Posts Tagged ‘review’

The New Karas Kustoms INK

Karas Kustom INK olive green anodized

The first improvement to the Karas Kustoms INK fountain pen is a snazzy wrap, letterpress printed right here in Kansas City by Skylab Letterpress — not that I’m biased or anything. But it is pretty spiffy, isn’t it?

CORRECTION: The premium packaging will only be included with the copper and brass models. I got a special edition because there was a sample wrap in the house thanks to the printer, AKA Skylab Letterpress, AKA my husband.

Karas Kustom INK olive green anodized

Inside is a stellar anodized INK in olive green. Pictured here with a fabulous autumn-y skein of yarn that my friend Laura picked up in Montana on a recent road trip.

The new version of the INK is available in several other colors as well, of course. These include the silver aluminum, and other anodized finishes — blue, black, brown,  green, gold, grey, orange, pink, red, and violet, as well as solid copper and solid brass, and a tumbled raw aluminum. And of course, the olive green I received.

There is also a clipless model available for an even sleeker look. The INK and the INK Clipless start at $95 with slightly higher prices for brass and copper grip sections or bodies.

This model is accented with the brass grip section and is the best looking though, in my humble opinion. You are welcome to disagree.

Karas Kustom INK olive green anodized

Karas Kustom INK olive green anodized

What I noticed the minute I saw the INK was that the color was a dead ringer for my 1981 Vespa PK125 scooter. But I figured I had to prove it. See?

Karas Kustom INK olive green anodized

Perfect match.

Karas Kustom INK olive green anodized

Karas Kustom INK olive green anodized

In writing, the best part of the INK is the new Bock nib. Its super smooth and scaled to match the larger proportions of the INK very well. The whole pen feels smoother between the threads to the grip to the barrel. Overall, the whole pen feels more refined in small, meaningful ways.

Now for whatever reason, I decided to fill the INK with Noodler’s Black Swan in Australian Roses. I guess I’m getting hit with a bit of the Christmas time spirit but the ink flowed smoothly and the pen wrote beautifully. When I started writing with the INK I forgot about the pen and  just focused on what I was writing– my thought and my words. And really, isn’t that what you want from a pen? A really good pen should just melt away and be an extension of your arm, right? Well, the INK did that for me to the point that I had to remind myself I was writing with it for a review. So that’s really the best kind of writing experience.

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

Pen Review: Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Nature Colors 6-colors Set

Staedtler nature colors triplus fineliner markers

First, I promise this is the last set of Staedtler Triplus Finerliner markers I will review because I have them all now. I couldn’t resist. That said, the Nature Set of Staedtler Triplus Fineliners ($7.50) are probably my favorite set. It could be because they are the most seasonally appropriate here in the autumnal continental US right now. The set features Green Earth, Warm Sepia, Tuscan Red, Gray, Carmine and Mauve (which looks more like plum to me but I never think anyone names colors properly anyway). The gray in this set is actually a totally usable gray, unlike the silver gray in the Pastel set which is too pale to be usable for writing.

Staedtler nature colors triplus fineliner markers

Actually, I found all the colors in this set usable for writing and there is enough variation in color to create visual interest in note-taking to be interesting without being jarring. Sophisticated palette appropriate for nature sketches or just because.

The Staedtler Triplus Fineliners feature the slim 0.3mm felt tip point, water soluble ink, triangular barrels, and ink designed to be able to be uncapped for long periods of time without drying out. The set comes in the fold-over plastic travel case which is sturdy and easy to use.

Staedtler nature colors triplus fineliner markers

Now, if Staedtler would just make a set of these markers with waterproof ink , I would be the happiest person in the world. But overall, these are wonderful and if you are not trying to combine them with watercolor or other water soluble pens or brushes, I recommend them with my highest praise.

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

Pen Review: Crayola Gel Markers

Crayola Gel Markers

A few weeks ago I saw a post on Instagram where a calligrapher was doing some amazing lettering on black paper and laying off to the side was the distinctive undulating line on the marker of the Crayola wedge marker but the marker was black. Why had I never seen one of these markers before and how was the ink standing up all opaque on black paper?!?!? I must know what this is and I must know now!!!!! Since I have access to the source that the Crayola catalog, I went hunting and discovered that the marker was a Crayola Gel Markers and I toddled myself down to our corporate store ASAP and purchased a package to test them out myself.

Crayola Gel Markers writing sample

There are only eight colors available in the set: a black that looks more dark grey than black, red, pink, yellow, purple, blue (aqua), green and white. While the color range is not super broad, the conical tip provides a range of line variation and they are actually a lot more opaque than I expected. The white is actually clear and dries white so it works best if used slowly so you can keep track of your strokes but all the other pens leave visible lines as you write. Going over the white lines will also create a more opaque white which was nice.

Crayola Gel Markers writing sample

As with all Crayola products, the pens are washable (which means they are water-soluble) and non-toxic (they may not taste great but you can lick them if you want to) so you can share these pens with your kids and they are also extremely reasonable priced. I believe I purchased my set for about $5 or $6 but I’m sure you can find them in a big box store for less.

Crayola Gel Markers writing sample

I think these would be great fun to use with coloring books or on construction paper and a fun way to practice calligraphy, address envelopes or generally spice up an already burgeoning pen collection without breaking the bank. Go forth and scribble!

While this post can be qualified as “plugging the firm” I purchased these with my own money and all the opinions expressed here are my own and are no way influenced by my place of employment.

Review: Moleskine Soft Cover XL Plain

Moleskine Soft cover XL

Before you start asking if the headaches are giving me brain damage, I have to say I asked myself the same question when I picked up this Moleskine Extra Large Plain Soft Cover Notebooks. In general, I find Moleskine notebooks leave me wanting but there was something about the size of this book that appealed to me.

The extra large Moleskine soft cover measures about 7.5×10″ so its bigger than an A5 but its not as large as a full US Letter size or A4. It kind of reminded me of a school composition notebook. And the flexible soft cover only added to the nostalgia.

The soft cover makes it lay flat easily and the covers can be folded back to easily work on either the let or right side of the pages at a time. The book mark ribbon is still unfinished on the end so I added a little white glue to edge to keep it from fraying. The soft cover books do include the gusseted pocket in the back and the vertical elastic, like all the other Moleskine editions.

I added a Leuchtturm 1917 pen loop to the back cover and set to work using it. I think I was really looking for something to tide me over until the start of the year when I plan to start keeping a regular journal in my new Hobonichi Techo.

Because of the soft cover, this book is super low profile. It takes up almost no space in my bag meaning I am taking it with me everywhere and using it for some daily journaling and a catch-all commonplace book.

Moleskine Soft cover XL

If I come to accept that there is showthrough (not necessarily bleed through) on the reverse side of my writing page, than this paper actually did quite well. Even with some fountain pens and brush markers, I didn’t have the issues I’ve had with other Moleskine books. This contains what I assume is the standard writing paper but maybe they’ve improve the stock somewhat because I didn’t get any of the weird splining or veining that I’ve noticed in the past.

Moleskine Soft cover XLI’m a little shocked at how well-behaved the paper is and how much I’m enjoying the larger size.I’ve been using it mostly with felt tip and gel pens at work with the occasional watercolor brush pen thrown in and the inks have not spread or done anything weird. In fact, I keep thinking I could probably use the back of the pages as well but I have been so burnt in the past by earlier editions of Moleskines that I I just keep using the right hand pages only. But I could use the left hand side as well. Really. I’m just as surprised as you are.

Sometimes, the right notebook for the right moment just sort of shows up and no matter how much you think, “Oh, no. I would never use a Moleskine. Its only for posers and hipsters,” you find that its not all that bad after all.

I made a guide sheet for myself for this particular size notebook. Is anyone else interested in these? If so, I’ll add them to the guide sheet page soon. Just leave me a note in the comments.

Review: UniBall Signo DX 0.38 Hello Kitty Special Edition Pens

Uniball Signo DX Hello Kitty

I’m clearly catering to my inner 7-year-old this month. I saw the Uniball Signo DX 0.38 Hello Kitty Special Edition gel pens and the next thing I know, the whole color array was in my mail box. There are only five colors available: red, pink, orange, purple, green and blue and each sells for $3 (a $0.50 upcharge than the standard Signo DX 0.38 gel pens but KITTY!). The barrels of the pens are covered with Hello Kitty’s signature bows and feature the Hello Kitty logo and her face. Other than those little details, they are classic Uniball Signo DX gel pens with the rubber grip, metal cone above the tip, plastic clip on the cap and round, plastic barrel.

Uniball Signo DX Hello Kitty

The colors are clean and bright and easy to see. Its actually a great starter set of colors if you’ve never tried Uniball Signo DX pens before. The 0.38 width are my favorites and are great for writing on a wide variety of office papers like copies, planners, index cards and sticky notes.

They write smoothly and cleanly and are actually pretty water resistant. Safe enough for addressing envelopes and could be used in combination with water-based markers without making mud.

Uniball Signo DX Hello Kitty

If you are Kitty-averse, these same colors are available in the standard UniBall Signo DX UM-151 models in the 0.38 size. But c’mon, who doesn’t love Hello Kitty?

Ink Review: BungBox Ink of Witch

Bungbox Ink of Witch

Earlier this year, I went in on a group buy of some Bungbox inks and they finally arrived a few weeks ago. I am so far behind on my pile of reviews though that I am just getting around to trying them out. First up is the Bungbox Ink of Witch. I wanted to have the review up in time for Halloween but I grew up believing that Everyday is Halloween so let’s stick with that theory, shall we?

Ink of Witch comes in the beautiful low slung Sailor bottle I love with the little plastic cone inside to make filling a pen easy and pretty tidy. I used my Lamy Studio with a 1.1mm stub nib to show of maximum line variation. There’s a good deal of shading to the ink with the wide nib and it glides. Oh, Sailor! You really do make lovely inks!

I found the ink to actually be much blacker in color than the purple color I had anticipated. It reminded me of the sort of faded black of antique fabrics or documents. I always think old fabrics and documents get a purplish cast to them.

Bungbox Ink of Witch

That said, I think the color shows a definite purple sheen compared with the few (okay ONE) black ink in my collection. I’m definitely more inclined to use a purple black than I would be to use a black for everyday writing and note-taking.

When I start to think about black blacks, I want hardcore, waterproof black like Platinum Carbon Black for art-making purposes so Ink of Witch is actually quite appealing as a writing ink.

Ink of Witch can be purchased through Vanness in the US for $43 per bottle.

Review: Zebra Kirarich Glitter Highlighter and NaKniSweMo

Kirarich glitter highlighter

This may be a strange way to talk about a highlighter or the start of November but stick with me for a minute. The beginning of November for a lot of people means the start of NaNoWriMo. For many knitters, myself included, its the start of NaKniSweMo – National Knit-a-Sweater-in-a-Month. This is my seventh year participating and hopefully my seventh successful completion. I’ve had some fumbles over the years but there are seven well-loved sweaters in my closet thanks to NaKniSweMo so I’m willing to compete myself to the challenge again this year. No, its probably not as hard as writing a whole novel in a month but its good fun and a challenge just the same.

Kirarich glitter highlighter

And for me, it means that I need a good highlighter to notate my pattern and highlight the specific size I’m knitting. That’s where Zebra Kirarich Glitter Highlighter in yellow ($2.05 each) comes into the picture. I ordered it awhile ago and its become my go-to highlighter. Why? It’s glittery!!!! Its not so glittery as to be distracting. But I know its glittery. It will catch the light and sparkle and just sort of brighten my day. My highlighting is all of a sudden kissed by unicorns. Its totally ridiculous and twee but I’ve been having a rough few weeks so if glitter makes me happy, so be it.

The Kirarich Glitter Highlighters are also available in blue, pink, orange, purple and green. There’s a five pack set with all colors for $10 if you need ALL THE GLITTER or a smaller 3-pack with just the yellow, pink and green if you have a little self- control.


Kirarich glitter highlighter

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.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Palette

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Palette

In the same way that I love pens and pencils, I also love watercolors and watercolor sets. So I was really excited when JetPens started stocking the Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Palette sets. The sets are available in a 12-color box ($17), and 18-color box ($23.50) and a 24-color box ($29). I got the 18-color set which is a lovely set. The set comes in a green, fabric covered box (almost like a chocolate sampler box in size and shape) with gold foil lettering on the cover. Inside, are extra large pans of watercolor paints.

Like all watercolors, you really need to swatch the colors to see what the colors will look like. In my swatches, you can see that the colors offer an array of three reds, an orange, a yellow, a yellow ochre, three shades of green, a turquoise, four shades of blue, a violet, black, white and a burnt sienna. This is a great assortment of colors that can be mixed to create even more colors. The most unusual color in the palette is the cornflower blue which is not usually a color I see in basic watercolor sets. I need to play with the colors a bit more to see how they mix and blend but the colors are all bright and vivid.


The individual pans of color are loose in the box so they can be removed and rearranged as you’re using them. The Gansai Tambi have some of the largest pans I’ve ever seen in a watercolor set. Most starter sets feature what is called a “half-pan” which is about the size of a cellophane wrapped caramel (my husband says “like a mini marshmallow”). The Gansai Tambi pans are about 1″ x 2.5″ – which is substantially larger, so you get a lot more room to swirl your brush and can dip a much larger brush into the pan without accidentally picking up other colors. The downside is that the Gansai Tambi box is that its not particularly portable. Its definitely a desk-sized set of watercolors. It also does not have any built-in mixing areas so you may want to add a mixing dish (something like this might work) to your supplies if you are using your Gansai Tambi set regularly.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor doodles

The Gansai Tambi paints are described as “traditional Japanese watercolors” and, in use, they do seem a little different from other watercolors I’ve used. If you’re new to watercolor, what I can say is that the colors are slightly more opaque than other watercolor paints – not as much as gouache (which is a type of watercolor paint used mostly be designers and illustrators that can be very opaque and very matte in finish). The Gansai Tambi watercolors will dry with a slight shine to the paint if applied heavily.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor comparison

In an effort to get a better feel about the difference between the Ganasi Tambi watercolors and other watercolors, I decided to find similar colors in my stash and do a side-by-side comparison. I used an array of Winsor & Newton, Sennelier and Daniel Smith watercolors, both tube and pan colors to make a close match. The swatches on the left are the :regular” watercolors and the swatches on the right are the Gansi Tambi set. Does this help show how the Gansai Tambi are a bit more opaque?  I noticed it most with the black (#20 on the Gansai Tambi palette) which on the left is a lighter grey rather than a deep, solid black. I’m not saying one is better or worse, just different. And in being different, it makes the Gansai Tambi set a good investment for me. Its not just “more of the same” with this set of watercolors.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Palette Comparison

I marked my other watercolor samples as SEN for Sennelier, DS for Daniel Smith and W&N for Winsor & Newton. Overall, there is a lighter hue with the other watercolors than the Gansai Tambi.  I couldn’t really match the #34, my closest option was W&N Opera Rose which is practically fluorescent.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Palette Comparison

The colors were quite similar with the exception of the #61 sky blue, I substituted it with one of Daniel Smith’s PrimaTek paint with a mica chip in it to be as funky as the pale sky blue.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Palette Opaque White Comparison

The last comparison I did was with the opaque white. Most watercolorists don’t use a white but a lot of designers and illustrators will add opaque white as a final detail or touch up. I compared the W&N Titanium White with Gansai Tambi white. I laid down a layer of black gesso to see how opaque these whites are. The Gansai Tambi is a nice white but the W&N Titanium White is much more opaque, especially when dry.

Now, this comparison is probably largely unfair because a lot of my professional grade watercolors cost over $10 per pan or tube. So, two pans or tubes cost the same as the whole tray of great big pans. But I thought it would be a good chance to see if the colors in the Gansai Tambis were as clean and vivid as more expensive brands. I think it did a really good job for someone just getting started with watercolors. It may not behave exactly like traditional watercolors but I think you’ll have a lot of fun using them.

All the painted test were done on a Canson Edition 100% Cotton 9×12 Drawing Pad (250gms).

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.

Review: Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Pastel Set

Staedtler Fineliner Pastel Set

After my love affair with the large set of Staedtler Triplus Fineliners I decided I needed more! So I decided to grab the Stadetler Triplus Fineliner Pastel 6-color set ($7.50). The set comes in a clear plastic case like the larger sets and are the same triangular shape and 0.3mm tips as all the other Staedtler Fineliners. The colors are water-soluble so plan accordingly.

Staedtler Fineliner Pastel Set

In this set was a Light Carmine (pink), Peach (orange), Lime Green, Delft Blue (blue grey), Lavender (lilac purple), and Silver Gray. The only color that was a duplicate of the previous set was the grey which I was particularly disappointed about since the grey was so light in the original set. To clarify, the grey included in both of my sets was the silver grey not the standard grey pen (which is presently sold out on JetPens). The other colors can also be purchased individually for $1.30 per pen on JetPens if you want to pick and choose your colors.

Staedtler Fineliner Pastel Set

However, the other colors more than made up for my disappointment in the grey. Particularly, the Lavender and Delft Blue colors. The Lavender is a smoky plum orchid color and is just lovely. The Delft Blue is a blue grey color and totally usable for writing or drawing. The Lime is a tiny bit too light for writing but would be fun for coloring in or underlining. The Peach is actually a punchy orange color and the Light Carmine is a soft dusty pink that is quite pleasing and not too My Little Pony pink.

Overall, I’m pleased with the set. The Delft blue and Lavender colors made me giddy because the colors were so unique in the world of colored markers. All the other colors in the set are fun pastels with the exception of the grey as well. I have a feeling I’ll just pull the grey out and replace it with a black Fineliner and then this set will make a great little travel pack.

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.

Review: Sharpie Pen Retractable

Sharpie Pen Retractable

Several weeks ago, I put a shout out on the internet asking if Sharpie made a retractable version of their Pen. Within minutes, I got replies back (all kindly withholding the urge to say “Duh, Ana! Of course they do!”). Indeed, there is a retractable version of the Sharpie Pen. So I immediately hustled out to my local big box office supply store and nabbed a pack of two. I only saw the retractable version available in black but do let me know if you’ve seen any of the colors available as well.

Sharpie Pen Retractable

Aesthetically, the most notable difference is that the Sharpie Pen retractable features a much wider barrel. The size in the hand is comparable to a Dr. Grip, multi-pen or biggie crayon as opposed to the capped Sharpie Pen which is just a little wider than a Marvy Le Pen.

This bigger grip is probably to allow room for the mechanism that covers the pen opening to keep the ink from drying out. Unlike a gel or ballpoint pen, felt tips cannot be left exposed to the air indefinitely or they will dry out.

There are a few other design modifications to the retractable model. There is a grippy rubber at the grip section which make the wider pen comfortable to hold. The clip is metal and much more traditional looking than the plastic clip on the capped model.

Finally, the retracting button is one of the longest retracting mechanisms I’ve ever seen. I compared it to the manual clutch on an old Toyota truck. The retracting button is full thumb extension for me like that old truck was full leg extension. Its not a good or bad thing, just unusual. If it lets me retract the tip of a Sharpie pen, I’m willing to suffer thumb hyperextension. It’l probably keep me from nervously clicking the button in meetings for fear of a repetitive stress injury.

Sharpie Pen Retractable writing sample

In terms of overall performance, the Sharpie Pen retractable has all the same features that made me fall in love with the original capped model: waterproof, non-toxic, acid-free ink; fine tip and good black ink color.

If you previously found the standard Sharpie Pen to be too narrow in the barrel or prefer retractable pens, the Sharpie Pen retractable is going to be the perfect upgrade. A 2-pack is $6.25 from JetPens. The price for the retractable is a bit higher than it is for the standard capped Pen but its worth it if you find yourself capping and upcapping your pen all day. Click, click! Done!

Ink Review: J. Herbin 1670 Emerald of Chivor (plus giveaway!)

J. Herbin 1670 Emerald of Chivor

First, I want to say a huge thanks to JetPens, Goulet Pens and Rhodia Drive for all coming through for me and getting me this much-coveted ink. They are all responsible for allowing me to review this product and give some goodies away. Now, on the the review and giveaway details!

J. Herbin 1670 Emerald of Chivor

I cannot tell you how long I’ve been waiting to ink this ink in my hands and, by now, you and I have seen dozens of other reviews of this ink. So, there’s probably not a lot I could say that hasn’t already been said. But bear with me…

Maybe I could tell you that before the name was settled upon, Emerald of Chivor was called “Emeraude des Ardes v.2”? This tidbit of information came from the sample bottle that Rhodia sent to me. Pretty cool, huh?


J. Herbin 1670 Emerald of Chivor

Before I shook up the inks, you can see the gold flecks floating at the bottom. Such a beautiful sea blue-green!

J. Herbin 1670 Emerald of Chivor

Sadly, when I photographed my full writing page, you don’t see much of the sparkle. The flash flattens out all the color. At the same time, in my TWSBI 580 in green with a fine nib, not much of the sparkle showed in the writing anyway. These types of twinkly inks definitely benefit from a stub, broad or italic nib in order to show them in their full glory.

However, the color is amazing! With or without the sparkles.

J. Herbin 1670 Emerald of Chivor ink comparison

When compared with my ever-growing collection of teal blue inks, there is a vibrancy to the Emerald of Chivor that is lacking in the other contenders in this color category. Don’t get me wrong, I think they are all beautiful colors. The Emerald of Chivor is definitely more bluish than Ku-Jaku or Yama Dori. The Callifolio Olifants is a tad more blue than the Chivor. So if you’re looking for ink in a similar color family but sparkle-free, any of these others are good options with Callifolio Olifants and Noodler’s Air Corps Blue Black being the most wallet friendly.

I’ve left the EoC in my 580 for over a week, gave it a little twirl to mix in the gold fleck and started writing with no issues. I’ve heard there’s some challenges cleaning it out but so far I’m not having any clogging issues so I am really happy with this ink.

So what can I do to wow you with the new Emerald of Chivor?  I can giveaway a whole bottle of Emerald of Chivor (thanks to JetPens for this bottle!) and the runner-up will get the super, rare sample bottle of Emerald of Chivor BEFORE the name was settled upon (thanks to Rhodia for this!). While to color is identical, its a cool little bit of ink history.

Leave a comment below and tell me what sparkly color you think J. Herbin should do next to be entered to win. I’ll draw two winners: the first will get a full bottle of J. Herbin 1670 Emerald of Chivor and the second will get the preliminary sample bottle.

FINE PRINT: All entries must be submitted by 10pm CST on Wednesday, October 14, 2015. All entries must be submitted at, not Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, okay? Winners will be announced on Thursday. Winner will be selected by random number generator from entries that played by the rules (see above). Please include your email address in the comment form so that I can contact you if you win. I will not save email addresses or sell them to anyone — pinky swear. If winner does not respond within 30 days, I will draw a new giveaway winner. Shipping via USPS first class is covered. Additional shipping options or insurance will have to be paid by the winner. We are generous but we’re not made of money. US residents only please.

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

Pen Review: Sakura Ballsign 0.4 Gel Pens

Sakura Ballsign 0.4 pen header

I know, I know… I need more gel pens like I need a hole in my head but I decided I just had to try the whole rainbow of colors of the new-to-me Sakura Ballsign 0.4mm gel pens. These pens are Sakura’s entry into the already-heavily-fortified gel pen category with heavyweights like Uni Signo, Pilot Hi-Tec-C, Zebra Sarasa and many others. So, the question is what does Sakura bring to the category that the others don’t?

First thing to note is that the Ballsign pens are very slender with a bulbous grip section that has a grippy, elastomer material. Despite being odd looking, the shape is smooth and fits comfortably in the hand and the unusual grippy material is not as sticky and dust-collecting as silicone but still manages to feel good in the hand and counteract any slipping that might be caused by a tight or sweaty grip.

The Ballsign gel pens come in an array of colors. I purchased every color available in the small 0.4mm size which is the smallest tip available. There are neons, metallics and glitter options at 0.6mm and 0.8mm sizes. I will probably give some of those a spin based on my initial impressions of the 0.4mm gel pens.

The Ballgin gel pens are spring-loaded retractables and I quite like the mechanism. The tips are held in place pretty firmly with very little wiggle and the spring mechanism is easy to use. The clear barrels let you see not only the click mechanism and spring but there’s also a small transparent window to see how much ink is left. The top half of the barrel is painted in solid color to make it easy to find the pen you want.

Sakura Ballsign 0.4 pen set

The ten-pack set ($27) included: aqua blue (I labelled this Lt. Blue), black, blue, brown black, green, orange, pink, red, violet (I mislabelled this purple) and yellow. I also bought additional colors separately ($2.70 each) so that I’d have the full color range. The extra colors are: rose pink, cherry pink,  lime green, red orange, and blue. I mixed up all the pink colors immediately so I’m not sure which pink is labelled which way. Reviewing the samples on JetPens, I noticed more color differences between the pink and the cherry pink. The rose pink is the one I labelled “fuchsia”.

(Sidenote: I didn’t put the pens back correctly in the package because, like a kid, I dumped them all out and organized them in rainbow order and started doodling and writing. I do not have good impulse control when it comes to new office products.)

So now that I’ve cleared up all the naming inconsistencies, let’s discuss the performance.

Sakura Ballsign 0.4 pen color sample

The ten-pack set ($27) included: aqua blue (I labelled this Lt. Blue), black, blue, brown black, green, orange, pink, red, violet (I mislabelled this purple) and yellow. I bought the additional colors separately ($2.70 each): rose pink, cherry pink,  lime green, red orange, and blue. I mixed up all the pink colors immediately so I’m not sure which pink is labelled which way. Reviewing the samples on JetPens, I noticed more color differences between the pink and the cherry pink. The rose pink is the one I labelled “fuchsia”. So, now that I’ve cleared up all the naming inconsistencies, let’s discuss the performance.

The yellow is a bit too light to use for writing but all the other colors are very appealing. The lime green is also a little too light but its a bright, clean color so I’ll still probably use it. I love that they included the blue-black as a standard color in the 10-color set rather than the blue even though I like the blue color a lot. If I were to redo this order, I would still have bought the 10-color set but I would have only supplemented the basic colors with the red-orange and blue. The lime green is not the best and the pinks are all pretty similar. I’m not girly enough to need three shades of pink. But feel free to disagree.

Sakura Ballsign 0.4 pen writing sample

Each pen had the little globs of blue rubber on the tip to protect them from maybe drying out that I had to flick off. Once removed, these wrote super smooth and started immediately. I ended up finding the grip, despite looking sort of bulbous, are very comfortable to hold. I love the knock retractable feature.

I know folks love the Zebra Sarasa Clip clips but I’m kind of okay with the teeny tiny Ballsign clips. They keep the pens from rolling off my desk and since I don’t keep my pens in my shirt pocket, I don’t really need a big clip.

Sakura Ballsign waterproof test

At the last second, I realized I hadn’t done a waterproof test. Most gel pens are not particularly waterproof so I was going to skip it completely but I decided to test it anyway. I put a few Ballsign gel pens up against a few Pilot Hi-Tec-C Maica pens I had sitting on my desk. And the grand differentiating feature was revealed! The Sakura Ballsign pens are pretty darn waterproof. After I took this picture I scavenged around and found a couple Pilot Juice and Uni Signo refills and tested those as well, for comparison sake. The Pilot Juice inks smeared with water like the Hi-Tec C. The Uni Signo refills bled a little, depending on color. The red more than the blue black I had, for example. But the Ballsign gel pens definitely stand out for water resistance in the gel pen category.

So, if you’re in the market for a wide variety of colored gel ink pens and don’t mind the comewhat unorthodox shape of the Ballsigns, I highly recommend them. Even if you do think they are a little wonky looking, add one or two to your next JetPens order and let me know what you think. I think you’ll agree with me… a little odd but a comfy, good little pen!

Review: Bic Intensity Marker Pen (Set of 7)

Bic Intensity Felt Tip Pens

When I spotted these Bic Intensity Marker Pens in a set of seven colors at my local big box office supply store, I couldn’t resist trying them out. Its not often that I spy something in the big box store that I can’t resist. I could tell form the moment I picked up the blister pack that this was Bic’s best efforts to compete against the Sharpie Pen so I needed to see for myself if it could hold its own against such a reliable tool.

Bic Intensity Felt Tip Pens

The Bic Intensity Marker Pens are listed on the packaging as smudgeproof and permanent. The package also lists the tip size as “fine” — equally vague sizing to the Sharpie Pen. The pack I bought included a black, blue, purple, orange, red, pink and green pen. The overall look of the pens is “shiny”. The black barrels are covered with zoom-y metallic silver graphics and the caps include a sturdy, metal clip. The clip is arched away from the pen cap which leaves space to attach the pen to a notebook or binder but it does make for a strange profile. The caps are also slightly metallic which wasn’t as noticeable in the vacform packaging. The ink colors are indicated by the colored plastic cap and the end cap on the pens. The colors of the plastic are not particularly true to the actual ink colors but they are in the ball park.

I don’t understand why American mass production, disposable pens have to be quite so “high tech” looking with lots of silver graphics and shimmery nonsense. Its a plastic marker pen, people… not the Space Shuttle. That said, this is not the worst looking big box pen I’ve ever seen.

Bic Intensity Felt Tip Pens

So, let’s get into the true functionality of these pens. I was a little thrown by the pen cap colors hoping that the colors of the ink would match the complexity of the cap colors. But alas, no.

Thankfully, the black ink is a pleasingly, dark black and a total competitor for the Sharpie Pen. The red is a bright, true red. The blue was not a traditional blue pen blue but rather a lighter sky blue. The green is a bluish, emerald green color. The orange is a nice, juicy orange and the pink is actually a bit muted and not as raspberry as the cap eluded it might be. And finally, the purple is a muted, lavender color. I actually really like this color after I got over the initial shock of the purple not being a true violet color. All in all, the color range is okay. Some colors I quite like but for a standard array of six colors plus black, I was expecting more “intensity,” as the brand name implies. In actuality, some of the colors are quite light or muted.

Bic Intensity Felt Tip Pens

Above you can see the wet, water test. No blurring or smudging at all which vastly improves these pens in my eyes.  Their waterproofiness means they can be combined with other art tools like watercolor, inks, pencils and the like and not blur. It also means they would be great for addressing envelopes or for anyone who might end up exposed to the elements. Big PLUS!

Bic Intensity Felt Tip Pens

And finally, a quick visual comparison of the tip size of the Bic Intensity to the Sharpie Pen and a Sakura Pigma Micron (0.3, I think). Despite my slightly fuzzy photo, you can see that the tip size is very comparable.

So, why would you choose the Bic Intensity pens over the Sharpie Pen or a Sakura Pigma Micron? First, availability. If your local discount store or big box office supplier stocks these locally, grab a pack. Second, price. The Bic Intensity is competitive to the Sharpie Pens and a little cheaper than Microns. If cost is a big deciding factor for you, than the Intensity pens maybe a little less expensive or on sale at your local shop. In terms of overall performance, you’ll be just as satisfied with these as Sharpie Pens. Finally, the more robust clip on the Intensity might be to your liking if you have ever snapped the clip off a Sharpie pen.

Let me know if you try these out. I’d love to hear what you like (or didn’t like about them).

From The Archives: Papermate Flair

from-the-archivesAfter attending Mike Rohde’s Sketchnotes Workshop, I rekindled my love for the PaperMate Flair. When we arrived for the workshop, each student was given a notebook and a PaperMate Flair. I hadn’t looked at or used one of these pens in a decade at least.

The PaperMate Flair is a simple, medium felt tip pen with a conical felt tip. The body of the pen is 100% old school. It has a softly tapered shape — wider at the center of the pen and tapering to narrow flat end at the cap. It doesn’t taper as much toward the end of the pen but the plastic has a matte look and feel. The cap has a slim metal clip.

This design probably hasn’t changed in 50 years. Actually, according to PaperMate’s web site, its only been 49 years! So its really a classic look and I’m so glad it hasn’t been changed.

PaperMate Flair Pen

While I have maintained an on-going love for felt tip pens, I have used mostly fine tip models like Sharpie Pen, Sakura Pigma Micron and Marvy LePen for the last few years. Uncapping the Flair is a trip down memory lane. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed using it after so much time. Its not the most elegant writing tool with its wide soft tip but it writes with a rich black line that makes labelling tags, file folders and other cases where a wider tip might come in handy. The Flair differ from the Sharpie marker in that they are not alcohol-based so the Flair do not bleed as much making them good for day-to-day office/school use.

The soft, felt tip will wear down over time especially on rougher surfaces. However, the Flair pens are reasonably priced. I bought a box of a dozen for about $10. So the shorter life span of these pens are too devastating.

I expect I’ll keep one tucked into each case and bag for writing notes and the occasionally doodle. They are just so classic and offer a writing quality that’s not available in many other pens.

The PaperMate Flair is also available in an array of colors (16, to be exact) and in an ultra fine tip which I’d be curious to find and try.

PaperMate Flair Pen

When left to dry for 10 minutes or so, the ink is fairly water resistant. But I do think it needs a little time to cure.

From the Archives is a series where I dig up old favorites, old classics and long forgotten tools and give them another look. Are they as good as I remember?

Review: Sharpie Gel Highlighters

Sharpie Gel Highlighters

In my recent wanderings in the local big box office supply store, I came across the Sharpie Gel Highlighters. I’d been meaning to try these out for some time so I grabbed a three-pack with one each of yellow, orange and pink highlighter.

Sharpie Gel Highlighters

The Sharpie Gel highlighters have an unusual oval shaped barrel that is actually quite comfortable in the hand and keeps them from rolling off the table. There’s a clip on the stubby little cap that is part of the molded plastic cap. The clip would probably accommodate a notebook cover or pocket but not much else as its not very substantial and might end up snapping off if forced too hard.

Once uncapped, I discovered that the GEL wasn’t the same as gel ink (like you’d find in a Pilot G2 pen or a Hi-Tec C) but rather a a solid stick of a gel-like material. I can’t even think of a good comparison — maybe something between a crayon and a solid antiperspirant? Anyway I try to describe it, its quite unique. Since its a semi-solid material, the more its used, it will wear down so the bottom end of the pens has a twist mechanism to advance the Gel to the end like a twist mechanical pencil.

Sharpie Gel Highlighters

Did I mention that the highlighters smell like gummi bears?!?!? I haven’t wanted to sniff a marker since those grade school “smells like blueberries” markers as I do with these Sharpie Highlighters. That said, theses highlighters really do what they claim which is that they do not smear when applied over ink. Not fountain pen (your results might vary here as I did not test every fountain pen ink available), not felt top or gel pens. Not even pencil. And once the Gel Highlighters are applied to paper, they didn’t smear either.

I really like that Sharpie has attempted to rethink the highlighter, especially in light of how often gel pens are used these days and how easily some inks are to smear with traditional highlighters. These are definitely worth seeking out next time you’re near an office supply store.

Did I mention they smell like gummi bears?

Pencil Review: Koh-i-noor Special “Magic” Color Pencil


Kohn-i-noor Special MAGIC Colored Pencil

After the article several weeks ago from the NY Times about the tools used by famous artists, I fell under the spell of the multi-colored colored pencil used by Milton Glaser. My friend Kirsten confirmed that Mr. Glaser really does use these pencils. He taught one of her graduate classes at the School of Visual Arts so she confirmed the story with some degree of authority. To say I’m jealous she saw his pencil handiwork in person would be understating things a bit.

It took awhile to find a dozen of these gems. I ended up buying them from a vendor on Amazon who was in Europe. The listing officially calls these pencils “Koh-i-noor Aristochrom Magic – 12 Pencils with Special Multicoloured Lead“. For the sake of ease, I refer to them as Koh-i-noor Magic Pencils. The box of one dozen was $14.50 plus $8 shipping which makes these pencils more expensive than Palomino Blackwings. But needs must, right?

The pencils came in a slightly mangled yellow box with the Koh-i-noor/Hardtmuth logos on the box. They had been shipped in nothing more than a kraft envelope so the mangling was a result of the postal system. The box isn’t anything special so the fact that all the pre-sharpened pencils were safe meant the box served its purpose.

Kohn-i-noor Special MAGIC Colored Pencil writing sample

This pencil was freshly sharpened using the KUM 2-step long point sharpener. Beautiful!

Inside were the dozen pencils I most coveted. The pencils are hexagonal with gold metallic paint and the only branding is ink jet onto one facet in black. The text includes “060”, a lengthy stock number and bar code, “Koh-i-noor” and “3400”. I wish the branding had been foil stamped onto the pencil instead of the super-cheap looking ink jet but these pencils are probably not very popular or produced in extremely large quantities so they don’t get as much attention as a traditional graphite or single color pencil.

The end of the pencil is shaped into a low profile cone shape and is not dipped. Its exposed natural wood. Its a weird detail that I’m not crazy about but the simple gold paint on the rest of the pencil makes up for the unusual treatment of the end. I’d love it if the end were dipped in a glossy black to give it a truly regal feel but there aren’t a lot of options for “magic” pencils so I’ll take what I can get.

The real reason I love these pencils is the three-color lead. Red, blue and yellow pigments are blended into the lead in small chunks so that, as the pencil is used, the color changes. The blue is a deep indigo blue and the red and yellow are pretty much primary colors. What I discovered over the last few weeks of using these pencils is that by turning the pencil a little bit as I’m using it, I can force lighter or darker colors to appear as I need them.

Kohn-i-noor Special MAGIC Colored Pencil writing sample

The composition of the pencil lead is definitely wax- or oil-based as it is not water soluble. This makes it easy to add other materials like watercolor paint, water-based markers, ink, or pen without blurring your linework. It also means that the marks don’t smudge, which is quite pleasant.

On regular paper (like my Rhodia test paper) the Magic pencil does not erase well. I suspect that on a primed surface like gesso, it might be easier to erase but for doodling and sketching, be prepared to leave the lines where they are. Loose-y and goose-y is the best way to enjoy these Magic pencils.

I know these pencils won’t appeal to everyone but I they are such wonderfully unique tools that I couldn’t resist sharing them.

Recap: Sketchnotes Workshop with Mike Rohde

Sketchnotes presentations

Saturday, I attended an all-day workshop with Mike Rohde, author of The Sketchnote Handbook. The workshop had been organized by the Kansas City Coffee & Design group and held at the Sprint Accelerator space. I didn’t actually count the number of attendees but there was probably about 40 people in attendance, some who had traveled from as far away as Omaha to attend the workshop.

Sketchontes & tools

I did my sketchnotes in my Midori Traveler’s Notebook with a Magic rainbow pencil, Sai Watercolor markers and a Sharpie pen.

If you’re not familiar with Mike Rohde and his sketchnote revolution, I’ll try to distill it down but your best option would be to visit his web site or the Sketchnote Army site or, of course, purchasing his books. The idea behind sketchnoting is that simple drawings, bold lettering, icons and symbols can help improve your note-taking and thereby improve your understanding and memory retention from a lecture, class, presentation or meeting.


During the workshop, Mike elaborated on the techniques included in the sketchnotes Handbook and we got to see him create his symbols, lettering and other techniques live.

Mike at the podium

As the workshop progressed, we learned that sketchnoting can also be used for documenting personal notes like travel, recipes and journaling. Mike’s teaching style is relaxed and approachable and made it easy for everyone to feel like they could accomplish sketchnoting.

Workin on the whiteboard

The attendees of the workshop came from a broad array of professions. I met designers, human resources specialists, educators, interior designers, and even a physician who works at a teaching hospital. Everyone was excited to take the knowledge they learned back to their colleagues, students and co-workers.


Sketchnotes notes by Sarah Taylor.

If you have a chance to attend one of Mike Rohde’s workshops or lectures, I highly recommend it.

If you already have The Sketchnote Handbook, I would recommend picking up a copy of the advanced techniques book, The Sketchnote Workbook. I got a chance to flip through the book at the workshop and have ordered a copy for myself. Its more techniques for sketchnoting and ideas and tips for bringing sketchnoting into all your written work. Peachpit Press has a 35% off coupon code right now too — POP35 so you can get a great deal on some great books!

I did a short Periscope from the Sketchnotes Workshop that a few people caught. If I get a rally in the comments, I might be persuaded to repost it on YouTube.

Sketchonotes Workshop Giveaway

Oh, one last thing… I have two extra notebooks and stickers from the event that I would like to give away to readers. I’ll even throw in the pens! The notebooks were generously provided by my favorite local art supply store Artist & Craftsman and were produced by Shizen Design, a local KC paper company. Leave a comment below to be entered.

FINE PRINT: All entries must be submitted by 10pm CST on Thursday, September 3, 2015. All entries must be submitted at, not Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, okay? Winner will be announced on Friday. Winner will be selected by random number generator from entries that played by the rules (see above). Please include your email address in the comment form so that I can contact you if you win. I will not save email addresses or sell them to anyone — pinky swear. If winner does not respond within 30 days, I will draw a new giveaway winner. Shipping via USPS first class is covered. Additional shipping options or insurance will have to be paid by the winner. US residents only please.

Ink Review: P.W. Akkerman #22 Hopjesbraun

Akkerman Hopjesbraun Ink

I don’t tend to purchase much brown ink. When I first got into fountain pens, all I wanted was the perfect, vintage sepia ink but I bought a few bottles early on that I didn’t like and swayed away from browns for a long time. This P.W. Akkerman #22 Hopjesbraun is making me rethink my stance on brown inks. Its got TONS of shading and is a warm, dusty reddish/golden brown that reminds me of the Southwest and cowboys and Albuquerque sunsets. How a Dutch ink company can generate a color that reminds me of New Mexico? Quite the impressive feat.

Akkerman Hopjesbraun Ink

There is a wonderful, dark halo around the letters when writing with my stub nib Esterbrook. Its just such fun to watch the ink darken around the edges of the letterforms as the ink dries. But that’s the catch.

Hopjesbraun dries slowly. I even smudged a bit in my painting at the top of the page because it dried quite a bit slower than the Zuiderpark I tested last week. I suspect in a finer pen or on slightly more absorbent paper, it wouldn’t be quite as big a deal but as a messy left, the dry time was a bit long. For letter writing where I could pause here and there to let the ink dry before I stuck my arm in it, it would not be a problem but as a daily use ink… well, for this lefty I’ll have to save it for special occasions. But it is one of the prettiest browns I’ve ever used.

Akkerman Hopjesbraun Ink

So if you’re a tidy righty, grab a bottle ASAP. And my fellow messy lefties, you’ve been warned to proceed with caution.

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

Ink Review: P.W. Akkerman #24 Zuiderpark Bluaw-Groen

Akkerman Zuiderpark Blauw-Groen

P.W. Akkerman #24 Zuiderpark Blauw-Greon is another in a long line of blue-black inks to pass across The Desk. It could be because I seek out the blue-blacks in particular but, this time fate intervened and this lovely ink arrived thanks to Lisa at Vanness.

Akkerman Zuiderpark Blauw-Groen Ink

There is definitely more of a greenish undertone to Zuiderpark that makes it less a true blue-black and more of a teal-black. At first thought, I anticipated that Zuiderpark might be very similar in color to de Atramentis Petrol but Zuiderpark is much darker. I included a swab of Diamine Twilight which I consider to be a true blue-black as a contrast so that the greenishness of Zuiderpark might be more noticeable.

Zuiderpark dries in a reasonable amount of time, even on Rhodia paper in the humidity of a Midwest August. In my water test, it had a some stay-ability too. I actually scrubbed a wet paintbrush across the sample a couple times after I dropped water on it to see if the ink would move. It leaves a stain on the paper which means Zuiderpark could handle a drop or two of water without losing all your hard work. If you like to paint with ink, it won’t move as completely as other colors. You can decide if that’s a plus or a minus.

Akkerman Zuiderpark Blauw-Groen Ink Comparison

The advantage of this sort of color is that it looks quite unique but maintains an air of “respectability” since it still runs in the blue family. If you want a work-appropriate ink with a little something extra, Zuiderpark would be a good option. And it goes without saying that Akkerman makes the coolest looking ink bottles.

This is a case where I definitely wish I had a whole bottle of this ink. So, I’ll be investing in one soon. Or you folks in DC can pick up a bottle for me!

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

Finally! Kaweco Skyline Sport in Pink

Kaweco Skyline Sport in Pink with green pens

The long-awaited, new Kaweco Skyline Sport in pink (€17,95) has finally landed stateside!

Now that its here and you can see its the first (and possible the only) pink pen I own. The great thing about the Kaweco Sport series is that the prices for them are so reasonable, I don’t feel too bad about buying them in ALL the colors available.

Kaweco Skyline Sport Pink

Like previous Skyline models, the pen features silver detailing instead of the traditional gold found on the standard Sport line. Its a very lightweight pen making it great as a pocket carry but not necessarily the most comfortable tool for writing the next great novel. Though I’ve written enough letters with my assortment of plastic-barreled Kaweco to qualify as a novel at this point so its all a matter of personal preference.

Like all other Skyline and Sport models, the cap posts easily and the faceted barrel cap keep the pen from rolling off the table, even without the addition of a clip.

Kaweco Skyline Sport Pink

I got the Skyline in pink with an EF nib. I like a finer nib on my Kaweco Sport pens as they often get combined with small pocket notebooks for on-the-go writing that benefit from tiny writing and pens that don’t lay too much ink down.

Kaweco Skyline Sport Pink

I don’t normally make an effort to match my ink color to the pen barrel but I made an exception in this case. The pink Skyline screamed for some pink ink. I found that the best color match is the Platinum Cyclamen Pink ink. Its almost the exact same color as the pen body.

Kaweco Skyline Sport Pink

The Skyline in pink and I are going to have a bright colorful week. I mean, really, how can I not with a pocket full of bright pink like this pen?

Honestly, I can’t wait to see what colors Kaweco will offer the Skyline in next. I’d love a lilac and a sunny yellow one. How about you?

Ink Review: Montblanc Midnight Hour

MontBlanc Blue Hour Ink

I must confess right away that the new Montblanc Meisterstück Blue Hour Twilight Blue ($17 for a 30ml bottle), despite its lengthy name, is an ink color that is totally in my wheelhouse. Initially I was thinking it was a blue black but its actually more of a dark teal/black, if that makes sense. It reminds me more of a dark stormy sea blue than a midnight sky blue.

MontBlanc Blue Hour Ink

Blue Hour looks more like a blue black when wet and then dries to a more greenish deep teal blue. The ink dries pretty quickly. I managed to not have any smudges while writing this sample page so that’s saying something. I really like the square, ripple glass bottles that Montblanc has been using for their inks this year. The JFK and Pink Ink also came in these bottles.

MontBlanc Blue Hour Ink

I had lots of similar ink colors. Similar, but not the same as Blue Hour. In the swab sample, there’s a little reddish halo to the Blue Hour sample which reminds me of Sailor Jentle Yama Dori and Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-Jaku (both of which are favorite inks of mine) but the Blue Hour ink is more greenish than Ku-Jaku and a bit lighter overall than the Yama Dori. So, do you need Blue Hour if you have any of these ink colors? Logically no, but since when are pen addicts logical?

All-in-all, Blue Hour fills a sliver of a gap in my teal-y blue/black ink collection that I’m glad to have filled. This ink seems to be selling out quickly so if you’re interested in acquiring a bottle, I recommend that you act fast. I couldn’t find any specific info whether Blue Hour would be a limited edition color but as an ink hoarder, I’m not taking any chances.

MontBlanc Blue Hour Ink

Oops! I always forget to go back and add water to me test page. In this case, I photographed everything before realizing I didn’t do the water test. With a few stroked of a wet paint brush, the ink definitely lifted and moved quickly. Plus side, it should be pretty easy to clean out of your pens. Minus side, this ink is not recommended for documents that require permanent ink. It might make for interesting drawings as the ink can be blended nicely like a watercolor.

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

Pencil Review: Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB

Caran d'Ache Swiss Wood Pencil HB

What can I say about the Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood 348 HB pencil? Its beautiful. It also costs $5.45 per pencil. Who pays $5.45 for a pencil? I do. Why? Curiosity. And its pretty.

Aside: Caran d’Ache is known for producing some of the best colored pencils and watercolor pencils in the world that can also cost upwards of $5 per pencil and I’m considering investing in those too. Does that make me crazy? Maybe.

The Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood pencil is a beautiful beech wood pencil, stained dark with no additional shellac. It smells like a campfire. (Yes, I sniffed the pencil). The end is dip-sealed with glossy red enamel and the white Swiss cross is printed on the end. The lettering is printed in a crisp white foil along one fact of this hexagonal pencil.

Caran d'Ache Swiss Wood Pencil HB

I love hex pencils and the Swiss Wood is slightly wider than a standard hex pencil. It may be too wide to fit some standard sharpeners but it fit fine in my  Palomino/KUM two-step long point sharpener.

Caran d'Ache Swiss Wood Pencil HB

Caran d'Ache Swiss Wood Pencil HB

The experience writing with this pencil seemed to be “oh, this is how a pencil should feel.” It was smooth and silent on the paper. When scratching back and forth, I got a good dense color. The Swiss Wood just coasted along on the paper and kept a good point in the process. With some effort, I could smudge it but while writing I did not notice any graphite on the heel of my hand which is a true test for any lefty.

It erased with almost no trace of the previous scribblings with my “oops!” eraser that lives on my desk.

When compared to the Field Notes pencil, it was so apparent how much grittier the FN pencil was than the Swiss Wood. Of course, the FN pencil is a freebie but I assume most of my fine readers own at least one of these pencils so when I say the Swiss Wood is leaps and bounds better to write with than most pencils, you have basis for comparison. I also compared the Swiss Wodd to my favorite go-to pencil, the Faber-Castell Grip 2001 HB. The Grip 2001 was definitely a lighter graphite and scratchier than the Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood. Am I going to have to throw it over for a gross of Swiss Woods? Maybe!

Caran d'Ache Swiss Wood Pencil HB

I’m inclined to think that, if you’re a bit of a pencil snob, its worth it to add a few of these Swiss Wood pencils to your collection. I think I might like the writing experience better than the Palomino Blackwings (blasphemous, I know.) but the Blackwings actually look like a bargain-priced pencil next to the Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood.

But, even at $5.45 (comparable to the cost of your average Venti Vanilla Latte), the Swiss Wood is worth trying. Just skip the latte today.

Caran d'Ache Swiss Wood Pencil HB

Book Review: Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum by Liza Kirwin is a wonderful peek into the notes, doodles and letters from artists, writers and poets. There are typed notes and handwritten notes, some legible and some unintelligible.

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

Ah, Franz Kline’s grocery list is as unremarkable as mine but his liquor bill is extravagant!

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

I love this list of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings written by his father N.C. Wyeth. The penmanship is beautiful.


Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

This is a close up of the Wyeth list. Look at the grey ink and stub italic!

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

Kinetic sculpture artist Alexander Calder drew these lovely sketches in a letter. Clearly also fountain pen. It looks like he added water to tone some of the areas. So interesting!

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

This is a close-up of Calder’s address book in a warm sepia ink.

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

This is probably my absolute favorite page. It’s Adolf Konrad’s packing list, beautifully illustrated in gouache. I love the addition, on the next page, of Alfred in his skivvies like a paper doll self-portrait.

Needless to say, I recommend picking up this book if you get a chance. Its printed on a smooth, uncoated stock and bound with a softcover that feels a bit like a notebook rather than a fancy book. I thumb through it often and enjoy the detailed information on the accompanying pages. Its interesting to see how sloppy and how tidy some of the most loved artists and writers actually were. So telling!

Ink Review: KWZ Gummiberry

KWZ Iron Gall Gummiberry

KWZ Inks is a one-man ink operation from Poland started by Konrad Żurawski in 2012, a chemistry PhD student that clearly combines his tow loves: chemistry and fountain pens. Just this year, his inks are starting to get a wider distribution and, thanks to Vanness Pens, I had the opportunity to try the KWZ Iron Gall Gummiberry ($14 for 60ml bottle). Iron gall inks are both loved and reviled because of its permanent nature. Iron gall inks can be used to sign important documents because the inks will bond to the paper fibers making it near impossible to remove. At the same time, if iron gall inks are left indefinitely in a fountain pen, it can stain the ink reservoir and possibly corrode stainless steel nibs. Also, iron gall inks darken over time.

I don’t have a lot of experience with iron gall inks but the KWZ provides some advice on his web site about how to properly clean and protect your pens from any possible issues that might be caused by using an iron gall ink. That said, for testing purposes, I used my Shawn Netwon dip pen with an Esterbrook #2442 nib and cleaned it out as soon as I had finished my writing samples and did not have any issues getting the ink out of the nib by just rinsing it with water.

KWZ Iron Gall Gummiberry

The KWZ Iron Gall Gummiberry is notable first for its fabulous name. Who doesn’t love gummi bears? And second, for its amazing jeweled purple color. Honestly, after all the purple inks I tested this year, the color of Gummiberry is just gorgeous and is moving up my ink color charts fast. The fact that the rich jewel tone darkens as it dries and settles into an almost purple-black when dry makes it fun to write with and still looks sophisticated.

The ink dries a little bit slower than many of my standard inks on the Rhodia paper I use for testing but I am also in the midst of humidity wave here in the Midwest so I cannot be sure if the slowness is the result of the ink or the heat and humidity.

When tested with water after several hours (not 10 minutes as labelled because I went to lunch and forgot to do the water test) a little bit of color ran but not much. I suspect after drying for a week or two, there is likely to be even less movement of the color as it bonds with the paper fibers.

The color is so rich that I’m willing to experiment with this ink in one of my everyday pens. Maybe its a good excuse to purchase a TWSBI Eco as an iron gall test pen? Then I would have an excuse to try a variety of colors!

KWZ Iron Gall Gummiberry Ink Comparison

Compared with some of the many purple inks in my stash, even the other purple iron gall Rohrer & Klingner Scabiosa, Gummiberry is clearly a rich, deep hue. I will check back with the swab and the writing samples in a few weeks to see if the color darkens significantly but as of writing this, several days after doing the swab and writing sample, the color looks indistinguishable from the photos.

Overall, I’m thrilled with my experience with KWZ Iron Gall Gummiberry and am very interested in trying some of the other colors available. The prices are more than reasonable for such a substantial sized bottle too. Yep, definitely going to be purchasing a pen specifically for iron gall inks.

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

Ink Review: Bung Box Tears of a Clown

Bung Box Tears of a Clown

Bung Box is a small shop in Japan that works with Sailor to create small batches of custom inks. The inks have become so popular that Vanness Pens has starting importing these unusual inks to the US.

Bung Box Tears of a Clown is a particularly unusual color but the first sample I wanted to try as a die-hard English Beat fan. How could I not love something called Tears of a Clown? It turns out to be a deep, terra cotta red with green-gold undertones. Odd. The more I look at it, the more I think of cherry chocolate. Its a color I just can’t seem to categorize.

Bung Box Tears of a Clown

In a brush, the shading and color depth was very apparent but in my writing sample, the color settled down to a deep reddish brown suitable for letter writing, poetry or journaling. Subtle but unique.

The ink dries a bit darker than it appears wet. It dried at a reasonable speed being that I tested it on Rhodia paper in the heat and humidity of a midwestern summer. I think it would dry pretty quickly in more conducive settings.

The ink is activated with water and not water resistant or waterproof. When wetted, the pinkish undertones of the color become visible which would make for interesting drawings or to accent your writing or calligraphy.

Bung Box Tears of a Clown ink comparison

Finding an adequate color comparison was a challenge but that’s part of the reason Bung Box inks are so coveted… there’s nothing else like some of the colors. I compared the Tears of a Clown to reds, burgundies and browns and it clearly fills a unique hole I didn’t know I had in my ink collection.

I love the shape and size of the Bung Box full bottles so I suspect I’ll be making a full purchase in the near future. The labels on the bottles are a little odd and feel like an afterthought but its the contents of the bottle that is the most desirable part anyway so I can overlook the less-than-aethetic labels.

Bung Box inks sell for $35.65 per 50ml bottle or $3.50 for a generous 5ml sample through Vanness Pens. Each ink color is produced in limited quantities so some colors may not be available right now. Check back or contact Vanness and let them know what color you’re interested in purchasing.

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

And now for something completely different….

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