Ink Review: Organics Studio Nitrogen Royal Blue

Ink Review: Organics Studio Nitrogen Royal Blue

I have been hoarding this review for ages because Organics Studio Nitrogen Royal Blue ($14 per 55ml bottle) is almost always out of stock. No matter how fast it is restocked, it sells out. If you haven’t seen this ink, what makes it so covetable is that it sheens like crazy, even in the finest of nib. And by sheen, I mean that when it catches the light, the color shifts like taffeta or velvet.

So, the base color is a bright, vivid royal blue but when the light shifts it sheens red/magenta/purple depending on your perspective. Hopefully, the photos above show how the colors shift. And the amazing thing about Nitrogen is that this effect works on a lot of different papers, not just Tomoe River.

I have had Nitrogen in my recently acquired Pelikan M205 Demonstrator Blue since October and its not caused any major issues. Of course, I haven’t tried to clean it out so wish me luck there. I also just got a new dip pen from a Chinese vendor on Ebay (link in the Tools section at the bottom) which shows off the color variation nicely.

I just noticed I totally butchered the spelling of Organics! Don’t judge. I had a cold this weekend and was thinking about orange juice and listening to the Sporkful podcast (which is all about food) so I totally had food on the brain. I recommend the episode with Patti LaBelle and the How Use the Force to Stir Risotto episode but you already know I’m a huge Star Wars nerd.

Even on the Rhodia paper, the sheen is visible. Obviously, the painted lettering is a very vivid example but you can clearly see the color shift.

You can see why its such a favorite. I definitely favor this over Nitrogen over Walden because, as someone said at one o of the pen shows last year, it looks a bit like pond scum. Walden is interesting but in the wrong light or on the wrong paper it can flatten out and look a bit bleh. Nitrogen, though, is four stars of sheening awesome!


Product Review: Rickshaw Pen/Pencil Sleeves & Pouches

Product Review: Rickshaw Pen/Pencil Sleeves & Pouches

Thanks to Rickshaw Bags, I’m awash in fluorescent pink pen and pencil cases. I already spread the wealth a bit. Laura will be reviewing the Waldo Field Cases in the future. Rickshaw, and Mark Dwight, seem to have warmly embraced the pen community and was even very kind when I fan-girled all over him at the San Francisco Pen Show. I have been a fan of Rickshaw Bags since they launched. I bought their Moleskine notebook cover very early on and I have several Zero Messenger Bags. So when I saw Mark walking around the pen show, I wanted to walk up and say hello but I chickened out. Lcukily, he came back the following day and I got up my courage to walk up and tell him what a fan I was of Rickshaw.

So, Mark gave me my first Solo Pen Sleeve at the show to match Caran d’Ache 849 fountain pen which started the whole PINK thing, I think. Well, that and my hair, I suspect.

The Plush Pen Sleeves

There are lots of options available from Rickshaw in the pen sleeves (and all the other pen and pencil-related products and even the ability to customize them!) but the Solo Pen Sleeve ($12) has been holding that Caran d’Ache 849 everyday since the San Francisco Pen Show. The Solo Pen Sleeve has been lovingly dubbed the “pen taco” at our house. It’s so simple. Slide the pen into the plush-lined taco, then when it’s needed, squeeze the bottom of the taco like a Go-Gurt to get it out. The great thing about the Solo Pen Sleeve is that it doesn’t add a lot of bulk to your Everyday Carry so if you have a pen you like to keep in your pocket or the pocket of a bag, the plush sleeve provides an extra layer of protection without inhibiting access. My thinking is if you just dropped three digits on a new pen, $12 on a sleeve seems like a no-brainer.

The Duo 2-Pen Sleeve ($20) is exactly what you think it is. The Solo plus one. Initially, I couldn’t wrap my head around what to do with it. Pen and pencil set? Then I saw someone (and I can’t for the life of me remember where I saw it!) used a Duo to add some extra NO TOUCHING protection to their NockCo Sinclair case and it all became clear! And, if you have some extra special pens you want to carry in your Sinclair or Brasstown, the Duo will give you the added plush lining to protect your most treasured items.

The Trio 3-Pen Sleeve ($24) is three times the pen fun.  In case you’re curious, there’s a Sailor Fresca, Karas Decograph and a Sailor Pro Gear Slim Cosmos in the 3-Pen Sleeve. I put a Pelikan M205 and something shiny in the Duo but I can’t for the life of me remember what the other pen was. Needless to say, the medium size holds a variety of sizes easily. I quickly discovered that the Trio is a case for the pen minimalist which I am not. It’s so cool looking and lovely but I can neither pare down my bag carry to just three pens nor do I ever wear anything that can accommodate the Trio. But I love the look of it.

The Plush Pencil Pouch

The Plush Pencil Pouch ($18) was specifically designed to hold the loved but annoyingly long Blackwing pencils. The Plush Pencil Pouch is able to carry up to two dozen unsharpened Blackwings.

The interior is lined with plushy goodness. This is both a perk and pain. The plushy lining protects your treasures but it will pick up pencil marks, shavings and other detritus fairly easily.

As a sketcher, I don’t carry just pencils. I also carry other tools with me like a sharpener, eraser, ruler, leads for mechanical pencils, etc. My KUM 2-step sharpener pushed the limits of what the Plush Pencil Pouch could hold which was a bummer. Even with what I consider a very pared down assortment of drawing tools, I was straining the zipper. I am NOT a minimalist.

I switched to the Plush Pen Pouch ($18), which is not as long as the Plush Pencil Pouch but is considerably deeper. I filled it with my watercolor palette and some of my other pen and drawing tools.

Behold! Chaos!

If you are looking for a step up from art supply store pouches to protect your nicer tools but don’t necessarily need a sleeve for everything, then I think the Plush Pen Pouch is a good option. This is a good option for the urban sketcher, bullet journalers, and maybe those sub-$50 fountain pens you have in your collection.

The Hemingway Deluxe 6-Pen Roll

The Hemingway Deluxe 6-Pen Roll ($39) is the fanciest case on offer from Rickshaw, IMHO. It offers six slots to protect all your best pens with a protective flap.

I clearly should have watched Mark’s video on how to properly roll the roll because I’ve been doing it wrong the whole time. He makes it look so easy!

There’s plush lining throughout as well.

Remarkably nice looking case and well-constructed. I am, however, so not the target audience on this one. I can never narrow down to just six pens and I pretty thoughtlessly throw my pens around. I’m the same person who never buys cases for my computer and thinks “protection” for my camera is wrapping it in a t-shirt before traipsing across the globe.

The Giveaway:

So, the fact that I’m a pen heathen is your bounty! I want these awesome cases to go to folks who will actually put them to good use. I am giving away the following items reviewed above:

  • Trio 3-Pen Sleeve
  • Plush Pencil Pouch
  • Hemingway Deluxe 6-Pen Roll

Let me know, in the comments below, (1) which item you’d like (warning: fluorescent pink!) and if you’ve shopped at Rickshaw Bags before, (2) what you’ve bought. If not, (3) what you’d buy in the future. GO!

FINE PRINT: All entries must be submitted by 10pm CST on Tuesday, January 16, 2018. All entries must be submitted on THIS post at, not Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, okay? Winner will be announced on Wednesday. Winner will be selected by random number generator from entries that played by the rules (see above). Please include the email address you would like to be contacted at in the comment form so that you be notified if you win. I will not save email addresses or sell them to anyone — pinky swear. If winner does not respond within 7 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 and AFO/APO only please.

DISCLAIMER: These items were sent to me free of charge by Rickshaw Bags for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Eye Candy: My Col-o-ring Books

Eye Candy: My Col-o-ring Books

If you ever wondered exactly why we decided to make the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Books, wonder no longer. This is my personal stash of books, less than a year into the making of them. I’ve divided my books into at least five different groups: Japanese inks, Robert Oster inks, PenBBS, Shimmer inks, European and American inks. The Euro/American book is by far the largest and really needs to be sub-divided but I haven’t figured out how to organize those yet.

So, just like Sy Sperling in those ads for Hair Club for Men, “not only am I the President of the Company, but I’m also a client!”

Link Love: InCoWriMo Countdown Has Begun!

Link artwork by Chris Grine, illustrator of the web comic Wicked Crispy and Time Shifters.

Well, it’s started. The countdown to February. For most of my readers… you know what that means. LetterMo and InCoWriMo and our annual month of letter writing so the posts on various blogs have already started. If you are not a member of the Letter Writers Alliance yet. Click on one of the links below and join now so you’ll be ready this year. Get in on the Pen Addict Slack #snailmail group and find some friends to exchange letters and go over to the USPS and order some stamps now so you’ll have them ready to go. Get some international Forever stamps too, just in case. It’s always good to have them handy.

And Matt used a ballpoint pen and Joe went to Arkansas. And Patrick Rhone is back online!




Notebooks & Paper:

Letter Writing:

Art Supplies, Etc:

Other Interesting Things:

Pencil Review: Moleskine Drawing Pencils

Pencil Review: Moleskine Drawing Pencils

Review by Tina Koyama

Last year Moleskine released two sets of pencils as part of its Art Collection – watercolor pencils and graphite drawing pencils. In my review of the watercolor set, I mentioned features that are common to both, such as the unique square barrel, matte black finish and semi-gloss end caps (please read the introduction to that post first). In this review I’ll talk about specific qualities of the graphite drawing pencil set.

Like their colorful cousins, the Moleskine graphite pencils have the same design esthetic that fits well with most Moleskine products. While the colored pencils have end caps of consistent length, the graphite pencil set’s end caps are stair-stepped to indicate the different grades. I love this kind of detail that makes the set look wonderful in the tin.

The five graphite grades – H, HB, 2B, 4B and 6B – are sensible and functional, and they span the range I use most often. Although most drawing sets include every grade within a range, I usually find that there’s so little difference between, say, a 3B and a 4B that skipping grades is perfectly adequate.

The grades are clearly stamped in black on the silver end caps, which I appreciate for clarity and ease of identification. My only complaint about this clean, unfussy appearance is that I wish the grade were stamped on each of the four sides so that the pencil wouldn’t have to be turned to identify the grade.

On the colored pencil set, the (overblown) color names are printed in glossy black on matte black. To match that lovely (though difficult to read) design touch, the graphite pencils are stamped with nonsensical descriptions such as “Echo” (4B) and “Respire” (HB). The enclosed brochure (which includes the usual Chatwin legend on the reverse) explains these descriptions this way: “From the rumbling echoes of smooth and dark 6B and 4B. . . to the natural sigh of HB. . . How are your sketches sounding today?” (The color names are silly, but these are downright ridiculous.)

Despite the names, like the colored set, the printing is in the southpaw direction, which delights me because I encounter it so rarely in the pencil world.

Now onto the nitty-gritty – the cores. I compared them grade-for-grade with Mitsubishi Hi-Uni and Staedtler Mars Lumograph, the two drawing pencil lines I’m most familiar with. Moleskine is easily comparable to Hi-Uni in darkness. In feel, however, it’s closer to Staedtler, which is rougher than Hi-Uni at these grades. While sketching with the Moleskine pencils, I also hit gritty spots occasionally. Despite being spoiled by the silky smoothness of Hi-Unis, I didn’t find the feedback of the Moleskines objectionable; in fact, it’s pleasant, especially in a Baron Fig notebook, which I used for these test swatches.

Using grades H through 4B, I made the small test sketch in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook, which is much toothier than Baron Fig paper. I tend to prefer a smoother core on toothy paper, but sketchers who appreciate more feedback might prefer Moleskine.

Another surprise was using the square barrel. Hex, round, triangle, even pentagon – I’ve used ‘em all for writing and most for drawing and coloring – but this was my first square-barreled pencil for either writing or drawing. I thought it might be uncomfortable (I’ve held a couple of Moleskine’s older pencils and pens that are shaped like flat carpenter’s pencils, and I found them unwieldy), but the square didn’t faze me at all. In fact, the barrel looks so sleek and distinctive that I wish more pencils came square.

Final Impressions

Unlike their colored pencil counterparts, which I deem an overpriced novelty, the Moleskine graphite drawing pencils are a decent, functional set that I will happily use. At $14.95 for five pencils, they are a bit pricier than Mitsubishi Hi-Uni, which is considered high-end for pencils. Wearing the Moleskine name, however, they are priced as expected for those lovely design elements. I think the square barrel alone is worth it.

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

Eye Candy: Retro 51 Bamboo Display Tray

Eye Candy: Retro 51 Bamboo Display Tray

Between my husband and I, we have acquired enough Retro 51 pens to require an actual display case for our collection. Luckily, there is a lovely Bamboo Pen Tray ($60) available made especially to hold sixteen of your favorite Retro 51 pens.

The plexiglass cover is magnetic so its easy to lift off to remove your pens and pens are held in place with black elastics on a black velvet  background.

The box is wide enough that it can be set on its end so it can be a “picture” so to speak rather than to occupy a flat space on your desk too.

The collection in our box is about half mine, half Bob. Can you guess which pens belong to each of us?


Pencil Review: Moleskine Naturally Smart Watercolor Pencils

Pencil Review: Moleskine Naturally Smart Watercolor Pencils

Review by Tina Koyama

As it may have been for many stationery addicts, the Moleskine notebook was my gateway drug. Way back (and I mean way back, like before Facebook, blogs, maybe even the whole Internet), I’d occasionally find Moleskine journals in nicer stationery stores and fondle them lovingly, imagining the possibilities. When I began sketching, one of the first sketchbooks I bought was a Moleskine (the kind with the weird manila-envelope paper). Eventually as the paper quality declined and so many other notebooks came onto the market, I stopped buying them. But every now and then I’ll pass a spinner rack of the huge variety of notebooks they produce, and on some level, the name Moleskine still gives me a small tingle from the memory of that stationery high.

It’s no wonder, then, that when I discovered that Moleskine had come out with sets of colored and graphite pencils, I felt that tingle again. (This post will cover the colored pencils; stay tuned for the review of the graphite drawing pencils.)

Before I get to the details of the Naturally Smart Palette Watercolor Pencils, I thought I’d point out a few things that are common to both pencil sets, which are part of the Moleskine Art Collection. Designed in Italy, both sets of cedar pencils are manufactured in Vietnam. With paper wrappers, they come in black (of course) tins with a small Moleskine logo printed near the bottom of the lids.

A detail that amuses me is the one that appears on the inside of each lid: The familiar “In case of loss, please return to__” and “As a reward: $___” suggestion.

Both pencil sets feature a matte black barrel with sparks of narrow stripes, text and M logo in glossy black. But the more distinctive physical feature is that the barrels are square with semi-gloss end caps (the colored pencil caps indicate the core color; the graphite caps are silver). In my vast collection of colored pencils and growing collection of drawing pencils, these are the only ones with a square barrel. At first I wondered if the square shape would hinder drawing, but I forgot about it immediately, so it wasn’t a problem at all.

My initial thought was that these colored pencils are slightly over-designed (perhaps to justify the price), but the more I looked at them, the more I liked them. They fit beautifully with the rest of Moleskine’s design esthetic – mostly matte black, touches of color, squared off and tidy.

OK, onto the colored pencils, which are, in fact, water-soluble.

As mentioned earlier, the end cap colors indicate the core colors. A color number is stamped on one side of the end cap. For the name of the color, however, you have to tilt that side of the pencil toward the light so that you can see the glossy black text. And those color names? “Breathe Green,” “Plunge Blue,” “Rave Purple,” “Pulse Red.” A bit over the top, though not as bad as the copy on the mandatory brochure (on the reverse side of the usual Chatwin legend): “Hold your breath as you explore plunging blue depths, or capture the fleeting reflection of dazzling pure white.” (Whew – I’m sweating.)

I give Moleskine bonus brownie points for printing the pencil text for lefties!

The color range is typical of a set of 12, although the two greens are too similar to be useful. Relatively dry in application, they feel like average novelty colored pencils (which is disappointing after that blush-producing copy). Activating the swatches with a waterbrush takes quite a bit of scrubbing, and the washed colors are not as rich as I want them to be. That said, the hues are true to their dry state, which is often not the case with water-soluble colored pencils. (Swatches done in a Canson XL mixed media sketchbook.)

I also tested them in a couple of other ways that I like to use watercolor pencils. First, I smeared water on the page with a waterbrush; then I ran a pencil through it. In the second test, I “licked” the pencil tip with a waterbrush and applied the color to the paper with the brush like traditional watercolors. In both cases, if there’s plenty of pigment, the color will show as rich and vibrant. These are somewhat lacking.

Given the test results, I didn’t have high expectations for performance in a sketch. Again, I find the pencils to be very average in vibrancy and ability to blend and activate with water. (Sketch done in a Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook.)

Final Impressions

I mentioned earlier that Moleskine watercolor pencils fit the brand’s esthetic perfectly. Unfortunately, similar to the notebooks with engaging concepts and designs but inferior paper, these pencils look and feel better than they perform. They really are no worse than most novelty watercolor pencils, but at $24.95 for 12 pencils, they are not novelty priced.

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