Inktober 5: Tel Aviv Marina Boats

Parker Vacumatic Oversize with Pilot Iroshizuku Shin Kai.

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Inktober 5: Tel Aviv Marina Boats

PenBBS 309 Hawaii Fountain Pen Review

I’ve been on a fountain pen purchasing hiatus for a while, as I’ve been trying to use what I have rather than buying more pens that will see little or no use. Also, money is a thing, and this hobby can get really expensive really quickly.

So when reviews of the PenBBS pens started coming out I largely ignored them, even though they were generally very positive. That changed when I saw the PenBBS Hawaii: here was a chance to get a pen with a Kanilea Pen Company kind of vibe, but at a price that I can afford. To be honest, despite the reviews, at this price point ($39) I thought that I’d get a cheap, plasticky feeling pen that wouldn’t really be a piston filler.

I was wrong.

This is what arrived in the mail:

Then I took this out of the sleeve:

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I don’t usually care much about packaging, but this is worth noting. Even if the packing would have just been a sturdy cardboard box inside a sleeve it would have been mind-blowing for this price. But it’s so much more than that.

That black box is designed like the boxes high end Pelikans come in (including a cushioned interior). It’s designed. There’s texture to it, a logo and the edges are rounded up so you can see the red colour underneath. The box even comes with magnetic closure. It’s well-made enough and good-looking enough to be used as a display box.

But that’s not enough for PenBBS. You paid $39 remember? You’re going to get so much more than your money’s worth. The pen comes in a beautifully made sleeve. Somebody bothered to make a sleeve (a lined and sewn sleeve, not a cheap felt glued one, mind you), and then took the time and effort to make it a display piece: something that you’d proudly carry around with you.

But the pen is the thing, right? As amazing as the packaging is, we’re here for the writing experience, not the unboxing one. So here it is, the PenBBS 309 Hawaii:

Isn’t it pretty? The pen is semi-translucent, with a lot of depth and chatoyance. It’s also pearlescent in places, as you can see in the tip or near the section. I filled it with Sailor Bungubox June Bride Something Blue ink and you can see some of the colour coming through the body (and a slight smear of ink in the cap, where I didn’t clean it properly after filling before capping it).

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The only thing that I don’t quite like about the pen design is the super wide metal band on the cap. It has “PenBBS” and “309” engraved on it, but it cheapens the pen because of its width, not because of the branding.

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The nib looks great, with some thoughtful scrolling engraved on it, as well as the nib width (fine. It only comes in fine). The pen is quite standard in its width and weight, and very comfortable to use in long writing sessions. The section looks sleek, but is much less so than the Lamy Studio, and the lip on the edge prevent your fingers from accidentally hitting the nib and getting inky.

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The fine steel nib offers a tiny bit of line variation as you tilt in (not the flex kind of line variation that appears as you apply pressure on the nib). It’s smooth but does provide feedback, and depending on how you hold it, you may feel more or less of that slight feedback as you write. I enjoyed writing with it, and because it’s a light acrylic pen, its comfortable for really long writing sessions.

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Because its a fine nibbed pen I thought that I’d try it on my current journalling Moleskine. To my surprise this pen and ink combo worked fine on that paper. There are a few dots of show through here and there, but nothing that bothers me. Again, YMMV, and this LotR Moria Moleskine isn’t advertised as having fountain pen friendly paper, but I’ve been enjoying journaling with my PenBBS on it.

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The PenBBS 309 is a piston filler, which for this price is unconscionable, especially considering that the piston mechanism works smoothly (and without squeaking) out of the box. The Pelikan piston fillers do feel better than the PenBBS one, but they come at a much higher price.

Whether you’re just starting with fountain pens or you have a sizeable collection already, the PenBBS 309 is well worth purchasing and trying out. I look forward to trying other PenBBS pens after this one, and I love that companies like PenBBS allow people to have a great fountain pen experience at such an affordable price.

 

PenBBS 309 Hawaii Fountain Pen Review

How to Buy Your First Parker 51

Since there’s a good chance that people reading this post, about buying your first vintage fountain pen, will want to purchase a Parker 51, I thought I’d write a separate post with a few extra tips on how to get a good, working Parker 51 at a decent price.

So, one of these pens costs upwards of $400 and the other can be purchased for closer to $40. Which is which?

This is one of the dilemmas facing a new Parker 51 buyer: you’ve heard that this is a great vintage pen, but you can’t make heads or tails of its market value. How do you know what to buy and that you aren’t being ripped off?

Here are a few things worth knowing, if you want to buy a Parker 51 that you actually intend to use. If you’re looking to buy a pen to collect, this is not the guide for you. I’m assuming that you want a good, writing pen that will last you for years and won’t break the bank.

  • Check if the pen is a vacumatic or an aerometric Parker 51. You can either ask the seller, or take a quick glance at the pen body. If there’s a visible seam near the end of the pen, its a vacumatic. You want an aerometric, because they’re cheaper, easier to use and clean, and generally have less issues requiring repair than their earlier counterparts. Aerometric Parker 51 have a filling system that looks like a modern squeeze converter: a sack covered in a metal sleeve. The sack is transparent when the pen is brand new, but 95% of the time you’ll see sacks that are discoloured to a black, opaque state. That doesn’t affect the workings of the pen, but the more transparent the sack is the higher the pen’s price will be. You don’t need a pen with a clear sack to enjoy your 51. Just press the sack to check that it’s still supple (it usually will be. The sacks aren’t rubber so they don’t crumble with age), and remember: you’ll need 4-5 presses to fill the pen properly.
  • Most of the value of a Parker 51 pen lies in the cap. I know, that sounds weird, but since the body has no markings (usually), there’s really note much else that can differentiate between one Parker 51 and another (we’ll get to the colours later, I promise). Gold, gold-filled, coin silver and sterling silver caps will make the price of the pen skyrocket. Telling the gold apart from the Lustraloy (regular) caps is easy, but don’t worry, you won’t get any silver capped 51 for less than $150, so that’s how you can tell even if you don’t want to ask the dealer. But by all means, ask the dealer. Sterling silver caps are stamped, as are the gold ones. The gold filled caps are merely marked as gold filled, and if your heart is set on them they aren’t wildly expensive usually (they actually cost less than a modern Edison or Franklin Christoph pen, so long as you’re going for an aerometric in a common colour).
  • Caps that are even slightly dinged or nicked, visibly scratched or have lost the frosted lustre in their Lustraloy also seriously devalue the price of the pen. A brand new Lustraloy cap has a frosted finish and shiny bands on the top and bottom. The pen in the middle of this photo is NOS, and you can see that it looks different than its well worn neighbour to the right (the black pen). Gold filled and gold caps are usually dinged in some way if they were used, and this is the case of the demi Parker below (the grey one). Needless to say, the state of the cap doesn’t affect the writing experience with the pen, so you can get 51s for a song if you’re willing to go with a common coloured pen with a Lustraloy cap that’s seen some wear. It doesn’t even have to be dinged – just the existence of significant micro-scratches is enough.
  • In order of rarity the common Parker 51 colours are: Black, Navy Blue, Grey, Burgundy, Teal. None of these colours are rare, and none of them should raise the price of the pen.
  • If the pen is NOS or stickered and sold as almost NOS, walk away. That significantly raises the price for a pen that’s meant to be looked at, not used.
  • All Parker 51s use a slip cap mechanism. That means that oftentimes a well used pen will have scratches, abrasions and visible scuffing on the section (the part of the pen above the band, near the nib). That also devalues the pen, but like other cosmetic flaws it does nothing to affect its writing capability.
  • So what does affect the Parker 51’s writing capability? The tipping material. The thing you absolutely must check before buying a Parker 51 that you intend to write with is how much tipping material it has left. This may be a little tricky, because in finer 51 nibs you may not see how much tipping material there is on first glance. The trick is to look at the pen nib not from the side, but from below. Look at this 51 pen nib for example. Without a loupe it’s difficult to see from the side how much tipping material is left on it:

 

  • Hard to tell if there’s a lot of tipping material left there or not.

The answer is to flip the pen and look at the flip side of the nib. The tipping material looks like a shiny dot on the tip of the nib. If there’s no shiny dot and you just see the gold nib, the tipping material is gone. You’ll also feel it immediately when writing, as the pen will drag over the paper instead of floating on it, and may even be scratchy. Parker 51 nibs don’t get misaligned very often, so a scratchy nib usually means the tipping material is gone.

  • A medium Parker 51 nib with plenty of tipping material left

    A fine Parker 51 tip with some tipping material left. This should still last for years of use.
  • Parker 51 pens have gold nibs, unless they’re Parker 51 Specials, in which case they have steel nibs, shiny caps and a black jewel on top. I personally am not a fan of the 51 Special, but if you are, they’re usually an inexpensive way to get into your first vintage fountain pen.
  • There are two lengths of pen body, the full size Parker 51 and the shorter Parker 51 demi. I don’t recommend buying the demi because they’re too small for even my tiny hands  to use with comfort (without posting), and they tend to cost more because there were less of them made.
  • As usual, personalization of any kind on the pen body or cap makes the price of the pen severely drop.

Bottom line: you can get a phenomenal gold nibbed pen in a beautiful Jetson design for less than $100 if you know what not to pay for. Now can you tell which pen is the Plum?

How to Buy Your First Parker 51

How to Buy Your First Vintage Fountain Pen

I just listened to the latest Pen Addict Podcast, where a listener asked for tips on buying their first vintage fountain pen. I have well over 100 vintage fountain pens, and I’ve been buying vintage fountain pens since the early 2000s, so I decided to take the time and write a guide to buying your first vintage fountain pens (for the sake of this guide vintage fountain pens are those made before the ’70s).
  1. First, set a budget. Vintage pens are no different than modern pens in this respect, but somehow vintage fountain pen buying guides tend to skip this step. You can get great vintage fountain pens for under $50 and well over $500. Pick a number you’re comfortable with, and stick to it, no matter what.
  2. Decide why do you want a vintage pen:
    1. Flex – You’re looking to add line variation to your writing or drawing. Apart from dip pens, vintage fountain pens are the cheapest way to get that desirable flex. No modern fountain pen, despite any manufacturer promises, offers the line variation of a vintage flex fountain pen, and the premium you pay for a bit of springiness in modern nibs is painfully high. Vintage fountain pens also offer flex “combos,” such as italic flex, needlepoint flex, etc. And if you’re considering the Noodler’s fountain pen lineup, I recommend going dip pen instead. They require less fiddling and are more reliable.
    2. Gold/Specialty Nib – You want to get into gold nibs as cheaply as possible, or you want non-standard nib configurations (a fountain pen that works on carbon copy paper, perchance?). You can get fantastic gold and crazy nibs on vintage fountain pens for much, much less than certain manufacturers ask for a generic steel nib pen with a colourful plastic body.
    3. Looks – You can find a vintage fountain pen that utterly matches your style, whether it’s an understated elegant pen, a stunning showstopper one, or an out of this world wacky wildcard pen. Did I mention also that these lookers will likely cost you much less than any modern equivalent?
    4. History – You’re looking for something with a past, with a story. It can be something that’s passed down the family, a treasured pen found in an estate sale and begging to be researched, or a bold attempt by a brazen small company to create something completely new.
    5. Quirkiness – Things were wild in the heyday of the fountain pen, and you want  a piece of that. Retractable and adjustable nibs, crazy filling mechanisms, pens made out of strange materials: works of genius and madness that call out to you.
    6. Collectable Value – This is the first thing people think about when they hear about vintage fountain pens, and there’s a reason it’s the last on my list. If this is what interests you, I highly recommend walking away before you even start. This isn’t a money making venture. There are no great deals or finds to be made. All the good ones have been taken long before you, and are now passing from hand to hand, available only to people in the know. If you get into vintage pens for another reason and then decide you want to collect a few of the same kind, maybe nab one that’s a bit hard to get – fine. Otherwise, you’re getting into a losing game.

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    Ugly no name lever filler with phenomenal gold wet noodle nib and feed, in utter user-grade condition. Bought for $30. 
  3. Your next move depends on what you chose in the last step:
    • Flex – Get thee to a vendor. Writing samples on the internet are lovely, and they’re a great way to shop for inks. Vintage flex needs to be held in hand and tested. Go to a pen show or a vendor and specifically ask for pens with a flex nib. Then ask to dip them, and try writing with them. Be very gentle at first, until you figure out how the nib works. The magic of vintage flex isn’t so much the nibs themselves, it’s the feeds. A good vintage wet noodle can keep the ink flow going even when you’re writing in giant poster letters. A modern pen’s feed will give up and you’ll end up with railroading. Things to remember:
      • A vintage flex nib may look wonky (dropping, slightly wavy). Ignore that – the test is in the writing. If the vendor won’t allow you to dip test, say thank you politely and walk away.
      • You’re interested in the nib, not the pen. Ask if the filling mechanism works (99% of the time vintage flex are lever fillers), and check the body for cracks. That’s it. It can be a black chased hard rubber (BCHR) Waterman brown with discolouration, brassing, and 3 different personalizations, it shouldn’t matter. You’re there for the nib, and the uglier the pen, the cheaper it’s likely to be. Vendors used to not even repair these ugly ducklings until recently, when the interest in vintage flex spiked and people figured out that you can get a wet noodle for $30.
      • The maker doesn’t matter. Waterman made great vintage flex nibs, but people know that, so you’re going to pay a premium for it. Some of my best flex nib pens are from no-name small manufacturers, and I got them all for a song. Waterman is great, just don’t get locked in to looking only at them. Test the nib and let it speak to you.
      • If you want to be extra sure that the pen works, ask the vendor to fill the pen for you once you’ve completed the purchase but before you’ve left the table. Just don’t forget to empty the pen out if you’re going on an airplane later on.
      • Never touch a pen, especially not a flex nib pen, without talking to the vendor first.
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Ugly no name Italian pen with personalization, bought for the phenomenal flex italic nib. Bought for £25
    • Gold/Speciality Nib – Much of what applies to flex nibs applies to these types of nibs. Unlike with flex nibs, online shopping for vintage gold/specialty nib pens is an option, but going to to a pen show or a vendor and try them out is still the best and safest approach. Don’t buy for the pen’s looks or condition (beyond checking that it works and there are no visible cracks), but for how it feels to write with this nib. Things to remember:
      • Great vintage pens with gold nibs are very common. If the price for a pen is high, you’re not paying for the nib, you’re paying for something else. Walk away.
      • If you just want your first gold vintage fountain pen, I recommend the Parker 51. You can get a great one for well under $100 (often under $50 if the body’s been personalized), so long as you aren’t fixated on one of the rare colours or an early year. Focus on aeromatics, in Black, Navy Grey, Burgundy, Forest Green, Midnight Blue, Teal Blue with a lustraloy cap. You pay a premium for special colours, caps in gold and sterling silver, red band vacumatic filling systems, and the cap condition. If the cap is dinged or lost its frosting, or if the pen is personalized, you can get it for a song. The Parker 51 nibs are PHENOMENAL. There’s absolutely nothing like them, and they make your writing look great. This is a large part of their appeal. The nibs aren’t graded, and most of them are in the fine-to-medium range. Just make sure there’s plenty of tipping material when you buy the pen (try out the pen and feel if it’s scratchy/look at the tip/ask to see a close up of it when buying online). The Parker51 website and the Parker forum on the Fountain Pen Network are a great place to learn more about these pens.
      • Speciality nibs are harder to find, so focus on two companies: Esterbrook or Pelikan. Both made great pens with a wide variety of interesting nibs, and both can be had relatively cheaply. These pens were also built like tanks, so they’re very likely to be in great working condition when you buy them, just be sure to ask. If you’re in Europe, Pelikans will be cheaper for you to acquire, and if you’re in the US Esterbrook is your friend. These are also pens that you can buy online relatively safely. Start with the Fountain Pen Network Esterbrook/Pelikan forums (FPN is still the #1 resource for vintage fountain pens), Esterbrook.net or the Pelikan’s Perch to educate yourself and purchase pens. I’ve purchased great vintage Pelikans from Berlin Collectibles, but again, I’d recommend trying the pen in person before going to the online shopping route. Esterbrook is going to be significantly cheaper than Pelikan, and you can buy one pen body (I recommend the J) and several nib units. But Pelikan has phenomenal OB, OBBB, OBBBBB… nibs that Esterbrook just never made.
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Esterbrook J double jewel (i.e. super common) with a 9556 nib. Bought for $16.5
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Pelikan 140 with a flexible OM gold nib. Piston filler, bought for 120 euros.
    • Looks – this is probably the hardest one to give recommendations for, except go to a pen show and look around to see what catches your eye, but there is one thing worth noting. If there’s a particular design you like but it’s beyond your budget, look for “knock offs” made in the same era. Smaller makers made great pens “inspired” by more expensive ones made by the big manufacturers. You can get a Parker Vacumatic Golden Web look alike for $50-$80, gold nib and all, and only you’ll know that it’s a lever filler made by a no-name Italian maker and not the real deal (don’t sell it as such, though).
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    Waterman, bought for the crazy look and the superflex nib. Notice how the nib looks dented.
    • History – tell friends and family that you’re into fountain pens, and you’ll likely be inundated with old pens that they’ve found in the back of desk drawers. Most of them will be ruined, but you may get grandpa’s Parker 51, or grandma’s Esterbrook nurse pen, you never know. If it’s something from the family, I recommend investing in having it professionally repaired and restored if the history aspect interests you. Otherwise, this category of purchase requires dedicated research. I’d check the Fountain Pen Network, and go on from there. If you like to know that your pen had a past, skip stickered pens and go for personalized ones and you’ll also save a lot of money.
    • Quirkiness –  this is the most fun category. Go to a pen show or vendor and ask if they’ve got anything strange. A pen with a weird body design/colour. A pen with a strange filling mechanism. Something wild engineering attempt to make the pen leak proof. The prices here can vary a lot, depending on whether the pen works or not, and if you plan on restoring one of these and they have a strange nib or filling mechanism take into account that it will add a lot to the price, and not every restorer will take the job. I wouldn’t start with one of those.
    • Collectable Value – don’t. If you really, really want to, go to the relevant Fountain Pen Network forum and check what everybody’s wild about. Don’t go by what eBay sellers call “rare,” and remember that not everything that’s rare is desirable.
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One of these is a user grade black Parker 51, and the other is a plum Parker 51. Would you pay well over 4 times the price of one for the other?
How to Buy Your First Vintage Fountain Pen

Leuchtturm1917 Sketchbook Review

Leuchtturm1917 entered the busy sketchbook market about a year or two ago, with a lineup of A6, A5 and A4 sketchbooks with white 180 gsm paper.

The covers of the Leuchtturm1917 sketchbooks come in a wide variety of colours, which is a rarity in this market. Usually you find sketchbooks in black, or maybe one or two other colours, but Leuchtturm has decided to offer these in all the colour options available in their regular lineup.

The sketchbook contains 96 pages of acid free 180 gsm paper, and it opens flat. There’s a note in the back packaging that says that the paper is colourfast, and shows a sketch made with a fineliner and markers. More on that later.

There’s a place to write your name and address on the front cover. I recommend writing your name and email address instead. It’s more practical, and more secure.

There is a back pocket. I don’t really think that it’s necessary in a sketchbook, but it’s nice to have.

Leuchtturm offers two unique things with its sketchbook. One is the offer to personalize it with an embossing of your choice. During last year’s Urban Sketchers they personalized the sketchbooks that they gave away as part of the symposium’s package, and the result is very nice.

Now for the heart of the notebook, it’s paper. The pages lie flat with a bit of coaxing, and are thick and substantial. You have to really layer down markers for them to bleed through, and there’s no show through, meaning you can use each page on both sides.

So how does the paper behave? It depends on the medium. This sketchbook excels at dry media (pencils, couloured pencils, conte crayons, etc).

It’s pretty horrible with wet media, including fountain pen ink, watercolour washes, and ink washes. The paper buckles, shows off colour poorly, turns into a grainy mess, and and the ink feathers and spreads. I wouldn’t recommend it even for the lightest washes. All the vibrancy of my schminke watercolours turned into a muddy mess here (the sketch was done with a medium nibbed fountain pen and R&K Emma SketchINK):

Even with fineliners you’re going to have spread. If you like sharp lines, find a different sketchbook.

Again, even from a bit of a distance you can see the spread. That’s just a shame, because if the paper was a little less absorbent then this would be an excellent sketchbook.

This brings me to my frustration with the picture on the back end of the paper band, the one showing a tiny marker and fineliner drawing. This is my experience using markers and fineliners on this notebook:

There’s no option to layer or blend the markers, but that’s OK. This isn’t marker specific paper after all. But even for casual use, or just for use with fineliners/brush pens this paper isn’t great.

So do I recommend this sketchbook? It depends. If the way it looks makes you want to use it, then yes, it’s a notebook for you. I’ve been using this sketchbook for my journal comics mainly to test it out. Will I continue using it? Only because I already have a body of work in it. Otherwise, there are better options out there, ones that aren’t only pencil great, but also work with pen, ink and light watercolour washes (the Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbooks come to mind).

Leuchtturm1917 Sketchbook Review

Franklin Christoph Antique Glass Model 66 and Robert Oster River of Fire Review

Every once in a while Franklin Christoph comes out with a batch of their pens in “Antique Glass”, a clear acrylic with a bit of a green tint to it that makes it look like an old coke bottle. The material is both minimalist and beautiful. It allows you to show off the ink that you’re using while still having a pen that has more character than a run-of-the-mill demonstrator. Franklin Christoph’s pens and the nibs that they use are excellent and very well priced. The result is that these limited runs having a waiting list (from which a 100 names are drawn), and there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to even get on that. I had to wait for two years until I was able to purchase mine.

The wait is worth it though.

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The Franklin Christoph Model 66 is a long and sleek pen that can’t be posted. The pen is light but still substantial, because of the extra acrylic in the finial. I was worried at first that it would be top heavy, but the Model 66 is perfectly balanced, and one of my favourite pens for long writing sessions.

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The Model 66 is a demonstrator pen that is built to be eye-droppered. Yes, you can use the supplied converter or cartridges, but what’s the point of having a pen that looks like this if not to eye dropper it? Franklin Christoph even supply the requisite o-rings and silicone grease, making it super easy to transform it into an eye dropper.

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The pen body is made of smooth acrylic on the outside, but is pebble textured on the inside. The result shows off the ink colour and the pen colour even more, but it also means that staining inks have even more surface area to stain. I decided early on to use only turquoise, teal, blue and green inks in this pen, as even if they stained the pen it would work well with its “natural hue”.

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You can see the greenish “antique glass” tint best in the cap.

In terms of design, this is a desk pen and is designed as one, so it has one flat side which keeps it from rolling off the table even though it’s a clipless pen.

There’s a wide variety of Jowo nibs that you can order with your pen, and I decided to pay a little extra for a Mike Masuyama medium italic nib. The nib is buttery smooth, and the feed keeps up with flow. This italic isn’t super sharp, which is a plus for me, and together with the large ink capacity that an eye-dropper pen offers, it’s writing heaven.

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The Franklin Christoph Model 66 Antique Glass with a Mike Masuyama medium italic (what a mouthful) is build to show off interesting inks. Although I would never use shimmering inks in it, it’s great for inks that shade or sheen. And Robert Oster is the king of sheening inks.

The River of Fire is a dark teal ink that has significant red sheen and a good amount of shading.

I felt like drawing a D&D map here, I don’t know why.

As usual with inks of this kind, the paper and nib affect how much sheen or shading you see. This nib is perfect for that, and the paper I used here is Tomoe River Paper, which brings out the best in every ink.

You can see a bit of the properties of the ink here, particularly the shading, but this ink really does have a lot of sheen. It’s just difficult to photograph, so you can only see a bit of the golden red that happens where the ink pools.

This is such a pretty ink. Look how much variation and interest it offers:

So, if you can get on one of the Franklin Christoph antique glass waiting lists, I highly recommend it. As for the Robert Oster River of Fire, I think that it’s a gorgeous ink, but it’s not unique enough in Robert Oster’s large ink offering. If you have something in the turquoise or teal shade in their lineup, then there’s probably no need to buy the River of Fire. If yo don’t then I recommend this ink since it’s wild and yet dark enough to “pass” in an office setting.

 

Franklin Christoph Antique Glass Model 66 and Robert Oster River of Fire Review

Dare to Dream: Eurovision 2019 Tel Aviv Euro Village

A quick sketch on location of the Eurovision 2019 Tel Aviv Euro Village as it was filling up.

Leuchtturm1917 Sketchbook, Super5 0.7 fountain pen and Rohrer and Klingner Lotte ink.

Dare to Dream: Eurovision 2019 Tel Aviv Euro Village