Category Archives: stationery

Of pencils and pens

In a mad fit of tidying today, I have sorted out *some* of my mechanical pencils, *some* of my ball points and *some* of my fountain pens. They are now neat and tidy in things which Veritas sell as embroidery thread holders but which are gloriously well useful for storing pencils and things.  On the other hand, I haven’t found them as useful for storing embroidery thread. Strange that.

I have quite  a lot and even that bout of tidying didn’t deal with all of any of them given that there are pencils and pens committed to other special use pencil cases and the like.

I’d like to know why I am addicted to buying them. The problem of it being School Rentrée here in Lux has lead to an enormous selection of “yerra it’s only a tenner” on the fountain pen front. But I can’t account for the fact that I have loads of Uni Shalaku pencils, not to mention all the pencils that are Pilots, Pentels, Faber Castells and Caran d’Aches. I have really no idea why I think I need them. And yet there’s something about mechanical pencils, even the cheap plastic Stabilo ones that cost like, 2 euro, that speaks of luxury.

I think it has something to do with pencils costing 10p when I was at school. But there are so many different mechanical pencils too. I own a bunch of 0.5s and a bunch of 0.7s, and a limited few 0.3s. It’s the unending range – I mean, I just looked at the Uni Kuru Toga range on Cultpens and I want them all. Actually I’d like a couple of their 0.3s.

The fountain pens are somewhat more controlled – the overwhelming majority of them are Lamy Safaris in a vast array of colours, with some specials. Most of my pens, I love. Unlike a lot of people, I write daily. I was a developer for more than ten years, and I still work in IT although not as a dev any more (for which I am grateful as I’d had enough of development). But I keep a handwritten workbook, a handwritten planner and at home, I keep two journals and occasionally still write letters. And of course, I draw.

Today, I tidied most of the mech pencils and all of the fountain pens that are not CdA or Lamy. I like to think that this will have an interesting impact on my choice of writing interest on any given day – I can find stuff more easily.

 

Pilot MR Retro Pop

One of my weaknesses in life is stationery. I am trying to control it very much by not adding to my discoveries. I have very strong likes and not many dislikes but in general I try not to buy notebooks that I can’t fit into my life (this still leaves lots of scope for Clairefontaine, Paperblanks and Rhodia) and normally I do not need any more pens, pencils or the like apart from the specific items currently on my shopping list (so that would be the new Lamy Safari Petrol because already owning two dozen Lamys is never enough, two or three Caran d’Ache ballpoints and a 0.2mm Kuru Toga).

Anyway, we would not be here if I had avoided Temptation so this is about temptation in a way. €19.99 worth of temptation as it happens so not as bad as all that. Last Sunday, I bought a Pilot Pen. Now I already own a Pilot as I have a Plumenix somewhere which cost about €6 if I remember right. I may have bought that for much the same reason as I bought this one. Defending myself against colours in the turquoise-aquamarine range is difficult. An aquamarine Lamy Safari was my entry level drug into the world of special edition Lamys and somehow now I have loads of the bloody things. Which I love. My new pen is turquoise.

Anyway, there’s a bit of a difference between the Plumenix which frankly leaked all the time so I rarely used it despite the gorgeous (but cheap) italic nib on it and this Pilot MR Retro Pop. If you hang around the fountain pen community at all, the Pilot Metropolitan or the Retro Pop are recommended as good starter fountain pens if you do not want to spend much.

Pilot are a Japanese company and for this reason, their nibs tend to be finer than the European average. I tend to a medium and so this medium Pilot is a good deal finer than most of my Safaris, Lxes, AL-Stars etc etc etc etc etc and ad infinitum. It also was decidedly reluctant to write initially despite the fact that I had fed it with Pelikan Edelstein Onyx ink, an ink which generally causes no problems and is a really nice very, very dark grey, near black. A little warmer than black. So it took a while to get things flowing but once it started to write properly, it really turned out to be a most gorgeous writing experience. I like it a lot.

This is how it looked.

 

#fountainpens #ink #pilotpens #styloplume #writing #handwriting #edelsteininkcollection

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It is obviously a very different style to most of my other pens. For one thing it’s more of a bullet shape, compared to the kinda boxy impression you get with the Safaris and Al-Stars, or the hexagonal shape of my couple of Caran d’Ache fountains, or even the Pelikan M100. While I really do not need any more collecting habits, I would not say no to a few of these to hand inked up in different colours. Regrettably, I do not have a converter for it which is a shame as I have two beautiful bottles of Pilot ink which I love.

Getting away from it all

Don’t be fooled. This is about art supplies. If you are not interested in art supplies, look away now.

But first

 


I draw.

This is a piece done in a Moleskine sketchbook with black India ink, unipin fineliners and Faber-Castell pitt pen for the bit of colour. It’s one of a planned series, which I had trouble figuring out how to realise until I found someone else using black India ink to create jetblack night skies. I could not get water colours to do this, and it was tedious and not very pretty trying to do this with black brush pens. It didn’t work on black paper. So that’s the mystery solved and now, there’s another in the pipeline as soon as I stop prevaricating about it. After that, who knows what I will fill the sketchbook with.

Today’s subject is fineliners. I own quite a few, and I’m going to talk about them all now. Like I said, look away:

  • Unipin fineliners 0.05, 0.1, 0.3. In truth, I probably have some 0.2s in a box somewhere as well but the house move has made chaos of my art supply organisation.
  • Copic Multiliner SP 0.03
  • Faber-Castell Pitt Pens SF, F and S
  • Staedtler 0.3 and 0.1
  • Pigma Microns, 0.1, 0.2, 0.3
  • Dip pen with black India ink

Because I used to live in Ireland, and because in Ireland the choice tended to be limited and, initially, quite undependable, I have tended to buy lots of spares. I am swimming in fineliners. I have tried them all at this point. What follows are some comments.

Mostly, the easiest pens to get in Ireland are the unipins, followed by the Staedtlers. The F-Cs come in close. After that for the Copics, I only know of one reliable dealer in Dublin, and the Pigma Microns were starting to appear just as I left as part of the mandala and zentangle drawing trend. I don’t really want to say fashion because who knows how long it will last and whether it will be a gateway drug to other drawing. Most often I have seen the Pigma pens available as kits for zentangle drawing. However, I was motivated to get them because all over the web, they were announced as the best, and archival and brilliant. I’m not sure I agree.

The Copic Multiliner SP I only have in 0.03 and the main reason for that is, really, as far as I know, it is the only producer that produces a 0.03. It isn’t, as far as I know, available in Copic’s standard Multiliner range in black. So, basically, if you want a really fine fineliner, this is it. It’s a very decent fineliner whose primary downside is that a) it’s hard to get in my experience and b) it’s more expensive than all of the others. On the plus side, they are refillable.

The default available fineliner in Ireland, although currently unfound in either Luxembourg or Germany are the unipins, and to be honest, if someone told me I could only have one lot of branded fineliners, it would be a fight between this or the Pitt pens. The finest of the range is the 0.05 and if you follow Olivia Kemp on Instagram, you’ll know that she favours these plus rates their non-fadability higher than that of the Faber Castells. At any rate, the linework in the caravan above was done using the Unipins that I have with me here.

The Pigmas Microliners I had a yen to try because I thought the product design and appearance was very attractive, and while I still think it is, the fact remains that I’m less overwhelmed with the pens than I expected to be. I’m not seeing how they are spectacularly better than any of the other items I have tried. There’s one linked to my handbag sketchbook which will soon be due for release.

In Luxembourg, the most common fineliners as far as I can see are the Staedtlers followed by the Faber Castells. This probably has something to do with proximity to Germany. My view of the Staedtlers is somewhat nuanced. Basically, I like drawing with them. I like the way the lines appear although I’ve only drawn 0.1-0.3 lines with them (I don’t think I have seen a finer tip available but I am open to correction). My primary issue is that the tips wear out or bend faster than any of the others. But they are a beautiful looking pen, and I have a couple of them in the drawing tool box all the time.

In general, for lining drawings which will be later painted or coloured with Pitt brush pens, I tend to prefer the Pitt pens from Faber Castell, particularly their SF which I think is Super Fine (but who knows) which, owing to problems getting both it and its big brother brush in black, I have a shocking tendency to hoard. Again I have heard there can be issues with the ink fading (which surprises me as I understand it is India ink) for display pictures. Since most of what I do goes into books, this is not an issue for me.

Dip pens with black India ink are…something which I have seen a few artists recommend, particularly Mary Doodles on youtube. My experience is mixed. It provides a completely different drawing experience (scratch, scratch, scratch) but it also has a slightly three dimensional effect leaving a raised line which can, provided YOU WAIT UNTIL IT IS ABSOLUTELY DEFINITELY DRY, have quite a tactile experience. It takes ages to dry. Ages. And black India ink is a risky process to engage in as it is indelible I am hoping never to spill any.

In terms of my preference then, I’d tend to choose either the unipins or the Pitts first – and in fact, my painting kit has unipins and my marker kit has Pitts, and then after that, probably the Staedlers. I would not necessarily worry if I never bought another Pigma Micron but I seem to have loads of them anyway. And I would ensure I have a few of the Copic Micro SP 0.03s purely because they are the finest available. If Unipin started selling 0.03s, I probably wouldn’t worry about the Copics any more. Despite the fact that the Copics are refillable.

The dip pen, for me at least, is not really for general use. But you can do interesting things with it from time to time.

Caran d’Ache pens

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I own rather a lot of them. I also have a lot of Caran d’Ache colouring pencils which I use from time to time. But my relationship with Caran d’Ache has its roots in its fine writing instruments.

Caran d’Ache makes some serious expensive limited edition pieces. I have never really aspired to those. But I was given an Ecridor with a Chevron pattern when I was 16 and I hae been in love with them since.

The picture above has 2 fountain pens, a few mechanical pencils and then, the rest are all ball points. Caran d’Ache do thei. r own refill. If you’re really stuck, a Parker will fit but Caran d’Ache Goliath refills claim to write 8000m. I occasionally find them running dry but some of those pens, I have had quite a long time. I love the Goliath refill. It is a lovely shade of blue, the medium is a firm, reliable weight when I write with it. My choice of pen varies. The most recent purchase is the Ecridor Yacht and that is getting a lot of work as is the petrol blue coloured Paul Smith.

I do not necessarily use the pencils as often – they are mostly 0.7 mm and while they are okay for writing, I usually draw with pencils. But I love knowing they are there, ready to be used if I want, for example, to take interpreting notes with them.

 

Boxed Lives

I have an ongoing struggle to organise stuff in my life. I own a lot of stuff. I own a lot of CDs, a lot of notebooks, a lot of books. And I’m limited in how I can organise things to keep them under control. In my wardrobe, there’s a box of yarn, and a box of tapestries. Yesterday, I emptied some boxes of stuff.

Over breakfast, I was thinking about this. All this stuff I have, arguably, some of it isn’t necessary. But some of it, I don’t quite want to let go and, if I am honest, deep down, I don’t like having it in boxes. For example, I have 10 years worth of personal journals. Now people have different views of diaries/journals/whatever term you’d like to apply. In past lives – of which I’ve had a few at this stage of my existence – they weren’t kept in boxes. They were kept on shelves. They were a living testament to me, the things I did, the things that made me happy; the things that made me sad. This is not a eulogy of my life, more a feeling that when I box up my memories, I box up me.

One of the dangers with putting things in boxes is that they slowly become irrelevant to your day to day living. One of the boxes I emptied yesterday was a box of tins.

Pretty tins. Some of them came with tea inside, some of them were picked up on travels. Two of them I know I bought in Belgium which means I definitely had them at least 16 years, and possibly closer to 18. I won’t say I wasn’t slightly sentimentally attached to them. But…they had been in a box for at least a year; I have no where to store them and, more importantly, I wasn’t using them. I had two boxes of tins. I now have less than one box of tins. I won’t be adding to the collection beyond the tins which are in circulation in my kitchen until I can actually use the tins.

Boxes are handy for storage. We go to IKEA, we buy boxes and temporarily put stuff away. Sometimes, temporarily…becomes long…

I want to limit the existence of boxes in my life. I don’t know how to fix it all immediately, but I’m not really in a hurry to box up all my books and CDs, my bottles of ink for some indiscriminate time in the future when it will all be grand. The things we keep in boxes slowly migrate from our lives and when that happens, we’ve already lost them.

Coloured pencils

One of the things which has astonished me lately is that there are people out there making youtube videos showing you how to use Crayola coloured pencils to make eyeliner.

Anyway, this is by way of an aside. I bought a couple of sets of coloured pencils in the last couple of months and now I am going to rabbit on about my endeavours to be mildly artistic.

If you’ve read my previous lyrical waxing on pencils, you’ll know that I have a focus on watercolour pencils. However, I didn’t get any more watercolour pencils (this was a mistake as I should have bought two sets of Museum aquarelles but that’s by way of an aside) but focused on water resistant pencils this time. The first set I got were a dozen set of Faber Castell Polychromos, and the second was an 18 set box of Pablos by Caran D’Ache.

Much of my late night youtube crawling features coloured pencils and reviews of same. I got the dozen Polychromos for two reasons: 1) I’ve seen some stunning dry pencil art and 2) a box of 12 was not expensive, not compared to a box of 24 or 48 anyway. If you’re not going to go any further…no point in outlaying a lot of money. My strong belief is if you are going to do something, you should get the best tools you can possibly afford, hence my decision to skip the Crayolas for now.

I like the Polychromos pencils. They are nice to work with and really, the primary disadvantage with them, as is also the case with the corresponding Albrecht Durer box of 12 watercolour pencils is the lack of colours you get. Blending the dry pencils is harder than blending the watercolours and so, there’s more flexibility with the watercolours (plus I’ve extended the available colours with a few additional purchases). This tends to limit what I do with them. The other minor issue is that they are round pencils.

I could write a long essay on pencils, and talk about how round mechanical pencils are okay but round wooden pencils are not. Suffice to say all my watercolour pencils are hexagonal and they are more comfortable in my hands. It isn’t a deal breaker, but…

Anyway. When I was drooling in Schleiper a few weeks ago, I spent some time on my knees in front of boxes of Caran D’Ache pencils and trying to decide what I should best do. I eventually decided to best buy a box of 18 CdA Pablo coloured pencils. Mainly I did that because whatever they had in the way of Luminance pencils were outside my “I can justify this to myself” price range.

(and likewise the Museum Aquarelles).

The Pablos are beautiful pencils, and because they have a slightly wider range and are hexagonal, I’m more inclined to reach for them than I am for the Polychromos.

Leaving aside the openstock pencils I have bought, one of the interesting things is that the colours in the Pablo and the Supracolor II boxes line up exactly, as do the colours in the Polychromos and Albrecht Durer boxes. I think this is a good thing. I’ve augmented both the Supracolor and Albrecht Durer sets with some individual pencils from the openstock options which I can get here so I have some more flexibility. I’m not currently happy with how these are stored and if I’m deeply honest with myself, I probably should have gritted my teeth and bought a full colour set from one or other range.

Theoretically, as a photographer, I really shouldn’t be seeing art as expensive. But I have a shopping list of pencil stuff that I’d like and that’s not going to come cheap. There are things I’d just like to have.

  • 120 box set Supracolor II
  • 80 box set Museum Aquarelle
  • 120 box set Luminance
  • 120 box set Pablo
  • 120 box set Polychromos
  • 120 box Albrecht Durer.

There is probably around 1500E worth of pencil sets there.

Which is, of course, far less than I spent on camera gear in the day.

That aside, I probably need to look at prioritising and if I do cough up serious money for full colour sets of pencils any time soon it will probably be the Supracolor II tin set and the Pablo set. These will cover me for everything that’s not covered by my graphite collections.

In the meantime, I have an art journal under way which is mainly watercolour pencils and fineliner with one or two graphite sketches. mostly these are done after the fact, based on reference photographs or reference sketches from my handbag sketch book. I’ve found that sketching makes airplane journeys go faster for example.

 

Schleiper Creative

I was in Brussels a few weeks ago looking up the European Union’s open house event. When I was europeanunioned out, I took a trip to an art supply shop called Schleiper. When I say it was by some distance the best art supply shop I have ever been in, I am being deadly serious. None of the art supply shops in Dublin come even close. Schleiper is heaven to someone like me.

Schleiper covers my notepad needs, my coloured pencil needs and my watercolour and sketch pad needs. If I hadn’t flown hand luggage only, I’d most likely have done quite a bit more damage than I did. As it was, I picked up two A5+ notebooks that I use for my diary but with MOAR pages (note to self: well stocked up on diary notepads for around 5 years) mainly because I just can’t get them here. I gazed wantingly at the wall of Atoma notebook supplies. I really wanted loads of that too but the purposes for which I’d want them isn’t yet clear and there’s no point in doing the shopping until you know exactly what you want.

They had the best supply of painting gear that I’ve seen. Easels, canvases, paints, the lot. And they were good on coloured pencils too.

In the end, I bought what I call a handbag sketch book (because the ones I like are not commonly obtainable at the moment). This is a sketchbook that I keep in my handbag and basically sketch into with a fineliner pen when I’m, oh, queuing to get on a pen, wandering around a museum and such. I’m not very good at drawing and so I need to practise. It’s easier to do that if you have a sketchpad to hand all the time. A5 is the biggest I get in my handbag but it’s that bit too big. The next size down that I find in Ireland is too small.

This is somewhere between too small and too big so I like it. I haven’t finished out the current (fiasco of a) A5 but I’m getting close and so…I had to force myself not to buy several of these small ones but I’m angling to go back there within six months (by which time I should have run out of handbag sketching supplies) and will…do the needful at that time.

On the coloured pencil front, I was prudent and with the balance of hindsight, this was a mistake as Schleiper had a discount sale the day I was there and I think they knocked 20% off what I bought. I really should have gone straight back in and … I bought an 18 pencil box of Pablo pencils as I wanted some dry coloured pencils. In truth, I should have bought all the other things I have.

My personal view of the staff in Schleiper is that they are unfailingly polite and very helpful. In addition to the pencil and paper stuff I wanted, they had notebooks (which I didn’t know I needed and which makes any stationery shop in Dublin look like a village store) and supplies for absolutely every other creative activity you could want including cake decorating, knitting, chocolate making sewing, and every type of paper based art.

I fully recommend the place if you can find it. It’s not too far from the European Parliament in Brussels.

Do not buy notebooks

There was a time I got by on one notebook, more or less, if we leave any study aside. I had a diary for my journal and that is it. Journal keeping is popular these days and there are sites which advise you on all sorts of journals you can have.

I started writing a journal more than 20 years ago, long before it was a popular tag on Pinterest and I have them all going back to then. Not currently organised the way I’d like, but there you have it. I’d like to say most of them are in Clairefontaine threadwound notebooks, but this is probably not quite true at the moment. I have not always been able to get Clairefontaine paper, so I estimate – wildly – that about half of them are in Clairefontaine threadwound notebooks, a few are in Paperblanks, and a few are in other random nice notebooks I’ve picked up over the last few years. Picking up nice notebooks was something I did, because I could only get the Clairefontaine threadwounds when I was in a civilised country that sells them, ie, France or Belgium. In fact, I don’t think I saw them the last time I was in Belgium but I wasn’t looking too hard.

You can get Clairefontaine notebooks, lined mainly, in Easons on O’Connell Street. You used to be able to get it in Swords as well. You can get some Clairefontaine notebooks in the Pen Corner. They also have Rhodia notebooks which are owned by the same outfit. I wouldn’t be telling you this if there wasn’t a reason I liked Clairefontaine, and, to some lesser extent, Rhodia. It’s really nice paper to write on – satin, pretty much, and unlike most other papers on the market, it will take a fountain pen without moaning. I have a pen habit which means I have a lot of good pens and about 2 thirds of the good pens are fountain pens of some description. The notebook I am currently using for my diary is not, however, a Clairefontaine threadwound grid notebook. It is a PaPaYa Art notebook, very much designed to be used as a journal by arty people. Every second page is lined. Every second page is blank. I draw (we’ll come to that in a second too) although my journal has generally been 99.99% text. Hand written. Using various pens, be they fountain pens, expensive ballpoint pens, or various other gel and fibre pens I’ve accumulated over the years.

The PaPaYa Art notebook is a hardback notebook, and it is gorgeous. It is called Day Dreaming. It’s the second one of their notebooks that I’ve bought and it will be the last for two reasons, one practical, one personal. I haven’t seen them anywhere lately – I bought the two I have in the Pen Corner – and secondly, the paper in this notebook bleeds through fountain pen ink. It’s basically unusable with a fountain pen. While I have a lot of beautiful ball point pens and am happy to use them for this one notebook, the fact remains that I expect my notebooks to be able to take slightly wet pens, ie, gel pens and especially medium nib Lamy fountain pens. This doesn’t cut it. I’m not going to moan, because to some extent, it’s just a notebook. I will take it out and re-read it in ten years time and think, Oh My God, was I really like that?

But the notebooks in my life are not limited to this any more. On my desk, there is a lovely copybook which I got in TK Maxx – it was one of a set of three and frankly it occurs to me i haven’t seen the other two around lately (hmmmm) – and it has near perfect paper in it and it takes fountain pen paper. I keep it so that I can keep a rough eye on what I’ve been achieving administratively. Every other effort I made to keep track of stuff like that, electronically, other diaries, has not been working. So I rolled that out to a separate notebook, which should basically be disposable. There are two workbooks on my desk, I have no idea why there are two because presumably only 1 is useful at any given time. They are born of a habit I built at my last job and they are technically a mix of a to do list, a calculation/working stuff out book, and an achievements list. Basically, if I am working on a technical project at any given time, I write out what it is I need to do, work how how I plan to do it, and sign it off as done. I used that system the whole way through my recent college course as well and it worked a treat.

I have what is called a common place book which is currently turning mostly into Treasa’s book of quotable quotes. It’s nowhere near full and the main reason for that is that actually other stuff I’d still in there like the odd interesting newspaper column and stuff requires glue which I don’t keep on my desk at the moment.

As I use notebooks for any one of the apparently thousand reasons that I use notebooks for, I find that different notebooks work appropriately for different tasks. This is not, I suppose unusual; they are different tools. I know some people rely heavily on small notebooks. I have a bunch of them. I find I don’t like using them. They rarely get finished. For my desk workbooks, I like what Clairefontaine call A4+ notebooks with perforated sheets. They are often difficult to get. For my journals, we know I like the A5ish thread wound 144 sheet notebooks. For both cases I favour gridded paper, something which has historically been very difficult to get in Ireland. The net result is I’m prone to buy lots of both when I see them, and then, because traditionally in Ireland, nice notebooks weren’t that easy to come across, nice notebooks when I see them. There’s a box in my storage room marked notebooks. I went up to it to day because I needed an A4 notebook for some interpreting related stuff. I tend to prefer spiral overbound notebooks for interpreting note taking – that’s a lay out preference which we will skip the details of for the moment. The box is full of notebooks in different sizes. Looking at some of them now, I can see I bought them, not because they were useful to me, but because they were pretty. This is problematic for me now.

One of them can go to a new life as a sketch book when I’ve finished the frankly horrible practice sketch books I got for pencil sketching lately (they weren’t expensive, they aren’t inspiring and blah). Two of them, no idea what I will do with them because they no longer fit any need in my life at all. There’s an array of Paperblanks and Clairefontaines which can go to diary support when I’ve finished the current one. When I say I am good for diaries for at least 4 years I am not joking. Unless I can find an alternative use for the Paperblanks, I’m not going to be using much Clairefontaine for the next few years on that front.

The Paperblanks notebooks are lovely notebooks, but deep down, I’d prefer to be writing the journal in Clairefontaine notebooks. The fact that they are beautiful makes it difficult to use them for some non-permanent purpose though, some throw out purpose. So I’m conflicted about them at the moment. I may work through the Clairefontaines first and decide later. I may wind up buying another 3 or 4 Clairefontaines to have. I don’t know. I can’t at the moment.

I also liked some of the Pantone smaller notebooks, so because I liked those, I picked up a few of them when I could, because supply is unreliable. And when I saw an A4 sized Pantone notebook suitable for designers I picked it up and never realised that it was really lousily lined. It’s not quite nice enough for me to say I would want it for some durable function. It will go to work at some stage, probably next one to be used before I hit the Clairefontaine A4+s and the couple of Rhodia A4+. I have a handful of A5 sized of both Rhodia and Clairefontaine which are more suited to planners or meeting notes so I will set them aside for that purpose.

And then, there are a couple of notebooks designed to be journals which I have no idea what to do with them because they don’t fit my needs as journals.

When I look at the contents of the box, and the contents of my desk, I realise that I really cannot afford to buy any more notebooks until I’ve worked through some of the ones I have hoarded. I hoard these things because in Ireland, decent notebooks can be hard enough to find.

I used to live in Brussels, and while I lived there, everyone in Ireland used to talk about how hard they’d find it to live close to so many chocolate shops. The street I lived on had three handmade chocolate shops alone. I set foot in them the day before I flew home for Christmas only. And this is the point, I think. When you have a steady supply of something essential, you don’t hoard it.

Ireland has improved on the notebook front lately and PaperBlanks are reasonably easily obtainable in any branch of Easons, and most branches of the Art and Hobby Store, for example. They aren’t cheap. Clairefontaine and Rhodia options are limited but exist. My needs aren’t really filled locally but I have enough of a supply at the moment to mean I don’t need notebooks in any sort of an urgent manner. And not only that, when I am buying notebooks in the future, I need to keep an eye on what I plan to use them for and not just the pretty.

Caran d’Ache GRAFWOOD

I started learning to draw properly recently, mainly because I was bored with photography, had some time on my hands, and liked watercolour pencils. After some interesting attempts at buildings in Dublin, and especially the Neues Rathaus in Munich, I decided a bit more effort needed to be made on basic drawing skills, perspective and all that. It’s like scales for music; practice isn’t exactly the most scintillating activity ever but it makes the nice and fun things easier.

Most of my non-coloured pencils in my art box are watersoluble graphite and when I started trying to draw things with it, I found they were very, very soft. Fantastic in a way – 10 year old me loved soft pencils – but not so much for drawing. So I gritted my teeth and went back to Kennedy’s to see if they had harder Caran d’Ache pencils, or Faber Castells as a second choice. I’m nothing if not brand loyal and to be fair, while they aren’t appropriate for trying to draw the nose of an Airbus just so, the Technalos are lovely pencils, the ballpoints and fountains are lovely pens and the two lots of coloured water colour pencils are sublime. Kennedy’s had a decent whack of the Grafwood pencils which are not water soluble. What little I knew about pencils suggested I needed H variants rather than B variants, so I bought four of them, I think H, 2H, 3H and 4H.

Having tried all four of them at this stage on varying things like faces of very scary people, aeroplanes, more aeroplanes and bits of aeroplanes, specifically wings, I have to say I like them a lot, and especially, I could see myself having H and 2H on hand all the time. They are much harder than what are in any of my mechanical pencils (which I suppose I could also use) but they are a pleasure to draw with. The 4H is very, very hard, and I can’t see myself using that very much, but then, I didn’t think I was going to need pencils like these in the first place so who knows. On my desk, there are a handful of other wooden pencils, 2 crystal Faber Castells which are three sided and I also have some of the special woods collection Caran d’Ache, the 3rd collection I think.

I’m having ethical issues with those pencils. They are gorgeous – I mean seriously gorgeous – but once they are gone, they are gone. So do I use them or not? My instinct is to say yes.

In the meantime, because they were bought specifically for the purpose, and especially because they are nice to work with, the Grafwoods will be the top sketching pencils. I need to do something about storage for them and I haven’t thought about it yet.

If you read any pencil reviews at all (I do sometimes), lots of things matter to people who are serious pencil experts. I’m not one. The Grafwoods come painted with a sort of metallic looking lacquer, and the colour varies with the lead weight of the pencil which makes them comparatively easy to identify quickly. I like this. It makes the lacquer have a second more utilitarian function rather than look pretty. They are a nice weight in my hand. And of course, they feed the brand loyalty which I have had since I was 15 for the company that makes them.

In the meantime, no one is getting to see the actual sketches

Parker 51

So someone with the initials AK decided they’d had enough of their Parker 51 and sold it to one of the antique outfits who turn up at Clontarf Castle. Last week, I bought it.

It’s a black pen, dates, I think, from the late 1950s. It has a black body and a rolled gold top. AK, or someone known to them, had it engraved with their initials. The clip is loose and the button on the top of the cap is missing. The cap has a couple of dings on it otherwise but the body is in broadly good condition and the nib appears to be a gold nib.

It has an Aeromatic filler, and, interestingly enough, it just have been in use until very recently. I bought it expecting it to be dry and looking at the ink reservoir on it, expect it would take some flushing to clean. However, this may or not be the case. The pen turned out to be full of black ink. It may have had blue in it at some stage as blue came out when I started to flush it, but once I realised it was actually full of ink, I stopped cleaning it and had a closer look. What is in it now (and what hasn’t appeared to run out yet) is black ink. I don’t own a true black ink in my ink collection. I have a very dark blue called Midnight Blue courtesy of MontBlanc, and I have what can best be described as a light black – ie black with some very dark grey shading – called Onyx from Pelikan. Neither is as black as this. Bearing in mind that the pen was bought in Ireland, it is most likely that it was filled with a commonly obtainable black ink here, and that’s must likely to be Quink with a possibility also of Waterman. I may buy a bottle of Quink for the pen as I am not sure I want to put any of my brighter colours.

With that out of the way, the Parker 51 is basically an iconic pen. If you spend any time around pen nerds at all (the internet has quite the community of them) the Parker 51 is spoken of in terms of being one of the greatest fountain pens of all times. It is no longer manufactured, but lots of them were made and there are plenty of them available on Ebay, and they turn up in antique/vintage shops from time to time. I’ve always been a little bemused by this. I have one Parker jotter and it’s nice but it’s not earth shattering. I own quite a few pens (trust me, while I have a problem with pens, it’s not a Problem) and probably the two most interesting ones are a Waterman and a Cross. They are not as expensive as the Caran D’Ache fountains that I have but they  are probably easier to write with.

The Parker 51 is significantly easier again. It has the ease of operation of one of my best Lamys (these can be nib hit or miss – the best is very very good, the worst is replaced ASAP). The Parker flows across the paper. It might be the smoothest pen I have owned so far. It doesn’t look like a fountain pen in certain respects – the nib is almost totally engulfed with only the pointiest bit poking out from its plastic hood – and its rounded ended body looks a bit space age, ca 1950s. It is a pen which looks vintage, and old fashioned. The shape is similar to a Platignum I picked up the same day (which is writing awfully and definitely needs a major clean) although the Platignum was clearly a less expensive pen at the outset, and is a much smaller pen. It is also in better condition cosmetically.

I’m surprised really. I didn’t expect to love this pen or find it writes as well as it does. The nasty thing is is I’d probably take a second one if I got the opportunity and put blue ink in it. I really don’t think it’s the kind of pen you put orange, pink or turquoise ink into. Maybe dark violet might be alright.

The Parker 51 came with a number of different filling mechanism. Mine is Aeromatic which means it’s not from the earliest array of Parker 51s. There is some discussion online to suggest that the Aeromatic fillers are a little more bulletproof than the older Vacumatics. I’m not enough of an expert to be certain why – I believe it has something to do with the build materials. However, the net result is that if you get a Vacumatic, it really should be serviced by someone who knows what they are doing before you put ink in it.

I paid 25E for mine which is not bad. As I can’t date it, I can’t open market value it for certain, but it has some cosmetic damage and it is engraved. Prices online for the pen vary greatly but it looks as though 25E is a good enough price for the pen. Most pens of this age are likely to have some cosmetic damage and some pens very similar to this one are commanding 4-6 times the price online.  The nib appears to a medium nib which puts it in the slightly rarer category for those pens.

Regardless of any resale value it might have, I’m really glad I bought it. I don’t even know what the pen actually looks like when I am writing with it, so perfect a feel is it. I’d be very sorry to lose it. It has a permanent place on my desk. As mentioned above, if I happened across a second one, I probably would take it if it were an Aeromatic and and in reasonably good nick. I own about 30 other fountain pens and in the grand scheme of things, I don’t actually need any others.

But…yeah this is lovely.