Quo Vadis Hebdo Planner

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Back in October, I won a Quo Vadis Rose Grenadine planner from the people at Exaclair. They have a quite a good corporate blog (quovadisblog.com/) that often features giveaways. This particular giveaway was in honour of Breast Cancer Awareness month. This was especially meaningful to me as I have a good friend who has been battling this terrible disease this year.

The planner I got was the Quo Vadis Hebdo 12 – Month Weekly Planner (Jan 2018 – Dec 2018). Hebdo means weekly in French, which confused me at first as “week” is “la semaine” but an English speaker can hardly criticize another language for being inconsistent. It made me realize Charlie Hebdo, the Paris satirical newspaper attacked by terrorists in January 2015, was called Hebdo because it came out weekly.

Back to this particular planner. It is 16 cm (6 ¼“) wide by 24 cm (9 ⅜”) high with a lovely pink cover they call rose. The cover is removable so only the calendar needs to be replaced each year and there are a lot of calendars in this planner.

It starts with a two-page spread that shows all of 2018 at a glance. There is another calendar with the same style of layout for 2019 in the back.

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Next it has single pages with the months at a glance before getting to the main part of the planner which shows a week over two pages. This format is very similar to a style I used to have at work before we were encouraged to just use Outlook. While I have gotten used to it over the past ten years, there are definitely drawbacks to this. First of all, as I don’t have access to my work email outside of work, I have to write myself lots of little notes to keep track of things that overlap between my personal and work life. I have a wall calendar in the kitchen but that doesn’t leave much space for writing details. I am looking forward to giving this type of planner a try.

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Like all Quo Vadis products, the paper is excellent quality made from sustainably managed forests. It is very smooth with nice green numbers and font with subtle grey lines. While the smoothness of the paper makes it lovely to write on, it does mean there is some smudging with fountain pen use. Each week is marked both at top right and with a little arrow that travels down the page so you can slightly see it in green along the edge when it is closed. The bottom corners tear off as you go so it will be easy to find the current week. All the days are numbered so you know just where you are in the year. It almost seems like an excessive measuring of time.

Nice extras are the phases of the moon, world maps, and international holidays. You never know when that might come in handy. There is also a separate booklet in the back for addresses and notes.

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If this planner were a person, she would be a highly organized international traveler with a love of quality and an environmental conscience.

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Pilot Gold and Silver Paint Markers

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Tis the season for a little extra sparkle so I thought I would try the Japanese-made Pilot Gold and Silver Paint Markers. I bought these locally for just over $8 CDN for the set of two. These really are like paint, not ink. You need to shake them vigorously before using like you would a spray paint can and you even hear the same kind of clatter. The package has very specific instructions to that you must follow. Helpfully, these instructions are also summarized on the back of the pens themselves. They really do need to be shaken and tried out on a bit of scrap paper before you start writing. I had a couple of mis-starts but when I followed the steps they write well with a nice metallic sheen. The paint dries almost immediately; I only had some slight smudging with the silver pen. 

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After trying them on my regular notepaper, I wondered how they would work on something different so I pulled out my Canson sample book and tried the Ingres black paper. Ingres paper is a type of  fairly heavy drawing paper with a slight woven texture (this texture is officially called a laid mesh). The sample book only has black, but it says that it comes in seven other colours. The metallic sheen of the pens pops even better on the black paper.

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These pens are called “extra fine” but that description is not particularly helpful as compared to a regular pen the line is fairly thick. The package also says that they mark permanently on a variety of surfaces but so far I have only tried them out on paper.

Overall, I like these markers. They are definitely a novelty pen but they do add some nice shine to the page.

If these pens were people they be fun-timers and love a noisy, festive party. 

The Idiot

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I recently finished reading The Idiot by Elif Batuman. I had previously read her memoir of her graduate studies in Russian literature, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, a thoroughly enjoyable and unusual book so I was looking forward to her first novel. While The Idiot isn’t quite as good as The Possessed, it had many chuckle out loud parts and enough references to writing and writing tools I thought I could discuss the book based on those topics alone.

The protagonist of The Idiot is a first-year university student called Selin. As she wants to be a writer, she spends a fair bit of time writing in her journal so naturally she has an appreciation of good paper. “The mall had a Japanese stationery store, where I bought a new spiral notebook. It had the most supple and creamy paper, and a pink cover decorated with a maroon anthropomorphic bean. The bean had one hand on its hip, and was waving with the other hand. It was a marvelous notebook.” (p. 414) To me, this just sums up the best of Japanese stationery, great paper and the quirkiness of the illustrations.

Early on in the novel, Selin volunteers to be a tutor in a disadvantaged neighbourhood. Her description of the dismal classroom concludes with: “On the table were a sign-in sheet, a dead spider plant, and a dead spider. On a shelf in the closet lay a stack of marbled composition notebooks and a box of unsharpened Ticonderoga pencils.” (p. 63) Hardly the most inspiring supplies but I can just picture it.

As the book takes place in the early 1990s, email was still a new and unfamiliar thing. Selin marvels over the strangeness of being able to see both sides of the correspondence. “Always there, unchanged, in a configuration nobody else could see, was a glowing list of messages from all the people you knew, and from people you didn’t know, all in the same letters, like the universal handwriting of thought or of the world. Some messages were formally epistolary, with “Dear” and “Sincerely”; others telegraphic, all in lowercase with missing punctuation, like they were being beamed straight from people’s brains. And each message contained the one that had come before, so your own words came back to you – all the words you threw out, they came back. It was like the story of your relations with others, the story of the intersection of our life with other lives, was constantly being recorded and updated, and you could check it at any time.” (p.4)

I hadn’t really thought about how with traditional letter writing you don’t usually have a copy of your original correspondence (unless of course you used carbon paper). Even emails that are more like conversations than letters, it is odd to have them transcribed and to be able to re-read them. She is wrong about email always being there though. I have no idea what became of old emails I wrote with service providers now long gone. Maybe with cloud storage email is becoming less ephemeral.

Overall, I would recommend this book even though, true to her age, Selin could be a bit tiresome and the ending was not entirely satisfactory.

Pilot Vpen

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I tried out a lot of pens for my coloured pens blog a couple of weeks ago. One pen that really stood out was the Vpen (also known as the Varsity) made by the Pilot Corporation. This company is the largest and oldest pen manufacturer in Japan. It was founded in 1918 as a fountain pen company but now makes all kinds of pens.

With its cap on, this pen looks like any other regular pen. Remove the cap and you see the difference – it has a fountain pen style nib. The plastic barrel of the pen itself is not particularly attractive, but the stainless steel nib is good quality. While one of the benefits of writing with a fountain pen is that it is reusable, they tend to be more expensive than standard pens and need to be regularly re-filled with ink. This pen is a good way to try out a fountain pen without the expense. It would also be convenient for traveling as you don’t need to bring along an ink supply.

The ink of the pen I originally borrowed was what the manufacturer refers to as light blue. Personally I think that turquoise is a more descriptive name for this vibrant shade of ink with its lovely sheen. I was curious as to what some of the other colours would look like, so I put down my $4 CDN each to buy some for myself.

Although the Pilot Company wasn’t very creative in naming the light blue ink, they call their purple ink, violet. It is a nice readable shade of deep purple.

It is hard to be descriptive about black ink. This one is a dark, serious shade that would do credit to any signature.

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The Vpen writes smoothly on all types of paper but smudged a little on the very smooth Rhodia paper. The line is medium with no feathering or bleeding.

I grew up with someone who is left-handed so I know they have “special needs”. As this the Vpen was originally lent to me by a leftie, I can safely say that this pen is approved for use in both the right and left hands.

Overall, the Vpen is an excellent pen even if it is disposable. Thanks Neil, for introducing me to it.

If the Vpen was a person it would be someone who looks and seems ordinary when you first meet them, in fact you might not even notice them at all. It is just when you get to know them that their sterling qualities shine through.

Why are pencils yellow?

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Last week I mentioned that I had been asked two questions. The second question was why are pencils yellow? My first response is that clearly not all pencils are yellow (please refer to previous pencil blogs blogs part 1 and part 2). My own favourite is the Berol turquoise. However, if you have spent a lot of time in North American classrooms, in a trivial example of confirmation bias, you may be under the impression that pencils are for the most part yellow and there is a reason for that.

Where it all began...

Cast your minds back to Paris in 1889, where they celebrated the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille with a world’s fair. The Eiffel tower was built as the entrance arch to the fair and the major attraction was a “Negro village” with 400 people. For pencil lovers however, this fair marked a huge change in the look of pencils. Before this time, pencils had a natural wood finish so you could easily see if there were any imperfections in the wood. The Czech Hardtmuth pencil company wanted consumers to focus on the quality of their graphite which they sourced from Siberia. The marketing geniuses of the time figured that since Siberia bordered China, and yellow was the Emperor’s colour of imperial China, they would paint their pencils yellow. In case people didn’t get the regal reference, they went the extra step to name their pencil “Koh-I-Noor”, the same name as the large diamond Queen Victoria was “gifted”  during the British Raj. Both graphite and diamonds are carbon so maybe it wasn’t such a stretch to name the pencil after a diamond. At any rate, the marketing worked, the pencil was a success, and American pencil companies like Dixon Ticonderoga picked up on it. Even today, generic pencils are often painted yellow.

If yellow pencils were people they would just consider themselves ordinary and never have the curiosity to delve into their family tree to discover their ancestors’ past pretensions of royalty.

Thanks again to Deirdre and Jasmine for the question and to Elisabet for the pictures.

What is your favourite ink colour?

Last month I received two questions from actual readers of this blog (no, I am not so desperate for topics that I am making up questions). I am away on holidays so I prepared answers ahead of time.

The first question was, which do I prefer, blue or black ink? My answer is why limit yourself to just blue or black. Thanks to modern chemistry there is a whole spectrum of ink colours to choose from. While not all of them may be practical or appropriate for an office setting, there is something to be said for going for a distinctive shade. Here are some options:

Black

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Black is a very traditional colour for ink and is sometimes required for use on forms. It is a very common colour for pens so I was able to round up a lot of them for my comparison. I was a bit surprised how much black inks vary in tone, some are much darker than others. I couple of these pens I have discussed before (Sharpie and Pilot FriXion). The Pelican Techno-Liner and Staedtler pigment liner I use more as drawing pens even though they write very well. The big surprise for me was the Papermate Inkjoy gel pen. I have tried the Inkjoy ballpoint pens and while they are fine for cheap pens, really nothing special. The gel pen version of this line is great. The barrel is a bit on the fat side but the writing is smooth and the ink very dark.

Blue

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I was surprised at how few blue pens I had in my stash as generally I think of them as very common. I have given my opinion on the Sharpie and Inkjoy before and really there is not much to say about the Pentel RSVP. It is a very basic ballpoint stick pen with a nice rubber grip but not much to write a blog about. This one is a medium (1.0 mm point size) and writes fairly smoothly but like most ballpoints there is some unevenness in the line.

Turquoise

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I wondered about including the Staedtler fineliner as I use it as an extremely fine marker more than as a pen but it does write well and the slightly triangular shape of the barrel stops it from rolling around. The Zebra Z-grip and the Inkjoy I have discussed before but the real find here is the Pilot Vpen. It deserves a blog of its own in the future. It is a disposable fountain pen which would be great for anyone who wants to try out a fountain pen without shelling out a lot of money. The colour of the ink is dark enough that I would consider this the only one of this group that could be taken seriously as a pen.

Brown and orange

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The paleness and lack of gravitas of the orange pen make it pretty obvious why there are not a lot of orange pens out there but I was a bit surprised at how few brown pens there are. Brown was a traditional ink colour (think of ancient manuscripts) and can be quite readable but just doesn’t seem that popular.

Green

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I had so many green pens to include I could hardly fit them all on the page. I have no explanation for this as I wouldn’t have thought it would be that common a pen colour. In its darker forms, green is a very attractive and readable ink. I liked the smoothness of the Pentel Slicci but the thinness of the barrel makes it less comfortable to write with. The Pentel Energel was more comfortable but slightly less smooth to write with. The metallic sheen of the gel pen puts it into the novelty pen category but it is still very readable.

Purple

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Purple is another colour I think can be taken seriously as an ink providing it is dark enough. After all, it was good enough for Byzantine royalty to sign their edicts with. I actually use the purple Pilot V5 Hi-Tecpoint all the time at work and have had no indication that people are laughing behind my back because of it.

Red

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I rarely use red because it reminds me of teacher’s pointing out mistakes so I was surprised at how many red pens I was able to round up. Of these pens, the Pilot V5 Hi-Tecpoint provides the deepest colour and smoothest line.

Pink

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Pink is a nice cheery colour but it just seems too childish to be taken seriously as an ink. The Bic pen is a novelty pen that originally had four colours, turquoise, purple, light green, and pink. Of course, the turquoise and purple got used up first because what do you want to write in light green and pink?

If these pens were people they would be a mass of humanity. Different colours, strengths and weakness but really as they are all pens they have more in common than differences.

A shout out to Neil for lending me a number of his pens (including the wonderful Vpen) to include in my tests and to Deirdre and Jasmine for the question.

Grumbacher sketch books vs Canson drawing paper

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When I was making my Halloween card envelopes, I found two old Grumbacher sketch books. (Fun fact: Jackson Pollock used Grumbacher sketch books). The larger one (actually called a sketch pad) is from my university days so dates to the 1980s and the smaller one appears to be even older than that. They both are labeled Artcraft (trademarked in 1923 but now expired, another victim of corporate takeovers) but the fonts and graphics are quite different. While the older book features a very traditional landscape sketch and a bright orange cover, the one from the 80s calls the paper multi-media, has no illustration and is a much more muted shade. Both  books also are labeled “kid finish” which, according to the dictionary, means it has the surface of undressed kid leather. That certainly seems like an anachronistic description as I don’t know anyone who would have any knowledge of what undressed kid leather would feel like.

Enough about the covers, what about the paper? The older Grumbacher paper is slightly heavier than the 1980s version but both have more heft than the Canson sketch paper I discussed in an earlier blog. I wondered how they would compare to the next paper in my sample book, the Canson drawing paper. The drawing paper is more substantial than any of the sketch papers. I have to admit I didn’t really know the difference between sketching paper and drawing paper until I took time to compare. The main difference is the weight. The drawing paper is a bit heavier as it is meant for finished drawings, not just experimenting with. It holds up to more erasing than the Canson sketch paper but while the sketch paper would be fine for use as a journal, I think a pad of drawing paper would be too heavy. Canson has both white and cream drawing paper, a subtle difference, but I have a slight preference for the creamy version. The Grumbacher paper is somewhere in between. Not as white as the Pure White but slightly less creamy than the Classic Cream. I wish I could just hand out samples of these papers because plain paper is very difficult to photograph well. I hope you can see the slight variations in colour (the difference in weight you have to take my word on).

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If these papers were people, they would all be a bit pale and two dimensional. The Grumbachers are older but in good shape while the Cansons are artistic but tough. There is a good-natured rivalry between the two families but they have many of the same hobbies and friends.