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.Years 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.*
A better option than the Dixon HB is the Dixon Ticonderoga, Staedtler Norica, or USA Gold. As for the BIC stic, the BIC crystal or BIC clic are better pens. I don’t know what it is about the BIC stic that makes them so horrible to use, but they are the worst. Perhaps its the dropped K?
When I was looking at starting to play ukelele over and over again, people told me not to buy the cheapest uke I could find because it would be harder to play and I’d be less likely to play it if it wasn’t enjoyable. Perhaps we as artists need to add some of this discernment to our selection of tools.