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:

Ink Review: Rohrer & Klingner Aubergine

Review by Laura Cameron

I feel like I made my love of purple clear last year, so I was relatively unsurprised when Jesi sent me some samples of purple inks she has acquired recently. One of these was Rohrer & Klingner’s Limited Edition Aubergine (50mL for $12.95 from Vanness Pens).

Aubergine is a deep dark purple, with yellowy sheen in its darkest applications.

Aubergine shades nicely in various nib sizes. In the darkest ink splotches it also sheens quite a bit, though I didn’t notice that in writing, only when I added lots of ink to the paper.

Aubergine definitely leans towards the blue side of purple, rather than the plummy red color of Birmingham Pen Co’s Little Italy Eggplant Parmesan (a fitting comparison?).

In fact, it turns out that most of the purples I own lean red, making it hard to find something similar to Aubergine. Birmingham’s purples are too plummy and Robert Oster Purple Rock is both redder and also blacker than Aubergine.

But if a blue purple is your heart’s desire, I’d say this one fits the bill nicely.

ETA thanks to the eagle-eyed reader who pointed out my mispelling of Klingner. It has been updated in the text, though unfortunately I can’t reshoot the photos at this point!

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.

Ink Review: Lamy Crystal Amazonite

Ink Review: Lamy Crystal Amazonite

Last week, I reviewed my first Lamy Crystal ink color: Rhodonite. While Rhodonite filled a much hoped-for gap in the Lamy ink line-up, it was not exactly breaking new ground, colorwise. Amazonite, is thankfully, a new color altogether from anything I’ve seen previously from Lamy.

Lamy Crystal Amazonite

Lamy Crystal Amazonite comes in the same glass bottle with outer box that Rhodonite did. It’s a 30ml bottle so its a healthy quantity of ink.

Lamy Crystal Amazonite

Amazonite, as you can see from the bottom of the bottle, does not contain any gold or metallic flecks like Rhodonite. It’s a traditional deep teal ink.

Lamy Crystal Amazonite

In the swatch, it shows shading and a hint of sheen where ink coverage is heaviest though I doubt it will be evident in most writing. Possibly on Tomoe River, the sheen will be apparent with wider nibbed pens, around the edges of the letterforms, but that’s probably about it. Overall, I was just happy to see an appealing shade of teal.

Lamy Crystal Amazonite

Since the color was dark enough I was able to test it in my finest Japanese nib– a vintage Platinum pen. I was able to get a lot of shading in the writing and consistent writing performance.

Lamy Crystal Amazonite

My first thought when I saw this color was that it was very similar to Pelikan Edelstein Aquamarine but on closer inspection, the Pelikan ink is a bit darker and a little more green. Lamy Amazonite is very similar in color to Diamine Marine. To be honest, I probably have a dozen inks that are similar in color to Amazonite. Clearly, this is a color I can’t resist.


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

Fashionable Friday: Here We Go Love

Fashionable Friday: Here We Go Love

Inspired by the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday, the new jelly, frosted Kaweco Sport pens and an album I waited three decades for, this week’s Fashionable Friday is ready for love. All kinds. Romance, pet love, familial, and even love of a new pen.

  • English Beat Here We Go Love (via Spotify)
  • Kaweco Sport Frosted Blush Pitaya fountain pen pre-order for €21.25 (via Fontoplumo)
  • Longevous Love Necklace $15 (via ModCloth)
  • Filofax Original Personal Organizer in Pillarbox Red Leather $77.95 (via Goldspot Pens)
  • Kobe #61 Yukinogoshou Zakura Fountain Pen Ink #30 for 50ml bottle (via Vanness Pens)
  • Kokuyo Harinacs Stapleless Staplers in Pink $12 (via JetPens)
  • Cute Hearts Washi Tape by MASTÉ Japanese Masking Tape $2.50 per roll (via CuteTape)
  • Sailor Jentle Four Season Irori Fountain Pen Ink 50ml Bottle for $18 (via Anderson Pens)
  • Love Cards set of 12 cards in 12 languages $22.50 (via House Industries)
  • Lamy Scala Rose Fountain Pen, starting at €73.55 (via Appelboom)
  • Caran d’Ache 849 Fountain Pen in Red, Fine Point $51.95 (via Goldspot Pens)

Thanks to my sponsors for providing some of the images I use for Fashionable Friday. Please consider making your next purchase from one of the shops that support this blog and let them know you heard about them here. Thanks for reading the blog and for supporting the shops that help keep it running.