I've always been a writer... Since my junior year of high school, I have always carried a notebook and a pen with me. After a few experiments, I began stockpiling my favorite pen, the Uniball Vision Elite Rollerball Micro-Point (.5mm) pen. I used them exclusively for about 20 years until in the summer of 2018, I funded a Kickstarter pen that promised to use a refill of comparable quality. The Studio Neat Mark One pen body would be delivered with a rollerball refill that had rave reviews online, and I felt ready to purchase a pen that would last a lifetime since I could use a refill that would mimic the pen I had used for so long. I felt like I wanted a pen for myself, a pen that would be recognized as "mine" by anyone who knew me. The kind of thing that really represents who I am, and the Mark One would suffice. In the campaign comment thread, someone posted a link to a review on Pen Addict. Brad Dowdy has a great site there, and he does a podcast, which dovetailed perfectly with my other hobby of listening to podcasts obsessively.
After several weeks of listening to this podcast, I became convinced that I wanted to try a fountain pen. I've always been curious, but never felt that I could justify the expense, especially when I already had a pen that I loved. With the Pen Addict site, I felt that it was worth a gamble, and I added some of his recommended starter-level pens to my Christmas wishlist. My wife was gracious enough to purchase 2 of the pens, and I received a 3rd from my mother! I got to work right away trying them out. The Pilot Metropolitan was used Christmas Day, and I loved it. I had to wait to use the TWSBI Eco until I ordered some ink (and my wife had thoughtfully included a gift card to order ink). As soon as the Pilot Iroshizuku ink sampler arrived, I inked the TWSBI with Kon-Peki (Cerulean Blue), and fell in love even more. The demonstrator body allowed me to see the workings of the piston filler, and I was immediately hooked.
As my collection grows, I find that my everyday life has been... elevated. Using a fountain pen feels incredibly different than using a standard, off-the-shelf ballpoint or even rollerball pen. Every time I write anything, I'm fully aware and present in the moment, knowing the tool I'm using is intensely personal. I selected that pen to carry in the morning. I selected the ink inside the pen. I care for and clean the pen to keep it functioning properly. The pen is an extension of myself, and that makes even the most mundane writing task come alive with intention. I've even started considering the paper and the notebooks that I use because the regular notebooks don't all take liquid ink very well. Every meeting, every writing task has been transformed into another opportunity for me to be fully present in the moment, and I could not be happier. A touch of personality in my day that pulls me deeper into awareness is incredibly important.
The Uniball Vision Elite was THE pen that got me into pens and stationery, and it did so surprisingly. As a writer, I fell in love with the smooth writing experience provided by this sharp-pointed rollerball. It was so far superior to the standard ballpoint pens I was used to that I stockpiled them. I would buy a 5-pack every year or two, and I used them exclusively through college and through my first 13 years of teaching. These are the pens that made me a pen snob, so-to-speak. I would use other pens, but only if I had to. I always had one in my pocked, and when Uniball released colored inks, I bought a package of those to grade papers with. Still to this day, I will always turn to the Uniball Vision Elite when I need a disposable pen.
The Ketalon Gear Verge EDC pen was the first Kickstarter pen I backed. I was very excited about it's super simple design as it would be impervious to damage. I enjoyed the idea of a bolt action pen that I could use easily in the classroom, on the rocket range, or in meetings. I didn't put much thought into the refill it came with since I figured I could change it out if I didn't like it. All in all, it's a great concept, but it turned out to be poorly executed. The pocket clip leaves much to be desired, and the first clip broke within a day or two, making it completely impractical for everyday carry and use. Ketalon promptly replaced the clip, for which I was grateful, but I am left with a very cool concept pen, though one that I won't use much.
The Studio Neat MarkOne is the pen that sent me down the rabbit-hole of better pens. They advertised the Schmidt P8126 capless rollerball refill for this pen, and the reviews of that refill sold me on the pen. The idea of having a refillable version of my beloved Uniball Vision Elite writing experience was too good to pass up. The elegant, minimalist design suited me very well since I'm not really a flashy guy. But the need for a pocket clip led to purchasing the Pokka Pens Pocket Clip which fits the MarkOne exactly and, I think, fits the design exceedingly well.
Okay, so this is a pencil, not a pen... BUT... This is the perfect mechanical pencil. I tolerated the throwaway pencils as long as I could. After trying out various "better" mechanical pencils, I settled on the Rotring 800 0.5mm pencil. The retractable tip allows me to pocket the pencil without getting poked in the leg every time I sit down and without poking holes in my shirt. The sturdy, robust design means that it will last a lifetime, and it even comes in my favorite color combo: black and brass!
The Pilot Metropolitan was highly recommended as a beginner fountain pen on almost every site I read, so it went on my Christmas list. Opening the gift was wonderful, and I was excited to try a fountain pen right away. The enclosed ink cartridge worked perfectly well right out of the box, and I fell in love with the smooth writing experience of liquid ink. I used it immediately every day for all kinds of writing tasks. The Pilot Metropolitan was the perfect segue into fountain pens from my rollerball pens. Now I keep it ready to go with a converter so I can use my favorite bottled inks.
The TWSBI Eco was the other highly recommended starter fountain pen, so it went on the Christmas list, as well. I wasn't very excited about the clear body (demonstrator pen), but I did want to try a piston filler. Though I only expected one of my two requested pens, my loving wife bought me both! She included a gift card to buy bottled ink, so I purchased a 3-color sampler pack of Pilot Iroshizuku inks. When that arrived, I inked the TWSBI Eco with Kon-Peki blue and found that experience far more enjoyable than I had anticipated. I loved seeing the pen's inner workings as I filled it and got it ready to write. The black cap gave me just enough color to fall in love with the pen.
After using the Pilot Metropolitan and the TWSBI Eco for a couple of weeks, I was excited to try the 3rd most recommended starter fountain pen, the Lamy Safari. I was intrigued by the simple, functional design and the pocket clip. Though I got the Fine nib, the Lamy nib is slightly larger than the nibs on the Pilot and the TWSBI. With a slightly wetter writing experience, I found myself drawn to the thicker ink line that shows off the characteristics of the ink. Having written with sharper points for almost 20 years, I found myself actually enjoying the slightly wider line. I now keep the Lamy inked with a red or colored ink to use for grading essays and other student work.
Once I got in the habit of using fountain pens, it was time for me to decide what I liked about each one and decide on a next-level pen. Since I loved the piston-filled TWSBI Eco the most, and I have always wanted a metal bodied pen, I was delighted to find that TWSBI had recently released the TWSBI Precision which had both aspects as well as a hexagonal body, something I love since it reminds me of handling the traditional yellow pencils as a student. I absolutely love this pen and will cherish it for years and years. My hope is to someday pass this pen along to one of my children or grandchildren. Though it is not exactly what most people would think of as an heirloom quality pen, it is certainly the most expensive pen I've ever owned, and assuming I carry it with me every day and use it, this pen will become a part of my identity. So it will be passing on not just a pen, but a part of me, a monument to my life of writing.
My first mini pen, the Ensso really fits the bill for an everyday pocket-carry pen. I opted for the brass body because I love the way it patinas over time, and I also opted for the black pocket clip to match the black o-rings and black nib. It took me awhile to get used to the mini-pen size, but when the cap is posted, the Ensso XS is a good, standard length for a pen.
As a new user of fountain pens, I again relied mainly on website recommendations to select inks to use, and I chose sampler-packs whenever possible to help me find inks that I liked in colors and shades that I enjoyed the most. Most online retailers make this very easy with sample vials that contain 2-4ml of ink, just enough for a couple refills of the ink so I can try it out over several days of writing. Goulet Pens even offers a "Random Ink Sample" package that contains 8 randomly selected vials for a low cost. That was a great experience and allowed me to try several inks that I would not have selected myself.
Based on the reading that I did, Pilot Iroshizuku ink was the most highly recommended fountain pen ink. It seems to work in every pen with every nib on every paper. That's what intrigued me the most: simple, straight-forward, works immediately... For a beginner, I wanted to just get used to using fountain pens without worrying too much about complicated inks, and everything I could find online pointed towards this line of inks. And with a wide range of colors and shades, I could explore colors to my heart's content while still expecting the ink itself to perform flawlessly.
Take-Sumi (Bamboo Coal) - Black
My first ink purchase was a 3-pack sample box that contained 3 15ml bottles of Iroshizuku inks that included Black, Blue, and Blue-Black. I wasn't anxious to branch out into anything wild until I felt comfortable using fountain pens. Take-Sumi was actually the last of the 3 to go into a pen since I wanted to take advantage of the other colors first. Take-Sumi is exactly what I would hope for in a black ink. Very simple, very straightforward, an excellent black ink. When the 15ml bottle is empty, I will replace it with a full 50ml and use this as my standard black ink.
Kon-Peki (Cereulean Blue) - Blue
Kon-Peki was the first ink I used to fill my TWSBI Eco, and it was my wife's selection. She was anxious to see the brilliant blue, and she was not disappointed. Kon-Peki is definitely a brighter shade of blue than I had been used to previously, and I found myself enjoying that fact, much to my surprise. I had thought I would want simple blacks and blues (and reds for grading), but using the Kon-Peki ink felt... different. It felt like I was writing with a beauty I hadn't touched before. I won't use it too often, but when I want a bright blue ink, this is the one I will turn to.
Tsuki-Yo (Moonlight) - Blue/Black
Tsuki-Yo is a nice blue ink that really shows the blue characteristics. It looks like an evening sky just before the sunsets, and it's a wonderful color to use. I much prefer this blue to the Kon-Peki, but that's just a personal preference. For dark blues, though, I prefer something much more on the Navy Blue spectrum, and will probably not purchase more Tsuki-Yo. I'm glad I tried it, and the 15ml will definitely last a long time, but it's just not my style of blue.
Tsu-Kushi (Horsetail) - Light Brown
In the hunt for the perfect brown ink, Tsu-Kushi comes close for me. I've always been fond of brown ink. When I printed poetry for contests and publication, I always tried to print brown on off-white paper, and with fountain pens, I have the chance to write in my favorite color. I purchased 2 Iroshizuku browns to test (the other being Yama-Guri), and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Tsu-Kushi was almost exactly the shade I was hoping for. The light brown caresses the page and is easy on the eyes when reading it, yet it is dark enough to be read easily. I was afraid that a brown ink might appear black, but Tsu-Kushi is definitely brown no matter what page it's on. When my test vial runs out, I will definitely purchase a full 50ml bottle to keep as my standard writing ink for day-to-day usage.
Yama-Guri (Wild Chestnut) - Dark Brown
The darker of the two browns I tested while looking for a favorite, Yama-Guri is almost black. Writing with a fine nib, the brown appears almost black on the page until I compare it to an actual black ink, where the eye can catch the brown tones of Yama-Guri. This is a fantastic color, perfect as a brown when Tsu-Kushi would not be appropriate, but too dark to show off my preference of brown inks.
I'm much less discriminating when it comes to paper, and that's simply due to the nature of my job. Working in a school, I often use whatever paper products are available, from notebooks to legal pads. However, for my personal use, I've taken to selecting products that are exactly right for me. I'm not willing to spend a lot because I would go broke, but discovering that there were companies out there making paper products far superior to the standard stuff was very exciting to me. Today, I have a couple high-quality notebooks that I use for specific purposes, and though I'm quite happy with them, I do use them often enough that I can experiment until I find something that is perfect for my uses.
For me, nothing beats the standard Steno pad for my everyday to-do lists. The Gregg, two-column ruling on the page makes it simple to create a to-do list down the left side of the page and to check off each item with notes on the right side of the page. Teaching, in particular has a massive list of tasks on a daily basis, so carrying this Steno with me helps me to keep track of the larger day-to-day tasks. I used a standard memo pad in my back pocket for years, but the problem was that it didn't sit on my desk next to my computer to keep that list in front of me and keep me focused. I still use the memo pad when I'm out of the classroom, like when I work chess tournaments. The Field Notes brand Steno, however, is particularly sturdy in construction which is perfect for dropping it in my backpack and carrying it around from meeting to meeting. The quality paper used by Field Notes also holds up well to my fountain pens whereas the usual steno pads from big box stores tend to have a lot of bleed through and feathering making them less useful and, frankly, less pleasing to look at and use. The simple, hard-board covers used by Field Notes appeal to my sense of minimalism, and the extra information printed on the inside of the covers is handy to have with me wherever I go!
The Field Notes brand notebooks are simply wonderful, from top-to-bottom. However, my specific use of paper lends itself towards very specific notebook designs, and I'm not fond of using side-bound notebooks because they take up more desk space, which is important when I'm crammed into meetings with several adults, all of whom are trying to take notes. That doesn't mean I don't like them, in general! With the Pitch Black notebook, I have the perfect notebook for keeping records, journaling, or anything else that I want to keep for a long period of time. I keep one Pitch Black notebook with my pen collection. Each time I ink a pen with a new ink, I do a quick writing test in the Pitch Black notebook which has a high-quality, yet semi-absorbent, paper which really helps me get a good idea of how the ink will perform on various papers. Other paper, like Rhodia, don't absorb the ink as much, but cheaper notebook paper soaks ink up like water, so the paper contained in the Pitch Black notebook represents a mid-ground, and therefore a perfect testing medium for each new ink. I keep another Pitch Black notebook in my nightstand to use as a dream journal. I'm not sure when I'll use it, but it's there to record the dreams I happen to remember, fittingly enough, in a Pitch Black notebook.
Along with my Studio Neat Mark One Kickstarter pledge, I opted to add-on a Panobook notebook. This was one of their previous Kickstarter campaigns, and it had many positive reviews, so I decided to grab one while I could do so easily. I haven't yet cracked into it because it feels like it's a notebook I should use for a specific project. The dot-grid pages are laid out to assist designers with corner markings set which scale to standard panoramic dimensions. Perfect for web and app designers, but not exactly suited to anything that I do. The longer dimensions of the notebook make it perfect for sitting in front of a computer keyboard or beside it. The packaging is fantastically simple yet lends itself to long-term storage with places to record a beginning and ending date. I feel like several of these stored on a bookshelf would be a great record of a longer-term project. I just don't happen to have anything special enough and that would require its own notebook. So, I'm saving this beautiful notebook for just the right project at the right time.