I though today would be as good a day as any to bring this up. I have always been a fan of writing instruments. Pencils and pens, brushes and crayons all peak my curiosity. What’s would it be like to use this rapidograph? Would a really fine pencil make my handwriting more beautiful or more expressive? As I said in my column today “I once had my handwriting analyzed to see what it might reveal about me. The analyst told me my handwriting clearly said I shouldn’t have skipped penmanship.”
I do love to write with a fountain pen though, something about the expressiveness of the lines or perhaps the still liquid track of ink shining up from the page. I’ve been through a lot of fountain pens in my life. They’ve leaked in my pockets, turned my fingers blue and created large piles of stained tissues that overflow the various wastebaskets I’ve used.
Two things have come of that, I now detest the color blue for ink, preferring green or red and I continue to search for the finest points possible. Does anyone remember writing so much that there was a little dent in the end of your finger, that hurt? Scrawling page after page until your whole arm and back began to ache? What about finishing an exam question, only to smear the answer? Ah, good times, good times.
I think that’s why for daily use I like pencils, automatic pencils. You can always erase a pencil’s line, even though that’s a fine art as well. Learning to erase in tiny circles was one of the first writing tricks my father taught me. He is of the generation of pen and ink, but his trusty pocket companion was a “mechanical” pencil with a very fine lead.
A lot of people don’t like fountain pens, preferring ball points of one kind or another. Sorry, I can find no personality in a ball point, they are the soulless minions of script. I don’t think much of fiber tip pens either, always too mushy. More like working with a paint roller than a fine instrument. There is a porous point pen from Cross that is very nice indeed, or was. The refills are very hard to find locally. The first any only one I ever used, I found on the floor of the bank. After trying it out I’m ashamed to say I did not turn it in, but kept it. It was amazing.
Much later, after my first wife’s grandfather died we found a Montblanc in his desk pen cup. What a treasure. The cap has since broken and because it’s a real Montblanc I never could find the presumption to spend the cash to replace it. This year my wife presented me with a Montblanc of my own. It’s a 1950’s student model she found in Yugoslavia (on eBay) for a much less embarrassing price than I ever expected. The nib had to be re-ground but it now writes like a dream. It’s a bit nerve wracking to take a dremel to a 50 year old pen nib.
In my various careers I had the opportunity to become enamored of rapidographs as well. It’s a kind of fountain pen for engineers. The stark, unwavering lines of exacting width produced by these tools are amazing just for their precision alone. Although, they are an even bigger pain to clean that a fountain pen. Jet black is even harder to get off your fingers than that damn blue.
I know some writers, one here I think, that do all there preliminary work in “longhand.” No thanks, I didn’t even begin to enjoy writing until computers and keyboards came along. It’s the flow of words to page that brings my thoughts out effortlessly. A pen or pencil just can’t keep up, nor would I want to spend my life erasing, crossing out or trying to decipher my own scrawling hand.
Writing instruments are for letters, or notes and drawings. Scribbling down the thoughts of the present for consideration or exclusion later. They are for the art of the hand in subtle notation and I’m definitely done with the pages and pages thing.
I’m always on the look out for new instruments though. I have been offered one for review, a pen that will write in any color. It mixes special inks as you scribe and can scan surfaces for the color you want to match. Touch it to a brick and that particular shade of pinky-red is yours to command. Point it at charcoal and the inky blackness of misery fills your page. Sounds interesting, and really, really expensive. It’s also big, almost sausage-like with a weird top heavy end where the sensor is. Nah, needs work.
Most of the fancy writing instruments I see these days are exotic or “Special” because of their materials rather than the way they produce lines. I’m constantly on the lookout for new forms of tools for handwriting and drawing. What about a spray pen that works like an inkjet cartridge? Or a tool that can write in the air in front of you. Instead of bolting on diamonds or swirls of platinum, what about some innovation?
Anyway, it’s the feel of writing and drawing with the tool and the expression of the lines on the page that matters to me, rather than how fancy it is. The uninterrupted flow of thought and line, that is so easily disturbed, can it be unleashed? I hope so.
So the question becomes this, writers, what do you use and why, or does it matter at all?
Copyright Prentiss Gray 2011