Bookmarks

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Some bookmarks for my son’s school library, done on the fly, in a rare burst of experimental energy. The first three lines are from Tolkien, and you can guess the rest ;)

Making bookmarks can take a lot of time if done properly (there’s a lot of measuring, ruling and testing involved), which, for me, often takes all the joy and fun out of the creative process. So this time I’ve done away with all but the very minimum of preparatory work, and relied on some flashy special effects to camouflage any awkward margins and wayward strokes.

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To briefly discuss the tools and materials involved:

  • Winsor & Newton gold and silver ink
  • Ruling pen (DIY versions of these, made from aluminum sheets cut out from soft drink cans, are called “cola pens”)
  • Glass pen from Rohrer & Klingner
  • American Koh-I-Noor 1500 in F (Bloomsbury, N.J.)

Gold and silver ink is difficult to work with; the glitter clogs and dries on the nib, so you have to wipe the nib down continuously as you work to maintain the flow and to avoid unsightly blobs. I went with a ruling pen and a glass pen this time to minimize the stress working with a traditional dip pen nib, and I must say it was fun and the results not half bad!

I used the Koh-I-Noor to rule guidelines on the paper, which was erased after the ink was dry. This is a good example of a pencil I don’t love but has its (specialist) uses. It rules very sharp, precise lines that don’t smudge – the grade commonly recommended for calligraphers is 3H or 4H, but the Koh-I-Noor in F can do the job as well, while not being as harsh as the harder grades. I’ve often been disappointed with older (pre-WWII) vintage pencils that didn’t write as softly or smoothly as I expected them to; in retrospect, I realize that good pencils of that time were overwhelmingly used for drafting purposes (they were probably too expensive to be used in schools), and so they were expected to write rather hard and light, like my Koh-I-Noor. And this pencil keeps its point forever! I just wish they had used a lighter, more cheerful shade of yellow for their paint and that the powdery printing had not deteriorated as much…

Tombow Mono Penmanship Pencils (and a comparison with Mitsubishi)

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I recently got some Tombow Mono Penmanship pencils (aka Tombow KM-KKS) along with some other Japanese pencils. The Tombows are hard to find, but they are exactly the same kind of pencils as the Mitsubishi Penmanship pencils (note the same imprint – Tombow only has “pencil (鉛筆)” added on at the end) so most of what I’ve said about the latter holds for the Tombow too. So this time I was curious as to how the two pencils compared.

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The back of the box was taped shut, making it impossible to open it from that end. The pencils were tightly packed together and it was difficult to get them out at first.

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The printing is surprisingly messy for a Tombow Mono. You’re supposed to write your name (なまえ)… on the blue barrel?

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This seems like a more logical place:

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The first glimpse I had was pretty impressive. Thick lead!

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But then, I remembered that the Mitsubishi had very thick lead too, despite their being the same degree (4B):

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No comparison. The paint job and printing of the Mitsubishi are also superior (the Mitsubishi 9850 wins over the Tombow 2558 in that regard too. Tombow just doesn’t seem to care that much about such things). The Tombow writes smoothly enough, but to me it seems to be around 90% to Mitsubishi’s 100%.

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The thick lead of the Mitsubishi gave me an idea…

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Why? Because none of the carpenter pencils or chisel-point pencils I tried so far really gave me what I wanted, which was the graphite version of a Pilot Parallel pen. They were on the whole not dark enough, even the grades that were supposed to be darker (2B, 4B). But maybe this thick, dark, smooth and break-resistant lead could do the job? Tapered to a chisel point:

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And… action!

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Now this would qualify as a Penmanship Pencil in the Western sense. Either this, or a German 2H pencil that keeps its point forever, for cursive practice :)

A Cruel June

This is proving to be a sad month.  Hermann Zapf passed away three weeks ago, on June 4th; he was a German calligrapher and type designer. Actually I haven’t known his name for long, but I have been in love with his creations for a long time.

When I was in graduate school in America I frequently made use of an underground tunnel connecting two libraries on campus. They were both old, historic buildings, and their ancient intestines were often baffling; this particular passageway too was not at all like the elegant exterior, with extruded pipeworks and strange angles. But unusually, it had a beautiful mural showcasing letterforms. Elegant, tall capitals. There were several typefaces featured, but the only one I recognized was Palatino: it was the name of a font I desperately wanted, unavailable to me because I wasn’t on a Mac but a Windows machine. It was classic and beautiful, the lines clean and well balanced. It was the first font I memorized the name of out of love, and I’m still excited to see it, be it a flyer, book or packaging.

It was only many, many years after that first encounter that I came across the name Hermann Zapf, in connection with my budding interest in calligraphy. I realized that the biggest reason I admired the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was because of the names composed in Optima, another Zapf creation. When I took a workshop with the calligrapher Luca Barcellona last year, he showed us a slender volume of Zapf’s work that is all but impossible to get hold of now. Serious calligraphers own it, and copies do not circulate; its possession confers status. It is extraordinary to be so revered among lettering professionals, but even among them, Zapf’s eminence is of a different order. He brought so much beauty into the lives of so many people.

The writer James Salter passed away last week as well. I discovered him late, with a profile in the New Yorker two years ago; I can’t say he is one of my favorite authors, but he does have a more interesting life story than most. He was a fighter pilot who wrote. He flew planes in the Korean War, although I was disappointed not to find any significant associations between him and my country; unlike surgeons like Richard Selzer, he did not mix with the civilian population at all, and Korea exists only as place names that he flew over. But he was such a romantic, and he wrote such beautiful prose. They keep leaving us, the stars.

Super5 Fountain Pen

Here is a very interesting fountain pen I got to know about through another pencil blog: the Super5. It’s still fairly new and there aren’t many reviews of it online so I hope this helps.

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When I saw this on Lexikaliker it was still only available in Europe, and I didn’t feel like going out of my way to get hold of one. It looked interesting, but in the end it was a €20 pen, and with some experience you know what to expect in that price range: light plastic body, plain steel nib (tips hit-or-miss quality-wise), OK for indiscriminate use of colored inks but generally not destined to be your favorite. But recently Goulet Pens started carrying it stateside at $27.99, and I was tempted.

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And what a pleasant surprise it has turned out to be! For an inexpensive pen it has some unusual features. First, the grip section is coated metal, not plastic. I’ve seen plenty of pens that were all plastic (except for the nib of course), all metal or plastic-gripped with metal body and cap, but I don’t think I’ve seen a metal-gripped pen with a plastic body and cap up till now. Its weight firmly anchors the pen in your hand, and because it’s coated it’s less slippery than other metal-gripped pens. It also means that the part connecting to/puncturing the converter or cartridge is metal and therefore (probably) more durable. The plastic surface of the barrel and cap is treated in a way that makes it feel more like a Montblanc than a Preppy (Gunther says it uses piano lacquer).

The difference in material is what I like best about this pen and what really sets it apart from other pens. It can’t have been easy finding room to maneuver within this price range, but the people behind this pen seem to have really given it some thought, and I like the way they’ve tried to come up with something different, and offer something of real value. This is why I can forgive them for the clip, which looks… umm… spray-painted(?!) but that’s OK. You’ve got to cut costs somewhere.

In contrast to the body, I found the nib pretty average. With hard steel nibs like these it’s more about quality control (weeding out the bad ones) than adding any special features that matter I think, and the nib I got didn’t have any problems, so that was a good sign. The promos make a big deal out of how unique the 0.5mm calligraphy nib is, but the reality is that the calligraphic effect (the contrast between thick vertical lines and thin horizontal lines) is not that noticeable. It shouldn’t be, actually, considering that 0.5mm is the thickness of the average M nib or even the mechanical pencil, and there is a limit to how thin the nib plate can be hammered out – this is the reason most calligraphy nibs start out at 1mm. The nib right now has some slight drying and flow issues, but the flow could improve with time. Don’t get me wrong, it writes fine without skipping or drying out, it’s just that it doesn’t write quite this wet as in this video, where you can almost see the ink pooling behind the tip, or produce lines that thick.

However, if you don’t think of the Super5 as a calligraphy pen but just as a normal everyday fountain pen, the 0.5mm tip gives your handwriting just a little bit more of line variation. It looks prettier. You won’t get tired of it like a calligraphy pen, you can use it every day in journals and planners.

(from left to right: Lamy Joy 1.1mm, Pelikan Script 1.0mm, Pilot Prera CM calligraphy nib, Super5)
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Conclusion: the Super5 is a very interesting and well-made pen and a standout in its category. I hope to see more from whoever is making this!

Happy Halloween!

We are foreigners living in North America and I am so not into Halloween, but there is really no choice when there is a full-fledged Jedi in the house and his costume and lightsabre have to be ordered more than a month in advance. So this is my way of having fun together: Halloween-themed bookmarks for the school library :)

Ink: J. Herbin Rouge Hematite
Pen: Pilot Parallel Pen in 2.4mm

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