Category: feature

Review: Marvy LePlume II Brush Markers

Guest review by Tina Koyama

Before I got heavily into colored pencils, watercolor brush pens were my coloring medium of choice. It’s hard to resist the huge range of intense, saturated colors many of them come in. Tombow Dual-Brush Pens were my gateway drug, and I managed to acquire quite a few of the line’s 96 colors before I discovered Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real Brush Pens. I decided that the “real” brush tips on the Kuretake pens were more variable and expressive, and they were my favorite for a long time (and yes, I acquired quite a few of those, too).

Eventually colored pencils suited my urban sketching needs better than markers, so except for black brush pens, I haven’t been using markers as much. Recently, though, I discovered Marvy LePlume II Double-Sided Watercolor Markers – and good golly, they come in an unbelievable 109 colors! Even more than the Tombows! Resistance was futile. I did, however, manage to resist getting all 109. In fact, my general tendency is to pick out all the brightest, most garish colors in any set, but I wanted to limit myself to about a dozen, so I showed some restraint and chose a relatively cohesive, subdued (for me) palette. I also got a blender pen.

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Scribble and Wash Test

My initial scribbles were done on Canson 98-pound mixed media paper, which is sized for wet media. On the right I used the blender pen to test the wash properties and found the marks to be a bit scratchy looking – the blender brush pen’s strokes are apparent. On the left I used a Kuretake waterbrush and prefer the more watercolor-like effect of its wetter brush.

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I have to say that I didn’t use the fine end of the two-sided Marvy LePlume pens except to write the color names and numbers on the left side of the page. The fine end is a firm tip suitable for writing and drawing, but not for coloring. When I’m coloring, I prefer the softer brush tip of the larger end, which is made of a compressed, slightly flexy material (not hairs). Like all brush pens, you can adjust the size of the mark the brush makes by changing the angle relative to the paper. I found it easy to color in larger areas quickly by using the broad side of the brush tip held at a sharp angle to the page.

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Stillman & Birn Zeta Test

The next test was more fun. I’ve seen many adult coloring books lately with beautiful abstract patterns. To test out the markers’ blending properties, I did something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time: I made my own coloring book page. I did the line work first with a waterproof Sakura Pigma Micron pen in a Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook.

I’ve successfully used 180-pound S&B Zeta paper with traditional watercolors, so I assume the surface is sized for wet media. I tried to make gradient effects with single colors as well as with two or three shades, but they didn’t blend as well as I thought they would. On the Zeta paper, I found the blending effect to be better with the blender pen than the waterbrush, but when I scrubbed more to increase the blending, the Zeta’s surface started to pill a bit.

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Canson Mixed Media Test

I did a third test using Canson 98-pound mixed media paper (the same kind used for the scribble/wash test). This time I thought the Marvy LePlumes blended much more easily and with less scrubbing whether I was using water or the blender pen. The blender pen still shows brush strokes more than the waterbrush, but they are not necessarily objectionable – just a slightly different effect. It’s a matter of personal preference, but I like the look of these markers and their blending qualities better on the toothy Canson paper than the smooth Zeta paper. I’m not sure whether it’s the texture or sizing or both, but as usual, the particular paper used with a pen makes a big difference in the effect.

I know that brush markers are popular among coloring book enthusiasts, and I’ve sometimes wondered whether the types of paper coloring books are published on are suitable for wet markers like these (let alone blending their colors with a waterbrush). If you’re planning to use them in coloring books, I’d buy just a few pens and test them out before investing in all 109 colors (which is the kind of crazy thing I’d be likely to do without testing first).

One thing to be aware of is that some Marvy LePlume colors are much juicier than others, and when I pulled the caps off, they actually spattered ink on the page (I circled the spatters on the S&B Zeta page).

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Tombow Comparison

I didn’t intend this to be a head-to-head comparison review, but since I just happen to have a good supply of the afore-mentioned Tombow Dual Brush Pens, I decided to do a mini-test of their blending qualities on Canson paper, just for kicks. The Tombows are comparable in that they also have a broad brush end and a fine, hard-tip end. With a waterbrush, Tombow ink makes an almost seamless wash that looks very much like watercolor. With the Tombow blender, blending gradient colors was a bit easier to do and showed fewer brush strokes.

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Final Thoughts

While I found no fault with the Marvy LePlumes, they didn’t distinguish themselves much from other similar markers I’ve used, and I think I prefer the Tombows when color blending. (What a relief – now I won’t have to run out and get the rest of the LePlume colors!) They did remind me, though, of how much fun it is to use watercolor brush markers, and I’m going to get them out more often again.

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.


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

My Favorite Inks for 2016

When thinking about my favorite inks for 2016, I couldn’t narrow it down to just one color or even 10. But I had ranges of colors that ended up being my favorites this year. Some were colors that I discovered this year and some were new lines that were introduced this year and some are long held favorites I just can’t shake. Robert Oster, the new Sailor Jentle Four Seasons line, the J. Herbin 1670 colors are all worth noting. Lamy Dark Lilac was a big hit this year as well. Sheening inks were on the rise in 2016, while shimmering inks seemed to be too high maintenance for many fountain pen users and may not be as popular in 2017. That’s my prediction.

Pink ink became a big winner among pen enthusiasts of all persuasions. Boutique inks have become popular with brands like KWZ, Robert Oster, Papier Plume, and many others becoming the must haves. Boutique inks are the craft brews of the pen world.

The Blues:

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Of course, I had to mention the coveted J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor even though technically it was released in 2015. I used the heck out of it in 2016. In the same boat is my beloved DeAtramentis Pigeon Blue, the only ink that I’ve purchased a second bottle. It’s my “house ink”.  It’s just this smoky teal blue that I like. Everyone has to find their house ink. This one is mine. My close second is Kaweco Paradise Blue which is a slightly greener teal blue-green with a bit of a red sheen. So pretty and a very reasonably priced ink. Good stable, everyday ink. Then there’s Robert Oster knocking my socks off with Marine, Torquay, Fire & Ice and Aqua. All amazing teal and turquoise blues with sheen. Fab!

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Callifolio is another brand I got to know well this year and Omi Osun, Oliphants  and Equinoxe 5 are all inks I use regularly. Oliphants is the “Pigeon Blue” I keep at work. Its a bit more saturated. Equinoxe 5 is a good blue black, a bit more saturated than Bungbox 4B. Robert Oster Blue Sea can sheen almost magenta and Bookbinders Snake Ink Blue Coral has a similar sheen but is a bit lighter in color.

*There’s one more blue that accidentally escaped down into the Grey and Purples. It’s Bungbox 4B (or Blue Black). It’s not necessarily a new color this year but it was new-to-me this year. It’s a deep navy blue-black with a bit of a red sheen. You can read my full review here. If you’re going to buy a very expensive bottle of Bungbox, this is a pretty good one.

The Pinks, Reds and Oranges:

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Sailor Jentle Irori blows my mind with the gold sheen on my swatch. I don’t see it as much in writing but the edges of the letters do darken a bit so wow! Lots of people have been happy about the Kin-Mokusei being a lovely orange and Papier Plume’s Sazerac is a wonderful orange with just a hint of amber making feel grown-up and not candy-colored. The Kobe inks were crazy popular at the DC Pen Show and I was happy to snag two bottles: #12 and #41, both unusual pink colors to add to my Callifolio Andrinople and Papier Plume Garden District Azalea. I am now a well-rounded connoisseur of pink inks.

And I love the Sailor Jentle Sakura-Mori. Its such a smoky petal pink (the swatch above looks a bit more saturated than it really is, sadly, since most were looking accurate today).

The Greys and Purples (and a renegade):

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I love grey inks and was happy to find two new grey inks this year: Sailor Jentle Chu-Shu which is a grey-purple and Bookbinders Snake Ink Ground Rattler which is a perfect neutral grey.

In regards to purples, Sailor Jentle Four Seasons introduced a vivd purple violet Fuji-Musume that satisfies any bright purple urges I might have had. And Lamy’s Dark Lilac is a good deep  usable purple-black with a gold sheen. Dark Lilac satisfied on all fronts, it was finally a dark-enough-to-be-usable ink from Lamy’s limited edition line, it sheens and its actually a nice color. Win-win-win!

*The details about Bungbox 4B is above in the Blues section.

The Green, Golds and Browns:

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And finally, while not everyone was as thrilled with J. Herbin’s Caroube de Chypre, I really liked it. It was hot chocolate with gold sprinkles. How can that be a bad thing? Callifolio’s Huere D’Orée is the warm wheat gold ink that made a good substitute for a lot of people who decided that KWZ Honey wasn’t for them. I really prefer it. Once again, the new Sailor Jentle Four Seasons inks hit on all fronts… I love the Waka-Uguisu green AND the Rikyu-Cha brown too. Finally, as mentioned in my reviews, Robert Oster’s Khaki and Papier Plume’s Streetcar Green are both new favorites for me this year too.

Before you think every new ink I try is my new favorite, here are a few inks I tried that I wanted to like but didn’t: KWZ Grey Plum, Bungbox Ink of the Witch, Bungbox Tears of a Clown, KWZ Green Gold 2, and Lamy Charged Green. Keeping in mind, I play with color for a living so generally speaking I do like most colors but I like some more than others.

 

Giveaway Winner: Montegrappa Fortuna Rainbow Fountain Pen

Montegrappa Fortuna Rainbow

Thanks and Pace to all the wonderful folks who sent love and peaceful thoughts out into the world this week. I’d like to announce the winner of the Montegrappa Fortuna Rainbow Fountain Pen giveaway.

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Congrats, Sue! I’ll be contacting you via email to arrange delivery and a very bright 2017 for you. May it pave the way to a joyous and peaceful year for you.

A special thanks to Kenro for arranging this amazing giveaway and a happy new year to all my readers, friends, sponsors and supporters this year. I couldn’t have done it without you.

2016: Cheers & Tears

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When I started thinking about this topic I was originally going to call it Cheer and Jeers but I realized that I was more disappointed than angry at the outcome of most of things, so “tears” seemed more appropriate. Sad that time or money or effort had been spent in creating a product that didn’t live up to hype or expectation. I was happy to discover that in the stationery world, there was a lot more to be happy about this year than there was to be sad about though. Here are some of a few of the things that made us happy (and a little sad) about the stationery world in 2016. I am sure I forgot a few so I will take out an ad in Variety tomorrow for anyone I forgot.

The Cheers

In the Cheers column though, there were lots of things that to be happy about in the pen world this year. New products and new companies that appeared that thrilled and delighted so many of us.

The first thing I thought of this year was the launch of the Kanilea Pen Company. The excitement at the DC Pen Show on Friday at the launch of the first pens from Kanilea was palpable. Their pens, created from custom rods based on photos of Hawaiian landscapes are absolutely stunning. Fountain pens start at $395.

The launch of Robert Oster Signature inks in the US was another big win this year. Over 50 colors rolled onto our shores this summer and I’ve tried over a dozen bottles thus far and I’ve liked them all. There are the absolutely stunning sheening colors like Fire & Ice, Aqua, and Blue Denim and great traditional ink colors like Torquay and Khaki and so many more.  Robert Oster inks are available for $16 per 50ml bottle from Anderson Pens and Vanness Pen Shop.

The launch of the new Sailor Jentle Four Season Inks also made me very happy. Tina also cheered about these. It came as quite a relief. The last batch did away with so many beloved colors and added in only one or two colors that I liked but the new range is much more appealing.

Karas Pen Co. introduced their Barstock Options this year allowing the possibility for a fully unique, fully customizable Render K or Fountain K with phenolic, brass, aluminum, copper, or delrin materials. The option of raw or tumbled aluminum as well as these more unique materials has made Karas signature pen model even more ubiquitous. The option of a steel or gold nib provides upgradability. Being able to convert a Render K to a Fountain K with the conversion tool as well makes Karas pens even more flexible than ever. There’s never been a better time to try this pen. I have started mixing and matching the threading from previous Render Ks, and Mini Ks to make some truly unusual versions of Karas Barstock models.

Despite many opinions in the opposition, the Field Notes Sweet Tooth edition was by far the favorite at The Well-Appointed Desk this year. The blank 70# colored paper in each book is great for drawing and note-taking and general goofing about which is what we’re best at.

The release of the Montegrappa Copper Mule fountain pen was a unique offering from Montegrappa this year that showed that the company was spotting cultural trends and recognizing prince points that were within the reach of the fountain pen market. It’s also a design meant to patina and age with use. Pen retails for $375/€295 and is available from many of my sponsors, Pen Chalet, Anderson Pens, and Fontoplumo.

Nock Co. started distribution to pen shops this year making it easier to get your pen case of choice which was a big win both for our favorite Pen Addict and for our favorite pens. It’s now possible to purchase Nock Co. cases at Goulet Pens, Anderson Pens, Vanness Pens and JetPens and I’m sure there are more partnerships on the way. Oh, and yeah for Tessa opening her own online stationery shop, The Stationer! Now I have another reason to wish I lived in England.

On the art supply side, the arrival of Plumchester, the new brand from Art Snacks was super exciting for both TIna and I. Their first product was a 1.5 brush pen, released through the November 2016 Art Snacks kit and then another product in the winter Studio Collection. Starting in 2017, products will be available for sale on their site. And we both really like the new Blackwing Colors colored pencils. I do hope it means that Blackwing will consider a larger selection of colors in the future but its a good start.

Retro 51 released the open numbered Tribute editions of the Tornado Fortress, Apollo and Tiger Shark pens allowing these classic designs to be available indefinitely. After the success of the Popper edition of the Flying Tiger in 2015, I was glad to see a new WWII aircraft design. And anything space themed is a big success at The Desk HQ. The new Tribute Editions are awesome designs and reminders of triumphs of the human spirit as well as beautiful pen designs from a brand that is known for doing some really clever creations. I also loved this year’s Slim Tornado line, especially the Sterling Silver Slim. It is gorgeous. A bit pricey but shows that they are raising the bar for what Retro 51 stands for. I like that they are a little more “ladylike” from a brand that tends to GO BIGGER rather than smaller. Since the holiday Popper Twinkle at the end of 2015, I’ve enjoyed seeing the occasional design that is more fashionable for we are so inclined. For as much as I love the Fortress and the Tiger Shark, sometimes I like things a little more delicate too.

The Tears

Retro 51, however, is also the first in my Tears list too though. I loved Twinkle so much and I even loved the 2014 Ugly Christmas Sweater so I was really, really disappointed in this year’s holiday Popper, Jingle Bells. Its a typographic travesty. Maybe that’s harsh. It just felt “phoned in”. If you need holiday ideas for 2017, just give me a holler next year. I’ll give you a list of other options.

I’ve been trying all year to figure out exactly what to say about the Cross Star Wars pens. And I finally figured out that they were clearly developed by people who did not actually have any love for the franchise. That has to have been the problem. Because as much as I wanted to be able to say “take my money” I just couldn’t do it. There just wasn’t any love in the designs of any of the Cross Star Wars designs at any of the price points. I don’t know if, at some point, there was passion behind the project and it was beaten out be committee or if someone just said “there’s a way to make money off this licensing agreement, let’s do it.” The pricey Townsend collection starts at $450 for the rollerball pen and the Darth Vader fountain pen features a two-tone gold and silver nib for $575. WTH? As a designer, I am having apoplectic seizures and I am making choking hand gestures at whoever let that design decision slide. At least offer the option to plate that nib black for a fee! Sheesh. Some of the engraving details are nice but overall I feel like Cross was afraid to break away from their overall  aesthetic to add too much engraving, color painting or texture. They could have anodized the clip on the R2 pen to be blue and used a fully silver nib to keep the look consistent for that pen. BB8 could have had orange enamel instead of rose gold. These are Star Wars fans. They could give two shakes about the “richness of rose gold”. Bleh!

The Star Wars Cross Click ballpoint pens for $45 look like the same style charm icon pens that Zebra Sarasa did for their scented Chupa Chups and Milky pens that sold for about $3 a piece. So I keep wondering if the R2, C3P0 and BB8 smell like machine oil when you write and the Stormtrooper and Darth Vader pens smell like cordite and plastic? Writing the name of the characters on the pen and sticking a charm on the clip does not make them a true Star Wars collectible. Its soulless and half baked. Either way, they should not cost $45 a piece.

The Montblanc M by Marc Newson was a pen I was really looking forward to seeing in person. I am an admirer of Newson’s design work. I love the O21c design he did for Ford many years back and I still believe he has some very innovative ideas but in regards to the M, I think he may have drunk his own Kool-Aid. One of the key tenents of good design is form following function so the fact that the pen does not post at all and the notch serves no discernible purpose disappoints me. Had it been done with a specific purpose, I would have been behind the design decision 100% but no. The clip looks so similar to the Lamy Safari that I’m hard pressed to understand how Montblanc expects people to pay over $500 for it even with a gold nib. It just seems a bit absurd. A sleek, modern design like this should have a “for the masses” price point. The magnetic cap is an interesting twist but its a small consolation.

Tina was not much of a fan of the Diamine Shimmering inks. She found them to be a bit of a letdown. They are not as sparkly as the J. Herbin 1670 series and yet they turned out to be just as high-maintenance. They required turning the pen to keep the sparkles distributed evenly and frequent pen cleaning and so forth. On the subject of “bling panning”, she was aldo not too crazy about the new Blackwing 530, although I do love the ferrule. She traded with someone in the Erasable Facebook group so that she could pull the ferrule off the 530 and put it on her favorite matte black Blackwing 24 – that’s where it belongs! J

The Black Ice Field Notes did not melt our hearts here at The Well-Appointed Desk. Neither Tina or I were particularly taken with this edition of Field Notes this year. Yeah for heavier #70 paper but the square perfect-bound format made it difficult to lay flat and the lined paper is well, lined. And its so dang shiny. The wrapping paper was awesome though.

The Personal Stuff

On a personal note, there were many ups and downs in 2016. In the cheers column, I once again was invited to be a part of the RelayCon Atlanta Pen Addict Podcast event which was a privilege. I am so grateful to be invited to participate. The Atlanta Pen Show is a blast and lead to the opportunity to meet and be interviewed by the Goulets for their Goulet Guests video series.  I met Heather Rivard and we launched Art Supply Posse which has been well-received. I attended five pen shows and got to work with Vanness Pens and Anderson Pens to see what it was like on the other side of the tables. I learned a lot about the business and had a great time getting to know the products better. Also, I’d like to thank Tina for hopping on board and helping with reviews and being a part of Well-Appointed Desk. I cannot wait to see what wonderful content she’ll bring to 2017.

On a less happy note, the service I used to manage my ads for the blog closed up shop and, in the process, stopped paying their customers while continuing to collect fees. As a result, I am still owed a good deal of money. Another blogger described the whole issue much more succinctly than I could. My work schedule also escalated this year with more projects than ever requiring longer hours than ever. When I wasn’t working on the blog or the podcast, I was at work. I also continued to struggle with cluster headaches with a surge of them in autumn. This lead to my unfortunate decision to step away from regularly contributing to the Art Supply Posse podcast. I was just stretching myself too thin. So, moving forward in 2017 I need to be more cognizant my work-to-play balance. I’m pretty sure 2016 had very little “playtime” and I hope to amend that in 2017. I’m also planning my pen show calendar.

What pen, pencil and paper-related items made you cheer this year? What are your goals or what are you looking forward to in 2017? I’m looking forward to thinking about the positive and the things I can accomplish.

Giveaway: Montegrappa Fortuna Rainbow Fountain Pen

Montegrappa Fortuna Rainbow

As only the Italians could say it, PACE! When we were traveling in Italy several years ago, there were flags flying from every window with a bright rainbow with bold letters saying “PACE” which means PEACE. And today, of all days that is what I wish for you. The kind folks at Kenro are helping me make that wish extra special today by giving me a Montegrappa Fortuna Rainbow to give away to one lucky reader — the perfect holiday gift to usher in a new year full of happiness and peace. The pen is named after the Goddess Fortuna, the goddess of Luck and Good Fortune, most prophetic.

Montegrappa Fortuna Rainbow

The Montegrappa Fortuna is stunning and I’m so honored to have gotten to see it in person before sending it along. The resin is so striking. The pen is weighty without feeling heavy (with converter unfilled and capped, it weighs 22gms which is the same weight as a Lamy AL-Star). It measures 5.375″ capped, 5″ uncapped and over 6.25″ uncapped (it exceeded the length of my pocket ruler so I’m guessing a bit here) but it does post! And there is no seam between the colors, they flow effortlessly from one to the other. When replacing the cap, the rainbow stripes line up without any effort too. Maybe I just get lucky but they seem to line up every time I put the cap back on. It’s really kind of riveting to look at. The nib is a medium and the engraving on the nib is unique to Montegrappa. Lovely.

The pen ships in its original packaging and box and is unused. I did not ink it up and comes with a cartridge converter and a couple cartridges and scarf of some sort that I did not remove from its package.

Montegrappa Fortuna Rainbow

With love from Kenro and The Well-Appointed Desk!

Montegrappa Fortuna Rainbow

TO ENTER: To enter the giveaway, all I ask is that you send a message of peace to someone in the comments.

FINE PRINT: All entries must be submitted by 10pm CST on Thursday, December 29, 2016. All entries must be submitted at wellappointeddesk.com, not Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, okay? Winner will be announced on Friday. Winner will be selected by random number generator from entries that played by the rules (see above). Please include your email address in the comment form so that I can contact you if you win. I will not save email addresses or sell them to anyone — pinky swear. If winner does not respond within 30 days, I will draw a new giveaway winner. Shipping via USPS Priority Mail is covered. Additional shipping options or insurance will have to be paid by the winner. We are generous but we’re not made of money. US Residents ONLY, sorry.

Pen Review: Aurora Optima Perla Fountain Pen

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Some days call for a pen that make me feel like Audrey Hepburn on a Roman Holiday. On those days, I cannot carry around a plastic gel pen with scented ink in it. Oh, no. On those days, I need something with stature and sophistication. A pen that says I’m ready to take on the world with a disarming smile and a cunning plan. Those days call for the Aurora Optima fountain pen.

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See what I mean about how beautiful it looks in my Kate Spade handbag? Kind of speaks for itself.

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The Optima Auroloide Perla is made from a two-color resin, which is a combination of iridescent and transparent colors, that reminds me of pearl seashells or marbled floor or countertops. It’s combined with the silver colored hardware that makes the Optima look posh but understated. It’s classy but not gaudy.

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The nib is engraved with lovely scrollwork. I have a medium nib which is a bit wider than what I would normally use but thought it would provide more line variation than my normal fine or extra-fine.

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The Optima is a piston filler with a clear window to view ink capacity. Since the resin material has a little bit of transparency as well, the choice of ink color will be visible in some light as well. I have Robert Oster Signature Claret in the Optima here. It seemed appropriate to have a wine color in an Italian pen.

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The nib was tuned by Dan Smith of Nibsmith to make sure that it was in tip-top shape. I was able to use the pen to write in script, print and even to doodle using my upside down left-handed writing without any issues or hard starts. The medium nib might be a tad wide for my tiny, everyday handwriting though. But I do love how much line variation I get and how much color variation in the ink is visible in the larger nib width.

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Technical Specs:

  • Weight: 23gms filled with ink
  • Length: 5″ long capped
  • 4.75″ uncapped from nib tip to end
  • 6″ long with cap posted
  • 14K nib

This is my “big girl” pen. For those days when I put on my heels, the jacket and get out my Kate Spade handbag that says I mean business. But its not so fussy or fancy as to not feel at home with my well-loved Traveler’s Notebook and a pea coat. But this pen is urbane and classic and sophisticated. It loves my Kate Spade zip planner and lovely ivory paper stock.

This pen hopes I get to fly business class.

The Aurora Optima is available from Anderson Pens and Pen Chalet, starting at $445.


DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Kenro Industries for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Podcast: Art Supply Posse Ep. 22 Copic Markers & Coloring with Hannah

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This week’s Art Supply Posse episode is all about Copic Markers and features my good pal and co-worker Hannah spent some quality time in Japan where she acquired an epic set of Copic markers and a crash course in how to use them. She also colored this week’s awesome artwork which is a terrarium coloring plaque from Hallmark using Copic markers.

Hannah talks me and Heather through some tips and techniques for using Copics in new and better ways. Check out all the notes on the Art Supply Posse site.

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Bob and I both tried our hands at some of the Hallmark coloring pages with Copic markers too. The pages are from the Cocktails & Coloring Calm the Hell Down book. How did we do?

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