National Pencil Day: Vintage Treasures in Old Stationery Stores

Today is national pencil day, which is just an excuse to showcase my latest vintage pencil finds from visiting a very old local stationery shop. Oftentimes shops like these still have new old stock of vintage pencils, and in my case I’m usually looking for local Jerusalem Pencils, but I often find other interesting things along the way.

Eberhard Faber Mongol pencils.

In this case I got a very large haul of Eberhard Faber Mongol #2 pencils, which I think are really good looking in terms of typography and ferrule design. Most of them are unsharpened, which is a bonus treat, although as usual with vintage pencils time has rendered their erasers unusable.

The real find for me were some very old Jerusalem Pencils (based on the logo), in this case coloured pencils (black and red). These are very waxy with relatively little pigment, but I don’t intend to draw with them anyway, and it just tickles me that didn’t translate “sunset” to “שקיעה” (or sunset in Hebrew) but rather chose to transliterate it, to give the pencil a more cosmopolitan feel.

Jerusalem Pencils Sunset coloured pencils.

Carpenter pencils are something I rarely find in stationery stores but do sometimes find in flea markets. In this case I lucked on three perfect Jerusalem Pencils Carpenter 199 pencils.

Jerusalem Pencils Carpenter 199 carpenter pencils.

Even rarer for me are these Jerusalem Pencils Office 46 red and blue dual pencils. One of them is badly warped and another is slightly warped, but they still have their handsome imprint with an art deco-y font.

Jerusalem Pencils Office 46 red-blue dual pencils.

These are more modern, as they have the Pan Art imprint, which means that they were likely made after Jerusalem Pencils was forced to rebrand itself after its bankruptcy. They’re charcoal pencils, and it will be interesting to give them a spin. I love the font selection here as there’s a lovely flow to it.

Pan Art Charcoal Soft pencils.

These are the last Jerusalem Pencils of the bunch, Pan Art coloured pencils from the 1000 and the Al Greco 6000 line. These are quite modern but I still haven’t seen them too often so I added them to the pencil pile.

Pan Art 1000 and Al Greco 6000 coloured pencils.

Here’s a pencil that I’m pretty sure was made by Jerusalem Pencils, but there’s no telling it if was under that name or Pan Art. It was sharpened at both ends so you can just make out that it’s an HB pencil, and enough of the imprint is left to know that it was made in Israel and is called Oriole.

Oriole pencil.

And here we enter the realms of the unknown pencil brand, where I just bought pencils for their imprint and style, such as this Patented Drawing “Liberty” pencil:

Patented Drawing “Liberty” pencil.

Which was made by the Pai-Tai Industrial Co LTD.

These Student 101 pencils from a Croatian company called TOZ Penkala (thank you to a penaddict slack user for helping me with this):

TOZ Penkala Student 101

These L&C Hardtmuth Studio 941 7 and 18 pencils that just have the best imprint font and logo:

L&C Hardtmuth Studio 941 7 and 18 pencils.

These Marco 4100 coloured pencils which I bought for the Comic Sans “Superb Writer” imprint, it made me laugh.

Marco 4100 coloured pencils.

And these random pencils all bought for their imprints: Springer, Factis “Eraser Pencil” 3012, and Warm Heart Color Pencils.

Of all of these I’ll probably only be using the Mongols, but I find having the others fun, and I may be able to swap a few of them for some other vintage pencils that I can enjoy.

Happy national pencil day!

Schmincke Horadam Super-Granulating Watercolour Review

Schmincke recently came out with a new series of limited edition Horadam (artist grade) watercolour paints that are super-granulating.Granulation in watercolour is the an affect that is created when the pigments in the paint separate and settle in a diffused patten on the paper, oftentimes allowing other pigments that they are mixed with to show through. In my everyday watercolour palette Schmincke’s Ultramarine Finest (494) is a prime example of a granulating paint that I use both for its effect as an individual paint and when mixed with various browns and greens. The new 900 limited edition series of Horadam watercolours that Schmincke has issued is composed of 25 paints that are divided into five sets: Galaxy, Glacier, Deep Sea, Forest and Tundra. I decided to purchase all five sets out of curiosity, since limited editions in artist grade watercolours aren’t common, I already use Schmincke almost exclusively, and I’ve been embracing granulation more lately in my work.

The 5ml set boxes.

The paints can be purchased in individual 15ml tubes (which is a lot of watercolour paint), in fancy wooden boxed sets of 15ml tubes and in cardboard boxes of 5ml tubes, which is what was available at my local art supply shop and what suited me to buy anyway. 15ml of watercolour paint is a commitment, and artist grade watercolour in general and Schmincke in particular aren’t cheap. The paints aren’t sold in half pans, which I would have preferred over the tubes, and which means that you are going to need empty pans or a palette to use them.

Schmincke Galaxy set

The Galaxy set includes Galaxy Pink, Violet, Blue, Brown and Black. There are some naming peculariaries in this entire series of paints, such as the fact that the paints are super-granulating but the set is called: Supergranulation on the box, and Super Granulation by the dealers. In any case, like all the colours in this set the paints in the Galaxy set have good lightfastness. They are all non-staining (which means that they can easily be lifted off the paper), the Violet and Blue are semi transparent, the Pink and Brown and Black are semi-opaque. This is the most vibrant of the sets, but don’t believe the photos on the package or in the various marketing materials, none of the colours in any of these sets really pops or is as vibrant as they appear to be. All these colours tend towards naturalistic, landscape painting tones.

Schmincke Forest set

The colours in the Forest Set are: Olive, Green, Blue, Brown and Grey. They are all extremely lightfast, the Olive and the Brown are semi transparent, the Blue and the Grey are semi opaque and the Green is opaque. I have no idea why the Forest Brown (944) is called Forest Brown as it’s not a brown at all, it’s more of a greyish green. Forest Blue is also a misnomer, as it’s also a green, this time one that looks like it was mixed with indigo. This is the most monotone of the sets, though if you are focused on landscapes, there are some interesting greens here.

Schmincke Glacier set

The Glacier set boasts the best paint in the series in my opinion, the Glacier Green which is just a delicious paint to have on your palette – a phenomenal and unique green with pronounced brown undertones. I can’t wait to use it in my work, and I’ll be buying a 15ml tube of this. The rest of the colours in this set are Glacier Blue, Turquoise, Brown and Black. Despite what the marketing material may say, there is very little difference between the various blacks in these sets, and if I could I would have skipped all of them and used the Forest Grey and the Tundra Violet instead. All the colours in this set rate in the 4-5 star lightfastness range and all apart from the Brown (which is semi-staining) are non-staining. The Blue is semi-transparent, the Turquoise, Green and Black are semi-opaque and the Brown is opaque.

Schmincke Deep Sea set

The Deep Sea set features the following colours: Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green and Black. The Green here is a misnomer, as it’s also a blue (with only the slightest green tinge) and the violet is greyish and flat compared to the Glaxy Violet (and in any case if you’re looking for a vibrant violet look elsewhere in Schmincke’s lineup). This is probably the most redundant set of the five, and you can pretty much skip the colours here without missing on much. Indigo, Blue and Green are semi-transparent, Violet and Black are semi-opaque. Lightfastness is very good to excellent and non of these are staining.

Schmincke Tundra set

The Tundra set contains Orange, Pink, Violet, Blue and Green. Tundra Violet is another misnomer as the paint is practically black with a tinge of purple. This is the most staining set (Violet and Green are staining, the rest are semi-staining), but also a pretty mixable one. Orange, Blue and Pink are transparent, Violet is semi-transparent and only Green is opaque. It’s also one of the most compelling greens in the set, with it’s olive like tones and its pinkish undertones it’s both unique and generally useful for landscapes.

Paints on my palette and in half-pans

Schmincke aren’t selling these in pans, which is pretty inconvenient if you just want to swap one or two of these into your existing palette.

The paints in the series on Stillman and Birn Alpha paper

I first saw these paints on Schmincke’s Instagram and then on the Jackson’s Art blog. In both the paints are much more vibrant and with much more pronounced granulating, to the point of almost marbling, than what I got when I first created a the above reference drawing. I had a feeling that this was somewhat due to the extreme closeups that they took, and likely also the paper that they used.

Sketch on Stillman and Birn Alpha paper

In any case, since I and many others also use Stillman and Birn Alpha paper for watercolours, I decided to try and create a painting using these paints exclusively. In the end I also added Schmincke Indian Yellow (220) for the signs, but I didn’t mix it with anything else. As you can see, the granulation is still pretty pronounced throughout, but the colours, with the exception of the Glacier Blue aren’t exactly vibrant or saturated.

Paint samples on Magnani 1404 Toscana 100% cotton 300gsm rough cold press paper

I then decided to break out the good paper, and tested the paints on 100% cotton 300gsm cold pressed rough watercolour paper. Here you can see the granulation at its best, and yes, as promised it is pronounced in all of these paints. Yet as I suspected the choice of paper does nothing to make these paints more vibrant, which means that I certainly won’t be using them to replace large swaths of my current palette or recommending that you use them exclusively (especially since there are no yellows here and the red selection is pretty poor).

Paint palette on Magnani 1404 Toscana 100% cotton 300gsm rough cold press paper

Here are the paints all labeled (I got the Deep Sea Black and Green swabs out of order).

Sketch on Magnani 1404 Toscana 100% cotton 300gsm rough cold press paper

Here’s a very quick sketch with these paints on the cold press paper. They are built for washes and wet on wet work, and so relish this paper.

Sketch on Stillman and Birn Beta paper

And here they are on Stillmand and Birn Beta paper, which is better watercolour paper than the Alpha but still not good watercolour paper. You still get much of their effect here, especially if you don’t much around too much with the paint. These aren’t the best for mixing on the palette but do work well with layering and working wet on wet on the page. If you like to put down paint in washes and see what it does, these paints are for you. If you like to work in a more controlled fashion, you likely aren’t a fan of granulating watercolours anyway.

Closeup of granulation on Stillman and Birn Beta paper

You can see the granulation here, and some of the best colours in this set at work (Tundra Orange, Glacier Green, Tundra Violet, Forest Green, Tundra Green and Glacier Brown).

Closeup of granulation on Stillman and Birn Beta paper

Again you can see the granulation at work and how the effect lets the whiteness of the page show through, bringing light to a dark patch.

So, would I recommend all 25 paints? Of course not. Of the paints in these sets here are the ones that seem worthwhile:

963 Glacier Green (the best of the bunch!)

983 Tundra Violet (a great replacement for black in your palette, if you have it)

952 Deep Sea Indigo (bonus points for a transparent indigo with reddish purple undertones!)

964 Glacier Brown (the best brown of the bunch and the most saturated of them, with dark black green undertones)

942 Forest Green (a saturated green in a natural but not easy to mix colour with reddish undertones)

985 Tundra Green (a natural greyish yellow green that is not easy to mix and has brown undertones)

981 Tundra Orange (because this is a transparent paint in a colour that is rarely otherwise granulating, with pinkish undertones and a good generally useful hue that will work well in mixing).

If you’re looking to buy sets, the Tundra set and the Glacier set are the best in my opinion, but it depends on what colours you use most often in your palette.

comfort pasta

Comfort Pasta Sketchbook Page

I think that there’s nothing better than plain pasta or pasta with a little cheese if you’re not feeling your best: it’s perhaps the ultimate comfort food.
I created this page as part of my Sketchbook Design course with Liz Steel, and this one is all about exploring how to use text as part of my page design. Gave Rohrer & Kilngner Helianthus ink a spin, which is also something that I decided to experiment with. Like many yellow/orange inks it tends to crystallize on the nib and feed, so I’m “sacrificing” a Pelikan Pelikano for the effort. Pelikanos are great beginners pens that don’t get much love in the community probably because they are less ubiqutous than Lamy Safaris and their standard nib offering is a Pelikan medium which is very wide. If you’re an artist I recommend purchasing one (with a converter), as they have less tendency to dry out (with permanent inks) than Lamy Safaris and they indestructible workhorses that have very smooth (and wide) nibs.

Drawing made with Schmincke watercolours on a Stillman & Birn Beta which I’m still on the fence about. It’s better than the Alpha for watercolour washes, but it’s still not great, and it’s not great for pen and ink or fineliners. Also the glue connecting the sections isn’t the best, as it needs forcing apart once you hit a new section, and oftentimes leaves an unseemly tear in the middle. The sketchbooks are good, I just wish that the sections were sewn together and that the paper would lean into being watercolour paper more – so that they would be perfect. However, changes like these would mean a price increase, which would make them unappealing, since a large part of the Stillman & Birn softcover sketchbook appeal is their price. In the end it’s a nice sketchbook that I don’t feel too precious about, which is the main point, and is why I’ll continue using it.

Paper Mate SharpWriter Mechanical Pencil

If you follow any makers on YouTube you probably saw this ugly yet somehow charming little mechanical pencil in action. The Paper Mate SharpWriter is a strange beast, full of surprises. It’s a mechanical pencil with a twist mechanism in the tip instead of a click mechanism under the cap, it actually has a serviceable eraser, and it’s non-refillable. It’s as if Paper Mate saw the “Think Different” ad and said, “yes, but how can we apply that to a mechanical pencil?”

Paper Mate SharpWriter.

First of all, you can buy the Paper Mate SharpWriter in many different widths, as long as they’re all 0.7mm. This has the added value of saving Paper Mate the need to indicate the lead width on the pencil, because there’s only one width to rule them all. I can’t honestly fault them for that. It’s a pencil that’s meant for students and bills itself as having less lead breakage, and so 0.7mm is the way to go.

There are some interesting things going on with the business side of this pencil. First and foremost, that’s where the lead propelling mechanism is, which caught me by surprise. It’s a twist mechanism, and it’s pretty sophisticated as it allows you to easily extend and retract the lead to suit your needs. The second part is the “lead cushioning mechanism” which means that the lead springs up and down as you right, preventing you from breaking it if you exert too much pressure. It works, but I’m not a fan as it makes me feel as if the lead is broken inside and I have to extend it to get rid of the small broken piece and reach the “real” lead left inside. It’s going to take some time for me to get used to it.

Writing and erasing sample.

The eraser is downright phenomenal, as it actually erases things quite well, and doesn’t tear into the page. The lead itself is a solid HB 0.7mm lead that is smooth and on the slightly darker side of HB.

The Paper Mate SharpWriter isn’t a pretty of fancy mechanical pencil, but it’s comfortable to hold, lightweight, and has a playful colour scheme that recalls a woodcase pencil. And like a woodcase pencil, it’s disposable, which is where my only real beef with this pencil lies. Yes, this is a student pencil, and so it’s likely to get lost or somehow broken (it’s far from flimsy, but where there’s a will, there’s a way), and if the pencil won’t be lost, the leads will, and yet… The last thing the world needs is more plastic waste.

So, do I recommend the Paper Mate SharpWriter? No, and not because there’s anything wrong with the pencil, it’s just that there’s very little justification for a disposable mechanical pencil when there are cheap, good and even great refillable options to be had in the market.

But I do understand the makers who have fallen for this ugly duckling.

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.

Moleskine Sakura Peanuts Pink Limited Edition

This is the second of the two Moleskine Sakura Peanuts limited edition notebooks, the pink version. To read about the white version click here.

The first three photos of this edition came out wonky, particularly the first one. I’m still waiting on a better light so that I can take better photos, but for now just look at the photo of the cover without the band to see this notebook’s true colour.

You can see how well Moleskine can design things when it tries, as the bellyband Sakura leaves align exactly with the print on the cover. This too is a fabric covered notebook with no 3D effect and a shiny, silky texture to the fabric. Moleskine seems to be letting the vibrant (ignore the colour in the photo below) pink of the cover to do the heavy lifting here, and I don’t think that’s warranted.

Front cover with band.

The back cover is a repeat of the white version back cover. The paper is 70gsm, but that’s not listed on the bellyband. It does state that it is acid-free and 240 pages, so I have no idea why the paper weight isn’t listed here but is listed on Moleskine’s site.

Back cover with band.

The spine is also plain, which is a shame. A nice Snoopy print on it would have made it much more appealing.

Spine with band.

So here we have the front cover, minus the bellyband, and in its true colour. I find this cover aggravating. Unlike the white version of this notebook there is no unifying colour scheme between Snoopy and the falling Sakura petals. Snoopy’s white fur doesn’t count here when he’s hugging a bright red heart, and not a pink one. Here there is no excuse for Woodstock not being on the cover (Snoopy’s heart already breaks the pink and white colour scheme). There’s also no real design here: there’s a bunch of falling petals and a Snoopy stuck on top.

Front Cover.

Incidentally you can see how well the fabric is attached to the covers by taking a look at this back cover. The notebook got dinged in shipping, which caused the cover to crinkle (bottom right corner of the photo). The fabric is still firmly attached, with no air bubbles or separation between it and the boards below. Impressive.

Back cover.

If the front and back endpapers of the pink edition would have been different from the white edition then this would have redeemed this notebook in my eyes. As it is they are exactly the same as their white counterpart, and as in the front cover the disconnect between the Sakura petals and the Peanuts characters is jarring.

Front endpaper.

That white page on the left of the back endpapers is just tragic.

Back endpaper.

I like the choice of pink in the ribbon and elastic, as it’s more vibrant and pops off the page.

Page layout and ribbon bookmark.

The B-side is a repeat of the white version. Again the theme of Sakura and Peanuts is side by side, with no real connection between them.

B-side of bellyband.

And the same rather depressing sticker selection as an added bonus to this edition. Rarely ahve stickers made me sad, but here they have.

Stickers.

The Moleskine Sakura Peanuts pink limited edition notebook makes me angry. This edition is a clear, phoned in, money grab. People pay a premium for Moleskine’s design, and this notebook wasn’t designed. It was cobbled together from a bunch of unrelated images, with no effort made to meld the two themes, to do something creative with them, or to even give the notebook user the feeling that someone put time and attention into this edition. Its highlight is the fabric on the cover, which is something that Moleskine nailed a few years ago. This edition will sell out, and I will use these notebooks, but I hope that this is not going to be the direction Moleskine chooses for its limited editions in the future.

Moleskine Peanuts Sakura White Limited Edition

I haven’t been able to find the fall/winter Moleskine 2020 catalog, so the Moleskine Peanuts Sakura edition caught me by surprise. The edition includes two cloth covered large lined notebooks, one in pink and one in white, each with the Sakura theme and the Peanuts theme combined.

I’ll start by reviewing the white cover edition of this notebook. First thing is first: Moleskine always nail the design details. The falling Sakura petals on the cover and on the band match:

Front cover with band and elastic.

The back cover is plain white with just the edges of the pale pink elastic in view, plus the Moleskine brand in a medium pink. Moleskine still don’t reveal their paper weight on the cover which is not cool, Moleskine, not cool. The catalog at least used to list that, but it was never made publicly available by Moleskine themselves (I got it through a Chronicle Books upload to scribd). Moleskine’s site does do a better job, listing the paper as 70 gsm so I have no idea why it’s still not listed on the back of the notebook’s bellyband.

Back cover with band and elastic and Moleskine branding.

There’s even a little Snoopy character on the bellyband spine, but not on the notebook itself, which is a shame. You can also see where the cover got dinged in shipping. I don’t mind, but if you do then you’ll probably do best to avoid the white covered notebook anyway. Unless you plan to write with gloves in a clean room this cover is not going to stay pristine. I personally believe that notebooks should show that they’ve been “lived in,” so that’s not going to be a problem for me.

Spine with band.

Here is the front cover without the bellyband. I like the clever colour combination of the Sakura petals, on the white background, Snoopy’s white fur and the pink heart on the card he’s holding. I wish Woodstock would have been on the cover and not just the bellyband, but that would have ruined the lovely black, white and pinks colour scheme.

Front cover.

The cover is cloth covered, with a synthetic shiny fabric that has a silky finish to it. Unlike the original Moleskine Sakura limited edition notebook the print is not raised above the notebook fabric so there’s no depth to the print at all. It would have been nice to get that here, but I have a feeling that the money that would have gone to create that effect went to the licensing part of the notebook.

Closeup of front cover texture.

The front endpaper has the falling Sakura petals and all the Peanuts gang together. It made me smile to see it, and will likely be a hit with the fans.

Front endpaper.

The back endpaper contains more falling Sakura petals and the classic Woodstock sitting on Snoopy lying on the roof of his doghouse setup. I’m a little disappointed that the design appears only on the notebook’s back pocket and isn’t spread across the actual notebook back endpaper. Also while both designs tick all the right fandom boxes, they are far from imaginative. Moleskine have done more interesting things with other franchises in the past.

Back endpaper. Can you see the Sakura petals falling on Snoopy’s doghouse?

There’s a set of stickers that come with this edition, and I find them underwhelming. The Sakura stickers are nice, but it looks like someone stuck three vaguely Peanuts themed stickers on the page. Again, not their best design work, and in this case it really looks like someone phoned it in.

Stickers.

Both Moleskine Sakura Peanuts limited edition notebooks come with lined pages, like most Moleskine limited editions. The ribbon bookmark here is a very pale pink that matches the elastic. It’s not my favourite colour and I wish they would have gone with a punchier pink for both.

Ribbon and ruling.

As usual in recent years the B-side of the bellyband comes with a little something extra, and this time it’s with an illustration of the Peanuts characters running with Sakura leaves on both sides. This is something nice to stick in your notebook, but I wish it was at least in bookmark shape. I still intend to make a bookmark out of it, but the characters will be running up the page in a weird way.

Bellyband B-side.

The Moleskine Sakura Peanuts limited edition notebooks will sell out in no time (they are already out of stock in some places), and the white edition of this notebook is an attractive notebook with a beautiful cover. Yet I have a feeling that the design itself was a bit of an afterthought, a money grab designed to mash together two of their most popular designs in the most obvious way possible. So while I am going to enjoy using this notebook, I can’t help but wonder what its design would look like if the Moleskine designers had been let a little more loose here.

Muji Fountain Pen Review

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 other stationery products. 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.

You can’t pick interesting colours for the finials, because that would give the pen too much character. Can’t have that.

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.

Nail nib and inexplicable knurling – a match made by Muji.

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.

Spoilers for the rest of the review.

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.

The worst cap design I have ever encountered.

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.

Oh God, who let them do this twice?

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 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.

Drawing Insights and the Viarco 3500

I was going to write a blog post reviewing the Viarco 3500, and so I started writing a page of notes in my usual pencil review notebook (the Baron Fig Confidant). Once I started writing I realized two things:

  1. The Viarco 3500 is a good looking but boring pencil. It’s an HB/No. 2 pencil that’s slightly gritty, slightly dark and soft and not much different than other branded pencils of its kind, like the Ticonderoga or the Palomino Golden Bear.
  2. I wanted to reflect about the difficulties of drawing.
Pretty but dull, the Viarco 3500 No. 2 pencil.

So here’s my page of notes on the Viarco turned into reflections on the drawing process:

This isn’t a “woe is me” post. It’s a “embrace the suck and take courage” post. Perspective is HARD. But it’s worth learning. And learning again. And learning again. And boy is it worth practicing. Why? Because while nobody is born knowing how to draw in perfect perspective, practically everybody can tell when the perspective is “off”. You can tell yourself that it’s an “aesthetic choice,” however, I do believe that you are cheating yourself out of something when you don’t even try to get the basics down. I know, I tried to do that for literally years. I have good enough hand-eye coordination that I could cheat some people some of the time. Then I tried learning it from books. I drew the boxes, the shaded ball, the room with the door and window, and I told myself that since I copied them so well, I now “knew perspective”. Hah. The minute a teacher sat me down and told me to draw the corner of a room, a still life of some boxes and a vase, and an old shoe the truth was all too apparent. I didn’t grok the principles behind those boxes and skylines and spheres and so I couldn’t extrapolate from them to the real world. I now have 11 plus years of knowing groking those principles and I still tell you that it’s hard.

Can you catch the perspective mistakes here? This is from 2009 and it makes me cringe.

You can cheat, and I did and sometime do cheat, the eye with colour and crosshatching, but it doesn’t take an art critic to point out that something is “off” in the drawing. The same goes for poor composition choices, muddy pigment mixtures, colours that unintentionally clash and cause unease. These are all very technical skills that require a good amount of studying and a great amount of practice to master. It doesn’t help that most of them are difficult to learn from books and tutorials and are still best taught in a live art class. It’s also frustrating that you usually work and work and work with little or no progress for some time and then suddenly your hand and eye and mind click and you jump forward a level or two. It’s so easy to give up before that. I have several times in the past. Then I found a new teacher and I got back to the grind.

Why do it? You don’t have to. Instagram and Facebook likes are independent of your drawing skills, and more related to tags, followers and how colourful and eye catching your work is. If you’re doing it for that, then there’s no point in doing it. But mastering the basics allows you to advance all your drawing skills at once, with great leaps and bounds. Every breakthrough I had with the basics allowed me to draw better, faster, with more confidence and to tackle subjects and locations that I otherwise would have avoided.

So, the Viarco 3500… It’s a good looking pencil to have around. Perspective, colour theory and composition? If you have any interest in drawing I highly recommend investing in mastering them.