Archive of ‘feature’ category

Starting a Sketchbook or Visual Journal

With many stacks of notebooks, sketchbooks and blank books I’ve acquired, and the fact that my day job is about making pictures, I thought it was time to get back into the regular habit of keeping a sketchbook or visual journal of some sort. I figured that I couldn’t possibly be the only person who might need a little inspiration and creative idea to get me started so I thought I’d share some of the prompts, ideas and tips I found.

First, I found this great 15-day set of prompts from Wit & Whsitle. Usually I find prompt lists too long and usually full of things I think are silly or pointless but this set was only 15 days worth and fairly open to interpretation.

(illustration by Terry Runyan)

Then I remembered the awesomely inspiring site, Illustration Friday. Every Friday, they offer a prompt that is both simple and open to interpretation. Folks will upload their art to the site if you want to see what other people do. You are not required to submit your sketch or drawing but its a great source of inspiration and a one-drawing-a-week prompt is a low bar to hurdle. This week’s prompt is “pet” and was submitted by my friend and co-worker Terry Runyan. She illustrates both digitally and on paper so don’t feel that you have to limit yourself to just the pile of sketchbooks and notebooks you’ve accumulated. Illustration Friday also has a blog and podcast for even more inspiration.

(Sketchbook page by Lisa Congdon)

I love Lisa Congdon‘s art and she freely shares pages of her sketchbook as well as a video class on Creativebug that walks you through how she creates several sketchbook drawings. She uses layering and simple drawings to create designs that are easy to try yourself and she even shows how she creates variations on each technique to give you even more ideas.

Danny Gregory‘s Everyday Matters Manifesto for drawing your life was a huge inspiration for me. Consider purchasing one of his books. I particularly like The Creative License. He’s even started a Sketchbook Skool video class if you want a multimedia experience.

More sources for ideas and inspiration:

you need to jump in and get over the intimidation part — by messing up a few pages, ripping them out if need be. Waste all the pages you want by drawing a tic tac toe schematic or something, painting them black, just doodle.  — Gary Panter
What inspires you to be more creative?

Ink Review: Montblanc Lavender Purple

Montblanc Lavender Purple

After my Fashionable Friday: Purple Rainy Day, I’ve been itching to add more purple inks to my stash. I started hoarding various shades of purple and taking recommendations from friends and shop keepers. The first color that was brought to my attention was Montblanc Lavender Purple (60ml bottle for $19) thanks to Matt over at The Pen Habit.

I don’t usually dwell on the bottle designs of inks but I’m finding as I accumulate more inks, I’m becoming more opinionated about bottle shapes, sizes and graphics. Lavender Purple is one of the “standard” Montblanc inks and comes in one of the most useful and interesting bottles in my collection. Its a long oblong glass bottle with a divot on the bottom of the bottle just behind the cap. This creates a divided chamber in the bottle. By tipping the bottle forward, ink in the back chamber can fill the front chamber making it easier to refill a pen as the ink volume is depleted. Ingenious! And except for the slightly too-modern label on the top of the bottle, its a really aesthetically-appealing bottle overall. Its such a nice bottle that I could see buying an empty Montblanc bottle and transfer some of my inks in difficult-to-dip-my-pens bottles into this little gem.

 

Montblanc Lavender Purple

Montblanc Lavender Purple is not really lavender nor purple, at least not to my eyes. Its reminds me a bit of Grape Kool-Aid. Its a warm, purplish-black with a bit more red in the color than any of the other purples I tried in my hunt for the “perfect purple.” I like purples and violets that have a duller, deeper tone rather than garish, bright jewel tones. Its not to say that a vibrant purple isn’t beautiful, I just find that I don’t reach for such “showy colors” on a regular basis.

The color has a little shading and depending on how wet the nib or feed is, the color can look almost purple-black or a softer, muted black cherry. I had no issues with drying times though I’m not very scientific about dry times. If the ink dries before I get my hand over it, then it dries fast enough. On the Rhodia paper, drying is slower than most and I had no issues.

Montblanc Lavender Purple ink swab comparison

When I put the swab swatch next to some of the other purples in my collection, its easy to see how much rosier Montblanc Lavender Purple is to the other colors in my stash. I’ve had a couple days to admire it and the more I look at it, the more I like it. This is definitely a color that will be moved into my regular ink rotation.

New Sponsor: Karas Kustoms

Karas Kustoms Bolt

Karas Kustoms is a small pen manufacturer that started life as a custom machine shop. When machinist Bill Karas teamed up with designer Dan Bishop, a relationship developed that eventually led to the creation of their very first pen – the iconic Render K. The success of the Render K spurred the creation of several other pens – the Bolt, Retrakt, and the latest addition, the Ink fountain pen. The pens are designed to accommodate several different refills, allowing the customer to pick and choose, and even hack, the refills to best fit their favorite Karas Kustoms pen. Even the Ink fountain pen can be converted into a rollerball pen by swapping the grip section.

Karas Kustoms CUBE

The CUBE is a collaborative design project with Mike Dudek of Dudek Modern Goods, and is the perfect accessory for your desk.

With a staff of just nine people, Karas Kustoms designs, manufactures and ships each of their machined, metal pens and accessories.

I’ve been a loyal follower and supporter of Karas Kustoms and now they are returning the favor by being a sponsor of The Desk. If you own one of their products, you are supporting a team of craftspeople dedicated to delivering high-quality, long lasting goods. And if you haven’t had a chance to try one of their pens or accessories, there’s no time like the present. Use the coupon code “KARASPENS” for 10% off your next purchase.

Thanks to Karas Kustoms for supporting The Well-Appointed Desk and thanks to all you fine readers for continuing to support our sponsors.

Karas Kustoms RETRAKT

Ask The Desk: Swapping TWSBI Nibs & How Flexible is the Esterbrook 9128

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Have I ever told you’all how much I love getting questions about pens, paper and the like? This week, I have two awesome questions.

Beth, the reference librarian asked:

I have a new TWSBI 580 with a custom ground nib (pen was purchased with that nib) and at the same time I purchased a second nib (the whole nib unit) also custom ground – I really like both nibs. One nib is obviously in the TWSBI, which is a nice pen, but I would love to put what I call the “back-up” nib in a different pen, preferably one under $100. that uses a cartridge/converter system. I read about nib-swapping all the time but am not sure just which nibs are compatible with which pens. I don’t think the 580 nib unit will fit the TWSBI mini, but if it did I would go with that. (even though the same filling system.) I am nervous about pulling the nib out of the screw-on unit until I know what I am doing. Am I making sense here? Any advice would be most appreciated!

Disassembling a TWSBI nib

With a little elbow grease I was able to pull the nib out of my TWSBI Mini. The nib is a size 5 (according to the smarter-than-me folks over in the Pen Addict Slack Channel). The only cheap pen I could find that had a size 5 nib was a Pilot Metropolitan. Pilot nibs have a little flange and a groove nicked out to get them to grip the feed that the TWSBI nib does not have. But… the nib does fit into the feed of a Pilot Metropolitan albeit very loosely. I assume this method would also work in other Pilot pens like the Prera or Plumix. So it is possible to use the TWSBI nib in other pens with a little luck but its not the best fit. If I find any other pens that take size 5 nibs with a cartridge/converter system.

As for switching the nibs between a Mini and a 580, that should just require untwisting the nib unit and sliding the grip section off to expose the nib/feed unit. Then they could easily be swapped between the Mini and the 580.

TWSBI nib in a Pilot Metropolitan

The second question actually appeared in the Pen Addict Slack Channel.I’m sorry I don’t remember who asked but here’s my results!

A member of the group asked if the Esterbrook 9128 fine flex nib was more or less flexible than the Noodler’s Ahab/Creaper.

Noodlers vs Esterbrook 9128

The Esterbrook 9128 nib is not super flexible but, for a steel nib, it gets some decent variety and it does not railroad like the Noodler’s nibs do. The 9128 is very smooth and easy to get going while the Noodler’s flex nibs require some adjusting in the feed to get the flow going. So, its a bit of the apples-to-oranges comparison since a Noodler’s flex pen is readily available for about $20 and a vintage Esterbrook with a 9128 flex nib is considerably more expensive ($75 and up). If you’re looking for a flexible nib, a vintage fountain pen with a 14K nib will probably be much more flexible or you might want to consider a Desiderata nib holder.

 

Desk Inspired

Desk Inspired: Aaron Draplin

Portland-based, Hand Eye Supply has created the site Desk Inspired to feature short interviews and photos of workspaces of some very interesting creative folks. The articles feature the tools and methods they use in order to be creative each day. The photography is gorgeous and many of their favorite work tools are available for purchase through Hand Eye Supply.

Desk Inspired: Bawa

Put Those Refills to Good Use

I like to liberate refills from the assorted plastic pens I have accumulated over the years. These are all those gel pens I’ve purchased over the years from Jet Pens. While I love the flow of the refills, the lackluster plastic barrels leave me wanting.

I started opening each plastic pen and discovering that they are almost always a standard sized refill like a Pilot G2-sized or Hi-Tec C-sized. There are also far more colors and point sizes available in the full pens than in most refill-only options. Red, blue and black are fine for many folks but I want to be able to choose orange, evergreen, turquoise or purple, if the mood strikes.

By hacking the refills out of plastic pens, I created  an almost unlimited supply of potential refills for my favorite pen bodies. And by using these fine gel refills, I have catapulted certain pens into EDC pens because now they are not only beautiful and comfortable but can contain the exact right refill for me.

Render K pen hack

This habit started with Karas Kustoms and the Render K and RETRAKT pens. The lengthy list of possible refills led me to create the Refill Guide and really start experimenting with trying different refills with different pens.

Render K pen hack

I even save the springs in a plastic retractable to help stabilize a refill in a machined pen. If the refill fits but is too long, trim it down with a pair of sharp scissors. Empty refills can be trimmed to add length to a too-short refill to fit into a different pen as well. With each plastic pen costing less than a couple bucks, its not a tragedy if you make a mistake.

Happy hacking!

DIY Envelopes & Liners

(photo by the Hallmark Photo Studio)

(photo by the Hallmark Photo Studio)

Today, the Hallmark.com featured a tutorial and free printables designed by me! Visit the site to find out how to make an envelope liner for your Mother’s Day card or even make your own envelope using found papers like gift bags and wrapping paper.

(via Hallmark.com)

Atlanta Pen Show: Day Three

(Photo reposted from Pen Compass)

(Photo reposted from Pen Compass)

Recapping the last day of the pen show is done with melancholy. The whole weekend has been so amazing, so epic, that its hard to say goodbye. Many people had to head home on Sunday and our group got smaller as the hours ticked by.  It kind of reminds me of the closing scene of Ocean’s 11, which probably makes me the little contortionist.

Now, to the true report.

The doors opened at 9am again for 3-day pass holders and at 10am for single day attendees. The show floor weren’t nearly as crowded as they were on Friday and Saturday but some hot items’ stock was starting to dwindle.

Pen testing with Thomas and Leigh

Pen testing with Thomas and Leigh

I had an appointment to get some nib work done by Mike Masuyama on Sunday morning. The kind enablers, Thomas Hall and Leigh Reyes, spent the better part of Saturday night letting me test drive every single nib in their pen cases to help give me some idea of what I might want to get done from micro needlepoints to italics. In the end, I decided to have two of the nibs on pens I purchased tuned rather than reground. Since it was my first time getting professional nib work, I wanted to see how he could make a good nib better before I started making serious alterations. Next year, I’ll come with a better plan.

At noon, I attended Deborah Basil’s Cursive Handwriting class which was a great history of handwriting class and a refresher on cursive writing. The class materials were from Michael Sull’s American Cursive Handwriting. Sull is best known for all this work with Spencerian script but the handwriting system he created is a good blend of other styles with a more sophisticated look than some of systems taught to children. It made it quite appropriate for adults looking to improve their writing. Deborah was awesome and the class had at least four lefties in it, not counting Deboarh, so it was great to be able to work with someone who understood our struggles.

Brian Anderson with his pocket overflow, Mike Masuyama working on my nibs and Deborah Basil teaching the cursive writing class.

Brian Anderson with his pocket overflow, Mike Masuyama working on my nibs and Deborah Basil teaching the cursive writing class.

Then there was last-minute shopping and a couple laments that “for the sake of my wallet, these vendors need to start packing up!”

By about 4pm, a few of us took over an empty table next to the Karas Kustoms booth and sampled a few bottles of ink and a couple new pens. Every time one of us pulled out a new pen, it gets passed around for inspection and testing by every person within a ten yard vicinity. And no one ever seems to mind. Its pride in their good purchase, their new nib or their ink choice and the thrill of sharing the experience with people who understand the excitement. Its really magical. And there’s as much enthusiasm around a good, everydy TWSBI as their is with a rare, ridiculously expensive Nakaya — and each pen is passed around with equal enthusiasm and gushing. If someone passed around a Pilot Varsity, we’d be jut as interested.

Then their were dinners and drinks and hugs and farewells as folks departed for their beds and early flights.

I’d like to thank everyone who backed the Kickstarter and made it possible for me to be a part of this amazing adventure. I will be eterntally grateful to each and everyone of you. I will cherish the memories and friendships I made and look forward to sharing each of my purchases in reviews in the coming weeks.

See you all next year!

Atlanta Pen Show: Day Two

Atlanta Pen Show: Day Two

Day Two of the Atlanta Pen Show was full of just as much fun and adventure as the first day. Saturdays at pen shows are generally busier than Friday or Sunday so the rooms were full-to-brimming with pen collectors from far and wide. It was great fun that by Saturday, both collectors and vendors were starting to become familiar faces and everyone was friendly and talkative. As an introvert, that usually makes me feel a little awkward but here the conversation feels easy. Folks will ask about what you’ve bought and what you’re looking for and the next thing you know, you’ll have pulled up a chair and gotten to hear how a vendor found their first pen, their best score or the most unusual thing that’s happened at a pen show.

In the late afternoon, Casey (AKA Punkey) organized a pen and ink play time that lasted until past midnight as people cycled in and out. Everyone pulled their unique, rare or just favorite pens out and let everyone try them out. This gave everyone an opportunity to try any nib style or custom grind they’ve ever wondered about as well as getting a chance to handle a huge variety of pens in a more comfortable setting. Not to mention getting to hear acquisition stories!

Atlanta Pen Show: Day Two

The photos above were all liberated from the Pen Addict Slack channel and were taken by Leigh, Brad and Thomas.

Pen play lasted right through the recording of the 150th episode of the Pen Addict podcast which I was kindly invited to be a part of. And it was video recorded for the Kickstarter backers so that you’all can see just how many silly faces and wild hand gestures are used when we get excited about pens. Brad even took the Visionaire for a test drive.

Atlanta Pen Show: Day Two

I’m looking forward to Day Three which will include getting a nib tuned by Mike Masiyama and hopefully having time to take a calligraphy class with Deborah Basil. What a weekend!

To see all the photos in their full glory, please see my Flickr Album: Atlanta Pen Show 2015.

Atlanta Pen Show Report: Day One

Atlanta Pen Show Day One

The first day of the Atlanta Pen Show was amazing. The atmosphere was friendly and party-like and everyone was excited to see what vendors had to offer and meet new people. Sometimes looking at tray after tray of pens spread out across a vendor’s table was hugely overwhelming but everything was so beautiful that my eye would be attracted to a particular color or clip and I’d have to zoom in for a closer look.

I met Lisa Anderson from Anderson Pens and she was just as friendly and charming as I expected. I even got a hug which totally made my day.

The Nock Co booth was frequently swarmed by pen collectors young and old. Rumor has it Brad got an earful from the legendary Susan Wirth and it was all enthusiastic praise about the products. How cool is that?

Everyone who witnessed me pulling my stash of vintage Esterbrooks out of a rolled-up shop towel gave me grief that “I know a guy who makes these pen cases” so I finally bought a Nock Co Brasstown in Mandarin Mango. Problem solved!

Atlanta Pen Show Day One

I spent a lot of time at the Franklin-Christoph testing station with my friend Amanda. We pretty much tried every nib they had in stock which was loads of fun and is why, after thinking things over, I will be at the F-C booth first thing this morning to buy my first Franklin-Christoph. Very excited and grateful to Lori from F-C who has been my own personal enabler.

I visited the Van Ness booth and drooled at the tower of P. W. Akkerman inks. I bought one bottle but will probably be back for more today.

The big social event, of course, was the Nock Co. Sassafrass Spring Fling which was a wonderful get-together with beer, pizza, raffle and lots and lots of pen talk. You can find other folks’ photos on Instagram with the hash tag #sassafling15.

Atlanta Pen Show Day One

To see all the photos in their full glory, please see my Flickr Album: Atlanta Pen Show 2015.

April is National Letter Writing Month

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Has your letter writing slacked off since the big push in February during InCoWriMo and A Month of Letters? Are you ready to get re-invograted and reply to that stack of letters sitting in your in box? Well, let April be your inspiration since its National Letter Writing Month. And ther are lots of things to help inspire you.

From Me to You Forever Stamps

First, the USPS just released the new From Me To You Forever stamps designed by Michael Osborne. Around the postage are useable stickers with designs and messages to embellish your letters, cards or envelopes.

Laura from Suburban Pen Pal created a video on how she makes mail art. Jazz up your letters with some of her techniques. (link via Letter Writers Alliance)

Paper Crave collected ten great cards to use to write your April missives.

And finally, Egg Press created their own 30 day letter writing challenge called Write_On and offered others free cards to inspire them to connect with others through letters. (link also via Letter Writers Alliance)

There’s still plenty of time to write some letters this month. Send a thank you to a friend for just being there, mail some birthday cards instead of just saying “happy birthday” on Facebook, or send a love note to your significant other.

Peek: Calepino No. 2 Papier Quadrille Pocket Notebook

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I recently swapped one of my lined Calepino notebooks with @inkpairing in exchange for a grid paper edition to be able to see what the difference is. While the lined version of the Calepino Pocket Notebook features a red printed, kraft cover and red lines for writing, the grid version has a green printed, kraft cover and green grid lines inside. The grid lines are thin and pretty light but I was strangely surprised that all the rulings weren’t consistently printed in one color.

Everything else about these books is consistent with the lined edition — 3 books for $10 and they come in the sturdy kraft board box.

calepino-grid-2

The paper stock is exactly the same as the lined edition and handles inks fairly well for a pocket notebook. Mostly, I just wanted to share the difference in the printed lines/grid.

I would extrapolate that the Calepino Dot Grid books have dots that match the greyish-olive hue of the covers. Has anyone tried the Calepino Dot Grids? Let me know if I’m right about the dots.

Fisher Space Pen Hack

Sometimes the aesthetic of a specific pen is not mirrored with the refill it contains. Case in point, the Fisher Space Pen. I love the simple good looks of the bullet pen but I have no need for a thick ballpoint that can write at zero Gs. I like fine, fine, fine gel pen refills. So, I hacked it.

Fisher Space Pen Hack

With a little bit of washi tape around the barrel in key points and a trim to the end of the refill, a standard Uni Style Fit Gel Cartridge fits into the Fisher Space Pen like a champ.

I suspect with some finagling, other refills of the Pilot G2 variety might also work. More tests and experiments to follow.

Fisher Space Pen Hack


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

Field Notes: Two Rivers Edition

Field Notes Two Rivers Colors Edition

I received my Field Notes COLORS subscription of the Two Rivers edition and its just as unusual and interesting to see in person as everyone predicted. Using old woodblock type and design elements and layering the designs, Coudal, Draplin and Hamilton Type created  essentially thousands of one-of-a-kind designs.

Field Notes Two Rivers Colors Edition

Myke and Brad mentioned on the Pen Addict podcast recently that neither had received a yellow covered edition so I feel quite lucky to have one. The other set was immediately absconded by my husband who seems to be turning into a pen geek. He’s also a letterpress printer so the Two Rivers edition was of particular interest to him.

Field Notes Two Rivers Colors Edition

Inside is the standard Finch paper with a pale brownish grid printed.

This edition was limited to just 25,000 books and $2 of each sale goes to help support Hamilton Wood Type Museum. When ordering, you can make an additional donation to the museum and receive a small thank you card. The Two Rivers edition are still sold in sets of three for $9.99 and when these are gone, they’re gone. I think folks will hoard these so place your order ASAP if this is something you want.

Pens for Notebook Testing

review pens

All this week, I’ll be publishing reviews of an assortment of notebooks. I wanted to share all the pens I used in the writing tests. I tried to use a wide variety of pens from gel, ballpoint, rollerball, fountain and pencils.

They were all oddly color coordinated too so I thought they were photo worthy. What pens do you use to test out your new notebooks? Do you do writing samples on the first page, last page or just grab a pen and start writing and see what happens?

(Do you recognize all the pens in the photo?)

Top 5: Pens Under $30

top5 pens under $30

It might seem like a big jump between the $5 and under pens to a pen that costs upwards of $30, but it really opens the options for materials other than plastic and introduces some refill and filling mechanisms that allow for longer-term cost effectiveness.

Rollerball:

Retro 51 Tornado Classic Lacquers start at $21. There are lots of colors to choose from and special body designs are available seasonally for added interest and collectibility. I would recommend swapping out the stock rollerball refill with a slightly finer option. I like the Schmidt P8126 refill instead as its not as heavy or dark especially in smaller pocket notebooks. Even my husband, who loves bold lines prefers the Schmidt P8126 refill in his Retro 51.

Ballpoint:

The Fisher Space Pen ($20) is often recommended for folks looking for the perfect EDC pen. With the pressurized ballpoint ink, it should write in any weather, at any angle. I love the classic good looks and range of color options.

(Runner-Up: The Parker Jotter. The Jotter is a classic design that been in production for more than 60 years. Modern models feel a little flimsier than the vintage models but its a beautiful pen. If you need a ballpoint on your desk, this is a good option. Its about $10 for a plastic body edition and about $20 for the stainless steel models.)

Fountain Pen:

This is the hardest category. I have a personal preference here but I know its not a pen that might please most people. I also have a prejudice against one pen because of the way in which I write though I know its a great sub-$30 option. So… that said, here’s my recommendation for a good starter fountain pen beyond the disposable options in the sub-$5 category.

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The Kaweco Classic Sport (and ICE Sport, both start at about $23.50) is my favorite entry level fountain pen. I know a lot of people will disagree with me because its small, plastic and can only use standard short European cartridges. Alternately, its totally pocketable and has classic good looks in its favor. The clip is optional which adds to the cost but is not necessary. I have over half a dozen Sport models and every one has a good nib that works well from EF, F and M nibs. I do find the M nibs dry out and need to be primed more often but I’d buy another Kaweco Sport in a heartbeat if it was in a color I liked.  I’m not inclined to say that with my runners-up. The runners-up are good pens but I don’t find myself continually reaching for them once I “graduated” to more expensive pens. But I still carry at least one Kaweco Sport next to my high priced pens.

(Runners-up: Pilot Metropolitan and the Lamy Safari. Like I said, this is a challenging category. For sheer value, a full sized Pilot Metropolitan in a metal body for under $20 is a great value. Lamy nibs are great quality and easy to swap out so that a first pen purchase can be a success and lead to a lifetime of fountain pen.)

Multi-Pens:

I love multi-pens for the option of carrying several colors at one time. I’ve tried just about every brand of customizable multi-pen and my favorite have swiftly become the Pentel i+ 3 model. The pen allows for an assortment of refill types from the Sliccie gel refills to the Vicuna and Energel refills. While I thought I’d miss the silicone grip featured on other brands, I find the Pentel i+ easier to slide in and out of pockets and pen loops without it so it gets chosen more often than others.  Fully customized for about $10.

(You might notice that there are only four categories in this Top 5 but there are actually more than five pens recommended. Let’s just say, I’m a designer by trade and not so “mathy”.)

Black Erasers vs. Black Pencils

Black Erasers

You know you’re a pencil nerd when you think to yourself, “How well do black erasers perform?” And then you think, “I’ll test them with all BLACK pencils!” Yep, that’s how I think.

Black Erasers

So, which erasers did I put into my black eraser head-to-head? The classic Papermate Black Pearl (2-pack for $2.39), the Uni Boxy ($1.40 each) and the Pentel Ain hi-polymer (2-pack for $2). And the pencils? A Palomino Blackwing ($21.95/dozen), General’s Layout Extra Back ($5.40/dozen), and a Mirado Black Warrior ($2.99/dozen).

Black Erasers

Let the scribbling begin!

Black Erasers

And then I started to erase. I left the eraser dust in the photo because it was interesting to see how each eraser dust was different. The Black Pearl is the least crumbly and the Pentel Ain was the most crumbly with lots of small bits. The Uni Boxy was crumbly but the pieces were bigger than the Ain.

Black Erasers

Once the eraser dust is cleared away, the results were quite varied. The Ain worked great with the Mirado Black Warrior but was not as successful with the General’s Layout. The Palomino lays down such dark soft lines that none of the erasers did particularly well with the wide swaths of erasing. And the Black Pearl wasn’t a super performer with all the pencil tested here but its the least messy and easy to find at local US big box stores.

in the end, the black erasers are nice to look at and I love the “worry stone” feel of the Black Pearl but if what you really want is clean, complete erasing you want a Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser. It really is the premium eraser.

Dux Varibel Brass Sharpener with Leather Case

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I was very excited to find CW Pencil Enterprises and to see that they stocked the Dux Varibel brass sharpener in the leather case ($22). It can be dialed in to three different sharpnesses depending on the type of lead. The #1 position is for soft pencils and colored pencils, #2 is used for standard graphite pencils (“#2 for #2 pencils!”) and #3 for the sharpest point for harder leads or pencil weaponry.

(Pictured above is Mirado Black Warrior pencils sharpened with #3, #2 and #1 settings from top to bottom)

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The sharpener blade is sharp and fits standard round, hex and triangular pencils. The leather carrying sleeve just makes it awesome.

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The point is still not as sharp as a Classroom Friendly sharpener or my old  Boston hand crank sharpener but for a portable pocket sharpener, the quality of the points is good and I didn’t have any breaking issues while sharpening.

If you are a pencil enthusiast or know someone who likes a fine tool, you might want to pick one of these up.

Top 5: Pens Under $5

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Unlike the lists that Brad at Pen Addict does where pens are sorted into rollerball, fountain, etc., I’m grouping my Top Five lists by price point. Obviously, prices may vary slightly depending on your location but this is based on average US dollar prices.

This list is in no particular order, just the five best under-$5 pens in my opinion. The pen equivalents of “gateway drugs”.

Platinume Preppy EF 0.2 fountain Pen

The Budget Fountain Pen: Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen in F or EF

If you want to get in to fountain pens but don’t know where to start or even if you’ll enjoy them, this is a good place to start. While they are not the prettiest pens at the prom, for $5 or less, you can at least try out what its like to write with a fountain pen. They are pretty reliable although they can be a little scratchy. Did you hear me? They can be a little scratchy! So don’t base all fountain pens on these because they are $5 not $50. Over $25, I get guarantee you a smooth writing experience with a fountain pen but start here. See if you like the light touch needed to write with a fountain pen using a $5 pen before advancing to something more expensive. And once you graduate to a more expensive tool, you can use the Preppy to learn how to nib tune.

$3.95 for F, $4.98 for EF (via Goulet Pens)

The Gel Pen: Uni-ball Signo UM-151 Gel Ink Pen (0.28, 0.38 or 0.5). The UM-138 RT in 0.38mm, the RT1 and the UM-100 capped line are all equally good)

This is the measure for all other gel ink pens. This category is very competitive so its tough to pick THE BEST but the reliability and smoothness of the Signo line sets the bar pretty high. Most of these pens are easy to disassemble and use the refill in other pens since they are largely Pilot G2 compatible-sized.

$1.65 – $2.50 depending on model (via Jet Pens)

Runners up: Zebra Sarasa Clip, Pilot G2, and Pilot Juice. These are all excellent gel ink pens available in an array of colors and tip sizes. Whether you prefer a bold black line or a dainty sakura cherry blossom pink hairline, any of these options have got you covered.

Pilot Precise V5 tip

The Rollerball: Pilot V5 Precise Rollerball This is the pen that introduced me to alternatives to a Bic Stic. Still a good option for a quick.

These retail for about $20/dozen or $10/5-pack. Available in seven colors, retractable or refills for retractable (looks like a G2 compatible refill but will verify). Since they are available in most US big box and office supply stores, this is a great gateway pen. Like the Pilot G-2, if you haven’t tried a pen not swiped from a pharmaceutical rep or your office supply cupboard, start here.

(Runner-up: The Morning Glory Mach 3 0.38mm. The Mach 3 is not as easy to find as a the Pilot V5 Precise but is as good or better and available in a wider variety of ink colors)

The Ballpoint: Uni-Ball Jetstream

Generally speaking, I avoid ballpoint pens. As a lefty, they smear, smudge and perform intermittently for me. So for me to recommend any ballpoint pen at all is fairly high praise. I recommend the Uni-Ball Jetstream to meet all your ball point pen needs. If you’re shopping in a office supply big box in the US, try the 0.7mm or smaller. If you’re willing to shop online, then I really like the 0.5mm available at Jet Pens in a variety of colors but my favorite is still the green grey model I bought in Hong Kong. Again, this is a pen that is widely available but I recommend the smaller tip sizes. The larger ones are often gloppy. The 0.5mm are really the sweet spot especially if you’re writing in a small book like a Field Notes or a planner.

Uni-Ball Jetstream pens are widely available in local shops and online in a variety of configurations starting at about $2.50.

Sharpie Pen

The Felt Tip: The Sharpie Pen.

Honestly, a year ago, I would never have said this. I really like the Sharpie Pen. I thought I was a tried-and-true supporter of the Marvy Le Pen for my felt tip pen needs but I’ve embraced the Sharpie Pen as an excellent option in this category. While not as diverse in color options as the Le Pen, the Sharpie Pen is readily available in most US big box and office supply stores making them a good option in a hurry. I had a couple experiences with the Sharpie pen where is bled and feathered but I think it might have been a Moleskine book to blame and not the pen. Since then, I have come to appreciate the versatility and availability of the Sharpie Pen. Its more water resistant than Le Pen and the tip does not degrade as quickly.

Individual pens are sold from about $2 each and are available in blister packs and boxes in larger quantities and color options.

Ink Review: Kaweco Summer Purple

Kaweco Summer Purple Ink

Kaweco Summer Purple is one of my absolute favorite ink colors. It’s a dark, muted, complex, plum-y purple. More eggplant purple really. When watered down, it reminds me of lilac blossoms. At full-strength, its a subtle, sophisticated purple-black. The closest color comparison I could make is the Rohrer & Klingner Scabiosa. However, with the Kaweco Summer Purple, there’s no concern about the iron gall and potential damage to your pens.

Summer Purple doesn’t have a ton of shading but with wider nibs, you get a little color variation. You may decide this is a good thing or not. When writing notes and project planning, I’m less inclined to want a lot of shading as it can affect overall readability. But a little bit of shading can be nice. I think Summer Purple hits a pleasing balance between feeling too flat and being too shading-y for everyday use.

Kaweco Summer Purple is a color that is not too fussy but still adds a little pizazz to your writing. If you’re just dipping inky toes into colors beyond blue, black or blue-black, Summer Purple is a good option.

Kaweco Summer Purple Comparison

I think the closest comparable inks are Rohrer & Klingner Scabiosa and Private Reserve Ebony Purple. J. Herbin Poussiere de Lune, Noodler’s Purple Heart and Diamine Grape are all a little bit more reddish purple — less violet, more true purples. If you like your purples with more red, than I recommend these instead.

Isn’t it amazing how much variation exists in ink colors? From subtle to shocking differences at every hue in the rainbow. This is why I love inks!


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

Ink Review: Kaweco Midnight Blue

Kaweco Midnight Blue ink

Kaweco Midnight Blue is one of the blue-blackiest blue-blacks I’ve ever used. At first glance, it appears to be nothing special since its a dark blue black with little-to-no pizazz. But on second glance, this is a workhorse ink. Its not the hot, new color or the “in” ink for 2015. Its a classic. It’s trend proof. Its a beautiful alternative to black ink or a plain blue. Its deep, dark and true to its purpose.

Even on Rhodia paper, Midnight Blue dries pretty quickly. The longer I used it, the more I warmed to this ink. Its like a good comfortable cardigan. It might not be the flashiest thing in your ink closet but I suspect you’ll find yourself coming back to it again and again because it works well and in lots of situations.

Kaweco Midnight Blue Ink Comparison

I used to think that Lamy Blue-Black was my go-to blue black but when I see it side-by-side with Kaweco Midnight Blue, I have to say I prefer the bluer hue of the Midnight Blue ink over Lamy’s more violet undertones.

Kaweco Blue Black is quickly moving into my favorite blue-black and, with its reasonable price (approx. $17.50 for a 30ml bottle), it might just stay there.

My only gripe is the funky label wrap on the bottle. No matter how many ways I try to remove the wrap sticker, I end up with unsightly label residue or weird bits. I keep ink bottles for a long time and I like to keep my favorites on display but the unslightly label shards mean the Kaweco inks are going to be kept out of sight until I find a good method for removing the labels. Which is kind of sad because I like the shape of the Kaweco bottles a good deal.


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

Well-Appointed Desks Must Have Music

This morning NPR announced the winner of the Tiny Desk Concert Contest based on their successful series of performances hosted at the desk of NPR All Song’s Considered host Bob Boilen.For the contest, musicians were asked to submit a video performing a song in front of a desk. Entries included:

desks dragged into nature, onto hilltops, into and around oceans, through offices and kitchens, classrooms and science labs.

What makes a desk a great workspace? Music. And how better to celebrate that than with a few Tiny Desk Concert performances including the winner of the Tiny Desk Concert Contest, Fantastic Negrito.

You may now dance at your desk.

All the Pencil-Related Things

Sometimes, the stars align and my in-box is full of tips related to one specific topic. This week, it seemed to be all things pencIl-related. So, I thought I’d share my finds.

marshmallow pencil

This darling little pencil twig topped with a big pink eraser “mashmallow”. Perfect for fireside doodles. $13.99 from Animi Causa.

pencil socks yarn kit by Yarn Enabler

Then I found this beautiful hand dyed yarn from Yarn Enabler on Etsy that will stripe as you knit to make these awesome pencil socks. Yellow pencil stitch markers are also available as part of the kit. Yarn kit with stitch markers are $30.69US.

pencil socks yarn kit by Yarn Enabler

Little Red Riding Children's book

And my last pencil-related find this week is a darling little children’s book called Little Red Writing by Joan Holub and illustrated by Melissa Sweet about “a brave, little red pencil finds her way through the many perils of writing a story, faces a ravenous pencil sharpener (the Wolf 3000).” $12.75 on Amazon.

Social Preparedness Kits from Egg Press

social preparedness kit

The Social Preparedness Kit from Egg Press is a new collection of tools and materials to make keeping in touch, postally-speaking, an easy and good-looking option. The site will be selling products that span the range from canvas pouches to contain your correspondence to paper goods like letterpress-printed Write-On-Velopes  (a foldable letter sheet that doubles as an envelope) and card sets.

Products will be available for sale soon so check back on their shop or on their blog to find out when they will be officially released.

I love the document-sized pouches and the Write-On-Velopes.I can’t wait until they are available for purchase.

I hope the Social Preparedness Kit product line is successful for Egg Press because I get lots of questions about where to buy good and interesting stationery sets beyond notecards so maybe SPK will expand to letter sets soon!

SPK from Egg Press

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