Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December Miscellany: Erasers, Notepads, Setting Goals

Welcome to the last miscellany post of 2014!  For me, the end of the year is a quiet time to reflect on the year that has passed and make plans for the year to come, so I'm keeping this miscellany fairly short and including a couple of links at the end to help you plan for 2015.

Thanks so much for reading my blog this year, and I'll see you in 2015!  Happy new year to you!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best of A Penchant for Paper 2014

Here my top 10 blog posts of the year, the posts that I think express the best of A Penchant for Paper and what this blog is about.  While this wasn't my best year of blogging, I celebrated the 5-year anniversary of this blog this year and published several posts that I think I will be proud of for years to come.

  1. 10 Ways to Use Your Pens and Write by Hand More Often - This was a post that I was thinking about writing for literally years.  I was excited and proud of myself for finally getting it done and published!
  2. Minimalist Travel Kit - The basic supplies that I bring with me while travelling.
  3. Favourite Supplies for Writing - Just what the title says.  It's a short list, though, as I believe the emphasis should be on the act of writing rather than on the tools I use.
  4. Update: My 2014 DIY Planner / Bullet Journal - This got me excited about planning and productivity through the first half of the year, although I'm no longer using this system now.
  5. A Collage a Week in 2014 - This was my main creative project this year.  I've enjoyed it, even though I've been very behind with it in the last few months.  And, for those of you who've asked to see more of my collages, I will be doing a follow-up post on this in January.
  6. Recent Acquisitions: A Bit of Vintage - This post might represent the beginning of a new facet of this blog, as I would like to collect more vintage office supplies and related items (and blog about them).  We'll just have to see what happens in 2015...
  7. Rhodia Ice - I always enjoy reviewing Rhodia products, because their paper is always so enjoyable to use.  However, the white colour of this pad made it difficult to photograph!
  8. Pencil Review: Tombow MONO Drawing Pencil Set - This was a fun review as I got to fill a page spread in my sketchbook with sketches using the different pencils (the most sketching I did all year).
  9. My Favourite Fountain Pen Inks - I enjoyed trying different fountain pen ink samples in 2013 and 2014 and this post sums up my favourites.  I need to try out more inks...
  10. Shades of Tan - I loved the colours of this post, and I always enjoy compiling my "shades of" posts.

And the most popular posts of the year were:
  1. 10 Ways to Use Your Pens and Write By Hand More Often
  2. My Greatest Productivity Challenge
  3. Update: My 2014 DIY Planner / Bullet Journal
  4. My Favourite Fountain Pen Inks
  5. Favourite Supplies for Writing
  6. Minimalist Travel Kit
  7. How Do You Clip Your Pens?
  8. January 2014 Carnival of Pen, Pencil, and Paper
  9. Shades of Aqua
  10. Pencil Review: Faber-Castell PITT Charcoal Pencil

Monday, December 22, 2014

Top 10 of 2014

2014 is almost over and that means it's time for my yearly top ten list - the list of the items that I used and enjoyed the most throughout the year.  I can hardly believe that this is the fifth year I've compiled this list!  It feels like such a short time ago that I thought of it for the first time.  (Click on the links to go back to the original reviews.)

  1. Pentel EnerGel Euro 0.35mm Black - I've used this pen for a while but I was reminded this year of how much I love it.  I think this may even be my Favourite Pen Ever, since it writes so smoothly with such a fine, crisp, dark line; it's pretty much perfection.
  2. Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser - Surprised to see an eraser so high on the list?  I didn't do as much writing by hand this year as I have in other years, but I have been doing a lot of kakuro and logic puzzles lately, so this eraser has come in handy.  It's just a great, dependable eraser.  And kakuro puzzles are the best, by the way; they're much more fun than sudoku.
  3. Pentel Quicker Clicker 0.5mm mechanical pencil - This goes along with the eraser as I always use a mechanical pencil to solve puzzles.  I still have some mixed feelings about this pencil (as I described in my review), but it always feels good in my hand and I feel happy using it.
  4. My DIY planner/bullet journal in my Rhodia Webnotebook - This was my main planning tool for over half the year.  As I've described before, my system did fall apart during the summer, but I loved using it before that happened and I found it to be to be a simple and satisfying way to keep a planner and journal.  As for the Rhodia Webnotebook, I still think it's the best notebook ever and it's appeared on all of my top 10 lists so far.
  5. Rohrer & Klingner Alt-Goldgrün fountain pen ink - Currently my favourite ink.  I have no problems with how this ink writes and the colour is perfect for me, although I still don't own a full bottle...
  6. Tombow MONO drawing pencils - I love these pencils.  The HB and B grades have my perfect combination of relatively hard yet dark lead.  And they're great for practicing my much-neglected drawing skills.
  7. UHU Stic glue stick - This may seem like an odd addition to my top ten list, but as I've mentioned before, my main creative project this year has been creating a collage for every week, so I've been using these glue sticks a lot.  UHU has been my favourite brand of glue stick since just about forever.
  8. Pentel Fluorescent Marker - I also used highlighters more often this year, as this was the year when I discovered just how useful they can be.  The Pentel Fluorescent Marker is my current favourite; I love its slim body and the fine, crisp, bright line of ink it lays down.  Unfortunately, these highlighters do not seem to be very widely available, so I might have to start looking for a replacement.
  9. Rhodia Ice - I've long loved Rhodia pads, and I was very happy with this year's offering of the Rhodia Ice.  I still think that I prefer the orange covers, but I can't resist the Ice's cool beauty, and I do prefer its grey grid lines rather than the violet lines of the standard editions.
  10. Sharpie Metallic Permanent Marker (review upcoming) - Another odd addition to this list, the metallic Sharpie marker (in silver) was another item I used a lot in my weekly collages.  Also, I feel like I've been searching for the perfect metallic pen or marker for most of my life, and this may finally be it.

That's all for this year!  What were your favourite products of 2014?  Did any of your favourites appear on my list?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Recent Acquisitions: A Bit of Vintage

I don't consider myself a collector of vintage or antique items, but I love looking at older items and wondering about where they have been and who has used them over the years.  To me, older items usually seem to have more personality than newer items.  And occasionally, a few of these items do end up in my possession, and here are a few that I have acquired recently.

Address book ("with the compliments of R.O. Roberts & Sons, Holland Arms Garage, Anglesey, Tel. Gaerwen 240"), and staple-bound notepad from Swift's Premium.

Address book - I usually don't find address books very interesting, but this one is intriguing because it comes from Anglesey, which is in Wales, and therefore has travelled quite a way to arrive here in western Canada.  There is only one address written in the book, that of a hotel in London, and a loose address in Calgary, Canada slipped inside the front cover.  I'm guessing that this book was probably picked up by someone from Canada travelling in England and Wales.

Staple-bound notepad - This notepad is from Swift's Premium ("...the two most trusted words in meat"), and I was rather startled and amused when I opened it to discover my own name.  "Heather," someone had written on the first page, "is wearing a white rayon/polyester blouse and blue denim skirt made of 100% cotton for the casual hot afternoon shopping trip."  The next page contains a brief recipe for rhubarb jam (dated May 22, 1974), and then several pages of notes that appear to be related to printing.

Two children's get well cards: "A Spinning Satellite to Speed Your Recovery" and "A Pet Show to help you get Well."

Greeting cards - These are both get well cards for children.  They're interesting because they're not just cards, but each include a small activity or game as well.  One includes a "spinning satellite", a small plastic disk that can be removed from the card and attached to a piece of string for spinning ("Launching Instructions" are on the back).  The other card includes a pet show with illustrations of several different pets, a space for the child to insert a photo or sketch of his or her own pet, and 1st and 2nd prize paper ribbons that can be punched out of the card and inserted in the desired slot.  Neither card has been used.

Tin from Imperial Mfg. Co., with General's Kimberly pencil for scale.

Tin - This tin is from the Imperial Mfg. Co. ("makers of typewriter ribbons and carbon papers for railroad and commercial use"), from Newark, N.J., U.S.A.  The other side of the tin (too dark to see in the above photo) informs me that the "ribbons and carbon papers are not affected by the atmosphere."  This tin is probably my favourite of all the items in this post (it's even my favourite colour) and I would love to learn more about it.

As I said, I don't really consider myself a collector yet (except of pencils), but I love all of these items and wouldn't mind acquiring a few more similar things if the opportunity arises.  Do you collect any vintage or antique items?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pencil Review: Dixon Ticonderoga Tri-Write HB

I can't resist triangular pencils.  Make any pencil a triangular shape and it automatically looks much more interesting and special to me.  For example, consider this Dixon Ticonderoga Tri-Write.  It looks almost identical to the ordinary Dixon Ticonderoga, except for the triangular shape.  Because of that, I grabbed these pencils as soon as I saw them and put them at the front of my "to be reviewed" lineup, because of course they must be special pencils.

To be honest though, I don't find triangular pencils as comfortable to write with as hexagonal or round pencils.  I'm always shifting the pencil around in my hand, trying to get its three sides into perfect alignment with my fingers.  Like the grip of the Lamy Safari fountain pen, triangular pencils probably work best for only certain ways of holding your pencil (or pen).  But they do stand out from all of my other round and hexagonal shaped pencils and pens, and - when I get them aligned just right - they're not that bad to write with either.

So what about the Tri-Write?  Well, I like the colour scheme of Ticonderogas in general.  They're a slightly yellower shade than the typical orange/yellow pencils, and I love the green and yellow ferrule.  The finish on the Tri-Write appears to be okay but not amazing; on mine, the paint is chipping a bit around the ferrule.  That doesn't bother me, and small imperfections like that are actually something that I rather like in pencils.  They make each pencil a little bit different.

I prefer pencils that write with relatively dark lead.  For me, the Tri-Write is not quite dark enough, but I think it would be acceptable for most people.  The eraser performed better than I expected, as it erased quite cleanly.  The pencils also sharpened well to a fine point.  It's a good basic writing pencil.

If you like Ticonderogas, then you'll probably like the Ticonderoga Tri-Write, though I would not recommend buying an entire set of these pencils unless you're sure that you will be comfortable with the triangular shape.  Speaking of that shape, I love how it gives a slight twist to an otherwise ordinary, everyday pencil to make it more interesting.  It's different, but in a subtle way.  Overall, the Tri-Write is not the most amazing pencil I've ever used, but one I find myself becoming rather fond of nonetheless.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

November Miscellany: Gel Pens, Field Notes, Pencils

The end of November, and 2014 is drawing to a close... Soon it will be time to start doing all of those end of the year things, like figuring out what kind of planner (if any) I'll be using in the new year, planning next year's reviews, and so on.  You know, all that important stuff.  Here are some links to read along the way:

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Black Pen Comparison

Black pens are not all created equal.  While I consider black to be one of the least interesting ink colours out there, it is also (along with blue) one of the most commonly used options.  So here is a comparison of the black pens I have in rotation, as a follow-up to my green pen, blue pen, and red and orange pen comparisons.

Personally, I like my black pens to write with the deepest, darkest black imaginable.  I don't particularly care for black ink (there are so many more fun colours out there), so if I'm going to use it, I want it to be not just black, but BLACK.  My favourite pen in this category is by far the 0.7mm Pentel EnerGel.  Not only does it have rich, deep black ink, it's also very smooth and lays down a luscious and bold line.  The 0.35mm version of the EnerGel has the same ink, but is not as bold as its wider-nibbed cousin.

The Pentel Pulaman disposable fountain pen and Sanford Liquid Expresso also write with a deep, dark black, as does the Uni-ball Vison RT, although since I've had some issues with how the Vision RT writes (occasional skipping), I wouldn't describe it as one of my favourite black pens.  Fine-tipped pens tend not to stand out in this comparison, but the 0.3mm Pentel Slicci actually has quite nice black ink as well.  And for drawing and sketching, the Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pen and Tombow Fudenosuke brush pen are also excellent.

My least favourite black pen is the Sharpie Pen Grip; I would describe its ink colour as more of a dark grey than a true black.  Ballpoints typically have greyish, washed-out black inks as well; the two in the comparison, the Pentel Superb and PaperMate FlexGrip Ultra (a generic cheap stick ballpoint) are no exception, and I usually like blue ballpoints better than black ones.

Finally, one pen I left out of this comparison was the Zebra Sarasa.  This has long been one of my favourite 0.7mm gel pens, but a reader recently informed me that Zebra has changed their ink formula in the Sarasa, and I have not yet tried one of the new versions.

What are your favourite black pens and inks?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pen Review: Bic Atlantis Ballpoint

Much to the chagrin of some of my readers, I have been using ballpoints quite a bit lately.  They may not offer the most amazing writing experience in the world, but basic Bic ballpoints do play an important role in my arsenal of writing supplies.  Because of that, I was interested in trying out the Bic Atlantis, Bic's version of the "super-smooth" ballpoint.
At first glance, the Atlantis appears to be a slightly flashier pen than the standard Bics - it's retractable, it has a basic grip, and the name and logo are emblazoned in silver.  It's still a very basic pen, but the design is relatively pleasing and unobtrusive, so I don't have any complaints.  The main thing that stood out to me was the grip; when I first started writing it felt almost slippery, making me feeling as though I had to grip the pen more tightly, but that might have just been me, and I didn't notice it as I continued to write.

Two different versions of the Bic Atlantis.

The most important question here is: Does the Atlantis write noticeably better than the standard Bic ballpoints (e.g., the Bic Cristal)?  Well, the ink doesn't glob, which is great, but standard Bics don't glob very much either.  And it is relatively smooth writing, but it's not the smoothest ballpoint I've ever used (the Uni-ball Jetstream is probably the best pen that I've tried in this category).  I even find the standard Bics to be relatively smooth ballpoints.  And the blue ink seems to me to be a bit pale.

Overall, the Bic Atlantis strikes me a solid, dependable, unremarkable ballpoint, but I can't really discern much of a difference between it and the standard Bic ballpoints - which I also consider to be solid, dependable ballpoints.  Everyone is all about fountain pens these days, but I'm not ashamed to admit that I still like ballpoints (as well as fountain pens).  If you just need a basic pen to toss into your bag, keep at hand for random notes and doodles, or lure potential pen thieves away from your more important pens, than I think that you can't go wrong with a Bic ballpoint - of any kind.

Other reviews: Art Supply Critic, Pocket Blonde, Rhonda Eudaly.

Friday, October 31, 2014

October Miscellany: Pencils, Commonplace Books, Minimalism

I'm catching up from my month of absence, so this miscellany is a bit longer than average.  I hope that in November I'll finally get my blogging schedule fully back on track again.  Thanks so much to all of you for your comments and support!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Favourite Supplies for Art Journaling

I've been keeping some form of art journal for nearly six years now, and a sketchbook for over five years.  I've tried quite a few different supplies over that time: some worked, some didn't, and some I loved but didn't actually use very often.  But I keep going back to the same few basics again and again.  Whether I call it an art journal, visual journal, or sketchbook, these are my essential supplies.
Left to right: Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pen, Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell watercolour pencils, Pentel Aquash waterbrush, Uni-ball Signo Broad white gel pen, paper scraps, UHU Stic glue stick, scissors.

  • A fine black permanent felt-tip pen - This is by far the most important item on this list.  I use this for sketching, writing, doodling, or adding details to a collage.  And because it's permanent, I can use watercolours over it.  My favourite pen in this category is the fine Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pen (which is also light-fast and acid-free, and relatively comfortable to hold), but many other good options are available, such as the Sakura Pigma Micron or even the Sharpie Pen.
  • Watercolour pencils - I used to use acrylic paints a lot in my art journals, but now I've mostly moved away from them and use watercolours more often.  Watercolour pencils are my favourite way to use watercolours; they're such an easy and convenient way to add a bit colour to a sketchbook page.  Although I'm still very much an amateur, this post describes how I use my watercolour pencils.  (And based on how much I've worn down the pencils, the three colours pictured here - dark green, light green, and light blue - are the colours I use most often.)
  • Waterbrush - This is the perfect complement to watercolour pencils, as it eliminates the need to carry water.  It's also very easy to use.  My waterbrush is the Pentel Aquash, but it's getting a bit worn out so I think I'll give a different brand a try next time.
  • Paper scraps - This year's collage-a-week project has taught me that I still really love collage.  This is a good thing, because my collection of paper scraps is extensive and includes magazine cut-outs, old greeting cards, wrapping paper, scrapbooking paper, origami paper, graph paper, old maps, and anything else I can find.  I love all papers, and I love combining them together to create something new.
  • Scissors - Essential for cutting and trimming above-mentioned paper scraps.  My scissors are not any particular brand, but I've owned them for just about forever.  In addition to scissors, I also love my paper trimmer (similar to this one); if I need to cut a lot of papers to size this is much faster and easier than scissors.  I've used my trimmer for years and I haven't needed to replace the blade yet.
  • Glue stick - Another collage essential.  My favourite glue stick is the UHU Stic, which I can find just about anywhere.  It goes on smoothly and is acid-free - just be sure to apply a nice thick layer to ensure that your paper will stick (focus on the edges and corners), and have a piece of scrap paper covering your workspace so your desk doesn't end up all gluey.  If you're gluing heavier-weight papers or painting over your glued-down papers, you probably need a stronger glue, but UHU works for me most of the time.  (And I find it rather amusing that this is the very same glue I used way back in kindergarten!)
  • White gel pen - For doodling and writing over dark backgrounds, and adding white highlights to watercolour sketches.  The best white gel pen I have found is the Uni-ball Signo Broad (or UM-153), which writes smoothly with a thick, opaque white line.  (Although, as I found out the hard way, it will dry up if you don't use it often enough.)

I love how most of my favourite supplies are very basic, inexpensive, and easy to find.  And all of them can fit easily into a pen case to form a simple travel art kit.  As I said in my post on my favourite supplies for writing, the tools you use ultimately don't matter.  What matters is the art you create with them.

If you keep an art journal or sketchbook, what are your favourite supplies?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Eraser Review: Tombow MONO Zero

The Tombow MONO Zero eraser is the most unique eraser I own.  It's a mechanical, retractable eraser with a cool, silver-and-black colour scheme and clean, straight lines.

But the most unique thing about it is the eraser itself, which is only 2.3mm in diameter.  Compared to all of the other erasers that I've ever used in my life, this is incredibly tiny.  Here it is compared to a wooden pencil so you can get some idea of how tiny the eraser is:

Obviously, this is not an everyday eraser.  This eraser is for precise erasing, so that you can remove exactly what you want from your work without messing up your surrounding drawing.  Personally, I'm not that fussy about details when I sketch, so I doubt that I'll get much use out of this eraser.  And I'm not impressed with how the eraser works either.  In my test, it left a definite shadow behind, although to be fair, this kind of erasing is not the intended use of the Zero and if you were erasing a smaller area, the shadow would likely not be as visible.  The eraser also seems to me to be firmer than other erasers I've used and so I feel I need to use more pressure with it, but maybe it needs to be that way for strength, because it is so small.

The end of the eraser is marked with the size (2.3mm) in red.  I at first assumed that this meant there were other sizes available (that way you could easily distinguish between sizes), but this is not so.  However, refills for this eraser are available, and you can also buy a similar eraser that is rectangular instead of round, and has a black body instead of silver.  That eraser sounds intriguing as well, and I would love to hear from anyone who has used it.

Overall, the Tombow MONO Zero eraser is unique, but not something that I can see myself using often.  If you're a perfectionist in your drawings, you might get more use out of it than I do.  And if you just like collecting erasers, then you'll probably want one.  From the other reviews I've read, I know that some people will love this eraser because of how precise it is, but it is just not for me.

Would you use this eraser?


Other reviews: Dave's Mechanical Pencils, OfficeSupplyGeek, Comfortable Shoes Studio.

Note: I received this eraser free of charge from Tombow USA, but that did not affect my review.

Monday, October 13, 2014

My Greatest Productivity Challenge

My productivity system broke down this summer.  It started when I didn't complete all of my weekly tasks that I had written down in my planner.  To be honest, I usually didn't complete all of these anyway (I tend to over-estimate the number of things I can get done in a given period), but now the problem started to get worse.  Some weeks I only checked one or two items off my list.  As I fell more and more behind, I felt more and more guilty about not getting as much done as I thought I should.  When I re-wrote my list of tasks every week, all I felt was dread.  Eventually, I stopped using my planner altogether.  By then, it just felt pointless.

It doesn't matter whether you use a paper or digital planner; the system you use cannot automatically make you more productive, focused, or motivated.  Ultimately, you have to actively make the decision to work on tasks you need to get done.  You can plan, write to-do lists, make schedules, and try different systems as much as you like, but none of this is useful unless you actually do the work.  That's the hard part.

As August and September passed me by, I realized that if I wanted to start being productive again (and I did), then I needed to make a change.

By this time, I also had realized what the main cause of my productivity system breakdown was: procrastination.  Procrastination is, I now know, the greatest challenge I face to my ability to get things done and to make any kind of progress in my life generally.

Procrastination starts as a way of avoiding and putting off a task that I feel is too difficult or large to tackle.  Sometimes it's just that another activity (easier and less important) is much more tempting.  Or that I convince myself that I have lots of time (even when I don't) so I don't need to start right away.  Once it gets started, procrastination builds on itself.  Once I put one task off, it becomes easier to find excuses for not doing other tasks.  And the more behind I get in everything, the more negative feelings (guilt, dread) I start to have around all of my tasks, which means that I turn to procrastination more as a way of (temporarily) avoiding those feelings.

When dealing with procrastination, it's important to start small and build slowly.  Habits cannot be changed quickly.  I know that from years of trying and failing.  A large change is scary and I'll probably procrastinate about it or give up on it after only a few days.  A small change is easy and I can slowly build on it.  It's also important to realize that you cannot conquer procrastination completely.  I expect that this challenge will be with me for the rest of my life, so I need to focus on learning to live with it, not on trying to eliminate it.

I have not yet gone back to using my planner, but I am starting to rebuild my productivity system.  Every day, I set myself a few small tasks, writing them down in a simple pad of paper that I keep on my desk.  I make sure to break down even simple tasks into tiny steps.  If "write next blog post" is too intimidating, then "choose photos" or "write first draft by hand" may not be.  I've also put most of my projects to the side for now.  Part of the problem was that I was simply trying to do too much, so for now I'm just going to focus on one project (blogging).  When I get that on track, I can add in other tasks and projects.  Selecting tasks or setting goals for an entire week or month also feels like too much right now, but as I have more success on a daily basis, I hope to re-introduce this (in some form) to my productivity system as well.

I don't know what my productivity system is going to look like as I rebuild it.  I do know that at some point I'll start using a planner again, but I don't know if I'll go back to a Bullet Journal or not.  I suspect that I may want something with a bit more structure instead.  At this point, I'm trying to keep my mind open to any possibilities.

Most importantly, I have discovered in the last two weeks that I can complete tasks again and that it feels good.  I know that some people perceive writing as a difficult and painful business, but I've found that writing makes me happy.  It's not writing that causes the problems.  When procrastination returns, I will try to remember this.  Getting things done feels good.  Procrastination does not.  And it doesn't have to be more complicated than that.

Have you ever experienced a productivity system breakdown?  How did you deal with it?  And how do you deal with procrastination?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences on these issues.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pencil Review: Tombow MONO Drawing Pencil Set

Tombow MONO drawing pencils have been on my list of "Need to Try" pencils for quite a while, so when Tombow USA contacted me and asked if I wanted to review a set, I was eager to accept, not just because these were pencils I wanted anyway, but also because this would be my first chance to try an entire set of pencils, something I probably wouldn't have bought for myself.  The set comes with 6 pencils (2H, HB, B, 2B, 4B, and 6B) and one Tombow MONO Zero eraser (I'll review the eraser in a later post).

The first impression on receiving the set was that these pencils are beautiful.  They're black with gold lettering and a cream and gold section near the end that labels the grade of the pencil.  They're also hexagonally shaped with no eraser, just a painted cap - both features I prefer.  Unfortunately, a white barcode is also printed on the pencil, which mars its beauty somewhat, but at least it is near the top and so will be the first thing to disappear as I sharpen the pencils.

However, as I removed the pencils from the package, I noticed some white marks on some of them (above photo).  When I examined these marks and the package closer, I realized that they were from the paper of the package sticking to the pencil (I could see marks in the package where this had happened) and possibly removing some of the top layer of paint.  This was rather disappointing, even though it doesn't affect how the pencil writes, so I think in the future I'd try to avoid buying these pencils in blister packaging (which I actually try to avoid anyway, since I hate plastic waste).

I decided that a set of pencils deserved an entire page spread of sketches, so I did one sketch with each pencil, to hopefully show you a bit of how the different grades compare to each other.  The 2H lead was, of course, noticeably lighter in colour and harder than the others, and while I'm not experienced enough to notice many differences between the HB, B, and 2B leads, the 4B and 6B were definitely darker and much softer.  I especially loved how dark all of the pencils are.  Even the 2H offered more depth of shading than I expected and the HB also seemed relatively dark for that grade.

Sketches of Staedtler Textsurfer highlighter (2H), pencil sharpener (HB), binder clip (B), scissors (2B), Tombow MONO Zero eraser (4B), and vase (6B).  Sketches not to scale, obviously.  And the highlighter isn't really bent like that.

My favourites were probably the 2H and the B.  As a novice sketcher, I found the 2H the easiest to use, and, as I said above, it shaded better than I expected.  I could see using this to start a drawing and lay out the basic shapes.  I liked the B because it allowed me to get some dark shading, but it was easier to control than the softer pencils.  If I wanted even more depth, then I'd add the 4B to these.  And for writing, I'd probably stick with the 2H or the HB.  Although these are marketed as drawing pencils, I think the harder grades would make great writing pencils since they are nice and dark.

Overall, I really loved all of my sketches with these pencils (actually, I hated them while I was doing them, but when I looked at them later I loved them), but I'm not sure if that reflects the quality of the pencils or just that I'm finally starting to figure out pencil sketching.  I do love my Tombow MONO drawing pencils, however.  They look great and make me feel like a much more serious artist than I really am.  And even more importantly, the harder grades (2H to B) in particular offer the combination of relatively hard yet dark lead that I love and find easiest to use.  I think this set as a whole is a great way to get started and I'd definitely recommend any of these pencils if you're looking for a good quality drawing pencil.  These might just become my new favourite pencils.


Other reviews: That One Pen, Lung Sketching Scrolls.


Note: I received these pencils free of charge from Tombow USA, but that did not affect my review.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

An Unexpected Absence

I warned you at the end of last month that posting was going to be slow in September, but I didn't expect to not post at all!  The reasons why I didn't post this month are various and mostly not very interesting, so I won't go into them in detail here, but I do plan to start getting back to my regular schedule of blog posts in October.

I have a set of Tombow MONO drawing pencils that I will be reviewing (I did mean to review these in September, but I've never had an entire set of pencils before, so they are intimidating me and making me nervous to sharpen them and start using them!).  Also, I've experienced a breakdown with my productivity and planning system, and I'll be discussing that as well.

I'm sorry for my unexpected absence, but I promise you I will be back!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

August Miscellany: Pencils, Lamys, Doodles

Posting was a bit slow here over the past month, and - since September is going to be on the busy side for me - I can't guarantee that I'll be able to maintain my regular schedule in the next month either.  I do, however, have some great new-to-me items that I will be reviewing, and until then, you can read these links...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

10 Ways to Use Your Pens and Write by Hand More Often

If you're a student or if you keep a journal faithfully, then you probably already have many opportunities to use your pens and write by hand in your daily life.  But even I have noticed that I use my pens much less now than I did when I was in university (3 years ago now), so for myself and for anyone else who loves pens and needs more opportunities to use them, here's a list of ideas for incorporating more writing by hand into your life.

1) Keep a journal - This is probably the most obvious place to start, but the traditional journal may not be for everyone.  If you feel uncomfortable committing your thoughts and feelings to paper, or if you just feel that you don't have anything to write about, consider keeping a log of weather observations, books read, movies watched, birds seen, or anything else that interests you.  Or check out books such as How to Make a Journal of Your Life by D. Price or Raw Art Journaling by Quinn McDonald for simple and alternative ideas to get started with a journal.

2) Doodle - Doodling can help us concentrate and remember information, and at the very least, enliven a boring meeting or class (I know I filled many page margins with doodles in my school years).  This is probably something that many of you do already, but my suggestion is to practice it in a more conscious way.  Keep a favourite pen and a pocket notebook nearby and reach for them whenever you have a spare second or feel the urge to doodle.  Perhaps this notebook of doodles will even become the start of an art journal.

3) Practice sketching the world around you - For many years I believed that I couldn't draw, but when I finally gave it a try, I was surprised at what I could do.  I'm sure that many people would discover something similar if they gave it a try as well.  And even if your sketches turn out awful, who cares?  I think that flawed sketches are more interesting than perfect ones anyway.  If you need ideas of things to sketch, try Danny Gregory's EDM Challenges.

4) Start a commonplace book - A commonplace book is a place where you collect favourite quotes, reference information, and other odds and ends (I mostly use mine to collect favourite poems).  The D*I*Y Planner website has a great 2-part article on what a commonplace book is and how you can keep one (though I actually kept one for years before I even knew what it was called).  I think that the commonplace book is a great option for anyone who likes the idea of keeping a journal, but doesn't have anything they want to write about.  And yes, you could save this kind of information in a file on your computer, but a commonplace book is more fun, and writing out favourites quotes and poems by hand is a better way to connect with and understand another writer's words.


5) Plan - Make a to-do list or keep a planner.  While I've used both digital and paper planning systems, I've found that using a paper planner helps me to see my tasks in a more focused, concrete setting.  There is also something very satisfying about checking off or crossing out a task once I have completed it.  There are many different styles of planners available to buy, or you can browse the very informative D*I*Y Planner website for other ideas.  And if traditional planners don't interest you, you can try the Bullet Journal.  (I've written many posts about my DIY planner and Bullet Journal, and you can find them all in my Productivity tab.)

6) Take notes - If you're used to taking notes digitally, try using pen (or pencil) and paper instead.  I believe that the act of writing things down by hand engages different parts of our brains than typing does, and helps us to remember and understand material better.  Writing also slows us down, forcing us to be more selective in our note-taking and focus only on the most important material.  And even if you're not a student, probably most people need to do research and take notes occasionally.

7) Improve your handwriting - You may not be interested in learning calligraphy, but I've found that simply practicing my cursive handwriting is a soothing and relaxing activity.  I also find it fun to play around with different styles of handwriting (this activity is kind of like doodling).  Even if you don't care about impressing people with your fancy handwriting, if you're spending more time writing by hand, then at some point you're probably going to need to read over what you've written, so ensuring that your handwriting is clear and legible will help make that easier.

8) Write drafts - If you write blog posts, articles, short stories, or anything else, try writing your first drafts by hand on paper, rather than on the computer.  As I mentioned above, writing by hand engages different parts of your brain and may help you to be more creative.  Turning off the computer reduces distractions and the lack of a backspace button may encourage you to be more spontaneous and turn off the inner critic..  I write nearly all of my first drafts by hand (or at least start writing them that way) and I do find it very helpful.

9) Remember things - Keep a pen and a pocket notebook near you at all times, and when you think of something that you want to remember, write it down immediately.  This way, you won't forget any important tasks, and all of those neat ideas that come to you throughout the day won't disappear.

10) Write pen reviews! - If you're truly a geek about pens, pencils, and writing by hand, then you may want to share that passion with the world.  Start a blog and write reviews of all of the pens, pencils, and notebooks you come across to let everyone else know what you think of them.  (The photo above is from 2012 and shows all of my pen review writing samples from my first three (or so) years with this blog.)

What do you do to get yourself writing by hand more?  Is this even an issue for you?  What suggestions would you add to my list?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Favourite Fountain Pen Inks

Last year, I delved into bottled fountain pen inks for the first time.  While I have not yet sampled many different inks, I have already discovered a few that I think will be long-time favourites.  The following three inks in particular stood out among the inks that I have tried so far.

  1. Rohrer & Klingner Alt-Goldgrün - This seems to be one of the more popular inks out there, and I can understand why.  The colour is unique and beautiful (I think that anyone who calls this ink "ugly" is crazy!), with great shading.  It writes very smoothly, and the colour is one of my favourite shades of green.  It's also not an overly bright, bold colour, though, so for me that makes this ink suitable for using everyday, in almost any situation.
  2. Diamine Meadow - This was the first ink I reviewed and it is a very close second to Alt-Goldgrün.  This is probably my all-time favourite shade of green (and, even better, it matches my green Lamy Safari!), although because it is a bit brighter and bolder, it's not quite as versatile.  This ink also has some beautiful shading, and it behaves very nicely, with no feathering or bleedthrough.  And using this ink simply makes me feel happy.
  3. Noodler's Habanero - This ink was a surprise third place for me.  For some reason, I wasn't expecting to like this ink very much (I mainly bought the sample because I didn't want to leave Noodler's out of my first order of ink samples), but I ended up loving it.  Orange is my second favourite colour after green, and this ink has everything that I would want in an orange ink: it's relatively dark and a bit muted, it stands out well on the page, and the shading and flow are excellent.  I don't love this ink as much as I do Alt-Goldgrün and Diamine Meadow, but it's still one that I would use every day.

I do plan to try some more fountain pen ink samples in the future (for example, I already have my eye on J. Herbin Orange Indien, any inks by Diamine, and any dark greens (maybe green blacks?)).  Ink sampling is a great way to discover new inks and colours, without committing to full bottles.  I'd love to get some more ideas for inks to try next, so what are your favourite inks?  And what do you think of the inks on my list?

Friday, August 15, 2014

PaperMate InkJoy 100 1.0mm Green & Turquoise

The PaperMate InkJoy is probably the last pen anyone would have expected me to review again.  After all, I wasn't exactly enthusiastic about the last version I reviewed.  But I can never resist bright, fun colours, and my writing experience with this version of the InkJoy was a bit different, so I thought it would be worth another quick review.

This is the PaperMate InkJoy 100, the "lower end" version of the InkJoy, as compared to the "higher end" 700 RT that I reviewed previously (obviously, these are all "low end" pens!).  Unlike the 700 RT, the 100 is not trying to look like a better pen than it really is.  It's a very basic stick ballpoint with no grip and a simple cap - just what I would expect from a pen of this sort.  The triangular shape is a bit different, although it may not appeal to everyone, and I like that the pens themselves are as colourful as their inks - no guessing about which colour is which if you're searching through a crowded pen case.

In my last InkJoy review, I was disappointed by how the pen deposited globs of ink on my page while I was writing with it.  These globs often ended up smeared over my paper and my hand.  I was expecting the same thing with these InkJoy 100 pens, but these two coloured inks (green and turquoise) are not producing ink globs nearly as often as the black 700 RT did.  Is it the 100 version in general, or just these colours?  Or just me?  However, these pens still do not write particularly well.  They are slow to start writing, and they leave a lot of white space in the line.

I do like how the InkJoy 100 comes in lots of colours.  I've only tried the green and turquoise, but I'm pleased with them.  Many coloured ballpoints that I have used in the past have ink that is either dull or too faint to read, but these colours are bright and dark enough to read easily (my photo ended up being a bit washed out, I'm afraid).

Colours are brighter and darker in person.

Overall, the PaperMate InkJoy is still not a pen I would recommend.  There are better ballpoints out there.  Even the basic Bic is going to offer a writing experience that is just as good, if not better, than what you'll get with the InkJoy.  I am, however, feeling more positive about the 100 than I did about the 700 RT.  If you must buy an InkJoy, get the cheap one that comes in lots of fun colours.

Other reviews: Gourmet Pens, Design Fetishism.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Shades of White

These images look cool and crisp - perfect for a hot summer's day...

Left to right: Rhodia Ice, Centropen Liner 2811 0.3mm, Eagle "Chemi-Sealed" Verithin 734 White.
Left to right: PaperMate InkJoy 700 RT 1.0mm, Pilot Feed GP4 Multi 0.7mm, Pentel Clic Eraser, Bic Round Stic medium, PaperMate Biodegrable ballpoint, buttons, stamps.

(By the way, if you ever need a non-reflective black background for taking photos, black felt works well.)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

July Miscellany: Pencils, Planners, Envelopes

I've noticed an interesting trend over the last year or so.  When I started these monthly miscellany posts a little over two years ago, they weren't very popular.  Now, however, they're among the most popular posts on my blog.  Curious...  Luckily for me, though, they're also the easiest posts to write!

I hope you enjoy this month's selection of links!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Favourite Supplies for Writing

I write every week, and usually every day.  I also own a lot of different pens, pencils, and notebooks.  But when it comes to composing a blog post, short story, novel chapter, or anything else, there are a few supplies that I always return to.  They may not be glamorous, but they work, and that's the most important thing.

Left to right: Bic Round Stic ballpoint, PaperMate Write Bros. ballpoint, Pentel Fluorescent Marker, Staedtler Textsurfer Classic highlighter, Sharpie Gel highlighter, Monami Handy highlighter, green sticky notes.  Back: scrap paper bound together with loose-leaf rings.

  • Scrap paper and a cheap ballpoint pen - I've found that my words flow most easily when I write by hand in cursive, with a cheap ballpoint pen (probably one I found and therefore not just cheap, but free) on a sheet of scrap paper (letter-size paper that has been used on only one side is ideal).  If I was writing in a nice notebook or with a nice pen then I'd probably feel some pressure to have my writing be of relatively high quality, so that I wouldn't "waste" my good supplies.  With a cheap pen and scrap paper, this pressure vanishes and I can write my first draft more freely.  And using a pen encourages me to keep writing, without stopping to change every other word (as I might do with a pencil, which can be erased, or while typing on my computer - that backspace button is way too handy!).  As for writing in cursive, I guess that simply triggers something in my brain that typing (or even printing) does not.
  • Highlighters - I rarely used highlighters in school, but now I'm starting to find them essential for organizing information.  If I'm taking notes on a topic for a blog post then I use several different coloured highlighters to break all of this information down into subtopics.  I've also written before about how I used highlighters (and coloured pens) to identify and organize different sections within the outline of my novel.  I could probably do much of this digitally, but doing it by hand on paper encourages me to focus on truly understanding the material, not just on cutting and pasting from one section to another.  Also, it's more fun.  Highlighters are just markers for adults, aren't they?
  • Sticky notes - I don't use these a lot, but when I was working on my novel outline, sometimes I would think of an idea for a certain section, but I didn't have enough space to write it in.  So I wrote it on a sticky note and added it in that way.
  • My computer - As much as I love pen and paper, ultimately most of my writing needs to be typed up on the computer.  I also do most of my editing on the computer, rather than by hand.  But I'm not interested in trying out different kinds of software, or using fancy equipment.  On my laptop, I stick with Microsoft Word, which I've used for ages and am very comfortable with.  And in Blogger and Wordpress, I use the default post editors to write my blog posts.

And that's all!  In the end, it doesn't matter how impressive your supplies are, the basic process of writing is still the same.  It's about putting words down on the paper (or the screen), and sticking with them until they turn into something.

If you're a writer or blogger, what are your favourite supplies?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

PaperMate Visibility 0.7mm Mechanical Pencil

Another short review for you, this time of the PaperMate Visibility mechanical pencil.  As uncool as it may be to admit that I like a cheap mechanical pencil in these days when most pen bloggers seem to be reviewing fancy fountain pens, I do like this cheap mechanical pencil.  It probably helps that I have a soft spot for mechanical pencils because I've been using them longer and more consistently than I have anything else currently in my desk.

Cheap mechanical pencils tend to not have a lot of variation in body style, and the Visibility is no exception.  I do like that it has a grip, though I wouldn't trust that plastic clip too far.  There's no cap on the eraser, which is fine, as those things tend to get lost anyway.  I love that these pencils come in bright colours (green and orange are my favourites).  Bright colours make me happy.  I think this would be a good pencil to have on hand in case I needed to lend it to someone (if they didn't give it back, I wouldn't be devastated) or to include as part of my minimalist travel kit (again, no worries if it gets a bit banged up while travelling).  I could also see these as being a good choice for children (bright colours and lightweight).

I usually prefer 0.5mm pencils, but 0.7mm really isn't that bad.  I'm even starting to like how the 0.7mm lead makes my everyday messy handwriting look just a tiny bit more expressive.  (I still, however, find it hard to believe that my mechanical pencil of choice used to be a 0.9mm.)

Overall, the PaperMate Visibility is not an amazing pencil, but a decent option if you're looking for something cheap, simple, and colourful.  It might not be cool to admit that I like it, but I've never been cool in my life and I doubt that I'll start now.

What basic, cheap supplies are you fond of?
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