Category: feature

One Book July: Halfway Point

One Book July Halfway

I have to admit that after more than two weeks of One Book July, I’m about to lose my mind. I already fell off the bandwagon by putting a pocket-sized Moleskine sketchbook in my purse so that I have a portable-sized notebook for jotting notes on the go.

So my first downside to One Book July is not  always having a book that fits in my bag or pocket.

One Book July Halfway

Then, there’s the issue of the whole Bullet Journaling system… its not been my strong suit. I have been planning several trips that are coming up in August and October. Normally, I’d write all the details down in my Filofax which I keep a whole year in the binder at a time. With a Bullet Journal, there’s the need to write and re-write things in sections like “Forward Planning” and a monthly list and then later in the weekly pages. With my Filofax, I only have to write it down once in the weekly page and maybe on the monthly pages if its an all-day event or something that extends several days. So, that’s the next issue I’ve faced – I miss my Filofax.

I don’t really like keeping my personal notes in the same book with my work notes either. I seldom need my work notes once I’ve gotten home. I do tend to think of things I want to do when I get home or over the weekend while I’m at work so I do tend to carry my personal notebook back and forth with me. So its been weird to try to keep all the notes in one notebook. I’ve ended up cheating and keeping a lot of work notes on 3x5s and sticky notes rather than in my notebook just so I don’t have to keep the notes in my One Book July. So, its another fail for me.

One Book July Halfway

I know I need to continue for another two weeks to be true to the One Book July challenge but I’m not sure I can handle the compromises for two more weeks. I know it sounds ridiculous to need more than one notebook to survive but I’m that OCD.

On the plus side, I really like the the Midori MD notebook ($16) I’ve been using. The paper quality i excellent and has held up to all the pens and pencils I’ve used with it. I purchased the plastic cover ($3.80) for it which has made it feel much more durable and provided pockets to stash loose paper and keep the cream paperboard cover from getting dirty. I will certainly continue to use the Midori MD notebooks in the future. It’s some of the best paper I’ve used yet if you don’t mind the ivory cream stock.

One Book July Halfway

I wonder if I had chosen a Traveler’s Notebook with multiple booklets, if that would have more easily fulfilled my need for work, personal and calendar needs as well as being able to pull out a booklet for portability sake? It’s something to consider for next year.

Digital Life: Evernote Alternatives

Evernote Plans

There have been lots of articles floating around the internet this week following the announcement that Evernote was changing its policies regarding how it was handling its accounts. Now, if you want to use the service on more than two devices, you must pay for their premium service to the tune of $34.99/year for their Plus account or $69.99/year for their Premium account though their are offering the Premium account for a year at half price to entice folk over to the paid service.

I’m not exactly a “power-user” of Evernote but I like being able to access notes across multiple devices (iOS, web and home computer) so I think I’ll try to find a different solution sadly. Or maybe a couple different solutions. Sadly, my work computer does not allow me to install any applications so whatever options I choose need to have a web interface.

I have collected some recipes in Evernote over the years but mostly I have various snippets, half-baked ideas, some lists and idea starters and an assortment of links stored in Evernote. I don’t usually use it like a paper notebook, it tends to be things that are copied and pasted from a digital source to a digital source, like URLs or in preparation to be digital content.

Google Keep

I had several folks recommend Google Keep as an option which offers a web based interface as well as an iOS (and Android of course). It has a very “sticky note” aesthetic and allows for checkbox lists, image embeds and categorization labeling. It ends up looking like a tidy wall of sticky notes and has tagging. There is a plug-in for Chrome to automatically add content to Keep from a web site and options to move content from Keep to Google Docs so if you are already entrenched in the Google camp, this might be a good candidate for you.

OneNote

Microsoft OneNote is another candidate though I cringe at the idea of utilizing another Microsoft product. I’ve already adopted Outlook on my iPhone as a legitimate alternative to Apple’s kludgey Mail app which neither filters junk mail nor handles Gmail with any sort of efficiency so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Microsoft is quietly creeping in with alternatives that might actually be useful. It works across just about every possible platform and looks to be designed to integrate seamlessly with Office products, though for me that’s not as big a selling feature.

Another solution might be to use Apple’s Notes app which is available across the iPhone, iPad and the desktop. Of course, this only works if you’re fully invested in the Apple ecosystem. I am fully invested in the Apple ecosystem but I’m not sure I can take advantage of it at work because I cannot connect the work station to my Apple ID so I can only access it via the iCloud interface via a web browser which does not allow the addition of images as anything other than links. There is minimal formatting options on the web version.

SimpleNote

The last option I’m considering is Simple Note. I’ve already been using it to a certain extent in combination with an older version of Notational Velocity (NVAlt) which will sync to Simple Note on my iPhone and the web. Notational Velocity hasn’t been upgraded in years and NVAlt has also been left to languish for some time so the default Simple Note apps and web interface are your safest bet. The biggest downside for Simple Note is the absence of any support for images. SimpleNote does support Markdown and tagging which is nice. But its still a pretty stripped down option in comparison to all the bells-and-whistles with Evernote.

With all of this research, I’ve determined that the bottom line is that I no longer want to have multiple places where my data detritus is saved. Evernote’s ultimatum is forcing me to set aside some time to merge and purge data and files and get them all in one place and then choose one system to use to its fullest extent.

Are you an Evernote user presently? Are you sticking with the service or jumping ship? If you’re leaving Evernote have you chosen a new service yet?

Art Supply Review: Pfeiffer Art Supply Handcrafted Watercolor Paints

Pfeiffer Watercolor Pan Paints

I was really excited to be able to purchase the handmade watercolor pans from Pfeiffer Art Supply. They are listed as non-toxic and come in either half- or full-pans. Half pans are currently $6 each and full pans are $12 which is a very good price. There are currently 14 colors available in their line-up, each named after a bird. I purchased eleven out of the 14 colors as a few were sold out and I decided to skip the Crane White as I don’t often use white when I watercolor. Otherwise, I purchased almost the full range and I’m really glad I did.

Pfeiffer Watercolor Pan Paints

The pans came filled to the top and can have a strong magnet included on the bottom if you add a note in your order. Pfeiffer uses small disc magnets that are a bit thicker than the flexible sheet magnets I normally use on my watercolor pans but are much stronger magnets. It did make the Pfeiffer pans uneven in my watercolor kit with my other pans as a result though. If you plan on using this set independently it wouldn’t make a difference but since I ended up adding the Pfeiffer pans to my everyday watercolor set, the Pfeiffer pans ended up sitting a little higher than the others which I found a little distracting. In the future, I think I will have Pfeiffer send me pans without the magnets and I’ll use my own sheet magnets so all the pans sit at the same height.

Pfeiffer Watercolor Pan Paints

Now, let’s talk about the colors. The colors were actually quite bright and vivid. While the pans were dry, they wet easily and the colors mixed well. I was able to use just two colors in the palette to produce several additional colors I was concerned were missing from the pan like a more warm yellow, an aqua and a more indigo blue very easily while I was swatching colors.

The colors on this smooth paper had some light granulation. I have since used the paint on some more textured paper and its just as nice.

Pfeiffer Watercolor Pan Paints

In painting, the paint also re-wets easily making it easy to rework areas. I love the Heron grey. I don’t normally like black watercolor paint but this light neutral helps with soften and mute the brilliance of the colors to create more subtle tones. The Heron grey is great for doing a simple tonal sketch too.

#worldwatercolormonth day 5 peach iced tea @pfeifferartsupply #schmincke #handbookjournal

A photo posted by ana reinert (@wellapptdesk) on

I painted this sketch using a combination of Pfeiffer watercolors and Schminkes and used the Heron grey for the shadows. This was painted on Global Art Materials Travelogue Watercolor paper which is a cold press watercolour paper so you can see a bit more of the granulation and pooling of the colors.

Pfeiffer watercolors also mixed nicely with my other watercolors so its easy to add one or two colors to an existing palette if you don’t want to invest in a full array of colors. I’d recommend trying a few, maybe even whole pans since the prices are so reasonable. I really like the Macaw Blue, Cardinal Red, Goldfinch Yellow Ochre and Motmot Green as well as the Heron Grey if you’re looking for colors to start with.

There’s still lots of time in World Watercolor Month so what are you waiting for?

The Great Eraser Rub-Off Challenge

Eraser Off

After appearing on the Eraser episode of the Erasable podcast, I decided to fully test all the erasers (and then some) that were in the awesome CW Pencil Enterprise eraser pack as well as some of the erasers that were mentioned on the episode. Some were long time favorites of mine and others were new-to-me goodies so I thought it was time to do a side-by-side comparison.

The challengers:

The tools:

The papers:

Eraser Off

The first phase of this experiment was to test each eraser on the smooth, everyday paper. I chose Leuchtturm1917 which is a warm white, smooth paper. I wanted to test three “everyday pencils” as well as three colored pencils that might be used by people who might want to add color, sketches or more creative elements to their notes or everyday notes.

Eraser Off

For regular graphite, most of the erasers were acceptable. The Koh-i-noor Thermoplastic Hexagonal “throwing star” and the Kohi-noor Pebbles were the least effective on the Leuchtturm1917 but for daily writing, they were acceptable. The Staedtler Mars Plastic, the Tombow, the Sakura and Pilot Foam and the Campus Plastic all performed above expectations for graphite erasing.

Eraser Off

What was most surprising to me was that the Foam erasers by Sakura and Pilot usurped by beloved Staedtler for the best eraser when erasing the colored pencil markings from the smooth Leuchtturm paper. And the unusual and rare-as-a-coelacanth pink Campus Plastic Eraser also did a better-than-average job of erasing both graphite and colored pencil too. Not that I’m biased against pink erasers but it was pink and scented or at least swee-smelling so I wasn’t expecting it to be a top-performer too. The Koh-i-noor Pebbles did a good job of erasing the Col-Erase on the Leuchtturm which was a bit of a surprise.

Eraser Off

In an effort to be completely thorough, I also decided to test the erasers on the toothier Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook paper which allowed some erasers to really shine where others had a lot more challenges. The Pebbles struggled on the textured surfaces but the Tombow Mono, Campus Plastic and Staedtler Mars Plastic all did well. The Sakura Foam and Pilot Foam erasers did quite well too.

Eraser-off eraser challenge on #stillmanandbirn alpha sketchbook paper.

A video posted by ana reinert (@wellapptdesk) on

The Pebbles struggled on the textured surfaces but the Tombow Mono, Campus Plastic and Staedtler Mars Plastic all did well. The Sakura Foam and Pilot Foam erasers did quite well too.

 

Eraser Off

The finalists: Tombow Mono and Pilot Foam.

Runners-up: For toothy paper, Staedtler Mars Plastic. For smooth paper, Koh-i-noor Pebbles.

Most likely to smell good: Campus Plastic Eraser (could not decide if it was scented or not but it smelled sort of sweet).

Still coolest looking: Koh-i-noor Thermoplastic

DISCLAIMER: Some items were sent to me free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Other items I purchased myself. Please see the About page for more details.

Photo of the Day: Maker Goods Haul

Maker Goods Haul

I plan to do reviews of many of the products I purchased at the local eye candy, shop-of-wonders, Maker Goods, but I thought I’d tantalize you with a photo first. Proprietor and woman-of-many-talents, Felicia Koloc hand marbelled the fabric and then beautifully stitched the pencil case pictured above. She also makes them in leather but they were a bit out of my price range. The selection of pencils and included NOS Col-Erase as well as a wide assortment of imported Japanese pencils. So much to choose from, it was hard not to buy them all.

I also picked up a Maruman Mnemosyne notebook and a clever A4/3 notebook which is designed to fit A4 paper folded in thirds and includes a pocket in the back to hold such items. It even included instructions on how to fold up your A4s to fit.

If you happen to pass through Kansas City on your travels, this is definitely a place you must visit! I’m going to make sure it’s on Tessa’s handy dandy stationery map right now.

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One Book July Challenge

Midori MD Notebook cover

This year, I’ve decided to try the One Book July challenge. The purpose of the challenge is to use one book for planning, journaling or whatever for the entire month of July. I heard about the challenge last year but it was well after July so I put it on my calendar for this year. I wanted a chance to pick one book and focus on my system rather than the book for a change. Originally, it was set up to be a one book and one pen challenge but, in watching the videos and following along, the challenge is flexible to challenge yourself to find way to simplify your personal planning system, journaling or whatever will help you to personally find a way to streamline.

Midori MD Notebook Pen and Pencil Tests

In order to make this work, I wanted to find a book that was clean and  simple but with good paper so I chose the Midori MD with blank pages.  I knew it had good quality paper but was won over by the complete lack of ornamentation. The cover of the book is plain ivory cardstock that matches the thick, smooth ivory paper inside. I printed out guide sheets in both grid and lined to use with it and decided I’d try the Bullet Journal system that would let me plan, list, journal or do whatever — all in one book. I’ve never really figured out how to use the Bullet Journal system before so this has been a bit of an adventure for me and I’ve done a lot of research to figure out how to best utilize it for myself. Basically, I ended up having to watch Ryder Carroll’s video about ten times and then just jumping in with both feet and hoping for the best. I’m using the book for my planning, notetaking and as my logbook.

The only thing this book can’t handle is a lot of water media like watercolor so it wasn’t up to doubling as a full-blown sketchbook. Since I also want to participate in the World Watercolor Month project, I’m allowing myself a second book — one sketchbook to use specifically for this project. I haven’t chosen which specific sketchbook I’ll use but I have a couple more days to decide.

For me, my biggest issue was to stop carrying around FIVE or SIX notebooks and planners at one time and reduce down to just two books is a huge reduction. Along with this, I pared down my daily carry to a smaller zipper pouch, carrying a reduced selection of colored pencils, a mechanical pencil, a few felt tip pen, a  brush pen, a couple fountain pens and a small set of watercolors and a travel brush plus a back-up waterbrush, which is considerable downsizing from the 100 Pen Case.

Midori MD Notebook Monthly Bullet Journal

The goal of this project is to focus more on making this month with what I have rather than wasting time trying to decide which tool I should use. I’m looking forward to spending a month focusing on content and filling notebooks.

For more information about One Book July, check out the videos posted by Rhomany and Carie Harling, two of the hosts for the online challenge this year.

Note: This challenge will not affect product reviews. I will continue to review notebooks, pens and other products throughout the month but my personal planning and notetaking will all take place in the Midori MD. I will try to do a couple updates throughout the month to update how I’m doing in the challenge as well.

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

PSA: Cleaning Up Your Email InBox with Unroll.Me

Unroll.Me

I recently discovered Unroll.Me which quickly and easily let’s you sort through all those newsletters you’ve subscribed to and will help you unsubscribe from the ones you don’t want. Then it allows you to sort the newsletters you do want to keep into a digest format called a “roll-up” or leave them in your email inbox if that’s more appropriate.

I used the web-based service and it took about 10 minutes to sort through the massive list of email newsletters I was receiving and decide which ones I wanted to keep and which ones I wanted to roll-up or leave in my inbox. I was able to unsubscribe from 31 newsletters in one go! The roll-up is then delivered daily as one email that I can read through instead of potentially 20 different emails. Joy!

Unroll.Me cleanup

The service is free which is awesome and is also available an iOS app. I’ll need to go through a few more email accounts later and will try out the iOS app for those account.

I think Unroll.Me is a good alternative to my current system which has been using a bunch of rules to filter newsletters into folders which end up getting ignored which is the method I’ve been using. I know that there are some other services available to accomplish a similar task like Sanebox which is frequently recommended by Mac Power Users but this free service seems like a nice “training wheels” version for me before I invest in a paid-for service which might be more power than I need.


This is not a promotional post. I just found this website and I liked the service so I’m sharing it with you as a public service in hopes that you’ll like it too and will help streamline your digital work process.

Is this the definitive modern office?

 No obstacles: Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California Washington Post

No obstacles: Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California Washington Post (via The Independent)

I was listening to Cortex yesterday and Myke and CGP Grey were mentioning the new Menlo Park headquarters for Facebook and the large, open-plan work space. This space is not a trend unique to Facebook. Many companies and office spaces are transitioning to open-plan work spaces for more “open communication” and collaborating. But is this type of space really the solution to that? Do people really collaborate more and do critical thinking in a space like this or do they end up trying to drown out all the distractions with headphones or go hide away in a closet somewhere to get some actual work done?

I find the interior space of the new Facebook office neither aesthetically appealing nor engaging for working or collaborating. It just looks cluttered, messy and noisy. The fact that no one is given any storage space nor are they encouraged to have personal items on their desk seem to only make it more disheartening and cluttered. The overly high, unfinished ceilings with cables descending down are even worse! I think of something Trevor Noah said about not moving into Jon Stewart’s office after he left the Daily Show… he talked about how the whole point of moving up in the worked and getting out of poverty meant he didn’t want to have to live in a space with exposed brick walls again and what was it with white people and exposed brick? I feel the same way about wealthy tech companies and exposed wiring? You can afford to have that sh*t covered up! This whole space gives me a case of the hibby jibbies!

For a more in-depth view of the new Facebook work space, there is a 3+ minute video tour on YouTube.

I really hope that the pendulum of the open floor plan office starts to swing back the other way because I don’t believe that this much openness is genuinely conducive to non-distracted working and thinking. I believe it leads people to seek out other places to work, or they choose to come into work either early or stay late in an attempt to avoid distrations. I think the myth of multi-tacking needs to stop. It makes people sloppy and tired. We can multi-task for a little while but, in the end, I don’t think its effective, efficient or healthy. I don’t think we, as idea workers, can come up with our best ideas when we are constantly distracted by co-workers, bleeps, or other disturbances. Yes, its nice to have a way to bounce ideas off other people, but we need to find a better way to do it other than forcing people to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with headphones on while they madly type into their laptops and mobile devices. That’s not really collaborating, is it?

Thus endedth the tirade.

When Good Repairs Happen to Good Pens

lady sheaffer gold

I wanted to do a follow-up to what happened to my Parker Duofold in Atlanta. I wanted to share a GOOD repair story that happened at the Chicago Pen Show. I bought a low-priced Lady Sheaffer Skripsert on Thursday night on a vendor’s table only to discover that there was a crack in the nib plastic a couple days later. Now, I didn’t look closely enough when I purchased it to discover the crack so I know this was my fault.

I mentioned the crack to someone at the show on Sunday and was told that Ron Zorn at Main Street Pens was the man to see and that he might have parts to fix a Lady Sheaffer Skripsert. Later, he happened to come by the Vanness table while I was working and I mentioned my broken Lady Sheaffer and he told me to come by he table right then. I followed him into the ballroom and was able to watch him disassemble the complicated assembly of the partially hooded nib from the cracked housing. He had a spare housing and even had new-old-stock nibs and housings so I purchased a spare fine nib as well as having him replace the housing for the original nib.

lady sheaffer gold fine nib

He did the work quickly and talked me through the procedure. He even told me he had a lot of additional  parts for Lady Sheaffers and that if I had any others that needed repairs to let him know.

lady sheaffer gold

I thought it was interesting to see that the dolphin nose angle of the nib is less severe on the X-Fine nib than on the medium nib. They are both 14K nibs and very smooth.

I thought it would be good to share a repair story with a happy ending.

lady sheaffer gold fine nib writing sample

When I got back to Kansas City, I put a turquoise Sheaffer cartridge in it and was actually quite pleased with the color of the ink. I noticed a little bit a a red halo to it which was a pleasant surprise. I plan to use up the ink and then refill the cartridges because finding a converter to fit the Lady Sheaffers is kind of a challenging. The X-Fine writes beautifully and I love it!

the lady sheaffer brigade

The “new” gold Lady Sheaffer Skripsert came with a little carrying case but I thought I’d show the whole collection together — two Lady Sheaffer Skripserts and the Sheaffer Imperial plus the extra nib unit. Now to find some of those exotic Lady Sheaffer beauties in blue and red!

Peek: 10th Anniversary Traveler’s Notebook Mini Size

10th Anniversary Traveler's notebook mini

I couldn’t resist doing a little unboxing photo peek of the Traveler’s Notebook 10th Anniversary Mini Size ($38) from Baum-Kuchen because the packaging is so spectacular. Full disclosure: I purchased this from Baum-Kuchen and was not compensated in anyway. I also bought my 5th Anniversary Traveler’s Notebook from them and received such lovely packaging and customer service that I was more than happy to send them my repeat business. And their packaging is even more amazing this time around. The little folded card is their business card and my invoice.

10th Anniversary Traveler's notebook mini

Once unfolded, there is a hand written note and rubber stamps making it extra special. I can’t imagine how long it must take them to put together each package!

10th Anniversary Traveler's notebook mini

Wrapped around the tin was kraft paper sealed with twine and a custom Baum-Kuchen wax seal plus a rubber stamp and my name handwritten. Amazing!

10th Anniversary Traveler's notebook mini

I was able to slide the tin out of the kraft paper without having to cut the twine or damage the seal. I’m such a hoarder I want to save the wrap. And I’m not sure I can bring myself to actually unwrap all the contents inside the tin either.

10th Anniversary Traveler's notebook mini

There is a little tiny wrapped leather cover in kraft paper with a paper label just like a real Traveler’s Notebook and a tiny charm in a cellophane sleeve and cardboard backer. The bottom container is teeny, tiny paper and covers that can be folded and put into the notebook cover. Seriously. That’s the level of detail. Under the molded plastic are a sheet of full-sized stickers as well.

I put my full-sized Traveler’s Notebook next to the box for size comparison. Pretty funny how little the book is!

10th Anniversary Traveler's notebook mini

I had to put the teeny little Traveler’s Notebook packaging in my hand just for scale.

The tins are available in three different colors, each with a different color leather cover contained inside. I got the new camel colored cover in the blue tin but whether I’ll ever unwrap the package is still up for debate. Right now, I’m going to enjoy the delightful little package with all the tiny details.

I’m totally amused at the 10th Anniversary Mini Size but I realize that it is definitely a collector’s item and is not particularly useful for most folks. But if you’re a diehard Traveler’s Notebook fan it might be hard to pass up this little gem. The tin is embossed and is a good place to store Traveler’s Notebook ephemera and the tiny Traveler’s Notebook can be used as a key fob or charm on a notebook.

Giveaway: World Stationery Day from NoteMaker

NoteMaker Promo

Today, April 27, is World Stationery Day. If you’re wondering exactly what World Stationery Day is, it’s part of National Stationery Week and part of the London Stationery Show. The goal of World Stationery Day is to celebrate the written word and all things stationery.

In the spirit of World Stationery Day, the folks at NoteMaker in Australia want to help you celebrate by offering one lucky reader the chance to win a $250 voucher (that’s a “gift certificate” in American English) to spend in their fabulous online shop. How amazingly generous!

To enter this giveaway, see the info below in the Rafflecopter widget. The giveaway runs through Sunday, May 1 and the winner will be announced on Monday.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(All the fine print is in the terms and conditions in the Rafflecopter widget. Please read them. Thanks!)

When Bad Repairs Happen To Good Pens

Parker Duofold

I’ve spent a lot of time this past week trying to decide the best way to talk about what was the saddest part of my Atlanta Pen Show experience. I mentioned to a vendor that I had a beloved vintage Parker Duofold vac filler but that the vacuum-filler didn’t work and he said “Oh, there’s a guy here who specializes in fixes those. You should take it over and have him look at it.”

I was very excited at the possibility of getting my pen in full working order so I hopped over to the repairman and he seemed fairly convinced that for a reasonable fee and a couple of hours he could get my pen in working order. I left him my pen and my phone number and headed off to lunch.

This is where things went sideways and I should have probably talked to people with more experience getting pens repaired to know what questions to ask and what outcomes I could expect.

Parker Duofold

I dropped off my pen around noon and did not hear back from the repairman by 4pm. I started to get concerned but didn’t want to pester him. I know how busy tables can get and the potential to get backed up but I also knew that the show floor closed up at 5pm and if he was not going to get time to work on my pen, I wanted to be retrieve before 5pm and either bring it back next year or make arrangements for shipping.

When I got to his table, he informed me that the prior owner of the pen must have epoxied the vac into the end of the pen and, as a result, when he attempted to remove it, the barrel of the pen melted and warped. In other words, my pen was returned to me more damaged than when I left it with him and I only received a cursory apology and a “these things sometimes happen”.  I was not charged for the mishap but I was not compensated in anyway for the damage either.

As one of my first vintage fountain pens and a thrift store score at that, I have a lot of sentimental attachment to the pen. Yes, most of my love is a result of the pen having a beautiful, slightly flexible gold nib but still!

Parker Duofold nib

So, from my cautionary tale, I want to provide some advice to anyone seeking pen repairs, nib tuning or other manipulations from someone, either at a pen show or online:

  • Be sure to ask is there a possibility that the pen might sustain additional damage?
  • If so, whose responsibility is it? (Go into the transaction knowing ahead of time if the repairman is not held responsible for someone else’s janky repair work like epoxy so you are not taken by surprise like I was)
  • Does the repairman have spare parts on site should the pen need to be modified due to breakage or damage? At a show, he might not have all his spare parts but might be able to take the pen back to his shop and finish repairs and mail the pen back to you.
  • Get good cost estimates up front. If the repairman want payment up front, verify what refund policy he has should he be unable to complete the repairs.

In the end, it can’t hurt to ask all the questions and if a repairman (or person) is unwilling to answer them, feel free to share my experience as the reason you’re asking. Not that you distrust them but you know that bad things have happened to good pens.

Parker Duofold

Fountain Pens for Sketching

Fountain Pens for Sketching

I’ve been spending a lot more time lately using my pens and inks for sketching, so I thought I’d put together a post about which tools pens I’ve found work best for these tasks.

Whenever I go down one of my creative rabbit holes, I do a great deal of research. One of the best pieces I found was Liz Steel’s 7-Part Fountain Pen Sketching article. Part Two: Why Draw With a Fountain Pen was my favorite!

To that, I’d like to add my own personal experiences, though I don’t have nearly Liz’s experience and authority from the drawing perspecitve.However, if you are hoping to do more drawing and sketching with your fountain pens or wanting to purchase (or set aside) a pen in your collection specifically for drawing, these are my recommendations. You don’t need all of these, one or two will more than suit. You may want to have one filled with a waterproof ink and one with a water soluble ink or one with black ink and one with brown or blue ink or your favorite color for sketching.

What I’ve discovered is that a lot of the best sketching fountain pens are not necessarily the most expensive fountain pens. You may already have several of these in your collection that have been set aside as your collection has expanded and repurposing these pens as “sketching pens” may give them new life and new purpose, and you, a new hobby.

Fountain Pens for Sketching
From top to bottom: Lamy Joy, Sailor Desk Pen, Rotring Art Pen and Platinum Carbon Desk Pen

Pens
Platinum Carbon Desk Pen (or Sailor Desk Pen)
The Platinum Carbon Desk Pen ($9.60) is available with a super, fine Japanese nib and ships with one cartridge of Platinum Carbon Black ink which is waterproof. I used my PCDP almost daily and it took almost six months to run through the first cartridge. Because of the fine nib, it uses ink very economically. I even used it to fill in areas, write notes, doodle and sketch but since the lines are so fine, the cartridges last a long time. So, this sub-$10 investment will last you quite awhile.

Because of the fineness of the nib, the pen performs on almost any paper stock from lightweight sketching paper to heavier weight watercolor paper without a lot of feathering or bleeding issues. I occasionally ran into issues on toothy paper as the fine nib can pick up fibers in the tines. This causes some momentary clogging but a wipe with a tissue will usually remove the fibers. This usually only happens on cold press watercolor paper, at which point its best to switch to a felt tip pen or wider nib that is less likely to catch on the fibers.

The PCDP was designed to accommodate the waterproof ink and its a budget-priced pen so if it did get clogged beyond repair, it would not be the end of the world. So far, mine’s been a little trooper and it really is the one pen that is almost always in my bag.

The longer length of the pen is a little challenging for portability but I’ve seen that some people have trimmed down the length a bit and filled in the end with epoxy or putty. The cap was not designed to be a long term solution so its an aesthetic mismatch but the functionality of this pen outweighs its looks.

If you prefer to use bottled ink with the PCDP, be sure to purchase a Platinum Converter ($6) or a Platinum Cartridge Adapter ($2) since Platinum uses a proprietary cartridge system.

I also have a Sailor Desk Pen which is similar in design with a weird, peachy cap that doesn’t match as well but was also designed to be used with Sailor’s Nano permanent inks. The Sailor Desk Pen is harder to find these days but if you already have one and were wondering what to use it for, it would make a great sketching pen. Sailor Nano cartridges are available packs of 12 ($10) in UltraBlack and Blue-Black which could potentially last you six years if you draw as often as I do, maybe only three years if you’re more prolific. Or you could buy a whole 50 ml bottle of the Nano Ink for $33 just be sure to grab a converter too ($8.25) because Sailor also uses a proprietary cartridge and converter system.

Rotring ArtPen
The Rotring ArtPen ($21+) was one of the first modern fountain pens I ever bought. I found it in an art supply store and used it for years before I knew that there were other options available. I just kept going back and buying the Rotring black cartridges and using the pen to draw and write with until it ran dry. I still have it and I still fill it regularly since it takes standard European cartridges and converters. I’ve filled it with both water soluble and permanent inks, I’ve let it sit for months so inks dried in it and then soaked it for days to try to resuscitate it. It has continued to survive for decades now. It has proven much heartier and durable than all the Rapidographs and Isographs I’ve had put together.

It has the same long tapered shape as the PCDP so it has that arty “paint brush” feeling. Mine has the EF nib making it great for sketching and probably is responsible for starting me on my love affair with fine nib pens but its available with a variety of nib sizes including calligraphy nibs.

The cap has a firm click to close it and was actually designed to be capped unlike the PCDP and the Sailor Desk Pen so while its a bit more expensive, its a fully thought-out pen. The Rotring is probably the most universally usable option since it take standard European cartridges and/or converters and the nib sizes are based on the European measurements with the widest range of nib sizes available of all the options I’ve listed.

Lamy Joy
The last option on my list of traditional fountain pens is the Lamy Joy ($28) available in white and black. It too has the long tapered shape of a paint brush but can only be purchased with a calligraphy nib (1.1mm, 1.5mm or 1.9mm) initially so it you like the look and feel of a classic Lamy Safari but would like to have a long, tapered shape for sketching, you’ll have to purchase a separate nib (approx $11) making the Lamy Joy the most expensive option.

Lamy also requires either proprietary ink cartridges (none of Lamy’s inks are waterproof) or a Lamy LZ24 converter ($4.70) in order to use bottled inks. If you’re like me, you have a stash of Lamy Safari fountain pens and can probably liberate a converter but if you’re planning to use waterproof inks in your Joy, you may want to be sure not to mix the converter you use with the Joy with the one you use with your Lamy 2000 with the 14K gold nib… just in case.

I recently purchased a Joy and replaced the calligraphy nib with an EF steel nib and filled it with Platinum Sepia Pigment ink. I purchased the still-available, limited edition white model from last year but its also available in black with a red clip or a slightly higher priced black with aluminum cap.

I had not been a great lover of the Safari in the past. Its a good solid pen but not one that made my heart palpitate. The Joy, however, touches me on another level. I think the longer length gives it better balance and weight in the hand making it feel a bit more substantial and using it more like a drawing tool than a writing pen made me less bothered by the grooved grip. I find the Joy more comfortable to draw with than I’ve ever found the Safari to write with. I may go back to the Safaris and consider them as drawing pens at this point. Honestly, I haven’t touched another pen since I started using the Joy. I want to buy another one just to have two different ink colors loaded up simultaneously. I have never felt this way about a Safari before. I am a changed woman.

Fountain Pens for Sketching
I did a few quick sketches with each pen on Stillman & Birn Alpha paper using waterproof inks as labelled.

Inks
Platinum Inks
Platinum Carbon Ink has become my go-to ink for permanent black ink I’ve been using my PCDP almost every day for six months and found the Carbon ink to be a well-behaved, dark black. I had little issues with it drying in the pen, even with the fine nib and it being tossed around in my bag, used on all sorts of paper stocks from copier paper to toothy cold press watercolor paper. I had more issues with the pen getting jammed with paper fibers on toothy papers over waxy pencil or other materials than I did with the ink drying in the pen. I’ve gone ahead and purchased a bottle of Platinum Pigmented Sepia ink which is also permanent and I think will make a lovely alternative to black for drawing. As mentioned earlier, Sailor’s Nano Inks are an excellent alternative as well if you are looking for cartridges to match a Sailor pen or find a good deal on the Nano black bottled ink.

DeAtramentis Document Inks
Liz Steel is very fond of DeAtramentis Document Inks for the range of colors available and she has had great success with flow in some of the less expensive pens using the DeAtramentis Document inks so they are definitely worth a look. Jane Blundell has some amazing mixing charts using DeAtramentis Documents Inks that make me want ALL THE COLORS. I’m hoping to try some of them out and pick up a few bottles when I’m in Atlanta.

Several other brands make permanent inks worth experimenting with if you have some around. Diamine has their Registrars ink and Noodlers has several Bulletproof inks. Though I’ve read through some blogs that have found the Noodler’s inks to be troublesome in some instances for drawing. But if you’ve got some, why not give them a whirl?

Fountain Pens for Sketching
I watercolored over my drawings to show the waterproofiness of the inks.

Any water soluble fountain pen inks
For everyday sketching, any standard (water soluble) fountain pen ink will work on just about any drawing paper. Most sketchbook paper starts at about 60lb and should handle a F or XF fountain pen nib loaded with just about any fountain pen ink just fine. On slightly heavier mixed media papers like Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media, Moleskine Watercolor Sketchbook or similar paper that is labelled for ink, light washes or mixed media, you can add a little water to your drawing and move some of the water soluble ink around to create some wonderful watercolor-like effects without a lot of tools. Citizen Sketcher has some amazing examples of this in action and totally makes me want to try this myself.

Other resources:

Ask The Desk: Supply Organization

This Ask The Desk question is actually a follow-up from the Pen Addict Podcast Episode 197 and a question that started with June Thomas and was then there was a follow-up question in the Pen Addict Slack channel by clairelin. Both wanted to know how I kept my copious collection of supplies organized so I thought I’d pull back the curtain and reveal how I squirrel away all the supplies.

I live in a teeny tiny house so clutter is a big issue and space is at a premium, not to mention that both my husband and I are are collectors and pack rats, so we are a great risk of being buried under our hobbies. I try pretty hard to keep all the supplies organized and tidy so that I can find what I’m looking for and so that it doesn’t start piling up everywhere.

art supply storage

First, if it wasn’t for Ikea, The Container Store and other such places, I’d be buried under my own clutter. All hail Ikea! The first item that has kept me tidy is the Raskog utility cart. I filled the top tier with an assortment of glass jars that each hold a type of pencil, pen, brush or marker.  Some of the jars are Mason or Bell jars and some are jsut old salsa jars. I scavenge any straight-sided jar that passes through my kitchen now as a potential holder of pens.

The lower tiers store bottles of paints, spray bottles, gesso, towels, heat gun, etc. All handy and the cart rolls easily around my workspace so I can have access to the items when I need them and move them out of the way when I don’t.

ink and field notes storage

Along the top of my bookshelf, I keep surplus ink and Field Notes (and books of similar size). Grey boxes are ink, white boxes are Field Notes. The white boxes are photo storage boxes from a big box craft store and the grey boxes are from Ikea. The inks are bottles I’ve tested but are not favorites so I don’t need regular access to them.

storage wall

Along one wall of my workspace is the storage mecca. From the left, a vintage metal cabinet that I purchase at an antique shop (I keep meaning to repaint it but I want to take it to a powder coater and get it done right so it hasn’t happened yet) holds the notebook stash, camera equipment, excess pencil inventory and miscellaneous art supplies. The center wooden cabinet holds vintage fountain pens in the top shelf, stationery in the large left cabinet (yes, I have that much letter-writing material) and the right side is shop inventory. The steel drawers on the right are older versions of the Ikea Helmer units which are made much better now. I added magnet labels or Dymo labels on the front of the drawers so I would remember what was in each. Its an array of mechanical pencils, fountain pens, ink, electronic cables, tape, scissors and other daily office necessities. The smaller unit on top is a Bisley drawer unit from Container Store that stores an assortment of printer paper, label stock, photo paper, etc.

tackle boxes for storage

One of my favorite ways to stash collections of items is with old tackle boxes. This pile usually sits under my desk, each one with a specific task: one filled with acrylic paints, one filled with extra art supplies, one actually filled with tools, etc. One is empty and is used for events and craft shows to tote out a portable kit of supplies.

ikea storage

Behind my desk is the Ikea Alex Unit. Its a decent small sized flat file. The top two drawers hold rubber stamps and washi tape (yes, one whole drawer for each) followed by drawers with rolls of paper for shooting products, flat papers and some larger drawing pads and palettes. On top of the Alex is an old library card catalog I store more rubber stamps and stamp pads inside, my giant whale tape dispensers, my ticket spike (all those shipped packages!) and behind that, the daily use pen and pencil collections.

jars for pencil and pen storage

Ta da! Here are the pens and pencils that get used in all my reviews and paper tests, each divided by type into another jar or can: highlighters, gel pens, felt tips, pencils, rollerballs,and miscellaneous. The nice thing with the jars is that I can grab a whole jar and move them to my desk as I need them and then put the jar back when I’m done. Or just pick one or two. It keeps my working surface relatively clutter-free unless I grab all the jars at once. Then its chaos and I have to spend an hour putting everything away.

So there you have it. A tour of my storage solutions. Its not easy keeping it all contained and often times my desk is a big pile of mess when I’m in the throes of reviews but I feel like I’ve developed a good system where everything has a place.

I also make a point to cull through the stash regularly to keep it from growing out of control. I try to give things away to friends or charities before I get too overwhelmed.

Do you have any tips for storage and keeping the stationery clutter in check?

Dark Lilac (Lamy) Festival Time

1931: A bevy of princesses serve Alice LaFetra (right), the 1931 Lilac Queen. The tradition of selecting a queen and court began a year earlier. — Courtesy Lombard Historical Society / Handout, Sept. 16, 2014 (via Chicago Tribune)

I grew up in a Chicago suburb known for its lilac festival so I was tickled by the Dark Lilac Lamy Safari offered this spring as part of its limited edition color series. I remember the whole town ends up smelling like lilacs by the end of April which I always liked. Its goofy and quaint and I’m glad to see that they still have the festival and crown a Lilac Queen, even a Little Lilac Queen. Some things never change. The new Dark Lilac Lamy Safari will forever remind me of the Lilac Festival so its release date is perfectly timed.

Frank over at Fontoplumo has generously offered readers of The Well-Appointed Desk the chance to win one limited edition Lamy Dark Lilac Safari fountain pen plus a pack of matching Dark Lilac fountain pen ink. The winner may select nib size (EF, F, M or B).

The Dark Lilac Safari series also includes a rollerball and ballpoint pen. Just so you know.

TO ENTER: Please leave a comment below and tell me what event signals the arrival of Spring for you. Oh, and READ THE FINE PRINT!


FINE PRINT: All entries must be submitted by 10pm CST on Tuesday, March 29, 2016. All entries must be submitted at wellappointeddesk.com, not Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, okay? Winner will be announced on Wednesday. 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. Parcel is shipped directly from Fontoplumo by standard first class post. If insurance or other delivery is request, winner will be required to pay for additional shipping charges. Winner is responsible for any VAT, taxes or import fees. This giveaway is open to all readers.

 

OMAS: Last Hurrah

Goldspot Pens is hosting a last hurrah for OMAS pens. They’ll be adding new OMAS pens to their shop all this week – some are rare pieces that haven’t been in production for years. There’s also a rafflecopter giveaway to win an OMAS Milady ballpoint pen. Also, there is a free gift with purchase of $150 or more with promo code (OMASPARTY good through4/15/2016) for a bottle of OMAS violet ink. Check out their blog post for more details and check in with the shop for new OMAS items. Say farewell to OMAS with a new pen.

Rock Your Handwriting Challenge

In an effort to use both pen and paper supplies this month AND get into a regular habit of writing and drawing, I started participating in the Rock Your Handwriting Challenge started by BohoBerry and her compatriots. This is the second month of the challenge and many people I know are doing both this month’s prompts and the previous month’s or choosing the prompt they like best. I didn’t mention it at the beginning of the month because I was a bit concerned that like so many other challenges, I might flake out after three or four days. But, lo and behold, I’m on Day 19 and still going strong!

Day 10 of #rockyourhandwriting : my supplies.

A photo posted by ana reinert (@wellapptdesk) on

I decided to set the bar for the challenge very low, using just a Field Notes and whatever pen or pencil I had handy to compete the challenge for the day. I would use whatever 20 or 15 minute of time I could find to do the practice and I was amazed how much I started to look forward to a chance to doodle my little rectangle of lettering.

#rockyourhandwriting Day 16: notetaking where I invoke the genius that is @rohdesign and sketchnotes.

A photo posted by ana reinert (@wellapptdesk) on

The challenge is designed to help get some much-needed penmanship practice in each day and, for me, a chance to do something creative that is not for anyone but me. I’ve been sharing my pages on Instagram and some are better than others but I felt it was fair to show when things worked and when they didn’t — even when I misspelled something!

The best thing about this challenge is that is has re-ignited my desire to make more art the way it has recharged other people to write more in their journals or just write more in general. So if you’re looking for a way to help get you back into a regular habit of putting pen to paper, than maybe just practicing your handwriting is a good place to start. After writing “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” you might just want to write a story about that fox or draw a picture of them and off you go!

If you would like to see all my Rock You Handwriting posts and all the other sketching and lettering doodles its inspired me to create, you can follow me on Instagram.

Building a Better Penxo

Penxo 2.0mm lead holder

I have had my Penxo 2.0mm Leadholder in green since sometime in October when the Kickstarter orders shipped but I’ve been sitting on it. The color is beautiful and the pencil itself is beautiful – even the packaging was lovely –  but I was a little disappointed. The pencil shipped with free lead which was complete crap and that probably tainted my experience. The lead pointer that shipped was also not worthy of such a fine looking tool either.

Penxo 2.0mm lead holder

So, my first order of business was to upgrade the accessories. I ordered a Uni pocket lead pointer ($10) which is the tiniest, most portable lead pointer I’ve ever seen and it makes the most wickedly stiletto point. Then I ordered a packet of Koh-i-noor 2.0mm colored leads ($7.90) and another of Uni Field 2.0mm red leads ($4.95).

Penxo 2.0mm lead holder

Now, the Penxo is loaded with Uni Field red lead with a wicked sharp point and looks a bit like a martini. Much better.

Penxo 2.0mm lead holder writing samples

Once I was using the Uni Field red lead which was a soft waxy lead that absolutely glided on the paper, I could focus on the actual experience of using the Penxo rather than my initial reaction to the pencil when it arrived which was all about the crappy graphite. The Uni Field lead did dull very quickly which allowed me to test the Uni Pocket Lead Pointer at regular intervals and it is smooth and efficient. It also meant I had to finagle the mechanics of the Penxo for extracting the lead far enough to insert it into the lead pointer and then pull the metal apart again to re-insert the lead back into the housing without stabbing myself, catching the lead in the pencil framework or breaking the lead. This is not as seamless as it should be which is sad.

As I continued to play with the various lead colors from the Koh-i-noor set, I was given more opportunity to practice threading lead into the Penxo housing, sharpening and aligning the lead. I found it awkward to try to pry the pencil apart to slide the lead down. I confess, the clutch mechanism in standard leadholders are easier to control with a greater degree of accuracy. They aren’t as aesthetically appealing but I feel more confident that I’m not going to impale myself with the lead either.

In the end, I found the Koh-i-noor leads to be more scratchy and graphite-like overall but I liked the bright yellow color a lot and all the colored leads looked good with the green Penxo body.

The Penxo really is a beautiful design but its not as functional as I’d like it to be and it saddens me since this is probably most people’s first (and probably last) experience with a lead holder. Generally artists, architects and draftsmen gravitate towards lead holders and they are looking for a level of control with the point length and the lead hardness and the Penxo just makes that really challenging.

Penxo 2.0mm lead holder

I’m not giving up on the Penxo but I think it will be more of a conversation piece than a daily writer. The Uni Field leads and Pocket Lead Pointer however are new staples!


DISCLAIMER: The Uni Field Leads and Uni Pocket Lead Pointer were sent to me free of charge by Jet Pens for the purpose of review. All other items in this review wee purchased. Please see the About page for more details.

Review: Van Gogh 12-Color Travel Watercolor Set

Watercolor travel set mess

Upon request, I decided to come clean about one of my other obsessions: travel watercolor sets. I’ve been compiling sets for about a year, not including super budget (sub-$20) sets, and have included the picture above as proof of my collection addiction. I just love watching the colors bead off a brush onto paper. And those little individually-wrapped pans of watercolors are like candies to me. I can’t resist them.

However, I sort of hit the “watercolor set overload” this fall and I didn’t do much with them for a couple months. Then a couple weeks ago I got a wild hair and bought a new set. Why? Buying a new travel set of watercolors is not unlike buying a new fountain pen, and sometimes its just the pick-me-up I need to get me back into the habit of using the ones I already have. I bought a relatively inexpensive Van Gogh 12-color set (approx. $25 from my local Blick art supply shop).

Van Gogh Travel Watercolor Set

The Van Gogh set comes in a locking, white plastic box that is about 4×6″ in size and maybe an 1.5″ thick. Its a bit larger than the more commonly used Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketchers Pocket Box but what I discovered once I started using the Van Gogh kit was that it contained, not one but, two layers of mixing trays.

Van Gogh Travel Watercolor Set

The paintbrush that comes with the kit is a pointed #6 synthetic travel brush which I originally dismissed as likely to be an inferior freebie brush but it turned out to be a very good little brush. The point is quite good and makes it easy to get a good crisp edge. Also the end of the brush can be used to wrench out the mixing tray to reveal the open well below.

Van Gogh Travel Watercolor Set

The end of the brush can also be used to wrench out the individual pans of watercolor should you wish to remove them or need to replace them. That alone is reason to keep the brush, even if you are not inclined to use it for painting. I ended up loving how much water it held and how fine a point it has maintained. I’ll be curious to see how long it lasts.

Van Gogh Travel Watercolor Set swatches

In swatching the paint colors I was quite pleased to see how clean and vibrant all the colors were. The twelve colors included really are quite sufficient for most painting needs. I love that the set includes an opaque white  for mixing and adding highlights. I know adding white to watercolor is heresy but sometimes its the shortest distance to the color I want. I also love that the set includes Payne’s Gray instead of a black.

Towards the bottom of my swatching, I did some color mixing in an effort to test how cleanly the Van Gogh paints would mix and what range of other colors I could get. I was actually quite pleased at how easily I was able to make many of the colors, often mixing just two colors together. I do plan to do further practicing with mixing and color theory but I think the nicest thing about the Van Gogh set was that it is not overwhelming. I like trying to mix my own colors and the Van Gogh set does the mixing nicely.

All the watercolor color swatches

After doing some successful painting with the Van Gogh set, I was ready to pull out the whole mess of watercolors again to see what else I have and figure out if less is more or if more is more.

So I spent some time swatching out every pan and palette of watercolor that I had to see what I had. I have an array of Daniel Smith, Sennelier, Winsor & Newton (pan and tube) and Winsor & Newton Cotman (student grade). I also did some research online about what more experienced artists recommend for we are more novice with watercolors. In the end, I’ve decided to put the Sennelier paints aside for the moment as the colors tend to be darker and, when I swatched the colors, they looked almost opaque and a little streaky sometimes which I think would frustrate me as I’m painting, especially being as new to watercolor as I am. The Daniel Smiths, while lovely, are a little funky (some have sparkle or will dry two different colors so they are probably a bit too experimental) so I shelved most of those colors for later as well.

Van Gogh + supplemental set

In the end, I pulled out a few of the additional Winsor & Newton colors like the Opera Rose, Permanent Magenta, Turquoise, Cobalt Blue, Green Gold, and Burnt Sienna plus a black, and a couple Daniel Smiths and made my “supplemental palette” to have some additional colors to play with. I’ll probably keep these on my desk to experiment with in the coming weeks and depend mostly on my Van Gogh palette to get me practicing with color mixing. I have gotten so spoiled working on the computer over the years that I feel I’ve forgotten a lot of my color mixing and color theory skills. But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to mix that Opera Rose.

Supplemental Watercolor Set

If you’re considering a foray into watercolor painting, I think the Van Gogh set is a great option. The combination of good colors, a good assortment of palettes and a good brush make it a perfect starter set.


The Van Gogh swatches were done in a Strathmore 500 series Mixed Media Art Journal and the large page of swatches was done on a Fluid 100 hot press watercolor block.

Extended Review: Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor 36-color “set”

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor

A couple of months ago, I got the Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor 18-color set and I really liked them so I set about acquiring the remaining 18 colors to have the full 36 color range available. Luckily, JetPens sells individual full pans of the Gansai Tambi Watercolors for $2.50-$3 (depending on the color) so I was able to slowly add the additional colors. It was a bit more expensive than purchasing the full 36-color set but it tends to be sold out more often than not so buying the individual pans seemed like the only way to complete my set in the next year. So that’s what I did. Even so, $3 for a full pan is still much less expensive than many other brands of watercolors.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor 36-colors

I placed the new colors in the lid of the original 18-colors box and tried to align the colors in the same spectrum as the original palette with the metallics at the bottom. Without the paper dividers like the original set, the pans slide around a bit but I’m thinking I might get a little OCD and make cardboard dividers for the lid to make the whole set-up a bit more stable.

You’ll see that, of all the individual pans I ordered, only one yellow was damaged in shipping. It shattered but it still works just fine. I think if I wet it really well I should be able to get it to sort of mold back into the pan but it doesn’t really bother me that much.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Color Swatches I swatched all the colors in the order in which they appear in the palette on two pages of an A5 140gsm Seawhite of Brighton softcover sketchbook paper.I love the Pale Aqua though it is definitely a more opaque color than a traditional watercolor.  The Dark Pink is definitely more of a warm purple color when applied thickly which provides a wider range of violet colors. The Deep Violet is also a lovely addition to the palette as its a very deep, rich indigo violet. I was also very happy to add the dark brown to the palette as it added a deep neutral to an otherwise candy-colored palette of colors.

The metallics are a lot of fun. The silver mixes well with the other colors to create a range of metallics and the two shades of gold will be good for details and lettering.

I am definitely glad I have the full 36 colors because who doesn’t want ALL THE COLORS?

Overall, I find the Gansai Tambi paints to be a strange hybrid of traditional watercolor paints and a more opaque gouache paint. I can pick a good deal of paint and create an almost opaque color or thin with water for a more traditional watercolor look.

The prices for the Gansai Tambi paints is incredibly reasonable for the large pans, beautiful presentation and decent range of colors available for the prices. However, if what you are looking for is a traditional transparent watercolor than I recommend trying the Winsor & Newton Cotman set instead. While the set is not as broad, I think the colors will blend more easily to create a wider range and are more transparent. Also, the Gansai Tambi pans are definitely NOT a portable set. Between the paperboard box and the large size of the box, this set is definitely something to keep on your desk but is not convenient if you are looking for a set to use for traveling and/or urban street sketching.

If you like the idea of having both gouache-like painting abilities and watercolor effect, than the Gansai Tambi paints are a great option and the large pans make it much easier to use larger brushes. Because the sets come in cardboard boxes, you’ll have to devise your own mixing trays for blending colors and thinning the paint but an old plate or pan will work if you don’t want to invest in a watercolor mixing tray.

 

Chic Sparrow Creme Deluxe A5 Black Beauty Traveler’s Notebook

Chic Sparrow A5 Black Beauty

Chic Sparrow is known for making some of the finest quality leather traveler’s notebooks. Her business started on Etsy but she’s been so successful that she now runs her own site and limits the number of orders accepted each week in order to keep up with demand. Chic Sparrow offers her notebook covers in an array of sizes and finishes, including a full line of “deluxe” covers which include pockets inside the front and back covers with beautifully executed contrasting stitching. I purchased the Creme Deluxe in Black Beauty in the A5 size ($109.99). I wanted to be able to accommodate some larger sketchbook and drawing books as well as writing and planning notebooks and was hoping that the A5 would give me the space to do so.

All of Chic Sparrow’s notebook covers include four elastics inside making it easy to slide in four notebooks before you have to get creative with additional elastics to add more. Since the A5 is already a larger book and the Creme Deluxe is double layered, thick leather, I am trying to limit myself to no more than four books at a time so I don’t feel like I’m carrying around a brick in my bag.

Chic Sparrow A5 Black Beauty

Okay, I lied. At present, there are five notebooks in my Black Beauty but cut me a little slack since some of these books are specifically in here for review purposes. (Reviews to be posted in the near future!) But from the side view, you can see the thickness of both the leather, the smooth finishing of the edges by Chic Sparrow and the massive amount of books I have crammed into the notebook cover with room to spare. The middle two books are A5 sized sketchbooks, the front book is my Moleskine large planner and the back two are the Moleskine Volant and Cahier in large size from my previous notebook cover.

Chic Sparrow A5 Black Beauty

As I’ve only been using the Creme Deluxe for about two weeks, I have not yet filled the front pockets with cards but have slipped some notes and papers into the secretary pocket behind. You can also see the large pen loop on the right hand side that accommodates my Uni Style Fit 5-color gel pen easily. Its a large loop so any pen smaller than the Uni Style Fit needs to have a good clip or it will probably slide out.

Chic Sparrow A5 Black Beauty

One of the notebooks I’m using for drawing right now is the Fabriano EcoQua Staplebound Notebook. It has 38 sheets (72 pages) of 85 gsm paper and is available in blank, lined or dot gird for about $4.50. I found it in my local art supply store. Its not great for wet media but for pen, pencil and sketching, its a good option for the price point. )I reviewed the larger Dot Grid version of the EcoQua awhile back. Needless to say, I much prefer the blank version.)

Chic Sparrow A5 Black Beauty

In the back of the notebook cover is another secretary pocket to hold extra loose sheets and you can see more of the beautiful stitching details.

All in all, I am blown away by the quality of the craftsmanship from Chic Sparrow. The leather is beautiful and the notebook is expertly assembled. I was a little hesitant initially because of the price but I realize it was truly worth every penny I spent.

A Safer Way To Sit

I keep hearing people talk that they sit too much and that they know its bad for them. I know they are right but I wanted more details on exactly why it’s bad. So here are a few articles:

The health hazards of sitting (via The Washington Post)

The “Sitting Is Killing You” Infographic Shows Just How Bad Prolonged Sitting Is (via Lifehacker)

Most experts, including Cornell University, recommend that for every 20-30 minutes of sitting, you get up and walk or move around for two minutes. Getting up and moving is considered as effective as a costly (and often less work-efficient) standing desk and its free. Add in 30 minutes of brisk activity each day (which can be broken into 10 minute segments) and you might just live a longer, healthier life.

I’m going to try it by using the Pomodoro Method. I’ll work for 25 minutes and then walk around for five minutes. I also used to sit on a yoga ball and I have to say I’ve been missing the bounciness. I think I might reinflate it and try that again as well to help improve my posture too.

Do you worry about how much you sit? Are you using a standing desk or trying any techniques to walk, stand or move more? Any tips?

Podcast: Freakonomics “Who Needs Handwriting?” Part Two

Oh, yes… its time to listen to and discuss part two of the second part of Freakonomics “Who Needs Handwriting?” podcast called “How Can This Possibly Be True?”

I listened to the episode this morning and it went into more detail about the making of pencils and that no one person or country can actually make a pencil nowadays… or maybe ever… and less about handwriting. So, I really couldn’t get too riled up about this episode.

Here is a video version of the I, Pencil essay that they talk about in the podcast which is quite interesting.

In the end, I don’t think that Freakonomics came to any clear conclusion in the first episode about the importance of handwriting (or necessarily took a strong stance on the other side of the argument either). I have listened to the first episode three times now and have decided that it is decidedly rabblerousing, neither making a case for or against handwriting but rather just stirring the argumentative pot. I still feel that the act of writing helps develop cognitive skills and fine motor skills. But I also realize that typing can increase overall speed, editing and collaboration. As an artist and designer, many things start on paper and then are finished digitally and have been done that way for well over 30 years. Since visual creatives work this way so frequently, combining analog and digital tools seems like an obvious pairing. Maybe to others it needs to be an either/or proposition.

An example of how both analog and digital are needed to make the creative process happen.
An example of how both analog and digital are needed to make the creative process happen.

In the end, like so many other things in our modern world, I think you need to learn to use both analog and digital tools as a child and then choose the best tool for the job along the way. And sometimes BOTH is the correct answer.

Field Notes Paper Reveal

Field Notes Colors Edition Shenandoah

During a recent bout of caffeine-induced insomnia, I was on the French Paper Co. website, looking through their blog section, marvelling at all the beautifully designed screenprint posters and other designer-y goodness when I stumbled across an entry that would be of particular interest to the readers of The Well-Appointed Desk. I found a listing for the printing notes for the Field Notes Colors Edition: Shenandoah. While Field Notes describes the paper stocks used for their covers as “the Sweet Birch, the Chestnut Oak, and the Red Maple” on their web site, we now know that its actually French Paper Construction Green laminated to Construction Red, Pop-Tone Gumdrop Green laminated to Pop-Tone Lemon Drop and Pop-Tone Jellybean Green laminated to Construction Safety Orange.

And, of course, the classic Kraft cover Field Notes and the Dry Transfer Edition use French Paper Dur-O-Tone Packing Brown Wrap cover stock. Now you know the secrets too!

Planner Review: Studio Calico Hello Forever A5 Planner

Studio Calico Hello Forever A5 Planner

Last year, when I first started dabbling in planners, I downloaded the Marcy Penner’s Hello Forever printable inserts for my planner. Since then, Marcy Penner has started designing her Hello Forever planning products for Studio Calico including a line of A5 planners (8.25″ x 9.5″ x 1.375″).

While Studio Calico is most known as a company that create products for memory keeping and scrapbooking, over the last few years, they have started moving into the creative planning world with a planning subscription service and the Hello Forever line of planning products. What I love most about both of these products is that, even if you are not into the decorative planning stuff, the designs are clean and well-designed. I’ve been a subscriber to their planner kit for several months and its one of my favorites offering clean, simple planner add-ons like stickers, washi tape and rubber stamps. When I saw the planners, I couldn’t resist.

I purchased the Hello Forever Planner in Clear Sky blue ($54.99) with a decorative floral pattern on the inside. I think of it as my “Missouri Compromise” — business on the outside, party on the inside. The simple, grey vertical elastic closure kept the exterior of the planner clean and simple and unfussy. The floral design on the inside is bright and cheerful and my little secret.

The overall construction of the binder itself is very good. The material used on the exterior of the planner is a smooth faux leather and lightly padded. Inside is a screen-printed pattern on white fabric. There are three pockets on the inside front cover and a secretary pocket. On the back cover, there is a loop of grey elastic for a pen loop. I would have liked a slot or pocket in the back for a notepad but, for the price point, I’m not too upset.

The ring placement is standard A5 6-hole and the rings are very tight. This means that the binder can accept inserts from any other A5 planner system or can use printables and a standard 6-hole punch.

Studio Calico Hello Forever A5 Planner

The planner came with a complete set of undated inserts for the year, two clear decorative plastic dashboards, a black striped plastic movable bookmark, monthly tabs with pockets, half-sheet perforated to-do lists, two page protector sheets for holding photos, cards or paper ephemera, four pages of kiss-cut stickers, half-sheet perforated photo-a-day list sheets, month-on-two-pages undated calendar pages, undated week-on-two-pages weekly pages, monthly reflection pages, future planning pages, a year at a glance for 2016 and a perpetual planning booklet that can be tucked in the front pocket. There is also an additional sheet of sticker tabs tucked in the front pockets.

Studio Calico Hello Forever A5 Planner

The front acetate sheet has a floral design, the second dashboard acetate has the red fishnet pattern and then under that is a cover page that reads “Today is the day”.

Studio Calico Hello Forever A5 Planner

I can see the appeal for some of the photo-a-day perforated sheets but I’m not sure I’d have much use for these. I do like that they are perforated and can then be moved to a specific month in your planner.

Studio Calico Hello Forever A5 Planner

I love the clean, simple typography for the days of the week and the diagonal stripes on the moveable acetate bookmark. Striking design that could be embellished or kept clean and simple.

Studio Calico Hello Forever A5 Planner

The tabs are color coded and each one already has a pocket on the front of each month to hold receipts and other papers which is very handy.

Studio Calico Hello Forever A5 Planner

In the back are handy perforated half-sheet to-do lists like the photo-a-day sheets. I think these will be much more useful and include check boxes.  Perfect for grocery lists and other errands.

Studio Calico Hello Forever A5 Planner

And of course, the big question everyone had was how does the paper perform. And I was a little worried because this is such a make-or-break issue and I didn’t want to be disappointed. I was THRILLED to discover that the paper far exceeded my expectation. Our best guess is that its about 70lb smooth and there was no bleed or show through with any of the pens I tested. If Studio Calico keeps using this paper for all the refills they make for this planner series I will buy everything they make for it. The Platinum Carbon Black fountain pen ink didn’t even show through! That alone is a reason to try out this planner!

Studio Calico Hello Forever A5 Planner

This is the reverse of the paper and trust me when I say I did not manipulate this photo. No show through at all. I didn’t abuse it with a Sharpie marker or anything but the black Staedtler Triplus Fineliner had no issues with show through nor did my Franklin Christoph with Noodler’s Black Swan in English Roses. with a Medium Stub. So, I did put it through a standard pen nerd’s everyday carry.

The A5 planner is also available in a greystone and melon with different interior accent colors.   If you’re looking for an alternative to the more business-y Filofax and Franklin Covey style planners but are finding the Carpe Diem and Color Crush planners a little “too much”, the Studio Calico Hello Forever might be the perfect balance between them. I hope that in the future Studio Calico will consider adding a smaller personal-sized version of this planner to their offerings since the size is the only thing holding me back from being madly, passionately in love with it. I’m not sure yet whether I can commit to carrying around a full A5-sized planner. But for the paper alone, I may try out carrying an A5 just to use the beautiful design and the fabulous paper. Studio Calico and Hello Forever really did make a beautiful planner and I’m looking forward to seeing how it wears over time.