Posts Tagged 'Dip Pens'


When was the last time you received a letter that looked like this? (...If you're one of my pen readers, don't answer that.)

The clearest way to see through a culture is to attend to its tools for conversation.

–Neil Postman


When Neil Postman writes, “Each medium makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, for expression, for sensibility,” he means that each medium for sharing information (letter-writing, telephone, smoke signals, etc.) re-orients our brains—not in a neurological sense, necessarily, but in the way we communicate, and in what we communicate. More than that, the medium affects what we think in the first place.

For example, I would never think about tsunamis or earthquakes in other countries if it weren’t delivered to me as “the news of the day.” If letter-writing were our main means of communicating information, I wouldn’t find out until months afterward—and they probably wouldn’t even tell me unless I had a family member in the region.

Sometimes I like to imagine…

How different our constitution might be if  it had been composed on the computer. Would typing, instead of writing with dip pens, have altered the things that the Founding Fathers thought important enough to include? Would they have wikipedia’d other nations’ governments first in order to do a thorough comparison study?

But the medium affects more than the contents of the information-document. The difference in information-mediums between the 18th century and the 21st —that is, dip pens and written letters versus email, news web sites, and texting—affects the quality and the meaning of our individual (and national) character. Think about how different a meaning “patriotism” had when it didn’t involve bumper stickers or even military service, but rather it meant: sitting at a desk in a cold, cold house, way out in the boonies, reflecting on the things that you believed in. You wouldn’t have been affected by any media-hype; instead, you would read a bunch of pamphlets, written by other people in cold, dark houses. You would reflect on their thoughts, and respond to them. And each of those pamphlets would have been well thought out– you kind of have to be more thoughtful, when you’re writing more slowly. (Dip…5 words….dip…4 words…)

If we still defined patriotism this way, I think we’d have a healthier nation. How strange to think that we might actually reflect on our beliefs, instead of becoming a “fan” of ideology X on Facebook. Personally, I think we’re damn lucky that the Founding Fathers were writing with dip pens when they declared independence. We at least know that it wasn’t a rash decision (“Shit! I hit “send” on that email to King George too early!”).

Quite a few people have already written admirable essays on the benefits of letter writing–though I embarrassingly don’t have their links on hand–and I don’t need to repeat them. It’s also important to note that none of us are advocating for the demise of technology: emails and quick-composition on the computer serve an important function in today’s world. My point is that we must keep in mind the effect that each medium has on what we write, not just how we write. In other words, it’s not about using “omg” instead of “oh my god” –it’s about how our responses to surprising news have become limited to an automatic acronym—“omg!”—without any real, individual reflection.

So I received this great letter  (pictured at the top) along with my order for ten new dip nibs this past week. I appreciate knowing that this person took ten, fifteen minutes to focus on communicating with me. And it wasn’t multi-tasked with checking email or youtube (because distractions, trust me, are a killer when you’re using dip nibs. India ink dries fast. And the next thing you know, you’ve shellacked your fingers together).

Check back soon to see what projects I come up with for these new nibs. I’m currently working on a big artsy birthday present for a friend, so they might become a useful tool for that…


J. Herbin Redux

I was pretty excited about some new J. Herbin inks when I made this quick post. So I was obviously a little embarrassed when the Quo Vadis blog decided to feature them in a post… yikes.

Anyways, after reviewing the Kalligraphie pad recently, I decided to revisit that concept and came up with this:

My Current Collection of J. Herbin Inks. And yes, I know Perl Noire is misspelled 😦

The thing about dip pens… is that they always show an ink to be more saturated than it really is. So I tried to smoosh them around a bit (professional terminology) to show their real range of color. When used in a fountain pen, these inks will write in the color that you can see in the smear.

The other thing about dip pens… is that they require a really saturated ink. They’re best used with India Ink, not fountain pen ink, which is less viscous (read: more watery). I’ve had some luck using Private Reserve inks in dip pens, but on the viscosity scale of fountain pen inks, J. Herbin is by far the least saturated, least viscous ink. So making this page was a total drip-disaster. That’s why there is some pretty uneven line work here…

I find that I use J. Herbin inks a lot with brushes, which I really enjoy. And of course, in pens. I currently have two pens inked with Cacao du Bresil, actually.

Art Therapy in an Exacompta

Page 1 copy

A few weeks ago I had a crisis involving Very Big Questions (you know, the kinds about Life and Love and The Future). I spent some time in ink therapy and came out with this.

This was in my 2nd Exacompta journal. I’ve found that I’m doing far more art than I did in my first one, which is good.

Paired: Neoart Pastels and Flexible Nibs

I’ve always felt that chalk pastels were a bit classier, I suppose. Maybe it’s because they feel less like crayons. They also allow a wider variation in texture and style– I’ve seen pastel paintings that look like they were done with oils, and others that utilize the a rougher “pastel-y” texture. And yes, oil pastels tend to be used more in the crafting and DIY world, particularly in textiles and art journals.

But it’s good for me. The same way that watercolors allow me to experiment with abstraction and accident, pastels are encouraging me to get a little messy.

I wanted to include some text on these pieces, and the only way I could think of doing that (besides Sharpies) was to use India ink with a dip nib. In a fortuitous coincidence, I’ve just received some beautiful nibs from a generous stranger in the mail!

I used Caran D’ache’s Neoart watersoluble pastels for the background (can you tell I only own two colors?), and then went back in with some Neocolor II’s. The Neocolor II’s are also wax pastels, but they’re oil-based, and I discovered that not only are they difficult to write over, but they dry to a waxy sheen which is much less pleasant than the Neoart pastels. I also have to give credit to The Blog Formerly Known As The Blue Cottage, for giving me the idea of scratching into the dried pastel work in order to give it more texture. These were all done in my handbound summer sketchbook, on Arches hot press watercolor paper.

The Hand

Details (click to view larger)

Hand  Detail 1Hand Detail2


Details (click to view larger)

Sunshine Detail1Sunshine Detail 2

An Inky Return

I returned home to two packages. The first was an order from Jerry’s Artarama, on which I will provide a side note:


SIDE NOTE: I would much rather purchase art supplies from my local art store, because it’s dusty and trendy and it’s fun to get lost in there, but there’s no way I can afford to pay $33.00 for a block of nice watercolor paper, much less two blocks. So, my tactic is to purchase small and open stock items from them, and then I keep an eye for sales on art supply websites.

TANGENT TO SIDE NOTE: So, that’s one [more] reason to get rich: you have the power to funnel your money in good places, instead of being forced to feed corporations.

The other package was pretty much the antithesis to an internet order. That is, a super-generous gift from a fellow member over at the Fountain Pen Network, who had some ink samples and was looking to pass them on. I was expecting 4 or 5 ink samples, so let’s just pretend I didn’t make a cartoony eye-bulging face when I opened up the box and found twenty full samples of ink, none of which I’ve tried before.

Also generously included were twelve outstanding vintage nibs for dip pens. I’ve been using cheapo Speedball nibs to do my ink reviews (another financial compromise), so I got a little glow-y when I saw these. Almost all of them are flexible– the Joseph Gillott’s Public Pen has the most flex, I would say.

Okay, yeah, on to the sexy photos:

Dip Nibs3

Assorted Nibs

I love the Congressional’s cross-shaped vent hole, and the simplicity of the Joseph Gillott Public Pen. In fact, I just love the design of these in general.

Dip Nibs2

Nib Testing

I have clearly not mastered the art of flex nibs. But, now I have an excuse to practice 🙂

In Which She Admits to Having Whittled a Pen

It’s not that I’m bored, honest. But a girl can only read so many books before she needs to do something with her hands. And given that I’m redeveloping my farmer’s calluses, it felt natural to take up a hardier hobby. There’s something artful and meditative about shaving off curls of wood, weighing the gentle balance of a knife in your hand. 

It appears that whittling has its own website, even appearing above the Wikipedia article in the google results (I figured that if I was going to admit my newfound love of whittling, I had better do my research). In any case, I remembered this post over at Leigh Reyes’ blog and knew my first project would have to be a pen. After a somewhat-successful but highly unattractive first try with a piece of stale bamboo, I came up with this beauty:

Finished Product

To be honest, I’m not even sure what type of wood this is, or if I went about it the “right” way. I just grabbed a piece of scrap from the wood pile, whittled it down to a shape I liked, sanded, and carved the reservoir. After sanding, I oiled the top half to keep the ink from absorbing into the wood. I left the bottom rough because I liked the look of it. The shape fits well in my hand.

Early Phases

early phase

Finished Details

Obviously the wood has absorbed some ink, and I noticed a discoloration when I tried to write with a lighter ink after using a darker ink the night before. But in general, I’m shocked that it writes so well. After figuring out all those angles, it was really a matter of imagining the capillary action of the ink itself, and how it would react to the surface of the wood. As my hippie kindergarden ballet teacher used to say, “be the tree” …


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