Where fountain pen obsessions begin.

It is so easy now to obsess exponentially. When I was a holey-shirted kid drawing on the backs of cigarette cartons, I had no DIY boards on Pinterest to help me figure out the proportions of the human body, or forums where I could consult experienced illustrators with kindness and a little time to spare. When a grandaunt gave me a yellowed Speedball instruction book, I copied the Gothic letters the way a kid with a ballpoint would, outlining the parts of the letters and shading inside them. That there were stroke instructions that needed to be followed escaped me. Perhaps I was spared the obsession then, only to have it rebound on me in my dotage like a vengeful tsunami.

It matters from where the obsession springs. Mine has always been about the result, and only lately about the instrument. I have been writing and drawing since I can remember. When I went to work in my first advertising agency, one of my tiny thrills was filling out the requisition form for a new pen, usually a Pilot DR Drawing Pen. Getting a 0.1mm was like winning the office supplies lottery. It was great for pretend copy blocks, cross-hatching and doodling comics about life in advertising. An Artline Fineliner could be obtained, with some haggling.  Art directors hoarded Yoken markers and got pissed off at the writers for making off with the blacks and grays.

When I could afford to buy my own pens and stuff multiple pen cases with them, I hoarded Pilot G-Tec C-4s, then C-3s. Now I see Jetpens has C-.25 and I want one. That pen, however, is a Sharpie compared to the Uniball Signo Bit 0.18, “the world’s thinnest gel pen,” which I also want. No wonder almost all of my fountain pens have extra fine or fine nibs. It seems I am after a particular result – control, detail, the tenderness of a hairline.

fine, fine

So, you want to embark on a fountain pen obsession. The question that most needs asking is, where does this desire come from? For many of us, the answer arrives in stages of enlightenment, through trial, error, more error, and sometimes way more error than is financially sensible. The answer is a long journey on a winding road, and the only way to see what’s next is to round the bend and uncap the pen.


  • AKMA

    I too started by tracing the shapes and filling in letters from a guidebook (I don’t think mine was the Speedball book, but something like a Dover compilation of alphabets). I dabbled in dip pens, but only got particularly involved with pen-and-ink once I discovered Rapidographs and Osmiroids. Through university, I hoarded Pilot Razorpoints, but eventually gravitated toward my preferred assortment of fine/extra fine nibs (on one hand) and stubs (on the other).

  • http://twitter.com/JustDaveyB David Brennan

    I have always been obsessed with completing sets of items be it stickers, comics or just train tickets (don’t ask). My fountain pen use started 16 years ago when I bought a Waterman Preface Thriller Red to have my first “real’ pen. My fountain pen collected started two years ago as a rebellion to my fast paced, high tech and virtual world. I felt I needed a interest that was slower, considered, manually dexterous, tactile and ‘old school’. My fountain pen collecting obsession started with a chance bargain buy of a Pelikan M620 Stockholm – finding out there were eleven more in the set tipped me over the edge. 🙂 Ironically I now spend more time on the internet than ever chasing down that next pen or ink want. On the plus side my hand-writing has improved out of sight.

  • http://www.facebook.com/frank.catania.96 Frank Catania

    For me, the joy in writing with a fountain pen is first, how the letters flow with a light touch and second, the pleasure of handling an object where form, function and beauty fit together so perfectly.

  • Junius

    My obsession stems from acquisitiveness and the desire to create, however, even if were immortal, I doubt I could achieve what Leigh has done in her thirty-something “dotage”. Still, I rejoice at every small improvement I make in my “art” and penmanship. Leigh is absolutely correct, results matter most, and implements take a distant second to willpower and inborn talent.

  • BeRa

    Here. Icaucasi!

  • http://twitter.com/otinokyad Steve DeLong

    “Mine has always been about the result, and only lately about the instrument.”

    This is a great post. Thank you.

    For most of us, if we are honest about it there is a constant tension between these two attractors: “the tool can slowly take primacy over the pursuit it is meant to enable.” There was a wonderful blog post about this by an Irish photographer, @flixelpix, last summer that prompted me to think about my own balances and imbalances in this regard. And then to write about them: Infrared and in visible. Although the context is photography, you will see (literally) from my opening photo and several direct mentions that pens and pencils are part of the larger theme as well.

  • Pingback: Linkspam, 1/4/13 Edition — Radish Reviews()