Product Review: Sonic Gripen Pencil Holder

Product Review: Sonic Gripen Pencil Holder

Review by Tina Koyama

If you’re a fan of either pencils or John Steinbeck or both, you are probably familiar with the “Steinbeck length” – the length at which the American author would stop using a wood-cased pencil because the eraser end could no longer be supported by the crook between his thumb and forefinger. On an average pencil, that length is about 4 inches.

I can see why he rejected anything shorter – it’s not comfortable to write with a pencil after that, let alone draw with one. For those of us who aren’t Steinbeck, the obvious solution is to get a pencil holder and extend both the pencil and its life of use.

At this point in the discussion, I have an embarrassing confession to make: I have so many pencils (graphite and colored) and use so many simultaneously that I hit the Steinbeck length infrequently. However, many of my colored pencils are finally nearing that stage now (my hand is apparently smaller than Steinbeck’s, because the Steinbeck length for me is about 3 ½ inches long), so I knew it was time to finally shop for a pencil holder. I chose the Sonic Gripen because its description on JetPens indicates that its grip has a relatively hefty girth, which I generally prefer in any writing or drawing instrument. 

Available in four colors, the Sonic Gripen has a white plastic refillable eraser that extends when the eraser barrel is twisted.

Although serviceable, it erased slightly worse than average for this type of eraser. (I’m guessing that other eraser refills would fit.)

To test the Sonic Gripen, I chose two pencils: A yellow Ticonderoga, 3 ½ inches long (scrounged from my husband’s work bench) and a 1 ½-inch-long Staedtler Norica that is now too short to sharpen except with a knife (found in the bottom of my “miscellaneous” pencil box). Both are of standard diameter, and both are firmly beyond the Steinbeck stage and uncomfortable to use without a holder.

My second embarrassing confession is that it took me a while to figure out how to put a pencil into the holder. You need to first twist the barrel until the inner black part (visible through the translucent barrel) retracts enough to accommodate the length of your pencil (less the inch or so that the pencil will extend from the holder’s opening). Then push the pencil into the barrel opening until it clicks firmly into place. (I’m sure this is explained on the packaging instructions, but I can’t read enough Japanese to make sense of technicalities beyond ramen on a café sign.) If you don’t hear a click, the pencil will spin around and fall out. As the pencil gets shorter from use, simply twist the barrel in the opposite direction, and the pencil will be pushed further out.

I was afraid the tiny stub of a Staedtler would be too short, but it is just long enough. In both cases, I could write easily with the Sonic Gripen’s slightly rubbery grip, which is pleasant to hold. The added girth would appeal to me on any pencil of standard diameter, which is always just a little too slender for my comfort.

Final Impressions

Other than the mediocre eraser, the Sonic Gripen gets high marks for being a comfortable and easily operated pencil holder for any standard-size pencil. But dangit – some of my favorite colored pencils with thicker barrels – the ones now at the Steinbeck stage – won’t fit in the Gripen! (These thick-barreled pencils cause me no end of problems.)

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

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

Notebook Review: Plum & Punch Celestial Print Wood Journal

Notebook Review: Plum & Punch Celestial Print Wood Journal

What would you do if you spied a real wood covered journal with an exposed coptic-style binding and a whopping 400 pages just languishing on the table at your corporate card shop? You wouldn’t just leave it there, would you? I didn’t. I grabbed it faster than a discounted flat-screen TV on Black Friday.

Real wood covers! Silkscreen stars! Blank paper! If I didn’t know better, you’d think I was on the design team. (I wasn’t.)

Look at all that paper!

Lay flat!

This journal from Plum & Punch. It’s inelegantly called the “Wood Cover Journal With Exposed Spine, White Celestial Design”.  I’m going to call it the Celestial Print Wood Journal because THAT other thing is a mouthful. And this beauty was only $20 for 400 pages of what felt like pretty thick paper so I was willing to take a chance on it.

In my first round of writing tests, which I literally did the minute I got back to my desk (shhhh, don’t tell on me! It was Friday afternoon.) started off remarkably well but when I got to the fountain pens I had some dry time issues. I couldn’t figure out if I was just impatient, if it was the inks I was using or if it was just really humid in the office.

From the flip side of the paper though, there was no show through and no bleed through. Can you see a couple little tiny dots? I think its from the Decimo. That’s it. Pretty impressive.

Later, I tested some other pens and had no drying issues. So… huh? Weirdness.

And then I did some colored pencil and even added a bit of water because, why not? The paper tacoed right away but it was in no way designed for wet media. Still, it did not get those little pills so that was a bonus.

The nice thing about having a reasonably priced notebook with a metric ton of paper is I don’t feel badly about just turning the page and using another sheet. I am loving this book and I don’t really know why. Sometimes, a notebook just strikes a chord.

You can see the waffling effect from my water application but also how many pages I’ve already churned through in a few days. Might need some sort of book band to flatten it out a bit.

There are other journals available from Plum & Punch if this might be your thing too. If you want to see these in person, check out your local Hallmark Gold Crown store.

This product was purchased from my company store. Plum & Punch is a subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, Inc., the kind folks that keep in health insurance and cat food. I was not asked to write this review nor compensated in anyway to write it. See my About page for more info.

Product Review: Jane Davenport Petite Palette Watercolor Set in Brights

Product Review: Jane Davenport Petite Palette Watercolor Set in Brights

I don’t do a lot of art supply reviews these days but after I read Les’s review of the Jane Davenport Petite Palette Watercolor Set in Brights ($31.99), I couldn’t resist trying them out. First thing to note is that since these are sold through a big box craft supply store, always try to get a coupon. I bought this set with a 30% my entire purchase coupon as I also bought several of the other items in the Jane Davenport art supply line (I’ll be reviewing those in the next few weeks, if you are interested).

The first thing to note is this set (and the neutrals set) are in the craft/entry-level price range and designed for journal use and not for archival purposes. The pigments are not archival. Les’s review goes into a lot of detail about the pigments and there are some very detailed information on YouTube about the pigments used and, on Jane’s website, there is the specific pigments. I would not compare the quality to Schmincke, Winsor & Newton or Sennelier pans, rather I’d compare it to the VanGogh, Cotman or Sakura Koi sets.

The other thing to note is that they are definitely cute. The tin for the brights is Tiffany Blue on the outside and has Jane’s signature prominently featured on the tin. The names of the colors are not “warm red” and “opera pink” and such as would be expected but rather things like “70s eyeshadow” and “ladybug.” Of course, once you remove the packaging and swatch the colors on your own card and place your own sticker on the lid, no one is the wiser about the product other than the color of the tin which can just be called “mint.”

The neutrals tin, however, is in a metallic gold tin. Go figure.

I pre-wet the pans as they all looked a bit dry before I swatched them. I keep a Traveler’s Notebook with Sketch Paper for swatching new art materials and started swatching each color. Each one was coming out very granulated in a cheap, chalky sort-of way. I was getting pretty frustrated.

On the opposite page I was doing some one- and two-color mixing to see if the colors muddied. Do you see the weird clumpy granulation? Super irritating! The colors are fun and vibrant and for a lot of the work I do at work, we immediately scan our work so archival-ness is pretty irrelvant. But the clumpiness!

SO, I sat for awhile, literally watching paint dry. Hmmm…

So, then I upgraded my paper. Best advice I ever got was “never settle for cheap paper” because really even expensive paper is cheap. You buy a BIG sheet of expensive paper and you cut it into smaller pieces or fold it into smaller pieces to fit into a little book and its a small investment, comparatively speaking. (Go on… how much did you spend on your last pen, bottle of ink or box of watercolors compared to the tablet or book of paper? See? I rest my case.)

Here’s my close-up comparisons of close-up photos of the same pan of color on the Traveler’s Notebook up top and then on the cold press watercolor paper at varying intensities. No clumps, just lovely watercolor-ness. That’s the color listed as “ladybug,” by the way.

I ended up re-swatching all the colors on watercolor cold press paper. Much better results. No weird clumps.

I even tried it with a waterbrush rather than my Silver Black Velvet #8 round brush. I know people love waterbrushes for their portability but I’m still on the fence about them. I prefer a real brush 99.9% of the time. I’m the horrible person who will pollute my water glass at a restaurant. I will leave a good tip though.

So, these are not at all the complete palette I’d recommend to someone starting out with watercolors but if you are feeling like you’re in a rut and need a little  creative kickstart, they are pretty fun. Are some of the colors unnecessary? Yeah? Are the sets designed to make you buy the Brights AND the Neutrals? Yep.

I’ll probably end up disassembling both tins and magnet-ing the colors I find most useful into one tin rather than carrying two tins. My Schmincke set only has 14 colors in it so I’m definitely inclined to slim down the Jane Davenport kit. The nice thing with the Davenport paints is that I don’t feel precious about them. They are cheap paints, even if I put them on good paper. I can make bad art with mediocre art supplies. Right? Though I suppose I probably make mediocre art with expensive supplies too. LOL.


Do you know what tomorrow is? The first day of October! And for a lot of folks that means the start of Inktober the drawing challenge event of the year.

If you want to participate, there’s really not much to it:

If you want to use the prompts created, you can. Or you can make up your own.

I did it last year and I’ve decided to do it again this year.

I picked my own theme last year, I did a knitter’s alphabet and the ArtSnacks Inktober Kit Sketchbook and a selection of Copic markers and pens as my own limited palette and personal challenge.

This year, I am going to do another alphabet theme because I like to know what I’m going to draw everyday. It keeps the guessing and planning out of the equation. I can plan it out ahead of time to a certain extent. At least a couple of days in advance or at least be thinking about it. But I’m going to keep the topic a secret — at least until tomorrow.

If you decide to try it, set some parameters for yourself to help make it easier. Either set a time limit (only 20 minutes and its done no matter how not done it is), a size limitation (a small notebook, 3x5s, post-it notes, whatever) or materials (only ballpoint pens, just black and white, only sharpies, whatever) so that you don’t turn it into an epic project. In the end, my drawings never took more than an hour each day.

Fashionable Friday: Mermadness

  • Seahorse Pin $12 (BoyGirlParty on Etsy)
  • “I’m Really a Mermaid” Pin $8.75 (ILoveCrafty on Etsy)
  • Pelikan Souverän M605 fountain pen transparent white, special edition €379, € 313,22 Outside EU (via Fontoplumo)
  • Hobonichi 2018 A6 Mermaid Green Cover by Minä Perhonen $110.54USD (via
  • Akkerman Dutch Masters 05 Isreal’s zeeblauw “sea blue” $38 (via Vanness Pen Shop)
  • Black Seashell Washi Tape $2 per roll (via CuteTape)
  • Faber-Castell N’ice Turquoise Ballpoint $9.81 (via Appelboom)
  • Vacation Day 4oz. Travel Candle $12 (via Sapori)
  • Kata Kata A4 Whale Postcard $6 (via Fresh Stock Japan)
  • TWSBI Classic Turquoise Fountain Pen with Broad Nib $52 (via JetPens)
  • Robert Oster Deep Sea Ink (50ml Bottle) $17 (via Anderson Pens)
  • Leuchtturm1917 A5 Metallic Edition Dotted or Lined $25.50 (via Pen Chalet)
  • Girl of All Work Found Objects Sticky Notes in Sea Shells $6.50 (via JetPens)

Note: This will be the last edition of Fashionable Friday. When I started Fashionable Friday over three years ago, there was a lot of Everyday Carry posts popping up on a lot of the other blogs and I felt like I was being inundated with super-masculine perspectives. Since then, YouTube video blogs have become huge, Instagram has become a large part of the social media world and fashion, in general, is so much more personal.

So, Friday posts will be changing to a new format. I hope you won’t be too disappointed.

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

Tag Team Review: Crane & Co Notebooks

Review by Laura Cameron (and Ana Reinert)

Since both Laura and I have ended up purchasing or acquiring several of the same products, we have decided to do some “tag team” reviews where we provide two points of view. Since our pen experience levels differ and our tastes differ, sometimes our opinions will be similar and sometimes they will differ. We hope you’ll enjoy these posts. This is the third in the series.


Crane and Co. recently sent us a beautiful box full of their small and medium engraved notebooks. First of all, these notebooks have actual engraving on them which is a printing technique few companies use anymore. Pretty much Crane is the only printer that still does it. It’s tactile and delicate and it looks amazing.

The cover stocks on each of these notebooks is particularly sturdy. The small books are 4×6″ and the medium books are 5.5×8″. I found that the medium size fit perfectly fine in my A5-sized Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter.

When I initially looked at the specifications for the paper stock, I was skeptical that 24lb. paper was going to be able to stand up to the abuse that I usually dish out. However, Crane and Co. offers up 100% Cotton Crane’s Crest paper and it was clearly up for the challenge.

When I flipped over my first test page, nary a dot bled through. There was a tiny bit of show through with the brush pen but you’ll have to strain your eyes to see it. The line spacing is fairly narrow, comparable to college ruled though I forgot to actually measure it.

I agree with Laura that the paper is toothy but I like my paper with a little feedback. I liked the super thick cover stock and I love the engraving. I especially liked the pastel pink with engraved gold bee which I snagged for myself.

Because of the unique size, the small notebooks pose a challenge finding a cover to carry them but since they are so durable, they may survive without a cover. The medium notebooks fit in A5 covers which make them more compatible with many existing notebook systems like leather traveler’s style notebook covers. Crane makes such beautiful engraved covers, I want to protect them and the paper quality is excellent. The only down sides are that they are only available in lined and their unique sizing. But, they sure are posh!


Crane & Co. recently sent us a set of their engraved notebooks for testing and review.

These editions come in two sizes: 4″ x 6″ and 5 1/2″ x 8″.  All editions have 48 lined pages on 100% cotton 24lb paper with rounded edges, and covers in 96lb paper (in Blush, Navy, Sea Glass and Dalton Blue).  All editions feature an engraved design on the front in gold foil.

I had the opportunity to test the Engraved Starfish on Beach Glass Small Notebook and the Engraved “Notebook” on Dalton Blue Large Notebook.  I found both to be sturdy notebooks.  The paper was excellent quality and quite “toothy.”  I ended up testing a variety of pens including fountain pens, gel inks, and brush pens, among others, and the paper took the ink very well.  There was just a hint of ghosting on the backside, but no bleeding through.   I really did appreciate the sturdy quality of the cotton paper; it felt like a cut above many of the notebooks I have tried recently.

The only thing I found unusual about the small notebook was that it departs from the standard pocket notebook size of 3 1/2″ x 5 1/2″, and therefore didn’t fit in my Chic Sparrow pocket leather cover that well.  However, the Crane medium notebook fit nicely into an A5 Chic Sparrow cover.

Laura is a tech editor, podcaster, knitter, spinner and recent pen addict. You can learn more about her knitting and tea adventures on her website, The Corner of Knit & Tea and can find her on Instagram as Fluffykira.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to us free of charge by Crane & Co for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.