loading up your pen and converter with ink, you'll first need to clean your pen.  If you have a Lamy pen, you'll need to do this even if your pen is brand new, because Lamy tests all of their pens with ink right out of the factory.  So even if you've never used your pen before, there is still likely some ink in the nib and the feed that you'll need to clean out.  And you'll definitely need to clean your pen if you've used the ink cartridge and maybe let some ink dry in there (oops, that would be me!).  With a cartridge/converter pen like the Lamy, you have two main options for cleaning your pen: by drawing water in and out of the pen repeatedly with the converter OR by flushing out the pen with clean water using a bulb syringe.  (The links above are to a pair of videos by Brian Goulet from Ink Nouveau, and you should check them out if you need to see how to clean your pen with either of these methods.)

Cleaning with the converter (left), a very slow, tedious process if your pen is as inky as mine was inside, vs. cleaning with a bulb syringe (right), a much faster method.  Note: I'm not actually using the bulb syringe in this photo, just demonstrating how I would hold it to flush water through my pen.  I would have needed at least three or four hands to take a photo while flushing the pen, and I only have two :)

I highly recommend that you buy a bulb syringe (which you may also find being sold as a "nasal aspirator" in the baby supplies section of your drugstore) and clean your pen that way, because the first method gets very tedious very quickly (unless your pen is brand new or doesn't need much cleaning, or if you want to waste an entire afternoon cleaning one pen).

Once your pen is clean, then you can insert the converter (if you haven't done so already to clean the pen).  Line up the nubs on the side of the converter with the small notches on the pen and push it on.  This will ensure that the converter is securely attached to your pen.  (Writer's Bloc has a more detailed post (with better photos) of how to install your Lamy converter.)

Now comes the fun part: loading up your pen with ink!

With the converter, it's very easy to do (much easier than I was expecting; for some reason I expected the entire process to be much more complicated than it was, which was partly why I kept putting off  buying my first bottled inks).  Just submerge the nib of the pen in the ink, and twist the piston (using the red end of the converter) to draw ink up into the pen.  You can fill your pen completely full with ink or just partly full.  If you fill it fuller than you want, you can twist the piston back the other way to remove the ink again.

After you've filled your pen with ink, use a paper towel to wipe any excess ink off the pen, and then start writing!  The ink I filled my pen with for this example was Diamine Meadow, a lovely bright green that's a good match for the green body of my Lamy Safari, and this will be the first ink I'll review here later this month.

Overall, I am happy with my first experience using the Lamy Z24 converter with my Lamy Safari fountain pen.  Once I become a bit more comfortable with the process (and don't need to be taking photos of every step!), I think that it should take me only a few minutes to flush out my pen and load it up with a new ink colour.

The main disadvantage to using the converter is that the converter has a much smaller ink capacity than the Lamy cartridges do.  This is why some users prefer to refill their old ink cartridges with a syringe rather than using the converter.  I may try this method in the future, but ink capacity is not something that I'm really concerned about at this point, so for now I am happy with the converter.  If you are interested in that method, Brian Goulet has made a video on it.

Other than that, I would definitely recommend a Lamy pen and a converter if you're looking to get started using bottled fountain pen inks.  It really is a very easy and pain-free process and there's nothing to be intimidated about.

Related post: comparison of the Z24 and Z26 converters.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Recent Acquisitions: Ink Samples

Back at the end of July, I mentioned that I was ready to start trying out bottled fountain pen inks.  I had originally planned to order some ink samples in August and start writing ink reviews in September, but thanks to my bad habit of procrastination, I didn't place my order until September and my inks did not arrive until a week ago!  Here are my ink samples:

It took me a ridiculously long time to decide on the ink colours for my first order.  I wanted a good mix of different brands and different colours, but I still ended up with a definite bias towards green and orange, my two favourite colours.  However, I am happy with my selection of colours:

As well as these eight ink samples, I also bought a Lamy Z24 converter for my Lamy Safari fountain pen.  (You can see it sitting in front of the ink samples.)

This order was my first time purchasing from The Goulet Pen Company.  While I am completely happy with my order, the shipping costs to Canada ended up being a bit more than I had expected (the shipping cost almost as much as my actual order did).  For my first ink order, I wanted to order from a company that I trusted completely, but I think that if/when I buy more inks, I will consider other options (ideally, I would love to buy from an actual physical store, but there are very few in my area that sell fountain pen inks).

That said, I am not complaining about Goulet Pens!  They are a great company, and their website is awesome.  When I was choosing my ink colours, I used their Swab Shop and especially their interactive ink swab comparison tool to view and compare ink swabs and pick out the ink colours that most appealed to me.  While I was nervous about my inks potentially leaking while in the mail, they all arrived safely.  I also love the Goulet Pen Company sticker, "Write On" bookmark, and Tootsie Pop that were included with my order :)  I would recommend Goulet Pens, but if you're an international customer and you're placing a relatively modest order, consider shipping costs before you buy.

Now that my inks have (finally) arrived, I can't wait to start trying them out!  In my next post, I'll clean my pen, install my converter, and load up my pen with my first ink.  And I'll post my first ink review later this month, so stay tuned for that!
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