A Splash of Colour

4 02 2021

So it’s been quite some time since I booted up my photo editing PC, and I paid the price with a couple of rounds of Windows updates for my sins. Not to mention some guff about my mains adaptor being below par, requiring lower power modes on the poor neglected thing, and best of all – the clock being 2 minutes slow for about half an hour before it caught up. Plainly the wee beastie was in a snit and determined to make me pay.

After tea, it seemed to be in a better mood, and I got on with uploading several months’ worth of casual snaps I’d taken on my iPhone and camera. No “proper” pictures, but stuff I’d felt snap-worthy at the time.

One series I just found from way back in June I thought I’d share. “Accidental Art” is the best you could say. “Pretty Mess” is more accurate. These are literally photos of pieces of kitchen towel I’d been using to clean up messy nibs as I tried out differing fountain pen and dip nib inks.





KoInkyDinky? I think not!

7 11 2020

So I’m currently reading Neil Gaiman’s “Norse Mythology“, which while totally enjoyable as a read is a little disappointing in that it’s a pretty basic retelling of many stories I’m already familiar with (“with which I’m already familiar”?). I think I was anticipating his more twisted, tangential treatment but got a pretty vanilla rendering of the familiar tales.

No matter – the tales are as believable as any other religious fare and there’s even a bit of sex and violence. Norse mythology – along with that of the Romans (what have they ever done for us?) and the Greeks – is so much less complicated than that of the Judeo-christian variety. They’re up-front in stating the gods are a fickle bunch and pretty much anything good, bad, or indifferent can happen to you on any given day, so you might as well just get on with your life and leave them to it.

Today, we call this physics.

Friday, being the first Friday in November was celebrated by some as “Fountain Pen Day”. It’s a thing. It’s no less contrived than Father’s Day, and serves the same purpose – artificially stimulating the economy and giving us an excuse for another sale day.

At least “Left-hander’s Day” (August 13th) brings focus to people for whom the struggle is real. (Don’t mock me until you’ve tried using scissors in the opposite hand for which they were designed!)

Where was I? Oh yes – Fountain Pen Day (FPD). OK, so let’s just say I’ve been a little free and easy with the keyboard and my credit card of late. Months of home arrest due to COVID can do that to a bank account. Contrary to many others who celebrated their lack of control on FPD, I didn’t hit “Add to cart” once on Friday.

That said, it isn’t as true that I was so restrained in the previous few weeks. That, plus the UK’s Royal Mail and Canada Post – and perhaps even Loki – conspired to cause the postman/woman to deliver two fountain pens, a replacement nib for a previously purchased pen and an alternative width nib for one of the new acquisitions.

Kaweco AL Sport with EF nib in Stonewashed Blue; Replacement B nib unit for previous Lamy Brass Sport; Lamy Studio Lx All Black with F nib and B alternative also in black

The arrival of all these fountain pen goodies “on the day” was quite the coincidence and quite unplanned. What made the whole thing ever so slightly eerie though was that I also received a postcard from my daughter currently in Den Haag, Netherlands. Because her student residence had been temporarily locked down in mid-October, she, along with the other inmates residents had been given a free postcard and stamp, and the one she’d picked for me was quite apt, and also arrived on FPD.

Coincidence? Je ne pense pas!

An apt choice of postcard!




Throw That Shade You Shade Monster You!

26 09 2020

So, regular readers may recall a while ago I wrote about my acquisition of a MUJI Aluminium. If not, or you want a reminder, it’s here.

MUJI_pen
Image Source: MUJI.com

I really enjoy the sleek “engineered” look to the aluminium body and definitely appreciate the clever design that allows for the cap to fit over the nib and posted (if you’re that way inclined) without actually increasing the profile of the pen. Over time though I’ve come to realise I really wasn’t feeling the love from the nib. It wasn’t exactly scratchy, but more recently bought pens like a brace of Moonman T1s has illustrated what a fine nib really can feel like, and this one just wasn’t doing it for me.

Totally asynchronous to my pen hoarding, I’ve also been looking at some fascinating inks and come to really appreciate those that can offer lots of “shading” – basically having large differences in opacity depending on their thickness on the paper as they dry.

On the right kind of papers (typically coated with kaolin or some other coating), the ink can’t quickly soak into the paper fibres and so surface tension has a few seconds to cause the ink to pool before it slowly dries on the paper. This allows these shading inks to develop more saturation in the pooled areas compared to the start of the strokes where the ink is drawn away, following the nib’s path.

In a typical piece of writing then, shading inks will tend to be paler at the start of letter strokes and more saturated at the end (broadly top to bottom of the letters, but not exactly).

Personally, I find the effect very attractive, and hunt out inks that are particularly good at showing this property, papers that allow the ink to do so, and (here’s the crunch) pens that allow enough ink to flow to allow the effect to be noticeable.

You see – finer nibs put down a lot less ink for their finer strokes and the drying time is therefore shorter, masking the shading property to a large extent. Basically – you tend to look for broader nibs or even italic/stub nibs that can put down a very broad stroke with lots of ink.

Of course… putting down a lot of ink means, well, you need lots of ink to put down!

Rewind to the MUJI Aluminium. It comes provided with a standard short international cartridge, and though the pen is long enough to take the full length alternatives that are readily available, the ink selection is relatively restricted.

I’ve often remarked standards are a wonderful thing… there are so many to choose from! Even ink converters for pens that take “standard” cartridges come in a variety of fittings. Though a standard international cartridge has a neck with a nominal internal diameter of 3mm and an external diameter of 4mm, “standard” converters fall into internal diameters of approximately 2.6m and 3.4mm, so it was with some frustration that I discovered that none of my existing “standard” converters fitted the MUJI which appears to require the narrower “standard 3mm” fitting.

In the end I read that Pelikan converters are of the narrower variety and after a few days wait on Canada Post I received one and found it to be true.

Pelikan Ink Converter – Image Source Amazon

My MUJI Aluminium could now take a long drink of pretty much any ink I wanted to try. The only remaining issue was the fine nib it had come supplied with. A quick bit of research told me it was a standard (yup – another one) #5 nib. These are essentially 5mm at the non-writing end, and typically an inch long. (Hey – mixing your measuring standards is a rite of passage if you were born in the UK in the 60s!)

If you’re lucky, they’re standard enough to have the right curvature to fit over the 5mm feed provided with many modern pens. After some hunting on AliExpress, I found a source of 0.7mm and 1.1mm “stub” nibs for the #5 format for mere pennies. They took a looooooong time to arrive, but the nibs (including shipping from China) were less than a letter across Canada, so can’t complain too much. In the end I settled on the 1.1mm stub to lay down a really nice line variation and offer the ink as long as possible to settle and show off its shading.

Of course, when I came to do this post I didn’t have any Tomoe River or other decent fountain pen friendly paper readily to hand, but even with this cheap, absorbent graph paper you can see what Noodler’s Ink Apache Sunset is capable of offering in the shade department…

MUJI Aluminium, Pelikan converter, Chinese no-name 1.1mm nib, Noodler’s Ink Apache Sunset
Close-up to show shading of Noodler’s Ink Apache Sunset even on non-fountain pen friendly paper





Lessons learnt

18 07 2020

This tale spans several years, and at least tentatively seems to have a happy ending.

Years ago, I was in Vicotria on the island, and perusing an art shop. I forget the name, but they had all manner of pens, inks, papers and other goodies. At that time I was dabbling in calligraphy (one of many times I’ve dabbled in it but never got above ankle-depth unfortunately). With dip pens I’d acquired somewhere in life’s great meanderings and some bold calligraphy inks from J. Herbin I’d picked up at Paper-ya on Granville Island.

Image Source: J. Herbin

These were naïve days, well before the only slightly more educated days I now pass, with respect to fountain pens, dip pens and inks. My calligraphy dabblings with dip pens weren’t “bringing me joy”, and I saw a relatively cheap fountain pen in the shop that offered a broad (B) nib. It was a brand I’d never heard of – “Pen & Ink”, and the pen was simply called “Sketch”. It was aimed at pen illustrators and there were various nib widths available. Looking back, I possibly over-paid at what I recall was around CAD $30. The other day I saw my local art shop stocks the same pen for CAD$23, several years later. No matter – it was what I wanted at the time (cheap access to a B nib) and it was there when I wanted it. I’ve since learnt that the brand is from “Art Alternatives” and is actually an employee-owned company distributed exclusively by MacPherson’s. The current packaging brands it more forcefully as Art Alternatives, and downplays the “Sketch” model which is etched into the pen lid.

Pen & Ink Sketching Fountain Pens – Rileystreet Art Supply

Image Source: Riley Street (not where I bought it)

It came with a cartridge, a converter (branded oddly Faber-Castell) and a cute faux-leather wrap to store it in. So back to the naïveté …

I had calligraphy inks, a fountain pen which I was much more accustomed to using, and we were now off to the races… I’d found dip pens fraught with usage issues and scratchiness and figured that a B nib in a fountain pen might at least let me continue to explore “fancy writing”.

So innevitably I got bored with quick foxes and “Happy Birthday”, let alone the EXTRA pain there was in swapping inks with the converter over just cleaning a dip pen nib. Bored at last, I gave the pen a last clean out and put it away.

Fast forward a decade or thereabouts and my love of fountain pens resurrects (can’t attest to whether there was a full moon). I recall I had one pen with a B nib, and dug it out of the drawer. I inked it up with FOUNTAIN PEN INK (note the subtle emphasis?!) and found it to be less than stellar at writing.

So I started to educate myself with such weightly and knowledgable sources as YouTube and various Google discoveries. Ouch! So though it is not 100% – by and large, if an ink is pigmented (i.e .has solid colour particles – like paint) it should not be used in a fountain pen. There are a few notable exceptions, such as “shimmer” inks, but even these come with dire warnings about vintage pens and recommendations of fastidious cleaning.

What we normally think of as fountain pen inks use competely soluble dyes for their colour, which is why they can sometimes have issues with saturation. The light passes through a dye/ink, bounces off the underlying paper and comes back to us as a composite of the filtering effects of the ink, its thickness and the colour of the paper. A pigmented ink (or paint) is more opaque and reflects directly. Its perceived colour then is less impacted by the colour of the underlying paper.

So – calligraphy inks are typically pigmented, and can have rich colours (or even textures) because they are largely independent of the underlying medium. These pigments though… are not water soluble. Instead, they are held in suspension (in the UK, water based house paints are generically called emulsion which is actually the technical term for these suspensions). Unless you’re very careful (and I would add – lucky!) at least some of the pigment particles will remain behind after even the most thorough of pen cleanings. These may then dry to a pretty hard-wearing solid. If it’s in the converter, it may be reasonably benign. Most of us don’t have that kind of luck, and there’s a high likelihood you’ll end up with deposits left behind in the feed (the plastic/ebonite bit that manages ink flow to the nib), which these days typically has lots of tiny little fins that can catch the particles and allow them to dry… and be hard to shift. Particles may also settle/dry on the nib itself.

Pretty much any of these places will modify the physics of the flow of any subsequent ink to the nib… and basically bugger things up. The general advice to remedy the situation is lots of patience (“does not compute”) and lots of luke warm water and washing up liquid – specifically “blue Dawn”, because it’s gentle on baby ducks if nothing else. I’m beginning to think Dawn sponsor all these pen DIY sites.

So I began. Sure enough, over the space of a few hours/days, first the recent “proper” ink flushed out of the pen, and then gradually I began to see remnants of the bright orange J. Herbin calligraphy ink I’d used all those years ago. One of those (typically blue for some reason – Dawn influence?) ear cleaning bulbs is a great aid, and can really get some water pressure through the pen section, feed and nib, to safely dislodge loosened particles.

Image Source: Amazon

With seemingly no end to the slow expulsion of orange pigmented particles, I got more bold. I read that often the nib/feed could actually be removed from the section for additional cleaning (or indeed to swap the nib for a different width). This isn’t recommended generally, but since this was a cheap pen, and plainly didn’t work anyway, I had little to lose.

The little I lost first was a couple of the fins on the feed. These got bent as I struggled to free up the feed/nib. Then I read that gentle heat could help loosen components up. I didn’t feel comfortable using a hair-dryer (the most common recommendation), so I opted for hotter water than I’d been using thus far. This worked and I managed to removed the nib and feed… and a substantial amount of yet more orange pigment. I could now see that the feed was indeed covered in dried-on orange pigment and as well as the fins, the very fine channel along the top of the feed was clogged, essentially guaranteeing the nib would get no ink.

More soaking, but no improvement. I read that a weak solution of household ammonia can help dislodge ink too. The only thing I could find in my local supermarkets was window cleaner (also blue… hm, trend now firmly established). This had no noticeably better effect than warm soapy water… and on reflection may have made the plastic feed more brittle.

I don’t possess an ultra-sonic cleaner – often used for jewellery, rings and the like – so I went to the next best thing… a toothbrush.

You remember the “does not compute” comment above? Yeah, patience and me are not well acquainted. One brush too hard, and I snapped off the thin plastic tube at the rear of the feed which brings the ink initially from the ink reservoir to the feed’s many intricate fins and channels. This may not actually have been fatal, but it was excuse enough to draw a line under my attempts and change tack.

As a side-effect, all the hot water baths had dislodged whatever adhesives were used in the pen’s manufacture and I could now totally disassemble it, right down to the trim pieces which I discovered now unscrewed.

I carefully dried all the pieces and put them in a used Altoids tin, labelled “needs fixing”, and began looking online.

img_1688

Fully disassembled – note remaining stubborn orange stain on trim and broken feed

I discovered an online shop in the UK called Loft Pens. They make hand-turned beautiful, reasonably priced fountain pens, but also sell Jinhao brand fountain pens… and several accoutrements such as converters, replacement nibs… and feeds! I pulled out my broken feed and sure enough, it looked like a close fit for a “Jinhao number 6”. Given the price of the pen, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if it wasn’t actually a Jinhao or similar component anyway. I ordered the feed and a couple of other odds and sods… and waited. And waited.

And waited.

In the end, I contacted Loft Pens who very quickly refunded me, and suggested I re-ordered since it would seem the order had fallen into the COVID mail void. This I duly did, and reset the wait clock. A couple of weeks later, the original order turned up! I contacted the customer-caring folks at Loft Pens and offered to refund them back for the refund (if you see what I mean), but have yet to hear their preference. I underline that the delay was not of their making, and they behaved impeccably throughout.

So… now I theoretically had all the bits to rebuild Steve Austin my pen.

img_1689

Broken feed and new feed from Loft Pens

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Re-assembled, ready to ink up and try…

First attempt was a little unsteady, if I’m totally honest. I’d foolishly “gone for gold” and tried it with some Noodler’s Pushkin. It’s a lovely green colour, but I’m discovering, can be a bit temperamental. It’s supposed to be one of their forgery-resistant inks so I think it’s got odd things in it. It began well, a lovely so called “wet” line and quite happily wrote a side of my notebook without issue. I was right on the verge of declaring problem solved when I got a series of “hard starts”. A quick check showed there was still ink in the converter, so I was back to failure mode. Oddly, the pen still wrote “reversed” (nib upside down), so I had a pleasantly diverting hour or two tuning my nib as the tines weren’t quite aligned and I vaguely suspected this might be the issue (ignoring the fact it had written perfectly well for a full page of writing to that point). Eventually the converter ran dry, so I cleaned everything (lesson learnt for sure! I do this every ink refill in every pen now), and tried a bit of Parker Quink.

This is well known as a lubricated quick-drying trouble-free (if slightly boring) ink. I actually quite like the shade of Quink blue and was very relieved to drain out the fill onto a couple of pages with no issues at all. I really do think the issue is now resolved (essentially by replacing the clogged feed), and I’ve regained another fountain pen to the stable.

So – what did I learn in all this?

  • Not to use pigmented inks in a fountain pen!
    • India ink is a big no-no, by the way: it’s essentially a suspension of soot in water.
    • Iron gall inks can corrode the metal parts of a pen even though they say they’re for use in fountain pens, by the way – different issue.
    • Winsor & Newton inks contain Shellac which is similarly death (or at least a solid wounding) to fountain pens.
  • J. Herbin make lovely inks (including a scented range safe for fountain pens) – but be sure to get the ones for the writing tool you intend to use. They do ranges of metallics and shimmer inks, but not all are suitable for fountain pens.
  • Modern mass produced pens have a lot of plastic components and can often be disassembled right to the ground with patience and a little gentle heat.
    • I wouldn’t recommend this for vintage or expensive pens, but it can be educational if you have a pen you don’t mind risking.
    • Even so-called disposable fountain pens like Pilot’s V-pen (currently CAD$3 at Walmart) can be disassembled when empty and refilled with an ink of your choice. There are others like Zebra and Uni-ball. Cheap but quite servicable steel nibs from these Japanese vendors.
    • Another little “hack” – you can gently wipe the plastic barrel of these cheap pens with acetone/nailpolish remover and the printing will come off, leaving you a clear view of the ink level inside… basically a cheap demonstrator eye-dropper.
  • Cheaper pens likely have Chinese components and you may be able to find replacement parts from generic sources.
  • Not all fountain pen inks behave the same – try Parker Blue/Blue-black/Black Quink or a similarly old/boring ink such as Waterman’s or Pelikan 4001 to make sure it really is the pen and not the ink before you start taking things apart. Modern inks have way more complex chemistry than blue/black from older brands.
  • If you find yourself cleaning pens often, consider a cheap ultra-sonic cleaner. They dislodge the most stubborn of ink by creating minute bubbles to “scrub” the inaccessible parts of the pen.
    • Too much, too long can damage some components and materials, so be mindful of this if dealing with delicate or vintage pens.