Field Notes Black Ice Edition: A Brief Review

Field Notes Black Ice Edition

The newest Field Notes limited edition is called Black Ice, and it’s neat-looking, though it’s probably not going to be one of my favorite Field Notes ever. And, if you’ll excuse the pun, I think the paper may leave fountain-pen users a little cold. But if there are notebook “gear heads,” I think they’ll like the Black Ice, because it looks really cool.

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Fountain Pen Favorites for November 2016

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November 2016 kicked off with the best World Series in 108 years, for a Cubs fan. And when it came to fountain pens and ink, the rest of the month was pretty darn good, too. Here are my fountain pen highlights.

1. Sheaffer Targa Green Moiré. The grand slam.

2. Some Great Inks. Montblanc Golden Yellow, a new KWZ, Bung Box Sweet Potato Purple, Bung Box Dandyism. Wow. And if the rain ever stops here, I’ll be able to take photos.

3. Columbus, Ohio. I had a great time at the Ohio Pen Show. I’ll list some favorite things. First, being able to consult Richard Binder, Ron Zorn and Dan Smith. Also, Tim Hofmann’s coffee. Hanging out with friends. The pho restaurant. Robert Mason Co. And above all, the nice people of Columbus and Ohio State. Thinking of you today, Columbus.


Photo by Dafne Cholet, Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

The Perfect Ink To Accompany Turkey Dinner at Cole Porter’s House: Bung Box Sweet Potato Purple

Bung Box Sweet Potato Purple (Omaezaki)

Okay, mind blown.

Bung Box Sweet Potato Purple. I’ll do a review, I suppose. But part of me thinks that all ink reviews are now superfluous. Let’s pull the plug on all the blogs and forums, and just go home. This probably is the best, most interesting fountain pen ink I’ve ever used. Even though it’s purple. Even though it’s been hyped from here to Japan and back.

Know that I’m not a purple fan. Also, when something has a lot of internet hype, I become super wary. Add in a very high price, and the “it’s only available once every three months” manufacturer-created scarcity, and you are describing an ink pretty much guaranteed to make me roll my eyes so far back in my head I’ll fall over backwards.

Just not for me. In fact, spending more than $40 for a bottle of (purple) Bung Box ink ranks below “root canal” and “sending my ten-year-old daughter on a plane by herself” on the list of Things I’ve Willingly Done.

Except, when I finally reached the bottom of that list, I bought Bung Box Sweet Potato Purple on a whim. And then I actually put the stuff in a pen and wrote with it. And mea culpa. This is a fantastic ink.

Bung Box Sweet Potato Purple (Omaezaki)

It’s divinely odd, and oddly divine. It’s a reddish purple, but it kind of looks burgundy, too, except it’s too purple for that. And it has greenish gold sheen, too.

It’s name is officially Sweet Potato Purple (Omaezaki). I feel like “Omaezaki” should be translated as “dayum.” This ink is that cool, that different, that quirky and wonderful. In fact, if you ever want to convert someone to fountain pen use, put Bung Box Sweet Potato Purple in a pen.

Now, we won’t go nuts or anything. No matter how stunning this ink is, it’s still purple, and it’s still crazy expensive. I have no urge for a “backup bottle.” I am quite certain my one bottle will last me forever. There are, and will continue to be, many other inks that are also awesome, most of which have the advantage of being not-purple. And the further advantage of costing far less than $40 a bottle.

But, still, wow. What an ink.

Bung Box Sweet Potato Purple (Omaezaki)

Oh, I know. “Oy with the poodles already.” Stop with the Sweet Potato Purple.

And I shall. At words poetic I’m so pathetic. It’s just an ink. A silly thing. Like the Tower of Pisa, or the smile of the Mona Lisa, the time of the Derby winner, or a turkey dinner. It’s not like anyone wrote a song about those things that might apply here, too. Just saying.

The “Sorry, We’re Watching the Gilmore Girls Reunion” Music Break

It’s the day after Thanksgiving in the US, and Black Friday for shoppers. But my girls and I (and most of my female friends) will be watching the new Gilmore Girls reunion episodes. Thank you Netflix.

(By the way, have you taken the “Which Gilmore Girl are you” quiz? I got Lorelei, which is obvious, if only because I talk all the time and drink a lot of coffee. Also I’m slightly unhinged, but not in a dangerous way. (It’s the coffee that does it.) My younger daughter was delighted to be told she’s Rory, the goody-two-shoes. I personally think she’s also got some Emily mixed in. My older daughter, self-protectively, won’t take the quiz. So we tell her she’s probably Kirk. Heh heh.)

Sadly, it won’t take all day to watch the Gilmore reunion. So up there is something else to enjoy. This is the first single from the upcoming album by the wonderful Mary J. Blige. It’s a song that someone accurately described as the most Mary J. Blige song possible. And truly, it is. It’s so Mary J. Blige, it’s almost meta-Mary J. Blige. And I love it.

Also, I want her lipstick. I really do.

The “I’m Cooking While I Croon” Day-Before-Thanksgiving Music Break

Pie crust, whipped sweet potatoes and stuffing are on the docket for today. I like to knock some things off early, but there’s only so much space in our fridge.

The only good thing about cooking, if you ask me, is that I’ve got speakers in the kitchen, so it’s jukebox city in there. And here’s an oldie but goodie. I’ve been a little worried about Kanye West, since he seems to be having a hard time right now. So I’m sending out good thoughts. Also, this is just a good song. (And more blog-friendly than most of his songs.) Be well, Kanye.

Thanksgiving Countdown

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person approaching either a vacation or a national holiday must be in want of extra work. Thus I am toiling away feverishly at boring work, even as I should be cooking for Thanksgiving and writing posts about pens.

But needs must, and like the Pilgrims surely would have, I will send out my thanks over the internet. Weirdly, I am going to be thankful for ink here. Because it’s a blog with a theme. Because I like ink. And because, okay, you guessed it: I got up late the day they were passing out Thanksgiving topics to bloggers, and I missed out on all the good ones. Oh, and I also have to bring two pies.

No, sincerely, I’m thankful for my three favorite ink companies. KWZ, my new favorite. Montblanc, which I can never resist. And J. Herbin, my old favorite. These inks are easy on my pens, and easy to clean out of my pens. The colors are beautiful, and the inks shade. That’s my entire wishlist.

I’m thankful for my most used ink: Pelikan Brilliant Black. The old reliable.

I’m thankful for all the inks that friends have sent me to try this year. Those made this year a lot more colorful, a lot nicer and a lot more fun.

And lastly, I’m thankful for the inks I tried this year that were hard for me to like initially. I didn’t always end up changing my first “yes or no” inclinations. But I always ended up changing my initial impressions. There were some “I don’t think so” inks that became “this is just fine in the right pen.” And there were also a few “I don’t think so” inks that became “I cannot write with this another day, not even another second.” (Most of those were in the babypoop brown category.)

Don’t let anyone kid you: ink is just colored water. Inks are not at all like people. Okay, except in this one little way: some you love immediately, some you take a bit longer to warm up to and some you may never warm up to, but you still benefit by giving them the benefit of the doubt, as much as you can.

I may not like babypoop brown, but gosh darn it, some people want three or four different babypoop brown inks. And I may feel an involuntary shiver run down my spine when someone says “I have a great avocado green ink here,” but the truth is, every other fountain pen user seems to love avocado green inks.

Ink is just colored water. But still I’m thankful for each time I encountered an ink that was more challenging, because it helped me remember, in the tiniest way, that we get back what we put into things.

So, ink fans, I say, today, two days before American Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful not just for the inks we love, but also for the  hard-to-love, the puzzling, the “what do people see in this anyway” inks. The “brown” inks that are black, if we’re telling the truth to power. The hard-to-read neon greens. Even the everyday blues.

Because, just maybe, these things are worth another look. A better look.

Let’s keep trying. And let’s be thankful for the opportunity to do so. Because just being able to devote a few minutes of the day to think about ink, instead of more pressing things, proves it. We are so lucky.

We should remember that every day.

Pen of the Day: Sheaffer PFM I in Green with Caran d’Ache Delicate Green

Sheaffer PFM I green

Sheaffer PFM I with medium nib. For my friend Jon, here’s my second PFM I, and first working one. It’s green, because, apparently all my pens now must be green. When I got this one, the nib wasn’t really writing well. It was a little misaligned, a little out of whack.

No worries. Because it’s a Sheaffer inlaid nib — which means, not like other nibs — and because I was going to the Ohio Pen Show, I took it to Ron Zorn. Ron did a little of this and a little of that (I was chatting), and boom, all fixed. He’s the Sheaffer master.

Sheaffer PFM I green

Probably it’s heretical, but I like the PFM I’s stainless-steel colored trim and plastic cap best of all the models. And the green. The PFM green is an unusual color. It’s not a forest green, but more a dark medium green. It usually looks lighter than in that photo.

Believe it or not, I don’t love the color green. And the PFM green isn’t conventionally attractive (to me). In fact it feels dated (to me). Paradoxically, that’s why this is my favorite. The blue, maroon and black PFMs are conventional colors, and more conventionally attractive. But the green is a little odd, and a little retro. It fits the pen.

So basically, I think the green PFM I is the coolest PFM, because it’s the most PFM.

And right now, it’s filled with my favorite green ink, Caran d’Ache Delicate Green. Which is really too pretty for this pen. But, hey, it’s almost the holiday season. It gets to dress up for a bit.

Sheaffer PFM I green with Caran d'Ache Delicate Green


Richard Binder’s Nib-Smoothing Workshop at the Ohio Pen Show

Richard Binder's Nib Smoothing Workshop materials

One of the highlights of the Ohio Pen Show for me was a nib smoothing workshop given by Richard Binder, with help from Linda Kennedy of Indy-Pen-Dance and Brian Gray of Edison Pens.

I pre-registered and paid $20 for the materials, shown above, and for the workshop. There were probably about 18 slots for paid participants, but Richard let anyone else audit the class from seats in the back.

It was really worth it, and I highly recommend it. According to Richard Binder’s website, the next show he and Barbara will attend is Baltimore on March 3 through 5. If I were in the area, I’d keep checking Baltimore and other upcoming shows for the seminar.

Richard also has a wonderful website, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the years looking through the reference pages and the blog. You can find the reference pages here. A lot of what Richard talked about in the seminar can be found in his writings about nibs, just organized differently.

I can’t teach anything about nib work, myself, but I thought I’d share a few of the workshop’s biggest lightbulb moments for me, in hopes of helping someone else.

The workshop covered the basics of nib alignment, tip shapes and nib smoothing. Richard talked about the principles, then had us practice, while Richard, Linda and Brian walked around giving individual instruction.

I learned some interesting things about loupes. For basic nib adjustment and smoothing, Richard recommends a loupe between 7x and 12x. He emphasized that an unlighted loupe is better for nib evaluation and adjustment, to avoid reflections. If, like me, you already have a lighted loupe, just keep the light off when working on nibs.

The first step is to hold the loupe and pen in the right orientation. That’s basic, but believe it or not, it was also the hardest for me and the people around me to do consistently. Richard counsels that you should hold the loupe up to your eye and look straight ahead, at the wall essentially. Then you hold the pen in your other hand, at a 45 degree angle, nib toward the ceiling (at that 45 degree angle), with the top surface of the nib facing toward you and the feed side facing away. You move the nib in that position toward the loupe until the nib tip is in focus.

That was hard, for this rank amateur, because it felt odd: you’re only seeing a very small portion of the nib tipping.  My instinct, and that of most of us, if we weren’t being conscious of following the directions, was instead to hold the nib more straight on, so we saw more of the tipping material. Or even to bend our necks and look down at the nib from above, again seeing more of the tipping material. Before the class, I would have held the nib pointing straight up and with the feed directly facing me — which lets you see a lot of tipping material, but is pretty much the opposite of what Richard counsels.

Richard explained his reasoning: when you hold the nib at a 45 degree angle, with the feed facing away, and look across the top, what you are seeing is the part of the nib that touches the paper when a person writes with the pen at a 45 degree angle. You are forcing your perspective to be that of the paper. And that makes perfect sense. It was an aha moment. This way, you are checking that the nib is perfectly aligned where it hits the paper.

As an aside, not everyone holds a pen at a 45 degree angle — I for one write at a steeper angle. So keep that in mind. (It’s also really important to mention your writing angle when you’re asking for nib work, or buying a new pen from someone who’ll adjust it to your preferences.)

Another key lesson, that was helpful right away, because I bought something at the pen show, is to know that modern, newly manufactured nibs can frequently have issues out of the box. After the workshop, I knew enough to look at my new nib before trying it, and sure enough, it needed a slight adjustment in the slit alignment.

What is slit alignment? The slit in the nib should be tapered from the breather hole to the tipping, so that the slit is wider at the breather hole and narrower at the tip. And you should be able to hold the uninked nib up a light source, look through your loupe and see light through the (hopefully tapered) slit all the way along. If the slit alignment is not correct, you can adjust it by moving the tines gently with your finger nails. That’s fairly easy to fix, but I hadn’t really been conscious that I should check for it on new pens.

And that’s a key word: conscious. I think after taking the seminar I have a better sense of the nib and how so many little things come together in the writing experience.

Back at the workshop, we also practiced gently adjusting tines if they are out of alignment at the tip, by moving one of the tines. My practice pen gave me a run for my money there. It kept jumping back out of alignment when I smoothed the nib on the buff stick or the mylar sheet. In a way, that was frustrating, but in a way helpful, because I started to be able to tell right away when the nib was out of alignment again. There’s a distinct kind of scratch when one tip is above the other.

And that brings up another critical lesson: whatever you are doing on a nib, keep double-checking that the step you just took didn’t undo a previous step. For example, if you spread the tines for a wetter flow, make sure you didn’t misalign the tines accidentally. If you did, realign, then go back and double-check the flow. And so on.

Nibwork is clearly one of those things you learn, and improve, by doing. But I feel like having Richard Binder’s instruction gives me a solid base from which to go forward. It was very gracious of Richard, Linda and Brian to share their knowledge and time in this way. I think that’s the spirit that represents the best of the pen community.