Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Month of Letters

I have recently been getting back (or trying to get back) into the world of letter-writing.  No one I know, anywhere, has any real interest in writing letters in this day and age of email and texting and Facebook, so I have to resort to writing complete strangers.  The bonus is, however, it doesn't take too many letters before you're not complete strangers anymore!  (You progress to mostly-complete strangers, I suppose, but STILL...)

Postcrossing is pretty good for the quick mail fix, but it seems a little sterile.  Yes, you get great postcards from all over the world, but in general it feels very impersonal.  Even though there are options to strike up a correspondence with your fellow Postcrossers, it's generally a one-off kind of thing.  Getting mail means more when you are receiving letters and postcards from someone to whom you feel like you could talk in person, as well as on paper.

So in my quest to find some new penpals, I have joined this site: A Month of Letters.  It's free to participate.  The idea is to write a letter or postcard and send it every day the mail runs in February.  You also write back to everyone who writes to you, which can count as the daily letter/postcard as well.  The idea is to get that mail flowing!  (And, at the same time, do our part, however small, to save the U.S. Postal Service!)

The Month of Letters website has a forum, where members can discuss letter-writing, introduce themselves, and find new penpals to write to.  The whole thing is pretty simple, and members can be as active or as "lurky" as they want to be.

I already have some potential penpals I have gotten from this site and from the forums on the Fountain Pen Network, but I could always use more.  Do you want to write me?  I would welcome any and all letters.  I will write back, too!

Here's how you can get in touch with me:

Randall Harris
142 Sweet Bay Trail
Petal, MS  39465

Happy letter-writing and mailing!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: Noodler's Nikita Ink

First off, let me just say that I have this "thing" about red ink.  I am a professor, so red ink is my lifeblood (no pun intended).  I know that some people advocate grading in green ink these days, to preserve students' fragile psyches, and I use it too.  (And not surprisingly, I have the same kind of "thing" for green ink, although according to this link at Tiger Pens Blog, green ink is not a very respectable thing to have a "thing" for.)

However, back to the red, and it's a fact that not just any old red will do.  I have discovered that there are as many different shades of red as -- well, just about any other color.  (Surprise!)  In other words, a lot more than one might think at first.  And I have also discovered that I am pretty picky about the shade of red I use, especially when I am grading.  (Another surprise!)  It needs to be (what I consider) a TRUE red, with no other color mixed in with it -- not tending towards reddish-brown, or reddish-orange, or reddish-anything -- not too dark or too light, and -- since I am grading with it -- not resembling actual blood too much.  (I am already accused of "bleeding" all over students' papers and tests, so there's absolutely no need to drive that particular metaphor home.)  I want a RED RED.

So that's why I love Noodler's Nikita. As you can see, it's exactly the shade of red I am describing.  It's not a fancy ink, and it doesn't have a huge amount of subtlety in it, as far as I can tell.  No excessive shading, but that's not something I want when I am grading anyway.  In my hands, it's always been a very well-behaved ink, with no bothersome feathering or bleedthrough on even regular copy paper or worse.  It's got a good flow but dries quickly enough (even on Rhodia paper) that I don't have to take any special precautions with a page after I finish it (another important consideration when grading tests and other papers).  It's just a great all-around red ink.

It's also a HUGE bottle of ink for the price, and it comes with a free Noodler's eyedropper pen.  I had read some reviews of the pen that suggested you get what you pay for with this pen, but I disagree.  Yes, it's not fancy and does not have a beautiful gold nib and all that, but I prefer pens that are not going to make me sob uncontrollably if something goes wrong with them (or I do something stupid to them and break them).  Yes, like many inexpensive pens, it needs a little pampering and tweaking to get it going, but that's not unexpected, and I am gradually becoming more comfortable with that whole process.  It writes a little more finely than I prefer, but it works really well with this ink, and Noodler's knew what they were doing when they included this pen as a freebie.

So there you have it.  A true red ink that makes me smile at the same time that it makes my students weep.  You can't really put a price tag on that kind of thing, now can you?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Review: Canson 180 Sketchbook

Today I want to review an item that I have been using happily for some time now: the Canson 180 sketchbook.  Like all of Canson's products, it is filled with really great paper, and the book is sturdy as well as beautiful to look at.  But what really makes this sketchbook stand out (and what gives it the "180" designation) is the Coptic binding.  I don't know much about bookbinding, so I had some help from Wikipedia on this one -- suffice it to say that Coptic binding is one of the oldest bookbinding techniques.  It dates back to the second century AD, being first developed by the early Christians in Egypt (the "Coptic Christians," you know).  What makes a Coptic binding unique is that it makes a book automatically lie flat when it's opened, especially if the spine covering is left off, as in this photo from Wikipedia:

As my (less than ideal) pictures show, I have been using this sketchbook to practice my calligraphy and otherwise just play around on paper.  I have other sketchbooks that I also use for this purpose, but the Canson 180 is the one I keep coming back to.

The front of the sketchbook, with a little free advertising for the InkDrop from!

Beautifully flat -- with some rough-looking Gothic hand practice.

Playing around with lettering for a project intended for a friend of mine, using a quote her children are very fond of.  This was done with a pointed pen (Zebra Comic G nib) and Sumi Moon Palace ink -- and the substantial paper in this sketchbook can take all that ink with absolutely no feathering or bleedthrough whatsoever!

Some more practice, done with a Pilot Parallel Pen (2.4mm nib) and Pilot ink.  The tooth of the paper is a little much sometimes for a broad nib like this, and you get ragged edges on the lines, but a little pressure usually solves that.

The sketchbook has a magnetic closure that does a pretty good job of keeping the book closed.  It's a great size for calligraphy because it has a lot of space for words of all sizes on the page.  (However, I do have the largest version of this sketchbook, which also comes in two smaller sizes, according to the listing on Canson's website.)  Because of the way the binding lies flat, it would be a wonderful sketchbook if you have an urge to do double-page spreads.

The exposed binding doesn't leap out and scream at you with the whiteness of the book's paper because Canson has tastefully covered it up with a black gum coating (similar to the glue-top binding you might find on a notepad).  It's a really nice touch that finishes off this excellent sketchbook.

 The exposed spine -- classy and functional at the same time!

I got mine at Michael's (purchased it with my own money, I did!) but I expect you could find it at most art supply stores, both brick-and-mortar as well as Internet versions.  If you are in the market for a top-notch sketchbook, this is the one I would recommend!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Some Pen and Paper Links for a New Year's Day

This blog arose partly out of my fascination with (and admiration of) the many great pen and paper blogs out there.  I reasoned, if they can do it, I can do it too!  While that is NOT necessarily true (and I am still learning a LOT about this whole thing), these are some of my favorite recent posts from some great blogs that I follow.  Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
Comments welcome!