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

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

PenBBS 309 Hawaii Fountain Pen Review

I’ve been on a fountain pen purchasing hiatus for a while, as I’ve been trying to use what I have rather than buying more pens that will see little or no use. Also, money is a thing, and this hobby can get really expensive really quickly.

So when reviews of the PenBBS pens started coming out I largely ignored them, even though they were generally very positive. That changed when I saw the PenBBS Hawaii: here was a chance to get a pen with a Kanilea Pen Company kind of vibe, but at a price that I can afford. To be honest, despite the reviews, at this price point ($39) I thought that I’d get a cheap, plasticky feeling pen that wouldn’t really be a piston filler.

I was wrong.

This is what arrived in the mail:

Then I took this out of the sleeve:

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I don’t usually care much about packaging, but this is worth noting. Even if the packing would have just been a sturdy cardboard box inside a sleeve it would have been mind-blowing for this price. But it’s so much more than that.

That black box is designed like the boxes high end Pelikans come in (including a cushioned interior). It’s designed. There’s texture to it, a logo and the edges are rounded up so you can see the red colour underneath. The box even comes with magnetic closure. It’s well-made enough and good-looking enough to be used as a display box.

But that’s not enough for PenBBS. You paid $39 remember? You’re going to get so much more than your money’s worth. The pen comes in a beautifully made sleeve. Somebody bothered to make a sleeve (a lined and sewn sleeve, not a cheap felt glued one, mind you), and then took the time and effort to make it a display piece: something that you’d proudly carry around with you.

But the pen is the thing, right? As amazing as the packaging is, we’re here for the writing experience, not the unboxing one. So here it is, the PenBBS 309 Hawaii:

Isn’t it pretty? The pen is semi-translucent, with a lot of depth and chatoyance. It’s also pearlescent in places, as you can see in the tip or near the section. I filled it with Sailor Bungubox June Bride Something Blue ink and you can see some of the colour coming through the body (and a slight smear of ink in the cap, where I didn’t clean it properly after filling before capping it).

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The only thing that I don’t quite like about the pen design is the super wide metal band on the cap. It has “PenBBS” and “309” engraved on it, but it cheapens the pen because of its width, not because of the branding.

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The nib looks great, with some thoughtful scrolling engraved on it, as well as the nib width (fine. It only comes in fine). The pen is quite standard in its width and weight, and very comfortable to use in long writing sessions. The section looks sleek, but is much less so than the Lamy Studio, and the lip on the edge prevent your fingers from accidentally hitting the nib and getting inky.

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The fine steel nib offers a tiny bit of line variation as you tilt in (not the flex kind of line variation that appears as you apply pressure on the nib). It’s smooth but does provide feedback, and depending on how you hold it, you may feel more or less of that slight feedback as you write. I enjoyed writing with it, and because it’s a light acrylic pen, its comfortable for really long writing sessions.

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Because its a fine nibbed pen I thought that I’d try it on my current journalling Moleskine. To my surprise this pen and ink combo worked fine on that paper. There are a few dots of show through here and there, but nothing that bothers me. Again, YMMV, and this LotR Moria Moleskine isn’t advertised as having fountain pen friendly paper, but I’ve been enjoying journaling with my PenBBS on it.

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The PenBBS 309 is a piston filler, which for this price is unconscionable, especially considering that the piston mechanism works smoothly (and without squeaking) out of the box. The Pelikan piston fillers do feel better than the PenBBS one, but they come at a much higher price.

Whether you’re just starting with fountain pens or you have a sizeable collection already, the PenBBS 309 is well worth purchasing and trying out. I look forward to trying other PenBBS pens after this one, and I love that companies like PenBBS allow people to have a great fountain pen experience at such an affordable price.

 

PenBBS 309 Hawaii Fountain Pen Review