We haven’t had an Urban Sketchers sketchwalk in Tel Aviv since June due to Covid-19. We met today and drew, socially distanced and with masks, for three hours in Dubnov garden, which is not far from Rabin Square and is just behind the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
The first drawing, focusing on the strange rock sunken sculpture in the middle of the garden, was drawn on a Stillman and Birn Pocket Alpha, with a TWSBI ECO 1.1 stub filled with Rohrer and Klingner Emma SketchINK and Schminke watercolours.
The second drawing is a panorama of the architecture near the park, and it was drawn on a Moleskine Large Watercolour notebook, with the same materials and the drawing above.
My drawing challenge has allowed me to streamline my process and bring in much fewer art supplies to the sketchwalk without feeling that I’m missing out. It was also the first time I brought my Walkit sketchbag to a sketchcrawl and it worked very well. I’ll write a review of it later on, once I’ve finalized the kit I put in it.
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 otherstationeryproducts. It’s made of brushed aluminum, it has a knurled grip (why?), has two grey-brown discs on the ends of the pen, and the same sort of clip that their mechanical pencils have. It’s a bland and boring look, but if you’re looking for a minimalist pen then this fits the bill.
What works in mechanical pencils falls flat in a fountain pen, in my opinion. A fountain pen craves more flair, more personality – yes, even the “plain” black ones. A Montblanc 149 or a black Sailor 1911 have class, whilst the Muji fountain pen is a thin aluminum tube with a knurled grip (why?). You just look at it and wonder why it was made and for whom.
My Muji fountain pen has a fine nib with the classic “iridium point” stamped on it and some nice scrolling on it. I’m guessing the nib is a Schmidt nib, but that’s just a guess; what’s not a guess is that it’s an absolute nail. There’s no give whatsoever in this nib, to the point where I have fineliners that show more line variation that it does. It’s not scratchy but the lack of give may put you off if you’re looking for a more “fountain pen” experience (and this is a fountain pen, why wouldn’t you?). Both the Lamy Safari and the Pilot Metropolitan have nicer nibs at around the same price range. They also have the added bonus of a personality.
The grip is just… why? It’s not like the pen body is slippery and the knurling on the grip is necessary. Visually I find it jarring, and there is zero chance that it is there for ergonomic reasons. This is an ergonomically terrible pen. If Muji wanted to do a better job it would have made the barrel wider, moulded a grip section not out of aluminum, and redesigned the cap entirely. The knurling itself is so poorly made that it just makes the grip more slippery, not less.
All this is not great by any means, but I just wouldn’t have bothered to write a review about a boring, mediocre pen. The Muji fountain pen, however, pushes past the boring and mediocre and heads straight into terrible territory with its cap design. The cap has a razor sharp and thin edge that slots into a deep and narrow cutout around the nib. The result is that you can and will cut you fingers on that cap edge, you will have to learn to grip the pen really far away from the nib or you will cut your fingers on the edge of the cutout at the end of the knurled (why?) grip, or it will dig uncomfortably into your fingers. If you dare try to absentmindedly cap the pen then there’s a good chance that you’ll catch your finger in between the cap edge and the knurled (why?) grip and that is pure torture. Also guess what, Muji let’s you have the same finger cutting experience on the other end of the pen too!
I also replaced the terrible cartridge that Muji supplies with this pen with a converter (a Pelikan converter). It fit perfectly, but I didn’t fill the converter first and then attach it to the pen, I made the mistake of dipping the pen in a bottle of ink and filling the converter through the nib. The mess was a sight to see. First of all, the knurling on the grip is a real ink magnate, but it’s the deep groove that the cap goes into that’s the winner here. Ink not only seeps into it and is then extremely difficult to clean out without taking the pen apart and soaking it in water, if you don’t do that then the cap lip gets soaked in ink every time you cap the pen, and so you’ll get ink stains everywhere.
The pen posts using the same terrible mechanism as the cap, which means that there’s a second deep groove that you can cut your fingers on, on the other end. If you’re a pen fidgeter, this will teach you not to fidget. Is that a plus?
But look how pretty it is! It posts so well!
If you’re filming an IKEA commercial, feel free to use this pen. Otherwise, do yourself a favour and buy a Pilot Metropolitan.
Diamine Aurora Borealis fountain pen ink was created by Diamine in collaboration with the /r/fountainpens reddit community, who chose the colour. I love teal inks, but at first I thought that I had enough inks that are close enough in colour to skip this one. I have no recollection of how it landed in my basket during my last Cult Pens purchase 🙂
I don’t normally spend much time on the packaging, but Diamine’s 30ml plastic bottles are deep and wide enough to allow for filling even chunky pens, and their (relatively new) label design is splendid. This bottle is unique in that it has another label, crediting the /r/fountainpens community with selecting the ink colour:
Aurora Borealis is a dark teal with some red sheening, and a good amount of shading for such a saturated ink. It also dries surprising fast for such a saturated ink (although I wouldn’t call it a fast drying ink).
You can see a bit of the red sheen here, on the top of the “A” in aurora:
I a few inks that are in the region fo Diamine Aurora Borealis, but not many of them are swabbed. I will say that the ink is dark enough to be fine for office use, and that is still shows plenty of interest and character:
I tried it also on Paperblanks paper, and on Rhodia paper. In both cases the ink dried darker than it looked when I was writing with it, although the photos picked up less colour than it originally had. The best colour reproduction is in the final photos of Tomoe River Paper, further below. It is worth pointing out though that if you have a wet nib, you’re going to see darker results than you’d expect from the swabs.
In any case Aurora Borealis came out much darker than it appears on Goulet Pens site, for instance, although not as dark as it appears here:
I gave the ink a spin on some (old) Tomoe River paper, and “opened” it up with some water and a fine brush. As is the case with most Diamine inks, Aurora Borealis isn’t waterproof or water resistant, and doesn’t market itself as such. It is, however, a lot of fun to draw with:
You can see red sheening on the happy little dormouse’s nose, as well as on the flowers. You can also see the shading in the flowers:
This is the best sample of all the properties of this ink: the relatively dark colour, the shading, and the slightly red sheen:
Diamine Aurora Borealis is fun dark teal ink that will likely appeal to anyone who likes teal/turquoise inks. It’s inexpensive and unassuming, and so you can take an interesting ink for a spin without spending Sailor or Iroshizuku money.
When Cult Pens and Diamine came out with their first two “Iridescink” shimmering inks together they turned to the fountain pen community to name them, jokingly suggesting Robert and Maureen as possible names. The fountain pen community duly said “challenge accepted” and voted that the inks be called “Robert” and “Maureen”. I thought that this was a charming anecdote until I actually purchased three of the now four Cult Pens/Diamine Iridescink inks and realized that I with names like Robert, Maureen and Christine I would never be able to tell which ink is which.
This, of course, is a minor problem for an otherwise solid addition to the world of fountain pen inks. These inks are super sheening and generally well behaved, with a good solid base colour and an interesting sheen hue on top of it.
Robert, a purple ink with a green sheen (I will forever have to consult a guide when trying to remember which ink is called what), is one of the most attractive inks in the bunch. It features a reddish purple somewhat reminiscent of Diamine Amaranth, and a gorgeous green gold sheen.
On Rhodia paper with a Lamy fine nib you can see the green sheen on almost every downstroke. It’s also well featured in the swap I took in my Col-o-ring.
For the biggest sheen effect, of course there’s nothing like tomoe river paper. Here’s a quick sketch that I did on a Kanso Sasshi tomoe river booklet. As you can see the ink isn’t waterproof or water resistant (not that Cult Pens or Diamine claim that it is), and you can barely see the base colour in most places because of the heavy green sheen.
So why did I say that Diamine Robert is “generally well behaved” and not just “well behaved”? Because if you leave it unused in a pen for a day or two you may find that you need to “prime” the pen for a bit to get it to start to write. Once it gets going the ink flows well, but this is the sort of behaviour that makes me wary of using this ink in vintage pens. Your milage may vary, as ink flow changes with altitude and weather, but for now this gorgeous ink is relegated to “just” my modern pens. That’s more than good enough for me.
I’ve been catching up on the Pen Addict members-only “Friend of the Show” podcast (highly recommended), and person after person said that they prefer modern pens, and they have a vintage pen, an Esterbrook, which they don’t really use. That people’s first vintage pen is an Esterbrook didn’t surprise me, as it’s a great little pen at a very compelling price, and it can be easily modified to suit your writing style by swapping out the nib. What did surprise me a little is that people aren’t really using the Esterbrooks that they have.
Then again, I own five Esterbrook pens:
Yet I haven’t used them in years. They all have nibs that I carefully selected to fit my writing style perfectly, and still I haven’t used any of them since 2016 or so. And the reason I don’t use them is the reason why I’m going to suggest to people starting out with vintage pens to maybe not pick the Esterbrook as their first vintage pen, ubiquitous and cheap and beautiful as they may be.
They’re lever fillers, every last one of them.
Lever filler mechanisms are very common in vintage pens, because they are so cheap and easy to produce. They’re also fairly easy to mend, and so you’ll find them everywhere on a vintage dealer’s table or on a vintage pen site. They are my second least favourite filling mechanism (hello button fillers, you get first place) because they are not great to use when you’re filling a pen, and they are really not great to use when you’re cleaning it.
The Esterbrook does allow you to bypass the annoying cleaning part in that you can unscrew the nib and clean the pen like that, but you still have to use the lever when you fill the pen, and you still have no earthly idea how much ink is in your pen while you’re writing with it.
So my friendly suggestion would be to delay your first purchase of a vintage fountain pen and buy something a little more expensive (in the $100-$150 range) that is easier to fill and clean. If it turns out that you like vintage fountain pens, then you can start getting used to lever fillers and their quirks.
Here are my top three suggestions, in order of most beginner friendly to least beginner friendly (but still friendlier than a lever filler): the Pelikan 140 (a piston filler), the Parker 51 aerometric (an aerometric filler that works like a squeeze converter), and the Parker Vaumatic (a vacumatic filler).
The Pelikan 140 is a piston filler with a gold nib, and a semi transparent body which allows you to see if you filled the pen properly and how much ink is left. It was made for over a decade and has a wide variety of nibs, so you can quite easily find it, and look for the perfect nib for you, just like with the Esterbrook. It is a more expensive pen, but you can still get a phenomenally good pen (ebonite feed, gold nib which can sometimes have flex, and a large ink capacity) for significantly less than what the same features would cost on a modern pen. The downside is the aesthetics, which can be a little spartan (Pelikan 140s are mostly black with green stripes), and the trim’s tendency for brassing. But brassing adds character, as once a very good vintage pen blog said. These pens are also likely to be more easily obtained in Europe than in the US or Asia.
The Parker 51 is still my absolute favourite vintage pen, but that’s not why it’s here. It’s here because the aerometrics (which are also cheaper) sport a filling mechanism that works very much like a modern squeeze converter, albeit permanently attached to the pen, and the filling instructions are etched into the pen, which is very helpful of Parker.
Theoretically you can gauge if there’s ink in the pen using the transparent sack but in most cases the sack will no longer be transparent, and even if it was, its position doesn’t really tell you a lot about the state of the ink in the pen. So it’s relatively easy to fill and clean the pen, but you’re not going to have any indication as to how much ink is in it at any given time.
The Parker Vacumatics are gorgeous pens with great nibs, and the striped Vacumatics let you know what the ink level is unless they are stained beyond belief, in which case I’d wait a bit for a pen in better condition. The Parker Vacumatics I’m recommending are those with a lock down mechanism. Of the three pens they are the most fiddly, and that’s why they’re in third place, but they allow for a relatively large ink capacity, and the option to see the ink levels at all times, so they go on the list. To fill the pen you unscrew the blind cap, give the metal nob on the top a slight turn and push (a bit like opening a child proof pill bottle) and then the metal plunger springs out. You push the plunger a few times to fill the pen, and then you push down the plunger and twist it once it’s down so that it locks back into place. If you’ve ever used a child-proof pill bottle then you’ll be familiar with the push and twist mechanism, and if not have it demonstrated when you buy the pen or find a youtube video that shows you how to do it. It’s not difficult.
The Parker Vacumatics are not as intuitive to use as a lever filler, but they allow for an ink window which means that you can see if you have ink left or if you’ve filled or cleaned the pen properly pretty easily:
These pens are never going to compete with the Esterbrook pens on price because they have gold nibs and more sophisticated filling mechanisms. They do quite easily compete with modern pens in terms of bang for your buck when it comes to getting things like a piston filler with a flexy double broad gold nib. If you’re buying a vintage fountain pen that you want to have a relatively easy time filling, using and cleaning, and that will give you a unique and oftentimes exceptional writing experience, any one of these three pens ought to do.
And just to set the record straight: I love Esterbrook pens, and there was a time when I used them constantly, and I still heartily recommend them as they are little workhorses of delight. It just occurred to me that perhaps that little lever combined with the opaque body may be off-putting to new users, and so I’m suggesting a few (much more expensive, sometimes harder to obtain) alternatives. With vintage fountain pens purchase patience is required and not FOMO, so it’s worth waiting for a great $100 pen that you’ll use more than buying a $50 one that you won’t.
It’s combat time in Vengeful Fortress the free-form illustrated adventure that I’m currently running. See previous instalments here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6. Drawn on a Stillman and Birn Epsilon sketchbook (review in part 1), with Schminke watercolours, various fountain pen inks (Sailor Sky High, Diamine Earl Grey, Diamine Christine, Diamine Robert), and Deleter Neopiko-Line-3 fineliners.
Ever since I saw the first reviewsofDiamine 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.
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.
On Tomoe River paper the depth of its hidden tones really comes to light:
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.
Find out more about Henry here on his site, and here on the famous “Has anyone heard of Henry Simpole” threads (one and two) on the Fountain Pen Network. Henry’s moniker was Truffle Finder. People are writing kind words and their memories of time spent with Henry here.
This is my favourite Henry story, and if you’re remotely interested in Esterbrook you should give it a read.
Read here about the Jasmin pen. I’ve attached photos of mine below.