Diamine Earl Grey Review

Ever since I saw the first reviews of Diamine Earl Grey I have been fascinated by this ink, and only partly because I love, love, love tea. The colour seemed to have shading properties and tonal depths that were similar to the much coveted yet hard to obtain Sailor Studio 123. I had vowed to cut down on my ink purchases, but as I broke down and bought some Diamine Blue (i.e. Christmas) inks, I had to add a small bottle of Diamine Earl Grey to the cart.

Parker Vacumatic Major with an medium italic nib on a Rhodia No. 16 pad.

This ink is sheer magic. It is very legible (unlike many lighter grey inks), it shades like mad, and even on Rhodia paper you can see a bit of its tonal depth.

Shading on every single letter.

On Tomoe River paper the depth of its hidden tones really comes to light:

Drawn with the Parker Vacumatic and a W&N Series 7 #2 sable brush.

There’s blue, even slight hints of turquoise, green, yellow, shades of pink, and in the dark recesses hints of warm brown. It’s like the greys I often create on my watercolour palette: a mix of reds, greens and blues, with a dash of brown. The result is a rich, “living” grey that surprises you every time.

I’ll probably skip the Sailor 123 Studio Ink because the price plus shipping plus customs will make it painfully expensive. Now that I have Diamine Earl Grey I don’t feel like I’ve missed out.

Diamine Earl Grey Review

Mechanical Pencil Day Reviews: Pentel Graphgear 1000 and Retro 51 Tornado Pencil

The 5th of July is apparently mechanical pencil day, which is something that Cult Pens started most likely out of promotional reasons. I’m all for celebrating what ever little things we have because life in general and mine in particular sucks pretty badly now, so I’m jumping on the bandwagon and posting two mechanical pencil reviews.

I mostly use mechanical pencils to sketch maps and plans.

The first mechanical pencil is actually a drafting pencil, and it’s the excellent Pentel Graphgear 1000. I actually enjoy writing with the Graphgear more than I enjoy writing with my Rotring 600 and 800 (gasp!).

Pentel Grapgear 1000.

The Graphgear is lighter than my Rotring pencils, its knurling is less harsh on the fingers particularly because of the (non-latex) pads it sports, and the retracting mechanism means business.

It also helps that this is a well designed pencil, a beautiful writing tool to use, and whoever thought of creating different colour schemes for different lead sizes and incorporating that colour subtly over the pencils should get an employee of the month prize at the very least.

The clip. This thing will stay where you put it.

The retracting mechanism for the Graphgear sits in the clip, and works beautifully and makes the most satisfying “chunk” sound in the world. It retracts the pencil tip into the pencil body, ensuring that the lead doesn’t break and you don’t get stabbed while carrying your pencil around. This is a must-have feature for drafting pencils (together with the knurled grip, lead pipe, and lead hardness indicator), and it is done to perfection here. The only minus is the cutout below the clip that tends to collect pocket lint while being carried.

Look at that sleek design!

A click on the pencil cap extracts the lead sleeve once it has been retracted, and you press on the clip to retract the lead pipe, which is something that you’d do anyway to clip the Graphgear to you pocket, so this is a very intuitive pencil to use.

The design on the clip isn’t necessary, but it is beautiful.

The grip is superb: the Graphgear won’t accidentally slip from your hand, and the knurling won’t dig into either, even if you have a “grip of death”.

Closeup on the grip and pads.

The tip of the pen cap has a lead size indicator, in this case 0.7, and right above the grip you’ll find a lead grade indicator.

The Pentel Graphgear 1000 isn’t a cheap mechanical pencil, but if you are looking for a drafting pencil to use for long periods of time, or you’re looking for a mechanical pencil that’s a cut above (except for the Uni-Ball Kuru Toga), I highly recommend this pencil.

Bonus tip: If you’re starting out in watercolour on location or urban sketching, get a pencil like the Pentel Graphgear in 0.5 or 0.7 and some H leads and use that for your preliminary sketches. Even if you don’t erase them, they’ll disappear behind the washes.

Now for the second mechanical pencil, which is also a unique beast: the Retro 51 Tornado Pencil.

The Retro 51 Tornado Pencil Crossword

There are two things that are unusual with this mechanical pencil: it uses a 1.15 mm lead, and it’s shaped like a Retro 51 Tornado rollerball. That means that this is a bigger than usual pencil that uses a bigger than usual lead. Is it any good?

It depends. I’d skip using it for drawing or sketching, because at that lead size either go the 2mm lead holder route, or stick to woodcase pencils. It is, however, a fun object to have around, and it’s pretty nifty for sudoku and crosswords. The lead size is perfect for that, creating a pretty bold line even on sub-par paper while still giving your the option to erase it.

Have a delightful mechanical pencil day, and when in doubt, Kuru Toga.

Mechanical Pencil Day Reviews: Pentel Graphgear 1000 and Retro 51 Tornado Pencil

Caran D’Ache 849 Nespresso Arpeggio Limited Edition

Hey, look what just arrived in the mail:

Such great packaging.

It’s the new Caran d’Ache 849 Nespresso limited edition and this time it’s Arpeggio that was chosen. Arpeggio is not only one of Nespresso’s more popular capsules, it’s also a gorgeous purple, which is a huge plus in my book, and big difference from their previous edition, the India.

But first, some photos of the phenomenal packaging of this pen:

Side view, where you can also see that it’s the 3rd of the series.

The 849 Arpeggio is made out of recycled Nespresso capsules just like its predecessors:

The back of the pen box.

The cardboard cutout the pen comes in still on point: a simple and fitting material designed to perfection to best showcase the pen and its materials.

Look at that colour!

This came out darker than I would have preferred, but you can just about see the Caran d’Ache brand under the clip, and the “Swiss made” on top.

Swiss made.

The 849 Arpeggio is a lovely deep purple, and has a great texture to it. The non-smooth surface makes it much easier to grip than many of the other 849 pens. You can see the difference in texture here between the Arpeggio and one of the 849 Tropics pens:

Textured Arpeggio finish vs the glass smooth finish on the Tropics 849

And here’s the by now familiar “made with recycled Nespresso capsules” tagline on the side:

I changed the refill, and since somebody asked, I thought I’d focus on that for a bit. To change the refill you unscrew the clicker on top, and that might take a bit of fiddling, since it’s pretty securely screwed in. It doesn’t take force, just a bit of patience. Then take out the refill and swap it out with the new refill, and don’t forget to put the front spring on, preserving the right direction it was placed in when it came off.

Body, cap and original refill with the spring.

I replaced the original Caran d’Ache Goliath ballpoint refill with the Parker Quink medium gel refill (it’s 0.7 mm). Here it is in the packaging in case you’re looking for it. I bought a pack of these from the excellent, excellent CultPens (I’m not being paid to say this, I just really appreciate them and what they’re doing. If you’re a non-US pen addict in particular I recommend checking them out).

Here’s a writing sample with the Caran d’Ache Goliath ballpoint refill and the Parker Quink gel refill. If you’re a fan of ballpoints, the Goliath refill is excellent. I just happen to not like ballpoints, so I change them to gel refills whenever I can.

The Caran d’Ache 849 Arpeggio is a beautiful pen that would make for a great gift (if you can bear to part with it). I can’t recommend these series of pens enough, and I can’t wait to see what next year’s edition will be. Nespresso’s capsules come in a variety of pretty nifty colours, so I don’t think that Caran d’Ache can really miss with them.

Caran D’Ache 849 Nespresso Arpeggio Limited Edition

Parker Quink Blue Black Ink Review

Parker Quink Blue Black is far from a new ink on the market: it’s been produced and in use for decades. So why bother to write a review about it now?now

Because Covid-19 happened, and it’s turned shipping and shopping into a challenge, and so I have found myself seriously contemplating a “desert island” kind of question:

If the only ink you can buy is ink commonly found in brick and mortar shops, which ink should you buy?

The obvious answer for me is anything Waterman, but specifically Waterman Blue Black, now renamed to “Waterman Mysterious Blue”. But Parker Quink Blue Black is just as readily available, and just as cheaply priced (more or less), and also a workhorse, utilitarian ink that packs a few surprises. So why is it not my go to ink? I’ll get to that near the end, I promise.

Two swabs of the same ink: how are they so different?

I took two swabs and writing samples of the Parker Quink Blue Black, mainly because I thought that the first swab didn’t show off the correct colour of the ink. The left hand writing sample was done with a dip pen, and the swab was done with a brush. The right side was done with Henry Simpole’s Jasmin pen and a Conway Stewart medium nib, with the swab being done with a q-tip. The right hand sample is truer to the colour of the ink, although you can get a more teal/turquoise colour out of the ink in certain nibs (as is true with Waterman Mysterious Blue). This changeability is part of the charm of blue-black inks.

It’s also worth noting that Parker Quink Blue Black both shades and has a red sheen, so it’s far from a bog standard, boring ink. Here’s an ink that can be fun at the same time as it makes you look serious.

Comparison swabs.

Waterman Mysterious Blue leans a bit more into the teal/turquoise side of things, but it doesn’t sheen as much as Parker Quink Blue Black. Here’s the ink on Paperblanks paper (I snagged a fountain pen friendly Paperblanks a few years back and have been using it to test inks ever since):

You can see the shading particularly in my swirls.

There’s a red sheen even on the Paperblanks paper, in every spot where the ink pooled (so the bottom half of these letters for instance):

If you can’t see the red sheen, look at the sample below.

And here it is on Tomoe River paper, showing off shading and sheen. The photo came out a shade lighter than in reality, but that was the only way that I could show some of that sheen off.

Parker Quink Blue Black is neither waterproof or water resistant, just like Waterman Mysterious Blue. Yet it takes a bit more time and effort to clean the Parker ink out of pens than the Waterman’s (my gold standard for easy cleaning ink). It’s vintage pen safe, and an excellent staple ink, available practically everywhere that sells stationery or art supplies. In times where shipping prices have skyrocketed and many places no longer offer shipping to all destinations, it’s good to know that there are still good, cheap and widely available ink options out there.

Stay safe and stay as much as possible at home.

Parker Quink Blue Black Ink Review

Ti Mini Review

Look what arrived in the mail today! It’s the Big Idea Design Ti Mini, fresh from their latest Kickstarter. I generally love all Big Idea Design pens (except the for the click, which I still enjoy, though it’s not my favourite), but I still hesitated before backing this one. The form factor is so “extreme” that I wasn’t sure that I’d like it or find use for it. A small pocket pen (i.e. a pen that’s small even for a pocket pen), the Ti Mini is a titanium machined pen that uses D1 refills and is basically built for the watch/change pocket of your jeans. It’s the emergency pen you pull out when you need to scribble something on a note, something that you can carry around without even remembering it’s there until you need it.

The post was enthusiastic so the package got a bit smashed in transit.

The packaging is standard Big Idea Design: utilitarian, full of useful information, well thought out and designed and with a bit of an Apple vibe to it.

Smashed package, but you get the gist
That is just a great tagline
Designed by Big Idea Design, Made in China. Remind you of something?

There’s a bit of marketing material when you open the box, but I’m just going to pause and say that I’ve paid a lot more for machined pens that weren’t half as well packed as this, and the reason that my pen survived the rough-handling that my package received is because someone took the time to consider good packaging. And I’m not even someone who usually appreciates packaging (unless it’s particularly good or downright insultingly bad).

Not a scratch on the pen even though the box was smashed in.
Nice logo sticker to go with the pen.

The Ti Mini comes with two spare o-rings and six D1 refills: three gel ink refills (one in the pen, two others in the refill bag), and three ballpoint refills. All refills are Big Idea Design branded, and all of them are medium refills. You have everything you’ll need to write with this pen for months if not for years, right out of the box.

The Ti Mini in DLC Black

The pen has the classic look of any Big Idea Design pen, with an addition of a titanium bead at the end of a lanyard, to make it easy to pull out of your jeans’ change pocket. It’s an extremely well designed pen, built perfectly for its purpose.

The Ti Mini isn’t built for long form writing, but for a few lines and a scribble when you’re on the go it’s perfect. The gel ink refills that came with my pen seem to be duds, which is a shame, and the only strike agains this pen purchase. It’s not too bad though, because if there’s a pen that calls for a ballpoint refill, it’s this one.

Changing refills is a breeze: unscrew the top, and then unscrew the refill, replacing it with another D1 refill by simply screwing the refill in and then screwing the top back on.

If you’re looking for an “emergency” EDC pen, something that’s always there and ready for when you really need it, the Ti Mini is perfect for the job. It also makes for a great gift pen, even though now is not the time when people travel around much (stay at home!). Just be careful not to forget about it and leave it in you jeans when you wash them. The pen will survive, I’m not so sure about the washing machine…

Ti Mini Review

Caran d’Ache Nespresso India Green

When Caran d’Ache came out with this year’s limited edition Nespresso capsule 849 pen I breathed out a sigh of relief. I’m not a fan of their India capsules, and their olive green colour doesn’t speak to me, so I thought that it would be an easy pen to skip. Their previous collaboration, the Darkhan, was an excellent pen overall, especially as a gift purchase to the Nespresso or pen lover in your life, and I also loved the capsules and loved their colour.

Well Cult Pens celebrated their 15th anniversary, and I needed some refills, and somehow or other the India 849 found itself in my basket. I thought I would gift it away, but once it arrived I knew that this pen is staying with me.

As with the previous edition, the packaging on this pen is genius. It shows off the pen and what it is beautifully, and it’s so well made and well considered. On the front there’s the “This was a Nespresso capsule” label, and a sketch of the pen that fits perfectly with the way the pen is presented in the box (that’s not left to chance. The box is designed so the pen will stay put in semi profile and show off the subtle “Caran d’Ache” logo underneath the clip).

Limited Edition, Caran d’Ache 849, Series No 02.

On the back there’s a short explanation about what makes this pen special:

Inside the pen is securely slotted in its superbly designed cardboard housing, and here you can catch the first glimpse of why I decided to keep this pen: its colour.

This is a beautiful pen that doesn’t photograph well. Its colour is wild, if subtle could be wild. It’s a cool grey with a slightly green hue. I’ve never had a pen like it, and the result is very, very cool.

Unlike most 849’s and just like the Darkhan edition, this pen has writing on it beyond the hidden Caran d’Ache and the “Swiss Made”:

Made with recycled Nespresso capsules.
849 Caran d’Ache and Swiss Made, standard imprints on 849 pens.

The 849 is a ballpoint and has an excellent out of the box Goliath Caran d’Ache refill. I’m not a fan of ballpoints, so I switched my refill out with the 0.7 Parker gel refill in black, and now I can’t put this pen down. This pen weighs more than the featherweight 849, and it has a textured finish. The result is the 849 pen, only better.

The writing on the top of the page is with the original Goliath refill, and below it the writing is with the Parker gel refill.

I highly recommend this pen to anyone who is even slightly interested in the Caran d’Ache 849, as it’s a significant improvement over an already great pen design. It makes for a great gift, and a great pen to carry around with you (just make sure nobody tries to nick it from you). I hope that Caran d’Ache and Nespresso continue this collaboration, and I can’t wait to see which capsule colour they select next.

Caran d’Ache Nespresso India Green

Kaweco AL Sport Blue Stonewashed Review

I’m not a fan of pocket pens, mostly because women’s pants usually don’t have room for them. Couple that with my fear of forgetting a pen in my pocket and then putting the pants through the wash, and you can see why I have so few of them. However, in 2014 Kaweco came out with the AL Sport Stonewashed and I just couldn’t resist.

This is such a cool look for a pocket pen.

The Kawecon AL Sport Stonewashed is the classic Kaweco Sport pen, in aluminum, stonewashed to give it a worn denim look (especially in the blue version of this pen). The pen really has been worn down, so each pen is unique, and the chips and dings have been smoothed over so it still feels great to write with.

You can see the finish best on the various edges of the pen, and they just work so well with the Kaweco Sport design. This is a pen that’s meant to bash around in your pocket or bag, and the stonewashed finish just highlights that.

Caran d’Ache 849 Tropical on top, Kaweco AL Sport Stonewashed on the bottom.

The AL Sport is ridiculously small when uncapped to the point where it’s unusable, but this is a pen that never was designed to be used uncapped.

Capped it becomes a standard length pen with a pretty wide barrel, which makes it surprisingly comfortable to write with even on longer writing sessions.

The only flaw in this pen is the way that the refill tip clicks when you lift it off the page. There’s some play at the tip end, so while it won’t affect your writing style, you will hear it when you write. This is the case with the original refill and the Parker 0.7 gel refill that I replaced it with.

If you can live with that minor annoyance, then the Kaweco AL Sport Stonewashed is a marvellous pen to buy. As someone who uses mechanical keyboards, I like objects that add sound effects to my writing progress, so the little clicks this pen makes only make it more charming to me.

Kaweco AL Sport Blue Stonewashed Review

Vengeful Fortress Part 3: Rohrer and Klingner Lotte SketchINK Mini Review

Welcome back to Vengeful Fortress, a fantasy roleplaying game that I’m drawing in ink and watercolour (no pencil underdrawing, to save time) as I’m running it for my group of players. We’re now in Part 3, and here are Part 1and Part 2 (which also include a review of the sketchbook I’m using, the Stillman and Birn Epsilon).

As you can see, things are starting to heat up. I’m using a TWSBI Diamond 540 fountain pen with a fine nib, filled with Rohrer and Klingner SketchINK Lotte. SketchINK Lotte is a black pigmented and waterproof fountain pen ink. It’s not a saturated ink, and you can see the grey shading quite clearly here in the lettering and the line work. R&K SketchINK Lotte is also a hard starter, so while it does flow well enough when you get it primed up with a few preliminary scribbles, if you put the pen down for even a few minutes, you’re going to have to prime it again. It is, however, waterproof and relatively fast drying, which makes it worth my time using it. In case you’re wondering if “hard starting” is just an issue with this pen or this nib, I have tried R&K SketchINK Emma and Lotte in a Lamy Safari and a Super5 pen and they are hard starters in all cases. It seems to be a property of the ink, perhaps because it dries to relatively quickly, or because of the particular waterproof formula R&K are using here.

So know that you can trust the Rohrer and Klingner SketchINKs with your watercolours, and know that they’re great for when you’re in a rush and don’t want to wait for the ink to dry, but also have a bit of scrap paper for the first few seconds before you use them .

Vengeful Fortress Part 3: Rohrer and Klingner Lotte SketchINK Mini Review

Vengeful Fortress Part 2: More Thoughts on Stillman and Birn Epsilon

You can find part 1 here. You can see that there is a slight bit of show through with the Stillman and Birn Epsilon, but at only 150 gsm that’s to be expected.

The show through is most pronounced in the area between the goblin’s sword and the text above him.

I decided to play a bit more with ink colours and wider nibs here, so that’s a Sailor medium stub nib and Diamine Inkvent Blue Edition Candy Cane ink for spells and effects:

There’s no show through for the ink, and though it may not seem that way, there was no spreading. Also, if you like granulating watercolour effects, the Stillman and Birn Epsilon paper seems to be a champ for that.

Vengeful Fortress Part 2: More Thoughts on Stillman and Birn Epsilon

Vengeful Fortress: A Stillman and Birn Epsilon Sketchbook Review Adventure Part 1

A while ago a local art supply shop started stocking a wider variety of Stillman and Birn sketchbooks. I currently use the Stillman and Birn pocket Alpha as my daily sketchbook, but I decided to give the pocket Epsilon a try. The Epsilon features smooth, white 150 gsm pages which should work for pen, ink, dry media and light washes.

This sketchbook is in landscape format, which is what I normally prefer. I was planning to use it once I’ve finished with my current Alpha, but weeks stretched to months and meanwhile this sketchbook has been languishing away, unused.

So when I saw Liz Steel going on a virtual sketch tour in Italy, I was inspired to grab this notebook and fill it with a sketch tour of my own. I initially planned to sketch out my cancelled London trip, and I may yet do that, but something inspired me to take this idea to a completely new direction.

I’m going to sketch out a freeform fantasy roleplaying adventure for my regular D&D group, and use that as a way to test out this sketchbook, and to make good use of my fountain pens.

So without further ado: Vengeful Forest, a fantasy freeform adventure.

Sketch and writing done with TWSBI 540 Diamond F nib and Rohrer and Klingner Lotte SketchINK.

Blue lines done with PenBBS 500 Fine and Sailor Sky High ink.

Frying pan Rapunzel dressed in purple is probably copyrighted by Disney, but one of my players thought it would be funny to make my life interesting, so here she is.

I tried to give each character a distinct enough colour scheme so you’ll be able to recognize them from a distance. Each player had one sentence to describe their character.

The watercolours are Schminke and I used a Windsor and Newton Series 7 number 2 brush and a Rosemary and Co 772 brush

I’ll continue posting as the adventure progresses, but so far this has been a lot of fun, and the players seem to be enjoying it too. The Stillman and Birn Epsilon has been an absolute champ: it takes light washes beautifully, with very little buckling, allowing me to use both sides of each page. It also works well with fountain pens, especially fine nibbed ones, which are commonly used for sketching. The white paper makes everything pop, and even though 150 gsm isn’t much when it comes to watercolour, it did allow for some layering and reworking without turning into a messy paper pulp. This is a sketchbook that I’m definitely going to purchase again.

Vengeful Fortress: A Stillman and Birn Epsilon Sketchbook Review Adventure Part 1