Weekly Update: Pre-Dawn Running, Ducks, Books and Fountain Pens

It’s been a busy time, what with my new job taking a lot of time and effort, my running and training taking up a good bit more, and the rest of my spare time going mostly to reading lately, I found myself creating less. That’s not great. My journalling has suffered, my drawing has suffered, my blogging has suffered. The truth is that creating is like running: I feel good during my runs and great after them, but it doesn’t make lacing up and getting out the door any less of a struggle some days. It takes more effort to sketch and blog (I’ve been utterly unable to write since my cancer diagnosis, so at the moment writing is off the table), than to curl up with a book, so I’ve been consuming more content than I’ve been creating.

That’s something that I hope will change over the next few days and weeks. I have a lot of catching up and different kinds of posts that I’ll publish here (pen reviews, sketch posts, art supply reviews, planners and Moleskines, etc). And as September is lymphoma awareness month, and childhood cancer awareness month, expect some posts related to that in the near future.

Despite the heat and humidity my running has stayed on track. This morning I woke up at 4:30 to get my long run in before the heat made things too unbearable. The weather is starting to get a bit better now, and I managed to run a little over 9 kilometres. That’s the longest run I managed to finish since my breathing issues started, and it’s a big milestone. I have a 10k race in two months and when I enrolled I wasn’t sure that I’ll be able to complete it. Today was a good indicator that I have a just may be able to do it despite having a busted lung.

Running in the dark and boats at sunrise.

I finished reading Dr Jen Gunter’s “The Vagina Bible,” which I recommend that anyone with a vagina read (it’s very informative and empowering), and Andrew Cartmel’s latest Vinyl Detective novel, “Attack and Decay”. It was a fun and fast read, and Cartmel knows how to write compelling plots and off beat characters, but his insistence on using purple language and calling attention to his protagonist’s hetro maleness is annoying at times. We get it, he’s a dude and he finds women attractive.
Next up on the reading list is likely “The Sentence” which is a Tournament of Books book (and I decided not to continue with the tournament reading list this year), but as I’ve already bought it and it seems interesting, I’ve decided to give it a go.

Ducks, geese and the Vinyl Detective.

I’m using four fountain pens at the moment, and none of them are for sketching (although I write my sketch journal’s out with my Platinum 3776 UEF). All of these are new pens, inked for the first time. The Diplomat Aero is an excellent pen at a great price point with a very unique and elegant streamlined design. The Colorverse Golden Record, on the other hand, is a disappointing ink. This is the second time that I’m using it, and it darkens considerably when left in the pen, becoming more brownish than golden orange.
The Platinum Plaisir 03 is a pretty decent pen for anyone first venturing into fountain pens. It’s a cartridge pen, and I’m not a fan of the Platinum blue it came with, but I’m not going to invest in trying to find other ink options for it.
The TWSBI ECO is an excellent pen, particularly for the price point, and J. Herbin Emerald de Chivor is a really fun, utterly impractical ink. This ECO is the jade one, and it doesn’t glow in the dark, despite its looks.
The Platinum 3776 UEF is one of the best pens that I’ve bought in a long time, because of the nib. Yes, it’s scratchy, no I don’t mind. It doesn’t feel different than my beloved, finicky Pilot Hi-Tech-C and I get more personality from its fine lines than I get with something like a fineliner. Sailor Epinard (this is from a bottle of the discontinued ink, which is now no longer discontinued), is a good, dark and muted green that has a good amount of personality.

Pens in rotation.

Have a great week, and take care of yourselves in these hectic times.

Live Travel Sketch Log

I’m off to participate in my first ever LARP this weekend, and I’m going to try and capture as much of it as I can in sketches and post it here.

Long train ride means that I can try to sketch.

My lines and painting came out more wobbly than usual due to a combination of neuropathy and the train ride.

Rough painting on the train.
One and a half pages done.
Close up of morning run sketches.
Close up of train station sketch.

Update: the weekend was excellent but phenomenally busy, and I got only about 4-5 hours of sleep per day. Still recovering, but working on a backlog sketch journal of the trip in the meanwhile.

Here’s the second page completed:

Journal Sketch: New dog, coffee and sunsets.

I’m tired, it’s been a long day, and I drew this late, so not my best work.

Here’s the close up of my work.

And a photo of the lovely dog, as my sketches didn’t do her justice:

Journal Sketch: Cute dogs, treasure hunt, and cold coffee

It’s been a long day, so excuse the wobbly lines and imperfect writing.

Here’s a close up, for those who enjoy close ups:

Tools: Stillman and Birn pocket landscape epsilon, Platinum 3776 UEF nib with Sailor Epinard, Schmincke and Daniel Smith watercolours, Staedtler Pigment Liner 0.1.

Weekly Update: Ink Washes, Health Scare and Finding My Stride

It’s been a while since I posted an update, and there’s been fewer posts than usual during the last two months. This is mostly because I started a new job in June, and it’s been longer hours and more work than I anticipated at first. I am enjoying myself, but the change means I have less free time, and that I need to prioritise things differently to better fit the things that I care about into my life. Was moving from a cushy and undemanding job to an interesting and fun but much more demanding one a mistake? Time will tell, but so far I’m not regretting the switch.

As I’m starting to find my footing, I’ve been able to find more time for my hobbies. During the early days of my new job the only thing I did was work, exercise, sleep and eat. Then reading came back into my life, and journalling and sketching followed. Meanwhile the Sketching Now Watercolour course is over and I only had time for the first week, but thankfully the materials are all available online so I’ll be able to complete it all eventually.

What’s left my life almost entirely so far is watching TV, and I doubt that it will regularly return. In terms of media consumption, I read and listen to podcasts and that’s about it. I will watch specific things on Disney Plus or watch Adam Savage make things on YouTube, but even that isn’t something that I do often these days. It’s not a value judgement on TV – it’s just that I have less time now, and of the things I could easily get rid of, this was one of them.

Lego Orchid set (it’s gorgeous). I find building these sets very relaxing, and as you can see in the background, I have quite a few more to build…

Another thing that went out the window is social media. I’ve stopped checking Twitter and Facebook regularly. The only thing left is Instagram, which I still spend too much time on for my liking, and as Facebook starts messing with it I may likely leave as well.

Health

I had a bit of a health scare in late June. It was 6 months after my last chemo treatment, and I had some blood work done for a check up with my hemato-oncologist. One of the results was extremely low, and it was for a test that people rarely get and I certainly have never gotten before, so I had no baseline to compare it to. What little information I found online indicated that I either was going through kidney failure/had a kidney tumor or had a rare form of blood cancer (beyond the blood cancer that I already had). Two sleepless nights later my hemato-oncologist (bless her), told me that everything was OK. The rest of my blood work was good, and this test was meaningless for people in my condition. She never asked for it, and I don’t know what possessed my GP to ask for it. In any case, I am now officially well enough to go on the regular post treatment checkup schedule, which means once every three months. Yay!!!

I’m running five times a week now, four 5ks a week and I’ve now started to work in a long run in the hopes to get back to running 10k. It’s tough running in this heat and humidity, especially with my lungs not being 100%, but I’m pushing through and enjoying myself. Running is my meditation, and has remained that way even though I now also meditate as part of ACT.

I’m also going twice a week to lift weights in the gym, nowadays with a mask on to avoid COVID. I’ve been vaccinated four times, but am now working from home again and staying masked as I can’t afford to get sick with the state of my lungs. Practically nobody is wearing masks anymore, and almost everyone around me is sick, so it’s been frustrating to try and stay healthy under these conditions. I’m hoping that the Omicron variant vaccine will be available here in a month or so, and I’m keeping an eye on the numbers to know when I can go back to the office and see people face to face again.

Reading

I’ve finished Hillary Mantel’s “The Mirror and the Light”, the third and final book in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. I’ll write a more lengthy review of it on Goodreads, but I will say that I got tired of the book at around the 60% mark (it’s about 900 pages long), and it didn’t really recover from that point on. I can see why Mantel struggled with this one, and I don’t regret reading it, but it’s not as good as the previous two books, and it could have done with some robust (and perhaps ruthless) editing.

I’ve also finished Ali Smith’s “Companion Piece”, which is a companion piece to her seasonal quartet of novels (Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer) and is excellent. You don’t need to read the quartet to enjoy this book, and “Companion Piece” would also be a good introduction to Smith’s writing. It’s written in stream of consciousness style, although it’s fairly easy to understand (nothing as complex as Joyce), and there’s a joy in her writing, compassion, insight and humour that make reading her always an enjoyable and worthy pastime.

As these were a bit challenging to read, I had an Agatha Christie “palate cleanser” in the shape of two novels: “The Man in the Brown Suit” and “Crooked House”. “The Man in the Brown Suit” is a detective/adventure story that was originally light hearted, but today just doesn’t work. There’s too much racism and sexism to bear, especially if you know anything at all about the history of South Africa, diamond mines, and labour relations in Africa. “Crooked House” was one of Christie’s favourite novels, and it’s a fun and interesting book with many original characters (and yes, also spots of racism).

Pens, Pencils and Notebooks

I’ve been playing around a lot with ink washes lately, as I’ve written here. They’re a fun and quick way to add colour to a sketch, and having a limited palette makes me appreciate colour values more.

Quick sketch of squash plants gone wild in a local garden.

I’ve written almost all of my fountain pens dry, with the exception of a Franklin Christoph 45L Sage with a S.I.G fine nib (filled with Bungobox June Bride Something Blue ink) and a Platinum Plaisir filled with the blue cartridge it came with. The other fountain pens I have inked (two Lamy’s and two Sailor Fude pens) are used for sketching and not writing. I’ll likely fill up a few pens next week.

From left to right: Platinum Plaisir, Franklin Christoph 45L Sage, Sailor Fude pen, Lamy Lx Rose Gold, Lamy Safari white and red, Sailor Fude pen.

The BigIDesign Dual Side Click pen arrived from the kickstarted that I backed, and it’s fantastic. I hope to have a review up next week, but so far I’ve really enjoyed using it, and I think that it’s their best pen yet (which is saying something).

I’ve decided to start switching around the pencils that I use, instead of writing one down to a nub. I’ve been using a vintage Eberhard Faber Mongol pencil this week, and a Musgrave Tennessee Red one. They’re both #2 or HB pencils, but the Tennessee Red one is much softer and darker.

I’ve changed the way I use my notebooks, streamlining certain things, consolidating notebooks on the one hand, and starting a new notebook (MD A5 blank paper notebook) for insights and ideas that I would have previously explored on social media and now prefer to explore in private, on paper. I’m no longer chasing likes for these things, as I’m more interested in giving the thoughts in my head time and space to grow and change, and Twitter and Facebook are the last places to allow for that.

All the Rest

I’m back to decluttering my house, a project that I had started working on before I got sick and until now didn’t have energy to get back to. Yesterday I found a stash of half used notebooks that I forgot that I ever had, and it was bizarre to go over them and read what my pre-Covid, pre-cancer self thought about life in 2014-2015.

Musgrave Tennessee Red Pencil Review

This is the Musgrave Tennessee Red pencil presentation box:

Gorgeous, isn’t it? Just look at that reddish and golden timber. It glows:

The pencils inside are equally beautiful. They’re made of Eastern Red Cedar, in the USA, and this is the 24 pencil presentation box. I have two of these, as well as a paper box that has 12 pencils. I’ve had them for a few months, but I haven’t had the nerve to sharpen them until earlier this week. They were just too good looking to sharpen.

24 Tennessee Red pencils in a cedar presentation box.

Now this isn’t to say that these pencils are perfect. Musgrave points out on their site that these pencils can have modest visible wear due to the soft nature of the wood, and the core may be slightly off centre. A rummage through the pencils that I have proves that these warnings are justified. But it still is a gorgeous pencil:

Just look at it.

The pencil is lacquered which does protect the wood somewhat, and a lot of thought and care went into designing the imprint on the barrel (text, colour, font, symbols) – and a lot of restraint too. The imprint, ferrule, and eraser don’t call attention to themselves. This is a pencil that’s all about its beautiful, sweet smelling wood.

See how the imprint and everything else fade out of sight? An beautiful and understated pencil.

The Tennessee Red is a joy to sharpen. The cedar smell is intoxicating, and if the pencil wasn’t such a good one I may have just sharpened it all away. But it comes with a smooth, dark lead that feels and behaves like a B grade despite being a #2 (or HB) pencil. It’ll be a delight to sketch with this beauty. You can see it in action below, on a Baron Fig Confidant.

These aren’t cheap or widely available, and if you are outside the US they are even less cheap and more hard to come by. They are, however, worth the price and worth making an effort to find, and not because they are the best pencils in the world, but because it is clear that someone made an effort to make a modern American pencil that doesn’t shame its Eagle and Eberhard Faber vintage counterparts. It’s a beautiful, sweet smelling, wonderful woodcased pencil that is a joy to use and would make any stationery lover smile.
And who can’t use a reason to smile these days?