Ink review – KWZ Walk Over Vistula

The back story of KWZ inks is pretty well known.  They’re made in Poland by a husband and wife team and include a range of iron gall inks alongside their “normal” inks.  In late 2017, to mark Polish Independence Day, KWZ added three suitably-themed inks to their standard line-up.  I bought all three earlier this year, but have so far mainly used Walk Over Vistula.

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In search of enlightenment

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Ink drops seemed a bit dull, but I have no idea what prompted this combination as an alternative

A brief internet search tells me that the Vistula is Poland’s longest river which flows through Krakow and Warsaw.  I have no idea what colour the waters of the Vistula are, but Walk Over Vistula is a turquoise-blue ink.  I’m reluctant to call it teal, because I don’t think it has enough green in it.  This is quite a crowded field with plenty of competition to be found (see swatches later).  As it turns out, it’s also a colour I like.  Of the 11 inks I swabbed for comparison, I own full-sized bottles of 7 of them!

For some reason, the camera on my iPad had some issues with colour accuracy resulting in the ink looking like it is more blue than turquoise.  I tried persuading it of the error of its  ways, but it wasn’t having any of it.  You’ll have to take my word for it about the true nature of the colour.  Sorry about that.

The ink comes packaged in the same way as other KWZ inks.  You get 60ml of ink in a glass bottle, shipped in a fetchingly minimal box.  Handily, the top of the box has a small colour swatch on it.  If you store your inks inks in a box like me, it makes it easy to pick out the ink you want.  The bonus with the “independence” inks is that you get a postcard that showcases the ink colour.

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So what’s it like?

Likes and dislikes about ink are very subjective, but I’m definitely in the “like” camp for Walk Over Vistula.  Aside from the rich colour, you get an ink that is pretty well saturated and which flows well.  In my fine-nibbled Lamy 2000, this equated to a wet line with not a lot of shading.  For comparison I also inked up a Lamy Safari with a stub nib.  As well as getting the benefit of a wider line, the relatively stingy ink flow is a good way of holding back more “enthusiastic” inks, helping to show off colour and shading.

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Both samples were written in a Taroko Breeze notebook which features white 68gsm Tomoe River.

What the writing samples don’t show is the sheen that comes with this ink.  As someone who enjoys a bit of sheen, I was very slow on the uptake in spotting the sheen on this ink.       You can’t avoid it on Tomoe River paper.  I haven’t tried any Rhodia, but the sheen was also evident on the paper in my TWSBI notebook.

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Something tells me that drawing crustaceans is not my strong point

In terms of looky-likeys, one of my first thoughts was Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-jaku.  Looking at the swatches, maybe Blackstone Barrier Reef Blue and various of the Robert Oster inks are nearer to the mark.  I think my reluctance to badge this as a teal ink is borne out by comparison with Sailor Jentle Yama dori.

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Note to self, make sure the page is flat to avoid fuzzy bits

A bit of kitchen chromatography doesn’t reveal any great surprises

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I haven’t tested Walk Over Vistula for waterproof-ness, but I’m pretty confident it’s not.  This isn’t a deal-breaker for me as I don’t tend to need waterproof inks.  Similarly, it’s not the quickest drying, but not outrageously slow either.

Despite there being a number of similar alternatives to this colour, I’m enjoying using it. Two pens in my current rotation are inked with it.  I’m more than happy to recommend this ink in its own right, but when you take into account the fact that you get 60ml at the price of KWZ’s standard ink range.

I got my bottle from Bureau Direct for £12.95, but you can also get it from The Hamilton Pen Company.  In the US, you can get Walk Over Vistula from Vanness.

Enjoy.

 

 

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My First Pen Show

On Sunday 4th February I attended the first pen show on the UK calendar at the Doubletree Hilton on the outskirts of Bristol.  It was also my first pen show, but the coincidence was mainly one of geography as this one is nearest to home.  Despite having read reports of last year’s London pen show and various US pen shows, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect out here in the provinces.  Luckily I didn’t have to brave things by myself as I managed to persuade my friend, Phil, to tag along.  For us newbies, safety in numbers seemed like a good idea.

We managed to arrive not long after things got going so we had a good chance to scout out the stands before the crowds arrived.  There was mainly a mixture of retailers and dealers, the Writing Equipment Society, plus renowned UK pen maker Adrian Twiss.  I probably should have thought more about what I’d need to write up my trip and taken more note of who else was there, but I’ll plead a novice lack of forethought and feeling like the kid who has been handed the keys to the sweet shop.

 

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Pens at a pen show, who’d have thought it?

Despite there being plenty of pens to drool over, I managed to be restrained and not buy any.  I did let the nice people from Pocket Notebooks (in the process of becoming Nero’s Notes) persuade me to buy a Nock Brasstown in the latest fetching shade of orange.  I also took a punt on a Life Schopfer notebook.  The team were really engaging and we spent a bit of time comparing notes on Japanese stationery and the quest for the perfect notebook.  I haven’t previously bought much from these guys, but I will certainly be sending more of my money their way in future.

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Brass(town) in pocket

My overall impression was that everyone was friendly and happy to talk pens, but as Phil put it “there’s not a lot of cash changing hands”.  There certainly seemed to be lots of conversations between dealers, but not a lot of buying or selling going on.  Maybe this is how pen shows work, with punters poring over pens without much intention of buying.  Alternatively, maybe dealers get a little too attached to the pens they acquire and are not entirely unhappy if no-one buys their precious stock.  We managed several laps of the room, partly in the hope that if we went round enough times, prices might miraculously come down.  Sadly they stood resolutely firm.

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Life’s what you make it

Among the retailers there were a variety of offers to be had, although not all of them worked out to be as generous as they first seemed.  Given that most people can easily check internet prices from their phones, some of the “offers” did seem a bit cheeky.

Although I didn’t go so far as to buy a pen, I did manage to answer a few questions that I’ve been pondering about possible future purchases.

Pilot Vanishing Point – thanks, but no thanks

Despite its clever design and a nib that everyone raves about, the Pilot Vanishing Point is not for me.  The positioning of its clip and my grip are just not compatible.  Now I know this I can (sadly) move on.

Sailor Professional Gear – yes please

I’ve been pondering whether to add Sailor to my list and the chance to handle a few confirmed that this would be a good thing.  The Professional Gear wins out over the 1911, and although I normally prefer rhodium to gold trim, I was rather taken with the limited edition Earth with its gold finishing.  Want one!

Pelikans – to join the flock or not?

My other big unknown was about Pelikan pens.  It seems that you’re not allowed to be serious about fountain pens without owning one (or more).  I’ve been curious about the M400 White Tortoise for a while, but hadn’t seen one for real.  I did find a used one at the show, but it was £300!  Considering you can still buy them new for under £200 I thought this was a tad excessive.

My main learning point was that when it comes to Pelikans, size matters.  You can find plenty of opinion out there that the M40X is a bit on the small side, and I find myself agreeing with that sentiment.  The M60X and M80X are a bit more like it, though.

The M600 falls by the wayside once aesthetics are taken into account as I’m not a huge fan of Pelikan’s stock colours or the current limited edition White Transparent.  The M80X ranges – now we’re getting somewhere.  I could be seriously tempted by the Stresemann and/or the Ocean Swirl.  Both look orders of magnitude better in the flesh than they do in photos.  Somehow they manage to be both more striking and more subtle at the same time.  I did see one M800 Brown Tortoise.  Now that is truly a beautiful pen.  Sadly, well out of my price range any time soon.

Is that it?

I enjoyed my trip to Bristol and I suspect this won’t be my last pen show.  At the same time I don’t think I’m going to be rushing round the UK ticking off the rest of them.  One thing is clear.  If I’m serious about buying a pen, then I know I’ll need to go with a much bigger budget.  Time to get saving…

 

Platinum Plaisir Bali Citrus Fountain Pen – A Quick Look

Bali Citrus is Platinum’s “limited edition” Plaisir for 2018.  This came as news for me as I wasn’t aware that Platinum issued limited edition Plaisirs.  A bit of digging turns up one possible previous limited edition, the Akajiku, but not much else.  Whether this is an indicator of things to come from Platinum, I guess time will tell.

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Double Trouble (and not a Rebel MC in sight)

I’ve previously enthused about the Plaisir in Nova Orange.  A metal-bodied pen for less than £10 that does the basics pretty well is a good thing in my book.  This new incarnation is the same pen, just in a different jacket.  As a fountain pen in general, the Plaisir is not everyone’s cup of tea.  In this colour, I suspect opinions might be even more divided.  Bali Citrus turns out to be an acidic greeny-yellowy sort of colour.  You could happily call it citrus, but what makes is particularly Balinese is anyone’s guess.

To rehearse my previous review, the Plaisir comes with a slim, anodised aluminium body and cap and a simple steel nib and plug-in feed.  Impressively at this price, the cap includes “Slip and Seal” technology, which can be found on Platinum’s more expensive pens.  This means that you can leave the pen capped for extended periods of time and it won’t dry out.  I haven’t tested this scientifically, but I’ve left my orange Plaisir inked and unused for several few weeks and it’s written first time without any skipping or hard starts.

Sticking with the cap, the clip is simple, but robust and functional.  Another subtle feature of the cap is a broad, engraved chromed band.  I’m not a huge fan, but can live with it as a “feature” at this price.  I know plenty of people are offended by it, but I’m sure someone somewhere loves it.  I really like a comment on The Finer Point that likened the cap band to a wrestling champion’s belt, which sums it up nicely.  Very bling.

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That subtle cap band – more lightweight than heavyweight

The nib is a simple steel affair and is common between the Plaisir and the ultra-cheap Preppy, so it’s easy to switch between the available sizes (medium, fine and extra-fine).

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The simple, but functional nib and section

I don’t normally post my fountain pens, but the Plaisir is one that I find I have to post to feel right.  It’s not really a balance issue, more that without the cap there’s not enough mass for my liking.

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With apologies to Yoda…

The Plaisir uses Platinum’s proprietary fittings, so won’t take international cartridges unless you buy an adaptor.  I had the impression that the Plaisir wouldn’t work with Platinum’s converter, but Laura from Fountain Pen Follies pointed out that it does work (with a bit of faffing).  If you try to fill the pen by immersing the nib in ink there’s not enough draw to fill more than the section, but if you use a syringe to fill the converter and then flood the section you can get a decent fill.

You can get the Bali Citrus Plaisir from sources like Cult Pens, Goulet Pens and Rakuten.  For some reason, UK pricing seems a bit more wallet-friendly than elsewhere.

I still like Plaisir.  Sure the Plaisir is not without its limitations, but it does the job well and I can’t get away from the value for money argument.  A well made metal pen at that sort of price?  It seems rude not to.

 

Must try harder

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Says it all, really

Reading all the highlights and round-up posts from the blogs I follow has highlighted how meagre my output for the last year has been.  In my head I reviewed lots of the things that I forked over my hard-earned cash for, but something got lost in translation and for a variety of reasons only a few made it onto the digital page.

In reflecting on this, I’ve come to realise a couple of things.  Blogs are a little like gardens (no, seriously) in that they are a reflection of you and need to be tended and nurtured.  If you don’t put the time into maintenance and planning, then you don’t get good results.  That said, doing it for the sake of doing it can also be counter-productive.  It needs both head and heart, and maybe I’ve been lacking a little of both.

I’m not much of a fan of resolutions – mainly because I’m terrible at keeping them, but I know that I need to do a bit of nurturing to get things where I’d like them to be.

It’s not all doom and gloom…

There are some positives.  I didn’t have to buy all the pens I acquired last year – I won a set of 3 Lamy Aion pens from the lovely people at The Writing Desk.  All I had to do was to indulge my habit and buy something from them – in this case a TWSBI Diamond Mini limited edition in gold.  First impressions of the Aion fountain pen are good.  If nothing else, it proves that buying more pens has got to be a good thing (doesn’t it?).

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Aion, Lion, Zion

We all have weaknesses and it seems TWSBIs are mine.  The Diamond Mini was one of 5 TWSBI pens I bought last year.  My growing family of TWSBIs now stands at 7 – a Vac700 (currently a little poorly, but fixable), the gold Diamond Mini, an Eco, an Eco-T and three Diamond 580ALs (Lava, Turquoise and Rose).

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We are family

It was an interesting year ink-wise.  I followed the sheen bandwagon, graduating from the likes of Sailor, through Robert Oster to Blackstone and on to the Organics Studio sheen monsters Walden Pond Blue and Nitrogen Royal Blue.  It was fun while it lasted, but perhaps you can have too much of a good thing.  If the sheen obscures the base colour of the ink, maybe things have gone a little too far…

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Shiny

On the notebook front, I’m increasingly convinced that the Far East is where it’s at.  Aside from continuing with the Hobonichi Techo – I’m on my third one (second direct from Japan) – I’ve been exploring the Life range of notebooks.  As well as the Noble range, which is relatively well known, I’ve been impressed by the Tsubame (Swallow), Kappan and Renover books.  Mnemosyne books have become my book of choice for work and I still have a real fondness for Midori’s MD books.  My affection for Tomoe River paper remains undiminished, but it’s getting harder to come by in the UK at a sensible price, and there is still a (relative) dearth of books that use this paper.

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Big in Japan

KWZ’s Polish special edition inks have hit the UK, so time to hammer the bank account (again).

Targets for this year?  Maybe I’ll finally commit to buying a Pelikan.  Then again, I’ve procrastinated for a year already and still haven’t done anything about it.  Birmingham Pen Company’s inks get good write ups, so maybe it’s time to give them a try.  Colorverse inks seem to be the latest Instagram hit, maybe I’ll see what all the fuss is about.

Here’s to 2018. Let’s hope my grades improve…

Season’s Greetings

I’d like to thank everyone who follows or reads my blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed some of what I’ve had to say over the past year.  I wish you and your loved ones all the very best at this festive time of year.

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If you’re interested in the technicalities, the paper is Tomoe River, inks are KWZ Honey, Private Reserve Avacado, Diamine Firefly, Diamine Enchanted Ocean.

Mnemosyne 194 – The Perfect Work Notebook?

I like notebooks.  I buy lots of them.  More than I can reasonably use any time soon.  That leads me to the harsh (but entirely fair) realisation that I’m a hoarder.  If it looks like it might have decent, fountain pen-friendly paper and is well put together, then I want one.

The need for good paper is a given, since I use a fountain pen every day.  The construction is important to me because I like a book that opens easily and stays open on the page you chose.  As a left-hander, the flatter it opens, the better.  Anything resembling a small hill in the middle of a notebook is a right royal pain in the proverbial.

The one thing you wouldn’t normally find me rushing to pick up is a spiral-bound book.  Most of my encounters with books of this sort haven’t ended well.  The wire starts to unravel, and before you know it, the book is in bits in front of you.  Not a good outcome.

With this in mind, I approached the Mnemosyne 194 with a bit of trepidation.  Sure I’d read good things about the quality of the paper, but I wasn’t too sure how I’d get on with the book overall.

Mnemosyne was the Greek goddess of memory and mother of the nine muses.  Precisely what this has to do with notebooks, I’m not sure, but it’s one of those things you feel you have to point out for the purpose of education and factual/mythological correctness.

I use a notebook a lot at work and have been searching for something sober enough to take to meetings, but which is enjoyable to use and can cope with ‘proper’ ink.  Made by Maruman, the Mnemosyne 194 fits this bill well.  It is bounded by two black plastic covers, with simple gold embossing on the front proclaiming the word ‘Mnemosyne’ and the model number which relates to the format (194 for B5, 195 for A5, 199 for A4).  These examples are all side-bound, but there are also a couple of top-bound books in the range.  The front cover also bears a sticker giving some technical details about the book (page layout, number of sheets etc.).  You could remove the sticker to further tidy up its appearance, but so far I haven’t bothered.  The covers are thick enough to provide a decent amount of protection, as well as being quite flexible.

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I tend to use A5 books for journaling and most of my other writing, but I’ve made the switch to B5 for work and so far I’ve liked it.  B5 is somewhere in between A5 and A4 (apparently B sizes are calculated from the geometric mean of adjacent A sizes, which I think you’ll find explains things nicely).  I like the added real-estate without the full-on bulk of an A4 book.  From my limited experience, it seems that the majority of B5 notebooks available in the UK are Japanese (Mnemosyne, Life, Apica, Swallow etc.).  That works just fine for me because I love Japanese notebooks.  The only non-Japanese B5 book I’ve tried was a Leuchtturm 1917 softcover book.  I don’t know where Leuchtturm get their reputation for good notebooks as this proved to be a fully paid-up, card-carrying pile of rubbish.  Aside from a disintegrating binding, I had major paper quality issues – with inks feathering and bleeding through without the slightest provocation.  It was an out and out horror show.  If you take nothing else from this review, DON’T BUY THE LEUCHTTURM!

Back to the Mnemosyne.  Under the front cover is a very cheery, bright yellow front sheet, embossed with ‘Mnemosyne’ in gold at the bottom.  On the reverse of this are some cartoons with captions and some additional text.  The only two words in English are “Basic Style” which, as statements go, should win a prize for irony.  The rest is in Kanji (which I’m afraid I can’t read).

Once you’re past the front sheet, you’re straight into the book itself.  You get 80 sheets (160 pages) in each notebook.  There’s no index and no page numbering, although there’s also nothing to stop you numbering pages yourself and creating an index.  That’s not something that bothers me, but if you really need a ready-made index you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.

Each page is ruled with separate date and title boxes at the top.  Line spacing is quoted at 7mm and measures exactly that.  Lines are pale grey and pages are sub-divided into 3 sections by darker grey lines.  Each sheet is micro-perforated, should you want to remove any.

On to the paper itself.  It is a pale cream colour, exceptionally smooth and a joy to write on.  I’m well into my second 194 and they have both been great.  The paper is perhaps a little more forgiving of some pen/ink combinations than others, so you may need a bit of trial and error to find what works best for you.  I’ve had no disasters, but some combinations were slightly harder work than others.

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The paper has coped well with a range of inks and shows off shading pretty well and sheen to some extent.  I found that Sailor Jentle inks, for example, only sheened with broader, wetter nibs.  Blackstone and some of the new Organics Studio inks will sheen on pretty much any paper, so it’s no surprise that you’ll see sheen from them on the Mnemosyne paper.

Nitrogen Royal Blue sheen

Nitrogen Royal Blue sheen

That said, the paper isn’t completely flawless.  However, the overall writing experience has been such that I can easily forgive the minor issues that have cropped up.

What about those flaws?  You get some show-through when writing on the reverse of a page, but that tends to be with darker inks and wetter nib/ink combinations.  I don’t find it too intrusive and it’s far from the only paper to show this.  Where things get a bit more tricky is that on some pages, I’ve encountered small areas where there has been some feathering.  I’ve put this down to inconsistencies in the paper coating/finishing process as it has only occurred very occasionally and has been a localised effect.  I tend to doodle in meetings and where there’s a lot of ink put down on a small area you can get some bleed-through.  I could easily solve this problem by listening more and doodling less!

What about my prejudice against spiral-bound notebooks?  The Mnemosyne 194 has transformed my view of this type of binding.  I think the fact that I’m omy second one of these books for work and am about to order a third says it all.  What seals the deal for me is the price.  I got my 194 from Cult Pens for the princely sum of £6.75 (the A5 size is £5.95), while The Journal Shop carries the 194 for £6.50.  You can also buy it from Goulet Pens (among others) for $7.50. On a per page basis, this puts the Mnemosyne at around half the cost of a Life or a Swallow B5 notebook.  The very existence of the B5 Leuchtturm becomes even harder to justify when you realise that its price per page is around 3 times that of the Mnemosyne!

Whatever your preferred paper size, the pricing of Mnemosyne notebooks makes them well worth checking out.  The paper is pretty darned good and they are well put together.  As for B5 as a format, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it works well for me.

 

 

Fountain pen review – TWSBI Eco

In blog terms, things have been rather quiet for some time, here at Slightly Unnerved Towers.  Work and family commitments have conspired to leave me without the time or creative energy to maintain anything resembling a decent output of material.  I’ve been trying to overcome this inertia for a while and get my blog back up and running and thought that Fountain Pen Day would be a good point from which to kick start things.

Happy Fountain Pen Day!

For my first offering in a while, I thought I’d ease myself in gently with a short piece on a recent acquisition – a turquoise TWSBI Eco.

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I have something of a soft spot for TWSBI pens to the extent that I own 5 in total – a Vac700, two Diamond 580ALs, a Diamond Mini, and now an Eco.

The Eco is TWSBI’s entry level pen (it’s the cheapest one available), retailing at around £30 here in the UK and at a similar dollar price in the US.  I got mine for £27.99 from Cult Pens, but it’s pretty widely available.  To put it in context, that’s around half the price of a TWSBI Diamond 580.  On the face of it, a card-carrying piston filling demonstrator for less than £30 seems pretty reasonable, but…

What do you get for your money?

The pen comes nicely presented in a plastic box, which also includes a natty red plastic wrench and a pot of silicon grease and some instructions for servicing the pen, should you feel brave enough.

TWSBI Eco in box

The pen itself is a clear demonstrator with the colour accents limited to the cap and the piston knob.  I chose turquoise, but you can have black, white, clear and lime green as well.  Unlike more expensive TWSBIs, the barrel and section are a single unit.  You can switch nibs, but here it’s a matter of pulling out the nib and feed and friction fitting the replacement, rather than modular approach you get with other TWSBIs.  The sections of my other TWSBIs have solid inserts in them, so it’s actually quite a nice change to have an unobstructed view of the feed here.

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There’s a decent range of nib options available from extra-fine, through broad to a 1.1mm stub.  A replacement TWSBI unit will cost around £16.50.  I read somewhere that it’s a #5 nib, so in theory you could use a non-TWSBI nib if you were so inclined.  I haven’t tested this out, though.

There’s a small step down from the barrel to the section, but I didn’t find it affected the comfort of holding the pen or that it was at all intrusive.  Even if your grip comes to rest on the cap threads, these are not at all uncomfortable.

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TWSBI love their O rings!

The profile of the barrel and section is circular and contrasts nicely with the hexagonal cap and piston knob.  The cap has a single chrome band around it where it screws onto the section.  As with other TWSBI’s this is etched with “TWSBI” and (in this case) “Eco”.  The clip is functional if not overly exciting or inspiring.  Provided they do what they’re supposed to I don’t get too excited about clips.

The TWSBI logo appears in the cap finial.  In this case it’s a simple red plastic insert with the logo in relief, rather than the more elaborate affairs you find on more expensive models.  I’ve always like the design of the logo and the way it’s incorporated into this pen is very effective.

TWSBI Eco cap detail

Cap detail

What’s it like to use?

My overall experience of the Eco has been good.  The Eco comes in at around 14cm capped and 13 cm uncapped.  It sits comfortably in my hand and I’ve had no issues with the performance of the nib or the filling mechanism.  A quick check on Goulet Pens’ Nib Nook suggested that the Eco nibs would tend towards the finer side of their gradings and so it has proved.  I ordered a medium nib and it’s finer than some fine nibs that I have.  That said it has written well from day one, with no hard starts or skipping.  It’s a reasonably wet writer and the feed seems up to the job of keeping the ink flowing.

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The piston mechanism is arguably not as refined as you would find on a more expensive pen, but it does its job perfectly well and without fuss.  So far, I can’t find any reason to complain about it.

In summary

All-in-all, there’s a lot to like about this pen.  Aside from getting a proper piston filler for less than £30, it’s really comfortable to write with.  In my experience, the nib unit performs well.  Due to the filling mechanism you get a decent amount of ink in each fill.  Not so good if you like to switch inks frequently, but great if you write lots.

There are obvious compromises in design and materials compared to other, more expensive TWSBIs, but I think this pen should be judged on its own merits and not just seen as a poor cousin.  I’m almost tempted to say I prefer it in use to the Diamond 580.  The Diamond 580 is a nicer looking pen (particularly in orange), but it has always felt a little awkward in my hand.

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The Eco in a Diamond sandwich

A couple of asides

  1. I wrote the notes for this post in a Fabriano EcoQua exercise book and was really impressed with the quality of the paper.  I suppose that shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise given the manufacturer, but it doesn’t automatically equate to a positive result when it comes to fountain pens.  There was no hint of feathering or bleedthrough and just a little feedback from the nib.
  2. The elephant in the room when it comes to the TWSBI Eco is the Wing Sung 698.  From what I can see it’s “inspired” by the TWSBI Diamond 580, but at a fraction of the price.  From reading a couple of reviews it seems that the nibs are generally reliable, with not too many duff ones.  Of course I now have to get one, just to see what it’s like.

 

 

 

Rhodia Heritage A5 Notebook Review

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When it comes to discovering and writing about things in the world of pens, inks and paper, I’m usually way behind the curve.  What is new and exciting to me is usually old hat to others.  For once (and more by luck than judgement) I seem to be an early adopter.  The item in question is the Rhodia Heritage notebook.  In reality this is more of a ‘first impressions’ than a full-blown review as I’ve only just got my hands on some, but I suspect that they will be popular and wanted to share my thoughts.

In the fountain pen world, Rhodia is probably best known for its range of notepads.  Pretty much every ink review you read is written on a Rhodia pad of some kind – and with good reason.  Apart from the quality of the paper, the other distinguishing feature of Rhodia pads is their covers: orange, black or white.   It’s these colours that form the basis of the cover designs for the Heritage range.  That said it’s also about the point where any similarity with the notepads finishes.

Rhodia Heritage notebook covers

Escher and Chevron

Rhodia has backed up the Heritage name with a very retro-looking notebook.  Covers come in a choice of geometric patterns – Tartan, Escher, Quadrille and Chevron.  (Rhodia don’t list the Chevron design on their own web pages, but I have one so they must exist, right?).  I like the Tartan most, but the Escher and Chevron are pretty appealing too.  My least favourite is the Quadrille pattern, but that’s just a matter of personal preference.

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Chevrons do exist!

The covers are made from a nicely textured cold pressed papers onto which the design is printed.  Beneath these is a quality codex-bound book made up of multiple signatures.  Each signature is made up of three sheets, by which I mean once the paper is folded and stitched you have 12 pages of A5.  These are well stitched together and bound,  meaning the book opens flat without any need to even threaten the use of force, so a big thumbs up to Rhodia.  Perhaps it’s only to be expected from such a giant of the paper world, but it’s also a relief that they got this absolutely on the money – not everyone does.

Rhodia Heritage notebook covers

Escher cover

Where the binding and finishing differs from most notebooks is that there is no cover on the spine, what Rhodia calls ‘raw’.  Where you might expect to see at least some binding tape, if not something more elaborate, you get nothing.   This differs from pretty much every notebook I’ve ever owned.  The only thing remotely close is a Moo notebook.  Although the Moo is hardbound, when you open the book up, the front cover falls away to reveal the spine.

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The ‘raw’ binding

I suspect this may make the Heritage a little more vulnerable to damage, particularly if you treat your books harshly.  In practice this is only likely to enhance the vintage look and feel.  I guess time will tell, but I’m not unduly worried about this.

So, we have a notebook that looks good and opens properly – what’s it like on the inside?  I suspect reactions will depend on how you like your paper.  If crisp white is your thing, you may struggle with these notebooks.  I prefer my paper off-white and with a bit of warmth and I’m pleased to say that Rhodia has backed up the exterior looks with paper that also looks fantastic and is a joy to write on.  You get 80 sheets (160 pages) of 90g A5 Clairefontaine ivory-coloured vellum paper, which comes as either a 5mm grid or 7mm ruled.

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In case you were in any doubt about the source of paper…

Lines and grids are orange, with an approximately 1cm margin all round (slightly wider on the bound side of the page).  The edge of the page that faces into the binding also has a narrow orange margin, which (I think) further adds to the appeal.  Corners are rounded.  In case you haven’t had enough orange, guess what colour the end papers are.

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In terms of layout the 160 pages breaks down as a 6 page index with 152 numbered pages of notebook.  The top right corner of every other page has a rectangular box you could use for the date or some other reference point for your notes/writing.

Rhodia Heritage Notebook

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In use, the paper performs well with no apparent signs of feathering.  As it’s 90g paper, you get very little show-through.  I did have some issues with show-through using Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-peki, but that was from my slightly temperamental Onoto semi-flex pen.  It’s nearly 100 years old and has a tendency to ‘sneeze’ from time to time, depositing way more ink than it should.  That said I’m pretty confident that under more normal conditions, this paper will take pretty much whatever you can throw at it.

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The obligatory writing samples

This paper has no problem bringing out shading, if that’s your thing.  Where it struggles is with sheen.  In my experience, pretty much every Rhodia or Clairefontaine paper I’ve tried will suppress sheen, and this one doesn’t seem to be any different.  While I like my sheen, this is not enough to be a deal-breaker for me on these books.

A couple of issues with these notebooks seem to be availability and pricing.  The Rhodia website won’t sell you a Heritage notebook direct – you have to email them for details of a retailer that stocks them.  In the UK, they initially appeared exclusive to Bureau Direct, although Pure Pens have recently announced that they are stocking them.  Prices from Bureau Direct are £12.95 per book (you can get free postage on orders over £10), and from Pure Pens are £9.95 per book (you have to spend over £20 to get free postage).

UpdateCult Pens are now also selling these books, but they are asking £16.95!  It definitely pays to shop around.

While I was waiting for mine to arrive from Bureau Direct, I wandered into The Pen and Paper and found they were selling the same said books at £6.50 a time!  These books aren’t listed on their website at the time of writing and I don’t know if it’s possible to place an order over the phone or by email with them.  I should also say that since I discovered what they were charging, I bought 5 of them!  I didn’t completely empty the display so good luck in bagging a bargain.

Hopefully these books will become more widely available and pricing will settle down a little.  At £12.95 these books are not cheap, but aren’t outrageous when compared to (say) Midori MD or Life Noble notebooks.  At £9.95, they become a much more attractive proposition and if you can pick them up for anything like £6.50 – knock yourself out!

Overall I really like these notebooks.  In terms of function, they deliver what you’d expect from a high end notebook.  In terms of look, they’re really striking and visually appealing.  Rhodia has managed to pull off the trick of producing something that simultaneously fits their product range while managing to look nothing like any of their other offerings.

Ink review – Sailor Jentle Oku-yama

Oku-yama, Vac700 and Clairefontaine notebook

One of those times when pen, ink and notebook come together brilliantly

Sailor Jentle Oku-yama is part of the Four Seasons range of inks.  I believe that it was originally introduced as a limited edition ink, but is now a fixture in the range.  Oku-yama apparently translates as “remote mountain” or “deep mountain”, but that’s not much help in trying to figure out what colour it actually is.  Reading other reviews suggests maroon, pomegranate or cranberry.  Garnet is another possible descriptor.  Take your pick.

Despite all the rave reviews, my first instinct was that this is not the sort of ink colour that I go for.  Blues, greys and the occasional green are much more my normal hunting ground.  I decided to buy a sample to see how I got on, and as you can see from the first photo, I liked it enough to buy a whole bottle.  However you choose to describe it, this ink is striking and a really interesting colour.

I bought my bottle for £16.20 from the nice people at The Writing Desk, but it’s fairly  widely available in the UK.  In the US, Jet Pens will sell you a bottle for $14.25, Anderson Pens for $18.  Wonderpens in Canada also have it listed at Can$24.75.  This is definitely not a budget ink, but it’s still way cheaper than inks like Caran d’Ache, Graf von Faber Castell and Pilot Iroshizuku.

As with other Four Seasons inks, Oku-yama comes in a round and fairly squat 50ml bottle.  The bottle contains an insert that is meant to make filling your pen easier.  With the bottle capped, turn it upside down to fill this internal reservoir.  Turn the bottle the right way up, uncap it and fill your pen.  With larger nibbed pens, filling may be tricky depending on how far you need to insert the pen.  Some people seem to find this insert infuriating to use, but so far I haven’t found it too much of a chore.

What’s it like?

Oku-yama is pretty well saturated, although it does get a bit darker with multiple passes when swabbing it.  As I’ve already said, inks of this colour are off my normal radar, so I don’t have a huge back catalogue to compare it with.  Some internet research throws up names like Diamine Syrah, Montblanc Bordeaux and Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo as being close.  The only inks I have that come remotely close are from a mixed pack of Diamine cartridges.

As you can see, Diamine Claret is nothing like it.  Oxblood is not dissimilar but Oku-yama has more of a red tint to it.

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Oku-yama alongside Diamine Claret and Oxblood on Tomoe River paper

A bit of kitchen chromatography throws up an interesting mix of colours as you might expect for an ink like this.

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Oku-yama in action

I’ve tried this ink out in a Sheaffer Legacy Heritage (medium), a Noodler’s Ahab Flex (fine medium), a TWSBI Vac700 (fine and broad) and a Lamy Safari (1.1mm stub).  As I found with the Vac700, it’s a great ink for a demonstrator pen – the sort of colour you’d want to see and not hide away.

In terms of papers, I’ve used Oku-yama on Tomoe River, Clairefontaine, Life Noble, Rhodia and TWSBI paper.  One observation is that I think it looks better on cream-coloured papers compared to the white of Rhodia and standard-issue Clairefontaine.

It’s most definitely not waterproof, but it doesn’t make itself out to be so.  Dry times are reasonable – a little over 20 seconds on Clairefontaine paper with a broad nib in my Vac700.  Expect it to be longer on something like Tomoe River and allow for quicker drying times with a finer nib/dryer pen.  My non-scientific assessment is that I’ve used it quite extensively for journaling in an A5 notebook and not had any issues with the ink not being dry when it’s time to turn the page.

I’d describe Oku-yama as a “wet” ink, so although it performed well on these papers it won’t come as a surprise to learn that there was some show-through.  There was no bleed-through at all.  In fact the only real surprise was some feathering on Life Noble paper with the Sheaffer.  It’s the first time I’ve experienced feathering on this paper, but the Sheaffer bears more than a passing resemblance to a fire hose in terms of the amount of ink it puts down, so I can forgive that.

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Feathering on Life Noble paper

Aside from the gorgeous colour, Oku-yama has a reputation for two things – shading and sheen.  I found that it will shade without any need for encouragement.  Even with a relatively dry-writing pen like the Safari, I couldn’t have stopped this ink from shading if I’d wanted to.  Similarly, I found that Oku-yama shaded on all the papers I tried it on.IMG_20170526_220257

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Oku-yama on Clairefontaine (top) and Life Noble (bottom) paper

The Sheen, What About The Sheen?

As with a number of other Sailor inks, Oku-yama will produce sheen.  In this case it’s a green/gold sheen.  It will come as absolutely no surprise that the easiest paper to see sheen on is Tomoe River.

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Oku-yama ink splat on Tomoe River paper

It’s there, even with normal writing – you really don’t have to try very hard at all.  My photos don’t show it very well, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

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Sheen on Tomoe River paper

I also managed to get some sheen on Life Noble and TWSBI papers, but there’s clearly something in the surface finish of Rhodia and Clairefontaine papers that kills it off.

Summary

At the outset, I didn’t know what to expect from Sailor’s Oku-yama or what I would make of it.  In the end I kind of fell for it.  It’s not really a colour for work use, but it’s both cheery and complex and a joy to write with in most other situations.  I’ve used it quite a bit for journal keeping and I haven’t found it to be overpowering when used page after page.

As a measure of how much I like it, I’ve written the Sheaffer dry and am probably down to a fifth of a tank in the Vac700, which has a huge ink capacity.  I’ll certainly refill the Vac700 with it when it runs dry.

This one’s a keeper!

The Hedgehog of Wisdom – using Midori Flash Cards to index inks

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“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  (Archilochus)

…hedgehogs aren’t simpletons; they have a piercing insight that allows them to see through complexity and discern underlying patterns. Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest.”  (Jim Collins)

At the start of 2017 I resolved to expand the range of inks in my possession and I’m happy to say it’s a resolution I’ve managed to keep to, buying both bottles and samples to test different makes and colours.  This creates its own problems: i) where to keep the ink; and ii) how to keep track of what I’ve got.  I haven’t really solved the first one, but I’ve made a start on the second.  Enter the Hedgehog…

Like many people, when I first discovered the Midori Traveler’s Notebook I also stumbled on the vast array of stationery items that Midori also produces.  They all seemed like a good idea at the time I bought them, but have mostly sat around my desk looking for a purpose in life.  And so it was with a set of flash cards in the shape of a hedgehog.  Nice enough to look at, but what on earth was I going to do with them?

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The Hedgehog of Wisdom

Cataloguing inks

With the number of inks I owned growing fast, I realised I needed to do something to keep a handle on what I had.  My first attempt to catalogue my inks was with a Clairefontaine Age Bag notebook.  Great idea I thought.  Lots of high quality pure-white pages.  What’s not to like?  Well, a couple of things actually…

Sure the paper is good, but I really, really hate the way this book is put together.  To say it’s not a lay-flat binding is an understatement.  Call me squeamish, but I can’t quite bring myself to inflict the level of physical violence on a poor, defenceless book that is necessary to make it stay open at the page I’m interested in.  Also, and presumably to save cost, the faux aged card covers are stuck on top of the spine tape, rather than integral to the binding.

The flaw in the plan with notebooks

There also some practical problems on the horizon.  However you group inks and categorise them, if you use a book you are almost guaranteed to want to compare two inks that are on different pages.  Short of tearing out pages, you’re going to struggle to make all the side-by-side comparisons you’ll want.  Also, unless you’re brilliant at predicting how many inks of each colour you’re going to end up with, allowing enough space for each in (say) the blue section is going to be tricky.

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You can get a lot on a page in a notebook, but the format is not very flexible

Here’s where the Hedgehog comes in.  It’s a stack of 80 flash cards, held together by a metal ring.  The ring can be opened to add, remove, move cards, but you can just add a swatch for each new ink without worrying about any particular sequence.

I’ve taken to numbering each swatch and keeping a list of which ink the number corresponds to.  I also try to “double up” on half of the swatch (i.e. two passes of the cotton bud) as a means of getting an idea about saturation and also to help spot things like sheen.

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Until I put this together, I’d never noticed the sheen that comes with Diamine Teal (if you apply enough of it!)

I like to compare how one ink looks against another.  It helps me figure out what to make of a new ink, if I can look at it alongside one that I already know.  The real utility of the Hedgehog is the ability to pull out several colours and compare them…

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A set of flash cards will cost you around £3/$3.  As well as hedgehogs you can have ducks, cats, dogs, bears, strawberries (you get the picture).  I got mine from the Journal Shop, but Jet Pens and the Tokyo Pen Shop also sell them.  I haven’t managed to figure what weight the paper is, but it’s plenty heavy enough and there’s been no hint of feathering, show-through or bleed-through.

Hedgehogs are truly wise creatures.