Friday, May 30, 2008

Pens and Journals and such

Got an email from one of my readers:

Hello Dave, I have been admiring your journal sketches and text entries ( Based on a January 7, 2008, entry it sounds like you're using a Paperchase blank this your preferred journal, or have you discovered any better blank journals since then. Also, what pens do you use? Do you have a single favorite, or do you keep an assortment for different styles? When you use color, do you have any trouble with the color bleeding through the page to the other side? Must you keep the journal open for a period of drying time to prevent color splotches on the opposite page?

I appreciate your response. Thank you.

Good questions these. Maybe you'd like to start a sketch journal. What ink? What pen? What paper? A book or loose leaf? You could do what I did and buy one of everything. I have a drawer full of pens I don't use anymore. I've got a shelf full of blank journals I may never fill.

But if you want to start an illustrated journal, you'll want to know a few things I've learned. It'll save you time and money, not to mention space in your drawer and shelf.

So here are a few things that have worked for me.


I have many fountain pens. I usually load them up with Noodlers Bulletproof black. It's waterproof (thus Noodlers calls them "bulletproof") and it lays down a very black line. (Pens that I don't draw with are loaded with color non-bulletproof inks. Private Reserve Tanzanite is a favorite of mine.) Since I prefer to watercolor over my sketches I prefer black.

Over the lines I can watercolor or highlight. I use them at work too for taking notes and rather than watercolor I use highlighters for key points.

The fountain pen I usually use is a Waterman Expert Dune Red It glides like glass with just enough resistance to feel the paper. It's got a heft to it that is well balanced. The barrel is made of brass.

I also like the fact that it's not a screw type cap. The cap snaps into place even when it's posted. ("Posted" in the fountain pen parlance means that the cap has been placed on the opposite end of the pen while writing. Some expensive pens don't allow this.) Since it snaps into place capped and posted I never worry about losing the cap.

I have this Dune Red and also a Waterman Expert Paris Blue One is fine and the other is a medium nib. I'm often using the medium. They are absolutely beautiful pens and can withstand daily use. I've had the blue for several years now.

When I went to China I didn't want to worry about refilling the ink and I didn't want to lose it, so I bought a pack of Uni-ball Vision Micro 0.5. You can get five for about $6 or even a box of them for $12. They are fantastic. They are waterproof, write in the plane, are indestructible, and lay down a jet black line. You can also leave them uncapped and they don't dry out, unlike a fountain pen or felt tip style pen like the Zigs. I wrote and sketched every day for an entire month in China and never ran out of ink. I still use the same pen at work over a month later. If I didn't own these expensive fountain pens, I'd only use the uniball. I love them.


I carry in my pocket a Moleskine plain reporter. (See this link for more details.). I jot notes for the blog, todos, etc.

But the all time best journal I've ever owned has got to be the Paperchase plain journal with a shiny leather cover I got from Borders. These journals have about 400 pages in them so you can journal a page a day. There are some extra pages so I use the back for: books to read, wines to drink, great quotes, and I glue a yearly calendar in the back. I bought them for about $12 each but actually I wait until Borders sends me a 25% off coupon and run down and buy another. I have enough to last me the next three years.

The paper is thick enough that the sketches don't bleed through, unless I lay down lots of ink. The sketch for Jan 11th had a little bleed on the other side. I don't think it would work as a watercolor book. If you do watercolor, you might try the Handbook Journals. I mention there here. They are great sketchbooks but don't have enough pages in them to last a full year using a page a day. That's why I like the Paperchase. I don't do a lot of watercolor yet.

Another idea I saw was 140lb paper cut up to about a 6x9 sized sheets. You journal and watercolor on the single sheet and then punch holes and put them in a three ring binder or buy simple rings and post them on the rings. Alternatively you could have them wire bound at the end of the year. I find though, sometimes I like to leaf back through the year before I write the current day's journal entry. It give me ideas for writing and I like having the current history with me. I originally started journaling so that I could re-live the moment. So I prefer a blank, line-less book. Your mileage may vary.

I hope this helps folks sort through all the great choices out there for journaling.

Of course, half the fun is choosing your tools.

After the writer's death, reading his journal is like receiving a long letter. - Jean Cocteau (1889-1963)