2019 Engagement Calendar

Last year I won a QuoVadis Hebdo planner from Exaclair and found it very useful in keeping track of up-coming events and appointments. In particular, the amount of space for each day was a good amount for me, I liked the nice paper, and found tearing the corners off each week to be a handy way of opening up to the right spot in the planner. A few times I used the month-at-a-glance pages but not the year-at-a-glance page. Although I was charmed by the inclusion of the maps in the back, I never referred to them. My planner is just not the place where I go to look up that type of information. I also never used the booklet in the back to store addresses or to make notes as have other places for that.

Because I quite liked the Hebdo, my first thought was to buy a new insert as the reusable cover is one of the bonuses of this planner. However, the refill was just too expensive for me so I started looking around for an alternative. I came across a 16-Month Engagement Calendar from Peter Pauper Press (an American family business around since 1928) on sale at my local Coles book store and decided to try it for 2019. It is smaller than the Hebdo but I think will be adequate for my needs. Instead of tear-off corners, this one comes with a ribbon bookmark to keep your place. The paper is creamy and not quite as smooth and thin as the Hebdo. It has two small year-at-a-glance calendars (2019 and 2020) as well as very small monthly calendars at the bottom of each week. This one also has room for addresses and notes at the back which again I probably won’t use. I do like the elastic band closure and the neat pocket inside the back cover. Unfortunately as it starts in September 2018, the first quarter of it will be a waste as my current planner goes to the end of December.

The unattributed quote on the cover is apparently from the book Scoring Wilder by R.S. Grey whose cover features some ripped abs with the tag line, “the soccer world’s bad boy is her new coach”. How did the “she believed she could so she did” quote end up with 334,000,000 search results on Google? I’m not sure but it really seems to have struck a chord with the Pinterest crowd. The cheery illustration around the quote does appeal to me, especially the little bicycle at the bottom,and I like that the year is labeled on the spine.

Hopefully this calendar will be as handy as the one I used last year.

If my new planner was a person it would be a woman who holds it all together but likes a touch of whimsy. Unfortunately, she only has a year to live so is so wants to fill her weeks with as much fun as possible.

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Putting Bleach to Paper

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Last Saturday I did a fun activity with the Edmonton Calligraphic Society experimenting with writing with bleach on black paper. It was fascinating to see how different papers reacted with ordinary household bleach. My favourites were the Strathmore 400 Artagain and the XL Canson Colorline paper but some no-name railroad paper (similar to bristol board) and cardstock also worked. However, the black colour of the cheaper papers is not as dark as better quality paper. Sometimes different samples of the same type of paper gave different results. For example, the 2-ply railroad paper sample turned out well but the 4-ply didn’t. Other good black papers to try this technique on are Canson Mi-Teintes, BFK Rives, and Arches Cover. Interestingly, the bleach had no effect at all on the Canson Ingres. I suspect the gelatin sizing somehow protects it but I’m not sure.

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If you want to try this out for yourself, keep in mind for best results you need fresh bleach. I had no idea that bleach loses its bleachiness over time but it does, even if the bottle isn’t opened. I would have thought that bleach bottles would be stamped with a best before date but no, they aren’t so buy your bleach at a store that has good stock turnover and get rid of if after about a year.

If you want to see the kind of results veteran calligraphers can get with this technique, check out the Edmonton Calligraphic Society blog at http://edmontoncalligraphicsociety.ca/saturday-nov-24ths-mentoring-meetup/.

If bleach on paper were a person they would be unpredictable. Sometimes showy and other times virtually invisible, you just have to accept them the way they are.

Eaton Calligraphy Writing Paper

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When I was making my Halloween cards last month, I used some old calligraphy paper I had kicking around. It’s so old it has little price stickers on it from before stores used barcode readers. The cover of the pad reads, “Eaton Calligraphy Writing Paper” with the only part in French, “parchment natural”. In small letters at the bottom of the cover it says “Eaton is a reg. tm (registered trademark) of Fox Rover Paper Co. Made in U.S.A.”

I decided to look into where this paper had originally come from and found its history matched much of what I learned by reading Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky. Turns out the Fox River Valley in Wisconsin historically had a lot of paper mills, with the first one opening in 1848. This is not because of the surrounding forests, as using wood pulp to make paper is a relatively recent invention, but rather because of the clear, fast flowing water of the Fox River. All paper making uses a lot of water and historically the mills themselves needed that water to be fast-flowing to generate power. This mill like others of that era processed rags, not wood pulp, to make the paper. These rags were collected locally as well as in Chicago and Milwaukee. Cotton and linen make great paper because of their high cellulose content (90%) and are relatively easy to break down. At the mill rags were sorted, cut into small pieces, cleaned, bleached, and beaten into pulp.

Although there were earlier experiments, it wasn’t until 1863 that wood pulp was commercially viable in paper making. Compared to rags, trees are only 48 to 57 per cent cellulose and are harder to break down. However, trees have the benefit of being plentiful, compared to rags which were often in short supply.

The Fox River Paper Company Historic District is now listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. In their research they note, “the success of the paper industry in Wisconsin was partly based on the introduction of wood pulp process in 1872”. However, “since the Fox River Paper Company chose to develop fine writing papers of varying amount of rag content, the processing of rags and their manufacture into paper, rather than the processing of pulp, is more relevant to the development of this company.”

Although my pad of paper does not state what it is made of, it is likely to have at least some cotton or rag content. The paper is fairly thick with a nice creamy, mottled colour. Because of the thickness, I have not found any bleed-through with the pens and inks I have tried on it and its smoothness (matte, not glossy) means no feathering either. I’m sure this paper will come in handy for many calligraphy projects to come.

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I’ve never been there myself but visitors to Wisconsin may want to check out the Fox River Paper Company Historic District in Appleton which has been converted into apartments or other Wisconsin landmarks such as Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron, the “world’s largest scrap metal sculpture” in North Freedom, or the International Clown Hall of Fame and the prehistoric Man Mound Park, both in Baraboo.

If this paper was a person, they’d be an American, proud of their history but blind to the pollution they created (the Fox River has been polluted since the early 1900s due to paper mills).

Paper: Paging Through History

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I recently finished reading Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky. Being a book about paper, the publisher wisely chose to print it on lovely creamy paper and put a note on the paper and typeface in the back of the book. I wish more publishers would do this as it seems simple enough to include and those who are not interested can ignore it but for those of us who are interested it adds to the appeal. Not only is it printed on Sebago paper but the author himself carved the letters opening each chapter, based on ones designed by Albrecht Dürer (the early 16th century artist who looks just like Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger). Nice touch Mark Kurlansky.

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The book examines the history of paper from a global perspective. In particular, Kurlansky uses paper to challenge the assumption that society changes because new technology is introduced. Rather, his thesis is that technology is developed when the need arises. He makes a very compelling case starting with the development of language itself. In fact, a fair bit of the book is not strictly just about paper but language, printing, publishing, art, etc. Occasionally, the story oscillated too much between the story of the manufacture of paper to what paper is used for. This changing focus and the inclusion of almost too much research sometimes made the book lose its narrative drive. This was especially evident in the last couple of chapters. However, Kurlansky’s storytelling skills generally made the book very readable.

I love paper and I find history fascination so not surprisingly I enjoyed this book, especially the parts on how paper is made.

Halloween Cards 2018

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I had so much fun making Halloween cards last year I thought I would do it again. Although I didn’t realize it, by sending Halloween cards I am reviving an old custom. In their heyday during the early part of the last century, postcards were sent for almost any occasion and Halloween was no exception. In her book, Halloween: Romantic Arts and Customs of Yesteryear, Diane Arkins shares some of her collection of vintage Halloween postcards. Jack-o-lanterns seem to be a favourite motif and most of them are more jolly than scary (although some of them are inadvertently creepy).

In keeping with the lighthearted spirit of old postcards, I went for the cute rather than frightening aspect of Halloween for my cards. My inspiration came from the internet but I tried to make it my own. Starting with fairly heavy paper from a large pad (11 x 17 inches or 28 x 43 cm), I folded the large sheet in quarters and trimmed it down to make cards (5 x 7 inches or 13 x 18 cm). I don’t have any information about the paper but the watermark indicates it is 25% cotton with the recycle logo (the pad doesn’t have any other markings).

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I lightly sketched the design and then used watercolour to paint a foggy cloud. This paper actually wrinkled a lot from the watercolour so I had to iron it after the paint was dry and it still was a bit buckled. If I was doing it again I would use watercolour paper and then mount onto the card.

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Next step was cutting out the ghost shape with an Exacto knife and taping tracing paper onto the back to give the ghost a ghostlier look. I did the lettering with a Sharpie pen and added silver highlights to bootiful with a silver marker.

The inside has a Happy Halloween message written using a Crayola marker and Sharpie on calligraphy parchment mounted on some orange paper. I am not proficient doing the Crayola calligraphy so I had to practice quite a bit first. It doesn’t really match the style of the outside of the card but that’s what happens when you don’t plan before you begin.

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For the envelopes, I used my Japanese brush pen to write the names in script but I like to keep the address part as clear as possible so I used a Sharpie pen for that part. As a finishing touch, I added a watercolour pumpkin to the corner.

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Here is a Halloween greeting from a vintage postcard that I am sending to all my readers:

With Hallowe’en candles burning bright 

Beneath the moon’s bewitching light

May ghosts & goblins grant to you

That all your wishes shall come true

Happy Halloween Everyone!

Inktober

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Inktober is an online challenge started in October 2009 by an illustrator called Jake Parker. In his words, he created it to “to improve my inking skills and develop positive drawing habits.” I had heard of it before but this is the first year I have participated. I was inspired by a great blog I follow called The Postman’s Knock who sent out weekly challenges (a sugar skull, a hissing cat, a bat, and Frida Kahlo). I did all of them but my favourite was Frida Kahlo. I knew that one would take a bit longer to do than the others so I started working on it last week in order to be ready for this week’s challenge. This is the good side of the internet, feeling part of an online community of folks just trying to improve their drawing skills and somehow committing to participating for just one month seems doable.

For all of my Inktober challenges I used a Tachikawa G nib in my Koh-I-Noor No. 127 N Cork Tip Penholder with Speedball Calligraphy Ink on Strathmore tracing paper. It was good practice for me as I have lots to learn about controlling the line and avoiding smudges with dip pens. I could see improvement over the month just by doing regular practice so I’ll have to try to keep it up. I would encourage anyone who would like to develop their drawing skills to participate in something like this.

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If Inktober was a person it would be a friend you hardly ever see but when you get together you connect right away.

Staedtler Wopex HB Pencil

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Some of the regular readers of this blog may think I am obsessed with pencils but actually I don’t really use them that often. It is just that the world seems to be full of pencils and a fair number of them end up on the ground. I think this is why parents are asked to buy so many for school supplies. It isn’t because the children use them up, they just scatter the pencils around. When I saw this poor pencil casualty with its lime green suit just lying in front of me, I had to pick it up. I don’t pick up all broken pencils, some are just too far gone even for me, but I thought this one had potential.

It turned out to be a Staedtler Wopex HB. Staedtler is a German company with a broad range of pencils including the Mars Lumograph, Norica, Triplus, and Rally lines. I haven’t tried the last two but in general, they manufacture good quality products. According to Staedtler the Wopex is “unbelievably break-resistant” so this pencil must have had quite the trauma to end up in this condition.

Introduced in 2009, the Wopex differs from the other Staedtler pencils with its neon colour (aside from green, there are also bright orange and pink ones) and how it is made. Although the Staedtler website makes a big deal about the wood content coming from sustainably sourced wood, this pencil is actually extruded recycled wood and plastic. Its name is a contraction of wood, pencil, and extrusion. In the picture below of the cross-section of the broken off tip you can see that even the lead seems extruded. The paint also has a slightly rubbery texture which isn’t at all unpleasant but the Wopex has none of the old-timey naturalness of graphite encased in wood that a traditional pencil has.

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photo by Bruce McIntosh

Once I broke off the dangling tip, it took a fair bit of effort to sharpen it as the composite is harder than natural wood. Performance-wise the Wopex makes a nice sharp line that resists smudging which is good for writing, making it a decent student pencil but a poor art pencil. The white eraser attached with a ribbed silver ferrule does a fair job of erasing the line but there is some ghosting.

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If the Wopex pencil was a person it would be a flashy dresser who loves to wear bright synthetics with gold chains. It stands out from the other fans of German techno-pop clad in their all black outfits.