Monday, December 27, 2010

Pens as Christmas Gifts?


O.K. I know I could easily fit all of my regular readers into my family room, probably even into my study, or even the closet, but I am going to ask the question all the same: What pens did you get for Christmas? What pens did you give for Christmas?

This is the first year in quite awhile where I didn't coerce my wife into buying a pen for me for Christmas. She wanted to choose the gift she was going to give me, for a change - imagine that? Though without any coercion whatsoever, she gave me a box of Crane Co. stationary - very nice!

However, I gave my daughter a grey Conklin Endura fine point, which she is very happy with. Along with it, I gave her a bottle of Noodler's Burgundy ink. I didn't even dip test it before I gave it to her, so I can't comment on how well it writes. It is a very light weight pen and a bit narrower than I expected. But overall a nice looking pen. Maybe I can write a review of it later, if she'll let me borrow it.

So, what pens, ink, paper, journals, et cetera did you give or receive this Christmas? Tell us about them in the comments.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fall in Central California

Inland Central California usually has a very short and fall season with little color.

However, this year there was a sudden cold snap where the temperatures went from the 70s to the 30s over night and then stayed in the 50s thereafter. This caused some glorious fall colors, to which we are unaccustomed. And fall lasted much longer than usual. In the average year, the leaves here just turn brown and fall off.

Since fall is my favorite season, I have been happily taking photos, and enjoying it immensely.

I can well imagine that you folks from the east coast and mid west are probably thinking "big deal" and, "those leaves aren't really that colorful". And I have traveled enough to know why you would say that, but we think your "big trees" are pretty puny - so it is all relative to what you are used to.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Nib Smoothing and Adjustment

This isn't new, but this link will take you to an excellent article on nib adjustment at Nibs.com

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Before and After

I really enjoy the artwork and comics of Charles Addams and Edward Gorey. One of my favorite books by Edward Gorey is the ABC book: "The Gashlycrumb Tinies". In which which different children meet with disaster, or even an untimely demise. I love children - I have three children and two grandchildren - so, I can't explain why I think those are funny. I guess it is like slapstick humor - even though someone is getting hurt, there is something funny about the way it is presented and it is nothing like reality. If it seemed the least bit real, I wouldn't be amused by it. It is the extreme contrast from reality that makes it so funny - like the movers who struggle to get the beautiful grand piano up the long stair case and at the last minute drop it down to the sidewalk, smashing in a thousand pieces.

Other then when I was a teenager, I've not done much macabre humor. However, several years ago after seeing before and after weight loss pictures, I was amused by the idea of extreme before and after pictures. I was also amused by the idea of unusually shaped heads with matching skulls. The sketches posted here are the simple doodles that came out of those musings.

Jinhao Missile

FIRST IMPRESSION. These little pens from China are a marvel. They are probably the best bang for your buck on a fountain pen that you can find. On eBay you can get three for $9.90 with free shipping, or one for $4.90 with free shipping from China. The construction, appearance, price and performance are all very good. There are three finishes: chrome, matte black and glossy mottled red-black. In terms of design and size, they remind you instantly of the Fisher Space Pen.

NIB. The hooded nibs put down an even fine line. I tried several of them and they all worked well.

FILLING SYSTEM. There is no choice in filling system: your only option is the compression bladder. No cartridges are available that I am aware of. The bladder doesn't hold much ink and runs out fairly quickly. However, the pen is so small that I don't find it comfortable to write with for an extended amount of time.

QUALITY. Knowing what I paid for these pens, I was not expecting anything in terms of build quality. I was very surprised when I received them to see the consistent quality of the pens.
I purchased about ten pens in the three different finishes and only one had a defect, and it was minor.

RECOMMENDATION. The only other contender in this price range is the Pilot Petite, which is a fantastic little fountain pen. The Pilot Petite has a better nib and a wider girth but it is plastic. So, if you are looking for a very inexpensive and portable fountain pen that doesn't look disposable, you can't go wrong with this one. This would be a great starter pen for a child. And, for those of you who want to use only fountain pens for every writing opportunity, it is ideal for a travel journal or checkbook.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Banana Munching Festoon

This pen and ink drawing, painted with Dr. Martin's watercolours on a watercolour block, was done as an experimental illustration. By that I mean that it appears to be part of a story but there was no story that went with it. At the time, I was considering illustrating children's stories but hadn't written much - hence the illustration without a story.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Libelle Fresco: Aesthetics and Function.

The more that I examine pens in person, the more I recognize the varying differences in build quality.

The most important issue is how well the pen writes, but very close behind that is how the pen looks and feels. It is much the same with my dusty old Nissan Pathfinder - I always like, it but after I wash it it feels like it runs better. Our sensual impression of something really affects how we view the quality of the thing. Why do you suppose vintners invest so much into the artwork of their labels? They want to make a good impression because it predisposes us to expect the wine to taste good.

Likewise, the more pleased I am with the appearance of a pen, the more I want to like the way it writes. Conversely, if I hate the way a pen looks or feels, I don't care how well it writes - I don't want to use it. I had that happen recently where I ordered a pen based on how it looked on the internet but disliked it so much in person that I did not care how well it wrote. Off course the ideal is discovering a pen that looks great, writes well and is comfortable in your hand. One aspect of a pen's appearance that I really appreciate is resin quality - not just the color but also how the resin is mixed in order to achieve its particular design. Obviously some are easier than others, if commonality or rarity are indicators. For example the chipped varieties of resin apparently are easier than the swirl varieties because they seem to be more common. or, maybe the chipped resin is just more popular and so it is a question of supply to meet demand.

Personally, I find the swirled resin to be a more interesting design, and it is much more difficult to find. My favorite is the Libelle Ivory Swirl that is no longer available - too bad. The Laban Mento Tiger Eye Swirl is also very nice. And, Laban's Celebration Oyster is fairly interesting. However, I observed that one of these pens had an interesting dot form in two spots on the pen and realized that there must be some form of imaging that goes into the production of the layering of the resins. Looking at the Laban website, you realize that they must sell more different models of pens than any other fine pen manufacturer. The Laban Mento alone has over two dozen resin options for that one model of pen! What other pen manufacturer does that?

I recently received a black Libelle Fresco as a gift. The resin is not terribly interesting but the shape and wide diameter of the pen is unique. It is a very comfortable pen to hold. Unfortunately, the one I received had a bad nib, so I had to return it. Every other Libelle pen I've had wrote very nicely, so I expect that the replacement pen - once it comes in - will write just fine. I like the shape of the Fresco very much; I wish Libelle had offered it in a richer resin, like their earlier Ivory Swirl.

UPDATE: The pen was sent back and the nib was adjusted but still not quite right. I wrote with it for a couple of weeks hoping that it would eventually break in, but finally gave up and returned it. Too bad. I really like the look and feel of the pen. But if it doesn't write well, no amount of good looks will make up for that. However, the pen that I exchanged it for was very nice. More on that to come . . .

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bristle Blocks Acrobats

One of the best ways to restore sanity while raising a toddler is to steal his toys and play with them. I recommend buying earplugs so that you can ignore the screams of "mine! mine! mine" when he sees you playing with his stuff.

These Bristle Blocks Acrobats are great fun but you have to keep them out of your two-year-old's reach or he'll tear them a apart. This sculpture was placed on top of a tall bookshelf, well out of reach of the little tike.

Bristle Block Momma with her two babies and upside-down husband portrays the struggle of motherhood and marriage: she does this with great skill and beauty. Note: her flowering breasts and the three hands - two outstretched in both strength and love, and the third reaching forward into the future. All this she accomplishes while carrying for her children and supporting her useless husband, who spends his day writing on blogs.

By the way, this also demonstrates how you can take a silly "sculpting" project and write about it "intellectually" to make it look like great thought went into it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sheaffer Legacy 1

Yes, I know. I took the easy route and used stock photos for my unbiased review of the most awesome Sheaffer Legacy 1 fountain pen. But my camera almost always disappoints me when doing close up photos. And then I find myself with lousy photos and no time to write a review.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS. If ever there was a pen that would compel me to say, "Okay, that's it I'm done. I never need to buy another fountain pen ever again." The Sheaffer Legacy is that pen . . . except for the Pilot 823 . . . and the Waterman Carene . . .and . . . well at least the Legacy is such a great pen that it was longer than usual before I got another fountain pen. (By the way, the 823 review is coming soon.)


I'll be honest, I don't care for the color gold, real or plated - in fact I really dislike it. But I had read so many good comments about PFMs and Legacys, that when I saw the price: too good to be believed at Peyton Steet Pens, I said "Gold, shmold" and ordered one. When it arrived, I still didn't care that it was gold. The 1995 NOS Legacy 1 arrived just as advertised - just as if straight from the factory - perfect.

DESIGN and CONSTRUCTION. The first thing that you notice is the impressive girth and weight of the pen. The barrel is a half inch in diameter but it feels thicker. And, from end to nib it is only 4 3/4" which I would usually disdain as too short but it doesn't feel that way at all. With the cap posted it is a full 5 7/8". The cap is wide and light weight so it stays well balanced with the cap posted. The barrel has a high gloss black lacquer (over brass?) with a deep shine.

NIB. The Legacy has an 18ct gold inlaid medium nib. Though this pen was made in 1995, the inlaid nib makes it look as if it were designed in the 1920s. The common everyday nibs that stick out of the bottom of a pen lose their appeal once you've seen an inlaid nib. Not only is the nib stunning in appearance but it writes velvet smooth with a wet, even flow. The Legacy has a reputation for being a very wet writer and this one followed suit. It is an absolute joy to write with.

FILLING SYSTEM. Sheaffer utilized the touchdown filling system in the Legacy, which creates a suction when filling the pen and provides a very satisfying woosh sound when the pen is filled. It also seems to hold a higher capacity than a converter, which is handy for such a wet writer. I've read some complain about the shape of the blind cap at the end, but it gets the job done and makes the pen look more interesting than a simple cigar shape. There are a lot of C/C fillers out that have a faux blind cap. It is great to have the real thing!

CAP and CLIP. I'm sure the cap is marvelous for those of you who like the color gold. It doesn't do much for me. The clip is the only average part of this pen. It gets the job done. However, I do appreciate how well the shape of the cap corresponds to the rest of the pen. The top of the cap tapers to a square, just as does the blind cap at the end of the barrel. The cap is light and snaps securely onto the pen. And it clearly does a good job of capping the nib, because it never dries out. I also, prefer snap on caps over screw on caps - quicker to remove, and the cap doesn't inadvertently unscrew in you breast pocket.

CONCLUSION. Apart from the average clip - but nothing wrong with it - everything about this pen is outstanding in design and performance. After using this pen, it isn't as easy too get excited about pens with standard nibs and standard filling systems.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Doodles and Icons

While it is very rewarding to spend hours drawing or painting something suitable for framing, little compares to getting so lost in the doodle zone that you lose a sense of time or troubles. You are not self aware. You are not drawing to impress or please anyone else. In fact, you are not even drawing with intent to please yourself. The drawing just emerges while you observe.

It is similar to that feeling that you get reading a great story or watching a really compelling movie: you are transported to another world.

I don't recall where this doodle began - probably with the face - that is usually where I start. The starting place is always a self-aware decision. It is sometime after that as the drawing begins to take shape that you stop trying to draw and just draw. That is why doodling is somewhat therapeutic as a way to relax.

This sort of doodling is a faint echo of an even more significant form of artwork that transcends personal therapy: iconography. For monks who paint icons, the process of painting is a form of prayer as they paint, understanding that the finished icon will be a vehicle of prayer for others. I am not trained in the method of painting icons, but the general concept is one that we can embrace. Several years ago when I was drawing portraits for a living I took this concept to heart and adapted it for my work: while I was drawing the subjects portrait, I prayed for him/her. It transformed the way I thought about the subject and the process of producing a piece of artwork. It was no longer just a creative effort or a business transaction, but took on a sacramental significance.

Block Head

This is a concept drawing for a tactile sculpture that was designed for children.

Each mouth is a cavity, which contains objects that can be felt, such as marbles, feathers, water, et cetera.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Waterman Carene

INTRODUCTION. Some time ago, I saw a Waterman Carene for the first time and instantly fell in love with the design. It reminds me of art deco design and I love the inlaid nib. However, I wrote it off because the price was out of my budget. Well that was until I saw Pam's price at Oscar Braun. Suddenly it was in a range that I could justify, along with an Urban Expert! I went from zero Waterman pens to two, overnight. Pam's prices and service are unbeatable.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS. I like the Urban Expert. It is a nice pen. But the Carene is outstanding: I love everything about this pen. The size, design, weight, nib and build quality are superb. And of course the bottom line: it is pure joy to write with.

FILLING SYSTEM. The only thing that is simply normal about the pen is that it is a cartridge-converter fill.
Nothing wrong with that but not as much fun as a piston fill or vac fill. Honestly, all the other components on this pen are so pleasant, you can easily forget about a mundane fill. That being said, the Waterman converter is better than most with a nice snug fit and sturdy build. In fact, every aspect of the pen reveals build quality.

BUILD & QUALITY. The body is a luxurious black enamel over brass barrel, with metal fittings and smooth chrome appointments. Where the pen body screws on to the nib housing, Waterman set in two O-rings for a tight seal. If the converter leaked or came loose (which it wouldn't if properly installed) ink would not be able to escape until the barrel was unscrewed. The threading and fittings look like those on a piece of high grade equipment. Exquisite quality.

CAP & CLIP. The cap snaps firmly and securely in place over the nib and rests easily on the barrel when posted, but it doesn't snap. Due to the length and weight of the cap it stays in place without any problem. The pen is long enough to use comfortably without the cap posted. The clip is long and sleek and holds the pen securely without ripping your shirt pocket. (I have another pen that shreds the fibers of my pocket every time I remove the pen). Since the cap snaps securely, has a firm clip and the pen is long, it doesn't fall out of the cap like some screw caps do. (I've found my Pelikans and Truewriters to have unscrewed themselves and oozing ink into my pocket, more than once.)

DIMENSIONS. The size, for my taste, is perfect. The pen is long, weighty but not heavy and has a comfortable diameter. Length with cap is 5 3/4". Without cap it is 5 3/8". Posted 5 7/8". Diameter 1/2".

NIB. The best part is the inlaid nib: 18 kt gold and butter smooth. It writes first time and every time without hesitation. Mine is a medium nib and writes a true wet medium line. I am currently using J Herbin Pearle Noire.

Note: the photos are not mine.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dr. Digby Dork

Taccia Portugese

1. First Impressions

My first impression was surprise. I'd never seen a Taccia pen before - never heard of them and then my wife who never tries to surprise me with a fountain pen picks out this one for my 50th birthday. She knows I love simple black and silver pens and chose a pen that I love. Thanks babe!

2. Appearance and Design

I love the simple design. Very classy. I don't know why but I especially like the black dot on the top of the cap surrounded by chrome with the name "Taccia Portugese" etched in a circle: nice detail. Unlike the very poorly designed cap button on the Taccia Momenta, which carries an ugly TC logo in the middle. Also, the unusual placement of the threading at the base of the finger flare just above the nib is an interesting feature.

3. Weight and Dimensions

The size threw me off at first. It has a comfortable girth but it is very short without the cap. Fortunately the cap post fairly securely and is very well balanced. The pen is very light and comfortable to write with over extended periods. [Sorry, I'd like to list dimensions but the ruler's not handy]

4. Nib Performance

Excellent. Possibly the best steel nib I have ever written with. Mine is a medium but writes on the narrow side of medium and kind of wet. This nib has never dried out, never skipped, never needed rinsing. It writes instantly every single time. Plus the nib has a slight italic character to it - kind of flat on the tip - and so it writes with some character. I use J. Herbin's Cacao du Bresil.

5. Filling System

Only draw back: the barrel is too short for a long converter. So you are stuck using the short Monteverde plunger style converter or cartridges. I use the short converter and runs out of ink fast. I am thinking this might be a good candidate for an eyedropper conversion.

6. Cost and Value

It was a gift so I'm not sure about the cost. I suspect around $70. And at that it writes better than any other pen I have in that range. The closest competitor might be a Lamy Studio but the Taccia Portugese writes even smoother than the Lamy - compared both out of the box with no adjustment.

7. Clip. This pen has got a great clip. It is springy and has a ball on the underside rather than that folded sheet metal design that many pens have, so it doesn't tear up your shirt pocket when you take it in and out. Also, the cap and clip design don't create an unintended vent that causes the nib to dry out.

8. Conclusion - Final Score

It is a 10. I love this pen but it probably wouldn't be good for someone with big hands. I have medium sized hands and I find it would be more comfortable if the barrel was longer, but that's partly because I don't prefer to post the cap. I'm guessing the Portugese Imperial would be perfect for man hands.


Epilogue

I loved the Taccia Portugese so much that I recently purchased a Taccia Momenta. It is also a well made pen and writes well. it is considerably longer and a some heavier than the Portugese, but frankly the design is too busy for me. I liked it in the photos but not so much in person. So, the Momenta is up for sale on eBay.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Cross Apogee

INTRO. I am really reluctant to post anything at the Pub unless I can include photos and spend a couple of hours writing. As you can see that isn't working too well, since my posts are too few and far between. However, when I received this Cross Apogee from my daughter and son-in-law I knew it was time to get back on track and write about this outstanding pen.

APPEARANCE. This Apogee is the "Frosty Steel" finish and it glistens - catching and reflecting blue light at multiple tiny points across the barrel of the pen. I know we get pens primarily to write with but this one is pleasant just to look at. At first I thought the nib looked a bit small for the size of the pen but have since come to see it as corresponding well to the tapered opposite end. It is a very handsome pen.

NIB. My previous experience with Cross is that they are wet and wide writers. So, I ordered an XF nib expecting it to write like a fine nib, and I was not surprised. The nib is 18kt gold but still stiff. Not as stiff as an ATX steel nib but stiffer than you might think for an 18kt nib. Apart from that, it is an exceptionally smooth and consistent writer. So far, I am using Cross Blue ink, which I really like. With the XF nib, it is perfect for my very thin Clairefontaine paper: no bleed through. It writes on first contact every time - no flow issues whatsoever.

WEIGHT. On the top heavy side with the cap posted. But I prefer writing with the cap off, so that is not an issue for me. Without the cap it is a comfortable weight (sorry - no grams) - though heavier than a resin pen.

CLIP. The clip is really unusual. It is spring loaded and the end has to be depressed before you can put it in your breast pocket. It is a very stiff spring and requires quite a lot of pressure but it can be accomplished with one hand.

INK SUPPLY. This is strange: Cross does not supply converters with their fountain pens. You have to order it separately. Fortunately, I was aware of that and so I ordered it along with the pen. The converter is a well made screw-in converter. I like the fact that it screws in rather than the push-in style of most other converters. It is very secure.

CONCLUSION. I love this pen - can't put it down. It is so pleasant to write with. My only criticisms are that an 18kt nib ought to have more flex to it, and Cross ought to include the converter with the pen, like every other pen maker does. Cross seems to be kind of out of touch with their customer base. You can tell also by the way they write their pen descriptions. Whoever writes that stuff, obviously has know idea what pen enthusiasts care about. They write about the pens as though they are fashion statements rather than marvelous writing instruments - but I'm a guy and that's the way I think. Or, maybe they aren't that interested in pen enthusiasts. As the oldest pen manufacturer in the world, you would think they would have inky fingers - if you know what I mean. Not that it matters much how they advertise, the Apogee is a very fine pen!

UPDATE. Since writing this review, Cross recently redesigned their website, which finally includes pen specs and lists the "optional converter". Their website went from adequate to excellent.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mr Zzyzx Presents: Zingot

My recent sleepless night allowed me to finally complete the illustration of "Zingot", an annoying character from my unfinished novel.

You can read about him in an excerpt from the novel posted previously in this blog: click on the "Chimera Crusade" label.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Man with Bowler

In my last post I promised - or at least implied - that I'd be writing soon about my latest graphics tablet digital artwork trials. Well, I must confess to yielding to the temptation of drawing with fountain pens and paper.

I have been listening to the audio book version of "The Invisible Wall" by Harry Bernstein, and his description of men wearing bowlers inspired me to draw this sketch. And, rather than turn on the computer, I just uncapped a few fountain pens and sat back in my comfy wing-backed chair and sketched the guy you see here above. He's mostly drawn after Bernstein's descriptions of his father.

I used a Pelikan M215 fine point and Namiki Falcon soft fine point for this sketch, with Noodler's Feather-X black ink. I really like the graphics tablet but it is not a sufficient substitute for a pen nib on quality paper.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Rosetta North Star - Sedona

So far my reviews have been very arbitrary and undisciplined, so I have decided to adopt the format used on the Fountain Pen Network - a format that I wish the marketers of fountain pens would adopt. It is very frustrating to try and find some basic data about a fountain pen that you are considering ordering when even the web site selling it does not post that information.

1. First Impressions: I admit to being a little disappointed at first. This is because the way the photo of the pen appeared online, it seemed to have this amber iridescence to it which it does not have so much in real life. Once I got over that, I think it is a handsome pen - nothing to ooh and awe over but nice. I purchased this pen for $40 as a pen that could go anywhere: One that if it got dropped or lost, it wouldn't devastate me. I have a toddler, who occasionally pulls my pen out of my pocket. So, for the price and the purpose, I am pleased. My numerical ratings throughout will based with that goal in mind and compared to other steel-nibbed pens (not gold). [5/10]

2. Appearance and Design: The barrel has a warm reddish amber appearance that compliments the large gold plated Schmidt nib. I am guessing the cap was designed to be a universal cap for a number of different pen colors because the chrome and black don't look like a planned match for this barrel color to me. But I am pleased with that because I prefer chrome details over gold, even if it means bad color co-ordination. For those of you who want the nib and clip color to match, or want a consistent warm theme from top to bottom, this is not the pen for you. One small detail that I really like is the Northstar compass logo on the top of the cap. The clip on the cap is well designed. It has just the right amount of tension to go easily into your shirt pocket securely without shredding the fabric. The clip is solid - not fold over metal, so ther are no sharp edges and the clip "hinge" is flexible. Nicely done for an inexpensive pen. The cap is threaded and seats firmly and stays put. This is a difficult rating because I wouldn't give it much for appearance but for design function, it is well done. The pragmatist wins: [7/10]

3. Weight and Dimensions: The cap is heavy with a lot of chrome. The pen is very top-heavy and uncomfortable with the cap posted. However, the barrel is long enough to write with very comfortably without the cap. Length: [capped] 5 7/16"; [w/o cap] 5"; [posted] 6 3/8" Diameter: [below cap] 9/16" and tapers down to 3/8" at the tip. Weight: Sorry I can't list the actual weight but apart from the heavy cap, the North Star is comparable to any average resin/celluloid pen: a comfortable medium-light weight. The barrel is longer than most and has a fairly thick wall - that combined with a converter gives it a solid feel - not flimsy at all. The only pen that I prefer writing with the cap posted is a Lamy Studio, but that is because the cap snaps on securely, never gets in my way and the balance is perfect. Apart from that I avoid writing with caps posted. So, I am very pleased with the weight and dimension of the Rosetta North Star (sans cap). [8/10]

4. Nib Performance: The nib is a gold plated Schmidt iridium fine point and I am very pleased with the one I have now. The first one was terrible. (More on that below.) It is a very wet writer, and is always ready to write without skipping at a moments notice. It never dries out. (In fact it is one of the few pens that I have that writes well Noodler's Burma Road Brown, which dries out quickly in most of my other pens.) It writes smoothly with a light hand. It has some flex to it with pressure but then you get considerable feedback. For overall readiness to write, I tend to pick it up when I am in a hurry and don't have time to coax one of my other nicer pens. For convenience and reliability it fullfills my goal (listed under #1) perfectly. So, for steel nibs in this price range: [8/10]

5. Filling System: One of the features of this pen that I love is the fact that the barrel is long enough to easily accept the long Waterman cartridges, which is great when you are travelling and you don't want to mess with bottles. The pen comes with a nice universal full size converter that seats firmly into the nib's receiver. The only way to get more ink into this pen would be to convert it into a dropper fill. Considering the size and length of the barrel, that's not a bad idea. (If you were interested in doing that, the barrel is somewhat transluscent so the ink color would effect the amber coloring.) [10/10]

6. Cost and Value: I purchased this on eBay from Streetfair for $40.00. I don't think you are going to find very many pens in this price range that function as well as this one does. The only exception would be Levenger's Truewriters when they are on sale. [9/10]

7. Customer Service: The first nib on the pen that I got was terrible, and scratched horribly. I hated writing with it. I emailed Street Fair and they sent me a replacement nib right away, no charge and no questions asked, with a postage paid envelope to send back the faulty nib. Customer service doesn't get any better than that: [10/10]

8. Conclusion - Final Score: I am surprised; I ended up rating the North Star pen higher by writing out all of the individual features and benefits, then I would have had I just given a gut rating based on my feelings about the pen. For a reliable pen that you don't have to worry about his is a great choice - not quite as nice as a Levenger Truewriter but still a good buy. [8/10]

Note: Detail photos are from Street Fair

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Wacom Tablet MTE-450 (Refurbished)

For Christmas my wonderful wife bought me a Wacom Tablet - she let me pick out the one I wanted. I've been looking at them for years but they were too expensive and so never got one. I had hoped to be able to get a larger one but when Amazon offered the Refurbished MTE-450 at $40 just before Christmas, and the reviews were so encouraging, it seemed like the size might not be that important. In fact, one reviewer on Amazon stressed the fact the size of the tablet wasn't as important as the quality of the tablet, because the you don't generally make long sweeping movements and the tablet scales to match your screen size. While I haven't used the tablet very much yet, I am finding that review to be true. I have used the (less than) 4X5 tablet with a 22" widescreen monitor and not felt the least bit inhibited by the small tablet. The greatest difficulty I have experienced so far is trying to get the software to completely recognize the pen sensitivity. All of the software will recognize the pen but it is difficult to get the pen sensitivity settings working. I am using the pen tablet with three programs - trying to figure out which one I like best between Paint Shop Pro 8, Corel Photo-Paint 12 (CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 12) and GIMP 2. Suprisingly, the oldest program, Paint Shop Pro 8 was the easiest to calibrate for pen pressure variance. GIMP is the newest and so far I can't get it to recognize the tablet. Even the solutions on the two discussion pages that describe this problem, didn't solve it. I am not impressed with the GIMP help files, even though I suspect that GIMP is good software - especially since it is free! I am surprised that GIMP seems so graphics tablet unfriendly when it is being presented as a graphics program more than photo manipulation program. [See update below.] And I would guess that the open source geeks who are developing it are probably using it with pen tablets rather than mice. I suppose they are my own geek deficiencies that have kept me from uncovering GIMP's full potential. So, for now I am getting the best results with Corel Photo-Paint 12, once I finally figured out how to adjust the very obscure pen variance settings. The auto-detect feature was not very helpful. And, I am considering buying Corel Painter X, which simulates a paint mixing palette and has rave reviews.

So, why all the obsolete software? Who can afford the new software? - Not me!

I had wanted to upload a charcoal drawing that I spent a couple of hours drawing on Corel Photo-Paint 12 but the default save settings mysteriously changed to one pixel per square inch and my drawing turned into a crossword puzzle when I saved it. So, that was unpleasant. I used the Wacom tablet to render a quick color version of the "Bird on a Wire" to see if I had successfully repaired the save settings, which I've included above. The original print is presented in the post below.

The bottom line is: the Wacom tablet is great - unbeatable at $40 (refurbished was just like new), but the tablet is only as good as the ability of the software to enable you to draw and paint as you intend to. So far, I have spent much more time calibrating than actually drawing - but that is a necessary learning curve. However, it does give me an increased appreciation for my fountain pens!

UPDATE: [01-12-09] After using GIMP2 with my notebook, I tried using it with the Wacom tablet on my PC and discovered that it recognized the Wacom tablet by name and model and eve has a dockable menu which gives you a visual indicator of the settings you are currently using with the pen. The remarkable thing is that it continuously updates the menu as you change colors, brush styles, or even when you turn the pen upside down to use the eraser. So, of the three programs mentioned in this review, GIMP is clearly the best, with the exception of the help files. However, it is fairly intuitive. I'll write more on GIMP and the tablet set up later in a separate post.