I tried to get my hands on the Timex X DDC Scout watch designed by Aaron Draplin for three times before I managed to snag one. They are sold out so quickly that if you want one you really need to set an alarm and be quick with your keyboard and mouse. Then our local post office tried to do a vanishing act with my package, but finally, a month after I ordered it, I got my hands on this orange and black beauty. I only use analogue watches, usually Swatch watches (in recent years it was System 51 Swatch mechanical watches), but I’ve never owned such a heavy watch. It took me a day to get used to it, and since then it has been my constant companion. It is a beast of a MACHINE but an eye catching one, and I couldn’t be happier with my purchase. I highly recommend getting one, if you have any interest in watches.
I think that there’s nothing better than plain pasta or pasta with a little cheese if you’re not feeling your best: it’s perhaps the ultimate comfort food.
I created this page as part of my Sketchbook Design course with Liz Steel, and this one is all about exploring how to use text as part of my page design. Gave Rohrer & Kilngner Helianthus ink a spin, which is also something that I decided to experiment with. Like many yellow/orange inks it tends to crystallize on the nib and feed, so I’m “sacrificing” a Pelikan Pelikano for the effort. Pelikanos are great beginners pens that don’t get much love in the community probably because they are less ubiqutous than Lamy Safaris and their standard nib offering is a Pelikan medium which is very wide. If you’re an artist I recommend purchasing one (with a converter), as they have less tendency to dry out (with permanent inks) than Lamy Safaris and they indestructible workhorses that have very smooth (and wide) nibs.
Drawing made with Schmincke watercolours on a Stillman & Birn Beta which I’m still on the fence about. It’s better than the Alpha for watercolour washes, but it’s still not great, and it’s not great for pen and ink or fineliners. Also the glue connecting the sections isn’t the best, as it needs forcing apart once you hit a new section, and oftentimes leaves an unseemly tear in the middle. The sketchbooks are good, I just wish that the sections were sewn together and that the paper would lean into being watercolour paper more – so that they would be perfect. However, changes like these would mean a price increase, which would make them unappealing, since a large part of the Stillman & Birn softcover sketchbook appeal is their price. In the end it’s a nice sketchbook that I don’t feel too precious about, which is the main point, and is why I’ll continue using it.
If you follow any makers on YouTube you probably saw this ugly yet somehow charming little mechanical pencil in action. The Paper Mate SharpWriter is a strange beast, full of surprises. It’s a mechanical pencil with a twist mechanism in the tip instead of a click mechanism under the cap, it actually has a serviceable eraser, and it’s non-refillable. It’s as if Paper Mate saw the “Think Different” ad and said, “yes, but how can we apply that to a mechanical pencil?”
First of all, you can buy the Paper Mate SharpWriter in many different widths, as long as they’re all 0.7mm. This has the added value of saving Paper Mate the need to indicate the lead width on the pencil, because there’s only one width to rule them all. I can’t honestly fault them for that. It’s a pencil that’s meant for students and bills itself as having less lead breakage, and so 0.7mm is the way to go.
There are some interesting things going on with the business side of this pencil. First and foremost, that’s where the lead propelling mechanism is, which caught me by surprise. It’s a twist mechanism, and it’s pretty sophisticated as it allows you to easily extend and retract the lead to suit your needs. The second part is the “lead cushioning mechanism” which means that the lead springs up and down as you right, preventing you from breaking it if you exert too much pressure. It works, but I’m not a fan as it makes me feel as if the lead is broken inside and I have to extend it to get rid of the small broken piece and reach the “real” lead left inside. It’s going to take some time for me to get used to it.
The eraser is downright phenomenal, as it actually erases things quite well, and doesn’t tear into the page. The lead itself is a solid HB 0.7mm lead that is smooth and on the slightly darker side of HB.
The Paper Mate SharpWriter isn’t a pretty of fancy mechanical pencil, but it’s comfortable to hold, lightweight, and has a playful colour scheme that recalls a woodcase pencil. And like a woodcase pencil, it’s disposable, which is where my only real beef with this pencil lies. Yes, this is a student pencil, and so it’s likely to get lost or somehow broken (it’s far from flimsy, but where there’s a will, there’s a way), and if the pencil won’t be lost, the leads will, and yet… The last thing the world needs is more plastic waste.
So, do I recommend the Paper Mate SharpWriter? No, and not because there’s anything wrong with the pencil, it’s just that there’s very little justification for a disposable mechanical pencil when there are cheap, good and even great refillable options to be had in the market.
But I do understand the makers who have fallen for this ugly duckling.
First review of the year! I bought the Uni Pro M9-552 mechanical pencil a while ago in London, I believe. Never having heard of it before, and noting that it was an inexpensive drafting pencil, I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t disappointed: the Uni Pro M9-552 has a terrible name, but it’s a very good drafting pencil AND a very good mechanical pencil, which is not the same thing.
The Uni Pro has a plastic body, a knurled aluminium grip and an aluminium cap and clip. This makes for a light pencil that is weighed towards the tip, which is what makes this a good mechanical pencil and not just a good drafting pencil. It’s very comfortable to hold and write or draw with, even for long periods of time, because of the weight distribution and the knurling on the grip. The knurling provides excellent grip without cutting into your hands.
Like all drafting pencils, it has a long lead sleeve and a lead grade indicator. I like the touch of colour that it provides to this otherwise very utilitarian design. The cap has the lead width, 0.9, engraved into it, and under it is the usual refillable eraser. It will do in a pinch, when you don’t have a block eraser around and have very little to erase.
This isn’t a lead review so I’m not posting a writing sample, but I will say this – if you haven’t tried writing or drawing with a 0.9 lead mechanical pencil, I recommend giving it a go. You get most of the line variation and expressiveness of a woodcase pencil, but without having to stop and sharpen it all the time.
The Uni Pro M9-552 is a good choice of drafting pencil, with its light weight making it a good choice for people with small hands or those that are looking for a drafting pencil that can also serve as a mechanical pencil (i.e. a daily writer). The Uni Pro 552 series also includes a 0.5 pencil (with a red lead grade indicator), 0.7 pencil (blue indicator), 0.3 pencil (yellow indicator), and even a 0.4 pencil (orange indicator, at a rare lead width).
Diamine Monboddo’s Hat intrigued me from the moment I heard the name and saw the colour, but I have too much ink already, so it took a while before I caved in and bought a small bottle of it, and then a while more before I had the chance to use it.
Ever since Lamy Dark Lilac made its appearance a few years ago all dark purple inks have been judged against it, perhaps unfairly. There is more than one shade of dark purple in the world, and in any case unless you’re really set on trying to replicate Dark Lilac’s hue there’s really no need to create that comparison. Let inks stand for themselves first, and then let people know how close they are to an ink they may own or look to purchase.
Diamine Monboddo’s Hat has a delightful name and was made in collaboration with the Fountain Pens UK Facebook group. Diamine’s collaborations have all been interesting so far, and this one isn’t different. Monboddo’s Hat is a reddish leaning deep purple with a green gold sheen that can easily be slipped into office use rotation without anybody noticing. I have used Tomoe River paper to bring out the most of its sheen and shading, but even here it’s not a wild ink.
It’s hard to get the lighter hue of the ink to show while writing, but I made a quick sketch which shows the colour variation Monboddo’s Hat has:
Use Tomoe River paper and tilt it a bit to see the greenish-gold sheen this ink provides.
You can see the sheen on the top row here. Looking at the writing without tilting the paper makes them just look like an almost black purple.
It was fun doodling around with this ink. Here’s a closeup on all that Monboddo’s Hat has to offer:
The sketch was done using a Nakaya fine elastic nib. Where I put less pressure and moved the nib faster you see the lighter shades of purple and less sheen:
I used a fine brush to draw this flower, and a drop of water to show that Monboddo’s Hat isn’t waterproof or water resistant (nor does it claim to be):
Sheen on display:
Regardless of if it’s a good substitute for Lamy Dark Lilac or not, Monboddo’s Hat is a wonderful ink that is worth buying. The shade is dark but still vibrant, the sheen adds interest and pizzaz, and it’s a lot of fun to draw with if you have that inclination. Being a Diamine ink it’s also affordable and easily obtainable, with the added plus of being part of a welcome collaboration between a very old brand and a very modern community.
This is the second of the two Moleskine Sakura Peanuts limited edition notebooks, the pink version. To read about the white version click here.
The first three photos of this edition came out wonky, particularly the first one. I’m still waiting on a better light so that I can take better photos, but for now just look at the photo of the cover without the band to see this notebook’s true colour.
You can see how well Moleskine can design things when it tries, as the bellyband Sakura leaves align exactly with the print on the cover. This too is a fabric covered notebook with no 3D effect and a shiny, silky texture to the fabric. Moleskine seems to be letting the vibrant (ignore the colour in the photo below) pink of the cover to do the heavy lifting here, and I don’t think that’s warranted.
The back cover is a repeat of the white version back cover. The paper is 70gsm, but that’s not listed on the bellyband. It does state that it is acid-free and 240 pages, so I have no idea why the paper weight isn’t listed here but is listed on Moleskine’s site.
The spine is also plain, which is a shame. A nice Snoopy print on it would have made it much more appealing.
So here we have the front cover, minus the bellyband, and in its true colour. I find this cover aggravating. Unlike the white version of this notebook there is no unifying colour scheme between Snoopy and the falling Sakura petals. Snoopy’s white fur doesn’t count here when he’s hugging a bright red heart, and not a pink one. Here there is no excuse for Woodstock not being on the cover (Snoopy’s heart already breaks the pink and white colour scheme). There’s also no real design here: there’s a bunch of falling petals and a Snoopy stuck on top.
Incidentally you can see how well the fabric is attached to the covers by taking a look at this back cover. The notebook got dinged in shipping, which caused the cover to crinkle (bottom right corner of the photo). The fabric is still firmly attached, with no air bubbles or separation between it and the boards below. Impressive.
If the front and back endpapers of the pink edition would have been different from the white edition then this would have redeemed this notebook in my eyes. As it is they are exactly the same as their white counterpart, and as in the front cover the disconnect between the Sakura petals and the Peanuts characters is jarring.
That white page on the left of the back endpapers is just tragic.
I like the choice of pink in the ribbon and elastic, as it’s more vibrant and pops off the page.
The B-side is a repeat of the white version. Again the theme of Sakura and Peanuts is side by side, with no real connection between them.
And the same rather depressing sticker selection as an added bonus to this edition. Rarely ahve stickers made me sad, but here they have.
The Moleskine Sakura Peanuts pink limited edition notebook makes me angry. This edition is a clear, phoned in, money grab. People pay a premium for Moleskine’s design, and this notebook wasn’t designed. It was cobbled together from a bunch of unrelated images, with no effort made to meld the two themes, to do something creative with them, or to even give the notebook user the feeling that someone put time and attention into this edition. Its highlight is the fabric on the cover, which is something that Moleskine nailed a few years ago. This edition will sell out, and I will use these notebooks, but I hope that this is not going to be the direction Moleskine chooses for its limited editions in the future.
I haven’t been able to find the fall/winter Moleskine 2020 catalog, so the Moleskine Peanuts Sakura edition caught me by surprise. The edition includes two cloth covered large lined notebooks, one in pink and one in white, each with the Sakura theme and the Peanuts theme combined.
I’ll start by reviewing the white cover edition of this notebook. First thing is first: Moleskine always nail the design details. The falling Sakura petals on the cover and on the band match:
The back cover is plain white with just the edges of the pale pink elastic in view, plus the Moleskine brand in a medium pink. Moleskine still don’t reveal their paper weight on the cover which is not cool, Moleskine, not cool. The catalog at least used to list that, but it was never made publicly available by Moleskine themselves (I got it through a Chronicle Books upload to scribd). Moleskine’s site does do a better job, listing the paper as 70 gsm so I have no idea why it’s still not listed on the back of the notebook’s bellyband.
There’s even a little Snoopy character on the bellyband spine, but not on the notebook itself, which is a shame. You can also see where the cover got dinged in shipping. I don’t mind, but if you do then you’ll probably do best to avoid the white covered notebook anyway. Unless you plan to write with gloves in a clean room this cover is not going to stay pristine. I personally believe that notebooks should show that they’ve been “lived in,” so that’s not going to be a problem for me.
Here is the front cover without the bellyband. I like the clever colour combination of the Sakura petals, on the white background, Snoopy’s white fur and the pink heart on the card he’s holding. I wish Woodstock would have been on the cover and not just the bellyband, but that would have ruined the lovely black, white and pinks colour scheme.
The cover is cloth covered, with a synthetic shiny fabric that has a silky finish to it. Unlike the original Moleskine Sakura limited edition notebook the print is not raised above the notebook fabric so there’s no depth to the print at all. It would have been nice to get that here, but I have a feeling that the money that would have gone to create that effect went to the licensing part of the notebook.
The front endpaper has the falling Sakura petals and all the Peanuts gang together. It made me smile to see it, and will likely be a hit with the fans.
The back endpaper contains more falling Sakura petals and the classic Woodstock sitting on Snoopy lying on the roof of his doghouse setup. I’m a little disappointed that the design appears only on the notebook’s back pocket and isn’t spread across the actual notebook back endpaper. Also while both designs tick all the right fandom boxes, they are far from imaginative. Moleskine have done more interesting things with other franchises in the past.
There’s a set of stickers that come with this edition, and I find them underwhelming. The Sakura stickers are nice, but it looks like someone stuck three vaguely Peanuts themed stickers on the page. Again, not their best design work, and in this case it really looks like someone phoned it in.
Both Moleskine Sakura Peanuts limited edition notebooks come with lined pages, like most Moleskine limited editions. The ribbon bookmark here is a very pale pink that matches the elastic. It’s not my favourite colour and I wish they would have gone with a punchier pink for both.
As usual in recent years the B-side of the bellyband comes with a little something extra, and this time it’s with an illustration of the Peanuts characters running with Sakura leaves on both sides. This is something nice to stick in your notebook, but I wish it was at least in bookmark shape. I still intend to make a bookmark out of it, but the characters will be running up the page in a weird way.
The Moleskine Sakura Peanuts limited edition notebooks will sell out in no time (they are already out of stock in some places), and the white edition of this notebook is an attractive notebook with a beautiful cover. Yet I have a feeling that the design itself was a bit of an afterthought, a money grab designed to mash together two of their most popular designs in the most obvious way possible. So while I am going to enjoy using this notebook, I can’t help but wonder what its design would look like if the Moleskine designers had been let a little more loose here.
When the Muji fountain pen came out a few years ago it got pretty rave reviews from quite a number of reviewers. My only conclusion is that either they hadn’t used the pen for long, or they have steel clad hands. This is a textbook example of form over function, and the form isn’t even interesting or innovative enough for you to forgive the loss of function.
First off, the form: the Muji fountain pen has the standard minimalist, IKEA-like design of their other stationery products. It’s made of brushed aluminum, it has a knurled grip (why?), has two grey-brown discs on the ends of the pen, and the same sort of clip that their mechanical pencils have. It’s a bland and boring look, but if you’re looking for a minimalist pen then this fits the bill.
What works in mechanical pencils falls flat in a fountain pen, in my opinion. A fountain pen craves more flair, more personality – yes, even the “plain” black ones. A Montblanc 149 or a black Sailor 1911 have class, whilst the Muji fountain pen is a thin aluminum tube with a knurled grip (why?). You just look at it and wonder why it was made and for whom.
My Muji fountain pen has a fine nib with the classic “iridium point” stamped on it and some nice scrolling on it. I’m guessing the nib is a Schmidt nib, but that’s just a guess; what’s not a guess is that it’s an absolute nail. There’s no give whatsoever in this nib, to the point where I have fineliners that show more line variation that it does. It’s not scratchy but the lack of give may put you off if you’re looking for a more “fountain pen” experience (and this is a fountain pen, why wouldn’t you?). Both the Lamy Safari and the Pilot Metropolitan have nicer nibs at around the same price range. They also have the added bonus of a personality.
The grip is just… why? It’s not like the pen body is slippery and the knurling on the grip is necessary. Visually I find it jarring, and there is zero chance that it is there for ergonomic reasons. This is an ergonomically terrible pen. If Muji wanted to do a better job it would have made the barrel wider, moulded a grip section not out of aluminum, and redesigned the cap entirely. The knurling itself is so poorly made that it just makes the grip more slippery, not less.
All this is not great by any means, but I just wouldn’t have bothered to write a review about a boring, mediocre pen. The Muji fountain pen, however, pushes past the boring and mediocre and heads straight into terrible territory with its cap design. The cap has a razor sharp and thin edge that slots into a deep and narrow cutout around the nib. The result is that you can and will cut you fingers on that cap edge, you will have to learn to grip the pen really far away from the nib or you will cut your fingers on the edge of the cutout at the end of the knurled (why?) grip, or it will dig uncomfortably into your fingers. If you dare try to absentmindedly cap the pen then there’s a good chance that you’ll catch your finger in between the cap edge and the knurled (why?) grip and that is pure torture. Also guess what, Muji let’s you have the same finger cutting experience on the other end of the pen too!
I also replaced the terrible cartridge that Muji supplies with this pen with a converter (a Pelikan converter). It fit perfectly, but I didn’t fill the converter first and then attach it to the pen, I made the mistake of dipping the pen in a bottle of ink and filling the converter through the nib. The mess was a sight to see. First of all, the knurling on the grip is a real ink magnate, but it’s the deep groove that the cap goes into that’s the winner here. Ink not only seeps into it and is then extremely difficult to clean out without taking the pen apart and soaking it in water, if you don’t do that then the cap lip gets soaked in ink every time you cap the pen, and so you’ll get ink stains everywhere.
The pen posts using the same terrible mechanism as the cap, which means that there’s a second deep groove that you can cut your fingers on, on the other end. If you’re a pen fidgeter, this will teach you not to fidget. Is that a plus?
But look how pretty it is! It posts so well!
If you’re filming an IKEA commercial, feel free to use this pen. Otherwise, do yourself a favour and buy a Pilot Metropolitan.
Diamine Aurora Borealis fountain pen ink was created by Diamine in collaboration with the /r/fountainpens reddit community, who chose the colour. I love teal inks, but at first I thought that I had enough inks that are close enough in colour to skip this one. I have no recollection of how it landed in my basket during my last Cult Pens purchase 🙂
I don’t normally spend much time on the packaging, but Diamine’s 30ml plastic bottles are deep and wide enough to allow for filling even chunky pens, and their (relatively new) label design is splendid. This bottle is unique in that it has another label, crediting the /r/fountainpens community with selecting the ink colour:
Aurora Borealis is a dark teal with some red sheening, and a good amount of shading for such a saturated ink. It also dries surprising fast for such a saturated ink (although I wouldn’t call it a fast drying ink).
You can see a bit of the red sheen here, on the top of the “A” in aurora:
I a few inks that are in the region fo Diamine Aurora Borealis, but not many of them are swabbed. I will say that the ink is dark enough to be fine for office use, and that is still shows plenty of interest and character:
I tried it also on Paperblanks paper, and on Rhodia paper. In both cases the ink dried darker than it looked when I was writing with it, although the photos picked up less colour than it originally had. The best colour reproduction is in the final photos of Tomoe River Paper, further below. It is worth pointing out though that if you have a wet nib, you’re going to see darker results than you’d expect from the swabs.
In any case Aurora Borealis came out much darker than it appears on Goulet Pens site, for instance, although not as dark as it appears here:
I gave the ink a spin on some (old) Tomoe River paper, and “opened” it up with some water and a fine brush. As is the case with most Diamine inks, Aurora Borealis isn’t waterproof or water resistant, and doesn’t market itself as such. It is, however, a lot of fun to draw with:
You can see red sheening on the happy little dormouse’s nose, as well as on the flowers. You can also see the shading in the flowers:
This is the best sample of all the properties of this ink: the relatively dark colour, the shading, and the slightly red sheen:
Diamine Aurora Borealis is fun dark teal ink that will likely appeal to anyone who likes teal/turquoise inks. It’s inexpensive and unassuming, and so you can take an interesting ink for a spin without spending Sailor or Iroshizuku money.
Black erasers have become more common in recent years, with the Boxy perhaps being the most well known of the bunch. I have a few that I use regularly, and a few that just lounge in my stationery drawers waiting to be used. As I’m streamlining my sketching kit and the boxy is now the eraser I carry in it, I decided to test it out against the competition, starting with other black erasers.
Here’s the lineup:
In terms of price they’re all around the same price range with the Muji eraser being the cheapest of the bunch, and the dust catch and boxy being on the more expensive side of things.
I took out my Baron Fig Confidant, since I do all my pencil tests on it, and scribbled in it in a variety of pencils and even using a Caran d’Ache red blue pencil, though I don’t expect regular erasers to do well with coloured pencils.
The pencils that I used were the Blackwing 811 (a darker, softer pencil), a Viarco 3500 No. 2 (a standard HB pencil) and a vintage Eagle “Chemi-Sealed” Turquoise H pencil. These seemed like a fairly representative bunch of general writing pencils, at least in terms of graphite behaviour. Though I did later check them for art use, these erasers are meant to be used when writing more than when drawing.
I did a single eraser pass on the left hand side of the page, and on the right side I split each scribble into two and tried to erase it completely (leaving an untouched graphite barrier in between each side).
Then I tried to erase the coloured pencil, which I wasn’t expecting much success in, and here are the results:
A closeup on the one pass side. You’d normally not erase this way, but it does give a good indication of how good the eraser is going to be:
A closeup on the H pencil one pass attempt. I deliberately pressed down on the H pencil, because from my experience H pencils are easy to erase when you apply little or no pressure to them, but they’re pretty tenacious if you apply normal or strong pressure on them.
Here’s the split scribble test above and the H scribble test below:
Finally the Caran d’Ache red/blue eraser test:
At this point I was ready to give the victory to the Boxy, with the Mono Dust Catch a pretty close second, the Staedler Rasoplast in third place and the Muji eraser trailing behind. The Boxy and the Dust Catch also had the easiest “eraser crumbs” to clean (long threads of the stuff, easily brushed aside), and the Muji had the smallest and the worst. None of the erasers damaged the paper, which perhaps isn’t surprising considering that they’re all pretty soft.
I’d also point out that none of these erasers are what I’d call “best”. They’re good erasers, but even the boxy left graphite ghosts behind. There are better erasers on the market, but these in general behaved better than average (even the Muji), and the Boxy and Dust Catch are pretty good. They held up well even against the Caran d’Ache red/blue pencil, which surprised me.
Even though these aren’t “art” erasers, I decide to try to draw some doodles in pencils, ink them with a fine liner and check how much ink each of these erasers lifted.
Here’s the inking. You can see the pencil marks beneath, and I waited for the ink to completely dry before trying to erase the underdrawing.
The results were “ravishing” as to be expected:
You can look at the closeup below and see just how much ink was lifted. These are all terrible for art use, which again, isn’t surprising. I drew an ink line for reference under these, just so you can see how much ink was lifted. Also the top line of left hand dude’s sleeve wasn’t erased so you can compare that too:
The Muji erased faired the best at this part of the test, although I still wouldn’t recommend using it to erase underdrawings.
Of the four erasers that I tested, the Boxy and Dust Catch are the best, and of these two the Boxy is the one I would choose, because of its compact size and its slightly better performance. None of these erasers are terrible, but if you’re investing in a good box eraser (and you should) the Boxy is definitely one to consider.
And why are these black? Presumably to not show dirt, though I find that both frivolous and counterproductive. If the eraser shows dirt, then you know that may need to clean it on a bit of scrap paper before using it, so that it won’t transfer that dirt onto your clean paper. However, I suspect that the real reason is that black erasers just look cool, and the rest is just plain marketing.