It’s normal, right?

27 11 2021

As I got older, and strived to get wiser, I came to realise that “normal” is a much-misused word when applied to a group of items with constantly changing characteristics.

People, say.

At best, it can only be applied to a fixed group in a set circumstance for a set period of restricted observation time. Enough philosophising – despite being left-handed, B blood type and any number of other labels that are deemed unusual (I have more than the average number of legs too – think about it…), I’m pretty content with who I am most days, and almost always at ease with my current obsession, whatever that may be.

Since COVID, I’ve rekindled my interest in fountain pens and associated accoutrements. In the before-times I had a monogamous relationship with my pen. As a school kid I had a series of Platignum offerings, most often Silverline, which true to form ended up getting broken due to the typical build quality of most British manufacturing in the 70s (looking at you TR7, as well as pretty much the entire Leyland range!)

As I progressed towards the lower sixth form (via the “Transitus” – it was that kind of school), my parents bought me a Parker 45 with a gold M nib, which I still have to this day. College saw me dabbling in many dark arts, including gel pens which I continued to use as I began my work life, before discovering disposable fountain pens (which I recently discovered needn’t be so disposable after all) in all manner of lurid colours which suited my off-beat style at the time. Strictly one at a time though…

Several years ago, my lovely father-in-law bought me a Sheaffer Sagaris with a fine nib which became my every-day work pen, never failing me once. Having previously been an M nib user (and even on the fat side of that, with the UK-made Parker 45), this F was a new experience which I struggled with at first. It became a firm (no pun intended) favourite though, and my only gripe now is a self-inflicted loose-ish cap due to my incessant popping on/off of the same. Hey – I don’t smoke. Don’t judge…

And then COVID… and everyone’s world changed. “Normal” meant nothing at all any more.

And then I saw a Parker 51 on Craigslist… which led to another, and then a Vacumatic, and then a burning need to find a replacement nib for a Parker 25 I was given years ago, and then I discovered AliExpress and the awesome upper-end offerings of Jinhao, and then… I realised it was simply too late to pull up. I was in deep and the door had shut tightly behind me. This was my new normal!

Drawers full of ink for every possibly occasion (but as Barenaked Ladies’ “Life, in a nutshell” teaches us – it’s never enough!); more fountain pens than I can shake a stick at (and I have access to pretty large sticks in BC!); newfound uses for After Eight tins (10 30ml Diamine ink bottles fit perfectly); shotgun cartridge boxes (they neatly hold 25 5ml ink samples); 35ml film storage boxes (perfectly fit 10ml J Herbin ink bottles)… you get the idea.

Nestle After Eight tin fits 10 x 30ml Diamine inks perfectly.

So here we are, well into the COVID times and I find that anywhere between 6 and 10 concurrently inked fountain pens is now totally “normal”. Oddly (for too much “normal” just isn’t well, normal), I now use a “disposable” Zebra pen for my work… though truthfully that is just a different room of the house these days. For me-time though – I currently have the following selection all inked up with lots of places to go (to completely mangle a Meatloaf song).

Current Desk Companions in a repurposed Dollar Store makeup brush tidy

  • First off, we have my latest acquisition. This is a lime green Opus 88 Picnic with a medium nib. It’s an eyedropper and at 2ml takes a healthy amount of ink. It only sports a #5 JoWo, but is a lovely smooth writer and has a bit of bounce to it. Love it! Very comfortable size in the hand. Currently inked with the last few drops of my Pure Pens Celtic Sea sample. The thing about eyedroppers is that they’ll easily accommodate an entire sample bottle, so it’s useful to use a graduated syringe to make sure you leave a little for later if you want to try it in another pen too. The Opus 88s look like piston fillers but they actually have a Japanese-style valve to close off the feed if you’re nervous about your pen “burping” if you ever get to sit in an aeroplane ever again!
  • Next in line we have a Pilot V-pen, currently with Platinum Classic Citrus Black. I’ve refilled this nominally disposable pen a couple of times now, and it’s a great option for a grab it and go choice because it’s so cheap and robust. I tend to leave iron gall inks in it for writing envelopes, though citrus Black doesn’t really work well for Canada Post. Once I write it dry I’ll likely refill it with Noodler’s Bad Belted Kingfisher, or some other more mainstream water resistant colour. I chose to “customise” it by using rubbing alcohol to clear the branding off the barrel and making it a pseudo-demonstrator.
  • Opus 88 Demonstrator with Pilot Iroshizuku Syo-ro. This has been in the line-up for a few weeks now. Another lovely Opus 88, and with a fine nib and a whopping 4ml of ink capacity, it’s taking an absolute geological age to write dry! It’s a real unit though, so make sure you try one in the flesh before you commit if you’re attracted by its undeniable good looks but have a small hand – it’s a large, if light, pen.
  • Jinhao 911 with their hooded EF nib, which at 0.38mm is a solid F in most people’s view. I bought this because of its looks. It’s like a skinny, Flighter version of Parker’s classic 51 (the original – this is a click cap. The 51A is a more literal “homage”, as the name might suggest. Their 85 model is a dead ringer for a Flighter version of the new Parker 51 at a fraction of the price, and a screw cap). It’s always been a solid performer but at less than CA$5, I feel comfortable using it with unknown quantities when it comes to inks. At the moment it has Noodler’s Ink’s Bad Belted Kingfisher in it. I recently bought this on the island during a lovely visit to Island Blue art shop. I have a few waterproof/resistant inks, but they’re all a bit funky, colour-wise. I decided it was time I strove for that “normal” again, and started to look for a blue or blue-black ink I could use for envelopes, having had a couple of letters only delivered by the near-forensic efforts of the Royal Mail. They were somehow getting drenched between my address here in a rainforest and my recipient on the wet British Isles. A wonder more letters don’t get delivered completely washed out, really! As with other Noodler’s inks I’ve tried, it feathers in anything like an M nib unless using coated paper. This 0.38mm nib is definitely on the broad side for most envelope papers I’ve tried with this ink, but it’s a nice enough colour and seems to resist the water once it’s properly dried and combined with the paper fibres. A thinner nib/better paper should be better.
  • Platinum Preppy with Platinum blue/black cartridge. This is the thinnest nib I own, except for my Vacumatic. Once the cartridge it came with is dry I think this will realistically become my Noodler’s envelope-writing pen. I bought a converter to use with it, but being only an EF/0.2mm nib (about half of Jinhao’s “EF”), this nib is taking its time to drink the cartridge dry. It tended to hard start when it had been left unused for any time at all, hence why I store it nib-down. Doesn’t have any issue otherwise. Not bad for $4.50, but very plasticky compared to the – cheaper – Jinhao’s solid build quality.
  • Lamy AL Star with Lamy blue cartridge. Another pen that’s been in rotation for a while… I think it’s because I don’t find the supplied blue ink particularly appealing, so it doesn’t get much use. It’s totally problem-free, and I do like the B nib (I love the all-matte black livery of this pen, including coated nib), and I look forward to trying it with a more interesting ink.
  • Finally, I pulled an old favourite back into circulation. This is an old Parker Vector. I think it’s called a “sport” because of the black rather than more usual silver trim. M nib. Made in the USA. Currently filled with Noodler’s Navajo Turquoise. I bought a sample about a year ago when searching for a good turquoise ink. It’s pleasant enough, but given the issues I have with other Noodler’s inks and the fact they only sell in 90ml bottles, I think I’ll stick to Sheaffer.

Since I mentioned a couple of different Opus 88 models and referred to their sizes, I thought I’d add this useful graphic I spotted on FaceBook a while ago. Please check out the Opus 88 page, if you’re a FB user – they have some awesome products, and as you may have read elsewhere in these pages, their customer service is absolutely amazing. I’ve had the pleasure of travelling to Taiwan a couple of times for business and I can tell you if I ever get the chance to go back, I’ll be bringing an armful of their product home with me next time!

Original posted on FaceBook by Opus 88 and created by Dan Cincu

Challenge Accepted!

6 11 2021

I was very restrained yesterday, and and focused on 5th November being Guy Fawkes night rather than Fountain Pen Day. Living in Canada means that with the exception of a single random firework being set off in the neighbourhood (more likely a Diwali lingerer), there was not much chance to celebrate with fireworks, treacle toffee, baked potatoes and accidentally roasted hibernating hedgehogs whilst willfully ignoring the fact you’re burning the effigy of a man involved in a failed catholic plot to overthrow the British government in 1605. Ah… such warm childhood memories. Literally – those bonfires could be huge!

But today my resolve broke and while accompanying Mrs E. on a trip to Richmond, I fell into the MUJI shop. The time of year meant they’d replaced many of their usual stationery offerings with diaries, and having just got my Rhodia A5 one I wasn’t even tempted.

Image Source: Cult Pens

I was however tempted by their 5-pack of exercise books, tantalisingly labelled as “anti-bleed-through”. Challenge accepted!

MUJI “anti-bleed-through notebooks”

For a mere $4 what could I lose? (OK… $4, I suppose!)

The notebooks are B5 (defined here by MUJI as 179×252mm rather than the “proper” ISO size of 176×250mm – still close enough in the grand scheme of things), which is slightly taller than a common-in-Canada Hilroy/MEAD exercise book, and a tad narrower. The aspect ratio is comforting to me as someone who grew up in the UK because it fits the usual 1:√2 aspect ratio of A4 and other ISO defined A/B/C-range sizes, ubiquitous everywhere but North America.

The notebooks are a useful 30 sheets/60 pages, which is a little ungenerous, but then again, they do have nice protective card stock covers with 5 different coloured spine tapes for additional protection. At first, I thought the books were simply perfect bound (glued) rather than the usual “saddle-stitch” of cheap stapled exercise books or actual stitching of more up-market offerings, like Clairefontaine . On closer inspection (full iPhone zoom through a loupe) I noticed that it’s actually 15 individual signatures, notched and then glued. The notching allows the glue a slightly better grip on the spines of the signatures.

Blurry close-up of the spine, showing the folded sheets and the glued spine.

This method leaves a very neat, square spine, and allows a very square final product. The other benefit with not having all 15 sheets folded in a single signature is that the pages lie flat, wherever you are in the book.

The paper is quite smooth with a feel I’ve come to associate with Japanese brands, though this claims to be Indonesian. I’d guess somewhere in the 80gsm range. If you like tooth, this may not be for you.

Pages have 6mm rulings with tick marks top and bottom if you need to add columns. I have a feeling I may find this a little too narrow for my writing – especially with broader nibs which I prefer for their aid with shading, but we’ll see. It’s not a deal breaker… there are plenty of other nibs in my collection.

So, the bottom line though: how does it handle fountain pen inks?

Well – nothing scientific or anything, but here’s what I happened to have inked at the moment. I wasn’t overly impressed with how the Diamine Holly sheened with the “test” line (i.e. not much), so I went a step further and “swabbed” a few of my more sheening inks, to see how the paper faired more generally. I’m not a fan of waste (those Yorkshire genes), so I use a plastic chopstick for swabbing, rather than the more usual Q-tip. I find that surface tension allows a reasonable amount of ink to “stick”, but it almost all transfer to the paper, and you don’t end end up wasting much as you clean things off in water, as you do with throwing a still sopping wet Q-tip in the bin.

Currently inked pens to hand, plus some sheeners.
Rear of page showing some ghosting where ink had sat pooled for extensive period. Flash photo makes it seem worse than real life.

I found the paper shows shading and sheen pretty well, ghosting only when you insist on leaving a puddle of ink to dry. There was no bleed with the nibs/inks I tried.

The only very slight issue I can report is excessive drying times with usual culprits like Noodler’s Apache Sunset. Olivine was 70 seconds to fully dry the writing from a B nib, but I gave up counting with Apache Sunset. For CA80¢ a book though… who’s complaining? I’d definitely buy these again, and look forward to using them as my “day book” to capture thoughts and ideas, safe in the knowledge that they’ll handle whatever pen/ink I happen to have to hand.

This item is part of the “MUJI afforestation effort”, with typically enigmatic labelling of “PLANTING TREE PAPER” on the packaging, allowing communities to directly choose and benefit from the trees they cultivate. In this case Indonesia.

Today’s cast of participants:

  • Opus 88 Demonstrator with Pilot Iroshizuku Syo-ro. This was a birthday present from my wife and arrived with a very slight, but noticeable fault on the cap. I was blown away with the level of service both Cult Pens and Opus 88 themselves demonstrated in putting it right, and both have received my further business subsequently as a consequence of that behaviour. The ink is a nice enough teal I got as a sample from InkyPaw in Canada about a year ago. Since then, they seem to be struggling and don’t respond via any of the usual avenues (email, phone, web form, …). I’m afraid I can’t recommend them as after months of no replies I recently had to resort to my credit card company to get a refund from an undelivered order. The ink is a solid enough performer, as are all Pilot’s Iroshizuku range I’ve tried so far, but it was just a bit meh, colour-wise.
  • Pilot V-pen with Platinum Classic Citrus Black. I ran this CA$3 pen dry about a year ago, and it’s had a couple of refills since then. They were on offer at Walmart, and I liked the fact they were essentially throw-away if I wanted to carry them in my coat pocket without fear from theft or losing them. The steel nib is still a Pilot though, and it writes perfectly, if boringly. Once dry though, I didn’t see why it was necessary to throw a perfectly functional pen body into the landfill, and there’s always the “re-use” option before the “recycle” one, so… I turned to YouTube and found they are stunningly easy to refill! I essentially followed the steps in the link I put in the pen name, but found a thick elastic band and fingers were more appropriate than a folded tissue and a pair of pliers for removing the nib and feed. I went one step further and used acetone (nail varnish remover) to remove the branding from the barrel, and created a lo-fi demonstrator. Citrus Black is a lovely quirky ink and the iron gall creates some awesome darkening as it oxidises on the page. On this MUJI paper, the effect was immediate, though I have had papers where it’s like writing with lemon juice until the reaction takes place, several minutes later. That can be hard to use if the paper’s not lined, but it’s not a common thing. It’s one of a few water resistant inks I have, but this one is more for the colour than being able to use it on envelopes.
  • Platinum Preppy with Platinum blue/black cartridge. This was an impulse buy when ducking into the Vancouver Pen Shop to avoid the rain (my story and I’m sticking to it – especially if Mrs E. is reading…). I’m a habitual user of M and B nibs, with occasional forays into F or stub if the mood takes me. I have a few EFs from Chinese vendors which are actually typically 0.38mm and solid Fs in practice. This purchase is loudly proclaimed as 0.2mm to avoid any issue of what letter you might like to assign (though they also helpfully add a suggested EF in the corner for the undecided). It came with an included Platinum cartridge (obviously… not Pilot as I claim in the writing test on the page, above!). I bought a converter to subsequently use, but being 0.2mm, this nib lays down an almost homeopathic amount of ink, and I feel I’ll be long gone before it exhausts this included cartridge. Despite its undeniable mid blue colour, this is in fact a blue/black cartridge, and is also allegedly water resistant.
  • Lamy 2000M with Noodler’s Ink Apache Sunset. This is the stainless steel version of the classic Lamy 2000, and weights slightly more than Mjölnir. I find it esthetically wonderful and calming just to look at. Without the ink window it just seems generally more refined than the standard model. Mine has a medium gold nib which I actually find tends more to a B and is wetter than a BC morning. It is the perfect instrument with which to apply shading inks to a page, and Apache Sunset is just such an ink. I have mixed feelings about Noodler’s inks, but Apache Sunset is glorious in its shading, given a suitable paper to work with. It shades from quite a deep orange all the way to pale lemon yellow. It’s quite well-represented in the text I wrote in the image above. I have had it bleed through many cheap notebook papers, but this MUJI notebook had no issues at all.
  • Kaweco AL Sport with Diamine Holly. I like metal pens and pens with something a little off-beat to them. The stonewashed blue version of the aluminium Kaweco Sport was a perfect fit, and I treated myself to one a year or so ago. I bought it with an EF nib, but found it a bit scratchy (Kaweco are notorious for inconsistent nib quality). Only a week or so ago, I swapped in a medium nib, and it’s now a thing of pleasure. I’m a bit of a sheen whore but fancied a green/red rather than the more common blue/red sheen and so treated myself to Holly originally from Diamine’s 2019 advent calendar. Now available on its own in full bottles, I think I’m well sorted until long after I die. I’ve only been using it a week or so, but it has performed admirably on several different papers and seems well suited to the M nib in the Kaweco. It did sheen on the MUJI paper as I did a one-line write test, but provided way more shading than I’d seen before. This triggered my concern that perhaps this paper aided shade at the cost of sheen… hence the later sheen tests.
  • Lamy AL Star with Lamy blue cartridge. Despite it being a very common first pen, I’ve never owned a Lamy Safari or its aluminium brother, the AL Star. I’ve penabled Mrs E. with a small coterie of them in recent times, and decided it was time to get my own. As well as enjoying metal pens (Parker 25, Parker 45 Flighter, Kaweco Brass Sport, Retro 51 Tornado Lincoln etc…), I also have a thing for so-called “stealth” pens. These are all matte black… including the nib if possible. That is the case with the AL Star. As well as a coated black nib, it also has a black clip rather than the usual steel coloured clip on the AL Star. Ticked all the boxes and fell into the shopping cart. You know how that can happen… I opted for a B nib with a view to having another option for high shading inks and though broader than the Kaweco M it’s not as broad as the unreasonably broad Lamy 2000M medium! At present it’s just got the free cartridge that came with the pen, but it has a converter ready to go once that is empty. The ink itself is unremarkable, and a bit unsaturated to my mind, but a decent performer. Not my cup of tea, but I could see it being a decent school option if fountain pens were still used. Alongside Parker’s Quink or Waterman’s Serenity Blue.
  • Lastly we have another Lamy AL Star this time with Pelikan Edelstein Olivine. I was looking for other already inked examples to test the paper, and so borrowed one of Mrs E’s Lamy’s. This one is a deep purple, originally to go with Diamine’s Deep Dark Purple special from Cult Pens. Now though, it’s inked with Pelikan’s Edelstein Olivine – one of my collection of dark greens as I search for the perfect “British Racing Green”. The pen also has a (silver coloured) B nib, excellent for showing off any shading inks, such as this Olivine.

So – very happy with the paper’s performance re shading and lack of bleed or ghosting, and all-round lack of feathering. All that remained was to go back and prod a bit more at my niggle about the so-so performance with Holly’s sheen. I decided to “go for it” and blather the rest of the page with some high sheening inks to see what it could do, as well as test the “anti-bleed-through” claim that originally caused me to buy the notebooks. I dug out the plastic chopstick I use for swatching new inks and set to work…

I tried 4 inks. Three I know usually sheen well, and one that should… but never has. Perhaps this paper will be the one?!

  • Diamine Holly. When laid down in volume, this performed really well and displayed the sheen I expected, quite prominently. In normal writing, it was more subdued, but it’s definitely present and with more shading than I’m used to seeing.
  • Krishna Jungle Volcano. I have always found this to be a disappointing orange that shades to a muddy grey rather than displaying the promised “high sheen” of jungle green. Can’t recommend it, and this paper doesn’t let it perform any better than others I’ve tried.
  • Diamine Bloody Brexit. I’ve always found this ink a solid performer and it sheens with lots of red/magenta on this paper too.
  • Organic Studio’s Walden Pond Blue. This ink is nearly all sheen! It is nominally green, despite the name, but sheens so much, it is essentially a metallic magenta when dry. It’s like Holly’s bigger sibling, with hardly any of the base colour visible once dry.

Looking at the reverse side of the page once everything had dried, there’s a little ghosting where the sheening inks had been laid down thick, and possibly a touch of bleed for Bloody Brexit… but this was hardly a realistic use case, and the text lines had no ghosting at all, even on the slow drying Noodler’s or Edelstein. The photo above actually makes it look worse than it is, due to the effect of the flash.

I think this notebook is well worth the pittance MUJI are charging as a workhorse notebook for fountain pen users, and the sheening inks do in fact perform, if not quite as readily as the shaders.