I live in a very digital world.
As a professional photographer I look at a small screen on the back of a camera. When it’s time to edit, it’s on another screen (although it’s a good size larger). When I’m working on websites it’s on, you guessed it, a digital screen. I’ve even traded many of my paper books for a Kindle Paperwhite.
It wasn’t always this way; When I was younger I exclusively played my guitar through tube amps and all of my pedals were packed full of capacitors and resistors, no circuit boards. After practice my friends and I would listen to these black plastic discs that would emit sound when you spun it and a needle was placed on it. I remember taking photos in parks with my parents’ film camera, and right outside of my room was one of the many bookshelves in my house. Like many people I can’t point to a single moment when ink and paper was overtaken by our digital overlords, but we are definitely in it now.
Recently I’ve been looking for more ways to get away from my digital dependency, driven only partially by eye and back fatigue. My bathroom is now home to a table with film developing supplies, I pick up an actual book every once in awhile, but during the holidays my newest analog obsession creeped into my life: fountain pens.
It actually started with a gift that my wife received from my parents. After bouncing some ideas off of me, my dad came up with the idea of getting Laura a Nemosine Fission with a few nibs and some ink samples. She loved the gift but after a few months I have to admit I, well, commindered it. To my defense, she wasn’t using it at the exact moment I “borrowed” it and she hasn’t asked for it back, yet. After using it for a few months it’s grown into somewhat of an obsession. I’ve purchased three pens (I originally wrote ‘two,’ but then bought another before finishing the article), three ink bottles, syringes (blunt, although I still got weird looks from my coworkers when I was cleaning my red ink out of it), and various paper pads and notebooks. I’m also trying to leverage another pen as an anniversary gift from my wife but the jury is still out on whether that’s going to work.
When you can buy a Bic pen for a couple cents, why should anyone invest time and money into fountain pens? Writing completely changes once you ditch the rollerballs and gel pens, trust me. The first thing you’ll notice is how little pressure you need to write with. A properly manufactured and tuned fountain pen will lay ink on paper under its own weight. No longer will your hand cramp from pushing on the pen during long writing sessions.
For a fountain pen, ink is cheap and a whole world of color opens up to you. The entire rainbow has been mixed a few times over by all the different manufactures, and now they’re starting to get really tricky with their features (yes, features in ink!). You have water washable ink, permanent ink, ink with lubricants to help scratchy nibs, inks that change color based on how saturated the page is, ink with gold flakes and other sparkly bits, and too many more to mention here. The best part is that it is so affordable! My small bottle of Diamine Sherwood Forest Green is 30mL, but my pen that holds the most ink gets almost 2mL when completely topped off, and the bottle cost only $8 plus shipping. Most inks come in 50-80mL, so you get a lot of bang for your buck with ink.
Do you remember the middle school debates between .5mm and .7mm lead for your mechanical pencils? Having a choice of two sizes was amazing to me, but pen nibs take that to another plain of existence. You have Extra-Fine, Fine, Medium, and Bold nibs both of which differ between Eastern and Western manufactures. Then you move on to stub nibs, which are flat on the end instead of coming to a point, which come from 1.1mm on up to 1.5 and even 2mm. All of this gives you line variation, meaning different parts of your letters will be different thicknesses, sort of like calligraphy, but not quite yet because there are even flex nibs which are made specifically for calligraphy.
Then you have all kinds of designs, both aesthetic and practical. Colors and material are all varied. You’d never think some people could be so particular that they want a pen made out of volcanic rock, but there are a few different volcanic rock options. You can even get clear pens to show off the ink inside, which I love. The filling mechanisms even differ! If you’re a collector who is also fascinated by engineering, fountain pens are perfect for you.
So where does this all leave you? With a fountain pen you have the opportunity to make a chore that you have to do in everyday life into something pleasurable, even meditative. It’s about squeezing joy out of every moment of the day. I’ve gone from using my Notes app constantly to begging for reasons to write by hand. If you’re ready to do the same, it’s not a hard thing to get into even with all of the options. Go buy a Platinum Preppy which are $3, use a pre-inked cartridge, and come in a ton of colors. When you use up all of the cartridge then buy a bottle of ink in your favorite color, slap some silicone grease on the threads of the pen and fill the body directly with the ink (called an eyedropper conversion). Then start shopping for the multitudes of pens under $30, although make sure to get more ink (so many colors!), and better paper, maybe another pen so you can have three colors at once…. And you’re hooked.