Weekly Update: It’s been a while

It’s been a while since the last update, and since I’ve been travelling there also haven’t been many posts lately. I plan to get back to a regular posting schedule next week, but first, an update.

Health

As the weather changed, and as I had to travel, my neuropathy has seen ups and downs. It was absolutely terrible on the plane, but it’s much better now. At this point my pain level hovers around a 2-3, and that’s something that I’ve learned to live with. I’ve been able to get back to drawing, I’ve started building Legos again (something that I picked up as a meditational/self-soothing hobby during my hospitalisation and really helped me while I could still build them), and I’ve had no trouble typing lately.

Watercolour pencil sketch of the lookout over the separate beach in Tel Aviv.

Reading

I’ve been on a murder mystery roll lately, mostly because April was a travel month. I’ve read three early Agatha Christie mysteries, after not picking up one of her books for years, and I rediscovered how entertaining and insightful she could be. I’m currently steaming through the latest “Rivers of London” book, “Amongst Our Weapons” by Ben Aaronovitch (so far it’s been a very enjoyable read), and I have a Miss Marple mystery (“A Murder is Announced”) before I return to more serious and lengthy reading.

As for the Tournament of Books challenge, I made my way through Sally Rooney’s “Beautiful World, Where Are You?” And found it even more insufferable than “Normal People”. I couldn’t stand the characters, the slow and stilted writing, the self importance of everyone involved, and how little plot there was to make up for all the rest.
Anne Garréta’s “In Concrete” wasn’t great, but I’m not sure that it isn’t a matter of a lot of meaning and innuendo being lost in translation, despite the valiant efforts of the translator. It was at least an interesting book with interesting characters – a sort of female, French take on Tristram Shandy.
The Echo Wife” by Sarah Gailey was a fascinating near future science fiction novel that is worth reading even if you don’t like science fiction. It has a lot to say about what makes us who we are, and how cycles of abuse are created and can be broken.
I’ve started reading Gary Shteyngart’s “Our Country Friends” but I moved to lighter reading while I was traveling. It’s the next book in the challenge that I intend to finish.

Currently Inked

I cleaned out all of my fountain pens before my trip, apart from my Schon Design pocket 6, and two Lamy Safaris filled with De Atramentis Document ink. I bough a few fountain pens, a bit of ink, and a whole host of notebook and art supplies during my trip and I’m planning to break them out and give them a try and review a few during the coming weeks. Meanwhile I still have one Lamy Safari inked up for my sketches, the Schon Design pocket 6 fountain pen which I’m about to write dry, and a newly inked Kaweco Collection Iridescent Pearl. I wasn’t planning on buying it, but I saw it at “Present and Correct” and couldn’t resist. As I bought a few tins of J. Herbin ink cartridges while I was in Paris, I popped an Eclat de Saphir cartridge into this pen.

Other

In other news I quit my job of the past 13 years this week, and I’m starting a new job next month. It was a difficult decision to make, and one that took me a while, but I truly believe that this change will be for the better.

Have a great week!

2021: Looking Back at a “Heavy” Year

My hands have been killing me with the worst neuropathy since my treatments began, so I’ve been trying to limit my typing to what I need to do for work. That is why this post took so long to write, and why my posting schedule may be a little off until things improve with my neuropathy.

2021 was a hell of a year for me. It started with me doing Liz Steel‘s excellent Sketchbook Design course. I also took some fantastic and very illuminating tea seminars with Juyan Webster from the Chinese Tea Company. If you have any interest in tea and you get a chance to have a tea seminar with her, I highly recommend it.

Early on in the year is also when a close family member got diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and that’s also when my journalling went on the fritz. This was the notebook I was using at the time, a Moleskine Pokemon Charmander limited edition and I abandoned it 2/3rds of the way through.

Abandoned Moleskine.

Covid was raging, I was working from home, at a new job, and I spent the first quarter of the year trying to fit my drawing and running into the new quarantine rules that kept getting both stricter and more confusing with each iteration. I happily got vaccinated as soon as I could, and I’m still very grateful to the amazing scientists and doctors who came up with vaccines in such a short time frame.
I managed to participate in the OneWeek100People challenge, which is very demanding but also a lot of fun. If you can spare the time I recommend giving it a try.

In the beginning of April I started having shortness of breath (dyspnea) while running. It got worse with time and soon I couldn’t run at all, and then I couldn’t walk very fast or far, climb stairs, etc. After a long and laborious road to get a diagnosis, in the beginning of June I learned that I had cancer, and in the beginning of July I got a diagnosis and started ABVD chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
A few things helped me get through that incredibly difficult time. First and foremost, my phenomenal family (mother, father and brother) that rallied around me and took care of me from the moment of the first diagnosis and to this day. I can’t imagine going through this process without them. Almost as important were my friends, who visited me in the hospital and cheered me up, and kept in touch and cheered me on during the treatments. Finally it was journaling and reading. I started this Moleskine “I am New York” on the day I was first admitted to hospital, and writing in it gave me perspective and kept me sane.

Journal of a bad year.

And books? Books have always been my comfort and escape. I saw a few things on Disney+ while I was hospitalized, but books helped distract me from a lot the most unpleasant and painful parts of this journey.
I was happy to discover that one of my favourite Moleskine limited edition series, the denim ones, was back in stock, and so once I finished the “I am New York” journal I moved into this Moleskine “Skinny. Flared. Bookcut.” one. It’s such a well conceptualized and executed design, it was a joy to use. This was when I decided to regularly use fountain pens to journal with, and just use only one side of the page. I have more than enough notebooks to support that decision.

This notebook took me through the second part of chemo to the end of it.

And now, and the beginning of 2022 I started a new journal, a Moleskine Peanuts Sakura. Pretty, right? Let’s hope I get to fill it with good news and positive thoughts.

A new Moleskine for a new and better year.

Some favourites from the past year:

My favourite pen was the Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass. Quite a surprise for me, but it hasn’t been out of rotation since I got it.

Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass – fantastic and beautiful pen.

Another pen purchase that came in at a close second was the Diplomat Elox Rings and the Diplomat Aero (basically the same pen with a slightly different body design). These are wonderful workhorses, and a joy to use.

Diplomat Elox Rings on the left and Diplomat Aero in Champagne on the right.

I didn’t read as much this year as last year, but I did read a few really great books. Here’s a list of a few standouts among them:

  • The Good War, by Studs Terkel. WWII as I’ve never experienced it before – as seen and told by the “regular people” who lived through it.
  • Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Not an easy read by far, but a breathtaking work of fiction nonetheless. Worth the effort.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. A surprisingly moving tale of a character that you won’t expect to fall in love with, and yet you will.
  • Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, by Hillary Mantel. Why should I care about Thomas Cromwell? How can you not care about Thomas Cromwell after reading these books? An era and place come to life, in a world filled with complex and compelling characters.
  • Nomadland, by Jessica Bruder. Watch the movie AND read the book. Both are excellent, and both offer a chance to look into a part of modern living that we were hitherto oblivious of.
  • Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir. Just a fun and interesting sci-fi novel. If you enjoyed the Martian, you’ll enjoy this.
  • Underland, by Robert Macfarlane. What happens in the deep dark places beneath our feet? A lyrical work of non-fiction.
  • The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. The love story between Achilles and Patroclus told with great gentleness and heart.
  • Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. An understated and masterful work of science fiction that explores themes of humanity, identity, friendship and love, among other things.
  • Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead. How can you write a heist novel that isn’t a heist novel but rather a story of a person, a time and place? Whitehead’s writing is exceptional, and Harlem Shuffle is just another proof of that.
  • The Expanse books 1-4, James S.A. Corey. I haven’t read book 5 and onwards yet, but I did read the first four books of The Expanse this year. They aren’t perfect (Holden is a bit much), but they are very good at world-building, with interesting and unique plots and complex and believable characters (apart from Holden, who is a bit much). The books are each written in a different style, and they improve with time.

In terms of art supplies, 2021 was the year of the super-granulating watercolours from Schmincke, and also when I added Daniel Smith watercolours to my palette. Schmincke just announced that the super-granulating colours will be permanently added to their offerings, and that they are issuing three more permanent sets into this series (Desert, Shire and Vulcano), and another limited edition set, Haze.

I’ll be talking about planning for 2022 on one of my next posts. In the meanwhile, have a great new year, and don’t forget to take time and breath.

Midori MD Notebook Journal A5 Review

I got this Midori MD Notebook Journal A5 Dot Grid as part of the Cult Pens Paper Box, which is no longer being offered. I’ve used and liked Midori paper before, as part of their Traveler’s Notebook offering, but I’ve never taken the opportunity to purchase one of their notebooks before. One of the main reasons I purchased the Paper Box was to give this notebook a try.

MD Notebook Journal A5 front cover

The MD Notebook Journal is a soft cover notebook with a minimalist design. It’s an A5 dot grid notebook that opens flat, has 192 fountain pen friendly pages, and comes with the bare minimum needed to turn it into a more structured journal: two enlarged dots for the dates and an index insert that you can use to mark the months. Everything you need to know about the notebook is thoughtfully written on its paper wrapper. Everything but the paper weight. I’d start a rant here, but I don’t think it will do something to solve the various standardization issues in the notebook/journal world, so I’m just going to note that I find it annoying. Write the gsm please. It’s not that hard.

MD Notebook Journal A5 back cover with index.

The MD Notebook Journal comes wrapped in a crinkly parchment paper that is meant to protect the cardboard covers, and I kind of liked the way that it felt. On a whim I grabbed some washi tape and taped it to the cover as a cover protector. I don’t know how long it will last (I’ll probably need to add more tape later on), but for now I’m enjoying it.

Inside the front cover is a place to write your details. As usual, I highly recommend writing your name and email, in case of loss.

Front endpaper.

The backend paper contains information about the notebook, and no pocket. It really isn’t missed on such a minimalist design, although you could easily tape an envelope here to serve as a pocket if you are so inclined.

Back endpaper.

The MD Notebook Journal paper is fountain pen friendly and shows off the various properties of fountain pen ink very well. The drying time isn’t great, but that’s to be expected considering the coating on the paper.
Now for a little side note: I purchased the 2021 Diamine Inkvent calendar and I plan on reviewing all of the inks in it, opening each one on the relevant day, just like I did in 2019. I’ll be using old Tomoe River Paper and this MD Notebook Journal for the purposes of the review. So if you want to see this notebook get a little more use before giving it a go, stay tuned.

Fountain pen friendly paper that shows sheen, shading and outlining well.

The paper in MD Notebook Journal isn’t very thick, so there is some show-through, but no bleed-through, with all the inks that I used. It wouldn’t bother me, but if you find show-through distracting, you might want to use lighter inks, fine and extra fine nibs, or just one side of the paper.

Show-through on the back side of the paper.

There’s a thin ribbon bookmark attached to the notebook, which is both charming and adds the only touch of colour (a lovely teal) to this minimalist journal.

The bookmark.

I look forward to giving the Midori MD Notebook Journal A5 dot grid a thorough try out next month. From what I’ve seen of it so far it’s going to be a fun notebook to use (and I don’t even like dot grid notebooks normally). There’s something about the starkness of it that makes it appealing, in that it really is a sandbox that you can play in. I can imagine people placing it in various notebook covers, or covering the covers with stickers and drawings, or just trashing it with use.

A journal with endless potential and excellent paper – what more do you need?

Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass Review

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.

My photos do not do this pen justice. The Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass. It’s gorgeous, trust me.

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.

You can see some of the effects in the pen body here, but my photos don’t do it justice.

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.

You can see the capping mechanism threads. Esterbrook gets bonus points for making them attractive.

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 cushion cap inside.

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 nib.

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.

When the branding calls too much attention to itself…

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.

Cartridge converter at work.

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:

Writing sample.

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.

Health Update for the New Year

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.

OneWeek100People 2021: Day 2

Day two of the One Week 100 People challenge and today was more challenging than yesterday, mainly because I started late and had trouble finding decent photographs. Photographers apparently love photographing blurry people, masked people, people with their backs to them, other photographers (while they are taking photographs and their face is half covered by the camera), or people from a large distance. Some of them also love photoshopping their subjects to death, so I’m now able to find a half decent subject only every five or six photographs. Thankfully the pool is huge and varied, with people in all ages and from all over the world, so while things are slowing down a bit, I’m still grateful for the the opportunity to enjoy the work published in this wonderful group. Even if I can’t use all of the photos there, I am thoroughly enjoying perusing through all of them.

Sketchbook Design: My Tools

I’ve enrolled into Liz Steel’s Sketchbook Design online course, as I like the way Liz designs her notebook pages and I’ve taken an Urban Sketchers workshop (in Porto, 2018) which was excellent. Liz sent the first intro videos to the course to her newsletter subscribers, and so I decided to pick a sketchbook for the course (which starts on January 4th) and draw the tools that I plan on using in it.

The sketchbook that I chose is a Stillman and Birn Beta softcover A5 sketchbook, because it has watercolour friendly paper and I wanted to try that paper out. Here’s a sketch of my tools done with a Lamy Safari Petrol fine nib fountain pen and a Lamy Safari Dark Lilac medium nib fountain pen, both with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black.

I got carried away with the lines when drawing my palette, so I decided to roll with it and just use it to write down the paint details.

Here it is after applying watercolour:

It’s not perfect, but I like the way this page looks.

Here’s my Winsor & Newton Travel Watercolour box, filled with Schminke watercolours (some of them on their second or third refill from the tube). I love this paint box so much that I used my previous one until it fell to pieces. This is my new one, and it’s holding up well so far.

The fountain pens that I’ll be using: Lamy Safari Petrol F nib with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, Lamy Safari Dark Lilac M nib with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, Lamy Safari Charcoal EF nib with J. Herbin Bleu Pevench, Sailor Fude MF pen with Noodler’s Lexington Grey (Bulletproof ink).

My non fountain pens are my beloved Saedtler pigment liners in 0.3 and 0.7 and a Uni-ball Signo broad white.

The pencil I will use is a vintage Eagle Turquoise “Chemi Sealed” H drawing pencil. I just love everything about these pencils, and I really wish that they were still in production.

My brushes: a Raphael round travel brush, I’m not sure what size. There’s a good chance that I’ll replace it with a better round brush as the course progresses, as I’m not enamoured with it. The black brush in the middle is a Winsor & Newton Series 7 no 2 Kolinsky sable brush. The white and silver brush below is a Rosemary & Co R12 Sable/Nylon Dagger brush, and it’s a brush that I haven’t 100% mastered but that I’m growing to like with use.

That’s it for my tools at the moment. I’ll update this blog with my progress as the course takes place, and I’ll be sure to note if my tools change throughout.

Muji Fountain Pen Review

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.

You can’t pick interesting colours for the finials, because that would give the pen too much character. Can’t have that.

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.

Nail nib and inexplicable knurling – a match made by Muji.

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.

Spoilers for the rest of the review.

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.

The worst cap design I have ever encountered.

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.

Oh God, who let them do this twice?

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.

Rotring 600 Levenger Fountain Pen and Rollerball Review

I haven’t bought a fountain pen on eBay in years, but when I decided to celebrate completing a six month intensive DevOps course, I headed out to eBay in search for the Rotring 600 Levenger rollerball. Yes, you read that correctly, I was looking for the Rotring 600 rollerball, not the fountain pen. I love the design of the Rotring 600 Levenger pens, but I thought that there was zero chance that I’ll manage to snag a good quality fountain pen, not to mention a fountain pen and rollerball set, so I decided to focus on the cheaper to obtain rollerball. As it turned out, I landed on an estate sale Rotring 600 set, and managed to get a Rotring 600 Levenger fountain pen and rollerball in great condition for a pretty good price.

The Rotring 600 Levenger pens aren’t flashy. They both have metal hexagon bodies with knurled ends and the classic Rotring red rings on the cap ends. The cap ends and the grip and the pen finial and round, and the pen body and cap are hexagonal, and somehow the transition between these two shapes is perfect and seamless. Industrial design at its best.

The fountain pen cap snaps into place with the help of the two silver protrusions on the knurled grip section. These protrusions don’t get in the way while writing, no matter how weird your pen grip is, and the section itself is very comfortable to hold. The knurling isn’t as dense as on the Rotring 600 mechanical pencil, and it is smoothed over so it doesn’t dig into your fingers. It provides a secure grip, while giving the pen the traditional Rotring look.

Because of the silver protrusions the pen cap snaps very securely into place. The fountain pen came with no converter, just unbranded short international cartridges, but it was easy enough to take the converter off my Super5 pen and use it here. The nib grade is indicated on the pen cap, which is what you’d expect on a drafting pencil. I like that oh so Rotring touch.

The Rotring 600 fountain pen comes with a steel nib that’s shaped a lot like a Lamy Safari nib. It’s stamped with Rotring’s logo on one side, and the nib grade on the other.

The nib is smooth and a lot of fun to write with, but it’s on the wider (European) side of fine. A 0.7 mm width line. Check out that grip section design:

The rollerball has a blue indicator, presumably for the colour of the ink refill inside. By the time I got it the refill had dried out, and so I replaced it with my favourite refill, the Uni-ball UMR-85N gel ink refill. This is the reason I bought the set and I couldn’t be happier with my purchase. Just look at it:

That’s so sleek and so clever, and I have no idea why they stopped producing them. Side by side you can see that the knurling on the fountain pen is slightly more pronounced. You can hardly feel the difference when in use, but I thought that it’s worth pointing out.

And here is that glorious nib in use, with a quick sketch of the Albert Memorial in London. The ink is Sailor Jentle Ink Epinard, which is a fun ink to sketch with an a green ink dark enough that you can sneak it into office use (not that anyone would notice or care right now).

It’s been a tough time, and a long and challenging six months course, but I couldn’t be happier with my “reward” for finishing it. If you run across a Rotring 600 rollerball or fountain pen at a reasonable price, by all means, buy them. The design on these pens is the kind that belongs in museums it’s so good, and they are a lot of fun to use too.

Rotring, if you’re listening, bring these back!

PenBBS 456 Smog RM and Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-Syogun

I ordered the PenBBS 456 Vacuum Filling Smog 54 RM at the same time I ordered the PenBBS 500, because I was intrigued by the filling system, and I wanted a PenBBS 500 with the Smog design but there weren’t any available. I was expecting to like the PenBBS 500 more because from the pictures it seems to have a more classic design, but the PenBBS 456 is the perfect example of how pen pictures often misleading.

The 456 is a much sleeker pen than its chubby 500 counterpart. There’s also significantly less hardware on the 456, which makes it both lighter and better looking. Massive chrome details on fountain pens just seem to cheaper their look in my eyes. If the cap band had been about half the size then the 456’s design would be better, but as it is it’s not a pen that I’d be ashamed to carry, and it looks more expensive than it actually is.

The steel nib on this is a medium, and it writes at about a 0.7mm line, as described. The nib design itself is elegant and clever, with a calligraphy “M” designating its width. The nib itself is smooth with some feedback, and has little or no give.

I purposefully filled this pen only about a third of the way up once I realized what a massive ink capacity it has. The filling mechanism is somewhat elaborate, like all vacuum fillers, but it works, and unlike the end-cap on the PenBBS 500, the PenBBS 456’s end-cap doesn’t twist off unintentionally.

The smog material is really beautiful, and it’s a way to get some of that Visconti vacuum-filler, London Fog feel without breaking the bank. This pen proves that you don’t have to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars to have a nice pen that you enjoy writing with.

Some more closeups on the overly large cap band (if only it had ended on the line below the “Shanghai”) and the lovely smog material. You can also see the filling mechanism clearly:

The material looks even better when the pen is filled up with ink, but I just wasn’t willing to dump out so much ink, and I knew that I would be forced to do that if I topped the pen up:

Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu Syogun was one of the first Pilot Iroshizuku inks that I splurged on. It shades beautifully, and is a lovely cool (i.e. bluish) grey that is utterly not waterproof, and so can be “stretched” and reworked as you can see in the small sketch that I did:

This was drawn on Tomoe River paper, but you’ll see shading on Rhodia and Clairefontaine paper as well. Of all the grey inks I own, this one is still my favourite. It’s dark enough to be readable (and appropriate for office use), and offers a lot of interest and drawing potential with its shading.

Like all pens that aren’t cartridge converters, cleaning this pen out will take a bit of effort, and vacuum filling pens are more difficult to clean out than piston fillers or lever fillers (only button fillers are worse IMHO). It just means that you’ll need to have patience when filling and cleaning this pen out, and that you probably shouldn’t put shimmering inks or inks that are difficult to clean out (or stain the pen body) in a pen like this. Then again, the pen costs $32, so if worst comes to worst, you haven’t ruined an expensive pen.

I wish that PenBBS would pick a naming convention that is easier to remember than the one it is currently using. But other than that and the not great cap band, for double the price the PenBBS would still be a great buy.