Birthday Card

Today is the birthday of a very special person. So special that they get a hand-crafted birthday card to celebrate the occasion.

I got the idea for this card from a picture I saw in a Michael’s flyer. I believe it was for a rubber stamp set but I thought my drawing skills were up to tackling a jar and a bunch of flowers so I grabbed a scrap of watercolour paper and did just that. After colouring it in with watercolours and outlining with a black pen I cut them out.


Next I made a tiny tag and added some text with rub-on transfer letters before tying it to the jar.

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To assemble, I took a piece of cardstock, folded it in half, and glued on some decorative paper. I used embossed vellum from an old wedding invitation in my scrap folder to make the doily. I didn’t like the visible line of glue along the edge so I covered it up with washi tape.

Finally I glued on the jar and attached the flowers with some foam dimensionals from an old Stampin’ Up kit. Voila, a simple bouquet for a special somebody.



J. Herbin Lierre Sauvage Ink


I received this lovely French J. Herbin Lierre Sauvage ink as a Christmas present but its lovely green colour seems perfect for this month. J. Herbin claims to be the oldest ink company in the world as it was established in 1670, the same year as the Hudson’s Bay Company got its royal charter to exploit the land that became Canada. This made me wonder what kind of ink the early fur traders used. I submitted a question to the Hudson Bay archives and I’ll keep you posted with what I learn.

The Lierre Sauvage (“Wild Ivy”) is one of their La Perle des Encres (“The Jewel of Inks”) fountain pen inks. This line was launched in 1700 so, not surprisingly, the inks are made from natural dyes. There are thirty other colours in this line, all advertised as being non-toxic and pH neutral.

I was really happy to get this ink because I was having trouble with my fountain pen and wondered if the ink I was using was to blame. I read somewhere that Noodler’s ink has a reputation for causing problems with fountain pens (although many online dispute that) so I was happy to try a different brand to see if it made a difference. So far I have had no problems with the J. Herbin. It flows smoothly and I love the slight variation in the green tone. Now I am only using the Noodler’s Ink in my Noodler’s pen.


Another special thing about this ink is the wonderful glass bottle. It has a little lip on the front to rest your pen on.

20180218_ink with pen

If J. Herbin Lierre Sauvage ink were a person, they would be French of course. A bit old-fashioned maybe but the wild look in their eye lets you know they will be a lot of fun.

Rub-on Transfer Letters

20180218_115708 My Valentine’s Day blog featured a few projects where I used rub-on transfer letters. These came from a great stash from my office friend Neil who used to work as a graphic designer. I first encountered this product when I took a design course in university back in the 1980s. This was before the use of computers was common and printers (usually dot matrix) produced a very low-resolution product. Basically, they are decals on a plastic sheet that are applied by rubbing (“burnishing”) the plastic side with a pencil or some other stylus until the letter sticks to the new surface. Sometimes they are called Letraset after the company that developed them but there are other brand names like Mecanorma.


As the sheets I have are very old, they don’t always transfer perfectly (the dryness of Alberta doesn’t help in their preservation) but I like the imperfection that comes from using a non-digital method of lettering.


the fine lines did not transfer well



I made a mistake with the U and had to try to remove the wrong letter

When I was taking my design course my instructor was very strict that we could only label our assignments with Helvetica so I didn’t realize just how many different fonts rub-on transfer letters came in. In 1963, Letraset offered 35 standard fonts with 40 more in their Letragraphica range. I have had a lot of fun discovering these but sometimes my font choices are limited as much by what letters are left on the sheets than by aesthetic choices.

You can still buy rub-on transfer sheets today but their heyday is clearly over. It’s hard to remember that Letraset was quite revolutionary when it was introduced in 1961. Before then you had to do lettering by hand or use typesetting services to get a professional look. Even if “professional” wasn’t really what you were looking for (remember zines?), rub-on transfer letters allowed anyone to create great looking lettering.

If rub-on transfer sheets were people some would think of them as Luddites but those who know them well appreciate their quirkiness and imperfections rather than see them as faults. After all, they may be a bit flaky but they’re hard to rub the wrong way.


Hopefully everyone who is getting a Valentine from me this year has received it so I am not spoiling any surprises. I made three but two are the same design.

The two similar ones use the Strathmore tracing paper I recently discussed (read more here). First I decorated some cardstock by dipping a cookie-cutter in thinned red acrylic paint. Then I wrote “always in my heart” using the narrow nib and black ink cartridge from a Sheaffer calligraphy set onto tracing paper. I secured the tracing paper to the card using washi tape (read more here).


valentines inside 2

I used Greys paper envelopes (read more hereand addressed them using a new stash of rub-on transfer letters I recently acquired (learn more about this in a future blog post).

Andrea envelope

Fonts: Update and Friz

Alison envelope

Fonts: Cathedral and Univers

The third valentine was made using a keychain fob that came on a wine bottle as a rubber stamp, adding a cut out heart for the seat, and decorating with a marker. I used Mecanorma rub-on transfer letters in “Orator” font for the text on the front. I wrote in the inside using a Pilot Parallel pen at the February Edmonton Calligraphy Society meeting/workshop where we were introduced to a very old Germanic letter form called Fraktur. We only covered lowercase letters so that’s what I used.

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Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Translucent papers


I have been thinking about translucent papers recently. I went to an art exhibit called Can you See the Trees Through the Forest where much of the work had been drawn on vellum and then hung from the ceiling so the light could come through. When I looked up the artist, Phyllis Obst, it turned out that she was an engineer so it made sense that she was used to working with vellum as it is commonly used for things like technical drawings and blueprints.

In ancient times (this goes back more than a thousand years) vellum was made of calfskin that was split and treated so it became somewhat translucent. Modern vellum is paper that has been plasticized to obtain a similar smooth, translucent quality but you really could not confuse the two. Unfortunately, the word vellum gets used quite loosely so sometimes just ordinary writing paper is labelled vellum to connote smoothness or quality. I have an old pad of Zellers writing paper that purports to have a “vellum finish” but the only connection I can see is that the paper is so thin that you can almost see through it.


My Canson paper sample book has a couple of examples of translucent paper. The first is the Canson Vidalon Vellum. It is a smooth, translucent paper that has a sturdy feel to it. I tried out pencil, pen, marker and pencil crayon. It was very easy to erase the pencil and all of the writing tools just glided over the paper. It is so translucent that I had to put a piece of plain paper underneath it to take the pictures otherwise you could see the writing from the next section.

vellum w pens 1 Vellum 2

The second paper that I think fits this category is the Canson Pro Layout Marker paper. It is not quite as translucent as the vellum but is not completely opaque either. As the name implies, it is designed for markers but it also works with pen and pencil. There is no bleed through with any of the markers or pens I tried but because it is so smooth there was a lot of smudging.

marker w pens 2 Marker 2

While none of the Canson paper samples are called tracing paper, the company has a place in tracing paper history. In 1809 while Napoleon waged war all over Europe, in the Beaujolais region of France, Barthélémy de Canson peacefully continued to experiment and improve the paper mill he inherited through his wife’s family. His innovative refining of paper pulp led to the invention of tracing paper.

I recently bought a pad of Strathmore tracing paper to help me in my efforts to learn calligraphy by using it over practice sheets. While not quite as old as the Canson paper company, the Strathmore Paper Company of the US goes back to 1892. They too have a wide range of papers, including a very nice transparent parchment tracing paper. Tracing paper has the benefit of not only being translucent but also very smooth so there is little bleeding or feathering of ink. If you have any concerns that since ancient vellum was made of animal skin that the modern equivalents have any animal by-products, fear not. According to Strathmore’s Frequently Asked Questions page, all Strathmore products are vegan, except for their Gemini Watercolor paper which is made with traditional sizing.

Strathmore 2

If translucent papers were people, they would be a bit hard to figure out. Smooth but not slick, they can be very useful but you can’t clearly see what is going on with them.

Koh-i-Noor Paris Blue Progresso Woodless Pencil


Santa left an intriguing pencil crayon in my stocking called the Progresso woodless pencil by Koh-i-Noor. You may notice I called it a pencil crayon, not a coloured pencil because no matter what it says on the box, in the part of Canada I where I grew up this type of art supply is always called a pencil crayon and I am sticking with it.

The Progresso is all colour, no wood, and is a nice weight in the hand. Like all coloured leads, they are made of a mixture of pigment and binder but Progressos are also mixed with oils, not the wax or paraffin other pencil crayons are blended with. This makes for nice smooth marks with no waxy feel and you can use all of the 7.6 mm lead diameter to make fine or wide lines. The lead has a lacquer coating so the colour doesn’t rub off on your hands.


I haven’t really got on the adult colouring book bandwagon but I have tried out a few kinds of pencil crayons I thought I would compare to the Progresso. I know many people who believe Prismacolors are best, so I borrowed a Prismacolor Premier pencil crayon from my sister in law. It is a darker shade than the Progresso and left a smooth, rich colour.

Some of my personal favourite pencil crayons are the now defunct Laurentians that were the classroom standard of my childhood. Like so many pen and pencil companies, they underwent a few corporate takeovers over the years and were discontinued around 2012. Like the Prismacolor, it has a nice thick core and it seemed the Laurentian Navy Blue was a closer match in colour to the Progresso Paris Blue.

I was quite disappointed with both the Faber-Castell and the Staples pencil crayon by Staedtler. I know the Staples one came from an inexpensive student pack but I was surprised Staedtler would put their name on such a low-quality product. Like most student-grade pencil crayons, the lead is quite hard, leading to less breakage but less colour too. Likewise, the Faber-Castell pencil crayon I assume is student grade and not very impressive. It only goes to show you cannot always judge by brand name. Both of these pencil crayons had cores (2 mm diameter) half the size of the Laurentian or Prismacolor (4 mm).

If the Koh-I-Noor Progresso woodless pencil were a person they might seem a bit oily and smooth but there is no pretense about them. This progressive, colourful person is great to spend some time with and although they have a Portuguese name, they are from the Czech Republic.

Desk Accessories


I gave myself a one week break after my year-long blogging streak but I’m back. This week I am going beyond just pens and paper to discuss some desk accessories. I was given a very cute tape dispenser for Christmas shaped like a black cat. Of course I immediately loved it, just like I loved our cat, Dill, when we saw him at the animal shelter. I wondered if I should use my gold paint pen to give it little fangs, like Dill has but decided against it. It is made of wood with a metal cutting blade and came with a floral patterned adhesive cello tape. The tape is nice but it would be even better if it had a cat pattern on it. Because of my broken wrist, I am becoming more aware of how many items need two hands to operate. As this is fairly lightweight, you do need to hold onto it while ripping off your piece of tape. Here is a tip if you only have one functional hand – you could use double-sided tape to attach the dispenser to your desk. Fortunately I am not so badly off that I can’t operate a tape dispenser. This one was purchased in Seattle but I am not sure where it was made although I suspect Asia.

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I wonder why animal-shaped accessories are just so appealing? A few years ago I was given penguin shaped paper clips, a natural gift choice for me as I love penguins. These are definitely Japanese as they are made by Midori of Tokyo. Midori makes high quality, well-designed stationery items like these paper clips and the eraser crumb cleaner I discussed in my eraser blog post ( One thing I like about both the tape dispenser and the paper clips (and the crumb cleaner for that matter) is that they are functional as well as cute.


Of course I can’t speculate on what these accessories would be if they were people because they are animals.