While I was taking a walk a few days ago I saw this tree branch grow out of a tiny crack in a solid stone wall and I was impressed enough by its tenacity and resilience to draw it. By chance this drawing is on the opposite page of the one I made for my last health update, which seems appropriate.
I underwent a PET CT on the 9th of September, and thankfully the results were good. The treatment is working, kicking my cancer’s ass and not just making me feel bad. I went through another round of Chemo on the 12th, my fifth round so far, and the side effects are stronger and taking longer to fade away between sessions. This is to be expected, as the Chemo’s effects are cumulative, but I’ve decided to be like that tree: resilient. I’m making minor adjustments to get me through the post-Chemo days, working out ways to help me ride out the pain and unpleasantness of the worst of the side effects. It’s hard to pick up a pen or brush in the first days after treatment, and I sometimes lose fine motor control. So I’m using larger and lighter pens, and I take photos of things that I want to draw instead of working on location. At home I can take my time while sketching, take breaks, experiment with looser drawing. The drawing above isn’t large or complicated, but it took me two days to complete (one for line work and one for the watercolour).
I had a strange Yom Kippur this year, as is to be expected. I decided to commemorate it in my sketchbook, this time using Faber Castel Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils in addition to my usual Schmincke and Daniel Smith watercolour mixture.
Drawn on a Stillman and Birn Alpha. Ink is Iroshizuku Ina Ho (lines), Robert Oster Fire and Ice (heading and text) and Sailor 123 (2021).
I am a huge fan of the original, vintage Esterbrook fountain pens. They are beautiful, versatile workhorses that are easyto find and affordable, provided you’re not after the rarer colours/models/nibs. If only they didn’t have lever fillers, one of my least favourite filling systems, they would have been my go to vintage pens.
I don’t buy vintage brand reboot pens. In my early days of fountain pen use there was a lot of hype about the reboot of Conklin. Conklin fountain pens had an interesting filling mechanism that I wanted to check out, but they were all too expensive for me at the time. Then came the brand reboot in the mid 2000’s which made the pens more affordable and more widely available. So I bought a Conklin Mark Twain in 2009, and it was terrible. It looked and felt like a $10 pen, it skipped and hard started all the time, and it fell to pieces after the first use. I still keep it as a reminder to be circumspect with my purchases in the future. The experience made me leery of vintage brand reboots, and so when Esterbrook was rebooted I stayed clear of their pens. They didn’t look like Esties, they looked like generic fountain pens, so I decided that this too must be a QC nightmare money grab that would ruin the Esterbrook name.
I was wrong.
After a mountain of good new Esterbrook reviews came in, and after I reconciled myself to the idea that the new Esterbrooks did not look like the old Esterbrooks I decided to give the Esterbrook Estie a try, and picked up a Sea Glass with a journalling nib. I normally don’t buy pens with gold hardware, but this was what was available at the time, and so a gold hardware Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass it is.
First of all, the pen is gorgeous. It has the classic cigar/torpedo shape that many fountain pens share, but the material of the Sea Glass pen sets it apart. It’s partly translucent, partly chatoyant, and vibrant without being Benu loud.
What took me by surprise is the capping mechanism. It reminded me of a child safe pill bottle, where you also have to push down as you twist to get the bottle to open. The mechanism does work well to make sure that the Estie doesn’t dry up or accidentally uncap itself, but it also means that it takes longer and a bit more effort to uncap the pen. If you write in short bursts this mechanism is going to be an annoyance.
The “cushion cap” mechanism is well made and is attractive and unobtrusive when writing, so I don’t think it detracts from the pen. It’s just something to be aware of, since it is so unusual. It reminds me a bit of the Visconti Homo Sapiens caps.
The nib has scrolls and the Esterbrook branding on it, as well as a four digit number, like the old Esterbrook nibs. You can unscrew the nib and replace it with a vintage Estie nib, though I’ve been enjoying my Gina Salorino medium stub journalling nib enough to not want to change it. The fact that Kenro industries, the makers of the new Esterbrook, have teamed up with nibmeisters to offer custom nib grinds is amazing. Apart from the journalling nib they also offer an architect grind.
The pen is branded on the cap lip below the clip with an “Esterbrook” imprint in gold script. I really don’t like the branding, as I feel like it cheapens the pen. If it were just an imprint then I think it would have been classier.
The Esterbrook Estie is a cartridge-converter pen, and it comes with an excellent converter. The fact that this isn’t a lever filler like vintage Esties is great, as it’s much easier to fill, clean and check how much ink you have left in a converter, plus sometimes cartridges are convenient.
The Esterbrook Estie is on the larger side but not heavy, with its weight distributed closer to the nib. It makes for a very comfortable writing experience, especially for me now. The cap posts, but I wouldn’t post it because it makes the pen overly long and unwieldy.
Here’s a writing sample with the journalling nib. It’s a lot of fun to use, and very forgiving to whatever writing angle you use it with:
The Esterbrook Estie is more than a reboot to an old beloved brand. It’s a fantastic pen to select as your first “more than $100” fountain pen. It’s very well made, comfortable to use, has a classic fountain pen look, and an interesting selection of nibs that you can get directly from the manufacturer. It’s also very forgiving: easy to clean due to the combined cartridge-converter system and nib unscrewing, not likely to dry up or leak due to the cushion cap, and comes with easy and cheap ways to customise the nib post-purchase if you find that your tastes have changed. There are a lot of vintage Estie nib units out there.
The pen that I was leery of buying turned out to be one of the best fountain pens I have.
It’s been a while since my last update, so I thought that I’d write a new one. On August 24th I had my fourth chemo treatment, and it went rougher than the ones before it in terms of side effects. The worst of the bunch has been my neuropathy, which until now has been not so bad. This time however, both my hands were numb and tingly, and the tips of my fingers actually hurt. It’s been hard typing, holding a pen, drawing. It’s not that I’ve stopped doing these things, it’s just that it’s been a challenge to overcome the pain, to focus more to get my hands moving the way that I want them to. But I haven’t given up, and I’ve managed to type, write with my pens, and even create this drawing:
Not bad for someone with semi functioning fingers, right?
My hands have gotten better with time, but they are getting better slowly, and they still haven’t returned to normal. I’ve discovered that lighter fountain pens with bigger barrels are the best in terms of being easy on my hands, and although my handwriting has suffered a bit due to the pain, it is still recognizably my handwriting.
What’s next? On Thursday I have a PET CT which will determine what the rest of my chemo treatment will be, and on Sunday I’ll have the fifth chemo treatment. I’m not looking forward to either of these things, and as the PET CT is approaching my anxiety levels are rising (I really need good results on it). Meanwhile I’m trying to distract myself with work, books and season 2 of “Ted Lasso”. Here’s hoping for good results, and less pain for the Jewish New Year.
This is a super quick review because the Tactile Turn Nautilus is available only until the 8th of September, and I can’t write a more detailed review in my current circumstances (more on that in a later update).
This is the Tactile Turn Nautilus (the standard version), a limited edition Tactile Turn side click pen. Photographs do not do this pen justice. It’s stunning in person:
It’s a titanium bodied pen with a metallic, colour shifting Cerakote finish, and it’s that finish that transforms this pen from a good machined pen into a triumph of craftsmanship and design.
There are gold undertones to the finish that, coupled with the grooves on the pen body, the glittering gold clip and the Cerakote finish texture on everything, make this pen mesmerising.
The clip has a gold Cerakote finish that evokes the golden undertones of the blue metallic Cerakote finish on the pen body. The gold is muted, and helps make the pen classy not flashy 🙂
The finish adds texture to an already textured pen (due to the Tactile Turn rings that are engraved on all the body). This makes the pen easy to grip, as it has an almost sandy feel to it.
The Tactile Turn Nautilus isn’t a light pen and is top heavy, but it’s still a pen that’s a joy to write with. If you’re considering a Tactile Turn pen, or any machined pen for that matter, I recommend giving the Nautilus a try.
In lieu of a longer review, if you have any questions, please post them in the comments and I’ll be glad to answer.
There is a local group of illustrators and animators that have set up a delightful new tradition during the pandemic: they meet up every Tuesday morning on Zoom for a sketch/doodle session, where they do quick, loose sketches and doodles just to warm up and experiment. Once a month the morning Tuesday meeting is replaced by a night Monday meeting with a guest artist leading the session with various prompts. Tonight my Urban Sketchers chapter head lead the session, and through her I joined the fun.
As I’m neither an illustrator or an animator, I’m posting everything here as quickly as possible before I see the other artists’ amazing work and lose my nerve.
We started with the suggestion to just doodle while we waited for people to join. I was using a new sketchbook that was very cheap, laid flat and had thick textured paper (good for pencil). I used a Caran d’Ache Fixpencil with a 2B lead, and a Tombow brush pen throughout this one hour session.
We started with a few blind contours, which I haven’t done for years, and so I kept catching myself automatically glancing down at the page. Definitely something I need to practice to get used to drawing these again. We were using Shutterstock films as our models, so that subject was moving around, some of them quite a lot. The idea was to get used to sketching people in motion, grasping as quickly as possible what captured their character.
This looks good if you don’t know what the original looked like. I do, however, like the boldness and flow and expressivity of the lines here. Something to recapture in the future.
Then we did an exercise where we had 10 seconds to look at a moving person and try to remember what made them them, and then draw a portrait of them from memory. As Marina suggested, it’s easier if you describe the person to yourself in a few sentences.
The second subject drawn as a blind contour:
And from memory:
We only had a minute for each portrait, and that was too little for me. It’s a good challenge to practice in the future (working under such short time limits with such complex, moving subjects).
The next exercise was to capture the subjects feelings. Again, a 2 minute time limit would have been more in my wheelhouse.
The second subject for this exercise went through every emotion in the book so I couldn’t settle on one.
The third was just fun though:
Then we did a caricature exercise, where we tried to draw people as not overly stylized caricatures. We has a minute for each, and I was starting to warm up at this point:
The next exercise was a strange one – to draw a person as if he was morphing into an animal and we caught them in the middle of the morph.
This was fun and very creative:
The next one was to draw people in action, in one minute. To capture as many gestures as possible. I guess that the animators had a field day with this one, but I really struggled.
Finally we had 15 minutes to draw each other. I had a lot of fun with this, and the earlier exercises really did help me warm up and loosen up and work faster.
These exercises are definitely something that I’ll try to warm up before drawing portraits, and they’re also just a lot of fun to do. If you have a minute, a pencil and a blank page I recommend that you give them a go.
Drop is continuing its cooperation with Marvel and is issuing Infinity Saga themed keycap sets. The first set issued was of course, the Captain America one. Alas, it featured dark red modifiers with light red text on them, which is unfortunate. Next came the Iron Man set, which was better than the Captain America one but still too red for my liking. Third in line was the Black Panther set and it is gorgeous.
The set comes with a nice poster-like sleeve around the box that contains the keycap trays. It’s a nice added bonus, and something that you can easily cut out and display as a mini poster.
The box the keycap set comes in has the same design as the custom keycap that Drop sold before they started selling sets. It’s elegant and functional and I love the logo design on this.
The set itself comes in three trays, ready to easily assemble, and carefully packed so that the keys don’t move around or get scratched in transit:
The first tray contains the purple alphas:
This is a full set that will fit practically any keyboard layout so there are a lot of “extra” keycaps here.
The second tray contains black modifiers as well as purple numpad keycaps and some extras.
The third and final tray contains the novelties (which are excellent) and more black modifiers. The novelties are T’Challa’s mask, necklace, a silhouette of the ancestor tree scene from the movie, and two Marvel logo keycaps.
The keycaps are doubleshot ABS and thick. You can see one of them compared to a keycap from the SA Dasher set.
Here are the keycaps on my Code TKL keyboard, without backlighting. Yes, I know that the spacebar is flipped. That’s how I use it.
And here they are with backlighting:
You can see the texture of the keycaps in the photo below. They are really fun to type with. I usually use SA keycaps, so it took me a minute or two to get used to smaller keycaps again. However, the MT3 profile is really comfortable to use, with the same feeling you get with SA keycaps of the keyboard coming to meet you. As with SA sets, the homing keys are just the same keycaps with a deeper scoop to them.
Here are the novelties in action. The ancestor tree:
And the mask, logo and talon necklace keycaps:
I haven’t bought a new keycap set in years, but this one really called out to me and I’m glad that I purchased it. It’s elegant, understated but not pedestrian, and its a joy to use. I can only hope that future sets in this collaboration come out as well as this one.
I am a big fan of Field Notes, so when I saw that they came out with a sketchbook in collaboration with musician Maggie Rogers, I had to give it spin. The Maggie Rogers Field Notes are in the “Dime Novel” size, and are bound with and contain Strathmore paper. That is a promising start: an uncommon sketchbook size, with artist quality paper inside.
The Maggie x Field Notes edition comes with two sketchbooks in each pack, one with a red tinted spine and one with a blue tinted spine. On the cover of each is a Joshua Meier photo that was featured on Maggie Rogers’s first two albums: Blood Ballet is on the red tinted one on the left, and The Echo is on the blue tinted one on the right.
Beyond the normal “Pertinent Coordinates” design on the front cover, there is a vellum fly-sheet in each sketchbook featuring Maggie Rogers’s original hand-written lyrics. It’s a nice touch that really adds to this edition’s design.
I also like the decision to print these on vellum and not on Strathmore paper that is in the rest of the sketchbook. It gives the words an airy feeling that doesn’t weigh too heavily on the user. You don’t feel the need to compete with them, so to speak.
The inside of the back cover features Field Notes’ usual spiel and some information about Maggie Rogers and this collaboration. As usual, it also lists all of the technical details of this sketchbook, which I love. It would have been nice to get the Strathmore paper weight in a more standard gsm notation.
The red, Blood Ballet edition of the notebook is the same as the blue one, just with a red brown tint to it.
So, to business. How does the Maggie Rogers Field Notes perform as a sketchbook? For that I tested it with some Uni Pin fineliners and brush pen, a Fixpencil with 2B lead, and finally with light watercolour use. Unsurprisingly, considering the paper inside is light weighted Strathmore, it’s a good sketchbook to have in your bag or coat pocket. It’s versatile and not too precious to make you feel bad about “ruining” pages.
The first sketch that I made was done with a grey Uni-Pin 0.5 fineliner. The paper isn’t entirely smooth, but I no problem using the fineliner on it. The ink doesn’t spread or feather, but it does show through and even bleed through to the other side. I won’t be using both sides of the paper here.
You can see the show through and even a spot or two of bleed through here. I really don’t recommend drawing on both sides of the page here.
The next drawing was done with a Uni Pin brush pen. The paper isn’t glass smooth, and that actually makes it more fun to draw on. There was no spread and less bleed-through than with the fineliner somehow. I still wouldn’t use the other side of the page, because it will show through.
The paper shines with pencil, and I had a lot of fun sketching this palm using a Fixpencil with a 2B lead. If pencil is your medium of choice, you are going to love this little sketchbook.
As for watercolour, you can use the Maggie Rogers Field Notes sketchbook for light washes in a pinch, but it’s clearly not made for this. Washes come out patchy and grainy, and while the paper holds and doesn’t buckle too much if you are vey careful and only use a small amount of water on it, I really wouldn’t use it for watercolour.
The reverse side of the paper shows just how much it buckled under the strain of even a small amount of water (pun intended).
I think that the Maggie Rogers Field Notes is a nice sketchbook to try out quick ideas and vignettes in. It’s a nice sketchbook that’s not too nice, the vellum fly-sheet actually reduces the pressure of the first blank page, and so long as you don’t insist on using watercolour with it, it’s versatile and will do as your main pocket sketchbook in a pinch. Its main weaknesses (the thinness of its paper and the binding that doesn’t allow the pages to open flat so you can’t use a whole spread) actually work together to make this a sketchbook that encourages you to burn through it. It’s not precious. It’s not too nice. It’s a workman-like sketchbook, which works perfectly with the Field Notes brand.
I’ve been going through a rough timelately, and as many people have been so kind to say, staying optimistic despite all the bad things that I’ve had to deal with lately is key to getting through this terrible time. That is, of course, easier said than done. My mind tends to latch on to the painful and scary parts of the day, to the bad feelings, anxiety and doubt. It doesn’t help that we are all living through difficult times, and it’s hard to see and end in sight.
So I’ve started a new habit during the past month, and it’s helping me end the day on a positive note, with an added bonus of helping me use up some of my many notebooks.
I end each day by writing at least three good things that happened that day. I dedicate a page for each day, in my Dingbats notebook, with “Three Good Things” as the title, the date and day, and then the list of good things. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to find that day’s three good things, and for most days so far I’ve managed to find more than three good things to reflect on. They are usually conversations that I had with friends, or moments where I felt like my old self, or things that I enjoyed reading or watching.
Writing these down has been so helpful in getting me to see the good in each day, and in trying to stay positive when life is pretty tough.
On the day before our last of our latest trip to London we went to see the Royal Style in the Making exhibition at Kensington Palace, colloquially known as the “Diana Wedding Dress Exhibition”. The tickets included a visit to Victoria’s childhood rooms in the palace, and the exhibition had other dresses on display, but you knew immediately what it was about once you entered the exhibition pavilion.
The dress was prominently displayed, most of the visitors (not many, due to Covid restrictions) were congregated around it, and it was HUGE. The thing was large, and puffy like an overdecorated wedding cake, and had a train that was just bananas. I can’t imagine what it was like being cramped with so many meters of lacy, embroidered fabric in the back of a car on her way to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Looking at that dress I thought to myself that it ended up being more symbolic of Diana’s life than designers Elizabeth and David Emanuel had envisioned. She was stuffed into an overly symbolic, stifling, uncomfortable life that made it difficult for her to show her best qualities: her warmth, her ease with human connection, her genuine care for people, and the simple way she just lit every room she entered.
There were two other dress designs in the exhibition that caught my eye. The first was a salmon coloured dress that David Sassoon created for Princess Diana as her wedding day dress and she ended up wearing as a “working” dress. It’s much more sensible, colourful, chic and warm and it although it still has terrible 80’s style stamped over it, you can see how it would have worked well on her at the time.
The second dress is prototype of the Queen Mother’s Coronation dress, and it is sleek, chic, and yet also intricate and sophisticated. Of all the dresses in the exhibition, this dress best stood the test of time, and I could see it be worn by an A-level star at the Met Gala.
If you are in London and you can get tickets to this exhibition, I do recommend going, both to see Victoria’s childhood rooms, and to see the dresses on display (although fair warning, there aren’t many of them). Princess Diana had a good eye for fashion and how it would allow her to connect with people (she didn’t wear hats because you can’t cuddle a child with a hat, and she liked costume jewellery because it gave the children she picked up something to play with), and to send subtle and not so subtle messages about what was going on in her life (search for the black sheep sweater or the fabulous “revenge dress” to see what I mean).