Link Love: After Dark Edition

Sorry that this week’s Link Love will be so late. Due to the Petra winter storm, I will not be back into Kansas City until Thursday. It’s been an 11-day epic road trip (to Little Rock and then all the way to LA and then back to Little Rock and then back home) and Link Love is the one task I needed to postpone.

I’ll be driving from Little Rock to Kansas City on Thursday morning. I am writing this on my phone, on the road, somewhere between Oklahoma City and Little Rock.

I’ll follow it up with an LA Pen show recap.

So, rather than start my laundry, I am thinking of you, dear readers. I do care.

Notebook Review: Apica CD Notebook

Review by Laura Cameron

When I went on my shopping spree on JetPens last month I also picked up a couple of Apica CD Notebooks ($1.75 each) to try out.

I chose the Apica CD11 A5 notebook in Light Blue and Black (which in person appears slightly more grey).

These great notebooks have cardstock covers that come in a variety of colors (Red, White, Sky Blue, Navy, Mustard, and Light Green as well). The notebook is 28 pages of 81.4 gsm white paper, and these are ruled (7mm) with light grey lines. There do seem to be other similar notebooks in grid and blank paper as well. The notebooks are thread bound, and open to lay flat.

The paper is also described as acid free and fountain pen friendly, and I’m happy to say it excels there. Throughout my testing I was impressed by the quality of the paper – there is a bit of ghosting, but I’d actually use both sides of the page in this notebook, which I can’t say about  many of the notebooks I review.

If you’re looking for a quick all-purpose notebook to slide into an A5 carrier or planner, I’d say this one is pretty compelling. It doesn’t have the style or panache of some notebooks, but at $1.75 I’d be hard pressed to find a better substitute!

DISCLAIMER: The notebooks included in this review were provided to us free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Book Review: Make Ink: A Forager’s Guide to Natural Inkmaking

Book Review: Make Ink: A Forager’s Guide to Natural Inkmaking

How could I possibly pass up a book that would teach me how to make my own ink? Make Ink: A Forager’s Guide to Natural Inkmaking by Jason Logan was an insta-buy for me. The swashes of color on the cover alone were enough to get it in my cart. Then, I was at a friend’s house on New Year’s Day and she had a copy of it on her studio table. Getting a chance to flip through the pages of the book had me hitting “buy it now” while I was still standing there.

Make Ink Book

The book has some lovely details to start. The edges have been painted to look ink stained and spattered.

Make Ink Book

How beautiful are these edges? I didn’t notice this detail until I got my copy.

Make Ink Book

Inside, the book features lots of photos and white space and a storytelling aspect to the art and science of making inks. If you start reading the book from the beginning (and don’t skip straight to the ink recipes) it becomes clear that there is as much luck, experimentation and  kismet in coming up with ink recipes as there is science, measuring and careful formulation.

The next thing I noticed is that there is a strong possibility that should I actually attempt to make any inks from these recipes, they may not be safe for fountain pens. Indications suggest that these inks were designed for brush, dip pen and other more artistic applications. However, understanding how inks are made is something I’ve always wanted to know and this book seemed like as good a place as any to learn.

Chapter Two: Make Ink, starts on page 42 and starts with the terms and materials that make up ink. Then provides an assortment of recipes to create your own inks using plants, nuts, bark, spices, metals, and flowers. The recipes do not seem difficult but do require some ingredients I’d be hesitant to put into a fountain pen of any value (shellac, gum arabic, rusty nails, alum, etc.). While none of these things are particularly harmful to humans if handled, they could wreak havoc on a fountain pen.

Make Ink Book

This is the Copper Oxide ink recipe which requires fermenting copper in vinegar to get the oxidized turquoise color. Beautiful color but definitely not fountain pen friendly. I’m all for trying this with brushes, dip pens and other tools though (in well ventilated places, of course). So beautiful!

Make Ink Book

This yellow is made with tumeric. It requires isopropyl alcohol and its suggested to be great in an empty marker to be used with other alcohol-based markers. Must smell quite unusual but the color is wonderful.

The last section of the book shows samples of ink experiments, doodles and drawings showing some of the inks in use. It’s basically just ink eye candy from the author and friends. Some are more interesting than others. Margaret Atwood contributed a little piece. Gary Taxali did a drawing too. So, its a bit of showing off as well. I like the author’s ink swashes best. They look like abstract paintings.

Make Ink Book

The book is full of inspiration and takes a lot of the mystery out of ink making, at least at its simplest level. And it also reminds me why I love ink — any ink or liquid color as much as I do. I like just splashing color down on a page and watching it pool and move and dry. I like watching one color blend into another and create new, interesting combinations. I am eternally fascinated by color in all its hues and the idea of making my own colors feels like breaking the third wall.

DISCLAIMER: The item in this review include affiliate links. The Well-Appointed Desk is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. Please see the About page for more details.

Case Review: Lihit Lab Smart Fit Mobile Pouch

Review by Tina Koyama

My daily-carry is a Rickshaw Bags messenger bag that tidily fits my sketching stuff as well as all my usual “purse” stuff, and I easily take it everywhere. The only time I don’t like to carry it is when I’m taking a 3-mile fitness walk around my neighborhood lake. For that trip (which I make at least weekly), all I need is my phone, keys, ID, a notebook and a writing instrument. I don’t like to shove items into various pants or jacket pockets. I have been using a small cross-body pouch that is OK, but it’s still slightly bigger than I need. It’s now getting a little road-weary, so it’s time for a replacement.

With a name like Smart Fit Mobile Pouch, the trim little bag from Lihit Lab seemed just right. The JetPens photos indicate that it can accommodate a smartphone and a pocket-size notebook. The clip hook seems like a good place to attach a strap for cross-body carrying. Although I probably wouldn’t use them, it also has loops in back that can be used to wear fanny-pack style or on a backpack or messenger bag strap.

OK, so I didn’t read the specifications providing the actual dimensions. If I had, I would have learned before buying that it is not large enough to fit my Samsung Galaxy S9 phone (2 ¾ x 6 inches) or a Field Notes notebook (3 ½ x 5 ½ inches). Well, they fit, but then the pouch can’t be zipped closed.

Moral of the story: Just because it says “mobile” doesn’t mean all phones will fit. Read the dimensions and measure your stuff.

DISCLAIMER: Some of the items included in this review were provided to us free of charge for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Tina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.


Watercolor Review: Viviva Colorsheets

Review by Tina Koyama

Concentrated watercolor paint stored on paper has intrigued me for a long time: Thin and lightweight, it seems like the ultimate portable paint kit! Several years ago when I first began urban sketching, I bought a booklet of Nicholson’s Peerless Water Colors with that thought in mind. Around the same time, I serendipitously found a vintage booklet of Nicholson’s Peerless Japanese Transparent Water Colors in an antique store. I don’t know how old the booklet is, but the last copyright date on it is 1923!

The antique sheets are so tattered that I’ve only used them to swatch the colors, but even after all these years, they are still bright and saturated.

antique Peerless page

Once I even tried making my own watercolor sheets by applying watercolor crayon pigments heavily to a sheet of watercolor paper. (It worked, but not for very long.)

So although the concept of watercolor paints stored in booklet form is not new or innovative, Viviva Colorsheets made significant improvements on Nicholson’s Peerless when the company developed its product with Indiegogo funding a couple of years ago. Ana and I both backed its successful campaign and received the set of 16 colors.

Viviva cover

The first great idea with Viviva Colorsheets is the staggered page ends with colored index tabs, which make it much easier to find the color you want rather than constantly flipping through all the pages.

index tabs

Each page has two pigment tiles. A space is given under each pigment area to make a small swatch.

a place for swatching colors

Many pigment tiles, especially the blues and violets, look very different from the hues that result from them, so it’s imperative to make swatches before using the paints, or you’ll be in for big surprises.

7 - Peacock Blue Persian Blue and Violet

As “Viviva” implies, all the colors are vivid and saturated (swatches made on Canson XL 140-pound watercolor paper). Since anyone (like me) using Viviva Colorsheets instead of traditional watercolor paints would probably give priority to convenience and portability, I used a waterbrush instead of a true paint brush on these swatches and the sketches in this review.

color swatches

A second good idea is the sheet of nonstick glassine bound between every two pages of color to keep the pigments from mixing and sticking to each other.

nonstick glassine sheets

The last innovation is a great idea in theory – but in practice, not so much. It’s the mixing palette that’s inserted in the back of the Viviva booklet. As suggested, I adhered the mixing palette, which is made of a heavy paper with a non-absorbent surface, to the booklet’s inside back cover.

mixing palette

I love the idea of having everything so compact and handy this way. But when I actually tried to mixe the paints, I found it awkward to shuffle among the booklet’s pages with a puddle of wet paint attached to the same booklet. (I made a mess and continued the rest of my experiments with a traditional mixing palette not attached to the booklet.)

awkward holding mixing surface inside booklet

mixing palette, paint, waterbrush

One of the most challenging aspects of using traditional watercolor paints is controlling the ratio of water to paint and therefore creating the desired intensity of the hue. With Viviva Colorsheets, I find that challenge to be far greater – they are very different from tube or cake paints. As with any medium, more practice would probably yield better results. (The Viviva Indiegogo page shows many examples by artists who achieved beautiful results that you’d have difficulty distinguishing from traditional watercolors.)

Personally, I had the best results when I used the “coloring book” method: I drew an image with a waterproof Sakura Micron pen, then colored it with Viviva, almost like markers. (Sketch samples made in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook.)

In fact, the “coloring book” sketch made me realize I was looking at Viviva Colorsheets in the wrong way. I don’t think they’re best used as traditional watercolors (or at least I found that they amplify the challenges of watercolor paints); it’s much better to think of them as markers or colored pencils. The tiny booklet is far slimmer and lighter than 16 markers or even 16 colored pencils. Forget about mixing and just have fun using these brilliant hues straight from the booklet. Packed with a waterproof pen and a waterbrush, that’s a pretty darn compact and convenient sketch kit.

tina-koyamaTina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.

LA or Bust!


Hopefully, you’ve been following along with the road trip adventures of me and Lisa Vanness as we careen across the country on our way to Huntington Beach for the LA Pen Show this weekend.

We are looking forward to seeing everybody who can make it out for the show. We will have a literal van load of ink, pens and paper to share with y’all as well as road trip stories. So stop by the table and say hello!

If you can’t make it to show, you can visit with us virtually on Instagram or (@justvanness) and YouTube and I’ll have a wrap-up post when I return to Kansas City next week.

If you’re elsewhere in the US, you might see one of the intrepid writers from The Desk at one of the upcoming shows. You might spy one of us in Baltimore, Atlanta and Chicago. Check the Pen Show Schedule for details!

Link Love: On The Road

Link Love: On The Road

I’m writing Link Love from a truck stop this week, somewhere in the southwest United States on the way to LA for the pen show. This is my first multi-day, cross-country pen show trip. Traveling puts a pause on the world and while simultaneously hyperfocusing everything. We have no time and nothing but time. It’s a strange in-between that full of anticipation and anxiousness.



Notebooks & Paper:

Art & Creativity:

Other Interesting Things: