Pen Friend Roundtable

That One Pen has reached something of a blogging milestone. A brief hiatus notwithstanding, the site have been going for a bit more than a year now. Writing the blog has allowed me to think carefully about what I like and what I do not like when it comes to pens, pencils and paper. But most importantly, operating this little blog has been a lot of fun and a conduit for “meeting” some great folks in the pen, pencil and paper community. I wanted to do something different for my 50th post and so I reached out to a few of these pen pals. What follows is a roundtable Q & A with a handful of the big names in our online community. I cannot thank these folks enough for taking the time to participate. I also cannot thank you, the readers, enough for stopping by my little corner of our shared obsession. Now, let’s meet our players.

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Author of the fantastic blog From the Pen Cup, Mary Collis can also be found on twitter @mscollis. If you follow Mary’s blog and twitter feed then you know she is not all about just fountain pens or just gel pens or just any single type of writing implement. If it works well and delivers a worthwhile writing experience, she’s all for it.

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Next up, we have Ed Jelley of and @edjelleydotcom fame. Spend a few minutes on Ed’s website and you quickly notice two things: (1) Ed knows how to take great pictures and (2) he has great taste in pens. There are several bloggers taking amazing pen pictures but I think it is safe to say that Ed raised the game for everyone.

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Straight from his woodworking shop, we have the one and only Mike Dudek. Between authoring must-read posts at The Clicky Post, making beautiful pen holders and feeding our obsessions for all things rOtring and Murex, Mike is an essential member of the online pen community. Be sure to follow him @ClickyPost.

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If you ever thought that a podcast about pencils could never work, then you lack the imagination of Tim Wasem. Tim is one part of a trio that hosts the Erasable podcast, the world’s only podcast about wood-cased pencils. In between podcasts, Tim writes about all things pencils, pens and paper at The Writing Arsenal and tweets from @WritingArsenal.

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Finally, we have THE pen addict himself, Brad Dowdy. From its modest origins to the biggest name in pen blogging, the Pen Addict blog is must reading for all of us. Not satisfied with just writing about pens, Brad talks about pens on the weekly Pen Addict podcast and sells pen-related items, including extraordinarily well-made pen cases, via

Without further ado, let’s get into the discussion.

1.  First, let’s talk a bit about your past. If you can recall, what was the pen, pencil, paper product or combination of products that started your dedication to our shared hobby/obsession?

Mary: As a kid, probably junior high or younger, I remember stalking the aisles of Woolworth’s (dating myself here) for a pen that wrote better than the lousy Bic pens I was using. Even then I remember thinking that there had to be something better. One time I picked up a PaperMate retractable and was happy to find a smoother and darker line. And so the quest has continued from that day! I also recall having a Sheaffer NoNonsense pen and begging my father for different size and color refills from the gift & luggage store near his downtown office. Pickings were pretty slim back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, apparently!

Ed: The first pen that made me think WOW THESE ARE GREAT was one of the old Uniball needletip rollerballs back in sixth grade. I was always oddly excited to go back-to-school shopping and pick out my school supplies as a kid. Also, I liked the Mead Five Star notebooks because they had narrower ruling than the standard composition notebooks. The more recent fountain pen hobby was started by a Lamy Safari in Charcoal with an extra fine nib. I thought it looked awesome, and it wrote great. The second that the EF nib hit some Rhodia, it was magic. It got significantly worse / more expensive from there on out.

Mike: The first pen that I can recall being very “particular” about is actually the Paper Mate Flair – black ink. Before this, pens were really just “pens” although I was like most people that if I found one I liked I would simply acknowledge that it wrote well and not think a second thing about it. The Flair though, had a way of refining and changing my handwriting to what it is today. I knew I always had to have them nearby. I became more conscious of my writing/letters and actually put effort into practicing it. It is now something that I really enjoy and think I have an interesting writing style that I’m proud of I suppose.

Tim: Two things come to mind immediately: The Lamy Al-Star and the Palomino Blackwing 602. I bought the Lamy in undergrad and quickly became “that guy” who chose to use fountain pens on exams. The Blackwings ushered me into my dominant love of pencils later on thanks to my equal obsession with John Steinbeck. While reading an interview with Steinbeck, I found out about the original Blackwing pencils. I followed an Internet trail to the current re-creation and fell in love with my first box. Despite a growing collection, I still use both of these products every single day.

Brad: The very first pen that got me going was the Pilot Razor Point, Black Extra Fine. This was well over 30 years ago, mind you, and since then I have probably bought more of that pen than any other pen I own.

When I was a kid it helped me draw and write as small as possible, and it came in non-standard colors, such as green and purple. It took a rare trip to the college bookstore in the 70’s and 80’s to acquire them, but as I got older I picked them up by the dozen at office supply stores.

Nowadays, there are better pens than the Pilot Razor, but it will always have a special place on my desk.

2.  Let’s talk a bit about the present. While our preferred writing tools may change frequently, what two or three items have you found yourself relying on the most recently and in the past few weeks/months?

Mary: I love my fountain pens, but they don’t really work all that well in my day job, so I’ve been using my favorite “machined” pens consistently- some form of RenderK by Karas Kustoms (and more recently, the Tu-Tone Retrakt…gorgeous!), as well as the Mover and Shaker by Will Hodges at TactileTurn. With 0.38 mm or 0.5 mm gel refills, they’re the perfect thing to use in the Field Notes notebooks that I use ALL DAY LONG to keep track of what’s going on at work and at home. I’m also using some model of Retro 51 or ACME pen on a regular basis. I flip-flop from fountain pen to fountain pen like crazy. I’m currently enamored with a Waterman Phileas (Green Marble) that I bought used from another pen blogger. Filled with Montblanc Irish Green and writing on Tomoe River paper, it’s really superb, and only cost me $35.

Ed: Most recently, I’ve been using my Lamy 2000, Pilot Custom Heritage 74 and my Zebra Sharbo X LT3 multipen. The Lamy 2000 is a staple. The medium nib was adjusted by Richard Binder and it is absolutely my favorite pen. The flow is just right and the nib is wide enough to show off shading inks, but not out of hand for regular writing. The Custom Heritage 74 was given to me to review and I’ve been putting it through the ringer. It’s a solid everyday pen, the Japanese fine nib is smooth and it works well on cheaper paper. The Zebra is convenient because it has two gel inks and a pencil in it. I’ve also been using disposable brush pens a lot for doodling, there are always a few of them on my coffee table next to a Doane Large Ideabook.

Mike: I recently picked up a Pilot Custom Heritage 74 M (in blue barrel) and I can’t seem to put it down. The quality and writing experience is just so good, but the pen is simple enough to not be too flashy or high maintenance. My second would probably be my LAMY cp1 1.1 stub, another pen I’ve recently been unable to let go of. At the moment, my inks of choice are Pelikan Edelstein Topaz and Pilot Blue-Black.

Tim: I try new pencils all the time, but my constant staples over the past few months have been the blue Palomino HB with eraser, the General’s Test Scoring 580, and the Palomino Golden Bear. Palomino had me at “Hello”, so to speak.

Lately, on the inky side, I’ve been writing with my Karas Kustoms Bolt, Karas Kustoms INK (filled with Diamine Syrah) and my Pilot Metropolitan that is outfitted with a Plumix medium stub nib (filled with Noodler’s Tiananmen). Deep reds and burgundies are my jam.

Brad: I am a heavy fountain pen user, but the pen giving me the most enjoyment over the past few months has been the Ti2 Techliner. It takes Uni-ball Signo 207 refills, which also means it takes the Uni-ball RT1 refills, which also means I can use an 0.38 mm blue-black refill. Perfecto!

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, my Nakaya Portable Ao-tamenuri is always inked and ready to go. Aside from its beauty, the fine cursive italic nib sings across the page. It is an experience for sure.

It may not be fair to talk about this one since they are tough to get but I’ve had the Kaweco Liliput Fireblue for about a month now. It is stunning to look at, and using my Shawn Newton bold cursive italic #5 Kaweco nib it leaves a crisp line that is fit for this pen.

3.  Now, a question for the future. You’ve been involved in the pen/pencil and paper world for quite some time. You’ve seen some products come and go and others that have significant staying power. Where do you see the analog writing world headed in the years to come? Feel free to be overly broad, overly specific or somewhere in between with your answer.

Mary: Maybe it’s just because I’m immersed in the pen culture, but I see new things coming along almost every day so there seems no end to tools and products for us to get excited about (and spend our money on!). I also think that even “non-pen people” find that they appreciate a nice writing pen when they finally try one, so if we keep spreading the word and practicing “pen-vangelism” – a term I got from Tim Hofmann from FPGeeks – I think the love of analog tools will keep growing. They’re a little bit retro (especially fountain pens), and are appealing because technology, while great, comes with its own set of problems. Pens, pencils and paper rarely let you down.

Ed: Hopefully it goes nowhere but up. There’s been a trend in buying things that will last a lifetime. I fully back the ideology of buying something once that you will enjoy, rather than continuing to re-purchase cheap, disposable goods. I feel that a good writing instrument is a solid investment, even for those who aren’t pen-obsessed. It’s nice to see pens and pencils cropping up in more blogs, newspapers, and online. The more it gets out there, the more people will realize that it’s not insane to spend $35 or so on a nice pen that will be with you forever.

Mike: Honestly, my thoughts are a bit abstract, but refer to price and accessibility. As more and more people delve into our world of fountain pens, the Internet is turning the traditional pen-pricing model on its head. A pen that would normally cost a consumer $250 (and could be otherwise unattainable) can be bought for half of that online. It is putting into perspective a bit how much the consumer actually pays to employ up to four people in the supply chain: manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, retailer…  I think this will ultimately lead pen prices to decline, but may have underlying consequences in the pen “economy” that are hard to project.

Tim: From my point of view, this community is growing at a healthy pace. People are finding the joy and value in writing with instruments that have a name and a history. In other words, people are valuing the craftsmanship in items that are perceived by the public as disposable. I see the future containing more and more high-quality, mid-priced items that become relatively ubiquitous. The emergence of the Pilot MR, the growing iconic status of Lamy, and even TWSBI‘s line (on the high-end of the middle) have people excited, and I think that’s because they are aiming for the right balance of quality and value. As far as pencils go, I really don’t think there’s a lot of room for improvement on the nice products that are out there. However, the high-quality pencils that are available are becoming easier to get everywhere. Hopefully that turns in to a higher demand for pencils that can do things like, you know, be sharpened, unlike the nameless big box varieties most people think of. Here’s to hoping.

Brad: I see continued growth, especially in niche markets. We are all witnessing the death of the big box retailer like Staples and Office Depot before our eyes, and that is pushing people online to find the tools that make them happy. This has allowed smaller companies the break they need to be sustainable, and has made larger international companies focus on new products that better fit what the consumer is looking for in a quality product.

4.  Folks who know you from the Internet may think of you primarily as a fountain pen person, a gel pen person or a pencil person. So let’s give readers a chance to know you from a different pen/pencil/paper angle. Which writing tool might people be surprised to hear that you use with some frequency?

Mary: Hmmm…I’m all over the place as far as what I use, so there’s really nothing that’s off-limits or surprising. I’m not anti-ballpoint, especially if one is loaded with a Schmidt EasyFlow 9000 refill…my favorite. I have found myself using a cheapie plastic pen/stylus that Monteverde included in the goodie bag we received at the DC Pen Show. The ballpoint pen is not good, but the stylus end works great! I keep it by my bed and use it on my iPhone and iPad all the time!

Ed: I mentioned it before, but I’ve been using brush pens a lot recently. They’re just so fun to write with. I really like the Kuretake Fudegokochi grey ink brush pens in particular. You can get almost flex-pen line variation out of it. The Zebra ones are great too. It’s a totally different writing experience and you need to use a different technique. It’s nice to not worry about springing a nib too!

Mike: This is a really good question, but not one I can add anything exciting to. I’m kind of an open book in the community with what I’m using at the moment.  I do enjoy a good Pentel Energel Needle though…

Tim: I’ve collected typewriters since high school. I have about 15 at the moment, and I use them fairly often for my own writing. My primary typewriter is my Hermes 3000, a mint green beauty from the early 60s that I bought on eBay and had a local man refurbished for me. Its lack of Internet access does miracles for my writing.

Brad: I have a dozen or so wooden pencils sitting in the desk drawer right next to me as I type this. I’ve come around on them in the past year and can see why so many people enjoy them. It’s a product that fires off different parts of my brain and a good tool to mix in from time to time.

I also like pink pens and ink. It’s mostly pink gel ink pens that I like, and the pink barreled Karas Customs Bolt. I don’t own a pink fountain pen, but I do like pink inks, although I don’t have any reviews of them up.

5.  If not for the Internet, social media and other technologies, it’s safe to say that our lives would be a lot different. With that in mind, which tech tools do you rely on for your pen/pencil/paper blogging and/or pen/pencil/paper business?

Mary: My tech tools are pretty simple. I use my iPhone (due for an upgrade soon) to post to Twitter and Instagram (lots of pen photos there!). For my blog posts, I generally use my super-simple Panasonic DMC-FH24 point-and-shoot camera. The camera does the job, but I usually have to take around 50-60 photos to get 6-10 good ones for a post. I’m working on a desktop iMac at home, and use WordPress for my blog. I also use the Foldio Studio on occasion and am excited to see that there’s a Kickstarter project underway for a larger version. I backed that one in a heartbeat.

Mike: My current tools of the trade: Macbook Pro Retina 13″, iPhone 5, Nikon D3100 DSLR (for photos), Squarespace, Squarespace Mobile apps, iPhoto, Endicia (shipping service), PayPal, and my trusty DYMO LabelWriter 4XL printer that prints thermal self adhesive labels for shipping which is a life saver. Of course, Instagram and Twitter play a large role in keeping things current and spreading the word.

Tim: There are the obvious ones such as Twitter and Instagram, which are such an enjoyable and handy way to keep up with my friends in this community. I also am an avid user of Evernote. I use it to keep track of upcoming reviews, keep notes for episodes of the Erasable Podcast, and even write rough drafts of reviews from my phone. I use it for pretty much every part of my life.

Brad: I did an interview on this exact topic recently which you can see at The Sweet Setup. In a nutshell, I like a nice writing app on the Mac – Ulysses is it right now – a browser with a lot of tabs, and access to email, Twitter, and Instagram. I love the social aspect of the pen community as much as anything, so the tools that allow that two-way communication are at the forefront of my digital arsenal.

6.  One more question. What hobbies and interests occupy your time outside of the pen/pencil/paper world?

Mary: There are other hobbies??!! I’m unaware! Hmmmmm…I’m a reader, so I’m always reading WAY too many books at one time. I like to bake, and just took a very cool baking class at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, VT with my cousin. We’re now expert tart makers…haha! I like hand-stamping and coloring greeting cards, though I’ve slacked off on that lately, but want to get back into it. And we have four dogs—Silky Terriers Scout, Boo, Charlie, and Flapjack—so they keep us hopping. Mostly, I love to write and doodle and think about pens, ink, paper, and pencils. That’s my idea of heaven.

Mike: I enjoy music, history, pretty much any documentary. Between work (job-job), blogging, and Dudek Modern Goods, time is pretty scarce when you toss family in the mix, but I enjoy learning I guess? I need to spend more time outside!

Tim: I devote the majority of my spare time outside of the blog, the podcast, and my family to reading and writing. I’m always reading 3-4 books, and I’m always looking for time to work on fiction and poetry. I don’t always get as much time as I’d like these days, thanks to an extremely cute and entertaining toddler in our house. I’m also an obsessive Chicago Cubs fan, and I keep up with MLB on a broader scale. I’m a stat-head and love keeping tabs on minor league prospects across the league. And, yes, I do play fantasy baseball. We have a pen/pencil league that I started last year called “AL-Star Baseball”.

Brad: I’m a huge baseball nerd and got my start writing online in the minor league baseball realm in the early/mid-2000’s. I don’t do that anymore, but every offseason I threaten to start back up. One of these years I may just do that.


So, there we have it. A few insights from some of the biggest names in the online pen community. Again, I cannot thank everyone enough for making this 50th blog post something special. Here’s to 50 more!

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