2018, Penwrapped.

Content is a commitment. It remains a challenge, year after year, to just be myself, and not to pander to the audience and the machine (sometimes, sadly, the same thing now). For many of us who went on Instagram to express our creativity then realized it was all too easy to manipulate that creativity for likes and engagement, this has been a year of discomfort and displacement. Artists who used to rely on Instagram reach for a living now fear they need to do more of the same thing just to be seen. Familiarity breeds content, and here we are, slaves to the tyranny of watercolor florals, fan art, and in my case, cylindrical objects.

Recent experiments in my feed (my simultaneous gratitude and apologies to my followers) made it quite clear to me what the Instagram algorithm prioritizes for others from my posts: multiple cylindrical objects arranged in parallel, multiple symmetrically arranged drawn shapes (like ink swatches), macro shots of nibs, handwriting samples, a single doodle flanked by one or two cylindrical objects, a doodle. Others (like books, reposts of work images) hardly matter.

Abstracted into feeds, we become less like people and more like brands, with all the attendant expectations. What could have been relationships become, simply, “engagement.”

Even mediated by machine, discovery and inspiration are still out there. We can still reach out, converse, and manage how much we care about what other abstracted people think of what we post.

It’s a good thing I have yet to be sick of cylindrical objects. I adored them before social media and the iPhone existed, and I still do.

2018’s pen standouts:


•Nakaya 17mm cigar, ascending dragon in ao tamenuri
•Nakaya ryogiri, aka Dorsal Zero, in aka tamenuri
•Stylo-Art Karuizawa, work by Masako Nomura and Urusi Studio Bokumondoh

A side note: profit is a great motivator, but a poor substitute for skill and time. Too much demand can lead to less-than-ideal work, and a wider field of buyers means less discernment as to what is ideal compared to not. I am no expert buyer, having only slightly more than ten years’ experience in assessing what I like. The journey continues, as does the learning.


•Kasama Una in Ultem with a Regalia Writing Labs Ragnarok nib
•Franklin-Christoph dragon maki-e with a Flexible Nib Factory “Jowo G” assembly

Kasama, the first Filipino fountain pen, launched its Kasama Una made from Ultem at the first Manila Fountain Pen Show in October 2018. Ultem, a medical-grade material commonly used in laboratories, displays high heat and pressure resistance. It seemed fitting to make it the home for Ralph’s Ragnarok nib, a 5-layer monster.

Franklin-Christoph’s most recent foray into maki-e features a dragon with raden accents. Mine currently wears a Jowo #6 nib assembly that takes Zebra G nibs, because Flexible Nib Factory is cray cray like that.

Sentiment & Memory
Franklin-Christoph Model 25, ghost, with the last EF SIG Jim ground for me. I sat in front of him and asked for an EF SIG. He said, I don’t have any no. 5 EF SIGs but I might as well make you one. Thank you, Jim.

How Cool is That

TWSBI Go! The spring-powered filling system is way too fun. Plus I don’t just use it with ink.

How Cool is That, But in a Different Way

Pelikan M805 Platinum Raden. Unlike its flashier raden siblings, this one’s iridescence doesn’t shout, but sings under its breath.

What else did I enjoy this 2018?

MD 10th anniversary notebooks, especially in Dot Grid and White Grid

MD 10th anniversary pads, particularly the A4 MD Cotton

Sailor Ink Studio (don’t make me enumerate the numbers)

Bugging Straits Pen to make the Manila Fountain Pen Show exclusive Manila Copper ink

Ti Arto EDC

Retro 51s: Vanness 80th anniversary, Clickypost’s the System, Penaddict/Matthew Morse Pink Robots

Pilot Juice Up

Pilot Juice Paint

Grey paper of all kinds

On the “look Ma I made this” front:

Coming in under the wire is Jay Ignacio’s illustrated short story The Merchant of Oltrarno, with art by the legendary Alex Niño and calligraphy by me. DM him on IG (@dapulisman) to get your copy.
The Vanness x Rickshaw collab turned out pretty cool, and I look forward to doing similar projects.

And that’s it from this corner of the pen world. I wish us all more of the joy that brought us into this passion in the first place, and less of the algorithmic distractions.