Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Merry Christmas

As the title says: Merry Christmas!

I never intended to leave it this long to post, so apologies for six months' radio silence.  I have no excuses really, I simply needed to get on with other stuff such as work, then the Olympics were on and I spent a fortnight watching telly, then this and that happened.

But now it's Christmas and I have some spare time to blog again.

Hopefully readers all got what they wanted from Santa Claus.  I received a few, carefully-chosen goodies from Cult Pens - a couple of Caran d'Ache pencils (a Technograph 777 and a Bicolor 999), a new KUM sharpener, a Caran d'Ache pencil holder for those pesky stubs, and a brace of Hi-Unis, in HB and 4B.  Cult Pens also threw in a mini ball-point designed to be held on a lanyard.  I am delighted, and will feature them on the blog at some point.  I had never expected to be able to buy the Hi-Unis here in the UK.  My children think I am insane for my "obsession" (their word, not mine) with fine pencils and fountain pens.  As I always say, it took me years to learn how to write, so why should I use cheap tools now?

One recent development in my own pencil use is that I am using pencils much more at work for writing notes, and using softer pencils more often as well.  I may have mentioned before that one of my hobbies is music; for writing out music or for marking printed sheet music I have found a 4B pencil to be most useful.  Where I use a fountain pen, I mostly use Pelikan Blue-Black and Diamine Imperial Purple inks.

More soon - if I can get a turn on the family PC.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Stephen Bayley: Not Fit For Purpose?

The Graun has this article about the "joy of Moleskine notebooks" which quotes "cultural critic" Stephen Bayley as saying:
"It's a masterful bit of excavation of the human psyche...The stuff you're writing in it could be the most brainless trivia, but it makes you feel connected to Hemingway."

This is, of course, nonsense.  I could understand the quote if he was being paid by Moleskine to say it, but the only masterstroke I can see is one of marketing.  I admit, I was taken in at first.  Those alluring stands of notebooks stacked in Waterstone's were very attractive indeed, and I bought a few.  Disappointment soon followed when I discovered the paper makes fountain pen ink bleed like crazy, and that the binding is not as robust as it might be.

I don't much feel like Hemingway when using one of my Moleskines, actually. 

By the way, thanks to everyone who responded to my last post on sketchbooks.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

A6 Sketchbook?

Hi there! Long time, no see, etc.  Normal service will be resumed shortly; my apologies for the lack of new posts.  I am still interested in pens, pencils, notebooks, paper, ink, rubber stamping and all that.

As I own some of the best pencils in the world it seemed a good time to begin sketching again.  I used to draw a lot when I was a child, but gave it up when I was 16 or 17.  I borrowed a book on drawing from my local library, and the book suggested carrying a sketchbook in A6 size for quick sketches of things seen on everyday travels.  This is a good idea, but rather than simply getting yet another Moleskine (yawn) I wanted something else, with better paper.   Any readers have suggestions?  The only must-have feature is an elastic closure; it can be book-bound, ring-bound, any colour cover, and so on.

Thanks for looking.

Thursday, 17 May 2012


Just logged in after too long an absence, only to discover the Blogger interface has been changed.  Needless to say, I don't like it. It's just taken me two minutes to work out how to edit or post.  Argh.

Things are a little busy at work right now so blogging is by necessity light.  On the bright side, my pencils have been getting heavy use, ticking and bashing on the annual accounts.  My respect for the humble Staedtler Noris HB keeps on growing.

Articles in use at the moment: 

  • Staedtler Noris HB Art. Nr. 120-2
  • Staedtler tradition HB Art Nr. 112-2
  • Faber-Castell 9008 Steno 2B
  • Staedtler Mars Lumograph eraser
  • KUM sharpener
  • Pilot M90 filled with Pelikan Royal Blue
More to follow...

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Stationery Archeology 11

It has been some time since we had a pencil post here on Stationery Traffic, so here's one I found recently in my loft. Yes, it's an IKEA pencil. "What are you doing, Stationery Traffic, showing us IKEA pencils? We grab handfuls of these every Saturday afternoon when we go down to the nearest branch for some k├Âttbullar and a packet of coathangers." Things get slightly more interesting if you compare this old pencil with a new one.

Comparing the old IKEA pencil to a contemporary example, we can see that the current version has "www." and ".com" clumsily applied either side of the brand name. It's still the same unfinished wood pencil stub that writes like a nail, though. I prefer the older pencil: darker wood, and with just the name stamped in. These things turn up in all sorts of places; in the community band I play with, the bass clarinetist who sits beside me uses an IKEA pencil to mark up band parts. I prefer a Staedtler tradition 4B.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Noodler's FPN Starry Night Blue

Pelikan Blue Black

Waterman Blue Black (sic)

Diamine Blue Black

...and that is where the ink ran out, so I will have to continue it electronically.

This was a curious ink. Hopefully, my sample was unrepresentative; it had sat in a box of cartridges for nigh on five years and probably needed shaking up a bit. I found a small lump of ink in the cartridge, and found that flow was uneven. When this ink was flowing well, it produced a solid, greyish-blue line. As I say above, it reminded me strongly of the old Quink Blue Black I used to see at school. Otherwise, my pen seemed to have some kind of prostate problem; the ink issued forth from my Tombow Object in fits and starts, leaving a pale line on the page.

Diamine inks tend to flow well, dry quickly and possess moderate saturation. Blue Black performs as any other in the Diamine range when the pen is fully-loaded; only the first line in the review gives anything like a true indication of its colour and saturation. Looking at my writing, there's a good amount of shading.

I'm not sure I'd want to buy a bottle of this ink, however. I preferred the similar but slightly bluer Prussian Blue, which I used up in 2007.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Why I Hate the Lamy Safari

I've just retired my two Lamy Safaris, probably never to re-ink them. This is a pen I really wanted to like, and have ended up buying four of them, including two for my children, but have found that it's just not for me.

Lamy produces a range of pens with some outstanding designs, such as the famous Lamy 2000, or more modestly, the Tipo. I don't have a problem with modern design; I can use the Safari quite happily with its odd nib section grip. I like the size of it, and the chunky barrel. The fact that the cap pops off and on is a plus for me, as I prefer that to screw-on caps.

I like the fact that it is available in a range of colours, or even no colour (the Vista). I even quite like the thick wire clip.

One problem I have with the Safari is the fact that it takes a proprietary ink cartridge, the T10. It's easy enough to fill using a syringe, but that tapered section on the end always seems to stay filled with ink. If you want to instal a filler, you have to get the special Lamy model, the Z24. I find the fact that it does not take standard international cartridges a big drawback. Granted, I love Pilot pens which have their own IC-50 proprietary cartridge, but their pens so well for me out of the box, I am prepared to overlook that. (Plus, they don't have that wretched narrow tail at the end.)

But what I dislike most of all about the Safari is the deal-breaker: the nib. For me the heart of the fountain pen is the nib. I have tried a variety of nibs for my Safaris, and all of the nibs I have tried have been unsatisfactory to the point of irritation. My first Safari was a black model with a B nib, which was rough and did not seem to give the broad line I was after. Perhaps it was a dodgy example? So when I got the next one, I ordered an EF nib. I replaced the B with the EF and everything seemed fine...but then I noticed how scratchy the nib was on the paper, and the fact that the line was very slightly uneven - like a stub but in miniature. I realise that fine nibs are at risk of being scratchy, but I have used enough Japanese pens to know that it is not inevitable. But the unevenness of the line was enough to put me off.

I have also tried the M nib which is standard on the Safari. The line is even and looks good on the page, but the smoothness is still missing. It's at this point that I give in. I could have ordered one of their famed italic nibs such as the 1.9mm, but to be honest I can't be arsed. For the price of getting the nibs smoothed I could buy a few Pilot 78Gs, a type of pen which, although more traditional in shape, much smaller and with a screw-on cap, offers a much more enjoyable writing experience.

I know the Safari has lots of fans, and I've probably alienated those who may read this. It is a classic design, but not one I can use: rather, it's one I can admire from a distance.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Guardian and BBC Talk Stationery

LinkThe Graun's Lucy Mangan has come out of the cupboard as a stationery fan in an amusing article published online here. (I have posted a comment under the article which is awaiting moderation as I type this.) She has also put together a programme for BBC Radio 4 called The Stationery Cupboard, which is broadcast in the UK on Friday, 2 March at 1100 UTC. I hope to check out after work tomorrow.

I wasn't invited to appear on the programme, but that's OK; this is the pen and paper blog nobody's talking about, after all....

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Stationery Archeology 10

This artefact has been dated by experts to 1978. It is my late father's diary for that year, and I guess he received as a member of the Automobile Association, back when it was owned by its members.

Most of the diary entries are records of his shift patterns at work - he was a policeman. Shifts were early (E - 0600-1400), late (L - 1400-2200) and night (N - 2200-0600). "CSH" is the particular building where he worked, and "PH" means "public holiday". I am not sure what "PIL" means.

Most of the writing in the diary is in blue ballpoint, with occasional fountain pen ink here and there. I recall he carried a Parker Flighter ballpoint pen, so I guess he used that to write in his diary. I wish I knew where that pen was, now; I guess one of my brothers inherited it.

One interesting snippet in among the phone numbers and addresses is this, a formula for calculating the volume of a barrel. I have looked around the 'net to verify this formula, but without success. Perhaps someone who knows better may be able to help? It was no surprise for me to see this, however. Although my father left school aged 14, he was intellectually curious and was always reading books about many different subjects. I remember him talking about this formula, in fact, although I am ashamed to say that I did not pay much attention at the time. Ah, the folly of youth, etc.

Chung Hwa 6903

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Writer's Bump

There was a blog post in the Guardian this week which claimed that humanities students now have problems completing handwritten examinations because they are not used to handwriting for long stretches.

I can sympathise with this. As the survivor of 11 O-Levels, 3 A-Levels, a bachelor's degree in Sociology and International Relations and chartered management accountancy examinations, I still have mine. I have spent literally days in exam halls. For example, when I sat my final exams for my degree, I had to sit eight exams in just over one week. As each paper was three hours long, that meant 24 hours of furious essay-writing, culminating with two in one day - and a Saturday, to boot. Back then I did not use a fountain pen, but instead the good old Bic Cristal. This, I feel, is the reason why I now loathe them, because if I have to write for a long spell even today, I get some discomfort from my writer's bump, the callous over the distal phalanx of my right-hand middle finger.

This is also one reason why I prefer steno pencils or pencils with rounded profiles such as the Chung Hwa 6903 kindly sent to me for review by Matthias of the Bleistift parish. (It will appear soon, honest.) The standard hexagonal pencil tends to dig in a bit to my writer's bump, making a long writing session moderately uncomfortable. It is also one reason why I decided to use fountain pens when I decided my handwriting had deteriorated too far after years of neglect.

When I studied for my accountancy exams, the training college I attended insisted that students submit their homework assignments in handwritten form. They could easily have accepted computer-based work, to save themselves the trouble of having to decipher the students' scrawls. However, they required us to hand-write our work as a training programme for the exams which loomed at the end of the course. This was eminently sensible. The three-hour timed essay under examination conditions is a stern test of the student's knowledge, and also their physical stamina. It takes time to build up sufficient strength to hold a pen to paper and keep going for that long.

So the students of today have my sympathy, as the proud owner of that particular T-shirt. As computer-based assessment becomes more common, the problem will, I suppose, be replaced with students suffering WRULDs instead. The writer's bump will likely die out along with its owners.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Black Brown and Blue

I never seem to settle on one colour for my fountain pens, but I have found that I don't like to carry around too many or with a very large range of colours. However I have just added a new colour to my daily carry: brown ink. Specifically, Pelikan Brilliant Brown.

After numerous experiments using various shades and makes of ink, I've ended up carrying four fountain pens, two of which hold blue ink, one holding black ink, and the last holding brown ink. How on Earth did that happen? I'm nearly back where I started; I could have saved a small fortune in ink if I hadn't tried all those other colours. For example, I own three different shades of turquoise and two of purple, which now seem surplus to requirements unless I have yet another change of mind.

I find it difficult to escape the conclusion that coloured inks - outside the narrow palette I have described - just look too fussy on the page. I tend to do most of my writing at work, and have happily used any colour I liked; and nobody seemed to care. So much for much of the hand-wringing one finds on the Fountain Pen Network where people fret whether their favourite inks look "professional". The only comment I have received was from one colleague who saw a note I wrote in Diamine Woodland Green, and that was a compliment. But it can be distracting, looking at large volumes of manuscript in violet or orange. I needed to cut down the number of colours I have in daily use.

Black was an easy one. I have always used black ink in fountain pens and the first bottle I bought when I returned to using them five years ago was a bottle of Diamine Onyx Black. Now I use Pelikan Brilliant Black (sic) in a black Lamy Safari, with an EF nib. The line is thin enough not to overpower the page, and the colour is serious enough to be considered "professional". I use this pen only occasionally, however...

...because my favourite pens use blue ink. Blue was always a "problem" colour for me. At school, I hated blue ink - particularly washable blue. It was just so bloody boring. I avoided it for a long time, and it wasn't until I saw some manuscripts by JG Ballard online that I decided that I needed to use blue ink - after all, Ballard is my favourite author and if it was good enough for him etc. Knowing that he used locally-available materials from the stationers and newsagents in Shepperton, where he lived, I guessed he used Parker Quink Permanent Blue. (I have no idea what ink he actually used, and nobody seems to know or care.) I tracked down a supply manufactured in the 1970s and used it for a while. It's probably a life-time's supply unless I take up writing novels in manuscript. I think that age has altered the dye in the ink's chemistry somewhat, because it is much greyer than the ink Ballard wrote with, if the online sources are to be believed. My Quink is closer to a Prussian blue, and not the classic Quink blue I remember from my father's pens. It's very nice to look at and behaves well in the pen, but it's not the same. So I tried a number of other blues, and settled on a couple, those being Diamine Sapphire Blue and Waterman Florida Blue. I use the Florida Blue in my Pilot M90, and although it looks washed-out when dry, it is a fine writing ink. I think this may be the one permanent pen and ink combination, at least until I change my mind - again.

The "other" blue that I use at present is a mixture. I have mixed up a 50/50 concoction of Diamine inks: Imperial Blue and Imperial Purple. The resulting colour is similar to Richard Binder's famous "Blurple" and is a pleasing darkish blue with a definite purple tinge. I am using this mixture in my Pilot Capless. It's good and I am very pleased with it; whether it will stay permanently, well, only time will tell.

As for the brown ink, I had the idea of using it again after seeing a talk at my local astronomical society the other week. The subject was Sir Isaac Newton, using his own words, taken from his letters and notebooks. Having looked at some of the digitised notebooks online at the Cambridge University Library website, I was intrigued to see that many of the notes were written in what seems to be brown ink, perhaps sepia. As I own only one bottle of brown ink, I have used that, and although the Pelikan is much redder than a sepia, it's still very easy on the eye. It looks good on creamy paper in particular, particularly on Moleskine paper stock judging by the test page I have tried out, even though it bleeds through horribly in the Mole's revolting thin paper stock. I will probably put this brown ink into the Capless once the current ink in that pen runs dry; at the moment I am using it in another Lamy Safari, a limited-edition pink model with an M nib that once belonged to my eldest daughter. (Nobody's asked me why I use a pink pen.)

So, I hope that I have narrowed things down to three or four good pens with good ink. You may note that none is filled with Noodler's ink. The reason for that is I have found that Noodler's and certain other boutique inks take a long time to dry on the page, especially with the cheap paper stock I use at work. I loathe smudging, and have come to appreciate inks with fast-drying properties. It is a pity, as I adore the Noodler's inks for their colours; Navajoe Turquoise is a particular favourite but it is too cumbersome to use on a daily basis. They are, however, good for special occasions: this Christmas I wrote cards using Private Reserve Plum, another top-ranking ink for colour and shading but which takes an absolute age to dry.

Or I could, of course, just forget about it and use a pencil.