Category Archives: Topical

Kit Pens Made With Deer Droppings?

Deer droppings pen by Stuart KingKit pens don’t get much respect, especially from hardcore pen geeks. And sure, not without reason. They often use generic nibs, fittings and refills mass-produced to less than exacting standards.

But that’s not totally fair, either. Some kit pens have beautiful barrels, lovingly crafted by hand into genuine works of art. Such pens may be less about the writing experience and more about the aesthetics.

These are not those pens. Or, at least, not entirely.

While browsing pens online, I came across some handmade specimens that were just so odd, I had to share them with you. To wit: Pens with barrels that contain crushed animal droppings. Continue reading

Calligraphy With A Message – And A Bite

Readers, you know calligraphy has been on our minds of late, so we were delighted to stumble across this little gem from German artist Stephanie Wiehle.

In a piece she wrote for Bored Panda, Stephanie said:

I bought a new Pentel Watercolour Brushpen and was obsessed by trying it out but I had no real idea what to write. So I thought, what if you stop giving nice advice or spreading encouraging demands. Just be honest and say that life sucks from time to time in a funny way.

She used her brush pen and some bits of pieces of fruit and flowers to create some hand-drawn pieces that offer some tough love in a lovely way.

Hand-drawn by Stephanie Wiehle

Used with permission of Stephanie Wiehle

You can see the rest of the series “Lessons of Life” at Stephanie’s website, as well as other collections of her calligraphy and drawings, and a blog (in German.) Be warned: Some of her pieces use some borderline bad words.

Wanting to see more work like this, I Googled “witty calligraphy” and found Alex Richter, who hand-draws things like “Hope you step on  a Lego” and sends them out on Snapchat. His collections of funny but mean-ish calligraphy are pretty amusing.

It’s really great to see calligraphy making rock stars out of pen people.

Keeping Chinese Calligraphy Alive

chinese calligraphyWhen we think of the loss of handwriting as a common skill, we tend to think of it in terms of English handwriting.

But the Chinese are experiencing a similar issue with regards to traditional Chinese calligraphy. And now, as fewer and fewer people learn the painstaking handwriting craft, a core group of traditionalists are working to keep calligraphy alive.

(Hacking Chinese has a great four-part tutorial that explains some of the basics of Chinese handwriting.)

At the forefront is Pang Zhonghua, who began promoting Chinese hard-nib calligraphy three decades ago and has been busy spreading it around China and the world ever since. Continue reading

Doodling Art is Centuries Old

Here’s something interesting: Doodling is not a creation of the modern mind.

Doodling art has been discovered in manuscripts going back hundreds of years, with drawings of cats, funny faces and naughty stuff showing up in the margins of everything from Bibles to texts about King Arthur and Merlin.

Credit: British Library

Credit: British Library

That’s right, medieval people indulged their inner 12-year-olds just like we do.

The people who came before us were just as creative with their pens, and just as apt to grow bored copying texts by hand in the days before printing presses became widely available. The doodles added to the margins of their pages show they had a bawdy, sharp-eyed sense of satire. Continue reading

Social Media Loves Calligraphy

A funny little bit of irony at work here: Apparently calligraphy is hot on social media sites like Instagram and Tumblr.

First, there was an article by Business Insider about how calligraphy gets a lot of attention on Tumblr. The article cites the “in a brush” Tumblr and the 13K+ notes on one widely seen example of hand-lettering.

in a brush

Writer Molly Mulshine mused:

The trend seems to appeal to social media users’ innate love of everyday tropes presented in clean and orderly ways, as seen in the widespread knolling trend and the popular Instagram account devoted to presenting perfectly arranged fruit platters.

Continue reading

The Late Elmore Leonard’s Pens

Readers in the US are probably aware that Jon Stewart is ending his long run as host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central.

To commemorate his work on the show, the network’s been live-streaming every episode of the Daily Show from the last 17 years. The other day, I caught an old one with prolific crime novelist Elmore Leonard as Jon’s guest.

(Leonard passed away in 2013.)

He talked about his writing process, including the various pens he’s used throughout his career. The man who wrote more than three dozen novels did it all by hand, with pen and paper!


The upshot is, for all that writing, Elmore Leonard’s pens were mostly cheap, except for the occasional dalliance with a Montblanc he picked up for free at a conference.

Leonard offered some more details about his choice of pens in a piece for GQ.

To write with, I started out with a 29-cent Scripto pencil, then worked up to an orange 98-cent pen. I used those for a while. And now I’m up to an expensive Montblanc—and it works very well. It’s a very nice pen. It’s maroon. The pen is important because I’m doing it all in longhand, and it has to feel right. There has to be good flow. That is important—not absolutely necessary, but why not go with what works best for me?

(Note: Scripto doesn’t make pencils anymore, according to this history by Roger Russell.)

When he passed, Elmore Leonard’s pen was a Pilot V7 with blue ink and a yellow legal pad to compose his novels, according to his hometown newspaper, the Detroit Free Press.

You have to wonder if doing it old-school like that helped to inspire him as he created his sharply etched characters and quick-witted dialogue.

Polymer Clay Pens Anyone?

Jana Lehmann, Creative Commons

This is a new one for me, but may be familiar to you if you’re into crafts.

Polymer clay is a decorative clay that can be molded onto ordinary items, then hardened by baking. Apparently, people decorate pens with clay.

But not just any pen.

It has to be one that will survive the heat of the oven. The pen most recommended for turning into a polymer clay pen seems to be the Bic Round Stic. Crafters have oven-tested it and confirmed that it will survive the high heat.

Also, it probably helps that the Bic and some of the others suggested for use – including a few models of Paper Mate – are cheap ballpoints. Covering your nice Zebra or Pentel would be sort of pointless, I think.

It also seems to matter which brand of clay you use, with at least one crafter strongly recommending Premo brand clay for pens.

The results of combing decorative clay and disposable ink pens are pretty amazing. Among some of my favorite polymer clay pens are the lightsaber pen, the chocolate cupcake pen, and the Despicable Me pen seen in this tutorial video.

If you’d like to give this a go, it seems to be a fairly simple process, with plenty of polymer clay pen tutorials like the one above to help you out.

Or, if you’re lazy like me, you can just buy some already made. Etsy has a healthy selection of polymer clay pens for sale. I’ve found some awesome examples, like this steampunk pen that probably won’t be there for long.

Any crafty readers who’ve made some of these pens? Don’t be shy; send us some pics. We’d love to see your work.

Relax, Focus With Adult Coloring

marvel coloring bookIf you’ve ever spent much time in the hospital, you know how bored you can get. That happened to me recently when I was in for quite a long stay.

I’d run out of books, got tired of TV and wasn’t all that mobile. I was desperate for something to do. Luckily, a kind nurse turned up a Marvel coloring book and a tub of crayons. Kid stuff, but I was in no position to scoff.

For the first time since grade school, I put Crayola to paper and turned out quite a nice Captain America, even if his suit was deep black and his shield a shiny purple.

Wow, I had no idea how relaxing coloring could be for an adult. It’s one of those singular tasks that requires all your focus – and none of it. Your hands and eyes take over and your mind feels free to wander where it will. Continue reading

Britain’s New Children’s Laureate Is A Pen and Pencil Artist

Chris Riddell knows drawing.

gaimanriddellHe’s illustrated more than 100 children’s books, among them the Edge Chronicles, Muddle Earth, Goth Girl and Ottoline series. He has worked with some of the biggest names in fantasy fiction, including Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. And he’s even been a political cartoonist for 20 years.

Now he’s been named Children’s Laureate of the UK. Continue reading

Using Handwriting To Instantly Confirm Identity?

Here’s something interesting in light of the whole “handwriting is dead” argument. The US government may be using a person’s handwriting as a way to secure equipment and sensitive areas.

Biometric identification is a technology that relies on unique characteristics of the human body to establish identification. For example, we’ve all seen the movies where some military person looks into an eye scanner to unlock a door into a secure room. The system analyzes the eye, matches it to previous records and unlocks the door.

Dynamic signature” is a biometric system that works the same way, only instead of analyzing an eye, it checks the person’s signature. And not just the shape of the letters. The system measures everything from the pressure applied by the person writing to the speed with which letters are formed. Continue reading

Moleskine Notebooks At The Movies

Rian Johnson's MoleskinesI’m not really a Moleskine guy, but I am a movie guy so I perked right up when I saw a post about Star Wars on Moleskinerie, the blog of the notebook maker.

It was a recap of a brief Twitter exchange between Rian Johnson, director of the upcoming Star Wars Episode VIII, and Ty Leisher, a fan and web series director.

Leisher wanted to know if Johnson wrote in Moleskines and the director responded by tweeting a picture of a bunch of dated notebooks. Presumably, they contained some Star Wars secrets fans would kill for.

Turns out, Moleskine has a history with the movies. Continue reading

Private Journal May Be An Oxymoron

Last year, I recommitted to keeping a personal journal and have managed to stick with it so far – which is actually something of an accomplishment, considering how many I’ve started and abandoned over the years.

Right off the bat, I decided two guiding principles: One, focus on what I was feeling, not the minutiae of the day; two, never lie to the journal, even if it meant writing down some ugly truths. Exposing my inner life on paper like that made me a little nervous then, and still does now.

That’s why I was very interested when Steve at Recording Thoughts wrote a post on his blog recently asking, “Is Your Journal a Liability?” His point was that our journals should not be self-indulgent spaces where we can be our worst selves, but where we strive to be better. That way, we have nothing to be embarrassed about if someone reads it. Continue reading

Using A Bio-Ink Pen To Measure Glucose

Nano-engineers from the University of California, San Diego have developed bio-inks that can turn regular ballpoint pens into chemical sensors.

Among other things, people can measure glucose levels simply by drawing on skin with the engineered ink. According to CNN Money, it works like this:

When drawn on the body, the ink adheres much like a temporary tattoo. It can detect things like the amounts of sodium insulate, lactate and glucose in your sweat. To read the measurements, the group is creating an electric Bluetooth-enabled device that will take the info from the drawn-on sensor and transfer it to a smartphone or laptop.

The ink also is able to detect pollutants on the leaves of plants, and researchers hope eventually to be able to use the bio-ink pens to test for everything from toxic gas to explosives, the university reports.

The really cool thing here is that the researchers, led by Dr. Joseph Wang, simply went out and bought cheap ballpoint pens, then refilled them with their bio-ink to conduct these tests. Continue reading

Obama’s Presidential Pens, Part II

president obama cross penFour years ago, when President Obama signed the new healthcare law into effect in the US, we told you about the 22 Cross pens he used to do the job.

Now, his pens are in the news again because of a comment he made about his intentions to veto certain controversial legislation during his second term.

He told National Public Radio in December, “I haven’t used the veto pen very often since I’ve been in office. Now, I suspect, there are going to be some times where I’ve got to pull that pen out.”

And true to his word, President Obama pulled out the veto pen recently on the Keystone XL pipeline bill, bringing attention back to the black Cross pens that he uses for official moments. Continue reading

Robert Rosenberg Talks About New Esterbrook Pens

I’ve had an interesting conversation with Robert Rosenberg, the man behind the revival of the beloved Esterbrook pen brand.

As pen collectors know, Esterbrook made classic fountain pens in New Jersey for more than 100 years until it was absorbed by a series of other companies in the early 1970s. At its peak, Esterbrook turned out 600,000 pens a day, according to the Asbury Park Press.

Esterbrook logo

Rosenberg picked up the lapsed trademark and announced late last year that he would begin making Esterbrooks again. The new generation of pens are now on sale.

After stumbling upon a newspaper article about the new company, I decided to write a blog post about it. Boy, did that turn out to be way more involved than I thought it would. Continue reading

It’s Not Just Journaling, It’s Life-Writing

journalingSo I’ve come across a term that is new to me: “Life-writing.” Apparently, this is an entire field of study devoted to all the means of documenting a person’s life, whether it’s something as simple as a daily journal, or as detailed as an historical biography.

And when I say field of study, I mean just that. Universities, particularly in the UK, have built entire departments around the topic of life-writing. For example, there’s the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing at the University of Oxford, the Centre for Life-Writing Research at King’s College London, and the Life Writing Research Program at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.

From the Lingnan program site:

Life writing is a field devoted to the study and creation of narratives which focus on individual lives. Now a large and vibrant international field, life writing includes the writing and study of autobiography, biography, oral history, journals, letters, journalistic profiles, autobiographical filmmaking and much else.

Continue reading

Right Time For A Handwriting Service?

Here’s a little irony: At a time when handwriting is being supplanted by technology, a growing little niche market has emerged for handwriting services.

(And that’s not just the plot of Her.)

It makes sense. The supply of the handwriting-capable is dwindling, so the demand for those who can still make neat cursive words is increasing.

The Chicago Tribune recently ran a piece about a new start-up called Handiemail that uses the digital marketplace to sell analog handwriting services.

Continue reading

The 1000 Journals Project & An Update From Creator Someguy

I know I’m getting to the party really late, but I’ve just seen a documentary that I’d heartily recommend for every pen enthusiast, sketcher, doodler and journaler who hasn’t already seen it.

It’s called “1,000 Journals” and it’s about a project started in 2000 by a San Francisco artist called “someguy.” The idea was very simple: Someguy sent 1,000 journals out into the world at random, and people made contributions to them, then passed the journals on until they were full. Then, completed journals were to be returned to someguy.

Continue reading

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

Pen And Ink Potpourri

This is the time of year when some days are best spent curled up inside where it’s toasty, drinking something hot and sweet and reading about your favorite things.

If you’re a pen person, this is a collection of reads that might just make you feel all warm and fuzzy. So, grab your tablet and your mug, find the snuggliest seat in the house and settle in.

Pocket protector envy

Gizmodo is in love with the Rotring 800+, except for its price tag. So, now that Monteverde has a mechanical pencil/stylus on the market – one that includes a ruler, scale and phillips and flathead screwdrivers – for less than the Rotring, the writers at Gizmodo are ecstatic.

Money isn’t everything

The cheaper option isn’t necessarily the better one, Wired points out, after pitting the Lamy Vista against the Delta Serena. Writer Richard Baguley recommends spending a little extra when choosing a fountain pen – but within limits.

Walk, you lazy babies

Now this is an new angle on the whole kids-and-handwriting discussion. The Herald Scotland reports that, in response to concerns that Scottish children’s handwriting skills are deterioriating, an academic in the education field blames the use of baby buggies.

My fountain pen can beat up your keyboard

The always pen-friendly Guardian makes another argument for the superiority of handwriting to keyboarding with a round-up of studies linking improved cognition with writing by hand. And it’s not just handwriting that enriches mankind, the piece concludes.

Certainly the graphic arts and calligraphy are thriving. Perhaps, in their way, they compensate for our soulless keyboards.

At least ink knows no gender

Author Ted Bishop earns a double-edged review from the Winnipeg Free Press for his engaging book, “The Social Life of Ink.” The reviewer enjoys Bishop’s exploration of inks and their uses, including his attempts to make ink from charred sheep bones, but takes issue with the author’s tendency to lapse in chauvinist tropes.