Our Old Friend Joe

We had our weekly zoom call with our old family friend, Joe. I did my best to sketch him while we talked. It was slow, hard work and came out only so-so, mainly because my neuropathy is really bad lately (which is also why there’s been a dearth of posts). Still, I’m glad that I tried.

Sketch of our old friend, Joe.

Drawn with a Lamy LX Palladium, fine nib, filled with Diamine Harmony (an Inkvent 2021 ink).

Writing done with a PenBBS 535 Year of the Ox, RF nib, filled with Pilot Iroshizuku Ina-Ho.

The sketchbook is a Stillman and Birn Alpha 5.5’’ x 8.5’’.

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.

Today’s Fountain Pen

Today’s fountain pen is also my first fountain pen, the wonderful Waterman Phileas. It’s filled with Diamine Ruby Blues from the Diamine Inkvent 2021 calendar.

My hands have been an utter nightmare this week and I’m only now starting to feel a slight improvement in my neuropathy. This is the most that I’ve been able to draw and type all week.

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?

Weekly Update: Shots and Lego

The weather started to improve this week, and with it my health. The winds from the East stopped blowing dust in, and the terrible heat and dryness broke, hopefully until summer next year. It finally started raining on Thursday, and as the weather cooled off I could start to clear out and replant my container garden.

Health

This week was the “good” week (i.e. the no Chemo week, where my body gets to recover), even though Sunday and Monday had super hot and dry conditions that made breathing miserable and made my nose bleed (a problem when you’re on blood thinners, as I am). But the weather improved and I started feeling better as I made up for lost sleep and the neuropathy started to gradually subside.
I also got a pneumonia vaccine (I’m eligible because of my Chemo trashed immune system), and another shot to keep my blood count where it should be. I used to be afraid of shots and blood tests when I was little, and leery of them as an adult, but now they’re nothing to me. I’ve been pricked and prodded so many times that I’ve gotten inured to the procedure.

Next week is Chemo 10 of 12, and also when I start scheduling my post Chemo tests.

Reading

I finished Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies”. I couldn’t put it down, so I ended up reading it during Chemo instead of starting on something lighter. She really makes Henry the VIII’s court come to life, and Thomas Cromwell is such a fascinating character in a book filled to the brim with fascinating characters. I’m a bit wary about reading the last book in the trilogy, “The Mirror and the Light,” as I’ve been warned that it’s not as good, but I will probably read it eventually.
I started reading James S. A. Corey’s “Cibola Burn” and so far it looks like a fun and engrossing read. They really know how to write entertaining epic science fiction that highlights how the various modern “tribes” of humanity work and how individuals interact with them.

Writing

My neuropathy started improving on Wednesday, and so I could backlog the journalling days that I missed. Hopefully I’ll get more writing done this week, but even if I only journal that will be OK considering the condition of my hands and the fact that I need to type with them as I work every day. Sometimes you need to cut yourself some slack.

From left to right: PenBBS, Retro 51, Esterbrook and Leonardo

Currently Inked

I wrote my Kanilea dry. I really enjoyed using it, although I still believe that Kanilea pens are overpriced beauties. I bought my pen second-hand on the Pen Addict Slack, but as the message was archived and the pen that I got is no longer made by Kanilea I have no idea what its name is. That’s something for me to figure out.
I wasn’t planning on adding a pen to the rotation, but my Leonardo Momento Zero Grande Mother of Pearl arrived and it was too pretty to sit in a box until I got to it. I was feeling nostalgic so I filled it with Waterman South Sea Blue, a really great and inexpensive ink that has now been renamed to “Inspired Blue” which is not a very descriptive or inspiring name.
Also in rotation: my Esterbrook Estie Seaglass with a Journal nib, filled with Diamine Jack Frost. This pen and nib combination is so much fun to use I may return it to the rotation for a third time in a row once I’ve written it dry.
The Retro 51 Wings of the Monarch fountain pen with a 1.1 stub nib filled with Caran d’Ache Saffron. The pen drags a little as it writes so I may try to smooth the nib out once I’ve written it dry.
PenBBS Year of the Ox, a trusty, workhorse writer filled with Pilot Iroshizuku Ina-Ho.

Other Things

There was a local shopping event two weeks ago, and I went a little wild buying Lego sets. I’ve started building Legos as a way to relax and clear my head once I go sick, and they’ve been quite a comfort during the past few months. I can’t build them on days with bad neuropathy, but on good days they really cheer me up. I’m working on the Hogwarts Icons Collector’s Edition right now, and Hedwig is absolutely stunning.

PenBBS 535 Pen of the Year of the Ox Review

Happy fountain pen day everyone! I hope you get the chance to enjoy your pens today. I thought I’d celebrate with a review of one of the more interesting fountain pens that I have: the PenBBS 535 Pen of the Year of the Ox.

I like pens with interesting filling mechanisms, and I’ve purchased pens from PenBBS before and really enjoyed them so I decided to give this unusual (and inexpensive) pen a try. What’s unusual about it? Well it’s a long pen with an uncommon silhouette, a filling mechanism that doubles as an ink stop, and it has a gem as a roll-stop.

Let’s start with the pen body. It’s long. A Lamy Safari/AL-Star is 13 cm long uncapped. The PenBBS Year of the Ox is 15 cm long uncapped, and about 16 cm long when you unscrew the blind cap to allow for ink to flow (more on that later). That means that it holds a massive amount of ink (make sure you love the ink that you plan to use in this pen), all of which you can see since the main body part is transparent. The cap, blind cap and grip are black with rose gold detailing which is very attractive, and the cap and nib have special Year of the Ox inscriptions (2021 is the year of the ox in the traditional Chinese calendar). I have no idea why this wavy, long silhouette was chosen for the pen, but it reminds me of a bamboo stalk, particularly when capped, and I quite like it.

There is an engraving of an ox head on the rose-gold coloured steel nib, and the pen cap has a rose-gold coloured medallion on it with an engraving of an ox in the middle and “PenBBS 2021 Year of the Ox” engraved around it.

The grip section is surprisingly comfortable to use, as at first glance I was worried that perhaps it would be too narrow for comfort. There’s a slight step at the end where the threads go, and you can see from the picture below that there are very few threads for the cap. This is the weakest part of this pen’s design. While it makes gripping the pen very comfortable (no threads in the way), it makes capping the pen a hassle at times. It’s easy to miss the threads and have the pen not be properly capped. The cap itself is unlined and very short, particularly when compared to the long pen body. It is designed this way so you can post it on the back using the threads and the bottom of the piston.

You can see the threads on the piston below. Apart from checking that the cap can be posted in this way, I chose not to post this pen. It’s not that the posting affects its balance, as the cap is light and doesn’t weight down the back of the pen, but that the threads are so short and shallow that it’s not worth the hassle to use them to post the cap. Plus, I don’t post my pens’ caps anyway.

You also can see the filling mechanism in the previous photo. This is a little complicated to understand and hard to explain, but there’s a good video here showing how it works. You basically twist the piston nob to engage the piston mechanism and fill the pen with ink, and then twist it in another direction to disengage the piston and just allow the plunger rod to move.This allows you to return the piston to place, and is also the mechanism you’ll use to unscrew the piston blind cap and allow ink to enter the transparent chamber at the top of the pen and into the nib. I know this explanation is confusing – please check out the video to see the mechanism in work. It’s pretty easy to get it going once you’ve seen someone demonstrate it to you.

Is this the most convenient filling mechanism? No, not by a long shot. But it fills the pen entirely in one shot (something you can’t get with most converters), and allows the pen to have a really large ink capacity. This and the very decent nib turn this pen from a novelty item into an actual workhorse. This is a pen that is a joy to use, and you can use it for pages and pages of writing.

The Year of the Ox pen comes with a labradorite roll-stop, which is very cool looking and ensures that each and every pen is unique. I have no idea why labradorite was chosen, but I like its colour and I think that it works well with the rose-gold on the pen. It’s also what inspired me to fill this pen with Pilot Iroshizuku Ina-Ho.

To start writing with the Year of the Ox pen you need to unscrew the piston until ink can enter the small chamber near the pen grip. You can see the mechanism at work here:

The RF (round fine, or just simply fine) nib is smooth but not glass smooth, and if you plan on sketching with this pen, flipping the nib gives you a very good extra fine line. The nib and the ink capacity really make this pen something you can probably use throughout NaNoWriMo without having to stop for refills.

I wasn’t expecting much from the PenBBS 535 Pen of the Year of the Ox, because it really does look like a novelty pen. But somehow, the pen’s design, it’s weight, it’s large ink capacity and its good nib make for the ideal workhorse pen. This is a pen that’s fun use and fun to have lying around on your desk. Just be sure to fill it with an ink you really love, because you’re going to be using it for a while…

Yom Kippur 2021

I had a strange Yom Kippur this year, as is to be expected. I decided to commemorate it in my sketchbook, this time using Faber Castel Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils in addition to my usual Schmincke and Daniel Smith watercolour mixture.

Drawn on a Stillman and Birn Alpha. Ink is Iroshizuku Ina Ho (lines), Robert Oster Fire and Ice (heading and text) and Sailor 123 (2021).

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.

Silvine Memo Book Review

I bought this notebook in 2019, when I was last in London. Silvine is a well known UK notebook brand, and ever since I read about them in Roald Dahl’s work I have been looking to try them out.

Front cover.

The Silvine Memo Book is a 159x95mm feint ruled staple bound notebook with zero frills. The cover is made of construction paper, thinner than the standard Field Notes one. The corners aren’t rounded, and there’s no printing on the inside of the cover. The front cover is a big believer in the “says what it does on the tin” school of thought: it’s a British made memo book by Silvine.

Back cover.

The back cover has an ugly barcode and ref printed on it, and it really would have looked better with that barcode printed on the inside. Then again, this notebook is not about looks.

Inside cover and ruling.

The grey ruling is 7mm wide, with margins left on the top and bottom of the page. It’s a bit wide for the format, but I’m guessing that they took their standard ruling and applied it indiscriminately to all their notebooks. The paper is where the Silvine Memo Book surprisingly shines.

Paper test.

The paper is smooth and coated, which means long drying times (though still shorter than Rhodia or Moleskine paper), but it’s also fountain pen friendly. The ink doesn’t feather or spread, and while there is some ghosting, unless you use stub nibs with dark inks the other side of the paper will still be usable. Very juicy nibs cause a small amount of bleed through, and the Sharpie, as usual is a mess, but otherwise Silvine have created a paper that can handle pretty well everything you throw at it.

Ghosting and bleed through test.

The format of this notebook means that its place is on a desk, where you can use it to jot down a quick note with whatever is lying around. It’s not built for pocket carry (in terms of size or construction), and I would have liked the ruling to be 6mm or even 5 mm at this size, but as it is I don’t regret buying the Silvine Memo Book, if only for nostalgic value. It reminds me of Dahl’s short stories, and I like that it’s doing its own thing and not trying to be a Field Notes clone. If you’re in the UK, I’d have one or two of these lying around, just for the paper inside.

Carmel Market at Lockdown

Carmel Market, Tel Aviv, during the third lockdown.

This is the first time that I’ve used my new watercolour palette and I’m still figuring stuff out. I’m also using an 8’’x10’’ Stillman and Birn Alpha which is a large format that I’m still getting used to and isn’t the best for smooth washes. I’m embracing the patchiness here and letting the paint do its thing. More importantly, despite temptation I’m not making any adjustments to the new palette now, as I need more time with it.

Also, the Sailor Fude 55 degrees fountain pen is magic. I used one here with Noodler’s Lexington Grey.