Every week, I think I won’t have anything to write for the introduction of Link Love and then something will pop into my links, my life or my head at the last minute and I feel compelled to type a paragraph or two to share with you.
This week the link on Baum-Kuchen’s blog about education could not have been more perfectly timed. Next week, I begin my second semester as a college instructor, all while teaching remotely via Zoom. Even though I have yet to teach a college course in-person, I have previously worked with interns, new hires and fellow designers in-person. This has allowed me to look at their work — be it analog or digital — as they are working and provide input as needed. Teaching remotely, especially for art and design, is especially challenging both for the instructors and for the students. Reading Frido’s post about how he has changed and adjusted his teaching methods for remote teaching is invaluable to me.
(Link Love artwork created in Adobe Illustrator by calligrapher and lettering artist, Chris Purcell)
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In the before times, we all had an EDC (every day carry). Those few pens and notebooks that we had to have with us. As we move around less in the pandemic era, many of us are working from home and no longer carrying anything anywhere. So today I’m going to tell you about my EDDS (every day desk set). These are the pens and notebooks I can’t do without right now.
From left to right: TWSBI Eco, M Nib; TWSBI Eco Rose Gold, F Nib; Caran D’Ache 849, F nib; Vanness Exclusive Pocket 45 from Franklin Christoph, F Nib
I’m grouping these two together because with the exception of aesthetics, they’re both the same pen. TWSBIs aren’t the most elegant or the most refined, and they don’t have the precision nibs of Sailors. What they do have going for them is that the write every single time. Whether I wrote with them yesterday, or 6 weeks ago, every time I pick up my TWSBIs they’re ready to write. This makes them tops in my desk set, because when I’m on a phone call and need to jot a note down, I don’t want a pen that is a little dry and doesn’t start. Add in that I feel safe putting any ink in them, they’re sturdy and can take a bit of a beating, and I can see exactly how much ink I’ve got left and I love ’em. My clear one is inked with Robert Oster Fire & Ice (from recent Christmas card addressing!) and my Rose Gold is inked with Lamy Vibrant Pink.
This pen is actually one of the few purchases I made in 2020 and is the newest to the crew so it’s hanging out on my desk. Yes it’s really this bright – I needed something cheerful! I didn’t bother with a converter when I got it, just played cartridge roulette (remember all those random cartridges you have? The ones you throw in a random container? Pick one!) and got going. This one is a quick writer, has a fun snap cap (oh the fidgeting) and can store an extra cartridge in the barrel so you never run out of ink.
This one might be my favorite pen in my entire collection, at least for the joy I get from writing with it. Like the TWSBIs it is always ready to go as a writer. And between the Jim Rouse nib that was expertly tuned and smoothed by Audrey Matteson, it writes like butter. I went with a darker shade of green for this one – so far I’ve stuck with Colorverse Morningstar since I got the pen.
I’ve also got a stack of notebooks that I’m using. For the post part, I’ve decided that I like spiral bound the best. I love being able to lay the notebook completely flat, and the spiral keeps things tidy and easy for me to flip between pages. From top to bottom my current notebooks are:
Story Supply Co. Ithaca – This holds all my work notes that I want to keep for future reference. Notes I take at seminars or professional development, procedures I want to document so I don’t forget them, etc. This notebook I’ll be keeping even when it’s full.
Write Notepads Dot Steno Notebook, A5 – This one holds all the work notes that I don’t need to keep forever. It’s my notes from phone calls, team meetings, to-dos that I need to add to my calendar, etc. Eventually, when it’s full I’ll throw it away, but it’s still useful to refer to at various time
I was a loyal subscriber of the Birmingham Pen Company Pen Parcel ink subscription for several years. This habit meant I ended up with almost 100 bottles of their ink. Each color is named after a person, place or event related to their hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the designs of their bottles and packaging includes these thoughtful details. Overall, the packaging and branding for Birmingham looks great. When Birmingham decided to cease their subscription service and retool their company, I was disappointed but I understood the desire to find a way to, in a very competitive market, differentiate their business from all the other online pen shops. When I heard that they were ready to come back into the spotlight, I was thrilled to be a part of the process.
To provide some background, for several years, Birmingham Pen Company was releasing inks every month through their Pen Parcel ink subscription and then those ink colors (or some of them) were available for purchase on their web site. These inks were produced by a third party for Birmingham Pen Company and bottled by Birmingham Pen Company. The bottles were labelled with either “made in England” or “made in Germany” so the assumption was that the inks had been made by either Diamine or DeAtramentis for Birmingham.
About a year ago, Birmingham sold off all these inks and announced they would start making and selling their own inks. Of course, there were questions from ink users and collectors like myself. Why the change?
In building an overview of the new Birmingham Pen Company’s ink line, I decided I needed to hear from the creators about the changes to their ink line. Birmingham Pen Company is run by two brothers, Nick and Josh. Josh was kind enough to respond to my questions.
Q: Why did you decide to make your own inks? More control? Costs? Were you not getting the looks or colors that you wanted?
A: Nick and I had a long conversation a few years ago regarding the trajectory of our work. We concluded that ultimately we want to build a business that could last our lifetime (we’re both in our 30s), and to do that we’d need to build relationships that would last a lifetime. To build relationships that would last a lifetime, we needed to build products to do the same.
Without full control over the manufacturing process we were unable to react to all the opportunities we observed for product improvement. Manufacturing products in-house required a much larger investment compared to contract manufacturing through third parties, but having complete control of the process allows us to fine-tune every detail while implementing plans for continuous product improvement as we grow.
Q: Some of the new inks have similar names to previous colors but look different? Purposely? Accidentally?
A: Early in the ink manufacturing process we discovered that traditional water soluble dyes don’t react in a linear fashion when they’re combined to achieve particular colors. That is, there’s no obvious path to achieve a desired color based on the color characteristics of the base dyes. Dye colors change when they’re mixed with water, change unpredictably when mixed with each other, and then change further when calibrating the rest of a delivery ‘vehicle’ around the colorant. An ink ‘vehicle’ is the combination of chemicals used to deliver the colorant to substrate. In the case of our Traditional Inks, the colorant is a water soluble dye and the substrate would be paper. We calibrate our vehicle individually to every combination of various water soluble dyes. Our vehicle includes diluent (laboratory grade water), thickener, humectants, lubricants, surfactant, and preservative. Each of these ingredients is combined and refined over a 17 step process with the colorants for every bottle of Traditional Ink.
Our plan is to introduce an incredible variety of ink colors with a wide variety of properties… eventually hitting all of the original inks and more.
Q: Some ink color names have changed… is it because the ink colors are different or did Jeff Goldblum complain? (For context, one of the first inks I noticed from Birmingham was the Goldblum Independence Day Grey.)
A: Unfortunately, Jeff Goldblum has not contacted us. Growing up in the 90s, Nick and I are huge fans! The revised ink names are intentionally modified to a form with greater prospective longevity.
Q: Did you select the ink colors (currently released) because they were the best sellers of their previous incarnation? Or did you want to release the colors in a certain order?
A: We’ve arrived at our starting palette with a combination of searching for desired ink properties and discovering the capacity to tame particular dyes and dye combinations within a delivery vehicle. Ultimately, our objective is to provide the largest selection of fountain pen ink colors and properties worldwide.
Q: Are you planning to formulate all the previous colors in your inventory or do you plan to be a bit more targeted?
A: Our ambition is to achieve every color property we originally offered and much more!
Q: How will you choose what colors you create next? New shades? More colors from the back catalog?
A: We plan to introduce new ink characteristics and colors as we discover the symbiosis between the target ink properties and successful performance within a vehicle. We’re planning to have new inks just about every month for 2021! We’ll keep everyone informed with our email newsletter.
Thanks so much to Josh for taking the time to answer my questions and giving us a peek behind the secretive world of ink making. I am looking forward to seeing what the brothers create next and where their experiments will take them next.
So, let’s focus on the inks now:
Birmingham Pen Company currently offers three lines of ink: Traditional, Everlasting, and Twinkle inks. Traditional inks (starting at $9 for a 30ml) are classic water soluble fountain pen inks. Everlasting inks (prices start at $19 per bottle) are designed to be permanent and waterproof. Twinkle inks ($29 per bottle) are shimmer inks. Traditional and Everlasting inks are available in three different bottle sizes: 30ml, 60ml and 120ml. The Twinkle inks are only available in 60ml bottles.
The three boxes of ink I was sent included a massive assortment of their new Traditional and Twinkle inks. (Jesi will review the Everlasting inks soon.) Since receiving the box, several more colors were released and more will be coming in swift succession as Birmingham continues to fill out their offering.
I received 23 bottles of Birmingham Pen Company Traditional Fountain Pen Ink and four bottles of their Twinkle Ink. At first glance, I think that the previous reputation that Birmingham had developed for having dark, sooty, brooding ink colors is starting to lift. Many of the ink colors are clear, bright and downright cheerful.
The range of blues include several that do sheen: Ice Rink, Polar Bear, Snowflake, Fountain Turquiose, and Electron. Celestial Blue has a hint of sheen too but it will probably only be noticeable on Tomoe River paper.
In this photo, if I were to arrange the inks from most green to most blue, I would put Fountain Turquoise as the most green blue and Celestial Blue as the bluest blue. Ice Rink is more vivid blue. Snowflake, Polar Bear and Electon are aqua/turquoise colors that get progressively more blue (respectively).
This final grouping show a much brighter, optimistic picture of Birmingham inks and Pittsburgh. Many of these colors make me think of joyful, childhood summers filled with flowers, food and fun.
I have a massive assortment of Birmingham’s previous incarnations of ink colors but amazingly, I don’t have all of their original ink collection. I feel I do have enough to compare and comment on the differences between the new formulas and the previous incarnations. I’ve provided side-by-side photos of the inks I do have from the original ink line-up with it’s new version.
As mentioned in the interview, some ink names were changed slightly but the essence of the original name is still there. The four inks pictured above represent a good sampling of the color and characterstics between the Birmingham-made inks and the third party created inks. Southside Market Boysenberry is slightly more blue purple and does not have the sheen that the previous version had. Pop Art Purple is now more purple and less violet. Gulf Tower Gerbera is more pink than it was previously. Waterfront Dusk is now more of a reddish purple and not nearly as dark as the previous incarnation.
Some of the blue swatches I have to compare feel like the colors were flip-flopped. Polar Bear (new) looks more like the previous version of Snowflake and vice versa. The new formulations of both Celestial Blue and Ice Rink are both much more ultramarine where the previous versions have more of a phthalo blue tone. In this range of blues, Snowflake is the only one with a phthalo (slightly grey green undertone).
Once again, when I get into blue inks, I feel compelled to compare them to watercolors where I have terms to describe the colors. With high quality watercolors, there is not only some consistency in the naming of colors (not as fun as the names Birmingham gives to their inks) but the addition of the numbers (like PB29) which inidicates a specific pigment in making the color. Some watercolors have multiple numbers because they are made up from more than one pigment (i.e. Payne’s Grey which is usually made up of two to three pigments). BEyond the individual pigments, what makes each watercolor shade of Ultramarine different is the quality of the pigments, and the binders and fillers that are added to the paint (here’s a good breakdown of what goes into watercolor paint).
Using this language, helps me understand (or at least mentally process) fountain pen ink color variations. Since watercolors are also translucent, the comparison to fountain pen inks is pretty clear. And I feel like when ink makers start playing with blues, they start with the brilliance of an Ultramarine pigment. Celestial Blue and Ice Rink definitely feel Ultramarine to me. Polar Bear and Snowflake are more phthalo blue (green shade) IMHO.
The new formula of Petroleum is more green compared to the previous version’s bluish undertones.
The last page of comparisons I have is across the spectrum: Weathered Brick (new) is definitely more of a brick red compared to the more red wine color of the previous formulation. Salmon hors D’oeuvre is not as neon coral as the previous version. Independence Grey is more grey compared to the previous version which was almost black is was so saturated and dark. Finally, Argula is more of a low saturation yellow-green compared to the previous version which was a dark leafy spinach color.
Strawberry Twinkle is a big gulp of Strawberry Milkshake delight topped with sparkles. It’s a glowing pinky-orange with a healthy dose of silver shimmer. To say this is my favorite new ink from Birmingham might be an understatement. Overall, Birmingham has had a reputation for featuring a lot of dark, brooding, soot-soaked ink colors but Strawberry Twinkle puts their murky reputation into question. Not so murky anymore!
I had only one ink that was ever kind of similar to Strawberry Twinkle and its a super-rare Asian ink that I can’t even remember how I got it. Starry Ink and Small Endowment/Ancient Charm are both much more coral orange compared to Strawberry Twinkle.
Both Steamboat Twinkle and Blizzard Twinkle are turquoise-based shimmer inks. Steamboat is much darker, more teal in color where Blizzard is more aqua. Both of these inks also have a reddish-pink sheen. They are double-hitter inks! I put several other shimmer inks beside these colors but they are not all that similar in color.
Pennsylvania Canal Tributary Twinkle (I mislabeled my swatches!) is a brilliant ultramarine blue with red sheen and silver shimmer. It is a pretty amazing combo. If you like J. Herbin 1679 Bleu Ocean or Diamine Jack Frost, Tributary Twinkle may be an ink for you to try. Even compared with the considerably more expensive Colorverse Cat, Tributary Twinkle may become a new shimmer favorite.
This was an epic overview of the new inks from Birmingham Pen Company. They have done some great work in trying to reformulate and match or improve their inks while making the inks themselves. For as an epic a project as it was to put together this overview, Nick and Josh are undertaking an equally daunting challenge. So far, I think the results are stellar. There are only a handful of small batch ink makers in the US and the market is as hungry for artisan inks as the coffee or beer market is for small batch brews (handy word for either coffee of beer!). I think Birmingham Pen Company, with their wide range of colors, formulations and quality packaging and presentation are ripe to corner the market.
If I had to choose a small selection of inks from their new offerings to start, I highly recommend Strawberry Twinkle, Independence Gray, Waterfront Dusk, Fountain Turquoise, Pennsylvania Railroad Boiler Steam and Coking Coal. Steamboat and Blizzard Twinkle are also strong contenders for a first purchase. If you don’t dig shimmer inks, I would substitute Snowflake and Ice Rink for Steamboat and Blizzard Twinkle and Salt Water Taffy for Strawberry Twinkle (I think they are the same inks just with shimmer but don’t hold me to it.)
DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided free of charge by Birmingham Pen Company for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.
The Pentel’s Design Fude Menso Brush in the small size ($3.25; also available in medium and large sizes at varying prices) is a product I previewed during Inktober. Despite the range of sizes, all three have extra-fine tips for “drawing intricate detail work like facial features.” The very tip isn’t much more than a hair thick. Compared to other tiny watercolor brushes I have, the Menso is styled more like Asian calligraphy brushes with a longer head.
I dipped it into a bottle of Diamine Sargasso Sea fountain pen ink to test drive the Menso’s range of brush strokes, which is wide, indeed. Cartoonists could certainly draw whiskers and eyelashes with this brush. Made of polyester, the fibers spring back sufficiently. (Test page made in Col-o-ring “Oversize” book.)
After making the test swatches above, I used the same Sargasso Sea ink to draw my hand again.
I didn’t know how much difference the longer calligraphy brush head would make in how it performs, but I like the wider strokes that are possible along with the extra-fine tip. It’s an excellent brush for this type of painting (and calligraphy, too, I’m sure, if I did it).
DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.
Ink Institute is one of the many ink brands currently washing up on US shores. Ink Institute inks come from Taiwan and their first series to make it to the US is the Cat Series. There are four inks in the series: Cat at Dawn, Cat at Noon, Cat at Dusk and Cat at Midnight. Each is available for $16 for a 30ml bottle. The bottles are a frosted clear glass with a full-color, illustrated label. The text indicating the name of each ink is very tiny but the illustrations provide a hint as to the colors.
Of course, I couldn’t resist an ink themed around cats! I was able to get three out of the four bottles and a sample of Cat at Dawn which was sold out at the time I ordered.
Each cat suggests the light at a given time of day. Cat at Dawn is bright blue morning, Cat at Noon is radiant hot red-orange, Cat at Dusk is a watery blue grey and Cat at Midnight is a black though not a super-dark black.
I totally get the colors and naming for Dusk and Midnight but the Dawn and Noon are a bit of a stretch for me. I tend to think of morning light being more coral, pink or even golden. And, to me, Noon is more likely to have a vivid blue sky with a white hot sun. Naming discrepancies aside….
The colors of these inks are pretty unique. Noon is probably the most unusual being a slightly color-shifting shading coral red. The color is very reminiscent to the juice from fresh tomatoes to me. Dusk is the next most unique color being a color shifting pale grey-blue-violet. Because of its mutable nature, Dusk can look more like a pale violet or more grey. Midnight is a light black. It’s not a grey or a blue-black but a black with a greenish-teal undertone. Finally, Dawn is a bright ultramarine blue, though not as saturated as other ultramarine blues on the market. Dawn shades but has no sheen.
Ink ring swatches above are on Tomoe River paper. The colors look pretty consistent to the results on Col-o-ring paper.
On Rhodia paper, when writing with EF nibs, Midnight is the most usable. Dawn, Noon and Dusk are readable but would benefit from wider nibs like a stub. None of these inks are water-resistant. Dusk vanished completely when wet. Midnight and Dawn leave some traces behind of the original lines and Dawn just leaves a wet, bluish residue. (My water samples here are still a bit damp but the results are accurate.) This ink should clean up easily in your pens and the lighter nature of the colors is unlikely to stain most pens.
When comparing the inks to other colors, the Ink Institute inks proved a challenge to find similar shades. Cat at Noon was particularly challenging to find similar colors. The unusual shade/sheen to the color leans red and then more orange-y pink. Most of the inks I have that are anywhere close in color are much more saturated.
When looking at the colors close-up, the shimmer inks were probably the closest in color similarity. The advantage of Cat at Noon is that it does NOT have shimmer in it making it a lovely alternative if you want an unusual color but do not want shimmer in your pen.
Both Starry Ink Melon Summer and Small Endowment Melody of Sandy Creek are shimmer inks but are the closest in color. The darkest shade of Cat at Noon is similar to J. Herbin Corail des Tropiques but Corail lacks the lighter orange-y tones. Diamine Coral is the opposite to Corail des Tropiques when compared to Cat at Noon. Coral has the brighter orange tone, though more saturated, but not the deeper reddish coral color. Finally, I included Sailor Sakura Mori to provide a counter balance — an ink with a good deal more pink. I would not describe Cat at Noon as pink at all.
With Cat at Midnight, I looked for other “almost black” inks to compare. Standard Bindery Luna Tone is clearly more of a blue-black and Robert Oster Smokescreen has much more of a brownish undertone. Birmingham Pen Company Alternator Crimson is probably the closest in color despite its name.
I included Platinum Carbon Black to show that Cat at Midnight is not a true black.
Cat at Dusk is one of those wonderful magic inks that looks a bit different depending on how dry it is, your nib and paper choice and the lighting in your room. It makes it comparable to things like Troublemaker Petrichor and Sailor 123 even though it is not at all in the same color family.
Cat at Dusk is more similar to J. Herbin Gris Nuage and Kobe #53 Kitano Pearl Silver though it looks like a marriage of the two other inks. It’s more bluish than Gris Nuage and more purple than Kitano Pearl Silver. Of the four inks from the Cat series, it’s my favorite.
Now, to compare Cat at Dawn which is the most similar to other inks. Remarkably, it’s probably closest to Cross Blue. There is a similarity to Montblanc Lapis Lazuli and Sailor Jentle Sky High as well though they are considerably more saturated. Sky High has a great sheen if that is something you prefer. Cat at Dawn or Cross Blue would work if you prefer shading. Montblanc is great if you want to spend a truckload of money for your inks.
I like Ink Institute inks and the Cat Series is a strong first showing for this brand. It’s different though some of these inks may be too pale for some users. To me, Ink Institute Cat Series is a great change to the sheening and super sheeners that have flooded the market lately. Now if they do Cat at Naptime (ginger like our feline mascot) and Cat at Supper (tawny like a tortie cat) and add some shades that feel more feline in hue, I’ll be happy.
DISCLAIMER: Some items included in this review were provided by Vanness Pen Shop for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.
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While hanging out on Mike’s Friday Live Chats, I’ve been tempted to try Shigure Inks. Just before Christmas I decided to place an order and I received Tono & Lims Kaleidoscope Maboroshi (30mL for $22). Unfortunately it is a limited edition that is now sold out, but I was intrigued by a beautiful red shimmer ink from a new to me ink company.
Tono & Lims is a Japanese company and the ink line is produced in collaboration with a South Korean ink producer, Lim’s Lab. Maboroshi is a limited edition offering, described as red with a hint of shimmer.
Maboroshi literally translates to “phantom,” but I also saw it translated as a “trick of light.” Sort of an apt description for a shimmer ink right? So let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
The ink is slightly less saturated than I was expecting. It is a pinkish red, redder in darker applications and sort of a light watermelon red/pink in lighter applications. I can see the shimmer very slightly on the Col-o-Dex card but the only place it really shows up is in those ink splotches that I love. As far as I can see, it doesn’t show up much at all in my writing samples, but I am using a fairly thin nib to do those. I did shake the bottle before I started, but there was “dust” on the bottom of the bottle so I would imagine it does settle slightly.
In terms of color comparison, it reminded me instantly of Pen BBS #220, Watermelon Red. It seems closest in tone to Pilot Iroshizuku Momiji, although it feels a touch lighter and more pink. Aside from the pink vs. orange tone, it’s very similar in saturation and shimmer to Pen BBS #140, Bloom, which also has a bit of iridescent sparkle in it.
This particular ink feels like a bit of a dryer ink. I suspect I won’t use it as much as I had hoped if only because it’s a bit lighter than I expected in thinner nibs. However, it’s a gorgeous color if it’s what you’re looking for!