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.

Diamine Monboddo’s Hat Ink Review

Diamine Monboddo’s Hat intrigued me from the moment I heard the name and saw the colour, but I have too much ink already, so it took a while before I caved in and bought a small bottle of it, and then a while more before I had the chance to use it.

Ever since Lamy Dark Lilac made its appearance a few years ago all dark purple inks have been judged against it, perhaps unfairly. There is more than one shade of dark purple in the world, and in any case unless you’re really set on trying to replicate Dark Lilac’s hue there’s really no need to create that comparison. Let inks stand for themselves first, and then let people know how close they are to an ink they may own or look to purchase.

Diamine Monboddo’s Hat has a delightful name and was made in collaboration with the Fountain Pens UK Facebook group. Diamine’s collaborations have all been interesting so far, and this one isn’t different. Monboddo’s Hat is a reddish leaning deep purple with a green gold sheen that can easily be slipped into office use rotation without anybody noticing. I have used Tomoe River paper to bring out the most of its sheen and shading, but even here it’s not a wild ink.

It’s hard to get the lighter hue of the ink to show while writing, but I made a quick sketch which shows the colour variation Monboddo’s Hat has:

Use Tomoe River paper and tilt it a bit to see the greenish-gold sheen this ink provides.

You can see the sheen on the top row here. Looking at the writing without tilting the paper makes them just look like an almost black purple.

It was fun doodling around with this ink. Here’s a closeup on all that Monboddo’s Hat has to offer:

The sketch was done using a Nakaya fine elastic nib. Where I put less pressure and moved the nib faster you see the lighter shades of purple and less sheen:

I used a fine brush to draw this flower, and a drop of water to show that Monboddo’s Hat isn’t waterproof or water resistant (nor does it claim to be):

Sheen on display:

Regardless of if it’s a good substitute for Lamy Dark Lilac or not, Monboddo’s Hat is a wonderful ink that is worth buying. The shade is dark but still vibrant, the sheen adds interest and pizzaz, and it’s a lot of fun to draw with if you have that inclination. Being a Diamine ink it’s also affordable and easily obtainable, with the added plus of being part of a welcome collaboration between a very old brand and a very modern community.

Diamine Aurora Borealis Ink

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 🙂

Beautifully designed label.

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).

Swab on a col-o-ring card.

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.

Paperblanks

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:

Rhodia

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.

Cult Pens Iridescink by Diamine: Diamine Robert

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.

Diamine Earl Grey Review

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

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

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

Shading on every single letter.

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

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

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

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

Parker Quink Blue Black Ink Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparison swabs.

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

You can see the shading particularly in my swirls.

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

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

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

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

Stay safe and stay as much as possible at home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!