Author Archives: leslie

Review: Baronfig Letters to the Future

For those of us who straddle the cultural divide between the 80s and 90s the move from 2020 to 2021 stationery fashions has been very very kind to us. We have the TWSBI rainbow plated eco/diamond, the emergence of teal as a fashionable color, and hot damn Baronfig has brought us all the Holofoil of our dreams. Well, mine anyway.

I am here for it all it’s garish beauty, the holofoil isn’t garish though, the book itself is tastefully done as are the envelopes, but that insert, man, I just want to stare at it and let the rainbows glint off it into my eyes. RAD.

We all know that Baronfig’s paper is great with everything I’ve ever thrown at it, LttF is no exception- great paper, great binding, lovely cover, and a ribbon that could be about an inch longer for it to be useful. No elastic. In the holofoil highlighted box, we have the journal, that lovely holofoiled card and 12 envelopes.

I’m also here for the concept of LttF. One of the most interesting things I did in grad school was write a letter to myself. It was written about a week before graduation and we were instructed to write a letter to ourselves that would be sent to us one year from that date. It’s been several years since I wrote and then read that letter. It’s tucked into a journal somewhere and I don’t remember it’s contents, but I do remember the feeling of reading that letter, it was good. It was a touch sad, but mostly it was helpful and dare I say even useful?

It was nice to see where I was a year post graduation, unlike many of Baronfig’s other offerings this one ships with little in the way of instructions. 12 envelopes could lead you to writing a letter to yourself every month for the next year. Or a letter to be read at a specific time in the year. OR a letter a year for 12 years (whoa that is a commitment.)  Or some other combination. But it is an interesting journaling and motivational tool to explore. When would you want to read the letters? When do you want to leave them to yourself?

Overall I’m in love with the concept, though I’ll likely only use a few of the pages for the intended 12 letters and the rest for letters I’m sending out to friends. 

As an aside, the book I just finished, Harrow the 9th, featured letters written to the self in code. The reasoning for these letters are multifold and sad, and at the end of the book revealed to be totally unnecessary. 

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Review: Wing Sung 601 Vacuumatic

The 601 is a classic knock off pen- it’s a direct rip off of the Parker 51 with a vacummatic filler from the 40s. This doesn’t make it bad, it simply is. Since it is a direct translation it’s not a bad look at all.

We have discussed at length my love and adoration of demonstrator pens. I love to see the ink sloshing about and the inner workings of the pen. I managed to snag a clear version  of this pen. It has a brushed stainless steel cap which has a little pearlized finial cap. The cap has that classic arrow clip, which is cool but also too small for this sized cap. It seems dainty and weak. That said my clip is plenty sturdy and has survived sliding in and out of the outer pocket of my Guardian pro for a month without any signs of fatigue. The cap slides on and off with some oomph but the fingers inside can be adjusted with a skewer. (Others have explained this far more easily than I can.)

The vacuum portion of the pen works really well, you depress the spring loaded plunger a few times and it sucks up a whopping 1.5 ml of ink. This baby is an ink tank. My mechanism worked flawlessly with each of the 3 fills I’ve done thus far. The blind cap screws on and off with ease, and with another model of this pen, you could barely detect that the cap was there. You can use a little hex tool to remove the plunger for a full and complete cleaning.

This nib on mine was perfect right out of the box. It’s a smooth and decent writer that is just right in terms of ink flow. Mine did take a little adjustment to get the nib to line up perfectly with the hooded grip section. That was easily adjusted before I inked the pen.

This pen posts deeply and tightly enough that the cap does not work itself loose as I write. There are lots of things to love and hate about this pen. Sure it’s a cheap knock off of a classic Parker pen, but that is also a selling point. For $15 I can snag a fun new pen with an interesting filling mechanism. It is also a great writer. I’ve yet to have a Wing Sung pen with a bad nib (just jinxed it didn’t I?)  this one was great out of the box. Add to that it holds a LOT of ink. 1.5ml is basically 3 large cartridges of ink. That’s a LOT of writing. Page after page even on the crappy absorbent paper I get at work. If you load this up with a nice black ink, you have a tremendous pen for sketching, and getting in some nice tight line work, because the nib is nice and fine.

No at just south of $16 this isn’t the best historical knock off deal out there, the Jinhao 51A is, but this might be the most fun Wing Sung in existence.


(20201125 Edited for accuracy: Thanks to eagle eye reader Jerry Y who spotted that this is a Wing Sung not a Jinhao. I have a Jinhao on order and in shipping still. Honestly though. I own too many Wing Sung pens to have made that mistake. I mean, duh, the box alone. Sigh I need more coffee.)

This pen was purchased with Ko-fi funds. If you enjoy this kind of review, feel free to hit that button on the sidebar and send me some coffee.

Week Links

Johnny has again, encapsulated my feelings about the tool being tools. 

This podcast is recordings of things, they call it field recordings. Loosely people stand in a field and record the noise, except it’s not all fields. One of the most recent is a recording of a train going by the recorder. Neat. Field Recordings.

I haven’t mentioned it recently, but MyNoise is a KILLER website where the owner of said site records and makes background noise. Maybe you really want to go to a café and work, but you know Covid. Big sigh. MyNoise can make it sound like you’re in a café, or sitting next to a river, on the beach, in a dungeon (no judgement) or even taking a walk through the woods. It’s a donation based site and everyone who likes it should use it and pass the guy who makes it a few coins. I mention the café noises because I brewed myself a coffee put the café noise on in the background along with some Tangerine Dream and worked on my NaNo novel and it was ALMOST like being in the café.



State of the Art: Making the Zine

The physical act of making a zine is usually a pretty easy endeavor. After you write up the contents, do your layout and print and bind. Most of the time it goes smoothly.

Not this time. I’m not sure what happened to my head when I was collating the covers and sheaf of paper that makes the single signature of the pages, but in half of the zines I bound (60!) I reversed the sheaf, so the first page was 9 and page 1 and 16 were in the middle of the book. UGH. I didn’t notice until I had stapled all of them and folded half the zines that I’d already stapled. I pulled 120 staples with a pair of needle nose pliers. I use a jig to staple so I was easily able to get most of the staples in the original holes.

Mostly this was annoying because it added about 45 minutes of work and a fair amount of aggravation that I hadn’t checked to be sure the stacks were aligned properly. Lesson learned, the next zine will get double and tripled checked before stapling.

State of the Art: Making the Zine

Making a zine is usually a pretty easy endeavor. You write up the contents, do your layout and print and bind. And most of the time it goes smoothly.

Not this time. I’m not sure what happened to my head when I was collating the covers and sheaf of paper that makes the single signature of the pages, but in half of the zines I bound (60!) I reversed the sheaf, so the first page was 9 and page 1 and 16 were in the middle of the book. UGH. I didn’t notice until I had stapled all of them and folded half the zines that I’d already stapled.

I pulled 120 staples with a pair of needle nose pliers. I use a jig to staple so I was easily able to get most of the staples in the original holes.

Mostly this was annoying because it added about 45 minutes of work and a fair amount of aggravation that I hadn’t checked to be sure the sheaf were aligned properly. Lesson learned, the next zine will get double and tripled checked before stapling.

Also, you can get the latest copy of Useful Journaling on my Ko-Fi page here.

Review: Higgins Black Magic Fiber Tip Marker

I have fond memories of working with Higgins inks throughout my childhood. My high school kept large quantities of Black Magic on hand. When I went to college I bought jars of it. I used it with dip pens and even *GASP* Look away if you are faint of heart, put it into fountain pens. (Do not do this, it will ruin them over time, maybe put it in a Preppy.) It is a nice dark ink that is pretty good in an ink wash set up and doesn’t budge once dry. It’s not a straight up true India ink, but some sort of hybrid. It dries matte on most surfaces.

All that is to say that when I walked past the display of art supplies in my closest Staples I saw the little blister packed marker and was hit with a wave of nostalgia. So despite it being priced at a whopping $4.99 I bought it.

So you get a little fiber tipped marker that needs to be shaken REALLY well before you first use it. The sediment pools at the base of the marker with the shaker balls in the pigment. It took a lot of shaking and leaving the pen on its side overnight to get this shaken properly. If you use it without a good proper shake the ink will be watery and grey colored. It’ll seem pretty disappointing.

One you get it shaken and primed properly it’ll be a deep dark black that is matte on most paper and works pretty well with most paper. I did find that there was some pretty deep penetration on my surfaces- it bled through the crappy sketchbook I use at work. It looked great on my bright white cardstock but was deeply absorbed. It doesn’t lift much when I erase which is always nice.

On fibery and even some smooth papers this fiber tip is aggressive. I used a light hand and this tip lifted fibers every time. Even on smooth cardstock, I was surprised to see little trails of fibers as well as lifted and bunched fibers on the page when I was done drawing. I think if you mash the tip it’ll be softer, but who wants to purposefully do that?

Like many pump style fiber tipped pens, this one is likely pretty easily refillable. When I get to that point I’ll post a tutorial. If you know how to take apart a paint pen you will probably be able to use that same technique here.

This is a bold line, no fine lines at all here. The tip is at least 1 mm if not 2mm in diameter. You won’t be doing fine line work, but you can pretend you’re Aaron Draplin and doodle some THICC lines.

Given the cheapness of Higgins Black Magic ink it’s difficult to think about shelling out $5 for a single pen, when you can buy an entire 1 ounce (33ml) bottle from $3 to $5. If it is refillable, and easily so, then the $5 is not a bad price at all. Continue reading

Show Your Work: Bizness of Zines

Zines are rarely profitable. This is a truth and can be false. Zines are a multitude of truth and fiction.

In disclosure and transparency I decided to explore the (un)profitability of Useful Journaling.

I chose to use the Ko-Fi sales platform, on a year long subscription of Ko-Fi Gold. This way Ko-Fi does not take a cut of the money used to purchase my zines and things*. That said I did pay $4.50 to use the service for the whole month.

I chose $3 with US shipping included as my total price. To get an address via Ko-Fi, I had to break that down to $2.50 with shipping extra. Paypal took 39 cents per sale. I always forget the enormous amount paypal takes. I think I block it out. Postage within the US was 50 cents (1 stamp)**.

Materials breakdown is as follows, per issue:

  • Cardstock: 8 cents
  • Paper: 4 cents 
  • Black toner: 4 cents
  • Color toner: 30 cents
  • Sundry items: staples, envelopes, craft blades etc: 10 cents
  • Total: 60 cents an issue

The largest expense here was the color toner. I was gifted the color laser printer and a box of fresh 4 color toners, but had to replace the drum, and now the transfer roller (could be called something else but it’s the bit of film that rolls the image onto the paper/roller). The cost per issue is the same given the amount I have spent on the cursed machine.***

I also repurposed many of the items from previous projects- I already own a long reach stapler, colored staples, really nice cardstock, plain white paper, and a black and white laser printer. So while I’m not out any of those items and have slowly accumulated all of the things I WISHED I had back in 1999 when making zines.**** It’s taken me 20 or so years, but I finally have all the tools for zines I ever wanted. It is kind of amazing that layout can be done in an app and even online if you really want.

The net profit from each copy of the zine, not even coming close to thinking about time and labor, is $1.51. From the first printing I made $105.***** The second printing will be slightly different and slightly more profitable- I’ll be using colored cardstock at roughly 10 cents a sheet and eliminate the color printing. So the total cost of physical supplies will drop from 60 cents to about 30 or 40 cents.

The $105 I made will go toward replenishing supplies- black toner ($20), more paper (moving toward 100% recycled paper for the insides)($10), yellow toner ($20), colored staples ($5), and more cardstock ($20). Leaving me with about $20 to spend on a bag of coffee. I have my priorities.

A thing to remember is that for much of this- the more copies I make (and sell) the lower my cost becomes. If I can buy a bulk pack of black high yield toner cartridges, that drops the cost of black toner from 2 cents a sheet to 1.5 cents/sheet. I strongly want to keep this zine very affordable to get it into the hands of more people. I do have loose plans to create special editions- so things like the first 3 issues bound into a special cover, notebooks with related content and covers, prompt cards and many other things. For now, I am enjoying the tactile nature of these items, but PDF versions might be a possibility in the future. I suspect that eventually I will need to upgrade to a new computer. The Lenovo I bought… Well it’s one step above a pizza box in terms of functionality, and I can really see where it lags with graphics where my previous computer did not. So that is a thing I need to keep in mind as well.

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Review: Bic Gelocity 0.5mm Gel Pen

I’m going to start with this rather bold statement, I wanted to hate this pen from the moment I opened it’s blister package. But I don’t, not entirely.

The Gelocity is an inexpensive pen, a 4-pack costs $3 at Walgreen’s and less if you look for a sale. They are sold in a blister pack ready to hang on a peg. There is nothing particularly eye catching with the package or the pen. As far as packaging goes, it is as standard as one can get.

What caught my eye was the 50% off sale offer. Except I didn’t read the fine print, I needed to buy 2 Bic products, one at regular price and the second lower priced item at 50%. Well, crap. Still at $3 these aren’t breaking the bank.

Once the package is open, you see that you get what you pay for. As far as gel pens are concerned you aren’t getting much with the Gelocity. The pens look cheap and feel cheaper. The clear plastic is adorned with concentric circle blob things that look like doodles on might make in a design program when first learning. The end cap removes but you can’t take the refill out from the end cap end, nope only from the point end.

The cap itself is removed and posts with a satisfying click. The clip does not look like it will survive a day in a classroom let alone the amount of time it will last in use. The nose/tip is made of plastic, the whole pen is made entirely of plastic, except for the tip of the refill. This makes the pen ultra lightweight. It is also very narrow.

Which brings me to the grip. There is a silicone sleeve with some grooves molded into it. It sits above the area where the cap clips. It is too high for my hand grip, so my fingers grip the hard plastic of the cap clipping area. Which I found uncomfortable but not painful.

So the pen is not great in the feels department.

The refill though, if you like a narrow line feels and looks more like a 0.38mm to me. It isn’t dry but has that narrow point scratchy feel of a 0.38mm on the paper. The gel ink isn’t stingy it has good flow and is nicely black. The narrowness of the line is nice for some tiny doodling and sketching, allowing for some nice cross hatching and building up of darkness. I have not tested it for lightfastness. It does seem to have some water resistance but is not waterproof, so not a great sketching gel for anyone interested in using watercolors.

If you are in need of a bunch of pens for cheap this isn’t the worst choice. If you are looking for a multi use pen that allows you to write and sketch with perhaps a bit of watercolor work added, this isn’t it. 

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On Making Things: Tearing Down to Repair

Last Friday I told you about the Printer, in passing. I was gifted a 10 year old Samsung ColorXpressions laser printer. It’s a 4 color printer and on the outside in great shape. I remember my Mom buying it for herself way back when and being super jealous of it. New, it made amazing prints, clean, crisp and clear.

When my mom cleaned out her classroom the printer came home with her and sat in a pile, she had neither the time nor excitement to set it up at home. To be frank she didn’t want to. They had another printer and after 10 years the excitement was gone. 

She knew I’d probably continue  to use it, so she offered it and a box of 4 brand new unopened toner carts to me. I didn’t think before I said yes.

Then I brought it home and let it sit, for another… 6 months at least.

Then we set it up and the printing was a mess. Clearly it needed a new drum. I searched out and found that the printer itself was discontinued as were the parts for it. Then I found rebuild kits for the drum, and finally, a drum itself for not too much. Ordered. And still the printers were a mess and the machine would not pick up cardstock.

Disappointed I looked at color laser printers, and used ones on Craigslist and Marketplace, whoa, expensive. I hadn’t realized what a gift this machine really was.More research, and I found that there’s another part called the image transfer roller- a belt of some kind of plastic that transfers the image to the paper. I could clean it! 

First impressions were that mine disconnected in a different way from the video I watched, so I did a halfway cleaning, and things were better. 

Finally I decided to remove a few screws, and voila! I could see where everything connected and was able to disconnect the roller and remove it from the machine. I then sat down with rubber gloves, rubbing alcohol, and rags and proceeded to clean off the transfer roller. I took it apart and took it outside and let the dust blow away, and then wiped down the whole thing with alcohol. I took the moment to clean out the dust from the machine itself, there were streaks of toner everywhere. The alcohol picked it up and cleaned it out.

Then I put it back together and did a test print. I was hopeful, but worried I’d need to buy a new part. A quick search showed the parts to rebuild the transfer belt range from $80 to $200, depending on the part. Given the cost of a new printer, that is a feasible investment.

The prints that emerged at first were crisp and clean and perfect. I did a few more test prints and a few covers for some possible No Brand Notebook covers, and the results were pretty clear, but it was also apparent that years of use had warped the scraper bar inside the transfer unit. I won’t lie, this was disappointing, but also not horrible. I’ve found that if I print the same image for a few prints (the intended use of this machine anyway) that I get nice clear prints and it takes 3 prints to get clear prints.

But it is also an easy fix, also cheap. A new scraper bar costs around $10, and replacing it is pretty easy. So after the next issue of UJ I’ll be replacing that. Mostly the wait is that I have to wait for the bar to arrive. The best place to find them has been A1Xpress or ebay and I simply have to wait for it to arrive from China.
Another great thing about the printer is that because it is old, the market is flooded with a variety of remanufactured toner cartridges. They range from ridiculously cheap to pretty expensive. This means I’ll be able to keep printing UJ with pops of color and hopefully some color inside, at a relatively cheap price.

I’m optimistic that I can keep this printer running for a good long time with careful repairs.

Review: Pencil Revolution The Zine

I love zines. I’ve loved them for years and years. I’ve made many of my own and collected a lot of them. Sadly I’ve lost the couple of hundred that I had collected. So when Johnny of Pencil revolution, the blog told me he was starting a zine, I got excited. I had no idea what he had planned, but I knew it would be good. You see, Johnny can write, and it is always a joy to read a zine written by someone with a grasp of language and a true joy of their subject matter.

Johnny did not disappoint. His physical manifestation of Pencil Revolution is both precious and informative. He’s made a tiny little zine so packed with pencil history I’m not sure how it can be held in such a tiny package. He uses a single sheet book format that folds up into a sweet little pocket sized book. It would even fit into the pocket of a pocket sized moleskine!

The first 4 issues are all about the history of pencils. With any other writer you might find this dry or boring, but Johnny’s writing style pulls you in and holds your attention. Which I might say, can be really difficult when writing about the history of pencils. (Ahem, looking at other histories of pencils.) He’s clear, conversational, and a bit funny. If you enjoy Pencil Revolution the blog you’ll love Pencil Revolution the Zine, plus it’s inexpensive!