Wednesday, October 07, 2009

fountain pens, inks, notebooks and a store

(Stylus Fine Pens - Edmonton)

Here's one of my mildly off the topic posts - about the old fashioned way of writing things and keeping notes. A fountain pen and a notebook (or in my case, several notebooks).

I bought my first fountain pen in 1978 from a small stationers in the lovely little German town of Celle. It was a Mont Blanc - bought when they were still straightforward work-a-day pens not the insane status symbols they are now (nor
are they as well made now), the same company recently producing an overly ostentatious über tacky $25,000 gold and silver pen to celebrate Gandhi of all people (what the heck were they thinking!). But I still have my old original pen although the nib is getting well worn and needs re-tipping.

For a long time over the last few years I just used it for writing the odd letter and writing notes in a journal when I was on holiday or at the cottage. But apart from that, it didn't get much use. More recently though I got back into the habit of using it again along with a few of the other fountain pens I'd picked up over the years (though I found my much loved, if somewhat mainstream, Sheaffer Targa had finally succumbed to all the bangs, dents and scratches it took living in my pocket over two years or so of counter-terrorist operations... I have to see if I can get it fixed up).

I realised recently that I had completely got back into the habit of using a fountain pen for a lot of what I write, and that I was also using useful little pocket notebooks much more than any form of digital "recording device". Unfortunately this has been somewhat aided and abetted by discovering that our city has a a rather lovely little shop that specialises in pens, inks, notebooks and fine paper and other cool and funky office supplies (such as magnetic paper weights from Germany or beautifully sculpted steel pocket pencil sharpeners...).
A bit more on the store in a minute, but back to pens and paper for now. I'm finding it much more productive and enjoyable to write a lot of things out by hand - not just short notes and ideas, but longer outlines and papers. It seems a much more comfortable way of doing it. These days I tend to use one of my favourite two or three pens, usually a fairly standard Pelikan Souverän 600 or a Visconti Van Gogh midi, as well as a funky little hexagonal aluminium pocket pen by Wörther.

As for notebooks, I've always been a
Moleskine fan (although they seem to have gone nuts with products these days - which isn't exactly a bad thing) - just about all my photo projects have been recorded in a standard black Moleskine over the years - place, date, time, film, lens, ideas, outlines etc. The trouble is (and I really wish they would fix this), their paper just generally isn't fountain pen friendly. And even worse, it can vary from batch to batch. But on the whole, the ink nearly always bleeds through to the other side of the page. So for now, I've found some great notebooks from a company called Quo Vadis - the Habana (unlined of course - I can't bear the rigidity of lined pages...). Lovely paper and beautifully made - and the orange looks great. I also like some little Japanese notebooks by Apica for every day jotting - shopping lists and things to do and errands to remember. BTW, this being the digital age there are actually a bunch of sites out there with Moleskine and other notebook "hacks"
As for ink - well, that's another story. I always used to just use slight variations on blue or black. Whatever I could find easily. And while I guess there have always been fancy inks around, it seems to me - coming back to fountain pen use as it where - that there has been an explosion of specialist ink makers, as well as established makers becoming much more adventurous in their offerings. There are all sorts of funky colours - every shade and variation on red through purples and blues to sepias and siennas to greys and blacks and everything in between. Along with great names like Dragon's Napalm (meant to replicate mercurochrome antiseptic in a Vietnam War era MASH unit...) to El Lawrence - a sort of motor oil grey black to Zhivago - a deep green black that evokes the Doctor's writing deep in the ice bound dacha, to classic numbers from France such as Violet Penseé or Café des Îles. Of course this would be fine if you had to pick and chose carefully over the internet and pay for shipping etc., but as I mentioned, we have a rather nice pen shop here in Edmonton - so over the last couple of years I've been using some rather funky colours. My current favourites are Noodler's Golden-Brown which shades within each stroke of the pen from a golden yellow to a sort of warm earth burnt sienna colour. The other is the Zhivago that almost looks like a standard black and then, in a different light, you notice a tiny little touch of deep green on the edge of many of the strokes (oh - and a beautiful lavender blue from De Atrimentis in Germany). Anyway, it all livens things up a bit and stops it getting boring.

As for that shop, if you ever come through Edmonton Stylus Fine Pens is definitely worth a visit. And if you are in Canada, take a look as wel they will take orders and ship on line. They do have a great range of pens, but their range

of inks and notebooks and other paper products is also superb. On top of which is their rather nice range of contemporary office products (which sounds so drab, but I can't think of a better term late this evening - writing accessories?). Letter openers like El Bandito to liven up your morning, or imaginative paperweights or the classic looking heavy duty El Casco stapler. Mind you, the website only shows a portion of their accessories. Finally, the store is run by two very nice, friendly and knowledgeable people.

So, if you are wedded to your Blackberry or iPhone, think about giving it a break. Grab a pen (preferably a fountain pen - even if you have to dust it off and clean it out) and stick a notebook or two in your pocket and put all your ideas and schedules and plans in there instead.

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