Category Archives: stationery

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.

 

review: 849 popline, turquoise

I have been a user of Caran D’Ache ballpoint pens since I was 16 years old. This is more than 20 years.  Fact.

Most of the pens I own are from their Ecridor Range which costs around 110E for a ball point here. However, they have an entry level range Office line with a large number of options in the 849 line. They are the same shape as the Ecridors – hexagonal – but are constructed from lighter materials.

I own a few of them.

A recent addition to the Popline colour range in the office line is turquoise and as it’s my favourite colour. You can see all the 849 options here.  The 849 range of ballpoints all take the Goliath refill which has a very long life (speaking from experience here).

You can tell the pen is lighter than the Ecridor pens but it is beautifully balanced in my hand. I love the colour. I love the fact that the pen feels almost indestructable. And it writes like a dream.

I love it.

shop review: Casi One, Brussels

Way back in the mists of time, I bought a Caran D’Ache Ecridor in a stationery shop which stuck in my memory by location, rather than by name. It may have been a Prisma (which you cannot currently get by the way). The location was pretty much “down that street off Place Debrouckere, parallel to Rue Neuve, but not Boulevard Anspach. This is how I remembered it anyway; a little more scraping my memory would have revealed that it’s Boulevard Adolphe Max. It’s where Waterstones used to be. Not sure if it still is.

Anyway, sometime before I finished in UCD I had to give a run over to Brussels, and between the meetings I went for, and the plane rides there and back, I went back into the stationery shop which, after 15 years, was still there. I like that sort of continuity in shops – you see it in Dublin with the Pen Corner as well. I bought another Caran D’Ache there, a limited edition pink one designed by Claudio Colucci. I liked the colours.

Casi One is a wonderful stationery store. They have every mechanical pencil I want, a decent range of Clairefontaine paper; lots of other things that I crave. I draw from time to time (this is not something that I broadcast much) and after a lot of failures, I’ve settled on water colour pencils as my tool of choice. They have all the collection sets of Caran D’Ache Supracolor II pencils. They look gorgeous; I stood in front of the window display with a deep wish I could buy all the stuff.

I haven’t been in Casi One much in since I left Brussels, mostly because I haven’t been in Brussels much since I left Brussels. On the last occasion I was there, they remembered me from the previous time, which was about 9 months previously. I have found them immensely helpful but also, very happy to leave me browsing around their wonderland. I love the Pen Corner in Dublin but it’s a toss up as to whether I prefer it to Casi One or not.

Stormy grey

Anyone who’s still reading this after nearly 10 years of writing here and elsewhere has probably picked up that I have an interest in pens (no, maybe I shouldn’t hand write and scan all my blog entries, believe me, you don’t want that). I own * a lot of * fountain pens, including a reasonable collection of Lamy Safaris and AL-Stars. They may be, by fountain pen terms, dirt cheap (ie, 20E instead of 1000E) but for the money they are great pens. And Lamy do nice cartridges but they also do converters – I’ve never felt that’s the right word to describe them, but basically you can use bottled ink with them.

This is a nice thing and it means that in addition to loads of fountain pens, I have quite a few bottles of ink.

When I was 9 years old, using a red fountain pen because I was “allowed to” – only the elite handwriters got to write with fountain pens, possibly, to some extent, for very valid reasons, cartridges were not really considered that neat. Apparently they leaked and left ink all over the place, making them no different to unlucky biros I suppose. There was a choice of Quink ink or Quink ink, one in blue and one in black.

I’d like, at this point, to state that if I was an elite handwriter, it was through a lot of hardwon practice and the absolute fortune of getting the wrong copybook which had lines so narrow that I was forced to write between the lines at twice the size. It was such a successful move that it was imposed on other non-elite handwriters by my teacher at the time. I don’t think they liked me.

Anyway, I was 15 and using ballpoints before I discovered that in France, you could get nice pens, with small international cartridges and those cartridges came in aquamarine and pink. IN fact, in some of the more exclusive or better stocked stationery and chain stores, you could even get purple. This was untold riches. Fantastic. I fell in love.

Since then, I’ve discovered that in Ireland, a whole world of ink was being hidden from me. You can now get ink in many, many different shades. NOt just one shade of pink, but many. Pilot, in Japan, do some – many – shades of pink, and blue, and red, and green, and grey. I don’t have any bottles of their top end ink because I can’t get it here. I will, at some stage, justify an order.

In the Pen Corner in Dublin, you can get Pelikan Edelstein – which is wonderful ink – in a lovely range of colours – I particularly like the Mandarin (orange) and the Amber.

All the above is fore shadowing for what is about to come. In France, one of the oldest ink manufacturers is J.Herbin. They make a substantial range of beautiful liquid inks, of which I have a bunch in cartridges and, I think, four bottles. They particularly have a purplish shade called Poussiere de la Lune. Gorgeous stuff.

Their premium range is called 1670 and it only has a handful of shades, including their brand new, can’t keep it in the shops, constantly on back order, Stormy Grey. It’s appropriate for the weather outside which is stormy as hell tonight. The weather might be even more appropriate if we also had lightning – which we don’t (thankfully). I have a bottle which an extremely kind friend bought for me for my birthday. It’s gorgeous.

It’s a fine dark grey without being actually black, and it has gold flecks in it.

Most of the online reviews from fountainpen nerds (I am not one, actually, despite * lots of * pens and * more than 10 * bottles of ink – I am in the tuppenny hapenny place to be frank about this – are raving. I filled up one of the Safaris with it and am utterly entranced. I mean, the ink positively shimmers as you write with it on Clairefontaine paper (the absolute best paper in the world – none of your Moleskin soaky stuff) and it continues to shimmer after it has shaded and dried. I love it. I love it to pieces.

Of course, there are warnings about the sediment (when I mentioned gold flecks) but I don’t care too much. Ultimately, the ink has chosen its pen – I will not be putting it into any of the others – and it is writing beautifully. Smoothly. No smudging. I probably wouldn’t sign my mortgage application form with it, but seriously, I’d happily write every thing else I want to write with it.

I think every one should spend some part of the day handwriting but that’s a discussion for another day. It is, however, very easy to continue writing when you are using beautiful tools to do so.

Happy New Year.