Black Eraser Showdown

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:

From left to right: Boxy, Dust Catch, Rasoplast, Muji.

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.

The pencil doodles.

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.

Inked in.

The results were “ravishing” as to be expected:

All the erasers lifted a significant amount of ink, leaving the resulting ink grey and muted.

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.

Black Eraser Showdown

Drawing Insights and the Viarco 3500

I was going to write a blog post reviewing the Viarco 3500, and so I started writing a page of notes in my usual pencil review notebook (the Baron Fig Confidant). Once I started writing I realized two things:

  1. The Viarco 3500 is a good looking but boring pencil. It’s an HB/No. 2 pencil that’s slightly gritty, slightly dark and soft and not much different than other branded pencils of its kind, like the Ticonderoga or the Palomino Golden Bear.
  2. I wanted to reflect about the difficulties of drawing.
Pretty but dull, the Viarco 3500 No. 2 pencil.

So here’s my page of notes on the Viarco turned into reflections on the drawing process:

This isn’t a “woe is me” post. It’s a “embrace the suck and take courage” post. Perspective is HARD. But it’s worth learning. And learning again. And learning again. And boy is it worth practicing. Why? Because while nobody is born knowing how to draw in perfect perspective, practically everybody can tell when the perspective is “off”. You can tell yourself that it’s an “aesthetic choice,” however, I do believe that you are cheating yourself out of something when you don’t even try to get the basics down. I know, I tried to do that for literally years. I have good enough hand-eye coordination that I could cheat some people some of the time. Then I tried learning it from books. I drew the boxes, the shaded ball, the room with the door and window, and I told myself that since I copied them so well, I now “knew perspective”. Hah. The minute a teacher sat me down and told me to draw the corner of a room, a still life of some boxes and a vase, and an old shoe the truth was all too apparent. I didn’t grok the principles behind those boxes and skylines and spheres and so I couldn’t extrapolate from them to the real world. I now have 11 plus years of knowing groking those principles and I still tell you that it’s hard.

Can you catch the perspective mistakes here? This is from 2009 and it makes me cringe.

You can cheat, and I did and sometime do cheat, the eye with colour and crosshatching, but it doesn’t take an art critic to point out that something is “off” in the drawing. The same goes for poor composition choices, muddy pigment mixtures, colours that unintentionally clash and cause unease. These are all very technical skills that require a good amount of studying and a great amount of practice to master. It doesn’t help that most of them are difficult to learn from books and tutorials and are still best taught in a live art class. It’s also frustrating that you usually work and work and work with little or no progress for some time and then suddenly your hand and eye and mind click and you jump forward a level or two. It’s so easy to give up before that. I have several times in the past. Then I found a new teacher and I got back to the grind.

Why do it? You don’t have to. Instagram and Facebook likes are independent of your drawing skills, and more related to tags, followers and how colourful and eye catching your work is. If you’re doing it for that, then there’s no point in doing it. But mastering the basics allows you to advance all your drawing skills at once, with great leaps and bounds. Every breakthrough I had with the basics allowed me to draw better, faster, with more confidence and to tackle subjects and locations that I otherwise would have avoided.

So, the Viarco 3500… It’s a good looking pencil to have around. Perspective, colour theory and composition? If you have any interest in drawing I highly recommend investing in mastering them.

Drawing Insights and the Viarco 3500

Muji 2B Natural Wood-cased Pencil

When I was in London last year I picked up a few stationery items from Muji, most of them pencils that I hadn’t seen at Muji’s before. One of these items was a six pack of 2B natural wood-cased pencils. They looked gorgeous, they were very fairly priced, and 2B wood-cased pencils are my go to sketching tool (unless I think that there’s a chance that I may want to watercolour over the sketch, in which case it’s H for the win). If you have any interest in sketching, the 2B pencil is your best friend.

For some reason I decided to photograph these next to a vintage wooden ruler. They’re standard pencil sized.

I don’t know what kind of wood the Muji natural wood-cased pencils are made of, but whatever it is it has a beautiful grain, it sharpens very well, and it smells lovely (though I doubt that it’s cedar). The pencils aren’t lacquered, but they do have a satiny finish that makes them lovely to hold and use, and like other Muji products, they have no logo on them, just the 2B grade boldly stamped in black foil.

Look at that satiny finish and lovely woodgrain.

Because of the natural finish and the woodgrain each pencil is unique and distinct, which is a nice bonus to natural pencils. They have no attached eraser, which is standard for sketching pencils.

They sharpen really well, whether using a knife or a sharpener. They don’t hold a point for long, but if you’re using them for sketching, you can just use a knife sharpened pencil and rotate the pencil to get much longer use out of it. The graphite doesn’t crumble or break easily, and it’s got a standard 2B darkness and point retention.

Left pencil was sharpened with a sharpener, the right one was sharpened with a knife.

The Muji 2B natural wood-cased pencil writes a smooth, dark line that doesn’t smudge (unless you’re very determined), erases well and has the shading range that I expect from a 2B pencil (this shading range is what makes the 2B pencil the “goldilocks” sketching pencil grade). These are totally going into my sketching kit, and if I ever get a chance I’ll be buying at least another six pack again. I “chew” through 2B pencils at a terrifying rate, so these will come in handy. They are an absolute joy to use.

Written on a Baron Fig Confidant, erased with a Tombow Mono Light plastic eraser.

Yesterday was International Dog Day and so I decided to draw my friend’s rescue puppy. Nobody wanted this fellow because he’s blind in one eye, and it’s their loss because he’s a delightful scamp and a 14/10 dog. I’m so glad that he got a forever home.

Adopt, don’t buy!
Muji 2B Natural Wood-cased Pencil

Faber-Castell Regent 1250 Pencils

So a few years back I was at the main branch of a local art supply change while they were getting rid of a large amount of inventory by slashing down its prices. I was there to stock up on art supplies, and most of the sale inventory consisted of poorly made knock-off pens and no-name novelty print pencils, so I skipped the sale baskets and made a beeline for the tills. As I was standing in line my eye caught a small basket in the corner of the nearest sale table. It looked like it was full of Faber-Castell 9000 pencils offered at a 10th of the price of a Faber-Castell 9000. I left the line and went to investigate.

Don’t they look like Faber-Castel 9000s?

Now my go to pencil for sketching is the Faber-Castell 9000, and although they are excellent pencils, they are not cheap, and I use to go through quite a lot of them. Here I was offered a pencil that looked like a Faber-Castell 9000, was made by Faber-Castell, at a “practically free” price. I couldn’t test them, as they were all unsharpened, but I dug in and grabbed a few of the weird assortment of harnessed on offer: 2B, HB and 4H.

They were Faber-Castell Regent 1250 pencils made in Brazil, and what little I could find about them was people saying that they don’t compare to 9000s. I of course planned to add them into my rotation, which is why I almost immediately lost them. This happens quite often with pencils in my house, since my cat loves to steal them and play with them, so I usually hide the good ones and let him play with ones that I care less about. The result is that when it comes time to looking for a certain pencil I only have a vague idea about the various areas it can be in.

Now that I’ve found them, to the review:

The Faber-Castell Regent 1250 are Brazilian made pencils that look like twins of the Faber-Castell 9000, minus the grey band on the tip. They don’t seem to be widely available outside Brazil, which is both frustrating and understandable. The Regent 1250 poses a risk to the 9000 sales: it’s a much cheaper counterpart that offers graphite performance that’s on par with the 9000. Artists aren’t usually swimming in money, and if FC made the 1250 widely available my guess is that their 9000 sales would take a significant hit.

The gold foil branding appears on only one side of the pencil, and the lacquer appears rough, but not to a point where you’d actually feel it in use.

The Regent 1250’s body is where is where it falls short of the 9000, though I sincerely believe that not enough to justify the reviews that it has gotten so far. The 1250 is cheap and offered in Brazil because it’s made of abundant cheap Brazilian wood. The result is a pencil with a woodcase that doesn’t sharpen as nicely or easily as a 9000, and that has a somewhat rougher finish when it comes to the lacquering.

Made in Brazil. The 4H is a darker green and has a different imprint on it, which makes me thing that it was made during a different time period that the 2B and HB.

The wood is not terrible, and it doesn’t chip and break in large chunks. You just have to put a little more elbow grease when sharpening with a sharpener. If you sharpen with a knife you probably won’t feel the difference at all. The lacquer isn’t pretty: you can see pits and bumps in it, though they are not deep enough for you to actually feel them. The wood on the pencil isn’t consistent in its looks or particularly attractive.

The different appearance of the wood between the 4H and the other two pencils leads me to believe that it was made during a different time period.

These pencils only look premium from a distance. Up close they look battered and bruised. However, these are meant to be artist tools not museum pieces, and what’s most important about them is their graphite. Everything else has to be good enough, and so far it’s been good enough.

I doubt that if I saw two sketches, one made with 9000s and one made with 1250s, that I could tell the two apart. The graphite looks and behaves practically the same, both in drawing and erasing.

Regent 1250 4H on Baron Fig Confidant

It’s so tempting to look down at these pencils as cheap trash, but look what you can create with them:

Regent 1250 HB at work.

The graphite is smooth, the pencils hold a point for a long, long time, and they’re a joy to use, especially since I don’t have to feel so precious about them.

Regent 1250 2B

If anything I wish I could have purchased a wider range of Regent 1250, but seeing how they work I doubt that FC would ever widely offer them outside Brazil, as they would cannibalize the sales of their 9000.

Regent 1250 HB on a Baron Fig Confidant.

It’s frustrating knowing that a company has the ability to offer a good product for artists at a non-premium price and chooses not to. I understand the market forces at play, but I still find them annoying. And to all those who had a chance to use a 1250 and looked down on it: don’t judge a pencil by its lacquer.

Faber-Castell Regent 1250 Pencils

I have cool stuff; how did I forget about it? Tombow Ki-Monogatari B Pencil

I was searching for a craft knife when I stumbled upon this cool pencil just lying around, being beautiful but of no use to anybody:

I’m pretty sure that I bought it somewhere in London, perhaps in the London Graphic Centre or in stationery section of Foyles, but in any case it isn’t new.

It’s an unlacquered woodcase pencil with a chequered print, a B grade core and it appears to be a Tombow Ki-Monogatari, part of their eco pencil range.

It has a silky smooth finish, and it’s one of the most attractive woodcase pencils I own. The wood is not cedar, but by the way it sharpens and feels it’s high quality stuff.

Tombow has one of the best logos in the business.

You can see the grain of the wood very nicely here:

And also come through the chequered pattern:

It sharpens like a dream, with a perfectly centred core and no splinters or chunks falling out. High quality wood, high quality design, so what about the core?

This is a Tombow pencil and one of the things that Tombow do exceedingly well is make woodcase pencils. Drawing with this pencil is a dream – it glides on the page, there’s no “grit” to the core, it offers a good range of shading for a B grade, it doesn’t smudge and it keeps a point really, really well. This is a grade A drawing pencil.

Drawn on a Baron Fig Confidant. You can barely see where I tried to smudge the graphite near the front tire.

I found this pencil by accident, totally forgetting that I ever bought it. I have cool stuff, so why don’t I use it?

I have no idea what the actual model of the pencil is, I’m just guessing that it’s a Ki-Monogatari, which means that this isn’t a “you should buy it” review. It’s a “go open you stationery drawer(s) and see what cool stuff you find there” post. Treat yourself to the stuff you already own.

I have cool stuff; how did I forget about it? Tombow Ki-Monogatari B Pencil

Muji Wooden Mechanical Pencils and Pen

I was organizing some things around the house when I found a brown paper bag with the Muji logo on it, and in it was some washi tape and three wooden writing instruments: two mechanical pencils and a pen. There appears to be an advantage to being a forgetful unpacker, as I get to enjoy a little trip to a London based Muji store while I’m stuck at home in quarantine times.

Here are the three writing companions:

Muji Wooden Mechanical Pencil, Muji Mini Wooden Mechanical Pencil and Muji Wooden Ballpoint Pen

I was drawn to them because they were wood encased, and they had that very sleek, minimalist Muji design. They weren’t expensive, so even though I’m generally not a ballpoint fan and the mini mechanical pencil looked more like a novelty piece than an actual writing implement, I bought all three.

And promptly forgot about them.

Muji Wooden Mini Mechanical Pencil

Well now I’m giving them a spin, and I can’t help but be intrigued the most by the least practical of the bunch: the wooden mini mechanical pencil. It’s a 0.5 point pencil, which is pretty bog standard for mechanical pencils, but here’s where the standard ends and you venture into the wild world of Muji industrial design. The pencil is very, very, very, very thin and also very, very light. It makes all other pencils, mechanical or not, look like veritable giants around it. It is 0.6 cm wide, which is tiny, and it feels like a delicate little twig that will snap at any minute, making it quite the adventure to write with. You get a little thrill when you pick it up and scribble with it: will it break? will it survive to write another day?

Your own mini “Survivor” in pencil form.

The design of the cap and clip area are both peculiar and handsome. There’s a combination of matt and shiny aluminum parts that make a striking statement, especially on an otherwise minimalistic pencil body. There’s no branding anywhere, and no indication of the lead size that this pencil takes (though that isn’t hard to guess). If the metal bands serve a practical purpose I can’t think what it is. They seem a bit blingy at first for such an understated pencil, but I think that they do add to the design.

The pencil tip is very short and stubby, which adds to the kawaii of the pencil and yet keeps the tip visible. Which would be important if you could actually do any kind of writing or drawing with this pencil, but it’s just too thin to be used for anything but a sentence or two once in a while when you have no other choice. It’s like trying to write with a pen refill without the pen body: not something you would ever do unless it was an emergency and it was the only option you had.

All in all this pencil feels like a designer or a maker got a challenge to “make the smallest usable mechanical pencil possible, something nice that we can use in a Filofax ad”.

The Pentel Graphgear 1000 in comparison to the Muji Mini Wooden Mechaical Pencil.

Now we’re back to normal pencil size world, and it’s time to take a look at the Muji Wooden Mechanical Pencil. It’s also a 0.5 pencil, and it has a very Muji/IKEA sort of look to it. It would definitely feel at home in an IKEA ad for a desk.

The wooden barrel is the highlight of this pencil, and since there aren’t many wooden mechanical pencils around and this was an inexpensive purchase I would recommend splurging for one if you have room on your desk.

I say “on your desk” because while the wooden pencil body is good looking and feels great in the hand, it is uncoated. This means that it will pick up dirt and dings from being carried around in a case, a bag or a pocket. Even on your desk it’s likely to become sullied with use, although I have had luck with using erasers to clean soiled wooden pencil bodies before.

Muji wooden mechanical pencil alongside a Uni-ball M9-552 drafting pencil.

The pencil is slightly shorter than a standard mechanical pencil, and it’s a very light pencil, but it’s absolutely usable, unlike its mini counterpart.

The Muji Wooden Ballpoint Pen is probably the one that I’ll use the most of all the bunch. It’s a 0.5mm needlepoint ballpoint that writes with a really fine, clean line. The refill, like the pen, is completely unbranded, but I’m pretty sure that it’s made by a large manufacturer like Uni-ball or Pentel. The only ballpoint pen that I have that writes remotely like this is the Traveler’s Company ballpoint, and this pen is more comfortable to hold and use.

The design aesthetic is the same as the mechanical pencil, very Muji/IKEA modern and minimalist. Like the mechanical pencil the wooden body makes for a lightweight pen that feels lovely to hold but is liable to easily get dinged and dirty.

The pen is on the thinner and shorter side when compared to other pens, so it isn’t the greatest for longer writing sessions. It is still a great pen for the price, as it’s solidly built with a good click mechanism and no wiggle in the tip or rattling while you write. Of the three I’d recommend this the most, as a general pen to keep in handy for those times that call for a ballpoint.

I’m drawing a lot of maps and schematics lately for a D&D game that I’m running so I’m using a slew of mechanical pencils for the occasion. Here’s the normal sized Muji wooden mechanical pencil at work on a Baron Fig Confidant:

Muji Wooden Mechanical Pencils and Pen

How I Use My Notebooks: Yearly Goals (Resolutions)

Near the end of one year and the beginning of another various articles and podcasts about New Year resolutions start popping up. They either give tips on how to make resolutions, debunk resolutions in favour of something else, and almost all of them try to sell you something.

This post is about how I create yearly goals (i.e. resolutions), using things that I already have, in a way that has worked for me since 2015.

I wrote about the way I do “New Years Resolutions” in the past. I call them that because I like the non-business ring of “resolution” over the “business-jargon” sounding goal. My “resolutions” are, however, S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. I manage them using the least used notebook that I had lying around (a Baron Fig Confidant), and whichever pen I have at hand. They aren’t made for instagram, rather I use my plain ugly handwriting, and what marking are on the page are there because they’re useful. Over the past five years I’ve attained about 90% of what I set out to achieve, with even an annus horribilis like 2018 not putting me too much off track. My goals are tiered, much like Kickstarter stretch goals, with most goals having a fairly easily attainable first tier, just in case life decides to kick me in a tender place.

I’m going to go over this year’s goals, and last year’s goals (apart from a few that I’ve censored for privacy’s sake). I know that February is usually the month when people give up on their resolutions. I hope that this post will help and inspire people to give yearly goals or resolutions a chance.

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My 2020 resolutions

Above you can see my 2020 resolutions. A lot of them are things that appear in almost every year. The professional goals are all new (I didn’t manage my professional goals with my personal goals until this year, and even now only a small part of my professional goals are here). 

Every goal at this point only has the basic, first tier goals set beside it. The first three goals for example, all reading related, will eventually have stretch goals. They’re interesting to note here because back in 2016 I only had one reading goal: read 24 books. Once I got back into the habit of reading, I started to challenge myself with longer and more challenging books. These are all my base reading goals. I usually stretch them to around 50 books a year.

Why don’t I start with 50 books then? Because the point of these goals is to build myself up for success. The basic goals are the “even if I have a horrible year I should be able to reach these” goals. They are there to remind me that there’s a tomorrow, and something I can and should do about that tomorrow, even if a family member is hospitalized (or worse). The stretch goals are then built in small increments, reaching to my my final goal for the year.

Why don’t I write my stretch goals down from the start? Because the point is to keep myself focused on the next small step. That’s why things are broken down to the smallest increment that makes sense: one book, 10k, one month.

There’s a reason for each goal on this spread. I won’t go into each one specifically, but they all fall into the following general categories:

  • Read more.
  • Write more (my writing goals are censored, because if I publish them, I won’t do them. I know myself well enough by now).
  • Use the stuff I own.
  • Challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone.
  • Social goals (partly censored).
  • Health goals (running, cross-training, bloodwork, dentist visits).
  • Professional goals (partial list).

Everything has to fit in on a two page spread, or I lose track of things. That’s why I spill over to other pages in the same notebook to track some of the details of my goals:

Tracking page for fountain pens, ink, tea and pencils.

Here are my 2019 resolutions. A pink check mark means that the basic goal is finished. You can see the increments things grow by (my stretch goals):

2019 resolutions

You may have noticed that the “fill triggers” goal isn’t filled up at all. This is the “relevant” part of the S.M.A.R.T. goals. I used the trigger system from Marshal Goldsmith’s “Triggers” book for a few months in 2018, and I decided at the beginning of 2019 to not continue with it. It was a conscious decision, and so I just ignored that goal. 

Here are my 2019 “spill” pages, just to get an idea of how the whole thing works together:

10 different fountain pen inks. Can you see where the stretch goal is marked?

Here are pencils, fountain pens, notebooks and races tracking:

And my largest tracking list, books:

The Baron Fig Confidant that holds this list has a bright cover and sits right in front of me, on my desk, at all times. I set up my goals that at every day or two I crack the notebook open and update the lists. Once there, I scan everything and check if there’s something that I can do to get it done. The point is to have this list on the top of my mind as much as possible, or else I’ll just forget about it, or it becomes something that I avoid checking out.

This is a system that supports me every day, giving my goals and aspirations much needed structure. I hope that this will help you build a personal system of this kind for yourself.  

How I Use My Notebooks: Yearly Goals (Resolutions)

The Master Pencils Union No. 84 Pencil Review

My latest flea market find is a red/blue Union No. 84 pencil from The “Master” Pencils Ltd, the English pencil company that also created the Golden Master pencils that I reviewed in the past.

The Union No. 84 is an oversized pencil, with a red and navy core. I love the choice of font for the imprint: it looks clean and professional.

The pencil is thick, built like a children’s pencil, and so the cores are extra large as well.

The navy core, almost black in appearance:

Finding a sharpener that can sharpen this pencil was a challenge. You’ll need one that’s designed for children’s pencils, yet is high quality enough to handle wood that has toughened over time, and a core that is still soft and brittle. I went with the M+R double brass sharpener Nr. 0603. Beware of the red core when you sharpen this pencil, as it can stain your hands.

Here’s the Union No. 84 next to the Caran d’Ache Bicolor 999, the golden standard for red/blue pencils. You can see their size differences quite clearly.

The navy tip of the pencil:

The red tip of the pencil:

The red tip of the pencil was much softer and more crumbly than the navy tip, but even though I was worried about it, it didn’t break with use.

I tested the Union No. 84 against the Bicolor 999, and discovered a few interesting things. The Union’s blue is indeed a shade darker than the Bicolor’s but it’s not as dark as I would have expected. The red shades of both pencils are virtually identical. The Union feels more like a pencil than the waxy Bicolor, with more feedback, and more shading possible when some pressure is applied. Both pencils erase poorly, but the Union erases better than the Bicolor, particularly the Union red, which doesn’t stain the paper.

I tested the pencils on a Baron Fig Confidant, my go-to pencil testing paper, and erased them with the Maped Technic 600.

The Master Union No. 84 is a lot of fun to draw with, beyond being useful for highlighting and correcting text. It feels like a proper pencil, and not a waxy crayon, and it shades enough to allow for doodles like this one:

The Union No.84 is great and fun, and so was the Spiderman movie. I highly recommend them both.

The Master Pencils Union No. 84 Pencil Review

Tombow Object Rollerball Review

In the early 2000s the Tombow Object fountain pen was one of the recommended beginner fountain pens on the market. That was in the pre-Pilot Metropolitan and pre-TWSBI days, when the beginner fountain pen choices were pretty sparse. I have the Tombow Object fountain pen and I’ll review it at a later time, but a few years ago I saw its rollerball counterpart on clearance sale, and so I risked the purchase.

I’m not a rollerball person, since they tend to behave like the worst of fountain pens (ink spreading, feathering, bleeding through and leaking out of the pen) without the good parts (line variation and versatility in ink colour). But the Tombow Object rollerball intrigued me because it shares the same body as the Tombow Object fountain pen but is significantly cheaper, and so I was hoping that even if it turned out to be an annoying pen to use, I could just use it as a way to get some colour variety with my Object fountain pen.

And why would you want that, you ask? Well, just look at that anodization:

The hairline on the body is just a smudged drop of ink. 

The Tombow Object is a metal bodied pen (brushed aluminum body and cap that gives it a great texture) with a plastic section and a steel clip. That gives it some heft, but still keeps it light enough to be comfortable to use both capped and uncapped. There’s a satisfying snap when you cap the pen, and it stays on very securely. The tip doesn’t rattle or wiggle around, and the clip does an admirable job of being a good pocket clip and preventing the pen from rolling about. The pen has a beautifully designed taper on both ends that gives it a bit of character, and an unobtrusive “Tombow” and “Japan” printed in white on the cap. Although this colour is called gold, it’s a coppery-gold, close to a champaign colour you can sometimes see on cars.

The appeal of the Tombow Object has always been the fantastic anodization colours that were offered, each one really vibrant (except for the silver, which was boring). As you can see from the photo above, like all aluminum pens, it can be dented and nicked. This is probably a pen that you want to keep on your desk and not bashing around in your bag or pocket.

Another reason to keep this pen on your desk is that it tends to leak. There’s a slip mechanism in the cap that both prevents the ink from drying out and from leaking beyond the tip of the pen, but as you can see in the photo below, you need to be careful when you start using the pen where you grip it, or just accept ink stains on your fingers (or keep a paper towel at hand).

The pen uses a proprietary Tombow Object refill, which is always a shame. I wish that I could just pop in any fountain pen ink cartridge in there instead.

The slip cap also allows you to easily post this pen, although I don’t recommend it. For one thing, it isn’t necessary as the pen is long enough as it is, and for another, because the pen leaks into the cap you’ll just spread ink on the pen body.

It’s ink test time! Here’s a sampling of how the Tombow Object rollerball behaves on different kinds of paper:

Clairefontaine Back to Basics A5 notebook (90 gsm, fountain pen friendly paper)

Reverse side of Clairefontaine Back to Basics A4 notebook. 

Leuchtturm 1917 Reporter notebook.

Reverse side Leuchtturm 1917 Reporter notebook.

Baron Fig Confidant notebook

Reverse side Baron Fig Confidant notebook

Field Notes 50#T paper (Firespotter).

Reverse side Field Notes 50#T paper (Firespotter).

Moleskine 70 gsm paper (Antwerp Blue Denim). 

Reverse side Moleskine 70 gsm paper (Antwerp Blue Denim). Note: there was less bleed through the more this pen was used (you can see in the Object and in my review of this notebook) but there was still significant show through. 

None of this is great, but to be frank, this is generally in keeping with rollerball behaviour, and one of the reasons that I really don’t like the Retro51 Schmidt rollerball refills. The Object behaved best on the Clairefontaine paper, and even displayed some fetching line variation. It’s still a “one side of the page only” type of pen though.

As for the cap-and-body switching hack, it only partially works. You can take the body of a Tombow Object rollerball and switch it with one from a Tombow Object fountain pen, but the plastic insert in the cap that prevents the ink from drying up or leaking is incompatible between models. The pen just won’t snap shut with the “wrong” type of cap.  It does still allow for some crazy cap/body combos, but that a whole different ballgame.

So would I recommend this pen? It is beautifully designed, looks great, is comfortable to use and you can find it on the secondary market for the price of a Retro51 or slightly cheaper. The enormous downside to this pen is that it uses a proprietary refill (I have not yet tried to hack it to see if it can accept other refills). So if  you like this pen I would recommend stocking up on those refills, because Tombow might not offer them for sale forever. The Tombow Object and the Tombow Egg which use them have both been discontinued for a few years now, which is a great pity.

Tombow Object Rollerball Review

New Year’s Resolutions

For the last three years I’ve been making and tracking yearly goals in a Baron Fig Three-Legged Juggler Confidant. I call my new year’s resolutions my yearly goals because unlike resolutions, goals are something concrete and well defined that you continually strive to achieve.

The goals are personal, so I’m not going to share them here, but I am going to go over how I set them up, in the hopes that it might help and inspire those working on their own yearly goals.

  • Set yourself up for success by picking goals that you:
        1. Actually care about.
        1. Are measurable.
        1. Are achievable even if your year goes horribly wrong. The trick is to set up easily achievable basic goals, and then “bonus” or extended goals that go beyond them in various tiers. So if you aren’t reading at all and you want to read more a good basic goal would be “read 4 books a year”, with extended goals of “read 8 books a year”, “read 12 books a year” and so on.
        1. Are a mix of things that you track all year and one time events ( for example: participate in X number of races, and run X kilometers a month/year).
        1. Aren’t focused on one area only (to avoid boredom and burnout).
  • I use a paper notebook to track my yearly goals and the “Streaks” app to get my streaks going. The notebook is something I open and update at least once a week and so is constantly on my desk, resting against my laptop. It’s a physical and constant reminder of what I need to do. I can’t emphasize enough how important the physical aspect of putting a check mark or crossing out a box is for this to work.
  • Be ambitious only with extended goals, or you are going to disappointed and discouraged very quickly. Human beings are terrible at assessing deadlines and the amount of effort required to achieve a goal. Cut your goals by 25-50% at least from what you think you can achieve. Yes, it’ll make them easy, but the point is to create a momentum of action and success, not frustration and failure. If you know you’ve missed all or most of your goals you’ll stop looking at them, and by March 2019 you’ll be done.
New Year’s Resolutions