Friday, January 7, 2022

A Year and a Half-ish of Fountain Pens

Back in July 2020 - with no real end in sight to COVID work from home and K and I's plans to continue adhering to fairly strict social distancing - I decided to try out fountain pens for the first time, after seeing Adina's Instagram stories about some of her favorite Pilot Iroshizuku inks. Almost immediately, I became completely obsessed. 

It didn't take long before I went from one pen to five and then far more than that, with an ink collection to match. And my pen and ink collection continued to grow somewhat in 2021 albeit at a much slower rate than before. (Which is good, because I was really a bit out of control with how quickly I jumped into the hobby and the acquisition of new pens, inks, and related accoutrements in 2020!)

Fountain pens and journaling were a perfect pandemic-era hobby for me while I was stuck at home at my desk in our one-bedroom NYC apartment all day long for months on end. It gave me all the time in the world to sit and write with the different ink, fountain pen nib, and paper combinations available to me, to marvel at and admire the various colors and properties of all my inks and ink samples, including some with shimmer, sheening, and shading. 

When I was home all the time, it was also easy to refill any fountain pen as soon as it ran out of ink. Some pens, or rather, their converters, have very limited ink capacity and are emptied after writing barely a few A5-sized pages worth of text; other pens might not be completely airtight so they dry out quickly. It was also easy to find 15 to 20 minutes to clean out a few of my pens each week, when I was in the mood to switch those pens to new ink colors. 

These days - now that I'm fully back in the office every weekday, save for a few recent weeks due to the Omicron surge in NYC, and not that I'm also close to billing normal amounts of hours by pre-pandemic standards - I find I'm not able to make as much use of my fountain pens as before. Back while social distancing, once I'd built that rather prodigious collection of pens so quickly, I generally kept around fifteen fountain pens inked at a time, and it was a simple matter to stay on top of refilling any that ran out of ink. I'd also switch up some of my chosen colors once a week or so. Nowadays, having eight pens inked at a time is more than enough. With just that many actively in use, I still have trouble keeping up with refilling the ones that run empty and almost never have the energy to clean any of them up to switch between inks. 

My preferences for fountain pens are definitely different now - and much more narrow and specific - when I'm heading in to the office every day, given the practical challenges of keeping them filled and inked. 

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In particular, I think Pilot pens - both the higher-end gold nib E95s and Decimo as well as the more modestly priced steel nib Metropolitan - offer a fantastic and smooth writing experience. In fact, a Pilot Metropolitan was my very first fountain pen and was what made me fall in love with the hobby. But now that I'm not at my desk at home all day, the extremely low ink capacity and general fiddly-ness of the Pilot Con-40 converter means that I can't really put my Pilot pens to good use anymore. I can barely get a full day's writing out of a newly filled pen using a Con-40! (One commonly recommended solution for this problem is to syringe-fill empty Pilot ink cartridges instead, but I haven't looked into getting the tools yet.) 

Pretty much all the other brands of cartridge or converter fountain pens I've tried, including Sailor, Ferris Wheel Press, and Hongdian, have much better converters than the Pilot Con-40 that are easier to fill with enough ink that I can get at least a few days of writing out of them. Though now that I'm heading to the office every weekday, I much prefer my piston filled fountain pens that take ink up directly into the body of the pen, such as the TWSBI Eco and Lamy 2000. Piston filled fountain pens generally have bigger ink capacity because the body of the pen has more space for ink inside than just about any converter could. 

The TWSBI Eco also has the added advantage of a cap that seals particularly well. A filled TWSBI Eco that was capped and then sat unused for a few weeks will generally have no trouble with "hard starting" afterwards. In other words, the nib will start writing right away, instead of initially being too dried out to write. Most of my other brands of pens tend to have some issues with hard starting if I haven't written with them in the past week or for longer. 

I do bring two or three sample vials of ink to the office in my pen case - wrapped in some paper towel and sealed in a Ziploc bag for added protection - for my Lamy 2000s, since their small ink window makes it hard to see if they will soon need refilling. (With the TWSBI Ecos, the entirely transparent body makes it easy to see when a refill will be necessary, so there's no need to bring the ink for those to work.) As I recently discovered, however, if one is somewhat clumsy there's a moderate risk of having a bit of an ink accident at work. 

One other reflection after around a year and a half's participation in the fountain pen hobby is that it can really be quite consumerist, and it's easy to get absorbed into a fairly intense collector mindset. There are always new and exciting pen colors coming out, some of them available for only a very limited time or as extremely rare limited editions. (Looking at you, Sailor special editions, particularly the ones that are only available at certain stationery stores in Japan!) New ink releases are also constantly coming out. 

I definitely was a bit wild with how quickly I jumped in to this hobby and with my spending on fountain pens and their accessories in 2020. Just in the six months of 2020 that I was participating in this hobby, I definitely accumulated way more fountain pens and ink than I could realistically put to good use in the next several years. Furthermore, if I ever decided I was no longer interested in the hobby, I'd probably need to be active in listing my pens for sale and finding buyers and shipping them out, something I've basically never had the inclination to do with anything in my closet.

For now though, I'm still greatly enjoying my fountain pens, using them daily in my planner-slash-bullet journal and for other journaling, including in my Hobonichi 5-Year Diary. 

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