A custom Shinobi fountain pen from Newton Pens.

It was Thomas R. Hall (@penucopia on Instagram and enabler to the enablers) who lent me his Shinobi pen and first told me about Shawn Newton. He’d asked Shawn to use translucent acrylic in blue and grey, and make a custom section for a Pilot nib ground to a 0.2 mm needlepoint. The pen came with a flat facet to keep it from rolling off desks. I did not hesitate to place it atop a balcony railing eight storeys high.

Shinobi on a balcony

Shinobi on a balcony

I had to have my own. The original Shinobi (“shinobi” is “ninja”) was stealth black with a shock of red.

Elektra by Bill Sienkiewicz

The original Shinobi 😉 Fine, fine. Not. Proceed to the link above.

A Romillo K nib, modified for added flexibility by John Mottishaw, deserved a supertanker of a pen. It just happened to fit a TWSBI Vac feed, so I kept that. A simple cylinder in clear acrylic would be perfect. A shinobi must be covert, and it amused me to think that my Shinobi would be transparent, hiding in plain sight.

Instead of simply ordering and waiting for the pen to arrive, I had the opportunity to see it being made. It was a treat to see Shawn in action. I also loved being able to choose the material for the section on the spot. (This might not be an option for you if you like planning things way ahead of time.)

Hoard of Wonder

The Hoard of Wonder

Inspiration material

Inspiration material

To keep the pen simple, I settled on a golden section to match the gold nib.

Shawn took care of the rest.

He graciously allowed me to shoot the making of my pen. Observing him reinforced my belief in supporting craft and technique borne out of heart, talent, and experience. At work, we know we can teach skills, but we can’t teach spirit; and spirit, grit, character (choose your word) is what makes the difference. Given sufficient time and training, anyone can learn to use a tool. But no one can teach you how to dance with a tool. The dance comes from deep inside you.

That’s also why I believe in handwriting. We can all learn to type. (For many of us, that’s the only way to get words on a screen, words to ourselves, words to each other.) The tremor of the moment, your intake of breath, the shiver of the downstroke, the distraction between letters – all those are lost when we owe our letterforms to typing skills, and not to pen in warm hand, dancing on paper.

I asked for a longer cap, to leave breathing room for the nib, and a longer tail, for visual balance (as the Romillo nib is unusually long). After a little more than half a day, my Shinobi emerged.

Newton Shinobi

Newton Shinobi

Golden section

Golden section

Threads and barrel

Threads and barrel

One idea, many possibilities. The coppery Shinobi belongs to Julie, over at Peaceable Writer. (Read her review – unlike mine, it has stats!)

Three Shinobis

Shinobis on yet another balcony 🙂

Shawn posts pens in progress on Instagram, as @shawnnewton – worth your follow, if you’re curious about materials and process.


Today my Shinobi is filled with Platinum Carbon Black, the black hole of fountain pen inks. (It’s my favorite for drawing, as it’s truly dark and waterproof.) Platinum Carbon Black has microparticles that can seep in between threads and never come out, but I’m not worried about that. I can’t wait for this pen to be so well-used and loved that it shows.

Shinobi doodle

Shinobi doodle


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  • http://mypenjourney.wordpress.com Jack Bulkley

    Really nice all around. Great editing on the video. A Newton Pen is definitely on my list. With just a little more work on that beard, Shawn can give Jeff at Nock Co a run for his money.

  • Shawn Newton

    What? My beard is way nicer than Jeff’s! 🙂

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  • Gerald

    Hi Leigh, your new pen is lovely and your sketches are beautiful as always. Can I ask why you decided to put the Romillo nib into the Newton pen? Cheers!

  • BMG

    I’ve come back to this post repeatedly. Your Shinobi is very nice! I like the clear acrylic, and the fact that you went for a longer cap and back end. Like Gerald, I’m curious about the nib: did you happen to have (an extra) one, or did you get it specifically for this project? How does it write? Any samples?

  • http://leighreyes.com Leigh Reyes

    I pulled this nib out from my Romillo and married it to a TWSBI vac feed. Check out the writing sample at the end of the making-of video. 🙂

  • BMG

    Damn, that is beautiful. And that is one long nib! Pulling it out of the Romillo and combining it with a TWSBI feed is a bold move. Don’t know that I would have had the courage. 🙂

  • http://postcardsbypasserby.tumblr.com sonia

    Oh, Hoard of Wonder!!! And I absolutely loved this – At work, we know we can teach skills, but we can’t teach spirit; and spirit, grit, character (choose your word) is what makes the difference. Given sufficient time and training, anyone can learn to use a tool. But no one can teach you how to dance with a tool. The dance comes from deep inside you.

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  • Mike Colin

    Is your pen a eyedropper? I can’t seem to see if you have a converter in it.