Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Levenger's True Writers

When I first saw the True Writer fountain pens in Levenger's catalogue many months ago, I scoffed - yes, I scoffed. I did not imagine that these "Johnny-come-lately" fountain pens could be any good. How could they possibly compare to those who only make fountain pens and have been doing so for decades? However, since purchasing my first fireball red demonstrator a couple of months ago, I have become a True Writer sycophant - O.K. that's extreme but once you write with these, it is diffcult to let go of them. Now I have four True Writers featuring all of the different nib sizes that Levenger offers. Everyone of them writes as well as pens that cost two or three times the price. True Writers are very wet writers and their nib size produces a line that is broader than you expect - much like a Cross - the fine writes like a medium and the medium like a broad and the broad nib is like writing with a stub, and all of them are deliciously smooth. Levenger's ink colors are intense and offer you the option to have a pen body that is the same color as the ink it contains - a very nice option once you have more pens that you can easily keep track of. The cobalt blue is particularly brilliant and I was thrilled to discover it before it was discontinued. The luminescent blue is even better in person. Another reason why I like the True Writers is the size: they have fairly wide barrels so the pen is comfortable and balanced to write with even when the cap is not posted. As much as I like my two Pelikans, they are rather small for a man's hand. Surprisingly, the pen that I thought I was really going to enjoy writing with was the Sailor pocket pen with a 14kt white gold nib. However, that pen writes dry. It is just the opposite of the True Writer - I feel like I need to squeeze the ink out of it to get it to write. So, if you like a wet writer, get a True Writer.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Pilgrimage to Auburn

There are many reasons for making a pilgrimage. But whatever the reason, the pilgrimage is made because of a deep connection with either the past or the hope for the future. A pilgrimage is not usually done out of impulse. However, my recent pilgrimage was one of opportunity. Finding myself in Sacramento with a whole day ahead of me, I realized that I was within minutes of my birthplace and many childhood memories. I am a 49er. Not a fan of the football team but a true born child of one of California’s goldrush towns: Auburn. This year in fact I can make claim to being a 49er by both birthright and age. I turned 49 this past summer. So, it was an appropriate serendipity that I should make this pilgrimage this year just before I move to Florida.

When I was young, my father’s health began to deteriorate so he was no longer able to continue as a contractor but had to enter into the humiliating bureaucracy of the U.S. Post Office. For the sake of his family, he traded the manly independence of carpentry for the sterile dependence upon a government job. As difficult as Addison’s disease was to deal with, I think that the suffocating atmosphere of sorting mail day after day was even more detrimental. Do not take from this that I think that working for the US government is dishonorable – I do not. However, for my dad it was a demoralizing transition. He was “called”, if you will, to work in a creative environment where his quick and active mind could be busy - that was not the P.O.

What does that have to do with the 49er community of Auburn? Everything. When I was born in 1959, my father was still a carpenter and he had just two years before designed and built a beautiful house in Auburn. That is the house you see posted above. My father died about 7 years ago and so seeing this house and driving through Auburn was kind of like seeing him again.

Unfortunately, people can be rather dense and it took me several years to understand my dad’s sacrifice. When I was younger, I was kind of frustrated with him for working at the Post Office when I knew he had so much more potential. I knew he was not healthy. I knew he only had a seventh grade education but he was more well-read than so many people I knew who had college degrees. I wanted him to go back to college and do something with his life but he wanted me to do what he felt he could not do. Therefore, he sacrificed his life for the hum-drum mediocrity of sorting mail, so that I could be a college graduate. It took me more than forty years to figure that out but now I know what it meant for him to give up a vocation he loved for someone he loved. Thank you dad.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sailor Stainless Pocket Pen

While on vacation this past week, I was thrilled to open my e-mail and discover that I had won this 1970s NOS 18k white gold broad nib fountain pen on Ebay. I was even happier to discover it waiting for me at my office when I returned, considering I paid for it on Tuesday and it arrived from Japan on Friday. It arrived more quickly than a Cross pen that I purchased from the Midwest. This is my first "pocket pen" and it is in perfect new condition, even though it is about 30 years old. Unfortunately, I failed to order ink cartridges with it so have not written with it yet. The description, price and service from Sakura Zeppelin were outstanding - I highly recommend her and look forward to future purchases. For more detailed informaton on Japanese pocket pens, see the recent posts on Inkophile.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Complete Guide to Drawing

I have been drawing for forty years now and from time to time have instructed others who were wanting to improve their own skills. In all of that time I have never seen what I thought was a really good comprehensive book on drawing that would be good for both the novice and the one who is already beginning to master some skills in drawing - until now. Recently, while browsing through one of the major chain book stores, I ran across this guidebook by Giovanni Civardi in the discount section. It is published by Search Press. And, as the title states, it really is complete! At 376 pages, it incorporates what were published separately as six different shorter books. The six chapters cover: techniques, portraits, clothed figures, hands & feet, scenery, and light & shade (chiasrocuro). The techniques range from basic to advanced and a wide variety of drawing media is demonstrated. Some fo the drawings look a little dated but the book is a recent publication. And Giovanni's skills and instruction are excellent. If you are looking for a book that covers the full range of drawing skills and subjects, this is the one! By the way - for you mothers of teen aged boys - most drawing guides that include figures have several nudes in them. This book has one or two (sketches, not photos), which is probably the least you will be able to find in a book that includes figure drawing.


Previously, I wrote of my disappointment with Levenger's Decathlon Fountain Pen, which I returned because it did not live up to the "firm handshake" metaphor in the catalogue description. However, I read so many favorable reviews of the Levenger True Writer series, that I wanted to give them another try - and besides I have been very pleased with most other Levenger items. Correspondingly, I was becoming very intrigued by the idea of demonstrators and nearly bought a Pelikan or Sailor demonstrator but both were too pricey. Levenger put their colorful demonstrators with matching bottles of ink on sale, as if they read my mind and wanted to clinch my decision. It worked. I recently received a Lamy Vista demonstrator with a 1.1 Italic nib, which is filled with Waterman brown ink and so apart from the modern look and feel of the fountain pen, the result is something wonderfully antique in appearance. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed using so much ink and having that much color present while you write. I am usually just a black and white thinker and writer. The experience with the Lamy demonstrator compelled me to buy the red bold nib demonstrator from Levenger and I could not be more pleased. At a fourth of the price, the Fireball is much more satisfying than the Decathlon and the intensity of the red ink is as bold as the nib. Since the Levenger nibs are interchangeable, I am ordering a green and blue demonstrator from Levenger with a fine and medium nib to complete the set and add more colors and nib combinations. By the way the broad nib True Writer writes amazingly smoothly. That was such a success that I sent in one of my Pelikan 215 fine point nibs to ChartPak to be exchanged for a broad nib. Pelikans also simply unscrew and are interchangeable with one another. Plus ChartPak will exchange them for free!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Knight, Death and the Devil

Recently I met with a priest for a long over due confession and he described to me this print, observing that it was a great example of Christian perseverance. Notice how the knight is unwavering in moving forward. Death and Satan do not distract him from his goal. In fact, the knight's undistracted resolve seem to communicate the same to his horse and dog as well. For, they too march forward looking straight ahead. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil . . ."

While this is a masterpiece of draftsmanship, it is also inspiring as you consider the story that it tells.

According to the Met: "The artist may have based his depiction of the 'Christian Knight' on an address from Erasmus's Instructions for the Christian Soldier (Enchiridion militis Christiani), published in 1504: 'In order that you may not be deterred from the path of virtue because it seems rough and dreary … and because you must constantly fight three unfair enemies—the flesh, the devil, and the world—this third rule shall be proposed to you: all of those spooks and phantoms which come upon you as if you were in the very gorges of Hades must be deemed for naught after the example of Virgil's Aeneas … Look not behind thee.'"

Sheaffer Balance Fountain Pen Writes Very Well

The Sheaffer Balance that I won on Ebay came in last week, and it is a beauty! I filled it with Noodler's Marine Green ink - although I don't know how. What I mean is, I don't know how the filling system works. The end unscrews and a long plunger pulls out and when you push it back in there is a funny popping sound and there's ink in the pen. I read some history on Sheaffer who was quite the inventor and revolutionized the pen industry at the turn of the century - he invented the lever and bladder system for fountain pens, so that people would no longer have to fill them with eye-droppers. He also guaranteed the nibs for life, which you can see if you zoom in on the nib (with lingering green ink) pictured here. I think this pen dates back to the mid 1930s but I am not sure. This pen with a 14ct gold (extra?) fine point nib, is the smoothest and easiest writing pen I have ever used. It is a much smaller than what I expected, which is ironic because I returned a Levenger Decathlon because it felt too light weight and I wanted a a larger heavier pen. Well, not everything that is "vintage" is larger and heavier. The Sheaffer Balance is narrow and light weight but at least it is long enough at 5.5". The long and short of it is that you simply do not care because it writes so well.

It probably appears as though I have nothing to write about but pens. Actually, I hope to have time in the near future to post some photos of my grandfather's and dad's old handtools, but I have to pull them out of storage before I can do that. One of the benefits of fountain pens is not only their unique beauty and utility; they take up very little space!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Libelle Winter Storm

Usually when I shop for a new fountain pen, I agonize over which one to get. The selection process can take quite awhile as I read and re-read different descriptions and reviews and struggle to stay within my budget. Not too long ago, I ordered a Libelle Autumn Leaves fountain pen for my wife. It is a nice looking pen but not one I would have chosen for myself. However, as soon as I saw the Winter Storm, I ordered one right away. It really does look like it is made of cracked ice! I also really appreciate the diameter and length - 5 inches without the cap. It is very comfortable: not too light and not overly heavy. It is available only with a medium nib. It writes very well - in fact this one writes more smoothly than the more costly Libelle Epic of which I have written earlier - even though they have the same style nib. Curiously, the Libelle Epic came with a rather flimsy converter, which is awkward to use. But the Winter Storm arrived with a better quality converter that operates well. A couple of my pens are nice to look at but not much fun to write with. Libelle really hit the mark with the Storm on style, form, size, price and color - and it writes well too. What more could you ask for?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The One That Got Away

This is an unpleasant story to tell. And it becomes increasingly more unpleasant the more I learn about fountain pens . . .

When I was in the USAF, stationed in So. Korea in 1987, I bought one of these fountain pens. I doubt if I spent more than twenty dollars for it, because I was a poor Senior Airman with a wife and newborn baby boy. The pen was very heavy. It felt like it was made out of a chrome bumper from a 1960 tail fin. Sometime after I moved back to the states, the bladder broke (the pen's, not mine) and I was too ignorant to know how to fix it. I took it to the local stationary store and they didn't have a clue. Since then I have lost it, or did I throw it away? I always really liked that pen, so I can't imagine that I threw it away. I keep hoping that I will rediscover it in some box somewhere. Recently, I discovered the value of it after seeing that Namiki still makes the exact same pen. But, now that sterling dragon pen is $475.00!

Oh, well . . .

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vintage Sheaffer Balance Fountain Pen

Reading other blogs, such as Brassing Adds Character has opened up a new aspect of fountain pen collecting for me recently that I had not anticipated. Every time in the past, that I have looked at old fountain pens in glass display cases at second hand stores, I have been disappointed by what I saw. They are always a sorry piece of tattered junk. So, I was much intrigued when I read Rroossinck's review of the "vintage Sheaffer Balance" in his "Best of Class under $80" post.

I followed his links to vintage pen dealers and discovered to my disappointment that they were out of my price range. Next, I reluctantly followed his advice to check Ebay. I say "reluctantly" because I have never much cared for Ebay. I fear I may now be hooked. I lost the bidding for my first choice (the pen above on the green felt) because the automated snipe tool failed to work. I was watching the bidding online seeing no one outbid what I knew was my maximum bid when suddenly the bid closed and someone else won the bid with an offer slightly below my maximum bid. Oh, the agony of defeat! The sniping software service was itself sniped by constipated internet activity and could not submit my bid. So, as a wiser bidder, (Thank you to Jacqui for teaching me the ways of Ebay) I went to my second choice pen and followed the bidding without the use of the snipe tool. The result being that I won the bid on the vintage Sheaffer Senior Balance 14ct gold nib pen pictured next. The picture is not as clear as the first one above but the description indicated the pen was hardly used. We'll know for sure when it arrives in the mail and I will report on whether or not it was a good buy after all.

The aroma of fresh sawdust . . .

Here I present a photograph of one of my grandfather Clayton's planes sitting on my table saw. I have planes from both of my grand fathers and my father. I love those old hand tools, but not simply as collectors items - I use them every chance I get. One of the best things about having a house built in 1945, is that it gives me many opportunities to use my tools. The planes are my favorite wood-working tool. Few things in life are more satisfying than carefully trimming down a piece of wood with a sharp, properly adjusted plane. And, the two best aromas of life can readily be experienced together: fresh sawdust and wood chips, with a strong cup of coffee.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fountain Pen Day

My wife offered me the greatest gift for my birthday: a fountain pen day. This means that I get to spend the day reading and writing with and about fountain pens! Recently, a friend of mine asked me why I like fountain pens so much? So, what is the reason? I had to think about the answer at first, and then it dawned on me: fountain pens represent resistance against technopoly. Not just resistance against technology but the recognition that faster is not always better. Easier isn't always best. We are living in an age where drive-through tellers, restaurants and pharmacies are normal. Face to face contact is less common and less valued. Even though I am an introvert, I used to enjoy striking up conversations with the cashiers - it was a pleasant human activity. Now, the cashier is constantly pointing me back to the debit pin-pad and it is impossible to have a conversation. We are no longer running the machines; the machines are running us. I would like to return to the world where there is time to sit inside a restaurant to eat lunch; where the banker and grocer know who I am and I know who they are; where you do business face to face; where signmakers paint signs with brushes rather than computer cut letters; where people have real paintings in their homes rather than posters; where people play boardgames; where we are more concerned about what politicians say versus what they look like and where people write letters on actual paper. So, fountain pens represent a lifestyle and a pace that is rapidly disappearing. Taking the time to write with a fountain pen is an act of resistance but it is also recognizing that writing is a unique human priviledge. Conveying ones ideas and thoughts on paper with a fine pen becomes an act of thoughtful leisure. Using a beautiful and well-made fountain pen produces the same kind of rewarding satisfaction that I experience using one of my grandfather's woodplanes to trim down a piece of fresh pine. Technopoly is deadening our senses. Tools that allow us to use more of ourselves in their operation - that require more of our time and concentration - also keep more of our senses alert and awake.

Levenger True Writer Sketcher Pencil

Many of my favorite writing instruments are from family and friends because they all know of my affection for them. This mechanical sketching pencil from Levenger was given to me by my friend and co-worker June. The Sketcher has a thick 5.6mm graphite lead. It comes in a zippered tin and includes a variety of colored leads. The sketcher operates and looks similar to the narrower clutch-style mechanical pencils made by Kohinoor for sketching and drafting. The larger diameter of this pencil makes it really comfortable to use and the barrel is a rich resin. This is my favorite sketching pencil - the large diameter forces you to sketch. You won't be tempted to write or do detailed drawings. It is perfect for large, bold and quick sketches.
The good news is that Levenger has this item on sale now. The bad news is that means they are discontinuing it. Too bad.

Cross Townsend Titanium Ball Point

I have always had a fascination with any tool that would make a mark on paper or canvas: pencils, chalk, crayons, pens, brushes, charcoal, anything. When I was nine years old I determined that I would be an artist and began practicing through all the various tools and media for hours every day - I was obsessed. So, my interest in writing instruments came very early. My first fountain pen (non-disposable) was a Pelikan 120 broad nib made for artists. In my teens and twenties I used Rapidograph technical drawing pens for detailed pen and ink drawings. Sometime in my thirties, my wife's grandfather sent me a birthday check of $25 and I found myself at the local stationer shopping for pens. I purchased a red torpedo-shaped Reddington rollerball to use in my new executive position, after seeing my superiors using their Mont Blancs, the price of which was and is outside of my budget. Not long after that, my good friend Bruce introduced me to his new Cross Townsend Titanium Ball Point Pen. This introduced me to a quality of writing instrument that seized me by the lapels and has hold of me ever since. The rest of the story of this great pen must be told: the color, the weight and the quality of writing from this pen led me to purchse one of my own. However, not long after that Bruce lost his while riding his bike. Knowing how much he valued that pen, I decided to give him mine. That was more than seven years ago. A couple of weeks ago, I had the joy of having lunch with him and his wife Helen and he informed me that he had a present for me. In fact he had been holding onto this present for the last seven years. I couldn't imagine what it would be and then he handed me a Cross pen box, informing me that he and the men from our former church's men's group had purchased that for me as an ordination gift. What a great gift and it writes just as well as I remembered.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ink Quality

One of the complimentary joys of using a fountain pen is using bottled ink from which to fill the pen. Sure, it is messy, time consuming and frustrating - my fingers always get stained. Today, a drop of black ink even fell into our light beige carpet. Shhh . . . Don't tell my wife! And that is all worth it, if your pen produces the kind of rich line and dark black or deep blue (or whatever color you like) that you expect from a fine pen. All of that is background to my first woeful experience with my Libelle Epic F.P. After the cartridge that was packed with the pen was used up, I installed the converter and filled it with Shaeffer "Skrip" black ink, which a sales person had assured me was quality ink. It worked okay on a yellow legal pad but when I used it in my moleskin journal the ink was grey, rather than black, and it bled badly. Initially, I was disappointed with my new pen until I realized my other pens wrote well on the moleskin paper. So, purchased a bottle of Waterman black ink and filled the Libelle F.P. and it worked great - nice smooth rich black lines - the way it is supposed to be.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lamy Fine Point Fountain Pen

I promise that I am not getting "kick backs" from fountain pen manufacturers or distributors.

But folks, this is too good to ignore. Goldspot has this Lamy "Studio" fountain pen on sale at an incredible price - in all colors (black, blue & stainless) and nib sizes (ball point, too). I am tempted to buy another one.

While it might not look very interesting in the photo due to the German minimalist modern design (Bauhaus influence, maybe?) - it handles and writes wonderfully. Not too heavy. Not too light. The ink always flows when needed. Some "nicer" pens I have, constantly have to be primed before use, which is very frustrating - not so with this pen. I have the fine nib, so a converter full lasts a long time between re-fills. Best of all, the nib writes very smoothly - almost as smooth as my gold-nibbed Namiki Vanishing Point. I don't know about the other colors, but the black Lamy fountain pen has a very comfortable matte finish that keeps it from slipping in your fingers. The clip actually holds the pen in your shirt pocket. (I have dinged up a couple of heavier pens with loose clips when I bent over to pet my dog - ouch!) All around, at that sale price this is by far the best fountain pen for the money that I have seen. Even at list price the Lamy "Studio" fountain pen is worth it.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Libelle Epic Fountain Pen

Do you find yourself anxious at the end of the day because you realize you have not had time to write with one of your fountain pens? Of course not. Only a fountain pen collecting Luddite would have such a thought. I have such thoughts.

The Libelle pen pictured above is just the pen to elicit that passion for pen and paper intercourse. A photograph cannot due justice to the rich multi-layered swirls in the barrel. The pen is just the right weight and is very comfortable to write with. The medium nib seemed a little too scratchy at first but with use on a heavier smooth paper, such as a moleskin journal, it writes beautifully. Besides having a fascination with fountain pens, I also enjoy studying dragonflies. So, it is an amusing coincidence that Libelle's logo on the cap is a dragonfly repeated around the rim. "Libelle" is Latin for "dragonfly". The fountain pen takes a cartridge or can fill via converter.

I purchased this pen from Goldspot.com. The price was discounted and the pen was shipped right away. Sadly, for you folks who may not have this model, Libelle has discontinued it.

Click the "Pens" label below to see more reviews of pens.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Twenty-fifth Day: Morning Prayer

Psalm 119:33-40


Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end.

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.

Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.

Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!

Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.

Confirm to your servant your promise,
that you may be feared.

Turn away the reproach that I dread,
for your rules are good.

Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life!

Quoted from the English Standard Version

Monday, April 21, 2008


Book Review

Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, by Neil Postman, Vintage Books, 1993

Thesis: “Technopoly deprives us of the social, political, historical, metaphysical, logical, or spiritual bases for knowing what is beyond belief.” Technopoly’s power emanates from the assumption that all technological advances are to be desired and therefore faith in symbols is counterproductive.

Evaluation: Postman, a sociologist, identified “Technopoly” in anthropomorphic terms, as an unfettered movement – a strongman of sorts – who is engulfing America’s better values, such as religious narratives, and replacing them with an inhumane and mechanistic dystopia. Americans welcome this with an unchallenged lust for technology even at the expense of our culture, heritage and faith. Science is the new alchemy and scientists her priests. Postman’s prophetic analysis from 1992 of Technology’s monopoly over human affairs is obviously more evident today than it was 15 years ago. In fact, the influence of the computer and the Internet are more pervasive and consuming than even that which Postman proposed. Even so, Postman offers an optimistic ethic that would lead to freedom from Technopoly, were we to heed his advice and become “loving resistance fighters” who manage technology rather than those who are managed by technology.

Helpful Insights: “Technopoly” is what Christians would recognize as a “Power” from Colossians 2.15. This particular Power has become especially potent in the United States, because we fail to recognize it and we do not even think to question its influence. Rather than just offer a critique, Postman offers a curriculum that would reunite students with the core narratives of Western culture. Not as a means to elevate Western Civilization above other cultures but as the narrative symbol which relates to the citizens of the United States. This narrative would enable students to become alert humans who know how to reason and question and apply moral standards to their roles as citizens. This approach to education is viewed as antithetical to the minimalist and statistical grind of the Technopoly machine. While Postman is not promoting a particular religion (though his affection for Judaism is evident), he is convinced that society cannot achieve a sense of purpose without such a core narrative to give people meaning. Technopoly cannot provide a core narrative because its end is only to sustain itself, which consumes and does not inspire.

Response: My perception of the public school system in the U.S. is that it is so broken and ideologically corrupt that it cannot be repaired. However, I believe that Postman’s emphasis on the integration of history and the ideals of past cultures, artists, philosophers and musicians into the standard school curriculum is the only viable corrective to our failing public school system, and thereby our failing culture.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

We are here to help you

"Whenever someone from the government comes to you and says, 'We have to fix your soul,' be very afraid. Governments cannot fix souls. In my worldview, Christ fixes souls . . . No one believes, outside of the hardcore Left, that government can fix your soul."

- Hugh Hewitt

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Phone Control

Believe it or not there is actually a website that specializes in selling electronics that don't beep. I like that. The constant annoying reminders from beeping electronics makes me feel like I will need to wear a straight jacket soon.