Amsterdam Part 2: Stationery Haul and Stores

A remarkable quality about Amsterdam is its glaring absence of garish brands repeating themselves every five hundred metres or so. I saw one Starbucks the whole time I was there. This is a city and country that cares deeply about design integrity. I could have spent my whole trip popping in and out of little independent stores full of high-quality, well thought-out products that say something about how they came to be.

Before I went away I faithfully gathered tips on the best bookshops and stationery shops to visit, should I get the opportunity. These are the ones that I managed to visit during my trip.

Athenaeum Bookshop and News

Athenaeum Boekhandel, Spui 14-16, 1012 XA Amsterdam, https://www.athenaeum.nl 

What a wonderful store. I mostly perused the magazine section of Athenaeum as I particularly love browsing magazine stores and this is one of the best I’ve been to anywhere. It’s actually a separate shop to its bookstore brother, is simple, cosy and set over a couple of levels. There is an amazing collection of magazines on every subject – the best to browse when in Amsterdam are obviously the design publications – but there are sections about music, film, travel, fashion… the list goes on.

These magazines aren’t your disposable rags but they are published and designed beautifully, meant to last and have enough to keep you going for the length of any normal book. They’re laid out over shelves from ceiling to floor, and you must navigate your way around eager stacks of magazines laid out like islands in the sea throughout the shop. Luckily Athenaeum is in a very central and accessible part of town; Het Spui near Kalverstraat has several bookstores and literary-looking cafes to keep you interested.

I could have picked up a copy of most magazines in there but I dutifully came away with my all time favourite, the Frankie magazine (you can read my review of the 2015 Frankie Diary here). I keep all of my Frankie magazines because they are so beautiful and full of stories, letters and crafty tips and tricks for me to return to in the future, should I so wish. Now I know that my March edition from 2016 came from Amsterdam.

Even if you come away empty-handed from Athenaeum, I guarantee you will enjoy your browsing experience and leave with a bit of inspiration, whether it’s wanting to look at more photographs, needing a travel book in the future, looking up a publisher or writer you’ve never heard of, wanting to read more poems… it’s a store that just got me really excited. Oh, and their website is great too.

Like Stationery

Prinsenstraat 24II, 1015 DD Amsterdam, http://www.likestationery.com

This recurred on my searches for the best stationery shops in Amsterdam and it did not disappoint. It’s a bright, neat and subtle store on a street lined with independent retailers with huge windows to peer at all of the treasure inside.

On entering the shop you’re faced with a long central table covered with a rainbow array of short stacks of notebooks, jars of pens and erasers, paper goods and planners. The shop also uses lovely props such as an old whitewashed piano, pigeon hole unit for their cards and a chalkboard bearing the name Like Stationery.

The owner, Sanne Dirkzwager, has a large collection of magazines and paper goods proudly lining the inner depths of the shop. It’s a gorgeous store, incredibly well thought out – I noticed a little bit of colour coding on the main table! Sanne is a Dutch graphic designer who is a creative soul that you can discover more about through her website http://www.strawberryblonde.nl; Like Stationery is just one of her many beautiful projects.

I spent a long time looking at Like Stationery’s products, flicking through notebooks and testing out pens. They have a large collection of ballpoints, notably Hightide Penco, and a wide selection of cards, all of which are handmade at the store and feature a range of colourful, fun and minimalist designs. I also discovered a brand I hadn’t heard of before; Y Studio which feature simple and timeless design mostly using metals in deep blacks and brushed brass.

On looking at Like Stationery’s website post-visit, they also do a themed stationery subscription box which looks stunning. Some of the previous themes have included “connecting the dots”, “untainted” which included a range of cream and white stationery, and “shades of marble” including some gorgeous marbled and multicolour products. It looks to be a very considered and thoughtfully curated box. If I could I definitely would.

I would really recommend popping in to Like Stationery for so many reasons: the area it’s in is beautiful and you’ll have a great time exploring all the lovely shops; the paper products on offer are great and varied – you’ll find notebooks, letter-writing sets, thick and creamy wrapping paper, journals and planners; there are lots of recognisable and not-so-recognisable brands to peruse and the store itself is a delight, full of fun and personality. The products I came away with are a Ballograf Epoca Chrome ballpoint pen with archival blue ink, a flexible synthetic Milan eraser and a homemade card.

Would you just look at the branding on this bag?
Would you just look at the branding on this bag? It’s got a bicycle on, a Dutch style building and proudly bears the symbol of being a stationery store. Could it be more perfect?!
My goodies from Like Stationery, card from Koko Coffee and Design and the few tools I went out with (Word. notebook, Mars Lumograph B grade and Muji yellow double sided pen)
My goodies from Like Stationery, card from Koko Coffee and Design and the few tools I went out with (Word. notebook, Mars Lumograph B grade and Muji yellow double sided pen)

Property Of…

Herenstraat 2, 1015 CA Amsterdam, http://thepropertyof.com

This is actually primarily a bag shop but uncovered a theme of Amsterdam shopping for me that, once I became aware of it, I suddenly noticed everywhere. It’s amazing how many shops in Amsterdam specialise in something, but also happen to have a corner dedicated to something completely different but complementary. So Property Of… specialises in bags of all sorts, but has a small but effective stationery section full of Midori goodies, polished brass writing implements and Kaweco classics, a selection of high-quality travel books, oh and it sells coffee too. It just works in Amsterdam.

This experience will have its own future dedicated post because I took the plunge and bought myself a Midori Travelers Notebook. Full sized, black leather. And the reason I just had to have it here is because the shop is equipped with its very own leather embossing machine which the kind assistant patiently showed me how to use. I came away with my very own monogrammed Travelers Notebook.

Getting my new Travelers Notebook monogrammed. I spent far too long deciding whether to have dots in between my initials or not. I decided not!
Getting my new Travelers Notebook monogrammed. I spent far too long deciding whether to have dots in between my initials or not. I decided not!

If you get a chance to pop in this is a lovely and curious shop. All of the products on offer are very high-quality, timeless and stylish. The stationery offer is small but effective; if you’re going to dedicate a little portion of your store to something different, dedicate it to products that you know work wonderfully. This seems to be the ethos amongst all of Property Of…’s added bonus products.

Koko Coffee and Design

Oudezijds Achterburgwal 145, 1012 DG Amsterdam, http://ilovekoko.com 

Another mainly non-stationery store, Koko Coffee and Design has a vintage cabinet stocked with classic stationery products including Kaweco pens and pencils, a wooden draw overflowing with washi tapes, beautiful little leather goods and marbled notebooks. I enjoyed their selection of one-sided cards and decided to pick one up; the paper is thick and textured and I love the fun pattern. I’m so into yellow at the moment. Again, the products on offer are very well thought-out and make the most of their little corner within a shop full of design beauties.

The stationery cabinet.
The stationery cabinet.

If you walk a little further into the store, offbeat tables and chairs are set up amongst the pristine and colourful racks of clothes. It’s very comfortable and relaxed.

So concludes my whirlwind trip of Amsterdam and the stationery and bookstores I encountered within it. Every impression I’ve had of the way stationery and books are considered within the shops I went into is an overwhelming feeling of respect for great design and longevity. All of the shops whether specialist or with a little outpost of stationery offer products meant to last and offer them within an environment that is design-conscious and personal. They all feel luxury without making you feel out of place. These aren’t “office supply” stores. I really enjoyed the experiences within each store and would heartily recommend them as fantastic shops in their own right but also wonderful, honest reflections of the city of Amsterdam.

(On my list I also had Misc-Store which I’ve heard great things about but sadly I didn’t get the chance to pop in here. Next time!)

Amsterdam Part 1: My Trip

I spent the weekend just gone in Amsterdam and I loved it. I’d heard universally positive reviews of the city. In fact, I’m going to publish two posts in quick succession; this one about my trip and a second specifically about some of the stationery encounters I had. I thought it was best to separate them for fear of writing an essay!

Amsterdam has a very compact city centre but it is unlike any other I’ve ever been in. Gone is the pollution, haste and noise of zone ones everywhere. Somehow it manages to be quiet, slow and human. There’s a beautiful symmetry to the buildings because of their heights, window style and spacing, continuity and colour palette. They frame the low canals but looking a little closer at them shows that each building has its own individuality. A red shutter here, a bell gable there, a little plaque with a sword on to identify the building before street numbers were used, a shiny green door. Not only that but people live on the canal too, whether in traditional houseboats or sturdier canal house units made of wood. Public art dotted throughout the city also marks the territory of the young and creative.

We stayed a little outside the main centre at Mercatorplein and hopped on the tram when we needed to. I always think that trams add a sense of vibrancy to a city because they are integrated amongst the people and are a visible part of its movement and sounds. You are able to see and still experience the places around you while travelling somewhere comfortably and reliably. I always think that they also have a great continental European urbanism to them. And of course, intertwined with the people and trams are swathes of upright cyclists going about their business. Looking around them, taking time and care, parking their bike on a canal rail that is already buried by three layers of resting bicycles. In London we suffer a little from cycling being seen as the realm of the Cyclist with a capital C, someone who moves quickly, has the equipment, knows where they’re going and is well acquainted with roads of all kinds (at work this has been referred to as “lycrafication”… I’m sorry.) and this isn’t the dynamic in Amsterdam in the slightest. It’s a small and pedantic point but I believe there really is a difference between a “road” and a “street”. Amsterdam is made up of streets.

Our days were spent mostly languishing around the canals. I had a great list of tips compiled before going; places to pop into should the weather not be so friendly, museums, shops etc. I found that such structure didn’t work for Amsterdam. It’s more of a stroll and see what’s around kind of place. During our couple of days we hopped on a canal boat tour which was lovely, visited the Foodhallen which is an indoor food market housed in an old cavernous tramshed, had long brunches, stopped off for half pints of witbier whenever possible, and perused several street markets full of food, flowers and crafts. Flowers are everywhere. I’ve heard before that the Netherlands are the cut flower capital of the world. It’s good to see that they’re keeping some for themselves.

Although our days were long with walking, it was such a relaxing weekend and I would love to return in the summer when all European cities seem to be at their absolute best. Next up, the stationery and bookstores that I sought out and stumbled across!

Mark’s Tokyo Edge Mechanical Pencil Review

Sometimes I feel like a slave to free shipping! Having recently ordered some limited edition Field Notes I found I was close to the free shipping minimum spend and decided that it would be wise spend the money on an extra product rather than postage. I added a Mark’s Tokyo Edge purple mechanical pencil to my basket.

I have seen Mark’s Tokyo Edge products on several of my favourite stationery websites and I think their range of products is pitched at a fairly young demographic; there is lots of block lettering, prints, colours and textures. As a fan of Japanese brands though I thought I would give one of their pencils a go.

Design

Clearly the unique selling point of this mechanical pencil is that it is designed to resemble a wooden pencil! Which, in fairness, it does do well. The ferrule in particular looks very realistic and is the pencil’s push button. The barrel is slightly wider than a traditional wooden pencil and hexagonal in shape.

Realistic ferrule push cap.
Realistic ferrule push cap.

What gives it away is the end cap and lead sleeve! I wonder why they haven’t elongated this part of the pencil, a la Staedtler 777 or Pentel P205 to continue the wood cased pencil disguise. It seems a little strange to design a pencil to look exactly like a wood cased pencil and then not put any thought into the end cap.

End cap length of the Mark's Tokyo Edge mechanical pencil is very stubby and I'm not sure why this couldn't have been longer to keep up the wood cased pencil disguise.
End cap length of the Mark’s Tokyo Edge mechanical pencil is very stubby and I’m not sure why this couldn’t have been longer to keep up the wood cased pencil disguise.
Width of the Mark's Tokyo Edge mechanical pencil compared to a Staedtler Mars Lumograph B grade. As you can see it's slightly wider all round.
Width of the Mark’s Tokyo Edge mechanical pencil compared to a Staedtler Mars Lumograph B grade. As you can see it’s slightly wider all round.

The deep purple colour of the barrel is attractive and the pale green is a nice contrast. On each of the hexagon’s sides there is a day of the week and combined Saturday/Sunday with an idea of what to do on that day. Monday: watch a film, Thursday: write a poem, Saturday and Sunday: go on a little trip. This makes me feel like Mark’s Tokyo Edge is pitching itself closer lifestyle brand than a quality stationery brand and makes the barrel look quite busy. I don’t have a deep aversion to printed barcodes; this pencil doesn’t have one on the barrel but it does have a sticker with a barcode on which I found ridiculously difficult to remove and managed to indent the barrel doing so (very annoying).

Indentation left on the barrel where I removed the label.
Indentation left on the barrel where I removed the label.

The Pros

  • It’s lightweight. Compared to some mechanical pencils I think this is a lightweight choice and feels similar or even possibly lighter than a wood cased pencil.
  • It’s refillable. If the lead performance is something of a consideration to you then you can replace these easily and cheaply.
  • The hexagonal barrel is comfortable and similar in feel to a wood cased pencil. I like the purple and green colour contrast.
  • The design is quite funky and I do think it’s a fun touch to disguise it as a wooden pencil. *see continuation of this point in the cons section below.

The Cons

  • *The fact that it’s a novelty that it’s a mechanical pencil that looks like a wood cased pencil is something of a non-consideration for me though, similar to my feelings about the Muji erasable 0.4mm pen I talked about in an earlier post. If you want something erasable, why use a pen? Why not use a pencil? I think it’s the same with this product – if you want something that looks like a wood cased pencil, go for a wood cased pencil!
  • The eraser is pitiful. To be fair I have never yet tried an eraser-tipped pencil though and marvelled at the effectiveness of it.

  • You’ll only be able to use 0.5mm leads in this pencil. This is fine if that’s your preference but I prefer a sharper point which is why I enjoy mechanical pencils with 2mm leads that you can actually sharpen to a point. I found that I had to apply a strong pressure to achieve the line darkness I wanted from the leads that come with the pencil. This is one of the reasons I see this product as a “lifestyle” addition rather than a specialised stationery product; the leads included are quite generic compared to a better performing lead.
Close up of some companions with sharpened wood cased pencils.
Close up of some companions with sharpened wood cased pencils. Note again the poor eraser performance next to my blog title – I originally thought I’d put my Instagram username down but replaced it with the blog!
  • The label it originally came with was so tough to remove and my efforts to get it off left an indent on the barrel. I could have left the label on but I think this made it look a bit plasticky.
  • The Rattle. I’ve put Rattle with a capital R because it’s the overriding impression I’m left with from this pencil. The ferrule / push cap rattles noisily and continuously while writing. It’s tremendously annoying and unfortunately is the reason that I wouldn’t reach for this pencil often.

In summary

My impression is that the Mark’s Tokyo Edge mechanical pencil is a little of the old style over substance. It’s a bit of fun and novelty on the desk but at the end of the day it performs the same as any generic mechanical pencil would. It costs around £5-6 which I feel is pricey for what you get and for the same price you can get some great quality mechanical pencils such as the rotring 300 or the OHTO Promecha. Also – that Rattle; I can’t get over such an oversight in the testing of this product before it went on sale. You may have noticed the pros I’ve noted of this pencil are similar to any widely available mechanical pencil and I think this says something – there’s no one great quality about the pencil that makes it stand out in a busy market. Overall I’ve been left a bit indifferent and I wouldn’t recommend you buy it before other, better quality mechanical or wood cased pencils for the same or much cheaper cost.

Copic Sketch Marker Review

My brush pen collection is growing rapidly. Instagram knows me far too well and often shows me short brush lettering videos, many of which involve the Copic Sketch Marker. I’d never used a Copic product before and decided that this looked like a good one to try out.

The pen and tips 

Copic are a well-known Japanese brand and pitch their products towards artistic and creative uses – think designers, illustrators, artists, crafting. The Copic is a double-ended permanent marker; one end is a brush tip and one is a broad chisel marker. Given that I am still continuously practicing and fiddling with brush pens, I always buy a version in black. There is an episode of Frasier where he decides to take a variety of dates to the same restaurant so that the only difference between the evenings would be the company, and he could therefore objectively isolate the date as the cause of his enjoyment or dissatisfaction. The same can be said for brush pen testing. Always getting black means I won’t be sidetracked by loving the colour and not the pen!

Chisel end
Chisel end
Brush end, showing a little bit of disfiguration where I've used it!
Brush end, showing a little bit of disfiguration where I’ve used it!

The brush end is a flexible tip with no discernible individual brush fibres. You may recall that my difficulty in controlling individual brush fibres was one of my key dislikes about the Muji brush pen. As with many tips like this, I find they soften over time and take on the shape of my pressure. This has happened over time with the Copic and the brush tip is ever so slightly flattened. I find this helpful as it’s adapted to my style of writing and its increased softness means an easier, thicker line.

The ink

When Copic say black, they really mean black. Unlike many experiences I’ve had with brush pens there is no loss of saturation towards the outside of your strokes. The line left is completely black. There is also a tremendous amount of bleed through on all the papers I’ve tested and sometimes has left a mark on what’s underneath – this wasn’t great when I used the Copic at work (white desk, oops). Obviously this is to be expected from a permanent marker and such a saturated ink but does rule this pen out for casual usage in notebooks.

One positive I find about this pen is its shape – it is an oval / squashed rectangle shaped which means no rolling on the table and it sits very steadily in your hand when writing with no rotation of the barrel.

Oval shape of the Copic Sketch marker
Oval shape of the Copic Sketch marker
Size of barrel compared to a Palomino Blackwing 211
Barrel size compared to a Palomino Blackwing 211

You can’t post the lids on this pen. This doesn’t bother me because I find that it has a comfortable weight and length without posting and the lids are quite light anyway so wouldn’t add too much value. Here’s how it measures up against a fairly new (and blunt) Palomino Blackwing 211.

It’s also refillable, the chisel and brush tips are replaceable, and they come in fantastic multicolour sets – there is a huge range of colours and shades available (the internet tells me there are 358!). So if, like me, you dislike disposable-ness and throwawayism, this is a pen you could keep for a very long time if you treat it right.

How I use the Copic Sketch marker

I use the Copic for brush lettering only, so I haven’t tested the chisel tip of the pen. I’m always slightly regretful at the addition of chisel tips because I have no use for them and I feel like it is half the pen’s potential wasted. However I understand the need for this end given the normal use of the Copic in creative pursuits. Chisel tips are obviously useful for shading and colouring and I’m told that the Copics are wonderful to use for blending colour although I haven’t been able to test this out only having it in black. It’s a shame that there’s a potential that this pen isn’t fulfilling for me but I was interested in the pen because of its reviews as a brush pen – I did consider whether I could use the chisel tips for a new and different kind of lettering but it’s extremely chunky and flat and not conducive to the lettering style I’m trying to foster.

As I’ve been testing it out I’ve noticed that I gravitate towards it for lettering that I would like to display. I think this is down to a combination of things – the ink is wonderfully black so it gives a great, professional look to your lettering, and it’s very easy to use consistently so I don’t need to repeatedly draft words.

Obviously I’m not an expert at brush lettering and using this pen does highlight areas that I would like to carry on improving. In particular, my letter joins are still a little shaky and my spacing can be slightly uneven. Onwards and upwards on that though.

Shaky joins!
Shaky joins!

Bleedthrough examples

I’ve been asked to do some brush lettered place cards for a friend’s wedding later this year (very exciting!) and I think I would use this pen for such a purpose. I’ve tried the Copic out on some place-card paper and there isn’t any bleed through – this is at a paper weight of 175gsm.

Place-card lettering with the Copic
Place-card lettering with the Copic
No bleedthrough at 175gsm!
No bleedthrough at 175gsm!

This is compared to a parchment style paper with a weight of 100gsm:

Test lettering

Ever since doing my Quill London brush lettering course I’ve been trying out the same pen tests involving practicing down and upstrokes primarily. Also I try and practice my alphabets because I’m developing my own style as I get more familiar with brush lettering.

Test drills
Test drills
You can just about make up a slight pressure mark at the end of thick strokes. It doesn't detract from the look but I think it's noticeable.
You can just about make up a slight pressure mark at the end of thick strokes. It doesn’t detract from the look but I think it’s noticeable.
Lower case letters, individually spaced and a joined up effort.
Lower case letters, individually spaced and a joined up effort.
Upper case and a test sentence
Upper case and a test sentence
Some size tests. I've put in "natural" because this size is where I naturally feel most comfortable writing with the Copic. It's quite difficult to achieve neat small lettering as it's hard to get the balance of thick and thin lines right with this pen at such a small size. Large lettering is a lot easier when you have more control over the pen, but I'd suggest leaning towards a larger character size when using the Copic to make the most of its brush tip.
Some size tests. I’ve put in “natural” because this size is where I naturally feel most comfortable writing with the Copic. It’s quite difficult to achieve neat small lettering as it’s hard to get the balance of thick and thin lines right with this pen at such a small size. Large lettering is a lot easier when you have more control over the pen, but I’d suggest leaning towards a larger character size when using the Copic to make the most of its brush tip.

In summary

I would really recommend this pen is used for your special brush lettering projects but I would steer clear of using it in any type of business-as-usual notebook because the ink is so black that the bleedthrough will waste all of your pages! This will not produce rustic looking lettering for you; it’s strong and bold on the page. It’s very comfortable to use and I think it has been designed with the end user in mind – its oval shape keeps it still on a desk which is probably very handy if you’re using a multitude of Copic pens on a project and the flatness of it means it’s very steady in the hand.

For my purpose of brush lettering the Copic provides a fantastic differentiation between thick and thin lines and I think this differentiation has improved with use as the brush tip has softened and adapted to the pressure of my lettering. It’s a shame that I can’t really find a use for its chisel tip but I’m not going to hold this against the Copic because it’s probably a reflection of my lack of diverse applications for markers!

I also really appreciate the ethos of buying tools and reusing or repurposing them and the fact you can refill and replace parts of this marker is a good testament that Copic themselves believe in the quality of the Sketch marker. Despite its potential longevity it generally costs around £6, which is affordable for the purpose of buying a few pens for brush lettering but bear in mind that if you’re after a multipack or out to build up a collection, this price point could make for an initial expensive outlay. I really enjoy using the Copic Sketch marker, particularly for relatively large brush lettering, and I feel it showcases my ever-evolving style well. It’s a brush pen I would always like to have in my toolbox from now on.

Kew Gardens and Stationery in-brief

My boyfriend and I are engaged! This happened on my birthday in February and is responsible for the radio silence on the London Parchment. Everybody wants to see us and celebrate; it’s been wonderful. We had a few days off in February and on one of our sunny Fridays we headed due west in London to Kew Gardens. It was fabulous. Long walks around the grounds with hardly anyone around, basking in the warmth of the greenhouses and enjoying the annual February orchids exhibition.

Before I bombard you with photos, let me tell you about a few of the recent stationery tools I’ve been using. These will all have their own posts very soon:

  • Diamine ‘Meadow’ – a little something to evoke spring time. I’m using it in my TWSBI 580 AL (extra fine nib) and it’s very zingy.
  • Word pocket notebook – my first venture using one of these. I’m moving house in the not too distant future and with its handy bullet system I’ve gravitated towards using it for punchy lists.
  • Mark’s Tokyo Days Mechanical Pencil – this is made to look like a traditional pencil. It’s fun in appearance but I’m finding it fairly average as far as pencils go. It rattles when I’m writing! Grrr!
  • Kuretake Wink of Stella and Wink of Luna brush pens – I’ve become a big fan of Kuretake and I’m still really enjoying practicing brush lettering – I’m hoping to produce some wedding invitations now that we’re engaged using my ever-evolving brush calligraphy skills!
  • Hobonichi Techo – month three. I love it, the paper is just superb, although it’s such a beautiful item that I feel the pressure filling up each page so that it’s not a wasted entry. Does anyone else ever experience stationery pressure? Good examples include opening a fresh notebook and having to tackle The First Page, and using an eraser over pen to rub out underlying sketch lines (will it smudge?!?!).

Anyway, more on those items and other recent tools in the not-too-distant future. First, Kew. Immerse yourself in green.

And here is a picture of my husband-to-be!

Oh. #KewProblems. Only joking. Here we are!