Monday, December 29, 2008

One of my favorite travel writers uses a Moleskine...

Jeff Greenwald, one of my favorite travel writers, uses a Moleskine journal.

Per Jeff, "I used to write longhand, despite my horrific left-handed penmanship. As soon as the portable computer came around ‹ meaning, like, 20 years ago ‹ I pretty much started to write in that media. I still take notes longhand, in a small black Moleskine notebook, with a fast-drying pen (lefties tend to smudge their ink). But my portable word processor is sort of interesting. It¹s an AlphaSmart NEO, which runs on 3 AA batteries. They last 700 hours, so I could bring this thing into the Brazilian rain forest for a couple of months and never worry about a charge!"

I first learned a about Jeff after reading an interview with him in a book called, A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives, and Inspiration.

Shopping for Buddhas was the first of Jeff's books that I read and instantly connected with. It tells the story his journey to find the perfect souvenir Buddha statue while traveling through Nepal. While Jeff's pursuit of the Buddha might seem trite and materialistic to some, I saw it as a search for much more- for perfection in one self, a sense of beginning, or one of closure. Whichever the case may be, I loved it.

Jeff's writing is funny, intelligent, and very human.

If you are in or around the San Francisco area, check out Jeff's show Strange Travel Suggestions, an improvised monologue based on his adventures. The critically acclaimed show continues to draw sold-out houses.

You can read Jeff's blog Here

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Glen Velez and his amazing Blue Tambourine

Back in October, I had the pleasure of attending an event called "DrumTalk."

DrumTalk brings internationally acclaimed master drummers/educators to Pittsburgh, PA for a four‐day weekend of exciting concerts, informative workshops and energizing drum circles.

This year's faculty included one of my favorite percussionists, the world renowned master of the frame drum, Mr. Glen Velez. Not only did I have the pleasure of watching him perform, (including the Blue Tambourine solo shown above) I also had the opportunity to take one of his workshops. He is humble and gracious and I loved every moment I got to spend in his presence.

A quick side note - the video above doesn't do that solo justice. When amplified, it made the tambourine sound like a marching band was in the room. I wasn't initially sure how he was making the sounds, so after the workshop I asked him how it was done. He pulled the tambourine out of his case and showed me that it was a rather inexpensive plastic tambourine with a tunable plastic head. (Important so you can grip and bend the head) He said that combined with the amplification, it's how he makes it sing. He then proceeded to walk over to the mike and play a part of the solo for me to show me how he grips and bends the head to change the pitch of the tambourine. Amazing.

One of my all time favorite CD's is his Rhythms of the Chakras.

Learn more about Glen Velez on his Website.

Me with Glen Velez

Photo of me, Glen Velez, and his Blue Tambourine at DrumTalk, in Pittsburgh, PA

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Bean's Top 10 Favorite Pen, Ink, and Paper Products of 2008

Pelikan M200 Fountain Pen on Red Moleskine

1. Moleskine - Why? Because a single Moleskine journal started it all for me. The large lined version is everything I like about a journal- except for the inconsistency with it's paper when used with fountain pen inks.

Lamy Safari's on Moleskine

2. Lamy Safari - Why? Because they are inexpensive, great writers, are built like a tank, and are available in really cool colors. My first fountain pen was a Safari, and I still love them (I now have four of them) as much as when I started out.

122708 070

3. Noodler's Bulletproof Black fountain pen ink - Why? It's my baseline. My old standby. Because I can always reach for it when I'm not in the mood for color. It also been formulated to work on all kinds of paper, so when only low quality paper is at hand, Noodler's BP Black will work most every time.

Papa Habana & Little Habana

4. Little Habana - Why? While the paper is a wee bit thinner than I would prefer, and the ruling rather tight, I love the size of this well made product. It's great for stuffing in my pocket when I go for a walk. I grow more and more attached to it each time I use it.

Medium Ciak w/ plain ivory pages

5. Medium Ciak - Why? I love the plain ivory paper, and the size of this book. It's well made and screams to be my travel partner.

Spiffy New Fountain Pen Friendly Apica Notebooks!

6. Spiral Apica - Why? Apica paper is smooth, off white and very pleasant to write on. I prefer hardbound books to spiral, but these are too good to go unused.

122708 063

7. Sailor Blue-Black Ink - Why? Other than it's awesome color, it's the smoothest ink I own. It makes every pen I've tried it in write even better.

Sailor 1911 on a Xonex Ru

8. Sailor 1911 - Why? Because it's a Sailor. Sturdy, feels great in the hand, smooth fine nib- it's a great writer and it makes my words feel slightly more important each time I pick it up.

J Herbin Fountain Pen Inks

9. J. Herbin Inks - Why? The tiny bottles and long manufacturing history makes using these colorful inks a treat to use.

Myndology Disc Bound

10. Myndology Bare - Why? The recycled off-white Bare paper is probably some of the best I've tried with fountain pen inks. Smooth, no feathering and no bleeding. The disc bound design makes project work a breeze.

So that's my top ten for 2008. What were your favorites? What are you looking forward to in 2009?

Friday, December 26, 2008

I'm about to turn 40! Mandala and Mantra for continued transformation.

Watercolor Mandala and Mantra for Transformation

In 4 days, (on 12/31) I'll turn 40.

A birthday on the last day of the year always fills me with deep reflection on the past year, and contemplation for the next. As this birthday also marks a major milestone, it's become a time of confusion, frustration, questioning one's decisions, and deciding what needs to stay and what needs to go. (Literally and figuratively)

2008 was an outstanding year for me, but it also faced me with a number of difficult challenges.

I learned more about myself as a person- on how to grow and keep growing, than in all previous years combined.

I broke free from myself on numerous occasions and tried my hardest to "leave blood on the floor." (And damn if it didn't feel great!)

I took chances and destroyed harmful patterns in 2008 because no one achieves anything they truly desire by playing things safe.

I was ready for more, I asked for more, and it was given to me.

So now, entering into a new year as well as a new decade into my life, I am again ready for transformation and am certain, that 2009 will surpass 2008's level of excellence. And with each challenge that comes my way, I will review it with a clear mind and act accordingly, taking whatever action is necessary to continue moving forward.

Thomas Ashley Farrand's book, Chakra Mantras: Liberate Your Spiritual Genius Through Chanting led me to the following mantra:

Gate Gate Para Gate Para Sam Gate Bodhi Suvaha is a mantra (known as the "Prajna Paramita" or "Heart Sutra") "to develop bodhicitta, the mental desire and state of readiness to receive higher knowledge and enlightenment."

This website states: "Use the mantra of the Prajna Paramita to take you beyond. Let it take you to the other shore. Allow it to awaken you. Let it remind you of your becoming. Let it carry you away without your leaving."

I think I'm finally starting to understand just a tiny little bit about life. It's not enough to just exist. Life is about transformation, and life is about continued evolution. It's about listening carefully when a lesson is being taught, and to freely give that information away to those who need it.

Life is about being sensitive to the needs of others, but also to your own needs as well. It's about being a good person with no hidden agendas.

2009 will another great year of my moving forward.
Of knocking down walls and building anew,
Of transformation,
Of evolution,
Of action.

If you wish it, may it be the same for you.


*Note - Gate is pronounced "Ga-teh.", and I have taken liberties with the spelling of "swaha" or "svaha" by spelling it "suvaha" which is how I've heard it spoken.

**Note - If you are familiar with mantra, I don't typically sing them in the traditional sing-songy way. I sing them in whatever way suits me. For this heart sutra, I sing it fast, like someone singing tabla poetry, but with a syncopated feel. Whatever works, right?

My watercolor was created on Arches Hot Press paper. Daniel Smith/Holbein/Schmincke watercolor paints. Mantra written with Sennelier China Black ink with a Cretacolor dip pen. (Drawing Nib)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

This is it. This is the one. This is my FAVORITE Ciak. The Medium with blank ivory pages.

Medium Ciak w/ plain ivory pages

Gratuitous pen/journal shot.

Ciak journals are handmade in Florence, Italy, under what seems to be the parent company of inTempo (so that makes them related to Mood & Cartesio) another site specifically dedicated to Ciak is found here.

I'm still calling them "Cy-ak," even though it's supposed to be, "Chak."

So this is my 4th, (and hopefully my LAST) review of a Ciak product- and may I quickly interject that all 4 had different paper, each with different qualities. The first three were absolutely "no-go's" for me. The small was too small, and I didn't care for the ivory lined paper. The large was too large, and I don't care for writing on multi-colored paper. The Travel Journal's (also medium sized) paper was waaaaay to thin for my taste and now I think I've found it.

My most favorite Ciak.

Let me first give you a brief rundown of what I look for in a journal, because you will be surprised to learn that the Ciak is almost none of those things.

I really like the size of the large Moleskine - Medium Ciak is smaller.
I really like a journal with a hard cover- Ciaks have flexible leather covers.
I want my journals to open and lie flat - Ciaks do neither.
I like the paper to have rounded edges - Ciaks do not.
I like a journal that can do well with watercolor washes - this Ciak does just ok.
I want paper that doesn't bleed, feather, show through, or spread when using fountain pen ink - this Ciak doesn't meet all of those qualifications.

So why on earth do I love this journal so much?

It's difficult for me to put my finger on it, but I'll do my best. The size, though smaller than my preferred Moleskine, is glorious. The leather cover makes it feel like an expensive, quality product in my hands. The SMELL of leather is an added bonus. I absolutely LOVE the smell of leather. And what about the fact that this book doesn't open or lie flat? I think this is the one thing that pushes it over the edge for me. With it's limited opening, it gives me the impression of a secret diary. The size is perfect for propping on my knee and it opens wide enough to jot down all my deepest secrets and thoughts.

It reminds me of the perfect travel companion. I can see myself jotting notes in it at an outdoor cafe in France, a glass of vin ordinaire at a hands reach, a few morsels of a tasty pastry left on a napkin... I can see myself writing in it while on a train... The Orient Express maybe?

See- it's like that. It exudes more character than another journal I've touched. It screams to be written in.

That said, I know of only one online retailer that's selling the unruled ivory Ciaks, and maybe that's part of their charm. They just ain't easy to find.

You can get them online at The Journal Shop in the UK.

Medium Ciak w/ plain ivory pages

Ciak on top of the Moleskine. This model is smaller than a large Moleskine but thicker because of the higher quality paper.

Lamy Safari and Sailor 1911 added for flair. Leather cover appears as it would add to the longevity of the book.

Medium Ciak w/ plain ivory pages

Medium Ciak shown with large Moleskine for size comparison.

Medium Ciak w/ plain ivory pages

I like the elastic band that closes the book. Better design than the vertical Moleskine style that constantly slips off in my purse. It also works well as a pen holder.

Medium Ciak w/ plain ivory pages

Sewn signatures, flexible leather cover.

Book construction doesn't really allow the book to open or lie flat, but the size allows easy writing on a non-flat surface. (Like on my knee)

Paper edges are squared.

There is no ribbon bookmark in this model, (not sure if it was just "missing" or not included with this model, since all of the other Ciaks I've tested had bookmarks.)

Medium Ciak w/ plain ivory pages

This was the first pen test. Paper is very smooth, and ink dries very quickly. In fact, it dries quicker than in any other journal I've tested. No feathering with any tested fountain pen ink. Note that with the paper being so absorbent, ink nibs DO write wider than normal on this paper. (What I call "spreading")

I really like the ivory/cream pages a lot.

Medium Ciak w/ plain ivory pages

This was the second pen test. Why two? I just wanted to be sure...

Medium Ciak w/ plain ivory pages

Reverse of one of the pen tests. Only the very tiniest of blood dots (if any) pushed through. You can see the way that there is a little push through with some of the more saturated inks. (From a wide nibbed .07 cursive italic fountain pen.)

Medium Ciak w/ plain ivory pages

Certain markers if held on the paper, spread quickly and bleed through to the other side. This paper is very absorbent, but I still love doodling with markers on it.

Ink and watercolor mandala

Watercolors only do "ok" on this paper because it absorbs so quickly. Don't expect to be able to mix inks on the paper, or reactivate once dry. Light washes will be ok, and the less water you use, the more vibrant the colors. I believe I outlined this with a Faber Castell F Pitt Artist Pen.

Medium Ciak w/ plain ivory pages

I believe I did this mandala with Staedtler Triplus markers.

Mandala: What is the true measure of success?

Color of the paper is a little off in this image. I can't remember what I drew this one with. Either a Faber Castell F Pitt Artist Pen or one of my fountain pens with Noodler's Bulletproof Black ink.

Medium Ciak w/ plain ivory pages

Staedtler Triplus marker

Medium Ciak w/ plain ivory pages

Faber Castell Pitt Artist Brush Pens. (I absolutely LOVE those pens!)

Medium Ciak w/ plain ivory pages

Tried a few different pencils from my Faber Castell drawing set. I always like to use the softer pencils, and this paper seems to prefer them as well.

Medium Ciak w/ plain ivory pages

Testing Caran d'Ache Neocolor II water soluble crayons in the medium Ciak

Ok. So that's it. I love it. I will buy more. Is it right for you? Can't really say, since technically, it's not even right for me!

Here's a list of the various Ciaks and their options:

Piccolo (small 9x13cm)

Ivory Lined: 110gr, gray ruling, 96 Sheets
Multi-Color: 90gr, gray ruling, 128 Sheets
Plain White: 110gr, 96 Sheets

Medio (medium 12x17cm)

Travel Journal: ivory paper, 110gm, gray ruling, 120 sheets
Layout: right page lined, left page blank

Ivory Lined Specs: 110gr, gray ruling, 120 Sheets
Multi-Color: 90gr, gray ruling, 144 Sheets
Ivory Squared: 110gr, gray ruling, 120 Sheets
Plain White: 110gr, 120 Sheets
Ivory Plain: Specs not available from Ciak site, I've counted 120 pages, and can only guess that this is also 110gr paper like the others.

Grande (large 15x21cm)

Ivory Lined Specs: 110gr, gray ruling, 120 Sheets
Multi-Color: 90gr, gray ruling, 120 Sheets
Plain White: 110gr, 120 Sheets

Links to my reviews of the other three Ciaks I've tested:

Review of the Small Ciak lined, with ivory pages.

Review of the Large Ciak lined, with multi-colored pages.

Review of the Ciak Travel Journal medium sized, with cream pages, plain on one side, and lined on the other.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Review: Swab Test of 10 Different J. Herbin Fountain Pen Inks

J Herbin Fountain Pen Inks

9 of the 10 J. Herbin inks pictured above were provided by Karen at Exaclair for testing. A few months back, (without my prior knowledge,) she sent me the bottle of Eclat De Saphir, (Previously reviewed here) and needless to say, I liked it so much that it's been loaded in one of my 10 pens ever since. (It's in the F Pelikan M200 right now)

Since I really liked the Eclat De Saphir, I decided to try another of the Herbin inks - the Poussiere De Lune, which I bought from The Pear Tree Pen Company. Bingo. Another one for the "yes" pile.

J Herbin Fountain Pen Inks

So now I'm two for two with the J Herbin inks, and I ask Karen if I can sample a few more. My wish list included the following:

Bleu Pervenche
Vert Olive
Vert Empire
Larmes De Cassis
Rose Cyclamen
Rouge Caroubier
Orange Indien

and Karen included the Rouge Bourgone as an extra.

J Herbin, photo taken outside

J Herbin, photo taken outside

A. Bleu Pervenche
B. Eclat De Saphir
C. Vert Olive
D. Vert Empire
E. Poussiere De Lune
F. Larmes De Cassis
G. Rose Cyclamen
H. Rouge Bourgogne
I. Rouge Caroubier
J. Orange Indien

Overjoyed with the ability to test all of these beautiful inks, I decided to do a quick swab test just to get an idea of what each one looked like. The paper is a pad of Dick Blick drawing paper.

Each color was swabbed 6 times, twice each of 1 stroke, 2 strokes and 3 strokes.

With this test and the images that follow, I ask that you keep an open mind with the fact that these might look different on your monitor, in your hand, in your pen, or if you swab them yourself.

Some of the swabs might have been inadvertently more saturated than another. Each of these inks will be pen tested at a later date.

We've got gray snow clouds in the sky today, and it frustrates me that I couldn't get better pictures. My scanner also seemed to have a bit of difficulty in accurately representing the colors of the ink. I did my best - hope it's at least a little bit helpful.

So here are the 10 inks, and my initial impressions of each:

A. Bleu Pervenche - a nice bright turquoise, unsure how saturated it will look in a pen.

B. Eclat De Saphir
- a nice moderately warm saturated blue. Been using it for a while and I really like it.

C. Vert Olive - I totally dig this color. Love it's vibrancy.

D. Vert Empire - a bit disappointed with this one. It does not seem to be very saturated, and I don't care for the color. I'm not sure what I was expecting.

E. Poussiere De Lune
- a moderately saturated grayish burgundy/aubergine that I have been using for a while and really like. Similar to Private Reserve's Burgundy Mist but I like this better.

F. Larmes De Cassis
- unsure how I feel about this one. It's a very pretty shade, but it might not be dark enough for me.

G. Rose Cyclamen - this color is out of control. Reminds me of a shade of Wet & Wild $1 lipstick from Woolworth's in the 1980's. It seems to be moderately saturated. I'm unsure about it as I don't typically use inks this bright, but it's a very pretty color and I'm more than willing to give it a chance.

H. Rouge Bourgogne - this is the one that Karen snuck in and you know what? I really, really like it a LOT. It's probably going to be one of the first of this new batch that are loaded into a pen.

I. Rouge Caroubier - it's just ok. Seems to be very, very thin. I wanted it to be brighter/darker.

J. Orange Indien - not what I expected at all. It's like a orange/brownish rust color. Will be interesting to see how it pen tests.

** When I say "moderately saturated" I'm kind of doing a mental comparison of how very saturated Private Reserve's inks are.

J Herbin, scanned

J Herbin inks, scanned.

With the exception of the Vert Empire, I'm really excited to try all of these inks. I think the first two to get loaded will be the Vert Olive and the Rouge Bourgogne.

Buy J Herbin inks online in the US:

The Ink Flow

The Pear Tree Pen Company

Online in the UK:

The Writing Desk

Friday, December 19, 2008

Review: Kunst & Papier Sketch Journal

Kunst & Papier Sketch Journal

Kunst & Papier Sketch Journal, shown with a pretty pair of rhodium Sailors. Sapporo & 1911.

Kunst & Papier Sketch Journal

Wider than a large Moleskine, and about 1/4 of an inch wider all around than a Canteo. I really tend to prefer a book the width of a Moleskine because it balances perfectly on the knee. Wider books are off balance to me, and I don't often write on a flat surface.

Kunst & Papier Sketch Journal

The Journal/Sketchbooks are not shown on the The Kunst & Papier website nor could I immediately find them at any of their US retailers.

This was sent to me as a sample by K&P. If you are interested, I suggest calling them or e-mailing them for availability. A sticker inside the book indicates a $15.98 price.

Kunst & Papier Sketch Journal

The books are German crafted with German paper and the products were designed by an artist for personal use - per an artist's standards, rather than to the standards of a marketing team or salesperson. (Per Gil at K&P)

The 5.8x8.3" Kunst & Papier Sketch Journal is filled with 160 pages (80 sheets) of 120gm hot pressed bright white calandered paper, (calandering is the process of smoothing the surface of the paper by pressing it between rollers) and is said to be tolerant of more kinds of media. It's acid free, wood free, and bleach free.

The book opens and lies pretty darn flat. An unfinished long ribbon bookmark is included.

These books feel very sturdy & significant in the hand.

Kunst & Papier Sketch Journal

Fountain Pen Test

Nibs writing true to size. Very small amount of bleeding with primarily the .07 Cursive Italic filled with Private Reserve Midnight Blues Ink. Minimal.

No feathering or spreading, no see-through.

Paper is smooth & shiny like Clairefontaine, but does not have the "drag" that I associate with Clairefontaine/Rhodia products.. Ink takes a few moments to dry. Use a blotter if this is a concern.

Kunst & Papier Sketch Journal

Markers love this shiny bright white paper. Stabilo 88 shown above. Also tested: Sharpie, Lumocolor, and Pitt Brush Pens. Most behaved nicely, Sharpie & Lumocolor bled a little as expected. The others? Good, but if you work them in the same smace long enough, they will eventually spot through.

Kunst & Papier Sketch Journal

I'm not crazy about using pencils on shiny paper unless they are really smooth and blendable.

Prismacolor? Not so much.
Faber Castell Drawing Pencils - H & 2H? Not at all. HB, 2B, 4B & 6B? Good.

Happy Mandala

Watercolors and Pitt Artist Pen in the Kunst & Papier Sketch Journal.

The company brochure says that it can take light washes. Here's what I have to say to that- more paint, less water gives a better result on this paper. Brighter colors with more definition. Water it down, and it doesn't look as good. It "washes out" if that makes sense. Colors get dull and you can't really mix them on the page. (Artist Grade Holbein & Daniel Smith paints tested.)

I wonder how this paper would do with gouache? (A highly pigmented almost opaque watercolor paint )

I also tried drawing with Caran d'Ache Neocolor II water soluble crayons and also Derwent Inktense pencils. Washed over them with a Niji waterbrush and it looked pretty good. (Though I might want to further test those products on this paper.)

All in all, the Kunst & Papier Sketch Journal is a pretty awesome book. Well made with great paper that's fountain pen friendly and acceptable of various kinds of art media.

Check them out! Once again: The Journal/Sketchbooks are not shown on the The Kunst & Papier website nor could I immediately find them at any of their US retailers.

If you are interested, I suggest calling them or e-mailing them for availability

See my previous review on the Kunst & Papier Pocket Book

Review: Pen & Ink Watercolor Book

Pen & Ink Watercolor Book

Pen & Ink Watercolor Journal on top of a large Moleskine. The Pen and Ink brand products are designed and manufactured to be sold by independent art retailers.

The large Pen & Ink books are wider and a wee bit shorter than a large Moleskine.

The large Pen & Ink Watercolor Book features 80 pages, (40 leaves) of 122 lb. (about 260gm) cold-pressed, acid-free, perforated pages.

The large Moleskine Watercolor book: 60 pages (30 leaves), 200 gm, (about 110lb) cold-pressed, cotton-fiber, acid-free watercolor paper

Look here at the Art Alternatives website to find a local retailer for Pen & Ink products.

PEN AND INK Watercolor LDSCP 3.5X5.5 $9.99

PEN AND INK Watercolor LDSCP 5.5X8 $15.99

Pen & Ink Watercolor Book

Rounded corners on the cover and paper. Vertical elastic band to keep the book closed.

Pen & Ink Watercolor Book

The cover on the large landscape version is more flexible than I prefer. The cover material is the same as is used on their Pen & Ink Sketchbooks. This does feel good in the hands.

Pen & Ink Watercolor Book

Large pocket inside the back cover.

Pen & Ink Watercolor Book

I noticed that a few of the pages in my book were stuck together at the point of perforation. I brought this to the companies attention and they have addressed the issue. It's not a great big deal unless you want to use the left side of the previous page, which in a watercolor book, I usually wouldn't. (I don't want two paintings on the same page)

Pen & Ink Watercolor Book

As an avid fountain pen user for both writing and drawing, I tested a series here and found while there was no bleed through, most of the inks feathered & spread on the page. Noodler's Bulletproof didn't, which is a good thing, because it's a waterproof ink and you can do watercolor washes with it.

Pen & Ink Watercolor Book

The paper is similar in weight and texture to the Moleskine watercolor and I'm not really crazy about either. I use various artist grade watercolors such as Holbein and Daniel Smith, and I just don't like the way they go down on this paper. The paper seems to absorb water in an odd way- a little too quickly, which makes mixing on the paper difficult. Blending ends up ill-defined.

Once the paint is dry, it seems to be quite difficult to re-activate the paint. Swirl over a painted section a few times and the paper gets a little crumbly.

I'd say that it's probably really good for light washes, pen and ink washes, and the like.

Pen & Ink Watercolor Book

For my needs, (and preferences) it's just ok. There might be artists out there that love this kind of paper, but it's just not for me. It's not an overly expensive product, so you might want to give it a try and see if it suits your needs.
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