Category Archives: Hints & Tips

How To Improve Your Handwriting – 5 Easy Tips

So you’ve decided to try & improve your handwriting, make it look a little less like a spider has crawled across the page & lets just say more legible.


We’ve all heard the arguments about technology taking over & that handwriting is no longer important. Maybe it’s a generation thing but I’m sure I’m not alone finding it faster & easier to jot down a note with a pen than reaching for the mobile & tapping the keypad.

1. Posture
When practicing, sitting at a table is better than in your favourite armchair or sofa. You’ll be able to sit up with a straight back, your feet planted on the floor with uncrossed legs. Next relax your hand & arm, it’s an idea to loosen up by twisting your wrist a few times & do a few stretching exercises as writing will also use muscles in the shoulders & forearms. Avoid writing to the left of your palm (more likely if your left handed) as this is likely to give you cramp. If this is something you are inclined to get there are a wide range of ergonomic pens available to help.

2. Watch Your Speed
Something many people do (me included) is write as if they’re in a race against the clock. By taking time to concentrate on every letter you will see much better results.

3. Doodle
Practice your scribbles, this will help train the hand & eye to work together, it can have the added benefit of providing a little light relief if you’ve had a stressful day or meeting.

4. Keep a Diary or Journal
Whether it’s keeping a note of the days events or recording your innermost thoughts a daily diary or journal entry will give you good reason to practise your writing. Just a few minutes little & often will not only help improve your penmanship but could provide health benefits like improving emotional well being or reducing stress.

5. Loosen Your Grip
It can be tempting to hold the pen too tightly. Rather than squeezing the barrel imagine your pen is a quill that may break & lightly pull it across the page.

When trying to improve your handwriting it may look worse before it gets better but with practice & perseverance you’re sure to achieve a style that you are happy with.

Desk Tidy Ideas

Ever wondered how the desk gets so untidy when you spend most of your time staring at a computer? Me too, when it comes to having a clear up those creative souls or DIYer’s amongst us may choose to recycle old jars, unused mugs or make use of other objects around the house, with so many different pens & paint markers around you could always create a bespoke piece to cram into a dark idle corner.  Alternatively there’s always the local stationers, DIY or charity shop to visit.

This subject got me thinking about an old boss, renowned for having the tidiest desk in the office, these options would never have been given the time of day. If you like he is looking for something a little upmarket you may need look no further than Missing Digit Woodshop.


A small family owned artisan company that in their words are “dedicated to creating interesting designs for the dicerning nutcase” have produced a desk tidy that will hold post it notes, a letter opener & styli along with your pens & pencils.
They offer natural wood & coloured options & the tidy stands at 18cm tall, that’s around 7 inches in old measurements.

If you fall into the DIY camp but are looking for a little inspiration you could always check out a few tutorials

Fall Into Some 3D Drawing

I’ve always been fascinated by 3D drawing and the idea that an artist could create such incredible illusions using nothing more than a pencil and piece of paper.

With hopes that our readers will enjoy these as much as I have, here are some awesome examples of 3D drawings and artists. Also included are a few links to some  3D art techniques for beginners in case any of you want to give it a try.

Ramon Bruin

Dutch artist Ramon Bruin is one of the masters of the technique, drawing skulls, cities, sharks and snakes that seem more like objects that happen to be sitting on paper than drawings.

Ramon Bruin 3D drawing

Credit: Ramon Bruin

Continue reading

No Good Way To Convert Handwritten Notes To Text?

wpx-170_1zLike a lot of you, I carry a notebook every day and take a ton of handwritten notes about most everything from grocery lists to my someday novel.

I prefer writing on paper with a pen and have no interest in using handwriting apps for the smartphone, digital pens or tablet and stylus to capture my thoughts. Something about that just seems to suck all the creativity right out of the process. Over the years, we’ve heard from many of you who feel exactly the same way.

The problem is that I end up with a whole lot of written material with no easy way to organize it and little to no searchability. It’s frustrating when I can remember writing down some brilliant idea that’s hanging right there at the edge of my memory, and I have to flip through every page of a dozen notebooks just to find it.

So, what I end up doing periodically is transcribing my handwritten notes book by book into Microsoft OneNote. As you can imagine, it’s a tedious process.

That’s why I was really excited the other day when I saw a headline in the Guardian, “How can I convert my handwritten notes into Word documents?” Unfortunately, my excitement had dimmed considerably by the time I finished reading . It seems there is no really good way of converting handwritten notes to text. Continue reading

Guides To Basic Pen And Ink Techniques

A lot of our readers are interested in drawing. So, on the chance that it might be useful to some of you, we’ve put together a short list of sites where you can learn basic pen and ink techniques.

There’s a channel on YouTube called GMS Art with a collection of short 20- or 30-second videos demonstrating how to create stippling, hatching, parallel lines and other basic techniques. Well done videos, easy to follow. Seems to be a production of the Greenbelt Middle School art department.

The Student Art Guide is a website that offers free art education articles and tutorials. One of the most basic pen and ink techniques the site teaches is line drawing. Continue reading

Doodling: The Non-Sensical Way To Make Sense Of It All

Example of doodling

Credit: Giulia Forsythe

One of my goals for the new year is to take up doodling.

That might sound a bit silly. Frivolous, even. But there is a reason for it, and a reason I’d recommend everyone become a doodler, at least a little.

Research over the last few years consistently has found that the simple act of doodling increases a person’s ability to retain information, aids in learning new concepts and stimulates the right hemisphere of the brain, helping to fire the imagination.

According to the BBC, human beings may just be hard-wired to doodle.

Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution and Gamestorming, criticizes the idea of doodling as a useless endeavor, instead offering this re-definition of doodling at the 2011 TED conference:

Doodle: to make spontaneous marks to help yourself think.

In her TED Talk, Brown explains that learning and memory are accomplished in four distinct ways: visual, auditory, kinesthic and reading/writing. Learning requires engaging at least two of those. Doodling uses all four. You are listening to new information, writing it down and reading it, adding visual reminders and engaging your motor functions.

(Fast Company has an excellent piece exploring more of Brown’s ideas on doodling as a means of learning and improving memory.)

A study by Plymouth University in the UK found that information recall improved 29 percent among participants who doodled while listening to a tape of names and locations compared to participants who did not doodle.

“If someone is doing a boring task, like listening to a dull telephone conversation, they may start to daydream,” said study researcher Professor Jackie Andrade, Ph.D. “Daydreaming distracts them from the task, resulting in poorer performance. A simple task, like doodling, may be sufficient to stop daydreaming without affecting performance on the main task.”

Researcher Shaaron Ainsworth from the University of Nottingham has also conducted studies testing the use of doodling as a learning tool in science education. Her conclusion: Doodling aided in keeping students engaged, taught them visual reasoning skills and was an important part of learning strategies.

And in yet another study, this one performed in Australia, researchers reported that combining drawing and writing improved childrens’ writing skills.

Apparently there is even a term for the practice of combining doodling and note-taking for learning and idea-generation. It’s called “sketchnoting,” about as perfect a way to describe it as I’ve ever heard. It also has become a field of professional study and consulting known as “visual practice.”

One visual practitioner, Patti Dobrowolski, advocates doodling not only as a way to learn and remember, but also to make effective changes in corporate cultures and in personal lives. Drawing goals helps people envision them, then enact those visions, she says.

According to Dobrowolski:

Goal-setting often stalls because we have so much data filling our brain that it gets overloaded and can’t remember what to focus on, but when you DRAW a picture of what you desire, you remember it better by 65%!

Add into your success quotient the chemistry your body makes when you are imagining and drawing—that serotonin/oxytocin elixir helps guide that pattern-making brain of yours into focusing on what you want.

Now I just have to figure out how to doodle my goal of becoming a doodler. Maybe this video from Art ala Carte can help me get started.

The most important lesson so far: “There’s no rhyme or reason with doodling; it’s just kind of what’s in your head.”

Of course, I’d be in good company. Mark Twain, Franz Kafka, Ron Howard, Sylvia Plath, Bill Gates and Hillary Clinton are all well-known doodlers.

Inspire Yourself By Starting A Sketchbook

I can’t art. Without exaggeration, the sum total of my artistic range falls somewhere between a toddler’s scribbling and the cave art of early man.

But I do write, and you not what really sucks? When I’m strolling about or having a sit somewhere and inspiration leaps up out of the ground and bites me on the seat cushion – and I’ve gone and forgotten my notebook.

Creativity is best right in that moment, when it’s freshest. Bringing it back from memory later is just never as good.


And I can’t imagine that it’s a whole lot different for artists.

So, to all you artistic sorts I say, if you aren’t carrying a sketchbook with you on the regular, you’re robbing yourself of inspiration. Continue reading

Put Your Pens To Work With Sktchy Portrait App

Sktchy logoSktchy is a nifty little iPhone app we recommend for those of you with an artistic bent.

The concept is extremely simple: People upload pics of themselves and artists then create sketches, paintings, etc. based on those pics and add them back to the Sktchy collective.

The app – which is free – allow you to browse a library of photos provided by people hoping to be captured by artists, and also allows you to follow specific artists that you like. Continue reading

Ideas For DIY Pen/Pencil Grips

Some pens can be almost perfect – except for that not quite comfortable grip. For me, the Pentel EnerGel is like that; it’s a great-writing, dependable pen but it doesn’t really feel as good in the hand as it could.

Fortunately, making a DIY pen/pencil grip is a pretty simple matter. All you need is a good pen, a few inexpensive materials and a little time, and you can improve the cushioning on your pen considerably with minimal effort.

You can take one of several different approaches. Continue reading

Our Favourite Blog Posts in November

Miriam gives us a comprehensive look at Calligraphy Pen Basics on the Jet Pens blog

Pen Ink cillin explains why “this thing about using the same brand of pen and ink is mostly myth” in a Parker Quink review

Deborah from Goodwriters thinks we need more bright, cheerful, multicoloured pens like the St. Michael Pen shown in her blog post

Heather still likes ballpoints and reviews the Bic Atlantis Ballpoint over at A Penchant for Paper

Nifty reviews the Blackwing Slate Notebook over at Notebook Stories

We found a handy guide on what to look for when buying a fountain pen on the Pen Heaven blog

Brian tells us why he doesn’t think he could choose one over the other when he compares a Paper Mate Flair & a Sharpie over at the Office Supply Geek blog

Matthias reviews the Tachikawa fountain pen in one of his fountain pen day posts over at Bleistift

Stephanie asks what is your preferred ruling width? Over at the Rhodia Drive blog


Want to De-Stress? Try a Spot of Colouring

Whenever I travel on public transport I expect to see fellow passengers with their noses in a book or fiddling with their phones. Until recently if I’d seen someone over the age of about 10 doodling in a colouring book it would have been cause for a double take.


It seems however that it’s become a pastime of choice in parts of Europe. In France sales of adult colouring books is said to have surpassed that of cookery books.

Psychologists have been using Art Therapy for years, we had Pioneers here in the UK back in the 40′s & 50′s, so what’s all the fuss about now I ask myself. I can only guess the current popularity is just a case of trends going full circle. Whatever the reason interest is definitely growing.

Whether or not we want to regress into childhood, it’s worth noting that there are benefits to be had from colouring

  • De-stress – Whilst getting out the colouring book won’t help with the housework or stop the bills falling through the letter box, it can help you to forget your problems for a while. It can also give you a chance to re-focus your mind.
  • Maintain a sharp mind – Colouring requires hand-eye co-ordination, developing this can help your reaction times.
  • Relaxation – By releasing tension you can get your mind back on an even keel.

Psychologist Antoni Martinez recommends colouring saying we can use it “to connect with how we feel since depending on our mood we choose different colors or intensity”


Art gives you a chance to express and release your feelings not matter how skilled you are, so the next time you need to unwind why not pick up some Colouring Pens & give it a go?

Beats going to the gym. You can take your pick of books, from cartoons, to animals or intricate designs, alternatively just make up your own as you go along

Scrapbook 101 – A Beginners Guide

During a recent downsizing exercise I found a box of old photos & albums. It was so nice flicking through them mug of coffee in hand but as I searched the corners of my mind for names & places of years gone by I wished I’d been more organised, at least noted a date on the back of my pics. Always a believer that its never too late I started looking for ideas of how to create a scrapbook.


Here are some of my favourites that spurred me on to get started

Get organised
You can find any number of embellishments like stickers, buttons, ribbons etc. but you don’t have to spend a fortune to get started.
All you really need is

  • A pair of scissors
  • Adhesive for your photos
  • An album
  • Page protectors
  • Paper & card (making sure it’s all acid & lignin free to prevent deterioration)
  • A pen with archival quality ink

Tip – if you’re unsure of a clipping’s make up you could use a de-acidification spray or failing that make a copy on acid free paper.

Keep it simple
As with most things scrapbooking will have trends, something you do today may look dated in years to come. I’ve learned that many seasoned scrappers suggest that keeping to basic shapes will create a timeless way of telling your story & preserving treasured photos.

Learn the basics

  • How to make a photo mat – these are basically borders that help your photos stand out. Use your imagination, depending on your theme or effect you want to create these can be as simple or elaborate as you like.
  • How to fix photos – in terms of scrapbooks fixings are often used to draw attention to the photo. Choose from a wide range of embellishments to suit your theme/taste.
  • How to create borders – you can make interesting borders with card, fabric or metal. Alternatively why not experiment using photos & text. Scrapbooking is all about telling your story & saving memories, the ways that you decide to do it are all down to personal choice.
  • Choose your layout – decide if you want the event to go on one or two pages, do you want to overlap photos? make a grid or link to a journal, there are so many things you can do & plenty of places to search if you’re in need of some inspiration.

Until I started my quest for ideas I hadn’t realised just how much info was out there. As a beginner my advice would be don’t be overwhelmed. You don’t need to make an all singing & dancing album using different techniques on every page. It should be fun, enjoy it!
So it looks like I’ve found a new hobby, I’ll still be using the computer to store irreplaceable photos safely in the clouds but will also have my very own library, a little piece of history, a keepsake.

How to Improve Your Handwriting – 5 Tips

Has anyone ever said your handwriting reminds them of that of a doctor’s? Me too, so maybe its time to make some changes. Here are 5 of the best tips I’ve found

1. Slow Down – It seems that many people write at speed in an attempt to finish the task as fast as they can. By concentrating on the letters as you write you can also learn to control your arm & wrist to make your writing flow freely.

2. Check your grip – How you hold a pen or pencil is a personal choice, I have seen people hold pens & pencils in a variety of weird & wonderful ways & they get by. However, the general consensus seems to be that your pen should be resting between your index, middle finger & thumb. The index acts as a guide with the middle finger & thumb steadying the pen. The more you grip the pen the more likely you will get cramps or even blisters, the hand should be as relaxed as possible.


3. Practice – By writing rows of letters with identical spaces between them & in a larger text than you would normally use you can start to feel more control over the movement of your arm & wrist. As you feel more comfortable you can start to reduce the size. You could try writing lines of “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” as this sentence uses every letter of the alphabet. As the old saying goes practice makes perfect!

4. Write don’t type – Replace the keyboard with a pen & paper. Wherever possible take time out to hand write notes & letters rather than just firing off an email. OK, it may be old fashioned but I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like to receive a letter in the post, it’s more personal somehow.

5. Posture – Sitting in an upright position can help avoid headaches, back & neck strain. I’ve seen young students almost lying on the desk slouching with their noses touching the paper so it was no surprise to hear they found it difficult to concentrate & didn’t enjoy the task. Ideally both feet should be on the floor, for right handed writers the body should be slightly turned to the left, lefties should position themselves to the right.

Well enough of the theory, I’m off to practice!

How to Remove Ink From Almost Anything

I’ve often written about the benefits of airplane safe pens but never tackled how to deal with an in-flight explosion of the pen kind, here are a few down to earth ink removal suggestions.


Airplane safe pens tend to be rollerballs containing liquid or gel ink but just because they didn’t leak on your last trip doesn’t mean you won’t have cause to remove ink when grounded.

Many rollerball pens have liquid ink, this is water based so the first thing to try, you guessed it good old water, this should lift the ink by diluting it. In the case of gel ink, this is still water based but also contains pigment they tend to set more quickly making removal more difficult.

Most of us have experienced the odd accident at some time or another, ink stains are obviously not just a problem with rollerball pens, the choice of pens is vast so here are a just a few tips for ink removal.

Clothing (tip always test a small patch first)

  • Hairspray seems to be a favourite, don’t reach for your most expensive can mind, a cheapie from the local supermarket will suffice. Just give the offending stain a good spray until its fairly wet followed by a firm rub & it should loosen the ink. Then give it a twirl in the washing machine on the hottest temperature setting appropriate to the fabric, taking care not to leave yourself with another problem – shrinking.
  • Nail polish remover. It’s an idea to place an old cloth or kitchen paper under the area you are treating or you may take more than ink of your work surface. Apply the remover & blot with paper towel, repeating as required, once removed rinse with warm water.
  • Milk – simply make a bath of the white stuff & soak, preferably overnight.

Apart from store cupboard solutions, there are various products on the market Oxiclean have quite a selection to choose between.

Skin – I’d guess this is one of the more common surfaces. I usually start with good old soap & water with the help of a nailbrush. Failing that I move on to nail polish remover or a gentler option is baby oil but depends how much ink you are tackling, if you’ve managed to get the contents of something like an Artline 517 Whiteboard Marker on your hands then alcohol is probably the best bet (surgical spirit does the job, don’t turn to your drinks cupboard).

Leather – Ink removal will depend upon the type of material i.e if its suede, synthetic or a leather designer handbag & the type of ink but alcohol often does the trick. A friend assures me that she has had success on a favourite synthetic leather bag using a mix of bleach & baking soda applied with care using a cotton bud. Not something I’m to try.

Wood – (a DIY removal maybe not something to try on your Grandma’s antique dresser, probably best left to the specialists)
For some of your less valuable pieces if a pen has been used & the ink stains involve gouges in the wood, it’s likely to be harder to get to the ink.

  • Baking Soda. A natural inexpensive choice, just make a paste by mixing with water & spread over the ink. Wipe off with a damp cloth & repeat if necessary.
  • Washing up liquid – same method as above.

This list is by no means exhaustive, toothpaste (not the gel kind) & WD40 have also been known to remove ink, if you have any good tips you want to share then let us know.


Maybelline reviews the Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen over at on Fountain Pens & concludes its a good beginners pen

Jeff from the Pen Addict reviews the Hero 529 Fountain Pen

Read a comprehensive review of the Parker IM Fountain Pen from Ed over at Ed Jelley

Brian from Office Supply Geek finds the Kaweco Sport Rollerball pen is a nice switch from fountain pens.

Azizah at Gourmet Pens explains why she thinks the Pelikan Tradition M200 clear fountain pen is a lovely pen.

The folk over at Peninkcillin think Rohrer & Klingner Alt-Goldgrun is a fun & attractive ink.

Brian gives a Platinum Fountain Pen line up on his video over at Ink Noveau

Julie B at Pens Paper Inks..Whatever features Hakumin Urushi Negoro Kuro-Tamenuri




Matthias at Bleistift gives a rundown on Popcult pencils

Ed reviews the comments on the classic 1940′s styling of the Wality fountain pen over at Ed Jelley

Matt gives a detailed review of a Parker Premier over at The Pen Habit

Rich at Fountain Pen Network gives one of his small Pad reviews of the Visconti Opera

David writes an interesting post about the importance of handwriting a over at Pen Heaven

Jono shares his experience of a Kickstarter funded Eco essential pen & pencil at Pentorium

Johnny asks How is the Bic Cristal like a pencil? In his post at Pencil Revolution

Jerry talks about the popular Soho Coloured Pencils at Jerry’s Artarama


Spring is in the air & Garden Party is the theme for the Ink Nouveau May Ink Drop

Stuck for ideas for choosing Brush pens for Art? Check out Miriam’s guide at Jetpens

Seth at Good Pens talks about his likes & dislikes of liner/drafting pens when he reviews The Ohto Graphic Liner

Laurie at Plannerisms takes a closer look at MiracleBind notebooks & is asking for comments

Julie B from Whatever welcomes the May Carnival of Pen, pencil and paper

George takes a closer look at the Lindy School Pak in my supply room

Lung shows of his Earth Dragon Birthday Card over at Robot Ninja Monsters

Lito at Writing Instruments asks if Waterman Red Ink has been altered by the ravages of time

Jeff blogs about his experiment with an E+M Shaper wood-body ballpoint over at the Pen Addict


Brian over at Ink Nouveau takes a sneak peek at the Lamy Safari Neon Coral.

Ed Jelley reviews the Nakaya Neo Standard Writer read it here.

For another sneaky peek check out Tom’s at Goldspot Pens post on the new Parker & Waterman pens.

Johnny gives his take on the Sun Star multi pencil sharpener over at Pencil Revolution.

Lung writes about some vintage pencil exhibits over at Lung Sketching Scrolls.

Karen at Rhodia Drive comments on the most striking pad she has ever seen

A post on No Pen Intended explains why there will always be room in a pen case for a Pilot Frixion Ball Knock

For a comparison of a couple of flex pens head on over to the Well Appointed Desk



Common Office Terms for Brits Working In America

staedtler eraserI have to admit, as an American, my inner 12-year-old gets to giggling whenever one of my British colleagues refers to an eraser as a “rubber.”

That’s why I enjoyed this BBC piece translating common office terms for Brits working in America and vice versa.

For example, the aforementioned rubber might be an eraser in the UK, but it is slang for a condom in America. The possibilities for misunderstanding are endless.

Other helpful translations from the BBC:

  • Blue tack = sticky putty
  • Brackets = parentheses
  • Canteen = cafeteria
  • Cheque = check
  • CV = résumé
  • Drawing pin = push pin/thumb tack
  • Full stop = period
  • Hash sign = Pound sign
  • Leaving ‘do’ = leaving party
  • Oblique = slash
  • Sacked = fired
  • Sellotape = sticky or Scotch tape
  • Skive (off) = play hooky or shirk work duties
  • Tick = check
  • Tipp-Ex = Wite-Out Continue reading

GQ Says Every Man Should Have A Good Pen…

…and not just any pen, but a fountain pen.

Got a GQ guy on your Secret Santa list this year? Well, according to the bible of style, one of the five essential things that no man should be without is a quality fountain pen.

And interestingly enough, quality does not necessarily mean pricey, GQ says.

The mag recommends both the Lamy Safari and the Kaweco Class Sport, two pens that are fairly inexpensive, yet known for performance and reliability.

And why should every man have a good pen?

Because, says writer David Coggins, “it’s about the mark you make in the world when you put pen to paper, and that mark is something worth doing well.”