Monday, September 17, 2012

Tools of the Trade #4 - What Do You Call a Baby Pelican?

If you're like me, you enjoy journaling. Nature journaling, or travel journaling -- you enjoy taking a sketchbook and a few simple, reliable tools (and taking a bit of time out of the modern rat race) to experience completely and fully the Here and Now. 

One of those "simple tools" more and more of us are using is the fountain pen -- a tool replete with science, history (sometimes even romance) and creative potential. But, if we are to depend on it when we're off in the woods, or on the voyage of a lifetime, we need a fountain pen that is rugged, reliable, and (at least for some of us) modestly priced. (After all, who among us can afford to risk a gem-encrusted heirloom to the elements? or our own forgetfulness?)

So, this week I'm test-driving a candidate for the rugged, reliable workhorse that you can toss in your sketch kit and count on to provide outstanding service day-in and day-out for years to come -- all at a price that won't bust even the most modest budget. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Pelikano Junior.

Now you might ask, "Isn't that a kid's pen?" To which (if we go by the description on the company's website) l'd probably have to say, "Well, yes... sorta." The PJ certainly isn't part of the revered German company's famous Souveraen line. It doesn't have a gold nib or a piston filler system. But it does have a  smooth-as-butter stainless steel nib (in either right- or left-hand models) that starts up without the least fuss and never skips, is built like a tank, and is readily available new online for as little as $9.01! 

The Pelikano Junior is not a "mini" model. In fact, it is only slightly smaller than the Noodler's Ahab. Most of that bulk is due to the very robust construction of the translucent barrel. It's thick -- designed to easily withstand the harsh mishandling (and occasional missteps) of little people new to penmanship. 

The folks at Pelikan also know that it's all about the nib -- and the PJ's nib writes smooth as silk.

Held in the conventional upright position, the nib (marked "A" for right-handed users, and "L" for left-handed writers) writes a typical European Fine to Medium line without a hint of scratchiness.

But if, like me, you prefer a leaner line then all you need do is invert the nib to achieve a very consistent EF to EEF line. (Feed will be slightly drier so you may find it necessary to slow your pace slightly. And, as with many EF nibs, you will experience more "feel" of the paper -- but it'll be far from "scratchy.") 

You also need not worry about loosing this pen in the camo foliage during your ventures afield. With four bright colors to choose from (There's also a blue model not pictured here.) you're sure to find one that will stand out against just about any background. (NOTE: Depicted are the older models. Current PJs have a cap made of the same translucent plastic as the barrel and the soft rubber grip of the mid-section is now a brilliant yellow.)

Pelikan describes the nib as "flex." But to anyone who works a lot with brushes and prefers to use a gentle touch with their pen the term "springy" might be more apropos. (I, for example, consider the Ahab "springy" not "flex.")

Pelikan also offers PJ users plenty of fueling and ink options: international cartridges (either  conventional length or the huge "giant" size) in 6 different Pelikan ink colors (black, red, blue, green, purple, and turquoise -- although not all retailers carry all colors), or a converter for use with bottled ink. (NOTE: If you opt to use a converter be certain to tighten the barrel completely after filling. The PJ has guides in the base of the barrel that press along the converter and hold it firmly in place.) 

Unfortunately, because of two small vent holes in the base of the Pelikano Junior's barrel the PJ cannot be converted to an eyedropper pen. However, it's so easy to drop a box of extra ink cartridges into your kit that this isn't much of an issue.

any manufacturer's standard international size ink cartridge will fit the PJ, offering PJ owners a huge selection of top brand inks to choose from 

from top to bottom, the "giant" size international cartridge, converter, and standard size international cartridge

Earlier in the article I used the phrase "outstanding service day-in and day-out for years to come". To close I'll be more specific: I purchased four PJs just over 10 years ago to introduce my children to fountain pens and penmanship. One has a short hairline crack in the cap where my son stepped on it. But all four are still in perfect operating condition and are still counted on to write first time every time when we go journaling. So, if you're looking for a rugged, entry-level fountain pen (with a pinch of what the Japanese call kawaii, or "cuteness") to add to your field kit, this might be just what you're looking for. Give it a try.

Can't find the Pelikano Junior at your local art supply dealer? Not a problem! Check out the pens and inks at Art Supplies & Provisions Online



Parting thoughts:


 noun combining form \ˈgra-fē-ə\  : writing characteristic of a (specified) usually psychological abnormality <dysgraphia><dermographia>

When my son was first learning to write he had a great deal of difficulty using a pencil and it was suggested that he might have some form of graph. With little to loose I encouraged him to try a fountain pen -- and his writing took off! (He has since outgrown his issues with pencils and is an avid mark-maker.) Asked later why the pencil was such a problem for him, he told us that he was constantly distracted by the feeling of graphite "scraping" against the paper. (In hindsight, it made perfect sense to me. To this day I can't stand the "fingernails on the chalkboard" feel of charcoal on paper.) So, if your child or grandchild seems to have graphia-related writing issues, let them try a fountain pen with a smooth-writing nib. They may thank you in years to come. (We thank our son's little red PJ.)


  1. Great review. I love fountain pens and am going to have to try this one. Thanks.

  2. Great review! It's always nice to find a tool that stands to the rigors of time and use.

  3. My first purchased fountain pen was a Pelikano Junior, in April. It is the green one. I got the adapter so I could use any ink. I currently have Private Reserve Copper Burst. I am changing this as the ink isn't waterproof.

    1. Hi Nancy, if you haven't selected a waterproof fountain pen ink yet you might find Platinum Carbon to your liking. It will dry completely waterproof, and (unlike inks that have to bond with the paper's cellulose fibers) will not "stain" lighter colors when you apply watercolor over it. Be certain to rinse your pen between refills to avoid carbon buildup on your feed.

  4. What an interesting blog entry. I am going to get some of these for my grandkids. Now have to choose a small sketchbook/notebook for them to use with their new pens.

    1. Diane, if I may I'll recommend what the folks at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute suggest: Blank Bare Books (Item 2705) from Treetop Publishing ( At $1.75 each, or $2.50 with Line Guide and Clear Plastic Jacket, they can't be beat. (FYI, the hard cover is bound with the same paper used for the inner pages. So, they can draw something really nice on the cover and then slip the clear plastic jacket on to protect their handy work.)

  5. Looks like a cool pen, thanks for the review. Interesting about your son. My daughter had issues with handwriting and I got her a fountain pen. She loved it and enjoyed copying her schoolwork in pen. And her handwriting looked so much better too. I think she'd enjoy this pen. The link for the blank books is great too.