Guest Post: My Summer Vacation AKA The SF Pen Show 2021

Guest post by Julia van der Wyk

Since my first visit to The SF Pen Show in 2015, I have made this event the destination for my annual vacation. (2020, I’m not talking to you). Its tag line is “The Fun Pen Show” and it has certainly been very fun for me.

The draw of the show is, of course, getting to see beautiful, rare, or custom-made pens, notebooks and stationery ephemera in person. It is also about getting to meet vendors and artisans we have only seen online. And it is about going to classes, meetups and seminars to learn more and meet more people.

There is always more to the show than advertised.

When I turned off the freeway exit and onto Twin Dolphin drive to arrive at the hotel, I had tears. “I have returned home.”

Ready and pen show bound

I knew this year would be different, and I was prepared for it to not be quite as I remembered. The tables were spread out farther, and I really liked the wider aisles. While there were many who could not come and were missed, there were also  first-time pen show attendees and vendors that I had not seen there before. For safety and community health, we wore masks unless eating. But you can recognize the smiles under masks just fine.

Pen Show “uniform” for 2021, obligatory hotel room mirror selfie

Here’s what I did this year:

Worked at Rick’s table

This was the first pen show where I saw the pen show floor from the eyes of a vendor. I signed up to help Rick Propas, otherwise know as The PENguin.

It was a joy to see first-time pen show goers discovering the floor, and I experienced a flood of emotions seeing pen friends and familiar faces- ok, familiar foreheads- for the first time in two years.

Sitting behind the table, I discovered it is not just about selling the pens. Rick answered many questions, and did some on the spot repairs. I learned a lot in proximity to his knowledge and experience. It was definitely fun for me to help people find the models they wanted to see, and to answer some general questions. I made sure to sit in front of my favorite tray. Beauties!

the view from here is fine! …and medium, broad, semi-flex, oblique…

Shopping around

Of course, I did take time to shop the show myself. I loved seeing favorites and known to me vendors, and although not everyone from years past could make it, these were well represented. I tagged along with a friend getting a nib grind from Gena Salorino (Custom Nib Studio) who was one of several nib-grinders able to come and provide services.

I participated in a bit of a flurry-buying episode at the Plotter, Traveler’s Company and Maido tables. Refills for my Filofax, Traveler’s notebooks, inks and more fun notebooks! Wow, look at this interesting grid! Does it come in Personal size??? No, I want  that one!

The rest of the time I was able to peruse at a calmer pace, and took a number of lying-down breaks. It was a slower paced show for me, and this is a good thing.

My “mission”? Enjoy all the grids!

Teaching a Class

This is the second year I have offered a class in ink wash painting techniques. I like the Sunday morning time slot as it allows me to enjoy the action of the show Friday and Saturday, and then have a quiet, focussed morning sharing a meaningful pursuit with my beloved pen community.

It is always so rewarding to see the students discovering new ways to express themselves with brush, ink and paper.

Class demo setup

Pen Show Traditions

  1. I lost my hotel room key, almost immediately after checking in. I put my things in the room, went out again and realized the key was not the item in my pocket, that was my phone. The hotel employee said “already?” when I asked for a duplicate. Pretty sure I over-achieved this tradition!
  2. Tacos at Taqueria El Metate. This spot is, in mileage, very close to the hotel, but because its California, you have to go past it, over an overpass, around a curlicue, and then merge suddenly to get off at the first exit to swoop into a parking spot right out front. Inside, its bright colors, Pen Friends, and excellent tacos.
  3. Saturday night Dinner at Grill House. Just a tired and small group of 3, but all of us happy to be there. We did this in 2019 and again this year. “Let’s make this a tradition!” You don’t have to twist my arm.
  4. Fondling gorgeous urushi/maki-e pens and then seeing the price tag. Right! This year it was a Danitrio goldfish that caught my eye. Also I am a fool for the “eggshell” finish. Future goals.

My Pen Haul

All vintage this year, with the most recent one being from the ’80s or ’90s.

The Delta “sterling”? Purchased from a fellow pen show attendee. I don’t actually know the name of this model, but it looks to be an early one in their lineup. This might be the first bi-color metal pen that I have wanted to buy, and is my first Delta pen. The nib is a “fusion” nib that Delta was known for, and the writing experience of this pen is glorious.

Pelikan 500N tortoise, of course purchased from Rick’s table. I believe this one is from 1956. The 500’s had the gold-filled cap. I really haven’t seen them around much. After a day and a half staring at it on the table in front of me, I knew it was The One.

Kaweco NOS, again from Rick. The story is that there were a bunch of parts “sitting around” from the ’30s, and so they made them into pens. This one has a distinctive celluloid finish, which ensnared me with its siren song. Oh, did I not mention it has a lovely stub nib? [heart eyes]

Waterman Pansy Sterling, semi-flex Ideal nib. Again with the sterling. I bought this from John Strother’s table during my last pass around the floor on Sunday. I had some budget left and thought I’d use it if I found “something special”. Well, sometimes you find the pens, and sometimes the pens find you. I was looking at the lovely ring top models next to this one in the tray, and decided to just hold this one in my hand for comparison of size in hand. Oh. No. This one. The flex nib was all the rest I needed to know.

In summary:

While the draw is pens and stationery, and they are wonderful, what keeps us coming back to these events is always the people. Our pen community is special. It is open and accepting, enthusiastic. It is as excited about newcomers as much as it celebrates the known names and characters. Navigating a convention-sized event can be a physical and sensorial challenge, but I drive home each year with a giant-sized grin on my face. I am coming back again next year. Pen Shows are Love.

‘Till next year! I am still kind of thinking about that case with the cross stitch embroidery on it…

Julia van der WykJulia is an artist, classical musician, knitter, and lover of the outdoors. She resides in Santa Cruz, California, where she can draw Pelicans with Pelikans, and brag about the weather. Follow her adventures on Instagram @juliavdw or Twitter @juliavdw.

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