In my last article, I shared my ideas for incorporating fountain pens more fully into my life in the coming year. This week, I'm still thinking about New Year goals, but I want to focus on my aspiration to try new things. Whether you are new to fountain pens or have used them since you first began to write, there are always fresh aspects to explore, and that's part of what makes this such an exciting and rewarding hobby. It's easy to get stuck in a rut and always return to your favorites, but being open to new ideas and new experiences allows you to discover new favorites! As my dad always says, "Learning never ends." With this idea in mind, I brainstormed some ways to grow as a fountain pen enthusiast this year.
When I asked Pen Boutique owner Leena about her ideas for the new year, she told me that one of her goals this year is to explore more into different brands of fine papers that our customers might like to try. I love this idea and can't wait to see where we go with it. We already carry some really interesting fountain pen -friendly brands that you may or may not have tried, and, if you're the kind of person who always buys the same brand, or if you haven't experienced how much your writing can be enhanced by using paper designed to be compatible with fountain pens, I encourage you to experiment. You will find that your pens and inks can look very different depending on which paper you choose, and that the sensory experiences of the different papers' textures can also substantially affect your enjoyment.
When I first started using fountain pens, I bought Rhodia paper because it was always shown in videos of pens and inks being tested. Rhodia paper is great with fountain pens, but, when I tried other brands, I discovered that I like some others even more, and also that I love using different papers for different purposes. I also love playing around with interesting papers to bring out the properties of different inks. Some papers show more sheen or more shading, and can even change the color that your ink presents. For example, when I experimented with the new Sailor Yurameku ink series for a blog article last year, I found that the inks looked completely different on Life Bank paper than they did on my favorite Tomoe River paper. In almost every case, the colors were dramatically more green. It was hard to believe it was the same ink! They also looked quite different on Rhodia paper, and much worse on regular cheap notebook paper. The second series of Sailor Yurameku ink is coming out soon, and I can't wait to see how it will be affected by my choice of paper.
So, why not try something new? If you always use Rhodia or Clairefontaine, see what you think of Write, Maruman Mnemosyne, Oasis, or Yamamoto. I had never heard of several of these before I started at Pen Boutique, and now I use them regularly. Write is a local company from Baltimore, Maryland, and Maurman, Oasis, and Yamamoto are all made in Japan. We are hoping to carry some more types of Yamamoto (the company that makes Tomoe River) paper this year, along with getting Tomoe River back in stock. I hope one of them is Bank, because that's a paper I already know and love, but I want to try others, too. Do you have other papers or notebooks you'd like to see us carry? Maybe Midori MD, Yamamoto OK Fools, Leuchtturm1917, or Yamamoto Passepied? What about Hobonichi planners or Col-O-Ring ink testing books? Please comment on this article and let me know! We love hearing what's on customers' wish lists.
This is a pile of some of the notebooks and paper I regularly use (I added washi tape to my Maruman Mnemosyne notebook so I won't mix it up with the ones for sale when I'm in the store!), but I'm always open to adding more. Actually, remember how I mentioned in my last article that a new customer had come back to the store to give me a sheet of special art paper she wanted me to try with fountain pen ink? Well, I finally had a change to experiment with it when I had a day off work for my birthday. One of the goals I talked about last time was to do more art, so I played around with some new inks and made an abstract piece on the Yupo Paper. This kind of paper is not absorbent at all, so my ink behaved in unexpected ways and I just had to wait for it to dry to see what would happen. I didn't really know what I was doing, but it was relaxing and fun! I like how it turned out.
Speaking of inks, you may have seen on Instagram that my latest obsession is Diplomat inks, which are made for Diplomat by Octopus Fluids, a German ink company. I discovered these on a shelf during inventory week when I was assigned to inventory Diplomat brand pens and accessories. We didn't have them on display in the store, so I had never noticed that we carry them! I had actually read some reviews of Octopus Fluids inks online and thought they sounded extremely cool (since I love octopi), so I was thrilled to find out that they were right under my nose all this time.
Even though I own over 300 ink sample vials and bottles, and have swatched and splatted quite a number of additional inks in the store, I had never tried a Diplomat or Octopus Fluids ink, so I wasn't sure whether I'd find them beautiful or disappointing. I always check Mountain of Inks for a review when I'm curious about an ink, so I did have an inkling (ha) that I'd like them, but I still needed to try them for myself to know for certain. Would I find them wet or dry, intensely saturated, dull or glossy, thin or thick feeling? How much sheen and shading would I experience? Most importantly, how would they get along with my particular pens? Kelli's reviews are extremely systematic and thorough, and she has covered over 1,900 inks so far, so her site is an invaluable resource to the community, but there are so many factors that affect your personal experience of an ink. Your favorite inks are individual to you, and reviews are a very helpful guide, but they are never the same as trying an ink for yourself.
When Winnie and I swatched the inks on Rhodia paper, I was particularly impressed by Purple, a nice rich mauvey plum that leans toward the red side of the spectrum and exhibits beautiful shading. This is one of my favorite colors and I was very excited to discover a new ink in this color range. It was the first Diplomat ink I chose to splat, and I was blown away by the beautiful bronze sheen when the pooled areas dried on Tomoe River paper. It looked and felt great when I wrote with our dip pen in the store.
Later I used a blunt syringe to put a little ink into an empty cartridge and tried it in my medium nib Pilot Prera, which writes very dry and fine. I was a little let down... the line looked too thin, and felt wan and slippery. However, I know that my Prera is hard to please, so I moved the cartridge to my Pilot e95s. Eureka! The combination is gorgeous! The flow is perfect, the shading is beautiful, and the bronze sheen shows on the downstrokes of letters. So pretty! I'd discovered a new favorite ink for my pen, in a brand I had never tried before!
Pen compatibility is something that takes time to discover, so when you get a new ink, you might not know right away if it's a good ink for you or not. Finding that magical combination of perfectly suited pen and ink is something that can take trial and error, and it can be frustrating sometimes, but it is also part of the fun of being a fountain pen owner. If you always stick with the same few inks, or only certain ink brands, you may miss finding a new favorite and encountering something truly special.
Yesterday, I talked with Joy a little bit about trying new inks. Among her many duties, she handles a lot of our customer service calls and has had many years of experience with customers' questions. She told me that phone customers often ask whether you need to stick with the same brand of ink as the pen you are using. For example, should you only use Pilot/Iroshizuku inks with a Pilot pen, Sailor inks with a Sailor, Pelikan/Edelstein inks with a Pelikan, Diplomat inks with a Diplomat, and so forth? Pen manufacturers will sometimes suggest you should only use their own brand of ink, but experienced fountain pen enthusiasts rarely stick to this recommendation. Yes, a different brand of ink may not be as compatible with your pen, and, if you want to play it safe, that's up to you. But, on the other hand, you may discover something even better! I thought the cartridge that came with my Faber-Castell Hexo was boring, and instead I tried Sailor nano-pigmented inks just because I was curious about them. I got lucky, and it turned out to be the perfect combination! Now my favorite ink in my Hexo is Sei-boku. What do Sailor and Faber-Castell have in common? Not much, but it just works. Meanwhile, my medium Otto Hutt Design 04 likes Waterman Harmonious Green, my double broad Pilot Custom 74 is crazy about Colorverse Shiny Black, and my extra fine Montegrappa Zero loves Diamine Blood Orange. I never would have discovered these things without experimentation.
Just make sure you use reliable brands of fountain pen (not calligraphy pen) ink, and, when you try a new ink, keep an eye on your pen. If the pen clogs up or isn't flowing well, clean it thoroughly. Maybe that ink will be great in another one of your pens! Maybe not. One caveat: if you have a vintage pen, you need to be more careful because some inks have a chemical makeup that is corrosive to old pens. Here's a great article with ink suggestions for vintage pens and warnings about which ones to avoid.
Joy and I also talked a little about which brands we wish more people would try. Some brands are a lot more popular than others, but it isn't necessarily because those brands are better. Have you tried 3 Oysters, Kyoto TAG (Kyo-no-oto and Kyo-iro), Colorverse, and Taccia? What about my new crush, Diplomat? I own 38 different brands of ink, but only one sample of Lamy ink! A customer was raving about Lamy Crystal Azurite recently, so I think I need to try more Lamy! And why have I sampled 102 Diamine inks but only one 3 Oysters and no Visconti?! (Okay, that's partly because Diamine makes a lot of colors, but, still.) I am going to make it a point this year to write down and try customers' ink suggestions, especially when they are about brands that are new to me or a little more unusual. Please let me know in the comments if you have any favorites you think I should try! I love to hear about your favorite inks, no matter what brand.
Yesterday in the store, I looked through our ink swatch book, and picked out a bunch of colors that stood out to me as ones that I think would good to try. Some are intriguing to me because they are unusual, but I also thought about colors that are a little different but not too strange to actually use in everyday writing. One of the best things about fountain pens is the myriad of colors available. Yes, I realize a lot of people need to stick with conservative colors for work or school, and bright orange or purple isn't always going to be an option, but, if you always write with black or blue ink, how about trying a dark green, a grey, or a brown? I like to express my individuality, even if it's in a subtle way. After all, we are fountain pen lovers; we like to be a little different.
(The cute card was hand made for me by Shriya, Leena's daughter! I love it.)
The inks I chose to try are: Diplomat Purple and Caramel; Lamy Azurite; 3 Oysters Red Wine, Hwangto, and Bukhansan; Taccia Koiame and Momo (actually, I already own a Momo sample and love it... it's bright pink with orange/yellow sheen!); Kyoto TAG's Kokeiro (Shriya called this one "sickening in a good way," and our swatch reminds me of pickle juice!) and Cherry Blossom of Keage; Visconti Oiran and The Starry Night (Joy told me The Starry Night often sells out from online orders, but I have never seen a customer buy it in the store!); and Colorverse Deep Purple, Dakota Thunder, and Andromeda. Okay, the Andromeda is actually my own bottle, but I wanted to include a mini in the photo. I haven't tried most of them yet, but I will! There are probably a few that I'll hate, but I also might find a new favorite. I'll let you know if I do. What about you? What inks are on your list to try?
Do you always buy Lamys, Pilots, Kawecos, or TWSBIs? Are all your pens the same color, the same nib size, or from the same country? One of my continuing goals now is to try a brand or a pen that's new to me and slightly outside my comfort zone. When I first got into pens, my entire collection was Pilots. I loved Pilot pens, and still do. Even now, the vast majority of my pens are Pilots. I am naturally pretty conservative about my purchases, and, when I love something, I'm loyal to it. It took me a while to branch out and buy Pelikan, Otto Hutt, Omas, and Scribo pens, and it wasn't until I started working at Pen Boutique that I tried Kaweco, Faber-Castell, Lamy, and Esterbrook.
Last year, I bought my first Montegrappa, an Italian brand that wasn't even on my radar previously. My new pen is quite different from all the other ones in my collection, and is even a nib size I didn't use very much in the past: extra fine. When I first started noticing Montegrappa pens at the store, I thought they were out of my current price range and just weren't the kind of brand I would buy. But I kept looking at the Zero, and, when I wrote my blog series about my ten favorite pens from the past year, I realized that I loved the Zero so much that I wanted to not just admire it from afar but actually keep it forever. For me, it was an expensive purchase, but I don't regret it.
Yes, it's important not to overspend, but you also shouldn't undervalue yourself and what you are capable of appreciating. Customers who love entry-level pens often tell me they can't afford more expensive pens, and I understand where they are coming from, but it doesn't take very long before several inexpensive pens and bottles of inks add up to the price of a "next level" pen.
I'm not saying there is anything wrong with collecting Safaris, Sports, Metropolitans, and Ecos in all your favorite colors and having fun with them. Those pens are great! Just don't sell yourself short and tell yourself a nicer pen isn't meant for you. If is if you decide to plan for it.
If you've only tried inexpensive pens, consider saving up for your first gold nib Pilot or Sailor, or another beautiful high-quality pen in the $130-$300 range. Good pens to think about are a gold nib Lamy Studio, a Lamy 2000, a Platinum 3776, a Pilot Vanishing Point or Decimo, Pilot Custom 74, Pilot Falcon, or Pilot e95s, a Pelikan M200 series Classic or Tradition, a Sailor 1911 or Sailor Professional Gear, a Waterman Expert or Waterman Carene, and an Esterbrook Estie. At full price, some of these pens are outside that price range, but they often go on sale. You can even get a Pilot Custom 912 with your choice of 15 different nib possibilities for under $300 when it is on sale!
Not all these pens have gold nibs, but the steel nib ones are especially smooth and they have other premium features that you will appreciate. I was surprised by how impressed I was with the Estie that Leena gave me. It wasn't a pen I would have picked out on my own, but I love the #6 JoWo German steel nib, the depth and translucency of colors in the acrylic body, and the special lock seal cushion cap closure that keeps the nib from drying out. Is there a discernible difference between the experience of using my more expensive pens and my Metropolitan, Prera, Safari, and Kaweco Sport? I like all my pens, but, yes, absolutely.
Likewise, if you already buy pens in this range, think about setting your sights on a really special pen that seems out of your league, and saving up for it. Maybe you want to own that Montblanc you've been admiring, a Visconti Homo Sapiens, the beautiful Aurora Optima or Pelikan Souveran, or your first Urushi lacquer or Maki-e pen.
Having a goal gives you something to look forward to and makes the pen feel even more special when you finally get it. You will appreciate the beauty and quality every time you use it. I'm not sure what my next "aspirational pen" will be, but I'm open to finding it. Maybe it will be a new brand I've never even heard of!
I was going to also talk about trying new types of nibs, but this article is getting long, so I'll save that topic for another week. However, I do have one more 2023 goal that I want to cover in this article: going to my first pen show. I have never been to a pen show, and this year I am going to make it happen! One of the things I want to do at the pen show is get a custom grind from a nibmeister like Kirk Speer from Pen Realm, and I decided this after he visited our store in December. But there are a lot of other things I want to experience for the first time, too. I want to see what other pen, ink, and paper lovers are excited about, attend seminars to learn new things, meet more people and step outside my introvert comfort zone. I hope to write about the experience in this blog.
If you are able to attend a pen show, I encourage you to do it, too! Maybe I will see you there. Experienced pen show attendees, please drop me a comment and tell me what I shouldn't miss.
If you can't go to a show for whatever reason, maybe you can aspire to try a pen meetup like a Pelikan Hub, or just visit a pen store if you aren't one of those lucky few who already live close to one. Before I moved to Maryland, the closest pen store to me was about three hours away. I travelled by car, train, and subway to get there, and it was pretty exciting! That store wasn't friendly like Pen Boutique, but it was still a very valuable experience in my journey as a fountain pen lover.
The first time you enter a brick-and-mortar pen store is a little overwhelming, but in a good way. Customers who come to Pen Boutique for the first time often just stop and stare when they walk in the door. There is so much to see, it's impossible to take it all in. Sometimes they tell me that they have travelled from another state and driven hours just to get to us, or that they are in the area visiting relatives or on a vacation or business trip and just had to come to the store in person after being online customers.
I absolutely love encounters like this. I can immediately see how happy they are to be surrounded by pens, to be able to see and touch all the brands they have looked at in photos and videos online. Being able to feel the size and weight and texture of a pen you are considering is invaluable, and if you dip test the pen you will know how it writes in your hand. To be able to page through our swatch book and see all the ink swatches with your own eyes instead of on a computer screen, to be able to compare the notebooks, or glance into a case and discover a pen you had never considered, and to talk to our sales associates about what they love and try their suggestions for you makes coming to a pen store a very worthy goal. We would love to see you in our store. If you do come for the first time, please tell us so we can share your excitement.
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