2016: Cheers & Tears


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

The Cheers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Personal Stuff

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

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

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

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11 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I loved the Lunacy Field Notes! I must say I enjoyed the Diamine Shimmering Inks – they’re not for writing lengthy things with, but great for cards, notes, bullet journalling and short letters. I fell in love with my traveller’s journal and demonstrator fountain pens such as TWSBI’s.

  2. First order of business in the New Year is to take better care of yourself, Ana, so you can keep on kickin’ it! You turned me on to a few things I’d never have known about, and LOVE. The MOO A5 journal is one. Robert Oster sheenings (like F&I) are another, and the KWZ Honey. Altho, the Honey didn’t live up to my hopes… too brown, I was hoping I’d find a ‘liquid gold’ ink, and thought that might be it, but alas, I had to mix it with Apache Sunset to get the hue I wanted. Keep up the good work. Blessings in 2017!

  3. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for saying what I was thinking about those Star Wars Pens. Why not go with a company like Retro 51 or Pilot? Why price out the majority of people who like Star Wars but don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a pen that is blah. Sorry that you won’t be on Art Supply Posse full time but Heather and Kathy seem to have great chemistry. I think everyone could use more “playtime” in 2017.

  4. Thank you for all the hard work you put in for our community. It is very much appreciated. I look forward to all the weekly reviews landing in my in-box and find them really helpful. For me this was a year of journaling and fountain pen change: I upgraded from a TN to a Roterfaden and finally landed firmly in the Hobonichi cousin camp for 2017. I also purchased my dream pen, a Pilot Decimo F which has made writing a total joy. I’m sure there are better pens out there but I can’t conceive of why I would want one after using the VP feature.

    Happy new year to you and yours and I hope you take care of yourself first in the year ahead.

  5. Dear Desk, your deep dives into pens, inks, journals and more inspire me! May 2017 bring you crazy amounts of play time. Grateful for you.

  6. I totally agree about the star wars pens. Cross even has the pros to make them better on other pens. Very dissapointing.

    I’m sorry about the health issues and will miss you on the art supply podcast. I hope the art supply stuff will still be featured on the blog.

  7. You so nailed the Star Wars pens! That should have been in its own “Jeers” section!

    Thanks so much for inviting me to join the Desk this year! I’m looking forward to sharing more reviews in 2017. Happy New Year, Ana!

  8. Great post; great blog! Thanks for all you do. In 2017 I’m looking forward to using more of the inks and pens that I already own, including several of the R. Oster inks above and a Fountain K delrin. My happiest new things from 2016 were the Hobonichi Weeks and a Sailor Pro Gear The Witch Second (from Bung Box).

  9. I hope you have more time to relax in 2017. I want you to know how much I appreciate your blog –I admit I’m a bit excited when I see there is a new post. Always a pleasure to read!

  10. While I completely support taking care of yourself, I am SO SAD you won’t be on the podcast. Just want you to know that. Cheers to a fabulous 2017!

  11. Ana: sorry about your health issues in 2016. As a migraine sufferer, I know how debilitating severe headaches can be. Hope you are able to strike a good balance of work & play for 2017. That’s no cure, but it might help.

    I totally agree with you about Diamine Shimmertastic inks. They’re a great idea in theory, but don’t execute in practice. I tried several of the new colors, hoping to find a better formula, I guess. But they are still high maintenance and low performance. They simply are not worth the hassle for the little extra bling they bring.

    And oh – the Montblanc M: totally agree. What’s the point of a pen with a sleek, modern design (where design is the whole point of the pen) if you can’t post it? I’m not a big Montblanc fan anyway, but I give this design an “oh, well!” for 2016.

    Hurray for Field Notes Sweet Tooth; love those! And, Robert Oster Signature inks.: I’m currently trying out samples of some new inks, and this collection is definitely in the mix.

    My own personal favorite actually came out before 2016, but I obtained mine in February, 2016: that is my Pink Pelikan M600, the famous “girly” pen! I got mine in a fine point and later had it custom reground to a stub, which I’m crazy about. I would have to say that was my grail pen for 2016. Now I’m waiting to see what 2017 brings. Hope you have a great year!

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