It was “National Notebook Day” on May 20 so I thought it was a good time to look at a couple of promotional JournalBook notebooks I was given. These 5.5″ x 8.5″ hardcover books seem to only be available as promotional items sold in bulk. JournalBooks are run by the Polyconcept Group, a promotional products supplier that also operates Leed’s and Bullet Line. A sticker neatly placed inside the back pocket of each book is labeled Leed’s who apparently outsource the manufacturing of them as one is made in India and the other in China. The company must be very exact in their specifications because, aside from the covers, they are exactly the same. Both books have a built-in elastic closure, ribbon bookmark bound into the spine, and an expandable accordion pocket inside the back cover.

They aren’t the first JournalBooks I have used. Interestingly, one I tried before was from and these two are from Verisign and GoDaddy so it appears they are a favourite giveaway from technology companies. I guess that tech companies like analog tools, or at least to hand them out as promotional gifts. From my experience with the journal, I can confirm the creamy, lightly lined pages are fountain pen friendly and actually really nice to write on.

I decided to experiment with the Verisign journal to make the cover more interesting. I taped off a frame with painter’s tape, then used a palette knife to spread on Golden Fiber Paste to cover the debossed logo and provide a good base to paint on. The result is supposed to look a bit like handmade paper when it is dry. I did two coats because the first coat was really uneven. For the design, I was inspired by artist Terry Runyan’s cats and just used some assorted acrylic paints I had on hand. I think the end result is cheery. I love Terry Runyan’s work and have tried to imitate it before.

If these JournalBooks were people, they would come from all over the globe to work in sales but it is hard to pin down exactly where they are from since they go under assumed names.

Happy Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day so hats off to all mothers and anyone who plays a nurturing role in life of a young one. I have been making cards for a long time and the above card is a little booklet made up of poems written by my grade six class on the topic of mothers. We each made our own cover and the poems were printed in blue on the school’s Gestetner machine. Then we bound the pages together with yarn.

When I was in grade three, my teacher Mrs. Nelson, assigned each of us the job of being her assistant for one week. A highlight of that responsibility was running off worksheets in the small room upstairs (literally in the high school of our grade one to twelve school) that held the Gestetner machine. I can still remember the intoxicating smell of the methylated spirits and the cha-chunk sound of cranking the drum.

I encouraged my own daughters to make cards too. Greeting card company products just can’t compete against handmade gems.

If handmade Mother’s Day cards were people, they would be smiling children with a smear of marker on their face and glitter in their hair.

Variations in A

The March Edmonton Calligraphic Society zoom class was with Mike Gold of Cleveland, Ohio. He is a non-traditional calligrapher with a strong graphic design background.

The class was called “Variations in A” and we spent two hours just playing with one letter as line, shape and form using a variety of tools including pens, pencils, brushes, and even sticks. It could have been any letter (or even number) but he likes the letter A. I too have a fondness for the letter A as both of my daughters’ names begin with A.

It was fun to push myself to experiment with one letter and made me wonder just how abstract a letter can be and still be readable. He also encouraged us to work on our composition, such as playing with contrast, using the margins, and shared tips such as using asymmetrical layouts as they are less static.

If Variations in A were people, they would be like variations of any letter and run the gamut of all sorts of shapes, sizes, colours, and personalities and the world is a richer place because of it.


Last month I went to an Edmonton Calligraphic Society mentor meet-up to learn about uncials. Uncial is an early hand that came about as writing evolved from Roman capitals chiseled into stone to writing with a broad edged nib on parchment. You can still see this style anytime someone wants to give a Celtic look to their words because it is associated with early Christian monks who went to Scotland and Ireland in the 4th and 5th centuries. Uncials continued to be used until the 8th century when more compact scripts, like Carolingian, came into use but it can still be seen in copies of the Bible until the 10th century. As with any very old hand that spans over hundreds of years, different languages (Greek, Latin, Gothic, and Coptic) and a variety of places (all over Europe and into Africa), there are lots of variations to this style but some characteristic features are that the letters are generally rounded, upright and spaced closely together. Uncials are written entirely as capital letters (majuscules) but they start the progression to lower case (minuscule) letters as some have small ascenders and descenders. I like the rounded look of these letters but some, like the D, look a bit awkward to me.

I did some experimenting with different tools and letterforms.

Although uncials are meant to be written with a broad-edged pen, I tried some based on Mike Kecseg’s uncial-inspired alphabet using a pointed pen.

I used uncials in some cards and in my journal.

If uncials were people, they would be short and stout. Although they are well-traveled folks, their distinctive look means you can pick them out anywhere.

Welcome Spring!

The picture of the nest was painted with Sakura Koi Watercolours. The calligraphy was written with walnut ink using a Tachikawa G nib and the card was made with Pastel Green (23016) cardstock from The Paper Company (USA).

Last Sunday was the spring equinox and while it will take some time for spring to fully arrive here (it snowed again yesterday), I was recently in Seattle and enjoyed seeing blossoms on trees and daffodils blooming.

I made the card above last year after taking a free Facebook mini-workshop with local calligrapher Kelly Klapstein of Kelly Creates. She does these classes about once a month and I have used her ideas a few times. Kelly is very personable and, as she comes from an education background, she is good at explaining what she is doing and breaking down projects into easy steps. I am impressed with how she has built a business with her creative endeavors. Not only does she teach classes (around the world in pre-pandemic times) but she has a whole line of products from books to pens produced by American Crafts. 

You can see some other examples of cards I’ve made over the past year following her instructions.

If this assortment of cards were people, they would much like Kelly Klapstein herself, approachable, fun, and friendly.

More Nibs!

In my last post, I discussed the Esterbrook nibs I found in my thrift store nib haul. While none of the remaining five nibs are marked Esterbrook, some have a bit of a connection.

Speedball A-2 and B-6

To start with, there were two Speedball nibs, an A-2 and a B-6. These are broad-edged nibs with reservoirs to hold excess ink so you don’t need to dip as often. The A series of nibs were the first introduced by the Hunt Pen Company in 1915. There are 6 nib widths with 0 being the broadest and 5 the narrowest. They are characterized by having an upturned square tip, perfect for writing styles like Neuland.

The Speedball B series was launched a year later in 1916. They are similar to the A series except the flat tip of the nib is round. They come in eight nib widths, 0 to 6 with a couple of ½ nib widths that were added later on (½ and 5 ½). This B-6 nib is the smallest of the B series.

Best School Pen 292

This bronze-coloured nib doesn’t have a maker name, it just says “Best School Pen Made in England 292”. It may be an Esterbrook as the numbering matches the #292 listed in the Trade Price List of the Esterbrook Steel Pen Company (The American Stationer, September 4, 1879). That nib had a comment stating it was replaced by the #291 School Pen. In 1896 the Esterbrook Company did launch a second manufacturing operation in Birmingham, England which could explain the “Made in England” marking. Perhaps the nibs made in England had slightly different numbering than the American ones? I’m just not sure who made this nib.

Gillott’s 303 Extra Fine and 659 Crow Quill

Gillott’s is another old dip pen company but this one was based in Birmingham, England and named after their founder, Joseph Gillott. They have a connection with Esterbrook since in 1867 Gillott’s took them to court for copying their #303 Extra Fine pen name, title and design, as well as the packaging. The end result was that Esterbrook had to stop making their #303 and you can still buy Gillott’s 303 Extra Fine today.

Gillott’s tiny 659 Crow Quill is a sharp but not particularly flexible nib probably better for drawing than for calligraphy. I have a Speedball Crow Quill pen but the tiny tubular shaft of the Gillott’s 659 didn’t fit the holder so I just tried writing with it by holding it in my fingers. Gillott nibs are still made in England but now the company name is William Mitchell Ltd.

Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and Princess Alexandra at Joseph Gillott’s, November 1874 (Originally printed in The Illustrated London News, Nov 21, 1874)

If these nibs were people at a party, they would know a few others there well but everyone else would just be an acquaintance.  

Esterbrook Dip Nibs

A good way to clean manufacturing oils off of nibs is to stick them into a potato.

Earlier this winter I came across a great thrift store find. In a bag with some odd pencils was a box of assorted vintage calligraphy dip pen nibs. There are so many of them that I am going to divide my discussion into two posts. About half of them are from the Esterbrook Company.

Someone has created a comprehensive website about Esterbrook dip nibs called The Esterbrook Project and a lot of the information I used is from that source. The company was founded by Richard Esterbrook (1812 – 1895), an English Quaker immigrant to the United States. He was working in the stationery business in England during the time when feather quills were being replaced by steel ones. In Birmingham, England the Mitchell brothers had developed a process for machine cutting steel pens in 1822. Esterbrook saw an opportunity when he realized there were no steel pen manufacturers in the United States. At age 44, he recruited five craftsmen from the Mitchell factory and came to the United States to set up business. For awhile Esterbrook was the largest pen manufacturer in the United States. The company was bought and sold a few times and stopped dip pen nib production at some point between 1967 and 1971 so all of these nibs are at least 50 years old. Now the Esterbrook name is usually associated with fountain pens.

The following Esterbrook nibs in my box are all are marked “R. Esterbrook & Co.” and “Made in the U.S.A.”.

No. 1 Drawlet Pen

This nib is similar to a Speedball B-5 ½. It was the only one of mine with a reservoir and has a bent, rounded nib for creating a wide, uniform line. It has two vent holes, two main slits and three tines.

130 Easy Writer  

This flexible gray nib is straight with a sharp point and an oval vent hole. As the name implies, it was designed for writing correspondence. An early steel dip pen booklet, Esterbrook Pens and What They Will Do, described it as, “A medium fine pointed pen of good size. It is well liked by bookkeepers and accountants.” (Quite the recommendation.)

312 Judge’s Quill

This gray nib has a straight body and a “V” shaped vent hole. The name was part of a marketing trend where different nibs were named after the profession it was aimed at. For example, they also had a Lawyer’s Pen (#248) and a Cashier’s Pen (#810). It was described in the 1938 Esterbrook Catalog as “Flexible, fine stub. Long nibs. Gray finish.” It was also available in a gold-plated version.

313 Probate Pen

This long flexible nib has a medium stub point and a crescent moon vent hole. It was first listed in the 1883 Esterbrook Catalog where it was described as a “large engrossing pen, with long nibs and medium points.”

Apparently, author Shelby Foote used Esterbrook 313 Probate nibs to write his three-volume opus The Civil War: A Narrative (1958–1974). When he heard production of Esterbrook nibs was ending, he bought all of the remaining boxes of the #313 in his state to ensure he always had his favorite nib.

910 Radio Pen

The 900 series of Esterbrook nibs, introduced in 1931, are the Radio pens. I am not sure why they are called “Radio” but I assume it was to sound modern as the term was just coming into common usage for the newly invented wireless systems of communicating. This silver-coloured nib has a tapered body with a sharp tip and rectangular vent hole. The 1938 Esterbrook Catalog described it as, “Firm, fine. An ideal pen for bookkeeping. Silver finish”.

Fun fact for those of you who are fans of the Peanuts comic strip, according to the Charles M. Schulz Museum, he used an Esterbrook 914 Radio pen for drawing the strip (the lettering was done with a Speedball C-5). Like Mr. Foote, when Schulz learned that Esterbrook was going out of business, he purchased their entire inventory of his favourite nibs.

If Esterbrook dip nibs were people, they would be stars from a past era. They had their fans and even today some remember their glory days.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Thought I would delay posting for one day so I could wish everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day. Love is so much more than just romance and I feel right now we could all use more love, more kindness, and more compassion.

I was inspired to make these valentines from an idea I got from the Postman’s Knock. I used cardstock, origami paper, and ribbons with calligraphy done with a Tachikawa G nib using Dr. PH. Martin’s Bombay Red Violet India ink.

There are lots of ancient origin stories for Valentine’s Day but no one knows for sure even which Saint Valentine it is named after. Reference to the day shows up in the work of many old English poets like Geoffrey Chaucer (~1340s–1400), William Shakespeare (1564–1616), and John Donne (1572– 1631) so it hasn’t always been the commercial holiday it is today. According to Hallmark, it is the second-largest holiday for giving greeting cards and that’s not including the little cards given by school children to each other.

If these valentines were people, they would be the kind to pop-up unexpectedly just when you need cheering up.

Bic Cristal Ballpoint Pen

When I saw a headline last week about Bic (officially called Société Bic S.A.) acquiring a temporary tattoo company, I thought a post on the Bic Cristal was long overdue.

The Bic Cristal is the classic ballpoint stick pen. With its clear hexagonal barrel designed to mimic the shape of a pencil and a simple cap the same colour as ink, it’s what comes to mind when we think of a ballpoint pen. The company refers to it as “iconic” and it is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Before the Bic, ballpoint pens were expensive and prone to smearing and leaking. Marcel Bich realized the problem lay with the ink and worked with another company to come up with a formula that would work better in this type of pen. By the end of 1950, the new pen with its special ink was ready to be launched using a shortened version of his name. His grandson, Gonzalve Bich, is still running the company today.

Bic has always been smart about marketing. In 1961, it introduced the Bic Boy, with his school uniform and enormous ballpoint head, as their company logo. When I went to my gall nut ink workshop, the speaker brought items from his pen paraphernalia collection including a vintage Bic Boy pen holder.

It’s hard to get excited about this ubiquitous pen. Like many ballpoints it sometimes skips but I have to admit it is reliable. Mine is old and I hadn’t used it for a while but it started writing as soon as I tried it.

Of course, the Bic Cristal is not their only product. They make many kinds of pens and pencils, razors, and lighters, all of the disposable variety. The huge amount of plastic waste created is definitely a downside of Bic products.

Bic Clic

Bic highlighter

Sticky note

One of Bic’s product lines is called their “human expression portfolio” which is where their recent acquisition of the Canadian temporary tattoo company, Inkbox, fits in. This connection to tattoos seems appropriate to me as their pens have been used for the permanent type of home (or jail) tattoos in the past. To see how this is done you can watch a weird movie from 2000, Memento, where a Bic Cristal is used by the main character to tattoo himself (don’t try this at home folks!).

If the Bic Cristal were a person, they would be the skinny older sister of the Bic Boy. She’s a terrible liar because you can see right through her and she is always losing her cap.

Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pens

I had heard a lot about Tombow Fudenosuke pens for calligraphy so I was thrilled to find a package in my Christmas stocking. The Fudenosuke is an interesting pen because although it’s used for brush writing, the small, flexible tip doesn’t really look like a brush.

The Tombow company traces its origins back to 1913 when it specialized in pencils. Originally called Harunosuke Ogawa Shoten, it adopted the shorter name of Tombow (meaning dragonfly) in 1927. It now manufactures and sells all sorts of stationery supplies around the world but is still run by the founding family. The pens I have were made in Vietnam, distributed by their US subsidiary, and sold in Canada (oops, I mean came from Santa’s workshop at the North Pole).

The Fudenosuke pen was introduced in 2001. The name Fudenosuke means “brush that helps” and it was designed to write Japanese calligraphy (kanji). It’s popular with anyone who wants to write with a varied line as you can create thick strokes by applying more pressure and thinner lines with a lighter touch.

The package I received contained two pens, one with a dark blue barrel and the other with a black barrel. Both write with black ink but the blue barrel one has a firmer tip than the other. There isn’t a huge difference but the soft tip is a little bigger and creates a thicker line.

Written on a Rhodia A5 dot grid notepad

If Fudenosuke pens were people, their family heritage would be important to them but they love to travel the world. Japanese is their first language but they’ve learned lots of others along the way.