Writing: My Largest Fountain Pen and a Shimmering Ink

Noodler's Neponset fountain pen in blue and white pearl, with a Goulet stub nib.  Writing sample in shimmering red and blue Diamine Polar Glow ink.  Text about exploring my neighborhood after a long absence.
Noodler’s Neponset fountain pen in blue and white pearl (which may have been named Ghostly Lapis?), with a Goulet stub nib. Writing sample in shimmering red and blue Diamine Polar Glow ink. Text about exploring my neighborhood after a long absence.

I’ve written about how much I love stub nibs, and the nib on this enormous Noodler’s Neponset pen is no exception. This is the first nib replacement that has required multiple adjustments. When it is aligned correctly it works well and wetly, as you can see, but sometimes I somehow lose contact between the feed and the nib – it just isn’t seated properly in the pen – and it just won’t write! I never had this problem with this pen before, so it is clearly my doing, and all about how I insert the nib and feed after cleaning it.

(There was a similar acrylic Neponset with peach and pearl coloring, and I resisted it for too long – it sold out. If I knew how comfortable the pen is to hold, I might not have resisted! I understand the limited editions that pens are released in better now…)

The gorgeous blue ink with a red sheen is Diamine’s Polar Glow. I love it beyond reason, and it flows well, but is demanding. The red sheeing particles never seem to settle in the bottle, but definitely settle in the pen, which is entirely fair for such a lovely special effect. (But it interrupts the flow of my thoughts when I am eager to write!)

Content-wise, the sample writing notes that I’m settling back into my neighborhood. I am happy to be back, even though it is not as new or fashionable as the area I moved to during construction. My normal neighborhood was built in the 1920s, whereas my apartment was from 2008-ish, so everything feels and looks 90 years newer – because it is! There are no power lines visible in that newer neighborhood, the sidewalks are smooth and even, the trees are well maintained, the paint on all of the buildings is in great shape… It makes me want my own neighborhood to be better maintained, and there is nothing wrong with that.

I hope the images of the ink tempt you to consider special effects in your writing, and wider nibs to show the inks off!

Writing: Fountain Pens (Crimson-Violet Theme)

collage of four views of a red and violet Noodlers Ink fountain pen in "Forbidden City" design atop handwriting in Noodler's Burgundy ink
Views of my new red and violet Noodlers Ink fountain pen in “Forbidden City” design atop handwriting in Noodler’s Burgundy ink

I am continuing to love Goulet’s stub nibs in various pens – the nib lays down so much ink! The verticals are so thick! The nib is smooth, and makes for a pleasant writing experience.

The topic of my writing when I made this first collage was more private than I could show in full, so I’ve waited for muted daylight to photograph a less sensitive writing sample. (Note that it remains very difficult to use an iPhone to show off ink colors unless you get far away: the phone increases contrast automatically, and so most of my close up images appear to be black.)

Three image collage showing Noodler's Burgundy ink samples, written on dot grid paper with a stub nib Noodler's Konrad fountain pen.
Noodler’s Burgundy ink collage of three images in muted lighting on a cloudy day. iPhones increase contrast, making the ink appear darker in close ups. The lower right image writing sample displays the ink color most accurately.

I’ve historically found Noodler’s inks to be too wet for my pens (it drips!), but this one flows so nicely from their own pen on Rhodia paper that I may change my mind.

Fountain Pen Ink: Colors of the Moment

Image of three sections of a journal, with outer edges of three pages displayed showing handwriting.  Each page is in a different color of ink.
Inks in my journal, all flowing quite beautifully from my stub-nib fountain pens.. At left: Faber Castell’s Garnet Red (more transparent than I expected); Center: Rohrer & Klingner’s Alt-Bordeaux (so rich! so deep! I love it!);
Right: Private Reserve’s Claret (more red than I expected).

Oh, I am wallowing in ink in all the best ways.

Some of my pen friends enjoy it; some don’t notice. I know I became one of those ink people when I identified a colleague’s ink by brand when he was taking notes in the office. [shaking my head]

It’s difficult to show the inks off, especially the inks with multiple colors and sheens: my clever phone tries to increase the contrast on its images in a way that hides the subtle changes of colors. And how likely is it that you’re looking at these on a color-calibrated monitor, anyway? I’ll likely need to put the inks on my flatbed scanner to show them properly – the scanner’s flat light is more honest (and harsh), though it may struggle with the glitter.

Just the same: it is satisfying to write with good inks. I don’t need the colors, but I like them.

Writing: Fountain Pens and Journals (orange theme)

Three image collage displaying the pearly Edison Collier Persimmon Swirl fountain pen; its Goulet stub nib; and a sample of the pen open atop a page of my journal, with writing in Mandarin orange-colored ink.
This is an Edison Collier fountain pen (made in Ohio!) in the color Persimmon Swirl; a Goulet 1.1mm stub nib assembly; a writing sample in Pelikan Edelstein ink in “Mandarin” orange on Rhodia cream paper.

I was writing yesterday about how wonderful it is to have a desk to write at (I have space!), was enjoying the orange theme a bit too much, and decided to post about it. (Materialism happens to me, too! I use a lot of tools and art supplies, and have been choosing prettier ones recently.)

This pen isn’t very “like” me – I own almost nothing that is orange – but it is so attractive looking, and so vivid, that I couldn’t resist. It is a lovely size and shape to hold, large, gently rounded, and easy to write with. It came with a medium nib, but I’m on a broad nib bender, so I ordered a replacement nib-and-feed assembly from Goulet, and am happier with it. I have ink feeding issues from time to time with the converter (it withholds ink after I’ve written a few pages, and I have to dial the converter to be more generous (postscript: this appears to be specific to certain inks, Herbin is flowing beautifully)), but standard international cartridges flow just fine.

Orange inks can be limited in legibility, but I’ve been testing some good ones. By coincidence, the 2023 Diamine Inkvent calendar (an advent calendar with a 12ml bottle of ink behind 24 doors, and a bigger bottle behind door 25 for Christmas), happens to have added two new oranges to my little collection, including one that was behind Saturday’s tiny door.

Five ink sample cards displaying orange inks atop a cream colored page of writing.  Inks include Diamine Fireside Snug, Diamine Bucks Fizz, Sailor Studio 173 & 473, and Pelikan Edelstein Mandarin.
Sample cards displaying the five (!) orange inks currently in my collection. Diamine Fireside Snug, Diamine Bucks Fizz, Sailor Studio 173 & 473, and Pelikan Edelstein Mandarin.

My employer’s theme color is orange, and I’ve grown accustomed to using a sanctioned shade of burnt orange in my presentations, so I may be more open to using this color than I’ve historically been. Goodness knows there have been many shades of orange in the gorgeous sunsets recently! So, we’ll see if these tiny bottles lead to a bigger commitment for my writing. There are some famous American and Japanese orange inks I haven’t sampled yet, so it’s possible…

Book: Designing Japan: A Future Built on Aesthetics by Kenya Hara

Designing Japan: A Future Built on Aesthetics
by Kenya Hara
published by Lars Müller Publishers

This collection of Kenya Hara’s essays provide examples of Japanese design principles and customs, and suggests that Japan’s (and other local cultures’) values can shape unique products and experiences in ways that differentiate themselves in global marketplaces.

My copy of Hara’s book is filled with little book darts marking ideas I especially like. His optimism that design itself can inspire better decision-making and life choices is appealing. I find the idea that our lives are so crowded with objects that we can’t see and appreciate them individually feels fair. (I feel that the near-minimalist ideal this implies has been superficially transformed here into a different sort of materialism, seen in the vast spaces spotlighting curated “conversation pieces” within the enormous homes of the rich.) Hara’s planning and execution of exhibitions is interesting to read about, and his suggestion that novel demographic changes likely have design solutions is intriguing. His examples of rural support with mobile infrastructure is a lovely example of very democratic, well-designed approach.

Hara has numerous timely insights, such as on the decluttering fad: the problem isn’t just with the individual who has accumulated useless things. “It is not jettisoning the object that is mottenai (shameful waste), but rather the series of efforts conceived and executed with the goal of manufacturing a useless object destined for disposal.” YES YES YES!

I am tempted to delicately reword comments about historic Japanese sensibilities being “diluted” by external influences, due to my sensitivities toward current American xenophobic euphemisms. External influences can be dire, (I write here in the language of people who enslaved many of my ancestors, so I have feelings on this topic), but external influences CAN also bring ideas that can be transformed by the culture that consumes and reworks them. Japan has produced great innovations, including innovations on technologies that originated elsewhere. I fully acknowledge that industrialization (which I don’t conceptualize as a cultural product) specifically has proven both beneficial in raising basic living standards AND highly problematic in environmental impacts.

This is a thoughtful collection. I enjoyed the clarity of the language used, and the mix of theoretical discussions with specific examples of how these theories have been communicated for international exhibit audiences.

List: Things I Love About SF (plus Writing & Fountain Pens)

List of things I love about San Francisco, including food, coffee, walkability, transit, hospitals, universities, our national & city parks, activists, museums, bookstores, mild weather, cultural districts, mixed architectural styles, open-mindedness, and people from around the world!
Handwriting! This spontaneous, incomplete, outburst-type list (in no particular order) is written with a Noodler’s Konrad fountain pen in Appalachian Pearl that has been modified with a Goulet Pens stub nib. The gorgeous gray-green ink is Herbin’s Vert de Gris on Clairefontaine paper.

I have periodically called up my parents to thank them for raising me in San Francisco.

Sure, they met and married here, but there was always a chance they could have returned to the midwest or northeast with me. But I’m so glad they stayed!

It was wonderful to grow up in a place where school building dominate the neighborhoods; where there are so many libraries; where I had so many classmates from other places, domestically and internationally; where I could hear different languages while riding the bus or visiting a friend at home; where there are so many cool, kid-friendly parks and museums; where I could go trick or treating with grown men dressed as fairies; where my multi-racial background and my parents’ interracial marriage were within local norms; where I could see adults with a very wide range of professions, and know how many options there are….

It has also been great to be an adult here. There is an economy! While there are boom-bust cycles, there are often plenty of jobs, and many are in new industries. The idea of changing the world with an invention seemed totally possible – nearly inevitable! I didn’t know in childhood that I (and many of my friends and classmates) had futures working in industries that were just being created.

The boom-bust cycles are rough, and both the wild successes (like tech) and the disasters (like COVID) can be disruptive and devastating. For the past few years, the City has felt a bit hollowed out, though I see positive signs of revival when I am out and about.

San Francisco is a great place, and I feel lucky to live here.

Book: The Neri Oxman Material Ecology Catalogue, edited by Emily Hall and Jennifer Liese

The Neri Oxman Material Ecology Catalogue
edited by Emily Hall and Jennifer Liese
published by The Museum of Modern Art, NY (MoMA)

Art exhibitions are a special sort of book, and I was excited to obtain this one after having missed the exhibit at MoMA (because: COVID).

The curator’s essay notes that architecture has its movements and manifestos, and that Speculative Critical Design, which could include Oxman and her lab’s practice, “has featured earnest but inconsequential exercises and clichéd storytelling,” which could honestly be a summary of nearly every architectural movement/manifesto (I could stop the sentence here) that hasn’t delivered a robust body of work. Oxman’s written philosophical content can provide insights, but appears intended to produce a shell of theory for the practical purposes of funding an experimental practice. You can gloss over it, admire the design of the catalog itself (modeled in tribute to Stuart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog), and then look at the interesting experiments and models that Oxman and her teams have produced.

Oxman produces attractive art objects that show off the potential of experimental, available natural materials. To utilize these materials, different fabrication methods involving both showy robots and insects are attractively documented, so that the processes behind the forming of materials is clear.

There is a tiny caption in an image “the shellfish industry produces more than 1 million tons of chitin-based waste per year,” and suddenly the context of the many forms and pieces involving chitin is clear. We have abundant supplies of materials that are the byproduct of other industries, which could offer opportunities to escape our petroleum and plastic-based problems.

The emphases on responsible material use, experimental manufacturing, and artistically documented processes interest and please me. Displays of models and experiments charm me (in a way similar to Studio Olafur Eliasson’s geometric model shop), though these models often have forms suggesting industrious insects made them, or perhaps volcanic springs formed them over time – and I mean that as a compliment. There are a few pieces that aren’t as tightly conceptualized to appeal to me (the death masks, for example), but the results are attractive, and they aren’t here to please me alone, so I won’t complain.

This is an attractive, well-designed catalog that shows off intelligent and attractive materials engineering experiments. I appreciate Oxman’s innovative work and overall practice, which is very STEAMY (in the putting the Art back into STEM way).

Writing: Fountain Pens and Journals (gray theme)

This is another Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen with a calligraphy medium (CM) nib. The writing sample is made with Private Reserve Gray Flannel ink.

Here’s another modest-but-fun pen in my collection, with matching velvety ink. I’ve been surprised at how many shades of gray ink are available, especially since some are so subtle and pale that I’m unsure how they can be used…

My handwriting with this style of pen is nicer when it is not hurried, but all of this year I’ve felt like I have so much to write and so little time that I can’t slow down…

Writing: Fountain Pens and Journals (teal theme)

Collage of three images of a journal with a teal pen, teal ink, and teal fabric background, written and styled by A.E. Graves
A journal spread – collage of pages I wrote in January 2023.
The ink color is Diamine Steel Blue; the pen is a Pilot Metropolitan.

My elementary school encouraged and required all of us Kindergartners to keep a journal. We needed to practice writing, and having a black and white, speckled-cover composition notebook of our own was DELIGHTFUL. I filled mine with colorful-but-poorly-formed words! I wrote and illustrated stories about red-haired girls having adventures! IT WAS GREAT!

And, the habit stuck with me. By the time I was finishing college on weekends while working full time at a law firm (note: do not do this, it is exhausting), and the college offered a few units each semester for maintaining a journal, I jumped at the chance… and then startled my college advisor by filling it in the very first semester, and starting another…

I still write by hand, especially for letters to pen pals and journals. My hands get sore easily, so I can’t write with dry ball point pens for long: they involve too much pressing. It turns out that very wet gel pens are better (HELLO, Uni-ball SIGNO!), but I fly through them, and feel terrible throwing out handfuls of disposable pens each month. Refillable gel pens come and go, and are very portable, but still involve tossing significantly smaller bits of plastic and metal out almost daily. The lowest waste and lightest-ergonomic-touch pens I can use are fountain pens with “converters” that can be filled with ink directly from a bottle.

It turns out I LOVE writing with fountain pens.

I have friends who collect these, but when they spoke of it, I didn’t really grasp the point: they showed me the pens themselves, not what they were capable of, how they performed as pens. Also, they didn’t mention to me, an overzealous color fan, how many ink colors are available.

Now I know. Oh, do I ever know.

I’ve been reluctant to show off either my ink or pen collections, even though both are very modest. Despite their modesty, writing with these tools brings me disproportionately large joy. My reluctance comes from the popular ways of writing about products by presenting oneself as a semi-professional expert reviewer, who talks up the qualities of the product yet never really MAKES anything with them.

There are countless video tutorials on how to SWATCH EVERYTHING – how to provide samples of a display quality that would please a salesperson. But… why?

While this swatching approach may help me better document my watercolor paint tube collection and so prevent me from buying the same shades of celadon green accidentally, it’s awkward as one’s only shared output. (Also: one can never have too many shades of celadon.) I don’t really trust someone who has only swatched a paint to tell me whether or not it belongs in their paintbox for their actual painting practice (if they have one)… I have some credible enthusiast reviewer sources of fountain pen ink who have recommended against using inks they received for free AND who freely remark on beautiful inks that aren’t LEGIBLE for actual writing, and that is feedback I can use. But there is a lot of reviewing-popular-products-for-clicks content, and I don’t want to participate in that.

So, how will I be different? I’m going to show what I wrote with the pen and the ink for my own enjoyment. Maybe you’ll like it. Maybe you won’t. Perhaps styling of these images by coordinating pens, inks, and backdrops will prevent me from staring deeply into my favorite pen shop’s Instagram feed and purchasing pens I don’t need. I expect it to make my blog more visibly interesting.

Either way, now is a GREAT time to create these posts. Everyone in my mother’s family has terrible arthritis: my ability to write legibly with fancy pens won’t always be available! I’ll seize the (quiet, quaint, pen-geeky) moment.