Curious Rat

Penciling in a New Passion

In the early days of the internet as we know it, before the whole world had the ability to instantly flash-mob a hashtag and drive a person into self-inflicted witness protection, small communities cropped up around myriad topics. Books, sports, kayaking - you name it, there was a group of new joiners and old hats ready to type about it.

And then the world became the internet. The few resident experts in an IRC chat room soon became whispers in the arenas of Twitter and Facebook, where everyone was now an expert. Everyone was a curator, or an artisan, or a homeotelepathic gluten whisperer who prefers coffee roasted in the basement of an old beer bottle factory no more than five miles away and exactly 47 hours prior to being hand ground by an ex-nun and filtered through an unused cloth diaper into a mason jar. You know, the real way coffee is meant to be consumed.

With so many “experts” on a particular hobby or lifestyle, how is someone new to know where to look? That’s where I found myself a year ago when I abandoned the toxic waste processing plant 1 known as “tech blogging” for something simpler. As an avid supporter of analog tools and stationery, I dipped my size 13 toe into the waters of writing implements. I had no interest in blogging about them. People with far greater talent than I had already cornered that market. I simply wanted to graduate from Bic ballpoints to something better without taking out a second mortgage on a limited edition Mont Blanc.

I started by listening to the Pen Addict podcast. Brad Dowdy is a man who doesn’t just know pens, he knows how to make something daunting, like choosing an ink or a beginner fountain pen, seem as simple as choosing an Applebee’s appetizer. His shows tend to be grounded in single topics for discussion rather than rambling about anything and everything under the paper sun, so learning something new is as easy as devoting an hour or so to an episode. The Pen Addict podcast seemed like a small mountain I had to climb in preparation for Kilimanjaro and it’s a step I’d suggest anyone take before diving into the pen pool wallet-first.

From there, I checked out sites like Ed Jelley’s blog and S.B.R.E. Brown’s YouTube channel, and eventually found my way to dedicated pen stores, such as Pen Chalet and JetPens. JetPens has been as big a help as Mr. Dowdy in my education. The people who run it seem as interested in helping current customers as they are in acquiring new ones. Since I bought my first Pilot Metropolitan long ago (a stellar pen at such a low price), I’ve been tweeting them questions about converters and inks and even penmanship tutorials and every time, they’ve come back with advice and products to genuinely help me find what works for me. I’m never sold more than I need.

On the graphite side are the pencil enthusiasts, such as Tim Wasem, Andy Welfle, Johnny Gamber, and Caroline Weaver, who’ve also been instrumental in broadening my horizons beyond the old reliable Dixon Ticonderoga #2. The Erasable Podcast, much like the Pen Addict, took me to school from episode 1, revealing an entire landscape of pencils from all over the world. Bullet pencils, Blackwings, Generals - and sharpeners. So many sharpeners, from hand-cranked Classroom Friendly machines to one-holed wonders. And again, those who’d established themselves as experts in the field were ready to guide me and others toward the tools they knew we would love.

That’s what I’ve come to truly adore about this community - and it certainly does feel like one. No matter how green I may feel when looking to upgrade my pen or try a new notebook, I don’t hesitate to ask. I’m never made to feel stupid or like a “n00b” for asking the difference between nibs or graphite hardnesses. And with shepherding from the blogs and podcasts listed above, I’m starting to understand what I’m looking for in new additions to my collection. Furthermore, I’m not looking to amass a collection. I’m interested in acquiring those few special pieces that make my fingers twitch with anticipation when I open my bag. The ones that draw a smile out of me when I twist them sharp or post their caps.

I recently purchased a Lamy Al-Star fountain pen in copper orange with a medium nib. I love its design and the way it feels in my hand. Simple. Clean. The color looks like something pulled from a car’s palette, like a modern General Lee made pen. And it writes so smoothly, I actively look for things to write so I can use it.

I also made a point of picking up a bottle of Diamine Autumn Oak ink, which, as expected, has the orange patina of fallen leaves in October - a true schooltime color I’m happy to use all year round. I never thought I’d enjoy colors that deviated too far from the blue or black spectrum, but the more reviews I read, the more I’m drawn to deep purples and smoky grays.

So, here’s to the inky ones. The writers. The sketchers. The Field Notes hoarders. Thank you for your patience and your tutelage. I am grateful and I look forward to passing on what I’ve learned to another who might begin as I had in a state of overwhelming confusion. It’s nice when you find the right tool at the right price. It’s even better when you find the right people are only a few clicks away.

  1. It doesn’t actually clean the waste. It just churns it into an even thicker paste that erodes the soul of the reader and turns the writer into a shell incapable of expressing any emotion other than a smirk as he excoriates a new gadget he’s only used for three days.