Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sharpie Pen Sketch-cast

I like to draw and used to be pretty good at it. I say, "used to be," because I got out of the habit. When I was a kid, I would spend hours drawing cars, airplanes and superheroes (often during school, to the consternation of my teachers.) In high school, I had some great art teachers who really encouraged me and helped me with some of the basics of sketching and portrait drawing. I did a lot of pen-and-ink stuff, usually of stylized muscle cars and caricatures of friends - a great way for a nerd to gain popularity.

Time passed and things changed - I went on to college where my interests shifted to girls and guitars (though I still loved cars). I still drew the occasional sketch but along came marriage, seminary, a first baby, church staff positions, two more kids, multiple dogs and cats, and life in general.

Recently, I decided to renew my old hobby of drawing (Warning! Mixed metaphors ahead!) and attempt to dust off my rusty skills. I'm already a pen and paper geek, so the tools were at hand. I've begun sketching some random things in pen (got the idea from David-Wasting-Paper, a wonderful blog about drawing) as opposed to pencil. I'm not worrying about mistakes so much as trying to regain my eye for proportion, perspective and detail. Mainly though, I am simply enjoying the pleasure of drawing. It's like visiting with an old friend I haven't seen for years.

Above is a simple sketch of the laptop upon which I produce this blog. It's your basic Dell Latitude in all its black and gray glory. I used a Sharpie Pen on a Doane Paper pad (the graph+line paper is great for drawings with lines and angles). To me, the Sharpie Pen is a good choice for drawing - it allows for a nice dark, yet fine line for sketching. It doesn't smear easily or feather. I found it very easy to control. I like it for drawing as it does not require much pressure, yet is very resistant to skipping. I actually like it better for drawing than for writing. Perhaps it is because I tend to work more slowly when I draw.

Just to be transparent, I do not consider myself to be any kind of authority on drawing - it's something I do for pleasure. Nor do I consider myself to be particularly talented. But I would encourage those of you who may hesitate to draw to go ahead - pick up a pen or pencil and draw something you happen to see: your laptop, your coffee mug, whatever. Don't worry if it isn't particularly "good." Keep at it and have fun with it. If nothing else, just begin to doodle in your Moleskine or whatever you have handy.

Most of all, relax and enjoy yourself.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Free Uniball Pen Arrived!

My free Uniball Pen with "Super Ink Technology" arrived in today's mail. I must admit, I had mixed expectations upon its arrival. Uniball is one of my favorite brands, but my past experience with free offerings has been less than stellar. I guess I'm from the "you get what you pay for" school of thought.

So, with muted enthusiasm, I opened the cardboard container and found my free pen. Happily, I discovered a nice Jetstream retractable pen with blue barrel and chrome trim - nice for a freebie. There was even a 50 cent coupon attached to the mailing box, a very nice touch! The pen indicated a 0.7 tip and I assumed by the blue barrel that it contained blue ink. Not a problem, though I prefer black ink.

The proof is in the writing, however, so I took pen in hand and grabbed my Franklin-Covey planner to give it a test. To my (pleasant) surprise, the ink was black rather than blue. Not only that, it wrote as smoothly (more-so, perhaps) than my current workhorse - a Uniball Signo Micro 207. The line was finer than I anticipated for a 0.7 tip, but as I prefer a fine line, this was a plus. In short, I really like this pen!

I procured some other paper and enjoyed nearly flawless results on Doane Paper, cheap notebook paper, Levenger pads and even cardstock. The only blip came when I wrote on stationery with textured paper. In this instance, I noted some slight skipping in the ink flow. But outside of this one instance, the pen performed flawlessly.

So what is the big deal with "Super Ink Technology?" According to Uniball, "large pigment particles in the ink form an unbreakable bond with the paper fibers." In short, Super Ink helps prevent check fraud and fading over time - it is an archival quality ink. I did not test those claims, but I know their 207 ink performs well and I would think the Super Ink would do likewise.

"How do I get my free pen?" you are probably wondering. Simply go to the Uniball Super Ink website and fill out the form. This promotion will continue for a short time, so don't wait. Sometimes good things do come in small (free!) packages!

(Image by Uniball)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Liquid Fog: Zebra Sarasa Push Clip Pen with Gray Ink

There are three different workhorse gel-ink pens that make it into my daily arsenal for writing. They are the Pilot G-2, the Uniball Signo Micro 207 and the Zebra Sarasa Push Clip Pen. One of these is invariable clipped into my pocket, snuggled against a Field Notes Memo Book. Usually the ink is black and the point ranges from 0.5 to 0.7.

Yep, that's how I roll most days.

Occasionally though, I get a little crazy and decide to try something a bit out-of-bounds . . . micro tips, blue, red, and even (gasp!) green ink. Scandalous, I know.

The Zebra Sarasa Push Clip is available in a variety of colors and, at a mere $1.50 each, the price is right for me to get out of my box and try some different colors. Perusing the choices, I thought that gray would definitely be something out of the ordinary. You may call it bland - I choose to think of it as liquid fog.

First a word about the pen itself. Regardless of the color ink you select (black, blue-black, blue, red, tea brown, two shades of green, purple and several others) the Zebra Sarasa Push Clip is a well-designed writing tool with a particularly clever bit: the clip is spring-loaded and can serve as a binder clip. Nice! Ink is delivered through a 0.4 retractable tip that provides a smooth writing experience. The plastic barrel (made of recycled materials) feels sturdy and is quite comfortable to grip. For an inexpensive pen, it is a very nice writing instrument.

Now to the gray ink. Certainly, it goes down very smoothly; but I found it difficult to see against the paper - a Doane Paper writing pad. As you can see in the rather poor quality Blackberry-cam photo (the top line), it is very light compared to a micro-tip blue-black ink or even a #2 pencil. Given that the ink is not erasable, I'm not sure that gray is the most practical of ink choices. A #1 pencil would provide a similar gray shade and would have the advantage of being correctable. That's the practical side of me talking. There is still something appealing about this gray ink. It has an ethereal quality to it - it's there, but just. It is so subtle you can almost miss it on the paper.

Oh who am I kidding - it's so doggone light you can barely read it! (So much for my inner poet.) I'm sure that such a light shade of ink has appeal to some folks, but my aging eyes do much better with a shade I can actually read! My recommendation? Load up on several Zebra Sarasa Push Clip pens - they're fantastic. Get a 10 pack with assorted colors. But leave the gray ink to the maudlin poets.

Pardon me while I listen to Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.

Curmudgeonly yours,

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Doane Paper Idea Journal Review

I've been a fan of Doane Paper products since I first purchased some of their writing pads about a year ago. I love the grid+lines layout and the high-quality paper they use. I keep a healthy inventory of both sizes of writing pads as well as their fine Utility Notebooks. Now Doane has tempted me once more with the release of their Idea Journals. Like their writing pads, they are available in two sizes - a letter size version and a smaller, 5.25 x 6.875 version (their measurements). I opted for the larger Idea Journal which cost $10.95. The smaller version is $8.95.

Spiral notebooks have never been my favorite medium for writing. Most tend to be flimsy with thin cardboard covers and poor quality paper. Having said that, the Idea Journal is to your typical spiral notebook what a Land Rover is to a Yugo. The Idea Journal is very substantial, with a sturdy wire binding ("Rugged Wire-O Binding" - no, really!) and thick 80 point chipboard covers. I like the utilitarian gray with the black lettering on the front. It seems to say, "I'm a serious workhorse of a journal. You want pretty? Ha! Run along before I take your lunch money." Okay, maybe that's a bit over the top, but seriously - this thing is a chunk! And I mean that in a good way - these covers won't curl and tear unless you assault it with a chainsaw. But enough about its tough facade, what of the paper?

Oh yes, this Idea Journal is chock full of grid+line goodness! Wall to wall, so to speak. No wasted space on these sheets and the grid+line pattern is front and back (Thanks, Chad!) unlike earlier releases of the Doane Paper Writing Pads. The clever aspect of the grid+line system is that the horizontal lines are bold at appropriate intervals to make writing very easy - the vertical lines are less bold, yet the grid pattern is easily apparent. In other words, this is a very versatile paper - great for writing, drawing, doodling, planning, etc. In the large Idea Journal you get 100 sheets (200 pages) of 60 lb. brite white paper. You can put a LOT in this journal!

I tried out a variety of inks on the paper with excellent results. Even my medium nib Pilot Varsity (which tends to lay down ink like a fire hose) wrote smoothly with no feathering and no bleed-through. In fact, nothing I tried bled through the 60 lb. stock. Oh sure, if I went wild with a heavy Sharpie marker, I might get a slight amount of seepage, but for most purposes this is excellent paper.

If you have followed my blog, you know I generally use a Moleskine or Quo Vadis Habana for my "serious" journaling. So, how do I plan to use my Idea Journal? Glad you asked! I intend to fill this bad boy up with all kind of random stuff - drawings, doodles, ideas, quotes, and give it a workout with some of the most radical ink I can lay my coffee-stained fingers on. Bwahahahahaha! *Deep breath* Sorry - caffeine overload. Seriously, this is a great experimental notebook to try all sorts of pens, markers, etc. I'm looking forward to using it and I think you would like it too.

I see that DP has added a "Flap Jotter" to their lineup. Must resist the urge to . . . Oh, who am I kidding? Daddy needs another notepad.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen Review

Perusing the JetPens website for pens I really don't need, I came across the Platinum Preppy line of fountain pens. I was intrigued by their low cost (only $3 each!) and the variety of colors available. Since one of my goals this year is to use a variety of pen/ink combinations in my Quo Vadis Habana journal, I figured this would be a good purchase.

(Okay, for the sake of full disclosure, I bought several pens and a bottle of Noodler's Ink, but those are stories for another post.)

My package arrived quickly and soon I was holding my new Platinum Preppy pen in hand. It is constructed of clear plastic (40% recycled materials) with a translucent green cap/clip and green stainless steel medium nib. A prominent "05" on the end of the cap identifies the medium nib. The pen is also available with a 0.3 fine point nib. It came with a single cartridge of green ink which I quickly plugged in.

The pen primed quickly and I was pleasantly surprised by the flow of the ink. I usually prefer fine and extra fine nibs but the medium nib on the preppy provided a nice, even flow without being overly-heavy. I did find that it takes a bit of pressure to provide an even flow - more so than with other inexpensive pens - but it was not difficult in finding that happy point where the ink flowed and the pen glided without scratching. The green ink was a nice surprise - just a tad less brilliant than emerald, but a very pleasing shade nonetheless. I hope you can make it out in my less than stellar Blackberry phone picture above.

The Preppy is about the same size as a Lamy Safari, though not of the same quality build. Still, it compares favorably to the Safari (one of my favorite pens), though it lacks a converter option. (UPDATE: Cheryl at Writer's Bloc informed me that a converter for the Preppy is, in fact, available. You can order one from Writer's Bloc here.) Comparing price points, though, the Preppy is a great value. I rate it above a Pilot Varsity disposable in terms of writing quality. It is similar to the Pilot Plumix in terms of price, writing quality and construction, though with more traditional lines and a clip. Perhaps someone creative could come up with a hack to make an eyedropper pen from a Preppy. Any takers?

I really can't find much to criticize about the Preppy. Sure, the clip seems kind of flimsy and it's definitely a light-weight, but again - it's only $3! I paid more for the converter for my Safari!

With seven color options and two nib choices, The Platinum Preppy is a great choice for a starter fountain pen. For that matter, with a $3 price tag and the fun color choices, it's a great economy pen for anyone who likes to write. Refills are available (2 cartridges for $1.50). A converter will run you about $6.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Congratulations to the University of Alabama Crimson Tide!

It's been a long wait, but the Crimson Tide of Alabama won college football's national championship for the 2009 season with a hard-fought 37-21 victory over the Texas Longhorns. The last national championship for the Tide came in 1992 under Coach Gene Stallings. Congratulations to Coach Nick Saban and the Alabama football team for a remarkable season: 14-0 record, a first ever (for Alabama) Heisman Trophy awarded to Mark Ingram, and a signature victory over Florida in the SEC Championship game.

I would be remiss if I did not note that Texas showed a tremendous amount of grit and determination after quarterback Colt McCoy left the game early following an injury to his arm. They played Bama tough, closing the gap to three points in the fourth quarter until Alabama slammed the door with two touchdowns in the closing minutes. Colt McCoy showed a great deal of class and character in his remarks at the end of the game. This young man is a committed Christian and demonstrated poise and grace, despite his injury and disappointment over the loss.

Both teams have much for which to be proud. But the night belonged to Alabama. Congratulations and Roll Tide!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Journal I'm Using for 2010 - Quo Vadis Habana

After several years of using Moleskine journals, I decided to make a change for 2010. I'm now using a large Quo Vadis Habana lined journal.

Why the change?

It's not that I became displeased with the Moleskines. I've used them for several years and they work great for me. But I wanted to branch out and try some different fountain pen and ink combinations and, frankly, Moleskine paper is not always FP friendly. I've experienced a good bit of feathering and some bleed-through, particularly with some of the freer-flowing inks I've tried.

The Quo Vadis Habana uses some wonderful "Clairfontaine" paper which is acid-free and pH neutral. The bright, white paper has thus far has accepted whatever ink I've thrown at it without a smudge, smear or feather. The overall quality of the journal is very good - I particularly like the leather-like cover, which seems a step above the cover on the Moleskine. Currently, my favorite pen/ink combination is Private Reserve's "Orange Crush" in a red Lamy Safari. The color is a bit more subdued than the Orange Crush soda I remember drinking, but it is a nice color all the same - a warm, orange-brown that flows easily and shows up well on the pages of the Habana. The ink dries quickly, too.

The Habana is constructed in similar fashion to the Moleskine with a vertical elastic band and black cover. It easily lays flat when open without any ominous cracking of the spine or binding. The large version contains 80 sheets of lined paper with rounded corners. It also contains a pocket on the back cover, but I found it to be of poorer quality to the Moleskine - more of a "me-too" afterthought. It is the one aspect of the notebook that was not well executed. The pocket is glued to the back cover (crooked in my case) and is not as sturdy as the pocket in the Moleskine. I think Quo Vadis should have just left it off. It also lacks a ribbon marker, which seems an odd omission for such a notebook.

I still have a good supply of Moleskines and will continue to use them. But for my primary 2010 journal, I have to say I'm quite pleased with my Quo Vadis Habana. I look forward to adding entries to it each day of this new year.