Saturday, December 5, 2009

Laban Mento Tiger Pearl

Soon after I started collecting fountain pens, I bid on but lost a beautiful striped Sheaffer Balance Over Size. In fact, I told the sad story here, two years ago. Since then, I have had my eye out for a good pen with a wide girth.

Back in July my mom gave me cash for my birthday, so that I could find my own present - $1 for each year, or $50. Thanks, mom!

As I am sure you know, the $50 range is where you can start to find some nice pens if you are patient and look for sales. Many of the second tier fountain pens can be found for nearly half off, if there is a closeout or a line is being discontinued. So, getting a $100 fountain pen for $50 or $60 is not very difficult. (I still regret not getting another Libelle Ivory Swirl when they were selling for $50 each!)

Case in point, the Swisher Attic had a number of Laban Mento's in all colors and nib sizes this summer for less than $50. Before I could get my order in my first color choice was already gone. Good thing, too. Because it couldn't have been as nice as my second choice: Tiger Pearl. The photos can't do it justice. The depth of color and iridescence is stunning. The Laban Mento is by far the largest fountain pen that I have. It is the size of a large cigar. While it is not a Shaeffer Balance OS, it certainly qualifies as an OS pen.

Before I bought it, I noted two complaints on FPN about the Mento: (1) scratchy nibs, unless you bought the gold nib version, which I didn't; (2) the nib dries out because of holes where the clip mounts.

I had to gamble on the fine point steel nib because the gold nib doubled the price. However, I was not disappointed. I find it to be a very pleasant pen to write with. In fact, it is considerably less scratchy than some other steel fine points that I have. The light weight, wide girth and quality of the nib induce me to use this pen on a very regular basis. On the second point, the critics are right. The clip on the cap is poorly done. The clip is assembled onto the cap by two tabs bent back into the cap through two slits in the cap. This places two holes right at the tip of the nib of the pen and the nib dries out almost as rapidly as if you had no cap at all. However, I live in one of the most arid regions of California, so maybe it would be less of a problem in more humid regions. Even with the bad clip design, it has become one of my favorite pens, and I highly recommend it.

Upcoming reviews: Taccia Portuguese medium nib & Rosetta North Star Sedona fine nib

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pen Frogs

Have you ever seen one of those pewter desk-top pen holders for $80 or more, with a sculpture of Atlas, a dragon, or an animal to hold one single pen? And did you exclaim, "That's ridiculous! There's no way I'd spend that much for a pen holder. I could buy an awesome pen for that amount!" You didn't? Oh, well I did.

Anyway, if you'd prefer a much cheaper solution to keeping your pens handy on your desk, a glass frog is the answer. I snuck this picture off of EBay because these are more interesting and colorful than the one that I have - mine is clear glass like the one in the upper right-hand corner.

These frogs are designed to sit at the bottom of a vase for flower arranging but are even better for arranging pens on your desk. And, they hold a whole handful of pens all at once. They are easily found in antique stores and range from $5 - $20. The ones with color are more expensive.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Namiki Falcon & Cross ATX

This summer I celebrated my fiftieth birthday. And my affection for fountain pens was no mystery to my family and friends. Even knowing that, I was surprised by the quality and quantity of pens that I received. So much so that it will take a few posts to describe and review them all. These are the four fountain pens that I received: Cross ATX Basalt Black XF point, Namiki Falcon soft/fine point, Taccia Portugese black & silver medium point and a Laban Mento Tiger Pearl medium point. Two of them are outstanding writers (Namiki & Taccia), one is a very pleasant writer (Laban) and the last is an adequate writer (Cross).

Namiki Falcon.
The Namiki Falcon has a "soft-fine" nib, which is nothing like any other pen that I have used. When you read reviews on blogs and the FPN where people describe the one pen that "they can't live with out", this is one of those most frequently mentioned - and I can see why. The nib is 14kt gold and has a hump or bend in the middle that increases its flexibility. Since a Japanese fine point is more like an American extra-fine point, this flexibility greatly improves the feel of writing with this pen: you receive a very fine line without the feedback or scratchiness of an XF steel nib. In addition, the pen responds well to variations in pressure, so that there is a slight brush effect when you write. Thank you to my dear friend for this marvelous gift!

Cross ATX.
By contrast, the Cross ATX with its steel XF nib is extremely rigid and not all that pleasant to write with. I specifically "requested" this pen because I love the look and design of the ATX series (and it was on sale), especially the way the clip extends from the top of the cap down. It has a simple elegance that hints of Art Deco and is made of brass and chrome with a tactile matte black finish. One of the first fountain pens I ever purchased was the same series with a medium point nib (pictured below), along with a roller ball, ball point, and pencil - all in basalt black.

I bought the XF to complete the set. All of my other Cross ATX pens were made in the USA, but this last one was manufactured in China. This was quite a disappointment - not that I have any disdain for the Chinese but one of the reasons why I liked Cross so much was that it was American made, because so many of the quality pen manufacturers are either European or Japanese. Apparently Cross was aware of this because they used to print "USA" on the pen caps. I still think the ATX series is a great design - comparable to the look of the Lamy Studio, but the writing quality does not measure up. When I want to write in fine and extra fine I will pick up the Namiki Falcon or Lamy Studio instead.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bird on the Wire

The Bird on the Wire [right] and The Telephone Pole [below] are large pen and ink drawings using Rapidograph drafting pens. The Bird on the Wire was drawn from a photograph that I took and the Telephone Pole was drawn from life. The drawings were then made into full size limited edition numbered prints of 100 each in 1984. I rediscovered these prints recently during a move. Of those not sold before they were stored, a few were damaged. So, the total number of salable prints is less than a hundred. I've offered these for sale on Ebay. They were designed to be a set but they can be purchased separately. Each is signed and numbered by the artist. The unframed black and white prints are presented on 17.5" X 22.5" heavy textured paper and are faithful to the original drawings. The Bird on the Wire is $35.00 and the Telephone Pole is $20.00. The set can be purchased for $50.00. Shipping is extra.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Pen Pusher Test

I just took the pen addict test at Lion and Pen and failed miserably. That is, I had to answer "yes" to too many questions - I won't say how many, but a sufficient number to know what my "problem" is. Of course, "problem" is a relative term, isn't it? I don't think I have a problem - I have a "hobby."

At any rate, I think the Pen Addict Test needs a companion test: The Pen Pusher Test. I offer the following ten questions based on what I imagine a pen pusher might do - having no personal experience myself with such behavior:

1. Do you entice others to write with your pens?
2. Do you lovingly describe to others the joy and glory of writing with fountain pens.
3. Do you quickly become defensive against remarks like, "They're scratchy." and "They leak."
4. Do you introduce others to the best discount online pen stores?
5. Do you give/lend pen catalogs to people?
6. Do you loan fountain pens to people who are getting that fountain pen wonder in their eye?
7. Do you actually give someone a fountain pen, when you see they are weakening?
8. Are you always ready to give advice to those who are succumbing to your temptations about what they might like when they buy their first, second and third pens?
9. Do you experience smug satisfaction when co-workers run into your office to show you what the UPS guy just delivered?
10. Are you constantly looking for new victims?

I won't suggest how many of these you would have to answer "yes" to, in order to figure out whether or not you are a pen pusher. But chances are, if your heart palpitated at the thought of answering these questions . . . well, we know what you are, don't we?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Good ink for Moleskin Paper

I tend to leave too many pens inked up at one time. But I am always hoping to be able to use each and every one of them at a moment's notice. Currently, I fear I have nearly 30 pens with ink in them. It is nearly impossible to keep that many flowing well when you are working as many hours as I am now. So, periodically I find myself up until midnight cleaning, purging and refilling several pens in an effort to keep them all flowing smoothly. The more different colors of ink that I get, the more that I want to have each pen able to offer a different color of ink. Trust me - I don't have thirty bottles of ink.

Recently, I have gotten some new bottles of ink which are fantastic: One is Noodler's Black Anti-Feather. It always provides a perfect line, doesn't skip and will stay flowing even after being left for several days. And it writes extremely well on the seemingly ink resistant Moleskin paper. It won't even feather on cheap copy paper - amazing!

The second is Noodler's Burma Road Brown, which is a wonderfully rich dark brown ink. It also wites well on Moleskin paper. It doesn't feather much either.

Third is J Herbin - Gris Nuage (Grey). This is an interstingly strange ink. When it first hits the paper, it is a very dissatisfying watery black. It looks like black ink does after you have just rinsed your pen and there is still some water on the nib. But once it dries, it becomes a distinctly flat battleship grey. It is remarkable. This ink is a lot of fun to doodle with, particulalry if you combine it with black and use the grey as a sort of highlight, or as medium shadows in a sketch. I haven't used it much yet, but so far I had no feathering, skipping or drying problems. This ink also works well on Moleskin paper.

While it may appear here as though all inks work well on Moleskin, the three inks listed here are the only ones that I have that work very well on Moleskin paper. Waterman Blue/Black works fairly well on Moleskin. Other inks that are adequate on Moleskin are Levenger Cobalt Blue and Levenger Blue Bahama.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Elf with Flute

Since Mr Zzyzx encourages us to post doodles, here is one of my favorites.

The beauty of doodles is that they are not drawn with the idea that anyone else will see them, so they have an unexpected freshness that even surprises the artist.

Such is the case here. This particular doodle was first drawn with a ball point pen, so all of the sketch lines show through the watercolor. Turning it into a watercolor illustration was an afterthought.

In the early-mid eighties when I drew the Elf, I had purchased my first set of Dr Martin's concentrated watercolors and looked for every opportunity to use them and found existing sketches to paint for practice. One convenient aspect of painting over ball point sketches is that ball point ink is greasy and repels water making it possible to see the lines through the paint. Of course, that is also the problem with using ball point: nothing is hidden. Painting with watercolor over pencil covers the lines better but the graphite softens the color of the watercolors because the graphite is somewhat soluble. That too can have positive effects depending on whether the composition favors a milder or bolder result. In my experience, the ball point does not interact with the watercolor and so maintains the intensity of the color.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Pilot Petite Fountain Pens

These amazing little fountain pens are one notch above a disposable pen and are refillable. They come with a small capsule containing three cartridges of ink that match the color of the pen. You can buy the pens in groups or individually. Individually, they cost about four dollars each with $1.25 in shipping from Japan on Ebay.

As the name indicates, these are very short pens measuring 4 1/16" inches (10.3mm) with the cap on and 5 inches with the cap posted. The girth is a comfortable 9/16 inches (1.4mm). The size and shape of these pens and the fact that they post to a normal length make them ideal pens to throw in your pocket or knapsack while you are out of the house/office. You don't have to worry about scratching them or losing them as you do with other fountain pens. This is really nice for the summer, when you don't have a breast pocket to safely store a better pen.

The irony is that the Pilot Petites write so amazingly well, that you are inclined to use them even at your desk where the more expensive pens are looking down disapprovingly. In fact, these four dollar fountain pens write much better than a couple of $100 pens that I have.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

True Writer Group Photo

I recently had my digital camera repaired and today is the first day of my vacation. Thus, it seemed like a good time to take stock of my fountain pens. I wasn't sure how many True Writers I had; so I gathered them up for a group photo. Even after I gathered them up I wasn't sure - I have this uneasy feeling that I have left one somewhere. At any rate here they all are - I hope: three demonstrators, one black, one True Blue (translucent), one Kyoto, one Starry Night, one pearl Metallist and one blue Illuminator.

Speaking of the camera repair: three tumbs up to Samsung who repaired my Samsung S85 without hesitation, according to their one year warranty. Customer Service was outstanding and the camera was repaired and returned to me within one week, and they paid the shipping. It did not cost me a penny.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Esterbrook 9128 Nib Comparison

Since I've been writing with/about Esterbrooks lately, I was pleased to see this review on Inkophile:

If you are not familiar with Esterbrook fountain pens, check out

Bottom line is Esterbrook fountain pens were made during the middle years of the 20th century and have held up very well. They come in a variety of colors, several sizes, and have easily swapped nibs. Since the nibs unscrew, Esties are extremely easy to clean even though they are lever-fillers. Pop out the nib and rinse. It’s as simple as that.

Here is what I discovered this week when I finally got my hands on another Estie and just happened to set up two 9128 flexible extra-fine nibs at the same time. . .

Go to Inkophile to read the whole review and see writing samples.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Red Esterbrook - J Series

My curiosity about whether Steve Leveen may have used the Esterbrook J Series as his model for the Levenger True Writers, led me to purchase this red Esterbrook J with a 2668 nib. Placing the Esterbrook J next to a True Writer demonstrates how similar they are in appearance - especially, the silver bands, clip and end caps. They both have a screw out nib so that you can easily change nib sizes. The True Writer is larger and offers cartridge or converter fill. The Esterbrook is lever-bladder fill.

This model of the J series, with "Esterbrook" imprinted on the clip and the black end caps were produced in great numbers during the 1950s.

The ink sac on this one had deteriorated to fragments. So, this was my first pen restoration. The pen had to be taken apart, cleaned and a new sac installed. It reminded me of building models when I was a kid - restoring this pen was a joy. If you haven't attempted it yet, it is not as intimidating as it sounds. Between the instructions on Richard Bender's site and the availibility of parts from Pendemonium, it is really quite simple. This pen is currently filled with "Rattler Red" from Noodlers - to match the color of the pen - and writes extremely will for a steel nib. The 2668 nib is very firm and provides some feed back but not too much if you keep a light hand. The 2668 produces a medium-fine line and never fails to provide ink.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Chimera Crusade - Prologue

Here is a draft of the first page of the novel that I am working on:


"Zingot, one of the sleepers is wondering about us . . . thinking beyond a dream. He is curious as a cat and I suppose that he may visit us tonight. Let us prepare to greet him, shall we?"

The voice that spoke was deep and threatening, which betrayed the hospitable verbiage. However, all of the proper grammar was lost on Zingot, who did as little thinking as possible. But Zingot did get the gist of the message and rolled away ringing his hand bell and dripping ice cream in the corridor as he went. As he did so, rats in crisp red tunics came out of tiny doors in the baseboard and cleaned the ice cream off of the floor and then just as swiftly disappeared again - leaving no trace.

The Head took no notice of the ice cream, the bell ringing, or the rats. He was pensive. With eyes closed, his massive and distorted head and tiny body shuffled slowly back to his chambers.

The Head was just that, an immense head with little legs and arms that extended beneath him. His body was completely hidden by his chin and jaw. The Head always wore a suit - either black or pinstripe gray - with black patent leather shoes. His shirts were always plain white but all you could see were the cuffs. Presumably, he wore a black tie but that was hidden deep beneath the fleshy recesses of his neck. His skin was normally a pallid gray-green. However, he had a chameleon-like ability to change his flesh color. The Head was bald, with the exception of an odd stub of hair now and then, as though a mostly bald man had been caught in a fire and had his few remaining hairs seared off. His eyebrows were a little fuller but still mangy.

At the top of his head was a prominent and disconcerting fissure, which ran across the center from front to back. The fissure appeared old and weathered, as did the whole head, with many lines, cracks and scars - like an ancient whale that had won numerous battles with whaling ships. The shape of the skull under the skin was easily recognizable and were it not for the fleshy eyelids, lips and bulbous nose, his head might easily be mistaken for a skull. Particularly since The Head had only holes where his ears should have been. Oddly, his hearing was quite acute.

* * *

Zingot rolled around a corner into another older corridor, the ice cream cone was gone but the evidence still could be seen on his hands and face. Zingot did not mind the stickiness or the pink, for it had been strawberry - his favorite - and it just made him appear sillier than normal, if that were possible.

Zingot's head was cone shaped with the pointed end up. He had two tufts of bright orange hair sticking up above each ear. His ears were large and pointy. His eyes were black and beady, and were always crossed, so that you could never be sure where he was looking or whether or not he was focused on anything at all. He never stopped grinning but he did not exactly look happy. He wore a one-piece purple suit with a puffy yellow collar that went around his neck like a donut. Down the front of his suit were three large yellow buttons. Where his feet should have been, there were smooth red rubber tires with bright yellow hubs. In his left hand, he frequently carried a brass hand bell, which he rang incessantly as he rolled madly through the corridors of The Head's Governor Mansion.

With sticky pink face and hands, Zingot reached the scriptorium in the deepest level beneath the mansion, crashing and ringing through its chamber doors.

Seething with anger from the dark shadows, the hooded scribe gnashed his teeth, "Quiet, you noisy fool!"

Zingot took no notice of the vicious tones but rather was distracted from his bell ringing by the flickering candles, incense and general air of mystery in those austere and dank rooms. Even the red-tuniced rats did not enter there.

"Why are you here, you idiot?" Kreen, a Skolex scribe, spit the words at Zingot as he spoke.

Barely remembering The Head's orders, Zingot began babbling in his squeaky voice about preparations, papers and solemn contracts. At least that was what Kreen unscrambled from Zingot's ramblings.

“Yes. This is what we have been waiting for.” Skolex hissed. “We will be ready.”

Zingot nodded his head vigorously. Though without the least understanding – he was simply caught up in the drama of something new.

More to come . . .

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sheaffer Balance Fountain Pen

Sheaffer Balance with a Lifetime fine point nib: This pen is my best writer - it is currently filled with Noodler's Marine Green - but I rarely use it because I'm afraid I might break it. However, I'm not writing another review of this pen, I just wanted to post this picture because I like it.

Teddy Roosevelt

Recently I was looking through some very old sketch books and most of what I saw made me cringe - why was I storing so much of this junk? But I found a few drawings that I had forgotten about and was pleased to see again. This is one of them. It is a small pencil drawing made more dramatic by an inked background. The actual sketch is surrounded by several pen & ink doodles, which I edited out after I scanned it.

I remember at the time I was reading an outstanding biography of Roosevelt by Edmund Morris.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Kyoto True Writer

The Kyoto version of the True Writer was offered at the Levenger Outlet on eBay at a too-good-to-pass-up price. And, since this was a pen that I had my eye on for quite awhile, I picked it up.

Reading the description of the pen, it struck me that the pen must look better in person than the photos can relate. And, it was true. I think the photos make the pen look rather blah. In person, the pen is strikingly rich in color. Levenger catalog pictures of the Kyoto discs for the Circa system give a more accurate sense of the depth and variety of color.

True Writer Inspiration

This is a photo of an Esterbrook Fountain Pen for sale on eBay. I have seen pictures of Esterbrooks before but not from this angle. It looks surprisingly like my obsidian black True Writer.

Since Levenger is new to producing/distributing fountain pens, I have often wondered what pen inspired the design of the True Writer. I can't imagine a closer match than this.

Update: A friend of mine recently answered this question for me. From a link on Levenger's pen page, there is a history of the development of the True Writer and they were inspired by the Esterbrook. By the way, there is a lot of good general information about pens there - recommended reading.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sheaffer Feather Touch

For our anniversary my wife gave me a Shaeffer Feather Touch fountain pen, which is about 70 years old. Even so, it is in extremely good shape and obviously was not used much in all of that time. The color is a striated tiger-eye. It is shorter and thicker than my Shaeffer Lifetime, which is grey striated. The bladder and lever work like new - or as I imagine it new - since I am 20 years younger than the pen. Ink flow is as sensitive and easy as these Shaeffers are renowned for. However, I think the tines are slightly mis-aligned because it is just a bit scratchy. It is such a fine pen and came at a very reasonable price that it will be well worth sending it in for a nib alignment.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Harbor Journals

For my Lenten discipline I went out and bought a new leather journal.

Yes, I know what that sounds like for a guy who can never get enough of using pen and paper - sounds like the opposite of discipline and more like the complete absence of self-control! Well, maybe you are right but it seemed like a good way to keep track of my prayers and devotions through Lent. Many years ago before I re-discovered fountain pens, I started using Moleskin journals for note taking. And since I am a phlegmatic who easily gets comfortable with one way of doing things, I kept buying Moleskin journals even though they have a tendency to repel and feather ink from fountain pens. I love the size, shape and construction of Moleskin journals with a ribbon, pocket and band but they frustrate the use of most of my fountain pens.

This became really obvious after buying my journal recently for Lent. I found a dark brown leather journal from Harbor/Gallery Leather of Trenton, Maine. The fact it is American made (printed in Korea and bound in the US) was almost reason enough to buy it. Writing in it was what really made me take notice. I didn't start with even the remotest thought of writing a review. However, while writing I was struck by how smooth my pen felt (True Writer Med pt) and how rich and deep the color was. The strokes had clean edges. Then I recalled the number of reviews of ink, paper and journals in Inkophile, and realized why she focuses as much time on ink and paper as she does pens. In fact, not to covet my neighbor's blog, but she has some outstanding reviews of ink and journals posted now.

Since True Writers write well on most paper, I tried some of the pens that I have had more trouble with, such as Libelle, and they wrote nicely in the Harbor Journal also. So, I think that I am done with Moleskin journals and I am going to start paying much closer attention to paper. At any rate, I highly recommend the Harbor Journals. The Harbor journal has narrow ruling, a ribbon, sewn bound in genuine leather, which smells great.

Another leather bound journal that I have been pleased with - the paper looks, feels and responds much like the Harbor journals - is a black bonded leather journal from "Colorbok" of Dexter, Michigan. That journal was made in Korea. It has a sewn binding and a ribbon. However, I received the Colorbok journal a couple of years ago and I don't see any leather journals on their website now. Both journals lay flat fairly well.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Starry Night True Writer

Obviously, I am in a rut since here I am posting another True Writer review. Trust me, I have never even met Steve Leveen!

And let's face it, this is not much of a review because the True Writers all write the same - that's why I keep buying them!

The Starry Night is one of those pens that is just beautiful to look at and I think Levenger did a nice job of capturing the feel of Van Gogh's painting, with one exception: the punctuation of yellow is absent. The stars are not there. The range of blue is striking but it should have had a slight splattering of yellow to really capture the Starry Night motiff. Even so, I am glad I got it. This is my first multi-color resin pen from Levenger and I am pleased with the weight and depth of color. It has more presence than the demonstrators and solid color pens but not as heavy as the Medalist.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Obelisk and Angel

I failed trigonometry in college. But while I was taking notes I made a doodle in the margins that later became this painting. (Just for the record: I missed the first class session where the students were told that they could not use a calculator. Besides, I had just spent $75 on an advanced calculator and I was determined to use it! I could not imagine a scenario where anyone would not take advantage of a calculator if they could. However, my professor did not see it that way. He was about 70 years old in 1977 and he could not imagine anyone using a calculator. His opinion won out on the registrar's report.)

While I was interested in algorithms to a point, I was more interested in the experiment of combining abstract concepts with surrealism. The "Obelisk and the Angel" was one of those experiments. The obelisk and the face of the angel were rendered in an abstract form, while the remainder was rendered in a surrealistic form. The doodle was originally drawn with a blue ball point pen, the look of which is retained in the image of the obelisk. The hand is threatening to keep the angel from ascending beyond the height of the obelisk. The profundity of which escapes me for the moment. Any Freudian suggestions?

The "Obelisk and Angel" was painted on canvas with oils.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

True Writer Heavy Weight

Originally I wasn't too excited about Levenger fountain pens because they appeared to be an uninteresting design and made of light weight materials, which I mistakenly equated with poor quality. As I have written previously, I have since purchased several True Writers and they have become my favorite fountain pens because of their reliability, comfort, line quality, ink colors and I have even come to really like the simple styling and light weight.

However, I recently discovered on eBay that Levenger has an outlet store with some great deals. There I found a pearl Truewriter Medalist at less than half of the new price. The Medalist has all of the writing qualities of the other True Writers - including interchangable nibs, like Pelikans - plus it has the heft of a brass barrel pen like the Cross ATF. Actually, it is heavier than the Cross.

The pearl finish looks much better in person than it does in the photo. It is an irradescent white, not the least bit silver, as in the photo.