My 2021 State of Pens

Bloat is as real for stuff as it is for holiday stomachs. Binge and purge, catch and release, glee and guilt; we are shades of these states, most days. It takes an effort to not want, or to (more productively, for me) shape the want into something else. Given my heightened awareness of uncertainty, it feels better to focus on creating rather than consuming, a way of returning any form of imaginative capital to the world.

My highlight for 2021 was collaborating with Filip + Inna on Sinulat x Sinulid (Writing x Thread), a personal first. The fabric featured inky adjectives in Filipino: mapagbigay (generous), matapang (brave), nag-iisip (likes to think), and more. I used a Waterman 52, my ever-reliable tool for work like this, and primarily Inks by Vinta and Troublemaker Inks, as I wanted to imbue the project with more Filipino creativity. Artisans used outline stitch to highlight different words on each piece; no two are the same. The collection had jackets, caftans, collared shirts, notebooks, totes, and even bandannas.

I’m no stranger to giving workshops, but 2021 was the first time I gave one on behalf of a brand. To help Rustan’s launch Montblanc’s Around the World in 80 Days collection, I gave a travel journaling workshop at the end of July – just as the Philippines was about to retreat once more into extreme lockdown (ECQ). It was also around this time that I started to think more deeply about how the extended deprivation of novelty and movement could be damaging our sensory balance. (Pro tip: writing by hand, paying attention to motion, sensation, and breath, can help.)

The ongoing paradox of sameness and strangeness might have been the reason I appreciated both the sparkly and the safe this year. Esterbrook’s Gold Rush series shone in a year of great releases. The color treatments Schon Design featured, especially in the faceted Pocket 6, were undeniably fresh. I also liked the Skittles finish on the Gravitas pens; that’s a maker to keep an eye on.

There were days it was better safe than sparkly, and for those, the engineered plastics went into the crossbody bag just as automatically as an extra mask and isopropyl alcohol. PEEK, Ultem, Torlon… what used to be niche material tested to withstand autoclaves came out of the labs and into the real world (which is now also a lab for all intents and purposes, but I digress). Among the makers who use these plastics are Kasama from the Philippines, and Schon Design.

Both out of Japan, the Drillog and the Kakimori brass nib displayed innovative thinking around the working end of a pen, something I admire in a market that turns out (mostly) JoWo nib holders – this is not a complaint, but a feature request.

I acquired my Drillogs from Nagasawa Umeda. Fans of “glassy smooth” nibs might not enjoy writing or drawing with a Drillog 0.5, but might like the 0.8. I suggest prepping them for use like a dip nib: diluted liquid detergent with a toothbrush, or a quick wipe with isopropyl alcohol (the kind without moisturizer). I like using a spray bottle to rinse ink off the Drillog nibs instead of swishing them around in water. (The grooves retain ink very well, and pigment ink particles can remain even after vigorous swishing.) The Drillog lets you use different inks within a single session, and it’s great not to worry about chipping the tip, which I always end up doing with glass nibs.

The Kakimori brass dip nib reminds me a bit of the Sailor Trident. It makes it so easy to create lively, expressive lines. Working with liquid media like fountain pen ink and watercolor becomes much more fun with a nib like this.

Another first in a fairly long time – I finally made a lyric video. The song is Parking Lot by The Weather Station, from the album Ignorance, which easily made it to my best of 2021. You’ll see a helluva lot of Drillog here, and bleach, and a more restrained, deliberate palette of inks, on Stonehenge kraft paper.

There’s a sense of release and relief in making. It’s nothing like the thrill of acquiring, but somehow – it’s what my spirit sought this year. I hope for more discoveries next year, in pens and in life.

Others of note:

Newton Pens’ Hale – ergonomic shape in a slim profile
BlueDew – a pretty good stab at the calligraphy beginner market (nib seen here in a Ranga dip pen)
PenBBS – doing some really interesting things (magnet fillers, elaborate nib engraving) with agility
Dominant Industry – ink is a ridiculously competitive business but their bottles are the sexiest
Colorverse Permanent Black, Photo Black – lightfast, waterproof, not cloggy
Stylo Art Karuizawa Piccoli, Haruna, Shirane with a Yukio Nagahara N Point in bold