Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Heart of Pen: In which we meet Dr. Inkenstein

(Thoughts from a blue-collar collector, or, How To Start Small, then go overboard)

I remember my first fountain pen.

It was a school-grade Sheaffer Skrip, with shiny silvertone cap and translucent, colored barrel. I don't recall how well it wrote, but I do recall being vaguely annoyed at the color discord between the yellow barrel and the bullet-like cartridge of black ink. I may have ended up with ink on my fingers, but at this point, the details elude my fading memory.
Then, a number of years later, all grown up, I was watching a late-night TV ad (before the dawn of the infomercial). The ad extolled the virtues of a fountain pen. How good was this pen? Someone actually shot the pen into a target as though the pen were an arrow, then proceeded to write with it.
It's a writing implement! It's a weapon! Stop! You're both right!
So of course I had to order that fountain pen. The barrel was brushed silvertone, and the pen came with extras: a few mechanical pencils plus some rollerball pens and a bunch of ballpoints in red and green and gray and yellow and rust and azure that contained sticky colored ink to match the color of the barrel. Now that was more like it! (Except for the fact that the ballpoints dried out after about two paragraphs of writing.) The fountain pen was a reluctant starter. I don't recall its eventual fate.
Next I bought two leaky, no-name fountain pens for about two bucks each from an art supply store. One of these cheap plastic travesties came in dark turquoise; I have probably blocked the color of the other in something approaching an Edvard Munch Scream Moment. These two horrors almost ran me off fountain pens forever.
But years later, in another art supply store, a shiny, pretty pen caught my eye. A Diplomat Butterly, in Nash Metropolitan Turquoise, with winking goldtone trim. This little beauty was about the length of a forefinger and half as thick. I had to own it, and it set me back a whole seven dollars. The Butterfly was tough to write with due to its size, but I still have it, because it's shiny and pretty.
I also bought a Rotring Artpen (1.1 italic nib) in a teal color. This full-sized fountain pen had a long, pointy-ended barrel, and unlike the Butterfly, it took standard international cartridges. It was a wonderfully smooth writer. I still have it, AND still use it. At the time, the price seemed steep---about twice what I spent on the Butterfly.
Then I discovered the The Fountain Pen Network, and Hero pens. The rest is history.
Fast-forward to today, when I have more fountain pens than I can count, have given away nearly a hundred to fellow aficionados, and almost obssessively match my ink to the color of the barrel.
And I do have a lot of ink. So many colors! Colors prettyyyy.
I focus on the many cheap, cheerful pens available. They make me happy. Student pens. Chinese pens. Obscure pens. What I look for is great writeability, a fat, lightweight body, and as little 'fuss' as possible. That's why I like the Pilot Varsity and the Preppy Platinum. You can't kill them with a stick.
I recently stubbed my first nib by the simple means of a nail clipper and emory board applied to a three-dollar Stypen. It's one of the nicest writers I have. Call it beginner's luck.
And though I now have a few higher-end (to me!!!) fountain pens, such as the Sheaffer Legacy (brushed goldtone, B nib) and a Waterman Carene (tomato red, M nib), the ones that are always inked are my Hero 616s, Parker Frontier, Sailor Profit Special Script, and my Pelikano Juniors.
With inks, I prefer lots of color and plenty of it. Something light and watercolor-y, with good shading. I gave away Noodler's and Private Reserve inks until I discovered you can DILUTE THEM WITH WATER to get that same non-sticky, shading effect.
Doh. Well, my loss is your gain. I can tell you how to fill a fountain pen cartridge, link you to a video about refilling the disposable Pilot Varsity, and generally point you in the direction of my favorite pens at any price point from $5-$50. (The $3 Stypen Creeks come to mind---a nice, unpretentious pen that writes well enough to use every day, inexpensive enough to use as a science experiment!)
And I will post the occasional very casual fountain pen and ink review. Other pen and ink blogs contain far more and greater awesome than mine, and I intend to find them and link them for you.
Don't even get me started about paper. Especially paper made out of.... stone.

Happy inking.


  1. I really enjoyed this post. :) Thanks.

  2. Thanks, minna-dono. *still striving to learn this bloggythingy*