Lately, I've been noticing that I really enjoy the look and feel of faceted pens. From the humble Kaweco Sport, Faber-Castell Hexo, and TWSBI Diamond series, to the intriguing Caran d'Ache and ystudio brands, to the stunning Omas Paragon, Montegrappa Nero, and Montblanc Egyptomania... pens with flat, angled surfaces have been catching my eye and holding my attention. So, when I walked around the store looking for ideas for this week's blog article, the Visconti display stopped me in my tracks. A number of Visconti's collections have this design feature, but none so strikingly as the many-colored and many-sided Van Gogh Collection. I often recommend the beautiful Van Gogh pens to people looking for gifts, because they are stirring, unique, and come in lovely and thoughtfully-designed packaging, but I had never explored the collection in depth or formed my own opinion on the experience of personally using the pens. The closer I looked at them and their relationships to the colors in the artworks they were inspired by, the more fascinated I became. I asked store owner Leena if I could write about the Van Gogh pens this week, and was delighted when she said yes!
A Collection of Many Colors
As I gathered a selection of Visconti Van Gogh pens to bring home with me, it was hard to narrow down my choices. We currently have fourteen different Van Gogh colorways, and each one comes in fountain, rollerball, and ballpoint. The diverse Vincent van Gogh paintings represented in the collection range from the The Starry Night, to Souvenir de Mauve (Pink Peach Trees), Old Vineyard with Peasant Woman, The Novel Reader, Self Portrait in Blue, Café Terrace at Night, Sunflowers, and Japonaiserie Oiran (click on the links to see what the paintings look like), so the colors vary considerably, and the subjects include landscapes, portraits, street scenes, still lifes, and studies of Japanese prints.
Each colorway contains a sweeping palate made up of complementary colors inspired by a different painting by the famous Dutch master, and each individual pen is unique and has its own color pattern, as the technique used to produce the natural variegated resin color combinations results in a different interplay each time a pen is made. The effect is a remarkable encapsulation of Van Gogh's bold color choices and dramatic, impulsive, and expressive brush strokes.
The collection's colors range from very pale cool greys, to warm vivid pinks, rich golden yellows, mysterious dark teals and plums, soft milky blues, rich earthy reds, strange watery greens, flaming oranges, and intense deep blues. I wanted to sample a good variety of colors, and, although I'm personally most drawn to fountain pens, I thought it was important to try the rollerball and ballpoint versions of the pen as well. I also made it a point to select pens with gold, silver, and copper colored trim. All the metal parts of the pen are made in brass and then plated, and the steel nibs are plated to match as well. The metal choices are selected to best complement the other colors used in the pens.
I ended up choosing nine pens to experience more intimately: Self Portrait in Blue, The Starry Night, Sunflowers, Souvenir de Mauves, Wheatfield Under Thunderclouds, Orchard in Blossom, Old Vineyard with Peasant Woman, The Novel Reader, and Flowering Plum Orchard (the newest addition to the lineup).
The other pens we have are The Red Vineyard, Cafe Terrace at Night, Wheatfield with Crows, Oiran, and Irises. Irises and Orchard in Blossom are retired, and we have limited stock of those pens available.
Thoughtful Design Details
I'm not sure what attracts me more about these pens: the colors, or the facets. If you look carefully, you begin to realize how complex and harmonious the combination is. I can make out seven or eight different colors in each pen, and the barrel and cap are made of eighteen facets. The facets catch the light as you turn the pen in your hand, even if you just wiggle it slightly by moving your thumb as you write. Every time this happens, the colors appear to change as the planes in the surfaces of the pen are highlighted differently by the ambient light. This phenomenon adds to the depth and luminosity of the shades, and makes the sweeping strokes of color come alive in your hand. For me, it's a mesmerizing and calming effect that also inspires me to feel more creative.
Like other Visconti pens, the Van Gogh collection features a magnetic cap closing system, so there are no threads or large step between the metal grip and barrel. This contributes to the pens' comfortable feel in your hand, as does the gradual transition from round grip section to faceted barrel. The magnetic closure is strong enough to feel very secure, but not so powerful that it is difficult to pull apart. I like the feeling of the final slight turn and satisfying click as the cap snaps into place in its locked position. The magnet in the cap only works on the nib end of the pen, but the cap posts nicely at the back of the pen without a magnet's aid.
For me, the pen is most comfortable with the cap not posted, but it feels well-balanced and good in my hand either way. The fountain pen is 1.04 oz / 29 grams, and the metal grip section is by far the heaviest part, but the cap is 0.41 oz / 12 grams, and I prefer my pens on the lighter side. The capped length is 5.4" / 14.0 cm, uncapped length 4.8" / 12.3 cm, and posted length 6.2" / 15.7 cm. The grip diameter is 10.8 mm. It's similar in size to a Lamy AL-Star, Sailor 1911L, standard size Esterbrook Estie, and Montegrappa Zero. The Van Gogh fountain pen is a little weightier than most of the pens I own, but not unpleasantly heavy.
The rollerball is made to match the fountain pen, but the ballpoint is much smaller. It's comfortable for me, but may be too small for a man or a woman with large hands. Its length is 5.4" (13.7 cm), weight 0.89 oz / 25.34 grams, and body diameter 0.45" (11.4mm).
The Ponte Vecchio bridge-shaped clip is a gorgeous arch, and a constant reminder that these are Italian pens, from Florence. This iconic detail is instantly recognizable to any lover of Visconti pens. Not only is the Visconti clip beautiful as it catches the light, but it's a very functional spring clip that's easy to pull up and fun to fiddle with, if you enjoy playing with your pens. It's a very strong clip that can withstand a lot of torture. It does protrude quite a bit from the cap, so it's going to attract attention, and isn't the best clip for attaching your pen to a notebook, but it works nicely in a pocket or pen case.
The tops of the pens feature the Visconti logo, which is held on by a strong magnetic force. When you order your pen, you can ask for the My Pen System, which allows a personalized Visconti. A magnetic tool is used to remove the logo and replace it with your choice of two initials, embossed onto semi-circular pieces of metal plate which interlock to form a circle. The letters are in an elegant script font to complement the classic Visconti style. If you'd like this option, please specify which two letters are desired, as well as your choice of gold tone, silver tone, or black.
- Pollard Willows
- Room in Arles
- Gauguin’s Armchair
- Pine Trees
- Self-Portrait Blue
- Starry Night
- Pair of Shoes
- Vincent’s Chair
- Dr. Gachet
- Red Vineyard
- Souvenir de Mauves
- Wheatfield Under Thunderclouds
- Wheatfield with Crows
- Orchard in Blossom
- Old Vineyard with Peasant Woman
- Café Terrace at Night
- Novel Reader
- Flowering Plum Orchard
The 12 original fountain pens were first offered as a limited edition boxed set (which is no longer available), but Visconti's current series packages each pen in a sturdy box with a soft suede-like lining and a bottle of ink designed to complement the pen. The box's lid has a beautiful reproduction of the painting that inspired the pen and ink, and the set also includes a small print of the painting on a bookmark. Both the lid and bookmark are made from textured paper that resembles the canvas of an oil painting. Mounted on the inside of the box's lid is a cleverly designed envelope that contains the warranty booklet with detailed full-color information about the collection.
(The pen comes packaged in a protective plastic wrapper, but I've removed that for the photo.)
These boxes are so nice, they'd make a great desk accessory after you unbox your pen. The interior components aren't removable, but there is plenty of space in the box to store some pens, a letter opener, paperclips, stamps, or similar useful items.
A cartridge converter is installed in eachfountain pen, so you can get writing right away with the matching ink, or use the pen with any other bottled ink. For your convenience, they also take standard international cartridges, and you can use Visconti cartridges or any other standard international brand, such as Diamine, Graf von Faber-Castell, Monteverde, Pelikan, Montblanc, and more.
The Visconti Van Gogh inks are also available separately (and in a boxed set of six), so I brought home the ink bottles so I could try them all. There are currently 13 different inks, and we have 12 for sale individually. The newest, Flowering Plum Orchard, is only available with its matching pen, so far.
I loved these inks! They are all beautiful, and feature vivid and intense colors from the Van Gogh paintings. At first I was a little confused, thinking the inks were meant to be the same colors as the pens, but they are more cleverly designed than that. Instead, each ink complements its corresponding pen and picks up on a different color from the same painting.
The entire collection's pens' and inks' colors also harmonize, and work together as a whole.
To make these art swatches, I painted on hot press watercolor paper using a watercolor brush. My first strokes were straight ink, then I dipped the inky brush in water to dilute the ink slightly in the lower part of the rectangle and produce plumes of color as the ink dried. I used my Sailor Compass Hocoro dip pen with fude nib to write the names of the inks.
As with any inks, the colors are hard to 100% accurately photograph, and they are even more beautiful in person. The Starry Night has sumptuous bronze sheen and an intensity to the blue that is worthy of Van Gogh's soul stirring painting, Wheatfield With Crows is also an especially beautiful blue that reminds me of my dad's eyes, and Orchard in Blossom has a small amount of gold sheen that makes the warm violet extremely special. I love the unusual shade of aqua blue in Self Portrait (it matches Vincent's eyes), and Wheatfield Under Thunderclouds is a wonderful vivid green. Oiran is an intriguing dark moody plum, and Souvenir de Mauve rivals my longtime favorite J. Herbin Rose Cyclamen for best intensely bright purple-pink. Really, there are no duds in this stunning collection, and I love the overall color story the combination of inks conveys.
Even if a Visconti Van Gogh pen isn't in your budget, or if these pens aren't your style, I highly recommend these gorgeous inks, and I can't wait to use them more, both for writing and artwork. It's such an inspiring and surprising collection.
Unconventional, Unexpected, and Unforgettable
Speaking of writing, how do the Van Gogh pens write? I tried three different fountain pens, each in a different nib size, and they all wrote well, with a smooth stroke that offered a pleasing level of slight feedback. I have to be honest, though... to my great surprise, every pen seemed to have almost the exact same line width, even though one was a fine, one was a medium, and one was a broad. So, if you buy a Visconti Van Gogh pen, it's going to be a nice writer, but don't worry too much about which nib size to choose, because, as far as I could tell, they are all pretty much the same! I asked my mother to write with all three pens as a sanity check, and she got almost identical results. I dipped all three nibs in the same ink: Wheatfield With Crows.
The rollerball and ballpoint I tried were also very smooth writers, and both come with black ink. The rollerball line width looked similar to the fountain pen, and the ballpoint was a little finer. Refills are easy to replace, since the rollerball refills are Schmidt type and the ballpoint refills are Parker Style. This gives you lots of versatility. If you prefer the feel of a gel refill to ballpoint (as I do), you can switch to the Monteverde Capless Ceramic Gel Parker Style ballpoint refill, for example.
Last Friday, a gentleman came into the store looking for a nice fountain pen for himself priced at around $200. He had fairly large hands, so he didn't want a small pen, and he also didn't want something boring. He wanted color, and for the pen to feel high-quality and special. The larger Sailors he first asked to see were out of his price range, so I showed him the Taccia Spectrum and Esterbrook Esties. He really liked them and was about to buy one, until he asked if he could look at the Visconti Van Gogh pens.
I hadn't considered a Van Gogh collection pen for him because they were also a little bit out of his price range, but I brought him over to the Visconti case, and, as soon as he rested his eyes on the Van Gogh shelf, he got excited. I helped him select a color, and the minute he held the pen in his hand, he wanted it. His delight was so infectious, I told him all about the article I was working on and the discoveries I'd made. It turned out that the pen was temporarily out of stock in the nib size he'd wanted, but we just laughed, and he chose a different nib size. The pen cost a little more than he had planned to spend, but he knew it was what he really wanted and that it would make him happy, so he bought it. It was an early birthday gift to himself. Happy birthday, sir! Enjoy your beautiful Visconti. I know you will. It makes an unforgettable gift for anyone who appreciates the unconventional and inspiring beauty of Vincent's colors and Visconti's multi-faceted design.
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