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.

Diamine Earl Grey Review

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.

Parker Quink Blue Black Ink Review

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 3: Rohrer and Klingner Lotte SketchINK Mini Review

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 Part 2: More Thoughts on Stillman and Birn Epsilon

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.

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

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!

Rotring 600 Levenger Fountain Pen and Rollerball Review

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.

PenBBS 456 Smog RM and Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-Syogun

Diamine Inkvent Blue Edition

Diamine came out with the very successful Inkvent advent calendar last year, and now they are bringing out all of the inks in the calendar in a special “Blue Edition” box and bottle. Cult Pens had them first in stock, and had a nice 10% discount on them, so I decided to splurge on some ink bottles (after not buying any for years).

The Inkvent Blue Edition boxes evoke the beautiful design of the Inkvent calendar, which makes them great gift inks to give. Everything about the boxes, the labels and the bottles is of the highest quality, and is well thought out. These are pretty enough to keep on your desk, whether they are in their blue box or not.

The bottles themselves, of course, are the main design event. They are glass bottles with thick legs, and an ingenious design. They look gorgeous, but they’re also very practical. The cap is large enough to allow the widest nibs in, and the actual part of the bottle that holds the ink is built so that there won’t be any awkward corners that your pen can’t get into. The bottles are tall enough to allow for larger pens to be filled with ease.

Did I mention that they look stunning?

You can see the design of the legs and the ink reservoir here:

The bottles of shimmer ink (and shimmer and sheen ink) come with this handy little insert:

The bottles of sheen ink come with this insert:

This is more proof of the amount of thought that went into designing this edition. I don’t know if Diamine planned on issuing the Blue Edition ahead of time or only once it saw the success of its Inkvent calendar, but either way, this isn’t some hastily dashed out ink edition.

When it came to selecting the inks that I wanted to buy, I ended up surprising myself with my selection. I expected to buy the Solstice, but I ended up buying theBlue Peppermint instead. I love turquoise inks, and I don’t yet have one that shades and shimmers. I never thought that I’d buy Candy Cane, but not only did I buy it (I wanted something to brighten up my life a bit right now), but it’s the first ink that I used in the set.

Holly was also not an obvious choice, but it’s an interesting ink and I don’t have many green inks on hand.  Seasons Greetings was wild enough and unique enough for me to add it first to my cart. Nutcracker is here because I think that it will be a great (albeit not waterproof) drawing ink.

If money and space weren’t an issue, I’d probably add Solstice, Snow Storm, and Polar Glow to my shopping cart. Maybe I will, in the future. For now I’m tremendously happy with the Diamine Blue Edition inks that I bought, and if you’re looking for a small pick me up or an inexpensive gift for the pen addict in your life, I highly recommend these.

Diamine Inkvent Blue Edition

PenBBS 500 Summer and Sailor Sky High

After a long wait my PenBBS 500 Summer finally arrived earlier last month. The PenBBS 500 is a piston filler with a new and rather elaborate filling mechanism for the shockingly low price of $29.99. At that price it can’t be very good, right?

This pen is about the size and thickness of a Pelikan M800, but it’s much heavier than the M800.

While the PenBBS 500 is far from a perfect pen, it is much better than the price tag would have you believe. It’s a heavy pen, made with beautiful acrylic that is both partly translucent and chatoyant, with swirls in pearlescent white, turquoise and royal blue.

There is a lot of branding on this pen, which accounts for some of the choices to slap a lot of chrome on it. You can see the piston spring through the pen body. The “summer” acrylic is beautiful.

The hardware isn’t to my tasting, as there’s too much of it, and it ends up cheapening the pen’s look. The finial has a nice art deco look to it, but when it comes to its functional design it could use some improvement. To fill the pen you twist the small circle in the centre of the finial until it pops out and you can access the spring/piston mechanism to fill the pen. It’s not very convenient to twist open on the one hand, and on the other hand if you’re not careful you can accidentally twist it open while carrying it.

The pen body is stepped down towards the end, maybe so you can cap it? But who caps fountain pens, and why on earth would you want to do that with such a heavy cap?

I like the clip design, but the cap band and the top of the cap hardware are much too pronounce for my taste, and they add a weight to the pen. The pen itself is top heavy, but not the point where it’s uncomfortable or awkward to write with.

I’m not a fan of that big glob of chrome at the end. 

As the ink colour partially shows through this pen, I decided to use Sailor Sky High in it. I’ve had a bottle laying around since the days when Sailor discontinued it and I rushed out to buy some. That was a silly move, but in those days I didn’t know any better. There’s always going to be another ink, people. No point in chasing the discontinued ones only to have the reissued in a few years, or to discover that another brand as the same hue for a fraction of the price.

Sailor’s inks are fun to draw with, particularly with a water brush, as they are utterly non-waterproof, and yet remain true to colour when wet. As I’m staying at home I drew my “nasturtiums,” which I just learned were called Tropaeolums and come from South America originally. They are very easy to grow from seed and offer a lot of interest even when not in flower.

This PenBBS 500 Summer has a fine nib, which skews slightly wider than Japanese fine nibs, and closer to European ones. Sailor Sky High shades enough for it to show with this nib size, and on Tomoe River paper the shading is more pronounced and a red sheen appears.

Sailor Sky High on Canson paper.

On Tomoe River paper wherever the ink pools, there’s a red sheen, but if you write fast enough, you won’t see it, and the ink will skew lighter:

Sailor Sky High on Tomoe River paper.

The red sheen slightly appears on Rhodia and Canson paper, but not as much as on Tomoe River paper.

So, would I recommend the PenBBS 500 as a first piston filler for a newcomer to fountain pens? Probably not. It’s too finicky for that. But at such a low price and with such a good, workhorse nib this is the perfect pen for artists and users that want to experiment with various finicky or troublesome inks. Like the TWSBI GO, this is a pen that’s fun to use and your heart won’t break if you accidentally ruin it.

PenBBS 500 Summer and Sailor Sky High