Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Slow Day for the Easter Bunny

4/1/15 DeAtramentis Document Brown ink, watercolor, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
After meeting a few friends for lunch at Northgate, I dashed into the mall with a quick mission: the Easter Bunny! Although I’ve regularly sketched Santa there the past few years, I didn’t know until this week that the Easter Bunny makes regular visits there, too. The photographer, who works for both Santa and the Easter Bunny, said she remembered me sketching last Christmastime!

I was hoping to catch E.B. with a customer or two, but Wednesday afternoon is apparently slow. We were all hopeful when a toddler and his baby sister showed up with mom, but at first sight of the big fuzzy guy, she started bawling and would have nothing to do with sitting on his lap.

By the way, I always think of E.B. as a he, but at least today her name was Caitlin.

Monday, March 30, 2015

It’s Complicated

3/30/15 Platinum Carbon ink, Sailor zoom pen, watercolor,
Caran d'Ache Museum colored pencils, Canson XL paper
When I first started this series of power line sketches, it was my way of paying respect to these old, once-dignified trees. The power lines were merely the context and reason for the merciless butchering the trees had received. The more sketches I do, however, the more interested I’ve become in the utility wiring itself. I used to think it all looked the same, but in different neighborhoods, the way it’s attached to the poles varies. With all the added types of utilities over the years – fiber optics are the most recent addition, coming in fast and furious in our neck of the woods – the wiring has become more and more complicated.

The poles and lines are as ugly as the trees are (or might have been) beautiful, yet they still hold my fascination in a perverse kind of way.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Epic Pen Search and Discovery, Part 11 (Conclusion): My Dorothy Moment

3/19/15 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Sailor fude pen,
Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (Sketched from photo.
Until I sketched Dorothy, I had no idea she wore so much eye
makeup, including false lashes, for a little girl from Kansas.)
(This is part of a multi-post series about my search for the ultimate variable-line-width fountain pen. To read other posts in the series, choose “Epic Pen Search” in the label cloud at right, below.) 

Remember this scene from the end of The Wizard of Oz? The wizard’s balloon, which was supposed to be Dorothy’s ride out of Oz, has just floated off without her (no thanks to Toto). Then Glinda informs her that Dorothy has had the ability to take herself back home all along – but she had to learn this for herself. Dorothy muses on her learnings:

“Well, I think that it wasn’t enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. And that it’s that - if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. Is that right?”

Glinda confirms that she is right, and then with a tap-tap-tap of her ruby slippers, Dorothy takes herself back to black-and-white Kansas.

1/16/15 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink, Petit1 pen, VanGogh watercolors,
Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
My old faithful Sailor fude – the one I found myself comparing to all other pens I tried and reviewed – has been in my backyard (and in my bag) for the Epic’s duration, patiently waiting for me to return. Indeed, I often reached for it when another pen I was experimenting with frustrated me. Has it been my grail all along?

I still curse the Sailor fude’s poorly posting cap (and the ugly piece of tape I adhere to the pen’s tail end to keep the trim ring from getting stuck inside) – even as I’ve use it nearly daily for the past couple of years. I like it so much that I have several, and recently the oldest has gotten scratchy. (Could it be wearing out?)

12/28/14 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink, Petit1 pen, S&B Alpha
If I just splurge on the 21kt gold version – the “mother of all fude nibs” that I’ve been lusting after for months – will that take care of my yearning (not to mention the posting issue)? An essential difference between the gold version and the inexpensive stainless steel one is that the latter is bent at a sharp angle, while the gold one I tested at the L.A.Pen Show is gradually curved, which enables beautiful transitions in line width. It seems to be everything I love about my old fude – but better.

Mostly. My only disappointment in its performance was that it seemed scratchier than I would have expected. Could that scratchiness be polished away with some judicious fine-tuning by’s John Mottishaw, who inspects, tests and optimizes every pen (to the customer’s requests) before shipping it?

I’m counting on it. My order has been placed. Now I just have to wait patiently for the next several months for the nib to be made! (Sadly, the legendary Sailor nibmaster Nagahara-san passed away on March 11.)

In the meantime, like Dorothy, I’m pondering all that I’ve learned from my epic journey:

1. The “grail” doesn’t have to be one single pen. I obviously had it in my head that finding one perfect pen was the ideal. But I’ve come to accept that it’s OK to favor more than one variable-line-width nib, using each to do what it does best. For example, based on the pens I’ve reviewed in this series, a combination of the Sailor fude plus either the Platinum music nib or the Franklin-Christoph music nib might be a grail pairing – the fude taking care of the thin-to-thicker range and the music nib taking care of the mid-to-thickest range.

2. I used to think that a wide-ranging flexible nib would be the perfect sketching pen, responding to the hand’s intuitive changes of pressure to regulate the line width. In some hands, that must be true, but not in mine. As much as I love the Pilot Falcon nib’s flexiness, sketching with a flex doesn’t come intuitively to me. Strange as it seems, tilting the angle or direction of the nib (as is done with almost all the other nibs I tried) feels more intuitive and responsive.

Writing samples made with Sailor fude nib.
3. More than almost any other sketching tool or material, fountain pen nib preferences are highly personal and idiosyncratic. I knew this before my Epic began, but my belief was reinforced by my research. Although I can usually count on others’ evaluations about the general quality of a pen, how it behaves in my hand while sketching is all about me. An urban sketcher whose work I admire, Teoh Yi Chie (better known online as Parka), recently compared nine pens, all with fude nibs, in an interesting and informative video. I’ve tried nearly all of those same nibs, and my conclusions were exactly the opposite.

4. Let’s face it: I love fountain pens. Obviously, I’m very picky about what I sketch with, but I’m far less discriminating about what I write with. Other than the ones from eBay that I trashed, I’ll probably keep all the pens I tested, because even though none turned out to be the grail for sketching, every one is a delight for writing.

5. I found that the looser, more confident and more expressive I allow my sketching line to be, the more a variable-line-width pen can do for me. If I am unsure, tightly clutching my pen and trying to draw with small, tentative marks, no type of pen nib will turn those marks into flowing, confident lines. On the other hand, if I put the pen to the page and draw as if I know what I’m doing, almost any pen will produce a more beautiful line.

1/3/15 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink, Sailor fude pen, Stillman &
Birn Gamma sketchbook (antelope sketched from photo)
6. Perhaps the most delightful lesson learned was confirming how much I enjoy using the line as a sketching element. All the sketches I produced to experiment with various pens taught me this. Early in my urban sketching life, I saw the pen line as nothing more than a coloring-book outline that would be immediately filled in with watercolor. Fairly quickly I realized that color can’t compensate for a weak drawing, so I started focusing on making better renderings. Eventually I learned that a strong sketch incorporates many other important elements – composition, value, shape – and my goal is to put all of them into practice simultaneously with each sketch. But through it all, I’ve come to a greater appreciation for the line on its own – and the potential expressiveness of variable-line-width nibs is what has brought me here.

It’s a good place to end my Epic Search and Discovery. Thanks for coming along!

(Just in case it’s not obvious, unlike many blogs that review fountain pens, my blog has no sponsors or affiliates. Every pen I mention here was purchased by me at retail price.)

My trusty Sailor fude nib pens. . . there's no place like home!

Epic Pen Search and Discovery, Part 10: The Unworthy and the Incomplete

Top to bottom: Jinhao 599A "Safari," Lanbitou, Zebra Comic G flexible nib
(This is part of a multi-post series about my ongoing search for the ultimate variable-line-width fountain pen. To read other posts in the series, choose “Epic Pen Search” in the label cloud at right, below.) 

The spirit of my blog has always been to post the less-than-successful sketches right along with the ones I’m pleased with because the point is to document the process – not to present a portfolio of only the “best.” With that same attitude, and in the interest of being complete, I’ll briefly summarize here a few other pens I tried that weren’t even worth writing complete reviews of. The last item is a Frankenpen experiment that has yet to be completed. (If anything eventually results, I’ll report back.)

Jinhao 599A “Safari” calligraphy fountain pen: This pen, purchased for about $5 on eBay (including shipping from China), is probably the single-most worthless fountain pen I’ve owned. (The bold and shameless pirating being displayed in the product’s name doesn’t surprise me.) Ironically, its bent, fude-like nib isn’t half bad. It doesn’t have the same range of line variation as my Sailor fude, of course, but it’s smooth and has a decent flow. The immediate deal-breaker is that the body and section won’t stay screwed together! I’ll write a couple of words or scribbles, and the pen continually unscrews itself. Into the trash it goes.

Lanbitou calligraphy nib fountain pen: Purchased on eBay for about $7 (including shipping from China), this pen was one I learned about from someone in the Seattle Pen Club who also has an interest in variable-line-width nibs for writing western calligraphy. Like the previously mentioned Jinhao “Safari,” the Lanbitou has a decent fude-like nib. In fact, I’d say it’s comparable to the Sailor fude in terms of line variation. The body isn’t bad, either (for seven bucks). However, it sometimes goes dry after only a day or two of idle time, and it displays (sometimes profuse) leakage every time I open it. Another one for the trash.

I don’t like to make sweeping generalizations such as “you get what you pay for” and evaluate fountain pens by price. After all, the Pilot Petit1 and Platinum Preppy, which can be purchased for about $3 to $4 each, are stellar examples of amazingly high quality pens for the price. But in the case of those Chinese pens, $5 is overpriced: You get even less than what you paid for.

2/26/15 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink, Petit1 pen, Canson XL
Zebra Comic G nib: Putting the Franklin-Christoph music nib on a Jinhao X450 pen body was my first foray into making Frankenpens. My second was going to be putting a Zebra Comic G nib on the same Jinhao. The Zebra G is a flexible nib designed for dip pens that people are putting onto the Jinhao – creating a fountain pen with dip pen flexibility! A quick search on Amazon showed that the price of the Zebra G nibs is 10 for $10. Let’s see – five bucks for the Jinhao and another buck for the nib. Six bucks for a flexible-nib fountain pen (and nine nibs left over for my friends)? I’m in!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. Although the Jinhao was supposed to be a compatible body for the Zebra G, no amount of finagling on my part would make the two work together. The curve of the nib is tighter than that of the Jinhao’s feed, so although the feed would be full of ink, the contact with the nib wasn’t sufficient to fill the nib. I had the same problem with the Nemosine body that fit the Christoph nib so well. Apparently people have been filing away the sides of the feed and making other modifications to force the Zebra G nib to fit. I could do that too, I suppose, but frankly, I’ve lost interest. When I want a flexible nib, I’m happy with my Pilot Falcon.

You can tell that this series is drawing to a close, can’t you? I won’t even make you wait until next week.

(Just in case it’s not obvious, unlike many blogs that review fountain pens, my blog has no sponsors or affiliates. Every pen I mention here was purchased by me at retail price.)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

’99 Subaru Forester; Very Clean

3/28/15 Platinum Carbon and Iroshizuku Fuyu-syogun inks, Caran d'Ache
Museum water-soluble colored pencils, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
For the past several weeks, Greg has been getting his Subaru Forester ready to sell. Maintenance work is all done. Now he’s down to the fine detailing, and that car is cleaner than it has been since he bought it. This afternoon he was scrubbing the luggage rack on the roof, and I had a clear view from our upper deck. 


3/26/15 Diamine Chocolate Brown, Grey and Iroshizuku Tsukushi inks,
Caran d'Ache Museum pencils, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
When I sketch at Zoka Coffee, my victims are most often deeply engrossed in their various devices and screens, oblivious to their surroundings. But every once in a while I’m able to catch a few actually engaged in conversation with other people. Socializing in a coffee shop – what a concept! (I’m not sure about the man in the brown chair . . . he seemed to be pressing on the Bluetooth device stuck to his ear, giving me the impression that he was on a phone call, but I think his conversation was with his laptop.)

Sketching people who are talking – usually with hand gestures and changing expressions – is more challenging than still-as-stone texters and typers. But the body language is definitely more interesting.

3/26/15 Diamine Grey and Iroshizuku Asa-gao inks, Museum pencil
3/26/15 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink
3/26/15 Iroshizuku Take-sumi ink, Museum pencils

Friday, March 27, 2015

Overwhelmed Again at the Museum of Flight

3/27/15 DeAtramentis Document Brown and Diamine Grey inks, watercolor, Canson XL 140 lb. paper

Every time I visit the Museum of Flight, I imagine that it will be easier and less overwhelming than the last time, but somehow, that never comes true. (My very first time was with the Friday Seattle Urban Sketchers more than two years ago.) This morning with the Friday sketchers was no different. As soon as I walked into the enormous Great Gallery, I wandered around in a daze, trying to simplify the view – any view – enough to sketch it.

3/27/15 DeAtramentis Black Edition Blue ink, Caran d'Ache Museum pencils
After quite a while, I caught a glimpse of a Lockheed SR71 Blackbird and a couple of other stealthy-looking fighter planes between the wings of a Boeing 801-A (1929). That one sketch took me more than an hour – much longer than I usually take for any one sketch just because I had to keep talking myself out of putting in more!

After that lengthy sketch, I had only a few minutes before the meetup, so I went out to the main entrance area. Above the line of people waiting to get in was a reproduction of Leonardo DaVinci’s Il Cigno, a human-powered ornithopter.

After sharing sketches and having lunch al fresco, a few of us stayed behind for a little more sketching. The day had warmed up nicely, so I went back out to the cafĂ©’s outdoor seating area to sketch Air Force One and a 787 Dreamliner in the Airpark.

Many thanks to Museum of Flight volunteer Kate Buike for sponsoring today’s USk sketchout!

3/27/15 DeAtramentis Document Brown ink, watercolor, Museum pencil
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