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?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Underwater Pencils?

I recently received an email from Chris, who is looking for pencils suitable for writing and recording data underwater while scuba diving.  Chris seems to have already tried most of the possible options:
"Regular pencils and golf pencils- no good. The wood swells up, the lead then is no longer supported, it breaks and falls out.
Those other regular pencils that LOOK like wood, but aren’t- leads too soft and doesn’t show up on the paper.
All graphite pencils – my old favorite, but keeping them sharp is an issue, and the plastic heat shrink like covers don’t agree with mere mortal pencil sharpeners. You need those counter mounted ones from Mrs. Krabappel’s classroom, which chew up the graphite. Also fragile and tend to snap in half.
Mechanical pencils - work great the first time, don’t work at all the second time. If liberally coated with WD-40 before and after each dive, you might get 3-4 dives out of them before they rust to the point of being non-functional. True of both the click-end and twist point type. Do you know of any all plastic ones?
Pop-a-point pencils – these seem to be the winner so far, but have the fatal flaw of losing one nib causing entire system failure. Also difficult to find.
"Do you happen to have any advice on something else? Is there some mythical soviet-era underwater pen? Some mil-spec tactical pen that is waterproof down to 100 M? Although both of those would be out since I need a couple dozen of them at least. There are a variety of scuba diver marketed pencil contraptions (including etch-a-sketch ones) that are great if you are writing something like “cool fish!” in giant letters, but are next to useless when one needs legible small writing."

This question has me stumped, so can any of you help Chris out?

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Collage a Week in 2014

2014 is over half gone, which means that it is well past time for me to share with you the project that I have been quietly working on since the beginning of the year - to create a collage for every week of 2014.  Some of you may recall that last year I shared several links to iHanna's 365in2013 project to create a collage for every day of the year.  I felt inspired by her project and wanted to adopt a similar practice for myself in 2014.  I knew, however, that creating a collage for every day would not be a realistic goal for me, so instead I decided to set the goal of creating a collage for every week - 52 collages in a year.

I create each of my collages on a 5½ by 5½ inch piece of cardstock (a good size that is not intimidating, but offers more space than the index cards I have worked on in the past).  I make my collages with scrapbooking papers, old greeting cards, graph paper, wrapping paper, origami paper, stickers, ephemera, and any other bits and pieces I come across.  I have been accumulating a lot of papers lately, so this project has been a good opportunity to use up some of my collection.  I try to keep my pen work on each collage to a minimum, as I want to focus on my collage skills.

Although I find myself generally more interested in sketching now rather than in keeping a full-blown "art journal", I still have a love for collage and I've been enjoying working on it in a non-journal format.  However, probably any new project requires some sacrifice of time from other projects, and so I have not been spending nearly as much time in my sketchbook or art journal this year.  I am okay with that, as I know that this project has a time limit and that I will be able to return to sketching and journaling next year.

Although I have made a collage for every week of the year so far, I do not actually create a collage every week.  I would like to do that, but inevitably I forget or procrastinate about it or just simply don't have the time, and so I get a few weeks behind.  And then in other weeks I will get caught up by completing several collages in one sitting.  Each collage does not take very long to make, so this is not difficult to do.

When I started this project, I didn't know whether I would be able to maintain it throughout the year (which is why I didn't blog about it until now), but now that I am over six months into it, I am fairly sure that I will be able to achieve my goal of creating a collage for every week.

This last photo shows the space I have created in my library to work on my collages.  The table is actually my small dining table (waiting for the day when I have my own kitchen and dining area so that it can serve its intended purpose), but it also works well for this.  I line up my collage materials and pencil cases filled with supplies along the back of the table.  It is far more convenient to have these supplies out and readily available rather than stuffed into my desk drawer, and being able to see them every day encourages me to work on my collages more often.  I also keep my most recent collages displayed against the wall where they can inspire me.  I have long wanted a dedicated art space in my library (along with my writing/computer desk), and I am happy that I now finally have one.

Have you ever done a similar yearly (or monthly) project?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pencil Review: Grumbacher Sketching 4B and Charcoal Pencils

Grumbacher was a brand I had never heard of before I recently came across these two pencils, a Grumbacher sketching pencil in 4B and a charcoal pencil.  Curiously, the sketching pencil is made in Germany while the charcoal pencil is made in the USA.  I feel that both of these pencils are a bit out of my league (for reasons I'll go into below), so I'll be keeping this review relatively short.
Someone started sharpening the sketching pencil at the wrong end.  It wasn't me.

First off, the Grumbacher sketching pencil is probably the most beautiful pencil I have yet had a chance to hold, as it was finished to show off the natural wood grain.  I love this look, as I think it is a subtle reminder of the origin of the pencil in trees and the forest.  However, the most obvious thing about this pencil is its shape, which to me looks like a cross between a normal round pencil and a carpenter's pencil (see below).  It has rounded corners which makes it comfortable to hold, yet it's flat enough that it won't roll off your table.

Grumbacher sketching pencil (centre), compared to round charcoal pencil and rectangular carpenter's pencil.

The problem with this pencil is that I do not own a pencil sharpener capable of handling a pencil of this shape, and as for sharpening by hand with a knife, that's something I've never done, and I actually doubt that I even own any knives that would be suitable for the purpose (it is, however, a skill I should learn one of these days...).  I did try sketching with it a bit, but the lead didn't seem as dark as I would have expected for a 4B pencil.  I suppose the flattened shape might have its advantages: the flat side could be used for shading while the edge could be used for drawing finer lines, but I think that with my limited skills I'd be just as happy with using a more traditional sketching pencil.

As for the charcoal pencil, it is relatively boring in appearance (round, with a plain brown finish), and the last charcoal pencil I tried taught me that, while they're fun to use, charcoal pencils are not something I could see myself using regularly.  I'll be keeping this one unsharpened for now.

These pencils are definitely more for the dedicated artist than they are for the general pencil user like myself.  As a pencil collector, however, I love the Grumbacher sketching pencil for its unique shape and appearance, and both make great additions to my collection.

Do you have any pencils or pens that you like more for their looks than for how you use them?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Minimalist Travel Kit

During the summer, my family usually goes on several short (two to three nights) camping trips.  Although I often think that I'll be able to use this time to get some extra writing done (away from the endless distractions of my computer and the Internet), I usually end up not writing a word.  It's a time to relax, not to work.  But I don't like travelling anywhere without a few supplies (just in case inspiration strikes), so I've developed this minimalist travel kit to bring with me on short trips.  It contains all of my basic essentials, but nothing more:

From left to right:
  • Pentel Quicker Clicker 0.5mm mechanical pencil - When travelling, I use this mainly for solving sudoku and crossword puzzles, which is usually the closest I get to doing any writing.  Before I leave, I ensure that the barrel contains a couple of extra leads, so that I don't have to carry spare leads.
  • Pilot GP-4 Multi ballpoint pen - Most of the writing that I might do while travelling would be what I call "rough" writing (writing drafts, brainstorming, making lists, etc.), which I always use ballpoints for.  The Pilot GP-4 is especially handy to bring while travelling, as it combines four colours in one pen, thus eliminating the temptation to carry multiple pens.
  • Pentel Fluorescent Marker - I use highlighters fairly often these days to organize my notes.  While this isn't an item I would expect to use a lot of while travelling, I like to have the option available.  The Pentel Fluorescent Marker is the slimmest highlighter I own, and therefore takes up the least space.
  • A wooden pencil - Just in case I feel like doing some sketching.  Often, I'll bring a pencil that I plan to review soon.  (In this example, it's a Cont√© √† Paris Alaska 3B.)
  • Sanford Speederase - I find a retractable eraser like this one to be more convenient to use than a block eraser.
  • Field Notes (unlined) notebook - A slim pocket notebook that I can use for sketches or short journal entries.  I often consider bringing my regular journal (A5 Rhodia Webnotebook), but I know that it will just end up being a waste of space since I probably won't write anything in it.  If I do need to write down something important, I can use my Field Notes while travelling and copy it into my Webbie when I return home.
  • Scrap paper (not pictured) - Along with the above items, I also bring a few sheets of scrap paper (standard letter-size paper that has been used on only one side), for any rough writing that I may need or want to do.

All of the items (except the scrap paper) fit inside a large rectangular green pencil case (pictured in this post), which is actually much larger than I need (and I have to take my art supplies out of the case first).  It does come in handy though, because then I can also use the case to store any other small items I'm carrying with me, such as a tube of lip balm or an interesting stone that I pick up in my travels.

If I was travelling for a longer time or planning to do some more serious writing or journaling, I'd probably bring more stuff (here's an example), but this minimalist travel kit is usually sufficient.

What's in your travel kit?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Bic Brite Liner Grip Highlighter

As I think I've mentioned before, I'm using highlighters more often these days.  The latest addition to my collection is this Bic Brite Liner Grip highlighter.  The main thing that sets this highlighter apart from most others is, of course, its grip.  It seems a bit odd to me to have a grip on a highlighter, since a highlighter isn't exactly something that most people would be writing with for long periods of time, but the grip is an excellent one.  The textured surface makes it very grippy indeed, and it's relatively long, allowing all of my fingers holding the pen to be in contact with the grip.

Highlighter ink is very difficult to photograph.  Imagine this being much brighter and more neon.

Apart from the grip, the Brite Liner Grip is a basic highlighter.  It's what I call a pen-style highlighter, which I don't find as fun to use as the rectangular block-style highlighters such as the Staedtler Textsurfer or the Stabilo Boss, but is more convenient and professional-looking than the thick marker-style highlighters (such as the Monami Handy Highlighter).  It's easy to fit into a pen case or cup.  I like the bold black and yellow colour scheme, although I've noticed that the images I've seen online have grey, not black, accents.


The chisel tip seems a bit narrow, so it would probably be best for highlighting smaller handwriting and text (or for underlining, if that's your thing).  I especially like that the fine end of the tip is firm enough to allow me to write words with it.  While I don't typically write with my highlighters, it is something that I do on occasion (for example, jotting an important word or two in the margin).  The yellow ink is your standard highlighter yellow, and the Brite Liner is also available in a few other colours.  It may smear the wettest pen inks a bit, but otherwise performed well.  There was also a tiny bit of show-through on the textbook page.

Overall, the Bic Brite Liner Grip is a good basic highlighter.  I would especially recommend it if you're looking for a highlighter that's a bit easier and more comfortable to hold.  Apart from that, I'm not sure that I would have any reason to choose the Brite Liner Grip over any other highlighter, but it's still a decent option.

Related review: Pen Paper Ink Letter.
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