Sunday, November 18, 2012

Forgotten Treasures, NOS Eversharps, and a Short Trip In Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine

I have always been drawn to "lost treasures", big and small. For me the most memorable scene in Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark was just before the end when the Ark of the Covenant was wheeled into the bowels of a huge government warehouse (where it was certain to be buried beneath other nondescript crates and lost in bureaucratic paperwork). A few years later I watched with fascination a PBS special about the Vivier Collection -- a huge collection of Persian miniatures and Japanese prints amassed by the famous Parisian jeweler during the fin de siecle, shipped to the USA for safekeeping during the early days of WW II, and then "lost" for several decades. And, as a lad growing up in England, I was always intrigued by the hidden "treasures" (always strictly off limits to my siblings and myself) that lay in our attic. (Our landlady had moved to India some years earlier and left her household belongings stored in the attic.)

So when (at the end of a month-long calligraphy contest on the Fountain Pen Network in October) I had the opportunity to choose a prize from among several donated pens, I chose the NOS (New Old Stock) Eversharp Symphony -- a beautiful pen (with a fine 14k semi-flex nib!) manufactured some 60 years ago but that had never been inked (and it was all mine for simply doing what I love to do!)

Three days after I posted my choice of prizes on the forum I received a box containing a delightful note from Pendleton Brown (nib meister, contest organizer, and all-round nice guy) and my very carefully wrapped, shiny new pen -- and I was immediately struck by how unusual it was to be filling a pen for the first time that was manufactured when Dwight Eisenhower was president.

the spotless heart and soul of the Symphony

one of the most unusual feed designs I've seen (and it works beautifully!)

To celebrate the special occasion I decided to fill my little gem with some vintage Waterman Florida Blue and take it for a test drive. First observations: smooth! not a hint of scratchiness and a fine/extra fine line sans pressure with just the right amount of flow; inverted, the pen produces the finest hairline of any pen in my collection; and, with a modest amount of pressure, the nib readily opens up to a very reasonable medium/bold line.

of course I had to try a little calligraphy with the new pen (the penny is for scale)

I'm still many, many hours of practice away from the point where my new pen will feel like an extension of me. But we've already inked enough paper together for me to know that any time we spend together will be sublime.

the results, when I inverted the nib, were amazing (extra extra fine?) 

A Few Parting Thoughts About NOS: In the late 50s and early 60s the fountain pen industry was dying. The ball point pen had been developed during WW II and, as post-war society accelerated into first the Jet Age and then the Space Age, even trendy new designs like the Parker 51 could only postpone what was seen by many as the inevitable.

As sales slumped drug stores and department stores began pulling fountain pens from their shelves to make room for merchandise that would sell, put the pens in storage... and forgot about them. Jump ahead half a century and suddenly the fountain pen is making a comeback, new pens are being manufactured, limited edition pens are fetching a premium price, vintage pens are sought after for their craftsmanship and exceptional nibs (nibs that surpass anything being manufactured today)... and someone, somewhere finds the first batch of New Old Stock -- those brand new pens that were stuck away in storage half a century ago because no one was buying them any more.

So, if you're in the market for a new, never-been-inked pen and find the idea of purchasing something that comes with its own history (and very possibly a smooth-as-glass 14k nib) for no more than a modern, modestly priced, entry-level pen, think about attending a pen show in your area or Google "nos fountain pens" and see what turns up.

Happy hunting!

and just in case you don't remember Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine.... 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"When Is A Fountain Pen Not?" Or "Look, Ma, No Nib!"

a simple yatate of the Edo period

The fountain pen first appeared in Japan just over a century ago (introduced, according to some accounts by a sailor on a merchant ship) and quickly grew in popularity. However, unlike written languages of European/Western origin , the Japanese written language involves more painterly mark-making; aficionados were quick to point out that not even the most flexible 14k "wet noodle" could compare with the expressive range of a well-made calligraphy brush.

a variety of yatate designs

To this day there are in Japan (and no doubt in China and the rest of eastern Asia) staunch advocates and devotees of the yatate (including famed American ex-pat watercolorist and sumi-e artist, Frederick Harris) -- a "traveler's kit" consisting of brush, carrying tube, and portable ink pot. In fact, vintage yatate from the Edo period are highly sought after collector's pieces -- both as works of art, historical artifacts, and functional writing/drawing tools.

United States yatate advocates include Cathy Johnson, who has written of the pleasure of using the Japanese travel kit on FaceBook and her blogs.

Unfortunately, the going price of yatate have put them out of the range of many who are simply looking for a highly versatile tool for everyday use. But, as the proverb goes, necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

measuring just __ inches capped, brush fountain pens can be ideal for carrying afield

To meet the demand for a small, portable writing (and drawing) brush with the functionality of the fountain pen, Japanese brush manufacturers introduced the brush pen -- for all outward appearances a fountain pen (when capped) that could be easily clipped into a shirt or jacket pocket, but when posted a sumi-e brush with built-in ink reservoir and wonderfully responsive sable (usually called "weasel" in Japan and China) brush tip.

with the cap posted the brush fountain pen is comfortable and responsive

Due to the fine craftsmanship and quality materials that go into these brush pens, however, they too can be a bit pricey for students and those on tight budgets. (The Kaimei Sumi Brush Fountain Pen pictured above can retail for $72.95.) Enter the creative folks at Sakura Color Products Corp. -- the inventors of the oil pastel, creators of the highly successful Pigma Micron pen series, and parent company of the Hayward, CA based Sakura Color Products of America. In 1982 the company combined the barrel and inks of their widely used Pigma Micron rigid-tip pens with a rugged, flexible synthetic "brush" tip that offered the user a range of water-proof, acid-free, fade resistant inks, combined with the astounding mark-making range of a sumi-e brush -- all without the fuss or muss of carrying a bottle of liquid ink, or the time consumption involved in grinding fresh ink from an ink stick, and at a very affordable price.

In 1984 Sakura expanded their artist's material line when the company invented the world's first gel ink roller pen -- and added white (a color not available in the Pigma range) to the artist's palette.

"hairlining" with the Pigma brush pen

coloring it with a bold and brilliant swash

So, if you incorporate ink into your artwork and/or are interested in experimenting with a wider mark-making range than pen nibs or ball points offer, think about giving the well-made but moderately priced Sakura Pigma Brush Pens a test drive. To paraphrase the line from Casablanca: it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

Sakura Pigma Brush Pen Giveaway! How would you like a free set of Sakura brush pens (in 8 vivid colors!) to explore and experiment with? And what if we throw in a white Sakura Gelly Roll pen, and a red Sakura pen case to tote them in? OK, subscribe to this blog (by clicking the blue "Join this site" button at right) and post a comment to this post any time between now and Friday, November 30. On Saturday, December 1 one winner will be randomly selected and notified via PM. The lucky winner will then be announced here on Sunday, December 2.

Good luck everyone!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fall Festivals, Kawaii, Amigurumi, Chibi, and Odori Line Dancers

Ka•wai•i -- a Japanese word meaning "lovable", "cute", or "adorable"; for some very nearly a philosophy of life

Ami•gu•ru•mi -- the Japanese art of crocheting small stuffed animals and anthropomorphic creatures (from the Japanese ami, meaning crocheted or knitted, and nuigurumi meaning stuffed doll)

amigurumi can take the form of plush potted plants

(some with attitude)

...or polychromatic mice

Kawaii is an aspect of Japanese culture that shows up in virtually all segments of Japanese society and to the outsider may seem to contradict a more formal, even "straight-laced" preconception of the Japanese people. Kawaii shows up as Hello Kitty accessories and highly individualized, decorated cell phones in the hands of school girls, young children's binto lunch boxes, and a bewildering range of refrigerator magnets and stickers. But it can also turn up as bunny rabbits on construction barricades and personal chibi (Japanese slang meaning "short person" or "small child") avatars on the business cards of very professional government bureaucrats and businessmen.

My daughter keeps a diary in manga form: translating both her daily experiences and the people and places she experiences into totally kawaii chibis.

Kate's chibi friend, Chun

Hannah (the anthropomorphic chibi of Kate's border collie)

and Galileo (another anthrop buddy)

And among crafters, kawaii can manifest itself as amigurumi -- cute, lovable, adorable crocheted and stuffed animals and anthropomorphs.

 with amigurumi everything is cuddly (be it a baby or a cactus)

Such is the case with our little family-operated amigurumi cottage industry, which we have operated for the past two years. Our children sell their wares at the spring and fall Japanese Festival in Fort Worth. And the kids have met with enough success that the kids have expanded into their own designs, which my wife then translates into yarn -- with profoundly cute results.

in the workshop

And what would fall be without a few seasonal items?
 a family of pumpkins...

 and zombies (him...
...and her)

Of course, the festivals are also a wonderful "excuse" to enjoy other aspects of Japanese culture (from food, to music, to dance) while celebrating the changing of the seasons -- the blooming of spring, and the warm colors of fall foliage -- in the tranquil setting of our beautiful Japanese Gardens.

 and it wouldn't be a fall festival without everyone joining in the harvest odori line dance.

See you again next week!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

And the Winners Are... #2

OK, folks, the names are in, we've completed the double-blind drawing (a special thanks to my kids for assisting my with that little detail), and we have winners in our second artists' giveaway!

The first set of Sakura pens will be going to Teri C. in Wisconsin. (Congratulations Teri!)

The second set will be going to Susan B. in West Virginia. (Congratulations Susan!)

Thank you also to everyone who took the time to add their comments and to enter the competition. And a very special "thank you!" to the folks at Sakura of America for producing such marvelous products and for their generosity in providing our giveaway awards.

I'll be back with the regular weekly article tomorrow -- and look for all new art materials reviews and more giveaways in the very near future! (If you haven't already done so, don't forget to subscribe to the blog and, please, share us with a friend.)

Cheers! :-D

A Salute to the "Little People" and Django Reinhardt

OK, being new to video demos I was bound to make a few mistakes my first time out -- and several of you were kind enough to let me know what I needed to do to get it right. So, here's attempt No. 2 (another page from the upcoming calligraphy book, this time shot from the left). Hope you like it (and, if so, that you'll share it with a friend).


Oh, the soundtrack is an homage to Django Reinhardt and the soundtrack of my favorite movie from 2011. (I thought it went well with the tempo of the demo. What do you think?)