Reflection: Best Tools for the Job

I was thinking about a conversation I had with an acquaintance about pens and pencils. She considers herself a writer, at the time she was poo-pooing my use of fountain pens. During this conversation she made the statement, or something much like it, “Any pen will do the job.” As she made this statement she used a Bic Stic and I used a TWSBI 530. The truth is, yes, any pen will do the job but the real question is, will any pen (or pencil) add to the enjoyment of that job?  Will this pen make this job easier, or harder? To me it’s a question of quality.coffee&bulletpencilYears ago, when I started to ask these questions I began to explore  how I used my tools, the marks they made, and how my I enjoyed using them. Once I started this exploration I started to look for tools that I could use and enjoy while I wrote and made my art.

The real reason that people so often quote, “Any pen will do,” at us pen and pencil fanatics is that it’s beat into our heads in school to just pick up a pen/pencil and make art. We’re told by teachers that people get bogged down in the search for a pen or pencil and simply  don’t write or make art. I’ve had teachers tell me to get to the act of making art rather than picking the right tool. I think it’s vitally important that we find the right pen/pencil for us to make art. I think getting a quality writing instrument is a matter of self-respect.

Using a good pen/pencil adds a level of enjoyment to creating that is missing when a Bic Stic is uncapped or a Dixon HB #2 is sharpened (if you can get it to hold a point.) When I ink up my fountain pen I’m performing a ritual that is over a hundred years old. When I sharpen my pencil I’m following in the footsteps of some of the greats. Why suffer with a poor quality Dixon HB #2 when I can sharpen an USA Gold HB #2 or a Staedtler Norica and actually enjoy writing and sketching with them? We’re more likely to repeat an experience if we enjoy it.

During classes and here on this blog I’ve often said that  we should buy the best tools that we can afford in that moment. If all I can afford is something in the 99 cent range then I should strive for the best quality pencil or pen in that range. Then I should use the shit out of it. When I can afford it I should graduate to the next best thing. There are a lot of affordable options that are a better quality than the Dixon HB #2 or the BIC stic.* Continue reading

Review: Staedtler Norica

Last week I wrote about the Staedtler Rally, what I call the popped collar boat shoe wearing preppy of the Staedtler pencil line up.* The Staedtler Norica is the goth kid.Staedtler Norica

The lacquer is satin finished black with a silver ferrule and imprint. The eraser is what seems to be Staedtler’s new standard white plastic that is proclaimed as PVC and latex free. It’s been a few years since I worked in a school, but I suppose that is important. The imprint is sharp and unlike the Rally, doesn’t wear off. I have not noticed any flaking of the silver foil. Like the Rally, the silver ferrule is affixed tightly at first but loosens through use.Staedtler NoricaThe lead in this feels almost identical to the Rally. It’s nice and dark during regular writing, and provides some variation of line color when sketching. Here and there I notice a small amount of grit, but overall the writing experience is good. Not Blackwing good, but honestly, really not bad.Norica SketchStaedtler NoricaOne of the things that is odd about this pencil is that it is slightly more narrow than most regular pencils. Because of this it does not fit into a bullet pencil with ease. It does fit into my Stad One Touch Pencil holder and other pencil extenders with ease. Staedtler Norica

The wonderful thing about these pencils is that they come in a package of 36. the regular price is $9.99 but is often on sale (at Staples) for $5. My package had a pair of Staedtler white Rasoplast eraser shrink wrapped to it.

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Review: Doane Garage Series Utility Notebook Small

In a recent Jetpens purchase I added a 3-pack of Doane Utility notebooks to my cart. I’ve used it for taking notes at my old job and found it great at US letter size. I was able to print the PDF and use it as I wished. Doane paper’s schtick is that it has lines and grid. I like the set up.doane paperWhen I saw that Jetpens was carrying 3-packs of the Utility series of notebooks I decided to get a pack. The 3-pack has one each of orange, blue, and brown covers. The small notebooks measure 3.5×5.5 in size, the same as Field Notes and most pocket sized notebooks. It also features 48 pages and 3 staples binding the pages and covers together.doane paperThe paper is 60lb in weight and has a nice tooth for use with pencils. It does okay with fountain pens but not great. It really shines with  pencils. I really enjoy the printed colors on the chipboard covers. It lacks the printed page for the owner to add their contact info but the inside of the cover is blank. I simply wrote my pertinent info in a crooked scrawl.doane paper doane paperWhile I really enjoy the look of the cover and the paper itself, the lines are too big and the grid is too small for this size notebook. Really it would work if the lines had 2 rows of grid instead of 3. I find that I write much larger and thus use more pages for just about everything. I began my current book only 4 days  ago and I’m halfway through the book.* I’m using this book at twice the rate I usually use a Field Notes. So while I like the books I’m not likely to buy another 3-pack of them in the pocket sized notebooks. I would try them in the larger size.doane paperSo in short: Great paper, lovely covers, but the ruling is both too large and too small. While I like the look and the paper, I can’t wait to be done with this book. The ruling ruins it for me.

*It bears mentioning that I finished this book in 6 days, the fastest I’ve ever filled up a pocket notebook.

Review: Tombow IPPO!

The Tombow IPPO! is a Japanese pencil targeted toward kids for working on their handwriting. The pencils have bright attractive colors with one of their six sides white. It makes for a really neat looking pencil. The end is capped  off and neatly banded with a bright silver foil. The grade of the pencil is marked on  2 sides with the company name and dragonfly image on a third. I find these to be tidy and sharp (heh) looking pencils. That single white stripe reminds me of wide racing stripes on cars. Tough and serviceable but bright and fun. There are three different colors in each 12-pack. Mine had a bright lime green, a light blue, and dark blue. The pencils arrive in a nice hard plastic case that is reusable as a pencil case. It doesn’t clasp shut but overlap, so would need a rubber band to hold it shut, but is a great way to protect your pencils on the go.IPPO!Inside, the soft B core is well centered in an unknown wood that sharpens with ease. I tested out a variety of sharpeners and was happy with all results, from long points to stubby points. Point retention with this B pencil was good but not great. It is a B pencil, so it is soft, but it’s also not the softest B pencils I’ve tried. It’s delightfully dark without using undue pressure, and is smooth. It’s not the silky smooth experience of a Pearl but has a touch more feedback. It’s fantastic.IPPO!IPPO!

I really enjoy this pencil for written journaling. My words are nice and dark, and it doesn’t smudge too much, but will. For sketching it does well, but for deep dark areas another pencil in a softer grade will be needed.

These were purchased from Jetpens. They ring in around $1 each. The bright colors are fantastic and are eye catching. I can’t help but to have one of each color sharpened and ready for use.

Pocket Notebook File Storage Boxes

Ray of My Life All in One Place posted a video to the Field Nuts Facebook Group awhile back of a great little file storage box for any pocket sized notebook. I took his design and created a template in Make the Cut for my Crapcut machine. My version can be flat packed after cutting, scoring, folding and gluing. Which means it can be sent through the mail with ease*. I’m charging enough to cover the cost of paper, glue, blades, and carrier in my Crapcut and a little extra to account for time to glue and fold everything. File BoxesI’m pretty obsessed with storage solutions for the pocket notebooks I use as journals. I’ve made wooden boxes and now a ton of these little card stock beauties. Each of these little cardstock files boxes holds 9 of my used Field Notes or Word notebooks. It will hold 10 unused without belly bands or shrink wrap. File BoxesI also picked up a giant package of card stock colors. I can now offer a crazy rainbow of colors of these file boxes as well as my simple slim 2-pocket folders for traveler’s notebook covers. You can get anything I’ve mentioned above in my etsy store.cardstock colors

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Review: Clips for Pens and Pencils

When I was a kid my grandparents had a pen and pencil cup near their phone in the kitchen. This cup held an assortment of pens and pencils they had accumulated over the years. Some had come from their work places and others as freebies from companies they had done business with. Later as they traveled on their vacations to state fairs outside our area and state the cup began to acquire new never-before-seen exotic writing utensils. One of these I remember clearly was a pencil with a clip. I don’t remember anything but the clip. I remember thinking, “Duh, that makes soooo much sense! I’ve got a clip on my pen, why not on a pencil.” Then the pencil with a clip disappeared* and while I often thought it would be cool to have a clip on my pencil, I never gave it much thought after that. Well until I checked out PencilThings.com.pencil clips pencil clipsPencilThings has an assortment of of clips that you can add to pencils. The clips I ordered remind me of old school pen clips. It’s a really simple design where the clip is springy and attaches to a band that wraps around the pencil. I found that all of my clips were a little loose on my pencils but a little gentle coaxing with a pair of pliers made them fit super snug. This squishing of the clip also served to make the actual clip more springy  and have a tighter clip onto whatever I clip the pencil to.pencil clips pencil clipsThe clips are made of spring steel. According to PencilThings they are made in the US. They aren’t exactly the best example of US manufacturing, as they are quite cheaply made. Given that they retail for about 50 cents each, this isn’t surprising.  I’ve only had them for a few weeks at this point and can’t really say anything about their durability, but they seem to clip snugly to the cover of my planner and my notebook. So far I’m very happy with them.pencil clips pencil clipsPriced at $6 for 12 or $3.25 for 6 they aren’t a bad buy. When Shipping is factored into the cost I think they are around 75 cents each. Which isn’t bad and pretty cheap considering they are reusable. Continue reading

Shipping Services

While I’ve been reviewing products on this blog for a good long time, one of the many things I’ve neglected to talk about is shipping from the various companies. We review shipping on Amazon, so why not from our favorite online pen and pencil companies? Here is my not so exhaustive list of shipping reviews in regards to pen and pencil companies.

Pencils.com: All of my shipments have been discreetly shipped in a white cardboard clamshell style box. Each box has been securely tapped on all edges. They open from the top and are gift-like in the package. Each package has been filled with styrofoam peanuts. I have not checked to see if these are the biodegradable sort, but they don’t look like they are.  The boxes always arrive in good condition, even when manhandled by the idiot delivery guy and not the good delivery woman. All items have arrived in perfect condition. Shipping is reasonably priced, right in the middle of the pack. They occasionally have free shipping sales. I try to take advantage of these sales. Speed of shipping is slower than other companies but not slow enough for me to complain. When they run a free shipping sale, they ship parcel rate, which is slower than the regular first class I usually select. You can pay more for priority shipping.

Jetpens: They ship in bubble wrap mailers. They do put loose pencils into thin card boxes. My last shipment arrived with a square of cardboard to protect the pencils. This is a far cry from some of my earlier shipments where items were sent loose in a bubble mailer.  As we all know that sort of shipping is the death of pencils. However, any order over $25 ships for free. Which is a huge savings. The free shipping is slower, as it’s sent first class and not priority mail.* I get my Jetpens goods within 3 to 4 days. Considering the goods are coming from Cali and I’m  in Mass, that’s really not bad.** I never order unless I can get over the $25 mark so I can’t comment on their paid shipping. I have never had a Jetpens purchase arrive damaged.

PencilThings.com: I placed my first order on the 9th and it arrived on the 14th.  I get the feeling this is a one woman operation so not a bad turnaround to get from New Mexico to Massachusetts. Considering that the good mail lady was on vacation and the moron had her route, really not bad.*** My small order was shipped in a bubble mailer. The pencils were not backed by cardboard or anything else.  Shipping was $5 and the order was shipped first class  and weighed 3 ounces. You do the math. Anyway, nothing was damaged and they are one of the few places that offer things like pencil caps and clips. They have a HUGE range of KUM brand sharpeners that can be hard to find other places.

Goulet: Ever since Goulet did away with their Fountain Pen Network discount I haven’t placed an order. They rarely offer free shipping and when they do it’s on orders over $50, $75 or $100.  However when one of my packages was damaged in shipping and not delivered, they replaced my package free of charge. So their expensive and speedy shipping is guaranteed. When my package eventually was delivered, damaged, to Walgreens about a month later (weird) and Walgreens opened it and called me, Goulet told me to keep both. This is a huge positive. Generally, Goulet packages arrived in 3 days from Virginia.

Any conversation about Goulet bears mentioning that they ridiculously over protect their package. All packages are backed by cardboard wrapped in blue cling film and bubble wrap then shipped in a box. Inks are put into ziplock baggies. The extra space in the boxes is packed with crumpled paper, and there is always extra space since all of the boxes I’ve ever gotten have been over-sized for the items contained within. This makes perfect sense for inks and delicate pens. But is completely wasteful for notebooks and other items . I always shed a tear for the environment when I place a Goulet order. There is no middle ground or variance for different items. Every item is packed with the same excessive packaging. Which I suppose is good, because you pay for it.

Amazon- Every package I order from them is packaged differently. IF I’m getting things from Amazon and not a reseller, it’s generally in a small cardboard box with large air pockets. I’ve gotten things from resellers in bubble mailers, boxes, card mailers, paper envelopes with no bubble wrap, and the list could go on. With all the variances I’ve never had an Amazon order go missing or be damaged.

Rated by shipping price, lowest to highest:

  1. Jetpens (over $25)
  2. Amazon (with prime)(rated lower than Jetpens due to many pencil related items being add-on items)
  3. Pencils.com
  4. PencilThings.com
  5. Goulet

Rated by Packaging, best to ok:

  1. Goulet
  2. Pencils.com
  3. JetPens
  4. PencilThings.com
  5. Amazon (rated here as ok mostly because I never know how something will be packaged.)

Rated by Speed, fastest to Slowest:****

  1. Amazon
  2. Goulet
  3. Jetpens
  4. Pencils.com
  5. PencilThings.com

Overall I’ve got perfectly adequate shipping from all of the vendors listed and I’ve been happy with service. Ratings are subjective and my opinion based on my purchase history.

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Review: Yoobi Pencils

A few weeks ago I was browsing the stationary section at Target, don’t pretend you don’t do the exact same thing, and happened upon the new display for Yoobi. It’s a nifty brand that donates a pack of what you bought to a school in need. Cool.

I picked up a few notebooks and a pack of pencils. I selected the mixed color 24-pack and received bright magenta, purple, blue and yellow green pencils that perfectly match their notebooks, journals, pens, highlighters, glue sticks, and other desk items. They are very brightly colored, which I like a lot.IMAG2045The pencils are standard #2 HB graphite cores. The core is well centered and whatever wood it is made of, sharpens well in all my sharpeners, from the KUM Ellipse, Long Point and wedge. Easy as could be. The core is nice and dark for an HB and is good for writing. it does okay for basic sketching but for anything resembling deep dark shadows a 4B or 6B pencil will need to be used. Point retention is decent but with pencils this cheap you can have a dozen sharp and ready to go without being worried about cost. Written journalers will be happy with these pencils.yoobiSpeaking of price, a 24-pack was a mere $2.29! They give a package to a school in need so it becomes an even better deal. The fact that these pencils  are super brightly colored and give to charity is great thing. They also coordinate with their notebooks really well. Even if you aren’t using a matching color, all of the colors work really well together.yoobi yoobi yoobi yoobi yoobi

 

Review: BIC ECOlution Evolution HB

I picked up a few neat pencils in a trade with PencilRevolution‘s Johnny Gamber. One of those pencils was the BIC ECOlution. Like the Staedtler Wopex, it’s extruded. Unlike the Wopex it is flexible. Similar to the weird flexy extruded pencils of the 90s, you can really bend this pencil as  you write. Unlike the weird extruded pencils of the 90s this flexing doesn’t seem to break the core. So though it has bends as I write, it sharpens to a nice point every time.BIC

Speaking of sharpening, it has a weird melted plastic smell as I sharpen it. It’s almost a burnt rubber smell. It’s not noticeable except for right after I’ve sharpened the pencil. Like the Wopex, the end tends to chip off. This leaves me with a slightly blunted point. Which is fine for notebooks with larger ruling or sketching, but horrible for college ruled or Field Notes. If I’m more careful as I sharpen the pencil, it doesn’t chip. Let’s face it I don’t use this sort of pencil for sketching. It’s simply too light for anything but very cursory and initial sketching.  For writing it’s just fine.BIC

In fact I like it quite a bit for writing. It doesn’t smudge in my notebook or when my hand runs over it. This is a great pencil to pair with a Field Notes and Fauxdori style cover. the fact that it doesn’t smudge while your notebook rides in a hip pocket is a fantastic feature.

The pencil is a nice bright teal color. One of my favorite colors. the imprint is gold foil, and done very well. The core is well centered. The ferrule is nice shiny silver and attached to the pencil very well. The eraser is a nice white plastic eraser that does a good job on the Ecolution’s core.BIC

The hard part about this pencil is finding one. The only place you can find one is on eBay and by international sellers. The prices are pretty reasonable, it’s the shipping that kills the deal.

This pencil has 3 major downsides- the weird melted plastic smell when sharpened.* It’s bending is something that I find odd in a pencil. Pencils are supposed to be hard, not bendy. Finally, It’s unavailable on the regular US pencil market and must be found on eBay by international sellers. Even with those downsides, I really like this pencil.

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Review: Staedtler Rally

One of the pencils that I’ve been using a lot over the last couple of weeks has been the Staedtler Rally a #2 HB. These caught my eye on Amazon because they are navy blue and white striped. The imprint is white and tends to wear off pretty quickly, leaving behind a matte impression of the formerly white imprint. The imprint rubs off with ease if I try to remove it. The ferrule is tight on the pencil but loosens as the eraser is used. The more vigorously the eraser is used, the looser it gets. The pencil sharpens easily in any of my sharpeners producing a sturdy point.IMAG1882

The eraser is white plastic, pvc and latex free. It’s a pretty tough and abrasive eraser, though doesn’t damage most paper. It removes the pencil markings from paper pretty well. It’s not great though. It does the job when taking notes. But for sketching I’d carry a Staedtler Mars plastic eraser or a Tombow Mono Zero click eraser for better clean up.Staedtler Rally

The pencil itself is nice and dark. It is not the smoothest of pencils. There are occasional gritty bits. I didn’t find this off putting for a regular working pencil. While I think that Palominos and Blackwings are awesome, it’s not realistic that I use them for all of my class notes or all my drawing. Well, it’s also unrealistic that I stick with one pencil or pen for an extended period of time. Rather, I’m a pencil serial monogamist.Staedtler Rally

Anyway, to me this is a really good looking pencil. The navy blue and white is quite striking and unusual. Is it my best pencil? No. But it works really well for class notes and for general sketching of things. It’s also relatively cheap when purchased through Staples, around 29 cents a pencil. I picked up mine via Amazon as an add on item, but my price was slightly higher. It’s a good pencil to give to people who might not be obsessive about pencils as a way of introducing to something other than that standard #2 pencil they get from the office supply cabinet. It’s got a lot going for it- inexpensive, good looks, a nice dark, mostly smooth lead, and easy sharpening.Staedtler Rally

Overall, this is a great pencil for general purpose work, easily replacing almost any HB pencil in your rotation for sketching or writing. Have a kid on  your shopping list who likes special pencils? This might be a great one for them. Have someone who likes pencils? Well, you might want to get them something a little more special, but this as a part of a gift pack of a few notebooks or journals, might make them happy.

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