Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fountain Pen Doodling

When I used to think about drawing, a lot of things came to mind with which to do it. Graphite, charcoal, pastels, maybe even a fineliner or a biro.

During the last weeks this view has shifted a bit. I still love pencils and especially my Derwent Inktense pencils and blocks (especially the blocks are awesome, the colours seem to explode once touched by water - if you like watercolour pencils you should definitely try those), but then I started to doodle with my fountain pens and I'm really enjoying this rather a lot.

For writing I love broad nibs, but I have a couple of fine ones too and they always come in handy on occasions like these - even better if they're flexible.

If wishes were fishes... we'd all cast nets.

The above was done with a Waterman Ideal and Diamine Majestic Blue ink (though that one's far from ideal because it doesn't flow well enough - and while drawing, a hard starting pen is even more annoying than while writing) on a Midori Traveler's Notebook sketchbook refill. I bought that refill before it crossed my mind I would really fill a lot of pages with drawings and I certainly won't buy one of those again for the paper is a major letdown in my opinion. It's supposed to take ink and watercolour well but there is a lot of bleed through with either of them and also feathering when using the smallest amount of flex.
(That iris is actually circular, by the way. It just looks odd on the picture. Someone needs to whip my shooting perspective into line.)

I want a strange doll for Christmas.

This one was done with a fine-nibbed Pelikan M800 and Montblanc Midnight Blue on cartridge paper, which also shows a little bleed-through on ink heavy spots like the pupil but is okay overall. Being not really my cup of tea for writing - too boring -, I like Midnight Blue quite a lot for sketches, it's a nice colour and doesn't smudge when dry. It's also a bit more water resistant than most inks though it still will wash out quite much when washed over with a wet paintbrush.

Do you know a truly waterproof fountain pen ink? This never really mattered to me before so I hardly know anything about them. The only ink that really took well to being painted over with watercolours was india ink, but that means a dip pen. Meh.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pelikan M1000 Moonlight - The one that shines in the dark

Mystery Pen Unveiled

There are surfaces which love light, drink it, bathe in it while back in the shade they look subdued and dark. This also goes for pen's surfaces. Dark tame-nuri or tame-midori is an example, it can look almost black except when hit by a ray of sunlight (or a studio flash).

But then there's also those which start to shine when the light gets dim, like this Danitrio Mae West kawari-nuri which doesn't unfold its full charm in the sunlight.

Raden is another example, too much light and it looks dull. Put a Raden pen in a dimly lit spot and it will sparkle in the darkness like the neon lights of a nightly city.

Pelikan M1000 Moonlight and Namiki Yukari Nightline Moonlight

That the Mystery Pen was a Raden pen was easily discernible. Raden is a Japanese technique where pieces of abalone shell - beautiful colourful mother of pearl from Sea snails -, is attached to a surface with clear Urushi lacquer. It's often used in combination with maki-e and is a traditional Japanese art form. What makes the mystery pen all the more interesting is that it is a German pen, a Pelikan, to be accurate.

Pelikan M1000 Moonlight

The artwork, for which Pelikan employed a Japenese artist, Mr. Norio Matsuda, is done on the body of a Souverän M1000 as a limited edition from 2011. Raden work requires a lot of experience and patience. It's flawless. Mainly abalone pieces with a blue or green shimmer were picked to give an impression of cool moonlight, though their spectrum will also include a fair portion of purple depending on the viewing angle.

Pelikan M1000 Moonlight

Pelikan M1000 Moonlight

I posted this picture already but I'll have to show it again because it shows the abalone's lovely surface so clearly. Look at those ripples, like waves in a grotto or under a strange moon. The abalone stripes, though, are perfectly straight. It's all optics.

Pelikan M1000 Moonlight

The great thing about this pen is that it can always be your daily writer no matter what nib you feel like using. As with all Souveräns, you can always switch the nib yourself quickly and easily. This one is a BB nib, ground to cursive italic by John Sorowka.

I felt that it was time to do a review of this pen, not only because I like it so much but also because there's not a whole lot of info around about this pen since so few pieces were made and the owners seem to prefer to keep quiet about it.

To see such large pieces of Raden on a pen seems to be relatively rare. More frequently what seems like a large pieces is many minute Raden fragments put together mosaic style. When I get to it I'll show some more examples of how it can be used. It's a fascinating topic. I don't know if I will ever feel old enough to wear pearls, but mother of pearl on pens... or the pearl on the Montblanc Greta Garbo ... that's another story altogether.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Nakayas nearly always lighten up my mood...

... which is why I need these pictures on a cold, grey and dark winter's morning like this one. The deep and vibrant colours, the wet-look glossy surface. Maybe you'll enjoy it as well, whatever the weather.

Danitrios, Nakayas and a Platinum Izumo.

Danitrios and Nakayas (and a savage dragon).

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Oh noes it's broken! Nakaya Negoro

Occasionally - in fact, sometimes I think it's more often than not - it's not perfection that turns a nice thing into a great thing but the carefully placed imperfections in it. I've heard that Arabian carpet weavers purposefully put some mistakes into their work because they believe no human is able - and allowed - to claim perfection.
(I think this isn't a bad approach at all, though I'm not sharing the religious background. Why not carefully put a few mistakes into your letter, your painting, your crafting project? That would take so much pressure away.)

Nakaya Negoro shiro-tame nuri
With this pen, Nakaya has gone a deliberate step farther and added not only imperfections but downright destructed elements to their work of art. Flawless planes of amber-coloured lacquer are broken here and there where the surface appears to have cracked, jagged outlines exposing the dull ebonite underneath. 
This doesn't only look cool - to me anyway - but also feels interesting to the touch. It becomes apparent how thick the lacquer layer - or in fact, the many layers - on the ebonite corpus actually is, that it really is thinner at the gripping section, that most of the lacquer seems to be very light with only a slight touch of a dark varnish over it.

Nakaya Negoro shiro-tame nuri

This model is the mid-sized Portable Writer. The Negoro design is often done on a Piccolo, which I was a bit ambivalent about because, though I do like the Piccolo, I sometimes catch myself thinking "Hey, a bunch of money and all I'm going to get is such a small pen?". (Yes, that's irrational, absolutely! But well, at the moment that I decided to take the plunge on a Negoro and found out that nibs.com had one on a Portable size, I didn't take too long to make up my mind.)

Nakaya Negoro shiro-tame nuri
Love these cracks. They seem to enhance the glossy surface rather than destroy it. 

Nakaya Negoro shiro-tame nuri
The only thing I am a little ambivalent about on this pen - and this may come as a surprise - is the clip. I'm having a love/hate-relationship to clips, because despite I hardly ever clip the pens to anything and especially the Nakaya clips are not really beautiful to my eye, I appreciate their stopping the pen from rolling around. Yes, Nakaya do roll stoppers, but they're definitely not my cup of tea.

On the Negoro, I decided to go for the clip. That skilfully placed crack near the clip band.

 Nakaya Negoro shiro-tame nuri and Montblanc 149 
I also decided I'm going to do more size comparisons in the future because I always find them extremely helpful myself when reading about pens I don't know about. Here's next to a Montblanc 149, the Montblanc is a little fatter - though this Portable is actually quite a lot fatter than my other Nakayas, their sizes always varying a bit because they are hand turned - but else there's not much difference here. The Nakaya is a little lighter than the Montblanc when capped but a little heavier when uncapped. The cap doesn't post.

 The nib is a plain gold 0.9 mm stub done by John Mottishaw. Like all my pens I've got from him so far it works flawlessly, juicy and smooth, and this width is my favourite. I already have a cursive italic from him in the same size, I'll compare them some time.

Like all Nakayas, it's a c/c filler. Currently inked with Sailor Jentle Rikyu Cha (I have to write more about this ink sometime. This ink...! When I tried it first I thought "uh, mud". But it's so much more than that. There's green in it, olive, brown shading... I'll show you.)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Which pen is this?

A snapshot I'd like to share. It's a lovely, large pen - and not what it seems!

Disclosure of the mystery and more pictures next week.

Looking at the file names won't help. ;)

Edit: The mystery is now unveiled. ;) More pictures and info on the pen can be found here.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ink Paper Water

Pen & Brush Doodles

A quick drawing with Diamine Ancient Copper and Diamine Midnight to illustrate how fountain pen ink behaves when diluted with water. The colours love to mix and create interesting patterns. A bit of their vibrancy is lost when dried but there's still a fair amount of colour left.

Quick sketch with fountain pen ink and water
Some colours dissolve easier than others, the Midnight, which is a very dark blue, washes away to almost nothing even though I used a flex pen and some pressure, whereas the outline of the left thigh in Ancient Copper is still clearly visible under the generous wash of water that went over it.
Also the colours don't become permanent like watercolour so they're harder to layer. Still, to sketch, then use a bit of water and bam! Clouds of colour exploding, that's really neat.

There are watercolour pencils and even ink pencils which are designed for a similar purpose but can't quite deliver the same effect. They have other advantages however, like easier layering.

Here's fountain pen ink next to a Faber-Castell ArtGrip watercolour pencil and a Derwent Inktense ink pencil. I tried to put roughly the same amount of pigment on the paper with the two pencils, even taking the lighter colour into account the watercolour pencil is very pale when washed over with water, the Inktense pencil releases its pigments somewhat more readily but in this respect they're both absolutely no match for the fountain pen ink. It seems like you could do a light wash over half the page with the amount of colour provided by that tiny doodle.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The weirdo - Stipula Saturno

It's hard to imagine a world without a ballpoint pen. It's a world where there are pencils - traditional and mechanical ones - and fountain pens. If you want your writing to last there's not much of a choice.

Consequently there was a lot more to choose from in terms of fountain pens a mere 100 years back, especially there were many more inexpensive models since everybody needed a fountain pen. There were flexible nibs and a wide range of filling systems - eyedropper, piston fillers and especially a range of filling systems with a rubber sac inside the pen's barrel and some means to compress the sac and suck ink into the pen upon releasing the pressure. Today these filling systems have almost disappeared except for some nostalgic editions - like the Stipula Saturno.

Stipula Saturno Crescent Filler

The Crescent filler is one of those long gone filling systems. Before I got the pen I wondered how it would be operated. Would you pull the crescent out, or twist it some way? In reality it's really simple. The ring that goes around the barrel has a gap in it. To fill it, you move the gap underneath the crescent, then press down on it and it will compress the sac. After filling you can turn the ring back into a position where it blocks any movement of the crescent so the pen cannot empty itself accidentally in your purse.

Besides being easy to handle it's also very decorative. Since the pen itself is not a fatty it will still fit in most pen pouches despite the filler crescent on the barrel.

Stipula Saturno Crescent Filler

The Saturno is about the length of a Pelikan M1000, but somewhat slimmer and lighter. It's ebonite, which is no less than fitting for a nostalgia pen. I'm not really a huge fan of ebonite (except when covered with Urushi), but I readily admit it can look gorgeous and the smell, which I'm not a fan of, luckily has already evaporated. It has its disadvantages though, the main one being that colour and luster fade over time, as can already be seen on this one right behind the cap threads.

The Saturnos have been sold out for a while. They came in brown, blue-green and black-yellow and probably some other shades I don't know about. Black-yellow is relatively easy to come by but I had to look for a while to find one in a colour I like better - I got this one from a fellow FPN member in the US. The blue-green is gorgeous. I have a thing for colours which are in-between, this one can't decide between the deep Sea and a dark forest.

Stipula Saturno Crescent Filler
Stipula Saturno Crescent Filler
The nib is a very pretty 0.9 stub, worked on by Greg Minuskin - which is funny, despite I wouldn't send a pen to the US for nibmeister services this is my second Minuskin nib already. I'm not sorry, I like the nice, lush ink flow his nibs usually have - as does this one.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Writing home for Christmas

And it's that time of the year coming up again.

As may be obvious, I love beautiful things and sometimes I will grab them despite I can't put them to any immediate use. Blank cards are an example - Crown Mill does them, Zerkall, Amalfi and many more. They are lovely thick paper with matching envelopes, often lined with tissue paper, making a delicious rustling sound to the touch. So two to three dozen cards have accumulated here and, unlike writing paper, they hardly ever get any use.

Writing a letter is one thing, but a card will run out of space at the moment you've discovered you do indeed have something to say. On the other hand I feel that for the shortest of short notes, like "Happy Birthday" or "Merry Christmas", an unprinted card is oddly out of place.

Diamine Ancient Copper plus some water. Shades like heaven.

Still the idea to decorate my own cards didn't occur to me until a few weeks ago when I was looking at a few hideously expensive minimalist christmas cards online.
For as long as I can remember the urge to draw and paint something has raised its tousled head within me every once in a while, usually getting whacked on said head by me and, over time, disappearing again - but this time I gave it a go. I used fountain pens with different inks and nib sizes and a crappy discarded make-up brush (I've discarded that one for good now so it's not depicted ;)).

As any fountain pen user probably knows, non-waterproof ink and water gives a huge bang which cannot be heard but seen. The ink will spread on the paper in an uncontrollable but very charming way. Up to now, every ink I tried has looked fantastic though they do lose some vibrancy when dried.

Hand decorated Christmas card on Roessler Büttenpapier (moulded paper) cardstock: Diamine Ancient Copper, Montblanc Ink of Joy, Diamine Ochre

The really cool thing is that you don't have to be "artsy" to pull this off, for which I am living proof. Everyone is familiar with the shape of an angel or a christmas tree. You don't even need to master symmetry because you can decide to only sketch one side of the motif and that will work just as well.

The card above was the first one I made, in retrospect I think I overdid it a little with the brush but well, I still like it and for sure it's better paper than most ready made cards you can buy. For colouring I used almost 100% Diamine Ancient Copper plus a little Montblanc Ink of Joy for the halo and Diamine Ochre for the writing.

Hand decorated Christmas card on Zerkall Büttenpapier (moulded paper) cardstock: Diamine Sherwood Green, J. Herbin 1670 Rouge Hématite.

 Hand decorated Christmas card on Zerkall Büttenpapier (moulded paper) cardstock: Diamine Sherwood Green, J. Herbin 1670 Rouge Hématite.  
Besides helping me to get along with my Christmas mail, the making of these cards also gave the part of me that wants to draw and paint the opportunity to build up a toehold and take a good look around, so there's some chance you'll be seeing more of that in time, with fountain pens and without.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Amalfi Paper

The review I just couldn't put up any longer.

(also starring a Pen of the Year 2008)

As announced in my post about my leather journals I need to show you one of my favourite papers: cotton paper from one of the oldest papermills in Europe, located in Amalfi, Italy, right at the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

Amalfi paper: A notebook, cards, writing paper.

The picture above shows three different kinds of Amalfi paper I have hoarded: the A4-sized 80-90 g/sqm writing paper, a few somewhat heavier folded cards and a little notebook, again with somewhat heavier paper.

One of the most prominent features about this paper is, while all of the edges are deckled, one of them is very rough and looks a bit like cloth or a tissue paper that has been torn apart. It's incredibly soft to the touch.

Cards made of Amalfi paper with a Pen of the Year 2008 on top. Look at the paper's lovely edges.
Yes, I know, this picture reminds of the ad for the Pen of the Year 2008 - but the pen just looks awesome on this delicious paper.

How the paper reacts to fountain pen ink can vary. Whereas the writing paper is very well coated and resistant to bleed through and feathering even with the wettest nibs, some of the card stock can be prone to feathering. For online shopping I can recommend La Scuderia del Duca in Amalfi, they are quick and all the paper and cards I got from there were perfectly well behaved. Especially the ink jet paper is a good deal if you want to make your own notebooks.

The paper is 100% cotton and like all cotton papers I've tried up to date it will soak up a bit more ink than smooth papers, thus making your lines appear thinner. The textured surface might also make your hairlines look a bit shaky, as you can see in the picture below.

Writing Sample on Amalfi paper, done with a semi-flex Swan 3161 and Montblanc Ink of Joy

This surely is the diva kind of paper, but I just love the look of ink on cotton paper - if the pens decide to write on it. Not all of them do, they will start with a nice lush ink flow but within a few lines the flow will cease and there will be skipping. From my personal experience Pelikan and Nakaya nibs will handle the paper very well, Montblanc nibs will provide varying results and Danitrios nearly always fail on it. So if you want to write a nice long letter on Amalfi paper with your favorite pen it's a good idea to try first if the pen will do the job on this paper.
Each sheet is watermarked, even the cards, though the watermarks can vary. This is the watermark on my writing paper. As you can see the paper is taking the ink well even on the watermark.

Amalfi paper watermark.

It's also great for watercolour or water-ink-painting. Not sure if it's the cotton or the surface texture, in any case the colours will appear more vibrant than on other papers I've tried.

Poems by Hilde Domin ("Einhorn") and Rainer Maria Rilke ("Herbsttag").

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Time for Orange - again! Montblanc Ink of Joy

(also starring a Mabie Todd Swan 3161)

My passion for orange ink doesn't end with Iroshizuku yu-yake! There are so many great orange inks out there and I only know a fraction of them. One of those is Montblanc's "Ink of Joy", one of last year's limited edition inks. It was part of a trio of inks, the other two being "ink of friendship" - I believe it was blue - and "ink of love" (red, of course).

Montblanc "Ink of Joy" in a Mabie Todd Swan with semi-flex nib.

Compared to yu-yake, this is more of a pure, textmarker-y orange. It lacks the burnt aspect of yu-yake and also doesn't shade as much, but the colour is very nice and full of sunlight - which can't go wrong now that the days grow shorter and darker.

Like yu-yake this ink needs some flow and/or a broad tip to show its full beauty and remain legible, the "ink of joy" even more so because the flow seems to be a little hesitant. It's also a really nice match with the semi-flex nib, at least in my opinion - if it weren't for the penmanship, which of course could be better. I feel I still haven't had the famous light bulb moment when it comes to using a flex nib, it's still a bit of a struggle.

Montblanc "Ink of Joy" in a Mabie Todd Swan with semi-flex nib.

The text is from a beautiful and sad poem by Erich Fried, called "Das Schwere" ("heaviness", literally translated) which is all about endings, losses and autumn as the time "between harvest and death". It sounds more depressing than it is, really, but I guess it could use some orange ink to lighten it up and keep in mind that, one more time, spring will come again.

Montblanc Ink of Joy (top) and Iroshizuku yu-yake (bottom)

Here's a quick comparison between "Ink of Joy" and "yu-yake". It's not awfully valid since nib width and flow properties of the used pens are so different but you can see the "burnt" aspect and more red pigments in "yu-yake" whereas the "Ink of Joy" is brighter and more vibrant.

For paper I've used a Rhodia dot pad which is one of the nicest paper for writing with a fountain pen because it is very smooth and tolerates almost any degree of ink flow without feathering or bleed-through. The only paper I've tried that's even better in this respect is Amalfi paper - a review is coming soon.
Rhodia is a french company who buy their paper from Clairefontaine and their properties are pretty similar, however Clairefontaine doesn't do the dot grid yet. I adore the dots, they are unobtrusive but still offer some guidance. After I've revamped my handwriting I've been unable to write in straight lines on blank paper for a long time and it's still not perfect, though much better now, so the dot grid grew on me.

For the sake of completeness I'd like to add that not every fountain pen user is a fan of Rhodia/Clairfontaine paper because some pens won't write well on it. This is mostly due to its smoothness: ink will only flow from the nib onto the paper if capillary action is permitted. If the nib tip isn't shaped 100% right and the paper - like CF/Rhodia - doesn't provide a lot of upright micro fibers to meet the nib half way skipping and hard starting can be the consequence. If your pen is one of those candidates, a little tweaking by an experienced nibmeister can probably help. (My limited experience: If a nib is really well ground and set it will write on nearly anything, but it wouldn't be realistic to expect this of any pen. There are divas among them, as are among us. :-D)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The most curvy - Danitrio Mae West II

Mae is here!

You could see Kevin's picture of this beauty here a little while ago when it hadn't arrived with me yet. Now I've had it for about two weeks - and also had one week off work, thus plenty of time to take pictures - but I wasn't satisfied enough with the pictures to show them. I'm still not, not really, but still I want to show this pen now.

Danitrio Mae West in kawari-nuri "rose gold" - Even the top of the section is decorated.

Kevin encouraged me to look at the finish in different lightings because it would make the pen's colours vary pretty much. The difference can already be seen by comparing the photos above and below this paragraph, and it is a lot more pronounced when comparing artificial light to daylight where it will look more red-and-yellow.

According to Danitrio, kawari-nuri is a really elastic term which covers all sorts of free-style lacquer work. If anyone happens to know the specific term for this kind of finish I'd be happy to be informed!

 Danitrio Mae West in kawari-nuri "rose gold" - On the ends of cap and barrel, the pencil strokes form small spirals. 

When I unpacked "Mae" it was evening, the light was dim and warm and  I was - as expected - absolutely smitten by it: The pen's surface dark gold, seemingly three dimensional, the fine golden brush strokes catching the light. Look at the cap in the picture above and you'll see how some of the golden areas reflect the light more than others. As I take the pen up in my hand the reflections will wander, highlight here and there.

Danitrio Mae West in kawari-nuri "rose gold"

In addition to the amazing lacquer finish "Mae" also has a rather unique silhouette. No straight lines here, every surface curved, tapered. The pen is the classic oversize length which it shares with a Montblanc 149, Pelikan M1000 or Visconti Homo Sapiens OS, but it's breaking those boundaries in width. Especially the cap is quite a lot fatter.
The surface, besides being gorgeous, is not as mirror-y glossy as in my other Urushi pens. There are spots where small irregularities can be seen and felt, betraying what's going on under the surface, that those vivid brush strokes indeed have formed a relief before being covered by transparent lacquer.

 Danitrio Mae West in kawari-nuri "rose gold" - red or golden? I couldn't say. 

The nib is the usual smaller Danitrio nib which my Takumi and Octagon share. It comes in a variety of sizes, both stiff and flexible. It's the least spectacular thing about the pen, in fact it needs some tweaking, but that lead to me taking the leap and exchanging the nib on my own (I'm still kind of holding my breath). The nibs pulled quite easily, resetting took a few tries, not because it was hard to get nib and feed back in but because fractions of millimeters mean a lot to how the ink flow will behave. I'm satisfied with the results. Mae still has a flexible stub nib, but one tweaked by John Sorowka.
(There's only one occasion I got more ink on my fingers: When I wanted to eyedropper fill a pen and overestimated its ink capacity. Of course if you were sensible and patient you would flush the pen with water first.)

 Danitrio Mae West in kawari-nuri "rose gold" - Writing sample with flexible stub nib and  Diamine "Ancient Copper" 

I like to match pen and ink colour wise and Ancient Copper seems like the perfect choice here.

Danitrio's flexible nibs are, unlike some other so-called modern day nibs, truly very flexible, so much so that sometimes the feed will just give up on providing the necessary ink flow. On these occasion capillary action between the tines will break, leading to "railroading" clearly visible in the lower part of writing sample (which I made happen for you for totally scientific purposes of course).

Like most other aspects of fountain pen writing this is highly dependent on the nib/paper/ink combination. With this ink railroading happens on Rhodia paper more frequently than on the Clairfontaine Triomphe. With another ink it might be quite different, still I doubt the nib could provide flex for pages on end like a vintage flex pen. Still those Danitrio nibs have a wonderfully soft feel to them and also, due to the yielding tines, seem to me more forgiving in terms of writing angles than other stubs and italics.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The soil and the lava - A Nakaya Rainbow

Nakaya! Nakaya! ... And some musings about Urushi

Since I've got my Long Cigar in heki-tame nuri (green-brown) there's four Urushi colours in my pen family and I felt like taking a group photo! Each pen looks gorgeous on its own but even more so together.

Nakaya kuro-tame, aka-tame, heki-tame and shiro-tame nuri.
Look at the spot where cap and barrel meet, the lacquer will be lighter there, shine, show its undercolour.

Tame-nuri is a traditional Japanese lacquering technique which involves two colours of lacquer applied over each other. I don't really know a terrible lot about that so if anyone detects a mistake I'd be happy to be corrected! Here's what I know:

Raw Urushi lacquer will be semi-transparent with a brownish tinge. It will also be poisonous up to the extent of causing an allergic shock and it won't dry at all unless exposed to warm and humid conditions. The saturation of the colour will vary depending on how many layers of Urushi are applied, and every Urushi-coated pen will usually see many, many thin layers of it.
At Urushi Kobo Europe I found auseful resource on Urushi and some interesting pictures. Fountain pens are in fact pretty much a niche for Urushi use, more commonly it is used for tableware, vases, little storage cabinets and other decorative items. It was even more widespread in the past before synthetic lacquers and plastics became widely available. Even Samurai armor is said to have been coated with it.

Nakaya Piccolo Writer, Portable Cigar, Long Cigar, Piccolo Cigar.

Back to tame-nuri and its two colours. The lighter colour will be applied first. From left to right in the above picture it will be red, red again, green and white. Urushi can be coloured in all shades of the rainbow by adding pigments to the liquid. The shown colours are pretty traditional. Red was one of the earliest Urushi colours and was achieved by adding cinnabar.
Once the underlayer is complete another colour will be added. From left to right that would be black, red, brown and - totally not sure about the last one, maybe brown to or even uncoloured Urushi? From looking at the pen the two colours will now be as one, but at the edges the undercolour will still show. Also due to the semi-transparency of the Urushi lacquer small colour irregularities can be seen under the surface.
Someone once described looking at Urushi lacquer as looking into a deep, clear pond and that's an astonishingly fitting description. It has a depth to it that doesn't compare to your lacquered car, furniture or fingernails. ;-)

More advanced traditional techniques of Urushi lacquer works are Raden and maki-e. Once I get decent photos done I'm planning to do a post on these as well.

Nakaya Long Cigar in heki-tame nuri, with friends.

For reasons unknown to me the colours often show even better on the sections of the pens. Tobacco brown and seladon green - didn't assume it would look good together? Neither did I. But here goes.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Time for Orange! Iroshizuku yu-yake

Fall is here and winter isn't far either. Today has been the first cold day and we've had the first snowfall in parts of the country. The leaves that have been sporting warm yellows and reds for weeks have now gone limp and will fall in a matter of days. It's high time for warm colours!

Also in inks I find that I prefer cool blues and teals in summer, but keep going back to oranges, reds and brown in winter. At the moment an especially beautiful orange/burnt yellow ink is sloshing around in the tank of my gorgeous Montblanc 149 with super broad oblique nib: Iroshizuku yu-yake.

Iroshizuku yu-yake in Montblanc Meisterstück 149

Definitely one of those inks which are made for wet, wet, wet nibs. It might also work with a narrower tip if the pen is wet enough, else legibility might suffer.

I'm not going to go into the details of ink reviewing a lot since I a) don't have access to a scanner and b) am not 100% sure my monitor is calibrated enough to show the finest nuances of inks plus c) and most importantly I don't have the scientific interest to analyze my inks in terms of flow, feathering and what not.

So in all shortness and very subjectively: That is a really nice ink! Look at the shading. It looks best on ivory or cream coloured paper like the one in the picture. It's 100% cotton Büttenpapier (watermarked paper) by German papermill DFW in Dresden. Like all cotton papers it absorbs quite a bit of ink so you will need a wet pen or the lines will look skinny.

Iroshizuku yu-yake in Montblanc Meisterstück 149

The colour reminds me of something I can't quite put my finger on, maybe something I used to see when I was a child, but definitely something associated with fall. Pumpkins? Crisp, brown leaves on a sunlit path? No, that's not it though close. In any case it's a good memory. Maybe it will come back one day.

The ink also works perfectly with the 149, which currently is my go-to pen for writing letters and journal. It's surprising how easily your handwriting will fit into common boundaries even with such a broad nib as long as there's some line variation involved to keep your letters open (except for the Es, but that's not due to the nib. I manage to get closed-up Es with extra fine nibs - another aspect my handwriting still needs improvement in.)
I also love the ink window, not only for being convenient but also because it reminds me of film rolls.

The text, by the way, is a "Lord of the Rings" quote. I love so many passages of those books, they give me the goosebumps. It's the part where Gimli is scolded by Celeborn for stirring up the evil in Moria and crossing their border and is then consoled by Galadriel. One of my favourites.

Another one is where Gimli tells Legolas about the wonder of the caves at Helm's Deep. (Yes, I like Gimli!)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The smallest size - Conway Stewart Dinkie

Personal Best of, Part 7

Today I'd like to show you a pen that's on the "Best of..." list because of its size, or the lack thereof. It is small. Petite. Tiny! I'm not really sure if it really is the smallest pen I own because there is still a Stipula Passaporto, in any case the Dinkie's size isn't something that makes it an especially unobtrusive pen but something that calls attention to it.

On my pen tray without something to compare it to it almost looks like a full size pen.

Conway Stewart Dinkie.

Now why does somebody like me, someone who likes her pens on the heavier or at least on the larger side, who doesn't post the cap and for whom the hefty "Homo Sapiens" is exactly the right weight, buy - and like - such a pen? Well, to be honest it was mainly the colour, the curiosity factor and it being cheap.

It might well be not only the smallest but also the oldest pen of my humble collection, I'm much too little of an expert to be sure about these things, but to be sure this one has seen a lot of life and it's not always been good.

The green marbled casein plastic body is heavily scarred by scratches and a crack near the lever. Apparently this can happen if you try to force the lever and the ink sac has gone stiff, which they will naturally do over time. So if you encounter a lever filler with rather a lot of resistance, don't force it, your pen could meet the same fate. Luckily enough it's still functioning. It also arrived with me with quite misaligned nib tines which John Sorowka fixed for me.

Pelikan M1000 - Conway Stewart Dinkie - Montblanc 149

Next to a Pelikan M1000 and a Montblanc 149 - yes, that's unfair, but that's the kind of pen size I usually prefer. Astonishingly enough the Dinkie still stands its ground. From what I've heard this was, by the way, not a woman's pen but designed to be carried in a Gentleman's vest pocket.

It was the first time I came across Casein as material for pen cap and barrel and I think this is another fact making the Dinkie rather unique among my other pens. I couldn't really care less about the material until it showed that Casein has the rather astonishing property of being able to absorb a bit of water, thus swelling like a sponge. I learned that one the hard way after a good soaking - though "hard" is not the right word, "the wobbly, enlarged, can't screw the cap back on because the barrel is too big" way would be more exact.
After a good night's rest in a dry environment the barrel was back to its firm self.

David & Goliath: Conway Stewart Dinkie, Montblanc 149

Small pen, small nib: Next to a Montblanc Meisterstück 149. It is, however, a very nice, smooth and soft (though not really flexible) writer with generous ink flow and makes you forget that it is attached to something that, in size, feels like a Bic Stick. Though the amount of ink the sac holds would probably make your novel-writing project a little annoying, it is more than sufficient for everyday use and won't dry out soon either.

A writing sample with Diamine Ancient Copper, a very pretty ink but certainly not the right choice in this pen.  Why?

Ancient Copper is prone to producing a lot of "crud" - consisting of crystallized dye particles - around the nib in the right conditions and the conditions my Dinkie provides seem to be flawless. This crystallizing doesn't mean that the ink is spoiled but is a property of a certain dye, supposedly yellow, which is why this phenomenon occurs with some orange, red and green shades under certain conditions.
I still didn't change the colour yet though since, well, a thorough cleaning is unavoidable and I don't want to meet Mr. SpongePen again. So for now it keeps writing - and crudding - with Ancient Copper, and I keep writing - and wiping the crud off.
Old pens are allowed to have quirks.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Visconti Homo Sapiens - The coolest piece of rock

Personal Best of, Part 6

A few years ago, Italian pen manufacturer Visconti started to make a compound of plastics and lava stone from the Aetna. They made fittings and the clip out of bronze and gave the pen a two-tone Palladium nib. I think this is a rather brilliant marketing idea, but it wouldn't have helped much if the pens weren't pretty. They are, and more, at least to me.

Visconti Homo Sapiens "Bronze" and "Steel Age", oversize models.
Visconti Homo Sapiens Bronze fountain pen

The bronze pen has been the first. The metal's surface is untreated so it will develop a patina over time. This can be seen on the clip, where the egdes are shinier than the flats. This could easily be polished to a bright shine if you wanted to, but many owners, me included, like to keep a certain patina.

Visconti Homo Sapiens Bronze fountain pen
The knob on the top of the cap, sporting the Visconti logo by default, is magnetic and can be exchanged with gemstones and all sorts of stuff Visconti offers for this purpose. I haven't tried that though and don't intend to.

These pens have a lot going for them. Do you see the matte surface? It's a unique thing to touch. It reminds of me of soft rubber, also feels yielding, though of course it isn't. It will provide good grip without feeling rough. Neither fingerprints nor scratches will show. It will absorb a bit of your hand oils and sweat and always feel dry.

Visconti Homo Sapiens Bronze fountain pen
Some - among which, of course, Visconti themselves - have claimed this to be the most indestructible material that has ever been in use for a fountain pen. I heard a story of a guy whose "Homo Sapiens" fell down three flights of stairs and didn't have a scratch when it reached the ground floor. My "Steel Age", however, has a slight chip on the barrel and it surely didn't endure that much, so... I'd say, it depends.

Visconti Homo Sapiens Bronze fountain pen

That nib is the next special thing. It's Visconti's "Dreamtouch Nib" made of Palladium, and they are nice nibs indeed when working properly (which, sadly, isn't always the case right out of the box) - but is this due to the Palladium? I couldn't say.

To me, and despite writing with fountain pens pretty much, a nib is still a mysterium. Why will some of them feel soft though they aren't more flexible than others? Why will some of them make your handwriting pretty and with others you'll be struggling and never get it quite right? No wonder it seems they have a personality of their own.

Visconti Homo Sapiens Bronze fountain pen

The "Bronze" nib is a rather charming persona. Like all of the well working Visconti nibs it is very wet. It was a factory broad which I sent to John Sorowka for a regrind to cursive italic. There's a writing sample at the end of the post. It's beautiful.

The "Steel Age" nib is a little more diva. It's a factory stub with really likeable line variation - I don't have any other stub/italic quite like this one -, but doesn't like all inks. I had to have it tweaked before it was usable without being totally frustrating because it wouldn't start half of the time. Unfortunately, the chance this happens to your new Visconti nib is relatively high, especially if it's a stub. I hope they will fix this sometime.

 Visconti Homo Sapiens Steel Age fountain pen 
Except for the metal details, the Bronze and Steel Age Homo Sapiens pens are quite the same but the overall impression is very different. You can see that the steel is glossier, the pen looks more grave and businesslike and also more "modern days" than the Bronze one.

Another difference, invisible at first glance, is the filling system. The Bronze is a "power filler" which holds quite a lot of ink even with this gusher of a nib. The Steel Age is a plain piston filler with relatively low capacity, especially with the stub nib using up even more ink than the broad.

  Visconti Homo Sapiens Steel Age fountain pen - single colour nib 
The last picture also shows very clearly one thing speaking against the pen: It is a lot more prone to staining than your average plastic. The greenish shimmer on the edge of the section originates from J. Herbins "Rouge Hématite" the pen is filled with. The section already has been wiped down but it still shows. These stains will eventually go away with a long soak in soapy water and extended rubbing of the barrel with a soft cloth, but I have also heard of stains that have left discolorations, especially the infamous Baystate Blue. In any case, wiping the pen thoroughly with a wet paper towel after filling doesn't hurt.

Some Homo Sapiens also will sweat ink at the very edge of the section, thus potentially staining your fingers. This can easily be fixed by carefully unscrewing the nib unit and applying some silicone grease to the threads.

Visconti Homo Sapiens writing samples: the 1.3 mm stub with J. Herbin Rouge Hematite, the broad cursive italice with Diamine Steel Blue (who names their inks? Does this look like steel blue to anyone?)