Waterman Phileas Review, or Why, Waterman, Why?

The Waterman Phileas was my first fountain pen, one that I bought after careful research on eBay, shortly after they were discontinued. It cost me £15 at the time, a small fortune for me, and the most I had ever spent on a pen. My RSI was at its worst, and I had to take a lot of notes (I was still in the university), so I splurged mostly out of desperation. Internet research brought up fountain pens as something that could possibly help with my RSI, and so I decided to give it a try. I found the Fountain Pen Network and combed the boards for information about fountain pens for newbies like me. Two pens kept coming up as good first fountain pens to buy: the Lamy Safari, and the Waterman Phileas. It was relatively newly discontinued by Waterman, and so I could find it easily and buy it NOS from a reputable seller. It’s been over 11 years since I bought it, and it’s still one of my favourite pens, and one of my most frequently used ones.

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Look how pretty this pen is! 

The Waterman Phileas is named after Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days” protagonist. It comes in blue, green, red and black, and is cartridge converter pen with a large two-tone steel nib. The nib and pen have an art deco look to them, and the pen is also designed to look somewhat like a cigar. It’s a classic “fountain pen” look that makes it appear more expensive than it is, and it’s part of the reason why you’ll see it popping up in various commercials, even to this day. It’s a very beautiful and elegant pen that just looks classy.

Unlike it’s cheaper sibling, the Waterman Kultur, the Phileas has a brass insert in the body, which means that it has got some heft to it, weighing (filled, with a converter) 24g, as opposed to the Lamy AL-Star’s 22g (filled, with a converter). The weight is perfectly balanced for writing, especially for beginners, since it encourages you to lay off putting pressure on the pen. The pen let you feel that it’s putting the pressure on for you.

The look of the Phileas is phenomenal, especially for the price, but it’s the nib that made me fall in love with it specifically and with fountain pens in general. I chose the extra fine nib, and it is nothing short of magical. Take a look for yourself:

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From hairline to European fine – the Phileas line variation at work.

Yes, that’s line variation. No, it doesn’t come from applying pressure to the nib. It works like a less extreme Sailor Zoom nib: vary your writing angle just a bit and it will go from 0.4 mm lines to 0.7 mm ones. The nib is also smooth, but gives a little feedback, which reminds me a little of the feedback you get from using a really good pencil. Couple that with the fact that the Phileas is a cartridge converter (with a sizeable converter), and so very easy to clean, and you’ll understand why this is still my favourite sketching fountain pen.

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Drawn with a Phileas, except for the witch’s cloak and hat.

The Phileas accepts long international cartridges, and Waterman is one of the few makers that make those cartridges. They excellent (especially the blue-black) and very convenient when travelling with your fountain pen.

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Look at that nib! It’s hard to photograph, but it’s such a great design.

Which brings me back to the beginning of my story. It’s 2019 and I have a substantial collection of fountain pens, most of them costing well over 10 times what the Waterman Phileas cost me. None of them are 10 times the Phileas as a pen. I could have stopped here, but the Phileas has proven to be a gateway into fountain pen madness for many people over the years. It’s a pen to fall in love with, in a way that I haven’t ever fallen in love with my Lamy’s, good-though-they-are. Its design is classic and timeless, and its quality is unparalleled for the price (yes, even today).

SO WHY HAS WATERMAN DISCONTINUED IT? WHY? WHY?

This should have been their Lamy Safari, TWSBI Eco or Pilot Metropolitan  – a more classic version of the beginner’s fountain pen, as opposed to the other’s more modern design. It boggles my mind that they not only discontinued the Phileas, but also it’s cheaper cousin, the Kultur. What on earth are they doing over there? Do they not want new people to fall in love with their pens? It’s the same weird move with their ink line (their refusal to jump on the limited edition/shimmer/sheen ink bandwagon), but even more baffling. YOU WOULD SELL THESE WATERMAN!

So frustrating.

Anyway – if you can get your hands on a Waterman Phileas for a reasonable price, I highly recommend it. It’s a charming pen that will never go out of style.

Waterman Phileas Review, or Why, Waterman, Why?

Two Years of Daily Journaling

This week I celebrated two years of daily journaling. While I’ve been keeping journals for years, until the last two years I’ve only done so sporadically. Journaling was something that I did only when things got really rough, to keep myself going, or when I was travelling, to preserve the memories of my trip. I used pocket notebooks for my sporadic journals, as it was more important for me to capture things than to reflect on them. It was a utilitarian process, not an enjoyable one. I knew that once I decided to really start a journaling habit, that would have to change.

These are all the journals which I’ve used during the past two years.

So the first thing I did was pick a notebook that I knew I’d want to use, and use daily. The only rules were that it had to make me happy, and that it had to be large enough for me to be able to actually write in it, not just jot things down. I wasn’t looking for the best notebook with the best paper in the best format (I don’t think that exists, actually, but for us stationery geeks the search is always on), just a good enough notebook for me.

My notebooks of choice.

I also decided very early on that I couldn’t use a fountain pen for this, because I wanted a pen that I could write with even not under the most ideal circumstances. I was also planning for both the notebook and the pen to bash around freely in my bag. These were going to be used and look used.

Can you see how bloated these notebooks are? Moleskine makes them sturdy enough to take a beating. 

I chose Moleskine large ruled hardcover notebooks as my notebook of choice, and the uni-ball Signo RT 0.5 gel ink pen as my pen/refill (UMR-85N) of choice. I wanted a sturdy lined notebook that I’d enjoy using and looking at once it was done, and after years of neglecting the Moleskine for other notebooks I came back to it because of some of their limited edition designs. I knew that I was going to use the uni-ball Signo RT 0.5 as my pen or refill of choice (inside a BigiDesign Ti Arto or Ti Arto EDC), so I didn’t need fountain pen friendly paper. I had decided to pick up the steady journaling habit by starting with a travel journal, which I already had some experience with, and then carrying on from there. On the first evening of a trip to London I happened to walk by the Moleskine store in Covent Garden, and I decided to go in and check out what they had. There was a beautifully designed Batman limited edition notebook in exactly the kind of format I was looking for, and it was only available for sale at the Moleskine stores. I bought it, unwrapped and stamped it with the Moleskine Covent Garden stamps, and I haven’t looked back.

That pen and notebook combo has hardly changed over the years. What has changed is the format I use to journal, and the amount of daily journaling I do. When I started out I was used to only jotting a few lines down here and there when I journaled, so I knew I couldn’t expect to write 4-5 pages per day right from day one. Starting with just a paragraph to half a page a day, I pretty quickly moved to one page per day of just writing.

Then I saw a Neistat Brothers video on Youtube and realized that I could use my journal as a visual capturing device as well, and anything could go in it, so long as it made me remember a moment or a place.

Limited Edition Cola Zero tab created for the 2019 Eurovision song contest in Tel Aviv. I don’t even drink Cola Zero, but this little piece of metal is still totally evocative to me.

That’s when the notebooks really started to get bloated. From clothing labels to business cards and ticket stubs, if I can put glue on it and it’s visually appealing or evocative, it goes in. I almost always also write a little note for future me, to remind myself what I’m looking at and why it’s there. That change really made these notebooks a kind of personal artifact for me, and I can’t say how precious they’ve all become.

A bit of cat themed washi tape and a Uniqlo shirt label. Sometimes things go in because I find them visually appealing or they make me smile.

At a certain point I started getting ambitious, moving from writing one page a day to two pages, then four pages, then six. That’s when I had to take a step back and make sure that I wasn’t burning out on journaling for all the wrong reasons. I enjoy writing and I enjoy journaling, but I’m also trying to write fiction, and my journal can’t become something that consumes that, an excuse for not writing. It’s also easy to get carried away and want to finish the notebook as fast as possible just so you can open a fresh one, or brag (even if it’s only to yourself) that you’ve finished a notebook. Nowadays I write one or two pages a day for most days, moving up to more pages only if I really have something special to write about.

Doodling seasonal fruit in the margins.

Life also happens, and oftentimes it’s scary and ugly, a black hole that threatens to consume all that is good in your life, including journaling. My mom got unexpectedly and very seriously ill last year, and we’ve been struggling with her disease ever since. When she was in hospital I couldn’t bring myself to journal. I backlogged those (thankfully few) dark days, and I realized that I would have to accept that as much as journaling is important to me, family comes first, so backlogging is going to have to become acceptable. I try to backlog as little as possible, but some days just demand that.

If I want to remember a good meal I’ll sometimes draw it.

I also draw a little in my notebook, tiny thumbnails of things that I want to remember later, or that I just feel like drawing. These are usually food doodles, as I don’t really like to photograph my food.

I still use my journal in trips, and ticket stubs and bit and bobs like these make it more interesting.

If you’re looking for some journaling tips, I wrote two posts on that subject here and here. If there’s one thing I can leave you with it’s that if you want to journal, you need to figure out a way to it make it work for you, and be ready to adapt as your life changes over time. There is no perfect journaling system, or perfect journaling notebook, there’s only what works for you.

Go write.

Two Years of Daily Journaling

The Master Pencils Union No. 84 Pencil Review

My latest flea market find is a red/blue Union No. 84 pencil from The “Master” Pencils Ltd, the English pencil company that also created the Golden Master pencils that I reviewed in the past.

The Union No. 84 is an oversized pencil, with a red and navy core. I love the choice of font for the imprint: it looks clean and professional.

The pencil is thick, built like a children’s pencil, and so the cores are extra large as well.

The navy core, almost black in appearance:

Finding a sharpener that can sharpen this pencil was a challenge. You’ll need one that’s designed for children’s pencils, yet is high quality enough to handle wood that has toughened over time, and a core that is still soft and brittle. I went with the M+R double brass sharpener Nr. 0603. Beware of the red core when you sharpen this pencil, as it can stain your hands.

Here’s the Union No. 84 next to the Caran d’Ache Bicolor 999, the golden standard for red/blue pencils. You can see their size differences quite clearly.

The navy tip of the pencil:

The red tip of the pencil:

The red tip of the pencil was much softer and more crumbly than the navy tip, but even though I was worried about it, it didn’t break with use.

I tested the Union No. 84 against the Bicolor 999, and discovered a few interesting things. The Union’s blue is indeed a shade darker than the Bicolor’s but it’s not as dark as I would have expected. The red shades of both pencils are virtually identical. The Union feels more like a pencil than the waxy Bicolor, with more feedback, and more shading possible when some pressure is applied. Both pencils erase poorly, but the Union erases better than the Bicolor, particularly the Union red, which doesn’t stain the paper.

I tested the pencils on a Baron Fig Confidant, my go-to pencil testing paper, and erased them with the Maped Technic 600.

The Master Union No. 84 is a lot of fun to draw with, beyond being useful for highlighting and correcting text. It feels like a proper pencil, and not a waxy crayon, and it shades enough to allow for doodles like this one:

The Union No.84 is great and fun, and so was the Spiderman movie. I highly recommend them both.

The Master Pencils Union No. 84 Pencil Review

Writing Update

  • I’m still editing my novel after getting notes from my beta readers. Most of the notes are super helpful, and it’s good also to go over the book after a while.
  • I’ve tightened the prose in places, plugged a few plot holes, and clarified a few scenes — which is not something that I expected to do on the third or fourth draft.
  • Scrivener is life. Thankfully my novel was split to scenes, so it was easy to move things around to restructure the narrative after the feedback I got. It was also easy to split the scenes into new chapters, and take quick snapshot backups of each scene before I edited it.
  • As usual, the first third of the novel is the part that needed the most editing. I’ll give it another once over once I’ve finished editing the final chapters.
  • It took me a long time to get into the editing mood, but things are going pretty fast now. I’ve started using a task list in Drafts and it’s proven useful in keeping me organized and motivated, without allowing me to be sucked into productivity pr0n.
Writing Update

In Case of Loss

One of the most iconic things about Moleskines is the “In case of loss, please return to” on the front endpaper. You are supposed to write your name and address on the supplied four lines, together with an enticing, but not too enticing reward. According to Adrienne Raphael this feature of the Moleskine sees little use. If you’re Casey or Van Neistat you label every notebook cover with Whiteout, offering a cash reward.

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I just write my name and email, and with “let’s talk” in the reward line. I started filling the “In case of loss” at first because at the time I could barely afford to buy a Moleksine and they were really difficult to obtain, so I wanted a chance to get them back if I ever misplaced them. Over the years filling these lines has become a habit, a ritual that makes the notebook mine instead of just another notebook. I never thought that I would come in use.

Until last year.

I used my Moleskine to journal during a night flight from London to Tel Aviv. In the rush out of the plane I didn’t notice that I forgot my notebook in my seat pocket, together with my beloved Ti Arto. I got home at around 3 AM after a sleepless night, and crashed to sleep. When I woke up a few hours later and realized that I lost my journal you could hear my howl around the block. I beat myself up and then contacted the airline (the brilliant British Airways), as well as the Ben Gurion and Heathrow lost and found, in the faint hope that someone found my notebook and didn’t toss it out with the garbage.

A few hours later, while I was still mourning my loss, I got an email.

The Customer Service Manager on my flight had found my notebook, saw my email address on the “In case of loss” page, and had emailed me. There are good people in the world, and one of them was the manager on my BA flight.

Two weeks later my journal arrived through the mail, and I nearly cried when I saw it.

You see, when I first filled that from page this wasn’t a special notebook. I had bought it on sale, it wasn’t a favourite limited edition of mine, and I had just randomly selected it from the shelf when I filled my previous Moleskine.

But then I wrote in it.

By the time I lost it the notebook contained memories of my dog, which died two months before, notes from my London trip, ideas for a short story, and a lot of snippets of everyday life. It had become meaningful, irreplaceable.

So when you crack open a new notebook, any new notebook, take a moment to jot down your name and email at least. You may plan on only using it for grocery lists right now, but you never know what the future holds.

In Case of Loss

Blackwing 811 Review

It’s the insane, glow in the dark Blackwing, and I managed to snag a box!

OK, enough with the hype. Plenty of other reviewers have given this limited edition pencil a spin, but my experiences and thoughts about “The Library Pencil” seem to be different enough to warrant a few quick words about the Blackwing 811.

First of all, the pencil is attractive. It’s darker than a banker’s lamp (I have one, so I checked), and the gradient is very well done. This could have looked cheap and tacky but it doesn’t. I would have liked a darker ferrule and I think that the pink eraser is ugly, but even so it’s a pretty attractive pencil.

The lighter part of the gradient disappears for the most part on the first sharpening, so that’s a shame. The coating on the pencil is grippier than the coating on the Blacking 54, 56, 24, 725 and 530 (and lacquered pencils in general), but less grippy and gritty than the coating on the Blacking 4. It has a matte feel.

It’s got a “firm” core, which means it has the Blacking 602. I absolutely hate that Blackwing doesn’t write its firmness on the barrel, or use “standard” hardness ratings, or makes it easy to see what the core grade is on the box or on their site. That’s like buying a fountain pen and not knowing whether you’ll get a fine or a broad. It’s bad enough that manufacturers play fast and loose with pencil grades within the standard 10H-10B range. Having a company invent its own grade and not even have it make sense, and then not even make it visible is a big no-no in my book.

Here’s a sketch of my banker’s lamp (which is a bit wonky after my cat dropped a giant pile of books on it) done with the Blackwing 211. I’d say it’s a B or a 2B, depending on the maker, but in no way is it a pencil that I’d call “firm”. It’s great for quick sketches, but I wouldn’t recommend it for under-drawings.

Blackwing 811 Review